The First World War, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was an international conflict that involved most of Europe and countries far from Asia, North America and the Middle East. From 1914 to 1918, the conflict continued unabated as the battles decimated the European campaign and the soldiers were massacred in unprecedented numbers.
For five bloody years, the central powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey have fought the allied forces of England, France, Russia, Italy, Japan and, later, of the United States. The war has left an indelible mark on global geopolitical history. After the defeat of the Central Powers in 1918, four imperial dynasties fell, society and European governments were destabilized, revolutions were undertaken and the foundations for the future international conflict were laid.
Outbreak of war (1914-1915)
After the Balkan wars of 1912-13, Serbia set its sights on liberating the Slavic peoples of Austria-Hungary. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914 of Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip served as the spark that ignited World War I. Assured of support from Germany, Austria-Hungary responded to the event by declaring the war in July 23. Despite the protests of the allied nations, France and Russia, Austria-Hungary rejected Serbia’s offer of international arbitration, he broke his diplomatic ties with the country and started mobilizing his military forces. After the official declaration of war in July 28, Austria-Hungary began an immediate bombing of Belgrade.
In July 30, Russian troops began to mobilize along their border with Austria-Hungary. Germany has issued ultimatums to Russia and France. Both countries refused to meet these demands. England, which had previously remained neutral, was involved in the war after Germany invaded Belgium in August 3. At the end of August, Serbia was at war with Germany; Austria-Hungary with Russia Serbia, Japan and Belgium; France, England, Russia and Montenegro with Austria-Hungary; and Montenegro and Japan with Germany.
Most European citizens welcomed the war with idealistic patriotism, and most expected that it would end for a period of months.
Early Stages of War (1914)
The German invasion of Belgium and France began in August 1914. Two million soldiers fought along the borders of France, Germany and Belgium in the Battle of the Frontiers. In September 6, the Allies launched a six-day counterattack that culminated in the first battle of the Marne, forcing a German withdrawal of nearly 50 miles. Meanwhile, both sides were digging trenches westward from Aisne. Antwerp fell into the German army in October 10. By the end of the year, more than 700,000 soldiers had been killed and an entrenched barrier known as the Western Front extended from Switzerland to the Atlantic Ocean.
To the east, Russian troops crossing East Prussia represented a serious threat to the German army. They were completely defeated by Germany during Tannenberg’s six-day battle. Russia was finally driven out of East Prussia by September 15. Meanwhile, Austria had invaded Serbia and, despite a series of successful offensives, withdrew by December 15. Turkey (then known as the Ottoman Empire) he had formed an alliance with Germany against Russia, and helped them in the war by sea and with a series of offensives in the Caucasus and in the Sinai desert.
The naval battles began on August 28, 1914. German submarines began to attack commercial traffic in October 20, and England responded with a naval blockade. Neutral nations such as the United States became increasingly hostile to German policy of bombing neutral commercial ships that entered their self-declared “war zone” around the British Isles. The sinking of passenger ships the Lusitania and the Arab increased the probability of a possible entry of the United States into the war.
Stall years (1915-1917)
At the end of 1914, it was clear that the Western Front was stuck in a deadlock. The February and March 1915 campaigns caused massive incidents with little land gained or lost. Other allied offensives have led to similar results. Germany started using chlorine gas on April 22 and expanded its rail system to bypass the British naval blockade.
A Russian withdrawal at the end of April continued until October 1915, stopping along a line between the Baltic Sea and the Romanian border. A Russian offensive against Turkey, launched in November 1914, had been defeated since January 1915. Turkey was expelled from neutral Persia in March. In Mesopotamia, England would have continued its futile progress towards Baghdad. The Turkish threat diminished considerably after the 1917 uprising by Syria and Palestine. Austria’s repeated attempts to invade Serbia culminated in an attack in October 1915, aided by Bulgaria. An allied attempt to send help through Thessaloniki simply resulted in increasing troop commitments in an area that offered little in the way of carrying out the war effort.
After signing the Treaty of London, April 26, 1915, Italy agreed to join the Allied cause. In May 23, they declared war on Austria-Hungary. An initial advance was followed by a trench warfare, and the six Isonzo Battles resulted in many casualties and little progress.
In 1916, Germany began a heavy bombing of France, but progress was interrupted by the Somme offensive in July-September. In summer 1916, England and Germany gathered in the battle of Jutland, the largest naval battle in history. Along the eastern front, Russia launched offensives against Germany in March 1916 and arrived in Italy in June. The Brusilov offensive would have been their last military position in the Second World War. An April 1917 mutiny by French soldiers greatly reduced France’s military strength, while anarchy and chaos following the Russian revolution led to a demoralization that seemed disastrous to the Allies.
After disrupting diplomatic ties with Germany on February 3, 1917, continued submarine attacks finally pushed the United States to declare war on April 6th. Haiti, Honduras, Brazil, Guatamala, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, China and occupied Greece would do the same. These additional troops, armaments and financial resources would change the fate of the war and eventually lead to the victory of the Allies.
The success on the Italian front led Austria and Germany to launch an offensive against Italy, leading to a unified allied military command after the Supreme War Council of Versailles. Meanwhile, England forced the Turks to retreat through Mesopotamia and occupied Jerusalem by December 9, 1917.
Under Allied pressure, the German submarine campaign was reduced and eventually defeated. England developed the world’s first military air service, the Royal Air Force, in 1916 as a response to repeated attacks by airships known as Zeppelins.
Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria died on November 21, 1916. Attempts to negotiate with the new emperor and the foreign minister began in the spring of 1917, but eventually ended in nothing. President Woodrow Wilson of the United States launched a campaign for peace with a series of statements in 1918. This significantly affected the morale of the German people.
Final offensive and victory (1918)
After Russia’s withdrawal, Germany hijacked its troops from the Eastern Front. Their offensive strategy included intense artillery bombardment, followed by elite assault infantry troops. The main attack, code-named “Michael”, occurred on a weak stretch of the front between Arras and La Fère. Three additional attacks were launched against England and France: “San Giorgio I”, on the river Lys; “Saint George II”, between Armentières and Ypres, and “Blücher” in Champagne.
“Michael” started in March 21, 1918. Now called the Second Battle of the Somme or Battle of Saint-Quentin, it was not a universal success. St. George I “started in April 9, followed by” St. George II “in April 10, Armentières fell to the Germans and an advance of ten miles before England stopped the German army near Hazebrouck.” Blücher “was launched by fifteen German divisions on May 27, 1918.
This offensive was considered a great tactical success, if not strategic, by the Germans. However, it had a cost: the German army suffered losses of 800,000, many of them elite soldiers. None of the progress destroyed the enemy railroads, and the Allies continued to receive support from the United States at the rate of 300,000 new soldiers every month.
A new German attack in July 15, which opened the Second Battle of the Marne, was largely unsuccessful. The Allies launched a counter-attack in July 18. British, Australian and Canadian soldiers surprised the Germans on August 8, 1918. Quartermaster General Erich Ludendorff considered that this would be a turning point in the war and advised the emperor William II and other political powers to open peace negotiations before the situation deteriorated further. Meanwhile, the continued attacks by the Allied army brought the Germans back to their 1918 March front behind the Hindenburg line. After the Germans retreated, the Allies began planning a combined offensive, hoping to end the war.
End of the war (1918)
Chancellor Georg von Hertling resigned on September 29, 1918, and was replaced by Prince Maximilian of Baden in October 3. Germany sent an armistice request to the United States on October 4. With the signing of Armistice document of November 11, 1918, the First World War officially ended.
It is estimated that, in total, more than 41 million soldiers and civilians have lost their lives, making it one of the most deadly wars of all time.