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Key Facts & Summary
- World War 1 began on July 28, 1914.
- The war began when Archduke Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated.
- The war lasted for four years, three months and 14 days.
- There were two sides in the war, the Allies that included Britain, France, Russia and Ireland and the Central Powers that included Germany and Austria-Hungary.
- Italy originally sided with the Central Powers but later joined the Allies.
- America joined the war in April 1916 after Germany sank several of its ships.
- Over 8 million soldiers lost their lives in World War 1. 21 million others were injured.
- It was in World War 1 that chemical weapons were first used. The Germans used chlorine gas attacks. They later started using mustard gas.
- In 1918, there were riots in Germany as people demonstrated against the war.
The war officially ended in June 1919.
- The Treaty of Versailles was signed. The League of Nations was also formed to end future wars.
- Although President Woodrow Wilson had participated in the formation of the League of Nations, the US Senate refused to let the country join the League of Nations.
World War 1: How it Happened
Bosnia and Herzegovina, a Balkan state in Europe, had been annexed by the Austro-Hungarian Empire from Turkey. This move was strongly resented by the Croats, Serbs and other nationalist groups and led to the formation of the Black Hand. What followed were a series of events that led the world into war.
28 June 1914: Assassination of Franz Ferdinand
Archduke Franz Ferdinand was in the company of his wife when he went to inspect the Austro-Hungarian troops that were deployed in Bosnia. He had chosen to inspect the troops on a day that coincided with a national day in Bosnia. The Black Hand saw this as an opportunity to assassinate him and supplied weapons to a group of students.
Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian nationalist student, assassinated the Austrian Archduke. He shot the Archduke when his car stopped at a corner while he was on his way out of town. The Serbian government was blamed for the act by the Austrian government. The Austrian government declared war on Serbia.
28 July 1914: Austria Declares War on Serbia
After Austria declared war on Serbia, Germany mobilised and offered to support Austria. This was because Germany thought that although Russia was Serbia’s greatest ally, she would not mobilise to support Serbia.
To Germany’s surprise, Russia mobilised and came to Serbia’s rescue. Since Russia had an alliance with France the French soon followed Russia in support of Serbia.
1 August 1914: Germany Declares War on Russia
After Russia mobilised to support Serbia, Germany declared war on Russia.
3 August 1914: Germany Declares War on France
Due to the French alliance with Russia, Germany also declared war on France. Germany’s troops were directed under the Schlieffen plan, which had been drawn up in 1905, to invade Belgium. Since Belgium had been a neutral country, the British government, through their foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey, sent an ultimatum to Germany to withdraw their troops from Belgium.
4 August 1914: Britain Declares War on Germany
Germany did not obey the ultimatum that required them to withdraw from Belgium resulting in Britain declaring war on Germany. The Russian army then marched into Prussia. Russia faced a lot of challenges as it could not get supplies to its soldiers while they were in Prussia, because of the difference in railway gauges between Prussia and Russia.
August 1914: Battle of Tannenberg
The Germans had an advantage over the Russians in that their railway gauges were the same as those in Prussia. The Germans, therefore, surrounded the Russian second army through their railway system at Tannenberg. The Russian commanders did not realise what was happening and a battle ensued at Tannenberg where the Russians suffered a heavy defeat. Hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers were killed while some were taken prisoner. The Germans also lost 13, 000 soldiers.
13 August 1914: Japan Declares War on Germany
Since Japan also had an alliance with Britain, she declared war on Germany.
September 1914: Battle of Masurian Lakes
The Germans now turned their attention towards the Russian first army that was stationed at Masurian Lakes. A battle ensued and this time the Germans lost to the Russians. However, Russia lost 100,000 soldiers.
29 October 1914: Turkey Enters the War
Turkey entered the war to support the Central Powers. Russia declared war on Turkey because they helped German troops bombard a Russian naval base. Britain and France also declared war on Turkey.
December 1914: Early Stages of the War
German troops marched to France through Belgium. However, their march was halted at the river Marne. British troops also marched into Belgium through a town called Mons. When the British troops came face to face with the Germans, they were forced to retreat after several British soldiers were killed at the Battle of Ypres.
7 May 1915: Lusitania Sunk
Germans began sinking ships. Even United States ships were not spared as Lusitania, which carried several American passengers, was sunk by the Germans.
1 June 1916: Battle of Jutland
This was the largest naval battle in the entire war. The Germans were confined by the British naval forces to a port. The British and German forces faced-off and the Germans decided to withdraw and confined their naval forces to the harbour for the remainder of the war.
28 November 1916: First Aeroplane Raid
The Germans raided London by air. The Germans were hoping that the British would withdraw their troops to focus on protecting their home front.
1 July-November 1916: Battle of the Somme
This was a five-month long battle that claimed the lives of 420,000 British soldiers, 200,000 French soldiers and 500,000 German soldiers. By now, Britain had a new Prime Minister named Lloyd George. Since he did not trust his war ministers, he convinced his Cabinet to appoint the French General, Nivelle, as the Supreme War Commander.
The operation commanded by the French General went wrong, and as a result, many French soldiers lost their lives. Following the heavy defeat of the Allies, Lloyd George, the Prime Minister of Britain, decided to bring Winston Churchill back to his cabinet. Churchill was appointed a Minister of Munitions.
6 April 1917: The US Declares War on Germany
After Germany stepped up their boat sinking campaigns, the US had had enough and declared war on Germany.
April 1918: RAF Formed
The British merged the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service to form the Royal Air Force and attacked the German sector at Amiens. The Allies recovered almost all of the French and Belgium territories that had been occupied by Germany.
30 October 1918: Armistice with Turkey
The Turkish army was successfully pushed back and, as a result, Turkey asked for an armistice.
November 1918: Hindenburg Line Collapsed
The Germans were pushed back beyond the Hindenburg Line by the Allies and Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated.
11 November 1918: Armistice Signed
The war was brought to an end after the armistice was signed in the French town of Redonthes.
People Who Made it Happen
❖ Woodrow Wilson
He was the 28th President of the United States who served from 1913 to 1919. His foreign policy was noted for its idealistic humanitarianism. Although he pledged to keep the U.S. out of the war, he had no choice but to declare war on Germany after the Germans sank several U.S. ships. He was the first American president to leave the country when he visited Paris in 1919 to sign the Treaty of Versailles.
❖ John J. Pershing
John J. Pershing, who was nicknamed “Blackjack” was a general in the United States Army. He was promoted to be the General of the Armies to command the American Expeditionary Force in Europe during the First World War and had nearly two million men under his command.
❖ Winston Churchill
He was Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty and had resigned in 1915. However, two years later, he would become actively involved in the war again when he was appointed the Minister of Munitions.
❖ David Lloyd George
He was the Prime Minister of Britain from 1916 until the end of the war. He played a very important role in organising the British war effort, even creating a war cabinet that had five members.
❖ George Clemenceau
He was the French Prime Minister from 1917 to 1920. He played a very important role in holding French resolve to fight off the Germans when many people considered negotiating treaties with the Germans.
❖ Kaiser Wilhelm II
He was the last German Emperor. He led Germany on its self-assertive foreign policy in order to make Germany a major European power. He was key in the formation of an alliance between Germany and Austria-Hungary.