A Short History of World War I


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Build up to war (pre-1914)

The army became increasingly ineffective. Following the Tsar's abdication, Vladimir Lenin —with the help of the German government—was ushered by train from Switzerland into Russia 16 April The Revolution of November was followed in December by an armistice and negotiations with Germany. The treaty ceded vast territories, including Finland, the Baltic provinces , parts of Poland and Ukraine to the Central Powers.

With the adoption of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Entente no longer existed. The Allied powers led a small-scale invasion of Russia, partly to stop Germany from exploiting Russian resources, and to a lesser extent, to support the "Whites" as opposed to the "Reds" in the Russian Civil War.

The Czechoslovak Legion fought on the side of the Entente. Its goal was to win support for the independence of Czechoslovakia. After this success, the number of Czechoslovak legionaries increased, as well as Czechoslovak military power. In the Battle of Bakhmach , the Legion defeated the Germans and forced them to make a truce. In Russia, they were heavily involved in the Russian Civil War, siding with the Whites against the Bolsheviks , at times controlling most of the Trans-Siberian railway and conquering all the major cities of Siberia. The presence of the Czechoslovak Legion near Yekaterinburg appears to have been one of the motivations for the Bolshevik execution of the Tsar and his family in July Legionaries arrived less than a week afterwards and captured the city.

Because Russia's European ports were not safe, the corps was evacuated by a long detour via the port of Vladivostok. The last transport was the American ship Heffron in September On 12 December , after ten brutal months of the Battle of Verdun and a successful offensive against Romania , Germany attempted to negotiate a peace with the Allies.

Soon after, the US President, Woodrow Wilson, attempted to intervene as a peacemaker, asking in a note for both sides to state their demands. Lloyd George's War Cabinet considered the German offer to be a ploy to create divisions amongst the Allies. After initial outrage and much deliberation, they took Wilson's note as a separate effort, signalling that the United States was on the verge of entering the war against Germany following the "submarine outrages". While the Allies debated a response to Wilson's offer, the Germans chose to rebuff it in favour of "a direct exchange of views".

Learning of the German response, the Allied governments were free to make clear demands in their response of 14 January. They sought restoration of damages, the evacuation of occupied territories, reparations for France, Russia and Romania, and a recognition of the principle of nationalities. Events of proved decisive in ending the war, although their effects were not fully felt until The British naval blockade began to have a serious impact on Germany.

In response, in February , the German General Staff convinced Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg to declare unrestricted submarine warfare, with the goal of starving Britain out of the war. German planners estimated that unrestricted submarine warfare would cost Britain a monthly shipping loss of , tons.

The General Staff acknowledged that the policy would almost certainly bring the United States into the conflict, but calculated that British shipping losses would be so high that they would be forced to sue for peace after five to six months, before American intervention could have an effect. After July, the newly re-introduced convoy system became effective in reducing the U-boat threat. Britain was safe from starvation, while German industrial output fell, and the United States joined the war far earlier than Germany had anticipated. On 3 May , during the Nivelle Offensive, the French 2nd Colonial Division, veterans of the Battle of Verdun, refused orders, arriving drunk and without their weapons.

Their officers lacked the means to punish an entire division, and harsh measures were not immediately implemented. The French Army Mutinies eventually spread to a further 54 French divisions, and 20, men deserted. However, appeals to patriotism and duty, as well as mass arrests and trials, encouraged the soldiers to return to defend their trenches, although the French soldiers refused to participate in further offensive action. Previously, British and French armies had operated under separate commands. In December, the Central Powers signed an armistice with Russia, thus freeing large numbers of German troops for use in the west.

With German reinforcements and new American troops pouring in, the outcome was to be decided on the Western Front. The Central Powers knew that they could not win a protracted war, but they held high hopes for success based on a final quick offensive. Furthermore, both sides became increasingly fearful of social unrest and revolution in Europe. Thus, both sides urgently sought a decisive victory. In , Emperor Charles I of Austria secretly attempted separate peace negotiations with Clemenceau, through his wife's brother Sixtus in Belgium as an intermediary, without the knowledge of Germany.

Italy opposed the proposals. When the negotiations failed, his attempt was revealed to Germany, resulting in a diplomatic catastrophe. In early , the front line was extended and the Jordan Valley was occupied, following the First Transjordan and the Second Transjordan attacks by British Empire forces in March and April They were replaced by Indian Army units. During several months of reorganisation and training of the summer, a number of attacks were carried out on sections of the Ottoman front line.

These pushed the front line north to more advantageous positions for the Entente in preparation for an attack and to acclimatise the newly arrived Indian Army infantry. It was not until the middle of September that the integrated force was ready for large-scale operations. The reorganised Egyptian Expeditionary Force, with an additional mounted division, broke Ottoman forces at the Battle of Megiddo in September In two days the British and Indian infantry, supported by a creeping barrage, broke the Ottoman front line and captured the headquarters of the Eighth Army Ottoman Empire at Tulkarm , the continuous trench lines at Tabsor , Arara , and the Seventh Army Ottoman Empire headquarters at Nablus.

The Desert Mounted Corps rode through the break in the front line created by the infantry. Samakh and Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee were captured on the way northwards to Damascus. The Armistice of Mudros , signed at the end of October, ended hostilities with the Ottoman Empire when fighting was continuing north of Aleppo. At the outbreak of the war, the United States pursued a policy of non-intervention , avoiding conflict while trying to broker a peace. Germany complied. Wilson unsuccessfully tried to mediate a settlement. However, he also repeatedly warned that the United States would not tolerate unrestricted submarine warfare, in violation of international law.

Former president Theodore Roosevelt denounced German acts as "piracy". In January , Germany decided to resume unrestricted submarine warfare, in the hopes of starving Britain into surrender. Germany did this realising it would mean American entry. In return, the Germans would finance Mexico's war and help it recover the territories of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. From there it made its way to President Wilson who released the Zimmermann note to the public, and Americans saw it as casus belli.

Wilson called on anti-war elements to end all wars, by winning this one and eliminating militarism from the globe. He argued that the war was so important that the US had to have a voice in the peace conference. The United States was never formally a member of the Allies but became a self-styled "Associated Power". The United States had a small army, but, after the passage of the Selective Service Act , it drafted 2. German General Staff assumptions that it would be able to defeat the British and French forces before American troops reinforced them were proven incorrect.

Several regiments of US Marines were also dispatched to France. The British and French wanted American units used to reinforce their troops already on the battle lines and not waste scarce shipping on bringing over supplies. General John J. As an exception, he did allow African-American combat regiments to be used in French divisions. Ludendorff drew up plans codenamed Operation Michael for the offensive on the Western Front.

The Spring Offensive sought to divide the British and French forces with a series of feints and advances. The German leadership hoped to end the war before significant US forces arrived. The operation commenced on 21 March with an attack on British forces near Saint-Quentin. British and French trenches were penetrated using novel infiltration tactics , also named Hutier tactics after General Oskar von Hutier , by specially trained units called stormtroopers.

Previously, attacks had been characterised by long artillery bombardments and massed assaults. In the Spring Offensive of , however, Ludendorff used artillery only briefly and infiltrated small groups of infantry at weak points. They attacked command and logistics areas and bypassed points of serious resistance. More heavily armed infantry then destroyed these isolated positions. This German success relied greatly on the element of surprise.

Many Germans thought victory was near. After heavy fighting, however, the offensive was halted. Lacking tanks or motorised artillery , the Germans were unable to consolidate their gains. The problems of re-supply were also exacerbated by increasing distances that now stretched over terrain that was shell-torn and often impassable to traffic. General Foch pressed to use the arriving American troops as individual replacements, whereas Pershing sought to field American units as an independent force.

These units were assigned to the depleted French and British Empire commands on 28 March. General Foch was appointed as supreme commander of the Allied forces. Haig, Petain, and Pershing retained tactical control of their respective armies; Foch assumed a co-ordinating rather than a directing role, and the British, French, and US commands operated largely independently.

The Allies halted the drive after limited territorial gains by Germany. The resulting counter-attack, which started the Hundred Days Offensive , marked the first successful Allied offensive of the war. By 20 July, the Germans had retreated across the Marne to their starting lines, [] having achieved little, and the German Army never regained the initiative. German casualties between March and April were ,, including many highly trained stormtroopers. Meanwhile, Germany was falling apart at home. Anti-war marches became frequent and morale in the army fell.

Industrial output was half the levels. In the late spring of , three new states were formed in the South Caucasus : the First Republic of Armenia , the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic , and the Democratic Republic of Georgia , which declared their independence from the Russian Empire.

The First World War, Volume 1: To Arms

Two other minor entities were established, the Centrocaspian Dictatorship and South West Caucasian Republic the former was liquidated by Azerbaijan in the autumn of and the latter by a joint Armenian-British task force in early With the withdrawal of the Russian armies from the Caucasus front in the winter of —18, the three major republics braced for an imminent Ottoman advance, which commenced in the early months of Solidarity was briefly maintained when the Transcaucasian Federative Republic was created in the spring of , but this collapsed in May, when the Georgians asked for and received protection from Germany and the Azerbaijanis concluded a treaty with the Ottoman Empire that was more akin to a military alliance.

Armenia was left to fend for itself and struggled for five months against the threat of a full-fledged occupation by the Ottoman Turks before defeating them at the Battle of Sardarabad. The defenders displayed a marked collapse in morale, causing Ludendorff to refer to this day as the "Black Day of the German army".

Rather than continuing the Amiens battle past the point of initial success, as had been done so many times in the past, the Allies shifted attention elsewhere. Allied leaders had now realised that to continue an attack after resistance had hardened was a waste of lives, and it was better to turn a line than to try to roll over it. They began to undertake attacks in quick order to take advantage of successful advances on the flanks, then broke them off when each attack lost its initial impetus.

The day after the Offensive began, Ludendorff said: "We cannot win the war any more, but we must not lose it either. We have nearly reached the limit of our powers of resistance. The war must be ended.

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Austria and Hungary warned that they could continue the war only until December, and Ludendorff recommended immediate peace negotiations. Prince Rupprecht warned Prince Max of Baden: "Our military situation has deteriorated so rapidly that I no longer believe we can hold out over the winter; it is even possible that a catastrophe will come earlier.

British and Dominion forces launched the next phase of the campaign with the Battle of Albert on 21 August. From German accounts, "Each day was spent in bloody fighting against an ever and again on-storming enemy, and nights passed without sleep in retirements to new lines. Faced with these advances, on 2 September the German Supreme Army Command issued orders to withdraw in the south to the Hindenburg Line. This ceded without a fight the salient seized the previous April. The German High Command realised that the war was lost and made attempts to reach a satisfactory end. On 14 September Austria sent a note to all belligerents and neutrals suggesting a meeting for peace talks on neutral soil, and on 15 September Germany made a peace offer to Belgium.

Both peace offers were rejected. In September the Allies advanced to the Hindenburg Line in the north and centre. The Germans had now retreated to positions along or behind the Hindenburg Line. That same day, Supreme Army Command informed the leaders in Berlin that armistice talks were inevitable. The following week, co-operating French and American units broke through in Champagne at the Battle of Blanc Mont Ridge , forcing the Germans off the commanding heights, and closing towards the Belgian frontier. When Bulgaria signed a separate armistice on 29 September, Ludendorff, having been under great stress for months, suffered something similar to a breakdown.

It was evident that Germany could no longer mount a successful defence. The collapse of the Balkans meant that Germany was about to lose its main supplies of oil and food. Its reserves had been used up, even as US troops kept arriving at the rate of 10, per day. News of Germany's impending military defeat spread throughout the German armed forces. The threat of mutiny was rife.

Admiral Reinhard Scheer and Ludendorff decided to launch a last attempt to restore the "valour" of the German Navy. In northern Germany, the German Revolution of — began at the end of October Units of the German Navy refused to set sail for a last, large-scale operation in a war they believed to be as good as lost, initiating the uprising. With the military faltering and with widespread loss of confidence in the Kaiser leading to his abdication and fleeing of the country, Germany moved towards surrender.

Negotiations with President Wilson began immediately, in the hope that he would offer better terms than the British and French. Wilson demanded a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary control over the German military. The Kaiser, kings and other hereditary rulers all were removed from power and Wilhelm fled to exile in the Netherlands.

Imperial Germany was dead; a new Germany had been born as the Weimar Republic. The collapse of the Central Powers came swiftly. Bulgaria was the first to sign an armistice, the Armistice of Salonica on 29 September On 24 October, the Italians began a push that rapidly recovered territory lost after the Battle of Caporetto. This culminated in the Battle of Vittorio Veneto, which marked the end of the Austro-Hungarian Army as an effective fighting force. The offensive also triggered the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

During the last week of October, declarations of independence were made in Budapest, Prague, and Zagreb.


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On 29 October, the imperial authorities asked Italy for an armistice, but the Italians continued advancing, reaching Trento, Udine, and Trieste. The terms, arranged by telegraph with the Allied Authorities in Paris, were communicated to the Austrian commander and accepted. Austria and Hungary signed separate armistices following the overthrow of the Habsburg Monarchy.

In the following days the Italian Army occupied Innsbruck and all Tyrol with over 20, soldiers. During the six hours between the signing of the armistice and its taking effect, opposing armies on the Western Front began to withdraw from their positions, but fighting continued along many areas of the front, as commanders wanted to capture territory before the war ended. The occupation of the Rhineland took place following the Armistice. The occupying armies consisted of American, Belgian, British and French forces.

In November , the Allies had ample supplies of men and materiel to invade Germany. These factors enabled Hindenburg and other senior German leaders to spread the story that their armies had not really been defeated. This resulted in the stab-in-the-back legend , [] [] which attributed Germany's defeat not to its inability to continue fighting even though up to a million soldiers were suffering from the flu pandemic and unfit to fight , but to the public's failure to respond to its "patriotic calling" and the supposed intentional sabotage of the war effort, particularly by Jews, Socialists, and Bolsheviks.

The Allies had much more potential wealth they could spend on the war. In the aftermath of the war, four empires disappeared: the German, Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, and Russian. Numerous nations regained their former independence, and new ones were created. Four dynasties, together with their ancillary aristocracies, fell as a result of the war: the Romanovs , the Hohenzollerns , the Habsburgs , and the Ottomans.

Belgium and Serbia were badly damaged, as was France, with 1. Germany and Russia were similarly affected. A formal state of war between the two sides persisted for another seven months, until the signing of the Treaty of Versailles with Germany on 28 June However, the negotiation of the treaty with the Ottoman Empire was followed by strife, and a final peace treaty between the Allied Powers and the country that would shortly become the Republic of Turkey was not signed until 24 July , at Lausanne. Some war memorials date the end of the war as being when the Versailles Treaty was signed in , which was when many of the troops serving abroad finally returned home; by contrast, most commemorations of the war's end concentrate on the armistice of 11 November Legally, the formal peace treaties were not complete until the last, the Treaty of Lausanne, was signed.

Under its terms, the Allied forces left Constantinople on 23 August After the war, the Paris Peace Conference imposed a series of peace treaties on the Central Powers officially ending the war. The Treaty of Versailles dealt with Germany and, building on Wilson's 14th point , brought into being the League of Nations on 28 June The Central Powers had to acknowledge responsibility for "all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by" their aggression.

In the Treaty of Versailles, this statement was Article This article became known as the War Guilt clause as the majority of Germans felt humiliated and resentful. German historian Hagen Schulze said the Treaty placed Germany "under legal sanctions, deprived of military power, economically ruined, and politically humiliated. Active denial of war guilt in Germany and German resentment at both reparations and continued Allied occupation of the Rhineland made widespread revision of the meaning and memory of the war problematic.

The legend of the " stab in the back " and the wish to revise the "Versailles diktat", and the belief in an international threat aimed at the elimination of the German nation persisted at the heart of German politics. Even a man of peace such as [ Gustav ] Stresemann publicly rejected German guilt. As for the Nazis, they waved the banners of domestic treason and international conspiracy in an attempt to galvanise the German nation into a spirit of revenge. Like a Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany sought to redirect the memory of the war to the benefit of its own policies.

Meanwhile, new nations liberated from German rule viewed the treaty as recognition of wrongs committed against small nations by much larger aggressive neighbours. However, owing to economic difficulties and Germany being the only defeated power with an intact economy, the burden fell largely on Germany. Austria-Hungary was partitioned into several successor states, including Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia , largely but not entirely along ethnic lines.

Transylvania was shifted from Hungary to Greater Romania. As a result of the Treaty of Trianon , 3. Between and , , Hungarians fled former Hungarian territories attached to Romania, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia. The Russian Empire, which had withdrawn from the war in after the October Revolution, lost much of its western frontier as the newly independent nations of Estonia , Finland , Latvia , Lithuania , and Poland were carved from it.

Romania took control of Bessarabia in April The Ottoman Empire disintegrated, with much of its Levant territory awarded to various Allied powers as protectorates. The Turkish core in Anatolia was reorganised as the Republic of Turkey. This treaty was never ratified by the Sultan and was rejected by the Turkish National Movement , leading to the victorious Turkish War of Independence and the much less stringent Treaty of Lausanne. Even though a lot of countries had already made a peace treaty, there was one exception, Andorra. Andorra declared war on Germany in August , but, because it had a very small population, Andorra had never sent any soldiers to the battlefield.

Because of that, Andorra wasn't allowed to go to the Treaty of Versailles, so the country hadn't made a peace treaty with Germany until When Andorra made the declaration of war, it had an army of part-time militarymen, commanded by two officials. After years, Poland re-emerged as an independent country. The Kingdom of Serbia and its dynasty, as a "minor Entente nation" and the country with the most casualties per capita, [] [] [] became the backbone of a new multinational state, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes , later renamed Yugoslavia.

Czechoslovakia, combining the Kingdom of Bohemia with parts of the Kingdom of Hungary, became a new nation. In the British Empire, the war unleashed new forms of nationalism. It was the first major war in which the newly established countries fought, and it was one of the first times that Australian troops fought as Australians, not just subjects of the British Crown. After the Battle of Vimy Ridge, where the Canadian divisions fought together for the first time as a single corps, Canadians began to refer to their country as a nation "forged from fire".

Canada entered the war as a Dominion of the British Empire and remained so, although it emerged with a greater measure of independence. Lobbying by Chaim Weizmann and fear that American Jews would encourage the United States to support Germany culminated in the British government's Balfour Declaration of , endorsing creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

These continue to be problematic in the 21st-century struggles for national identity. The prestige of Germany and German things in Latin America remained high after the war but did not recovered to its pre-war levels. Germany lost The Australian prime minister, Billy Hughes , wrote to the British prime minister, Lloyd George , "You have assured us that you cannot get better terms. I much regret it, and hope even now that some way may be found of securing agreement for demanding reparation commensurate with the tremendous sacrifices made by the British Empire and her Allies. Diseases flourished in the chaotic wartime conditions.

In alone, louse-borne epidemic typhus killed , in Serbia. Overall, the flu pandemic killed at least 50 million people. The social disruption and widespread violence of the Russian Revolution of and the ensuing Russian Civil War sparked more than 2, pogroms in the former Russian Empire, mostly in Ukraine. In the aftermath of World War I, Greece fought against Turkish nationalists led by Mustafa Kemal , a war that eventually resulted in a massive population exchange between the two countries under the Treaty of Lausanne.

World War I began as a clash of 20th-century technology and 19th-century tactics , with the inevitably large ensuing casualties. By the end of , however, the major armies, now numbering millions of men, had modernised and were making use of telephone, wireless communication , [] armoured cars , tanks , [] and aircraft.

Infantry formations were reorganised, so that man companies were no longer the main unit of manoeuvre; instead, squads of 10 or so men, under the command of a junior NCO, were favoured. Artillery also underwent a revolution. In , cannons were positioned in the front line and fired directly at their targets. By , indirect fire with guns as well as mortars and even machine guns was commonplace, using new techniques for spotting and ranging, notably aircraft and the often overlooked field telephone.

Germany was far ahead of the Allies in using heavy indirect fire. Much of the combat involved trench warfare, in which hundreds often died for each metre gained. The Germans employed the Haber process of nitrogen fixation to provide their forces with a constant supply of gunpowder despite the British naval blockade. The large number of head wounds caused by exploding shells and fragmentation forced the combatant nations to develop the modern steel helmet, led by the French, who introduced the Adrian helmet in It was quickly followed by the Brodie helmet , worn by British Imperial and US troops, and in by the distinctive German Stahlhelm , a design, with improvements, still in use today.

Quick, boys! Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. The widespread use of chemical warfare was a distinguishing feature of the conflict. Gases used included chlorine, mustard gas and phosgene. Relatively few war casualties were caused by gas, [] as effective countermeasures to gas attacks were quickly created, such as gas masks. The use of chemical warfare and small-scale strategic bombing as opposed to tactical bombing were both outlawed by the Hague Conventions of and , and both proved to be of limited effectiveness, [] though they captured the public imagination.

The most powerful land-based weapons were railway guns, weighing dozens of tons apiece. The British and the French sought a solution with the creation of the tank and mechanised warfare. The British first tanks were used during the Battle of the Somme on 15 September Mechanical reliability was an issue, but the experiment proved its worth. Meanwhile, the French introduced the first tanks with a rotating turret, the Renault FT , which became a decisive tool of the victory. The conflict also saw the introduction of light automatic weapons and submachine guns , such as the Lewis Gun , the Browning Automatic Rifle , and the Bergmann MP Another new weapon, the flamethrower , was first used by the German army and later adopted by other forces.

Although not of high tactical value, the flamethrower was a powerful, demoralising weapon that caused terror on the battlefield. Trench railways evolved to supply the enormous quantities of food, water, and ammunition required to support large numbers of soldiers in areas where conventional transportation systems had been destroyed. On the Western Front neither side made impressive gains in the first three years of the war with attacks at Verdun, the Somme, Passchendaele, and Cambrai — the exception was Nivelle's Offensive in which the German defence gave ground while mauling the attackers so badly that there were mutinies in the French Army.

In the Germans smashed through the defence lines in three great attacks: Michael, on the Lys, and on the Aisne, which displayed the power of their new tactics. The Allies struck back at Soissons , which showed the Germans that they must return to the defensive, and at Amiens; tanks played a prominent role in both these assaults, as they had the year before at Cambrai. The areas in the East were larger. In a series of attacks along with the Bulgarians they occupied Serbia, Albania, Montenegro and most of Romania. The Allies successes came later in Palestine , the beginning of the end for the Ottomans, in Macedonia, which drove the Bulgarians out of the war, and at Vittorio Veneto, the final blow for the Austro-Hungarians.

Germany deployed U-boats submarines after the war began. Alternating between restricted and unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic, the Kaiserliche Marine employed them to deprive the British Isles of vital supplies. The deaths of British merchant sailors and the seeming invulnerability of U-boats led to the development of depth charges , hydrophones passive sonar , , blimps, hunter-killer submarines HMS R-1 , , forward-throwing anti-submarine weapons , and dipping hydrophones the latter two both abandoned in Fixed-wing aircraft were first used militarily by the Italians in Libya on 23 October during the Italo-Turkish War for reconnaissance, soon followed by the dropping of grenades and aerial photography the next year.

By , their military utility was obvious. They were initially used for reconnaissance and ground attack. To shoot down enemy planes, anti-aircraft guns and fighter aircraft were developed. Strategic bombers were created, principally by the Germans and British, though the former used Zeppelins as well. Manned observation balloons , floating high above the trenches, were used as stationary reconnaissance platforms, reporting enemy movements and directing artillery. Balloons commonly had a crew of two, equipped with parachutes , [] so that if there was an enemy air attack the crew could parachute to safety.

At the time, parachutes were too heavy to be used by pilots of aircraft with their marginal power output , and smaller versions were not developed until the end of the war; they were also opposed by the British leadership, who feared they might promote cowardice. Recognised for their value as observation platforms, balloons were important targets for enemy aircraft.

To defend them against air attack, they were heavily protected by antiaircraft guns and patrolled by friendly aircraft; to attack them, unusual weapons such as air-to-air rockets were tried. Thus, the reconnaissance value of blimps and balloons contributed to the development of air-to-air combat between all types of aircraft, and to the trench stalemate, because it was impossible to move large numbers of troops undetected.

The Germans conducted air raids on England during and with airships, hoping to damage British morale and cause aircraft to be diverted from the front lines, and indeed the resulting panic led to the diversion of several squadrons of fighters from France. All German survivors were summarily executed by Baralong ' s crew on the orders of Lieutenant Godfrey Herbert , the captain of the ship.

The shooting was reported to the media by American citizens who were on board the Nicosia , a British freighter loaded with war supplies, which was stopped by U just minutes before the incident. On 24 September, Baralong destroyed U , which was in the process of sinking the cargo ship Urbino.

According to Karl Goetz, the submarine's commander, Baralong continued to fly the US flag after firing on U and then rammed the lifeboat—carrying the German survivors—sinking it. Only 24 of the medical personnel, patients, and crew survived. Survivors reported that the U-boat surfaced and ran down the lifeboats, machine-gunning survivors in the water. The U-boat captain, Helmut Patzig , was charged with war crimes in Germany following the war, but escaped prosecution by going to the Free City of Danzig , beyond the jurisdiction of German courts.

After the war, the German government claimed that approximately , German civilians died from starvation and disease during the war because of the Allied blockade. All food consigned to Germany through neutral ports was to be captured and all food consigned to Rotterdam was to be presumed consigned to Germany. The British were determined on the starvation policy, whether or not it was lawful.

The German army was the first to successfully deploy chemical weapons during the Second Battle of Ypres 22 April — 25 May , after German scientists working under the direction of Fritz Haber at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute developed a method to weaponize chlorine. The effect of poison gas was not limited to combatants. Civilians were at risk from the gases as winds blew the poison gases through their towns, and they rarely received warnings or alerts of potential danger.

In addition to absent warning systems, civilians often did not have access to effective gas masks. An estimated ,—, civilian casualties were caused by chemical weapons during the conflict and tens of thousands more along with military personnel died from scarring of the lungs, skin damage, and cerebral damage in the years after the conflict ended.

Many commanders on both sides knew such weapons would cause major harm to civilians but nonetheless continued to use them. British Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig wrote in his diary, "My officers and I were aware that such weapons would cause harm to women and children living in nearby towns, as strong winds were common in the battlefront. However, because the weapon was to be directed against the enemy, none of us were overly concerned at all.

A Brief History of WW1: The First Year and How It Started

The war damaged chemistry's prestige in European societies, in particular the German variety. The ethnic cleansing of the Ottoman Empire's Armenian population, including mass deportations and executions, during the final years of the Ottoman Empire is considered genocide. The Armenians were intentionally marched to death and a number were attacked by Ottoman brigands.

Other ethnic groups were similarly attacked by the Ottoman Empire during this period, including Assyrians and Greeks , and some scholars consider those events to be part of the same policy of extermination. The German invaders treated any resistance—such as sabotaging rail lines—as illegal and immoral, and shot the offenders and burned buildings in retaliation.

In addition, they tended to suspect that most civilians were potential francs-tireurs guerrillas and, accordingly, took and sometimes killed hostages from among the civilian population. The German army executed over 6, French and Belgian civilians between August and November , usually in near-random large-scale shootings of civilians ordered by junior German officers.

The German Army destroyed 15,—20, buildings—most famously the university library at Louvain —and generated a wave of refugees of over a million people. Over half the German regiments in Belgium were involved in major incidents. British propaganda dramatising the Rape of Belgium attracted much attention in the United States, while Berlin said it was both lawful and necessary because of the threat of franc-tireurs like those in France in The British soldiers of the war were initially volunteers but increasingly were conscripted into service.

Surviving veterans, returning home, often found they could discuss their experiences only amongst themselves. Grouping together, they formed "veterans' associations" or "Legions". A small number of personal accounts of American veterans have been collected by the Library of Congress Veterans History Project. About eight million men surrendered and were held in POW camps during the war. All nations pledged to follow the Hague Conventions on fair treatment of prisoners of war , and the survival rate for POWs was generally much higher than that of combatants at the front.

At the siege of Maubeuge about 40, French soldiers surrendered, at the battle of Galicia Russians took about , to , Austrian captives, at the Brusilov Offensive about , to , Germans and Austrians surrendered to Russians, and at the Battle of Tannenberg 92, Russians surrendered. When the besieged garrison of Kaunas surrendered in , some 20, Russians became prisoners, at the battle near Przasnysz February—March 14, Germans surrendered to Russians, and at the First Battle of the Marne about 12, Germans surrendered to the Allies.

Prisoners from the Allied armies totalled about 1. From the Central Powers about 3. Most were captured just before the Armistice. The United States held 48, The most dangerous moment was the act of surrender, when helpless soldiers were sometimes gunned down. A survivor said: "We were driven along like beasts; to drop out was to die. In Russia, when the prisoners from the Czech Legion of the Austro-Hungarian army were released in , they re-armed themselves and briefly became a military and diplomatic force during the Russian Civil War.

While the Allied prisoners of the Central Powers were quickly sent home at the end of active hostilities, the same treatment was not granted to Central Power prisoners of the Allies and Russia, many of whom served as forced labour , e. Military and civilian observers from every major power closely followed the course of the war. Many were able to report on events from a perspective somewhat akin to modern " embedded " positions within the opposing land and naval forces. In the Middle East, Arab nationalism soared in Ottoman territories in response to the rise of Turkish nationalism during the war, with Arab nationalist leaders advocating the creation of a pan-Arab state.

In , the Arab Revolt began in Ottoman-controlled territories of the Middle East in an effort to achieve independence. Lawrence forged the Iyasu photo. A number of socialist parties initially supported the war when it began in August Italian nationalism was stirred by the outbreak of the war and was initially strongly supported by a variety of political factions. One of the most prominent and popular Italian nationalist supporters of the war was Gabriele d'Annunzio , who promoted Italian irredentism and helped sway the Italian public to support intervention in the war.

Once war was declared, many socialists and trade unions backed their governments. In stark contrast to his predecessor , [] five days after his election he spoke of his determination to do what he could to bring peace. Benedict XV found his abilities and unique position as a religious emissary of peace ignored by the belligerent powers. The Treaty of London between Italy and the Triple Entente included secret provisions whereby the Allies agreed with Italy to ignore papal peace moves towards the Central Powers. Consequently, the publication of Benedict's proposed seven-point Peace Note of August was roundly ignored by all parties except Austria-Hungary.

Head of the British Army, Lord Kitchener , was to review the cadets , but the imminence of the war prevented him. General Horace Smith-Dorrien was sent instead. He surprised the two-or-three thousand cadets by declaring in the words of Donald Christopher Smith, a Bermudian cadet who was present ,. In our ignorance I, and many of us, felt almost ashamed of a British General who uttered such depressing and unpatriotic sentiments, but during the next four years, those of us who survived the holocaust—probably not more than one-quarter of us—learned how right the General's prognosis was and how courageous he had been to utter it.

Many countries jailed those who spoke out against the conflict. In the US, the Espionage Act of and Sedition Act of made it a federal crime to oppose military recruitment or make any statements deemed "disloyal". Publications at all critical of the government were removed from circulation by postal censors, [] and many served long prison sentences for statements of fact deemed unpatriotic. A number of nationalists opposed intervention, particularly within states that the nationalists were hostile to.

Although the vast majority of Irish people consented to participate in the war in and , a minority of advanced Irish nationalists staunchly opposed taking part. Irish nationalists and Marxists attempted to pursue Irish independence, culminating in the Easter Rising of , with Germany sending 20, rifles to Ireland to stir unrest in Britain. Other opposition came from conscientious objectors —some socialist, some religious—who refused to fight.


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  7. In Britain, 16, people asked for conscientious objector status. Even after the war, in Britain many job advertisements were marked "No conscientious objectors need apply". The Central Asian Revolt started in the summer of , when the Russian Empire government ended its exemption of Muslims from military service. In , a series of French Army Mutinies led to dozens of soldiers being executed and many more imprisoned. On 1—4 May , about , workers and soldiers of Petrograd , and after them, the workers and soldiers of other Russian cities, led by the Bolsheviks, demonstrated under banners reading "Down with the war!

    Almost 50 people including three Italian soldiers were killed and over people arrested. In September , Russian soldiers in France began questioning why they were fighting for the French at all and mutinied. The German Revolution of led to the abdication of the Kaiser and German surrender.

    HOW World War I Started: Crash Course World History 209

    Conscription was common in most European countries. However, it was controversial in English-speaking countries. It was especially unpopular among minority ethnic groups—especially the Irish Catholics in Ireland and Australia, [] and the French Catholics in Canada. In Canada the issue produced a major political crisis that permanently alienated the Francophones. It opened a political gap between French Canadians , who believed their true loyalty was to Canada and not to the British Empire, and members of the Anglophone majority, who saw the war as a duty to their British heritage.

    Australia had a form of conscription at the outbreak of the war, as compulsory military training had been introduced in However, the Defence Act provided that unexempted males could be called upon only for home defence during times of war, not overseas service. Prime Minister Billy Hughes wished to amend the legislation to require conscripts to serve overseas, and held two non-binding referendums — one in and one in — in order to secure public support.

    Hughes and his supporters were expelled from the party, forming the National Labor Party and then the Nationalist Party. Despite the referendum results, the Nationalists won a landslide victory at the federal election.


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    In Britain, conscription resulted in the calling up of nearly every physically fit man in Britain—six of ten million eligible. Of these, about , lost their lives. Most deaths were those of young unmarried men; however, , wives lost husbands and , children lost fathers. The act specified that single men aged 18 to 40 years old were liable to be called up for military service unless they were widowed with children or ministers of a religion. There was a system of Military Service Tribunals to adjudicate upon claims for exemption upon the grounds of performing civilian work of national importance, domestic hardship, health, and conscientious objection.

    The law went through several changes before the war ended. Married men were exempt in the original Act, although this was changed in June The age limit was also eventually raised to 51 years old. Recognition of work of national importance also diminished, and in the last year of the war there was some support for the conscription of clergy.

    Due to the political situation in Ireland, conscription was never applied there; only in England , Scotland and Wales. In the United States, conscription began in and was generally well received, with a few pockets of opposition in isolated rural areas. The draft was universal and included blacks on the same terms as whites, although they served in different units. Forms of resistance ranged from peaceful protest to violent demonstrations and from humble letter-writing campaigns asking for mercy to radical newspapers demanding reform. The most common tactics were dodging and desertion, and many communities sheltered and defended their draft dodgers as political heroes.

    Many socialists were jailed for "obstructing the recruitment or enlistment service". The most famous was Eugene Debs, head of the Socialist Party of America, who ran for president in from his prison cell. In a number of radicals and anarchists challenged the new draft law in federal court, arguing that it was a direct violation of the Thirteenth Amendment's prohibition against slavery and involuntary servitude. Like all the armies of mainland Europe, Austria-Hungary relied on conscription to fill its ranks. Officer recruitment, however, was voluntary.

    This was much resented. The army has been described as being "run on colonial lines" and the Slav soldiers as "disaffected". Thus conscription contributed greatly to Austria's disastrous performance on the battlefield. The non-military diplomatic and propaganda interactions among the nations were designed to build support for the cause, or to undermine support for the enemy. For the most part, wartime diplomacy focused on five issues: propaganda campaigns ; defining and redefining the war goals, which became harsher as the war went on; luring neutral nations Italy, Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria, Romania into the coalition by offering slices of enemy territory; and encouragement by the Allies of nationalistic minority movements inside the Central Powers, especially among Czechs, Poles, and Arabs.

    In addition, there were multiple peace proposals coming from neutrals, or one side or the other; none of them progressed very far. The War was an unprecedented triumph for natural science. This triumph paved the way to other triumphs: improvements in transport, in sanitation, in surgery, medicine, and psychiatry, in commerce and industry, and, above all, in preparations for the next war. The first tentative efforts to comprehend the meaning and consequences of modern warfare began during the initial phases of the war, and this process continued throughout and after the end of hostilities, and is still underway, more than a century later.

    Historian Heather Jones argues that the historiography has been reinvigorated by the cultural turn in recent years. Scholars have raised entirely new questions regarding military occupation, radicalisation of politics, race, and the male body. Furthermore, new research has revised our understanding of five major topics that historians have long debated: Why the war began, why the Allies won, whether generals were responsible for high casualty rates, how the soldiers endured the horrors of trench warfare, and to what extent the civilian homefront accepted and endorsed the war effort.

    Memorials were erected in thousands of villages and towns. Many of these graveyards also have central monuments to the missing or unidentified dead, such as the Menin Gate memorial and the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme. The UK Government has budgeted substantial resources to the commemoration of the war during the period to The lead body is the Imperial War Museum. World War I had a lasting impact on social memory. It was seen by many in Britain as signalling the end of an era of stability stretching back to the Victorian period , and across Europe many regarded it as a watershed.

    A generation of innocent young men, their heads full of high abstractions like Honour, Glory and England, went off to war to make the world safe for democracy. They were slaughtered in stupid battles planned by stupid generals. Those who survived were shocked, disillusioned and embittered by their war experiences, and saw that their real enemies were not the Germans, but the old men at home who had lied to them. They rejected the values of the society that had sent them to war, and in doing so separated their own generation from the past and from their cultural inheritance.

    This has become the most common perception of World War I, perpetuated by the art, cinema, poems, and stories published subsequently. These beliefs did not become widely shared because they offered the only accurate interpretation of wartime events. In every respect, the war was much more complicated than they suggest. It has been pointed out that, although the losses were devastating, their greatest impact was socially and geographically limited.

    The many emotions other than horror experienced by soldiers in and out of the front line, including comradeship, boredom, and even enjoyment, have been recognised. The war is not now seen as a 'fight about nothing', but as a war of ideals, a struggle between aggressive militarism and more or less liberal democracy. It has been acknowledged that British generals were often capable men facing difficult challenges, and that it was under their command that the British army played a major part in the defeat of the Germans in a great forgotten victory. Though these views have been discounted as "myths", [] [] they are common.

    They have dynamically changed according to contemporary influences, reflecting in the s perceptions of the war as "aimless" following the contrasting Second World War and emphasising conflict within the ranks during times of class conflict in the s. The majority of additions to the contrary are often rejected. The social trauma caused by unprecedented rates of casualties manifested itself in different ways, which have been the subject of subsequent historical debate. Though many participants did not share in the experiences of combat or spend any significant time at the front, or had positive memories of their service, the images of suffering and trauma became the widely shared perception.

    The First World War

    Such historians as Dan Todman, Paul Fussell , and Samuel Heyns have all published works since the s arguing that these common perceptions of the war are factually incorrect. The rise of Nazism and Fascism included a revival of the nationalist spirit and a rejection of many post-war changes. This conspiracy theory of betrayal became common, and the German populace came to see themselves as victims. The widespread acceptance of the "stab-in-the-back" theory delegitimised the Weimar government and destabilised the system, opening it to extremes of right and left. Communist and fascist movements around Europe drew strength from this theory and enjoyed a new level of popularity.

    These feelings were most pronounced in areas directly or harshly affected by the war. Adolf Hitler was able to gain popularity by using German discontent with the still controversial Treaty of Versailles. The 'Age of Totalitarianism' included nearly all the infamous examples of genocide in modern history, headed by the Jewish Holocaust, but also comprising the mass murders and purges of the Communist world, other mass killings carried out by Nazi Germany and its allies, and also the Armenian Genocide of One of the most dramatic effects of the war was the expansion of governmental powers and responsibilities in Britain, France, the United States, and the Dominions of the British Empire.

    To harness all the power of their societies, governments created new ministries and powers. New taxes were levied and laws enacted, all designed to bolster the war effort ; many have lasted to this day. Similarly, the war strained the abilities of some formerly large and bureaucratised governments, such as in Austria-Hungary and Germany.

    World War I

    In Austria, for example, most pigs were slaughtered, so at war's end there was no meat. To pay for purchases in the United States, Britain cashed in its extensive investments in American railroads and then began borrowing heavily from Wall Street. President Wilson was on the verge of cutting off the loans in late , but allowed a great increase in US government lending to the Allies.

    After , the US demanded repayment of these loans. The repayments were, in part, funded by German reparations that, in turn, were supported by American loans to Germany. This circular system collapsed in and some loans were never repaid. Macro- and micro-economic consequences devolved from the war.

    Families were altered by the departure of many men. With the death or absence of the primary wage earner, women were forced into the workforce in unprecedented numbers. At the same time, industry needed to replace the lost labourers sent to war. This aided the struggle for voting rights for women. World War I further compounded the gender imbalance, adding to the phenomenon of surplus women. The deaths of nearly one million men during the war in Britain increased the gender gap by almost a million: from , to 1,, The number of unmarried women seeking economic means grew dramatically.

    In addition, demobilisation and economic decline following the war caused high unemployment. The war increased female employment; however, the return of demobilised men displaced many from the workforce, as did the closure of many of the wartime factories. In Britain, rationing was finally imposed in early , limited to meat, sugar, and fats butter and margarine , but not bread.

    The new system worked smoothly. From to , trade union membership doubled, from a little over four million to a little over eight million. Britain turned to her colonies for help in obtaining essential war materials whose supply from traditional sources had become difficult. Geologists such as Albert Ernest Kitson were called on to find new resources of precious minerals in the African colonies.

    Kitson discovered important new deposits of manganese , used in munitions production, in the Gold Coast. Article of the Treaty of Versailles the so-called "war guilt" clause stated Germany accepted responsibility for "all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies.

    However neither of them interpreted it as an admission of war guilt.

    World War I: Overview

    However, "Allied experts knew that Germany could not pay" this sum. The total sum was divided into three categories, with the third being "deliberately designed to be chimerical" and its "primary function was to mislead public opinion This figure could be paid in cash or in kind coal, timber, chemical dyes, etc. In addition, some of the territory lost—via the treaty of Versailles—was credited towards the reparation figure as were other acts such as helping to restore the Library of Louvain. David Andelman notes "refusing to pay doesn't make an agreement null and void. The bonds, the agreement, still exist.

    The war contributed to the evolution of the wristwatch from women's jewellery to a practical everyday item, replacing the pocketwatch , which requires a free hand to operate. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. III fighters of Jagdstaffel Peace treaties. George V H. Theatres of World War I. Main article: Causes of World War I. Main article: Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Main article: July Crisis. Further information: Diplomatic history of World War I. Main article: African theatre of World War I.

    Main article: Naval warfare of World War I. See also: Albania during World War I. Main article: Romania during World War I. Main article: Russian Revolution. Main article: Czechoslovak Legion. Main article: Sinai and Palestine Campaign. Main article: American entry into World War I. Main article: Spring Offensive. Main article: Armistice of 11 November Main article: Aftermath of World War I. Further information: Sykes—Picot Agreement. See also: Tanks in World War I. Main article: Aviation in World War I.

    Main article: Baralong incidents. See also: Unrestricted submarine warfare. See also: Blockade of Germany. Main article: Chemical weapons in World War I. Main article: Anti-Jewish pogroms in the Russian Empire. See also: Urkun. Main article: Rape of Belgium. Main article: World War I prisoners of war in Germany. Main article: Conscription Crisis of Main article: Conscription in Australia. Main article: Conscription in the United Kingdom. Main article: Diplomatic history of World War I. Collingwood , writing in Main article: World War I memorials. Further information: World War I in popular culture.

    The examples and perspective in this section deal primarily with the United Kingdom and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. You may improve this section , discuss the issue on the talk page , or create a new article , as appropriate. June Learn how and when to remove this template message. See also: Economic history of World War I. World War I portal War portal. It joined the war on the side of the Central Powers on 29 October Retrieved 13 December Darkest Hours.

    BBC News. Retrieved 10 September The Diplomatic Background of the War. Yale University Press. Retrieved 26 August Davignon, Minister of Foreign Affairs] Forgotten Victory. League of Nations Photo Archive. Retrieved 20 November Ask History. Retrieved 24 October Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved 15 December Guide to Canadian English Usage. Oxford UP, , p. World War I. Dorling Kindersley.

    Transactions of the Royal Historical Society. Manchester University Press. The Journal of Conflict Resolution. Facts, figures, summaries, definitions, timelines, chronologies--there is a wealth of information here. John Keegan's view of the Great War has opposition, and Gary Sheffield's revisionist work offers an entirely different view of the conflict. Sheffield argues that the Great War was entirely necessary for stopping military imperialism, a controversial view that has angered many readers.

    There are a lot of books on the Somme published for the hundredth anniversary, so we've only picked the best and you might want to shop around. This book is touching, informative, newly repackaged, and can be very inexpensive. This is an older volume--but still a great one--about one of the most cynical decisions made in a very cynical war, how it went very wrong for the initiators, and little better for the defenders.

    It marked World War I as pointless and fumbling, and is treated with due care in this book by MacDonald. Crucially, Carlyon isn't afraid to point out how all nations on the allied sides made mistakes. Many English language books focus on the Western Front , and it's worth reading a book dedicated to the massive events of the east.

    Root's is the best, treating the theater with the detail and the balance it needs. Although a truly excellent new examination of events, with many revealing facts and interpretations, the content of this volume doesn't progress beyond By the time Strachan has finished his projected three-part work it may be the dominant modern text. This collection of eyewitness accounts, taken from many areas across the Western Front, certainly isn't pleasurable reading, but it will augment your knowledge of the conflict.

    Share Flipboard Email. Buy on Amazon. Continue Reading. ThoughtCo uses cookies to provide you with a great user experience.

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