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World War I (1914–1918)

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World War I

World War I (WWI), which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918.


It involved all the world's great powers, which were assembled in two opposing alliances: the Allies (centred around the Triple Entente of Britain, France and Russia) and the Central Powers (originally centred around the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy). More than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, were mobilised in one of the largest wars in history. More than 9 million combatants were killed, largely because of great technological advances in firepower without corresponding advances in mobility. It was the sixth deadliest conflict in world history, subsequently paving the way for various political changes such as revolutions in the nations involved.

Long-term causes of the war included the imperialistic foreign policies of the great powers of Europe, including the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Russian Empire, the British Empire, France, and Italy. The assassination on 28 June 1914 of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, by a Yugoslav nationalist was the proximate trigger of the war. It resulted in a Habsburg ultimatum against the Kingdom of Serbia. Several alliances formed over the previous decades were invoked, so within weeks the major powers were at war; via their colonies, the conflict soon spread around the world.

On 28 July, the conflict opened with the Austro-Hungarian invasion of Serbia, followed by the German invasion of Belgium, Luxembourg and France; and a Russian attack against Germany. After the German march on Paris was brought to a halt, the Western Front settled into a static battle of attrition with a trench line that changed little until 1917. In the East, the Russian army successfully fought against the Austro-Hungarian forces but was forced back by the German army. Additional fronts opened after the Ottoman Empire joined the war in 1914, Italy and Bulgaria in 1915 and Romania in 1916.


The Russian Empire collapsed in 1917, and Russia left the war after the October Revolution later that year. After a 1918 German offensive along the western front, United States forces entered the trenches and the Allies drove back the German armies in a series of successful offensives. Germany, which had its own trouble with revolutionaries at this point, agreed to a cease-fire on 11 November 1918, later known as Armistice Day. The war had ended in victory of the Allies.

By the war's end, four major imperial powers—the German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires—had been militarily and politically defeated and ceased to exist. The successor states of the former two lost a great amount of territory, while the latter two were dismantled entirely. The map of central Europe was redrawn into several smaller states. The League of Nations was formed in the hope of preventing another such conflict.


The European nationalism spawned by the war and the breakup of empires, the repercussions of Germany's defeat and problems with the Treaty of Versailles are generally agreed to be factors contributing to World War II.

World War I
28 July 1914 – 11 November 1918 (Armistice)

Treaty of Versailles signed 28 June 1919

Europe, Africa, the Middle East, the Pacific Islands, China and off the coast of South and North America
Result Allied victory
  • End of the German, Russian, Ottoman, and Austro-Hungarian empires
  • Formation of new countries in Europe and the Middle East
  • Transfer of German colonies andregions of the former Ottoman Empireto other powers
  • Establishment of the League of Nations.
Allied (Entente) Powers

France France
United Kingdom British Empire
 Russia (1914–17)
 Italy (1915–18)
 United States (1917–18)
 Romania (1916–18)
 Greece (1917–18)
Portugal Portugal (1916–18)
 Montenegro (1914–16)
and others

Central Powers

 Ottoman Empire
 Bulgaria (1915–18)

Commanders and leaders
Leaders and commanders

France Raymond Poincaré
France Georges Clemenceau
France Ferdinand Foch
British Empire H. H. Asquith
British Empire David Lloyd George
British Empire Douglas Haig
Russian Empire Nicholas II
Russian Empire Nicholas Nikolaevich
Kingdom of Italy (1861–1946) Antonio Salandra
Kingdom of Italy (1861–1946) Vittorio Orlando
Kingdom of Italy (1861–1946) Luigi Cadorna
United States Woodrow Wilson
United States John J. Pershing
and others

Leaders and commanders

German Empire Wilhelm II
German Empire Paul von Hindenburg
German Empire Erich Ludendorff
Austria-Hungary Franz Joseph I
Austria-Hungary Karl I
Austria-Hungary Conrad von Hötzendorf
Ottoman Empire Mehmed V
Ottoman Empire Enver Pasha
Ottoman Empire Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
Kingdom of Bulgaria Ferdinand I
Kingdom of Bulgaria Nikola Zhekov
and others


Russian Empire 12,000,000

British Empire 8,841,541

France 8,660,000

Kingdom of Italy (1861–1946) 5,093,140

United States 4,743,826

Kingdom of Romania 1,234,000

Empire of Japan 800,000

Kingdom of Serbia 707,343

Belgium 380,000

Kingdom of Greece 250,000

Portugal 200,000

Kingdom of Montenegro 50,000

Total: 42,959,850

Central Power

German Empire 13,250,000

Austria-Hungary 7,800,000

Ottoman Empire 2,998,321

Kingdom of Bulgaria 1,200,000

Total: 25,248,321

Casualties and losses
Military dead:
Military wounded:
Military missing:
22,477,500 KIA, WIA or
Military dead:
Military wounded:
Military missing:
16,403,000 KIA, WIA or

World War One - Timeline

Date Summary

Detailed Information

28 June 1914 Assassination of Franz Ferdinand

The Balkan states of Bosnia and Herzegovina, had been annexed from Turkey and taken into the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This was strongly resented by many Serbs and Croats and a nationalist group, The Black Hand, was formed.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, and his wife, had decided to inspect Austro-Hungarian troops in Bosnia. The date chosen for the inspection was a national day in Bosnia. The Black Hand supplied a group of students with weapons for an assassination attempt to mark the occasion.

A Serbian nationalist student, Gavrilo Princip, assassinated the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, when their open car stopped at a corner on its way out of the town.

28 July 1914 Austria declared war on Serbia

The Austrian government blamed the Serbian government for the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife and declared war on Serbia.

Although Russia was allied with Serbia, Germany did not believe that she would mobilise and offered to support Austria if necessary.

However, Russia did mobilise and, through their alliance with France, called on the French to mobilise.

1 Aug 1914 Germany declared war on Russia

Germany declared war on Russia.

3 Aug 1914 Germany declared war on France

Germany declared war on France. German troops poured into Belgium as directed under the Schleiffen Plan, drawn up in 1905. The British foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey, sent an ultimatum to Germany demanding their withdrawal from the neutral Belgium.

4 Aug 1914 British declaration of war

Germany did not withdraw from Belgium and Britain declared war on Germany.

Aug 1914 Battle of Tannenberg

The Russian army marched into Prussia. However, because of the differences in railway gauge between Russia and Prussia it was difficult for the Russians to get supplies through to their men. The Germans, on the other hand, used their railway system to surround the Russian Second army at Tannenberg before it's commander could realise what was happening. The ensuing battle was a heavy defeat for the Russians with thousands of men killed and 125,000 taken prisoner. Although the Germans won the battle, 13,000 men were killed.

13 Aug 1914 Japan declared war on Germany

Japan declared war on Germany through her alliance with Great Britain, signed in 1902

Sept 1914 Battle of Masurian Lakes

Having defeated the Russian Second army, the Germans turned their attention to the Russian First army at Masurian Lakes. Although the Germans were unable to defeat the army completely, over 100,000 Russians were taken prisoner.

29 Oct 1914 Turkey

Turkey entered the war on the side of the central powers and gave help to a German naval bombardment of Russia.

2 Nov 1914 Russia declared war on Turkey

Because of the help given by Turkey to the German attack of Russia, Russia declared war on Turkey.

5 Nov 1914 Britain and France declared war on Turkey

Britain and France, Russia's allies, declared war on Turkey, because of the help given to the German attack on Russia.

late 1914 Early stages of the war

The German advance through Belgium to France did not go as smoothly as the Germans had hoped. The Belgians put up a good fight destroying railway lines to slow the transport of German supplies.

 Despite a French counter-attack that saw the deaths of many Frenchmen on the battlefields at Ardennes, the Germans continued to march into France. They were eventually halted by the allies at the river Marne.

 British troops had advanced from the northern coast of France to the Belgian town of Mons. Although they initially held off the Germans, they were soon forced to retreat.

 The British lost a huge number of men at the first battle of Ypres.

 By Christmas, all hopes that the war would be over had gone and the holiday saw men of both sides digging themselves into the trenches of the Western Front.

Dec 1914 Zeppelins

The first Zeppelins appeared over the English coast.

7 May 1915 Lusitania sunk

There outraged protests from the United States at the German U-boat campaign, when the Lusitania, which had many American passengers aboard, was sank. The Germans moderated their U-boat campaign.

23 May 1915 Italy

 Italy entered the war on the side of the Allies.

2 Apr 1915 Second Battle of Ypres

Poison gas was used for the first time during this battle. The gas, fired by the Germans claimed many British casualties.

Feb 1915 Zeppelin bombing

Zeppelin airships dropped bombs on Yarmouth.

Feb 1915 Dardenelles

The Russians appealed for help from Britain and France to beat off an attack by the Turkish. The British navy responded by attacking Turkish forts in the Dardenelles.

Apr - Aug 1915 Dardenelles/ Gallipoli

 Despite the loss of several ships to mines, the British successfully landed a number of marines in the Gallipoli region of the Dardenelles. Unfortunately the success was not followed up and the mission was a failure.

after Feb 1915 Winston Churchill resigns

Winston Churchill, critical of the Dardenelles campaign, resigned his post as First Lord of the Admiralty. He rejoined the army as a battalion commander.

April 1915 Zeppelins

The use of airships by the Germans increased. Zeppelins began attacking London. They were also used for naval reconnaissance, to attack London and smaller balloons were used for reconnaissance along the Western Front. They were only stopped when the introduction of aeroplanes shot them down.

early 1916 Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill served in Belgium as lieutenant colonel of the Royal Scots Fusiliers.

April 1916 Romania enter the war

Romania joined the war on the side of the Allies. But within a few months was occupied by Germans and Austrians.

31 May 1916 Battle of Jutland

This was the only truly large-scale naval battle of the war. German forces, confined to port by a British naval blockade, came out in the hope of splitting the British fleet and destroying it ship by ship. However, the British admiral, Beatty, aware that the German tactics were the same as those used by Nelson at Trafalgar, sent a smaller force to lure the German's into the range of Admiral Jellicoe's main fleet. Although Beatty's idea worked, the exchange of fire was brief and the German's withdrew.

1 June 1916 Battle of Jutland

The British and German naval forces met again but the battle was inconclusive. The German ships did a great deal of damage to British ships before once again withdrawing and the British Admiral Jellicoe decided not to give chase.

Although British losses were heavier than the German, the battle had alarmed both the Kaiser and the German Admiral Scheer and they decided to keep their fleet consigned to harbour for the remainder of the war.

28 Nov 1916 First Aeroplane raid

The first German air raid on London took place. The Germans hoped that by making raids on London and the South East, the British Air Force would be forced into protecting the home front rather than attacking the German air force.

Dec 1916 Lloyd George Prime Minister

Lloyd George became Prime Minister of the war time coalition. His war cabinet, unlike that of his predecessor, met every day. However, there was considerable disagreement among the members of the Cabinet, especially between Lloyd George and his war secretary, Sir Douglas Haig. Lloyd George suspected Haig of squandering life needlessly and was suspicious of his demands for more men and freedom of action in the field.

21 Feb - Nov 1916 Battle of Verdun

The Germans mounted an attack on the French at Verdun designed to 'bleed the French dry'. Although the fighting continued for nine months, the battle was inconclusive. Casualties were enormous on both sides with the Germans losing 430,000 men and the French 540,000.

1 July - Nov 1916 Battle of the Somme

The battle was preceded by a week long artillery bombardment of the German line which was supposed to destroy the barbed wire defences placed along the German line but only actually succeeded in making no mans land a mess of mud and craters. The five month long battle saw the deaths of 420,000 British soldiers (60,000 on the first day), 200,000 French soldiers and 500,000 German soldiers all for a total land gain of just 25 miles.

1917 New war commander

Lloyd George, who had never trusted his war minister's ability to direct the war, persuaded the Cabinet to appoint the French General Nivelle as supreme war commander over Haig's head. Haig was assured that the appointment was for one operation only and that if he felt the British army was being misused by the Frenchman he could appeal to the British government.

July - Nov 1917 W.front Passchendale

The operation commanded by the French General, Nivelle, went wrong and caused the loss of many French soldiers. Haig protested to the British government and advocated trying his own scheme for a breakthrough. At the resulting battle of Passchendale, Haig broke his promise to call off the battle if the first stage failed because he did not want to lose face with the government.

1917 Churchill Minister of Munitions

Following the heavy defeat at Passchendale, Lloyd George decided that he wanted Churchill in the Cabinet. Churchill was duly appointed Minister of Munitions.

1917 Reinforcements sent to Italy

The Italians had lost many men trying to hold the line between Italy and the Central Powers. British and French reinforcements were sent to hold the line.

early 1917 German U-boat campaign

In Germany, orders were given to step up the U-boat campaign. All allied or neutral ships were to be sunk on sight and in one month almost a million tons of shipping was sunk. Neutral countries became reluctant to ship goods to Britain and Lloyd George ordered all ships carrying provisions to Britain to be given a convoy.

6 April 1917 USA declares war on Germany

The United States of America declared war on Germany in response to the sinking, by German U boats, of US ships.

Nov 1917 W. Front Cambrai

The British took a large force of tanks across the barbed wire and machine gun posts at Cambrai.

Dec 1917 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk

Following the successful revolution by the Bolsheviks, the Russians signed an Armistice with Germany at Brest-Litovsk. The terms of the treaty were harsh: Russia had to surrender Poland, the Ukraine and other regions. They had to stop all Socialist propaganda directed at Germany and pay 300 million roubles for the repatriation of Russian prisoners.

April 1918 RAF formed

The Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service were merged to form the Royal Air Force.

8 - 11 Aug 1918 Battle of Amiens

The British general, Haig, ordered the attack of the German sector at Amiens. At the same time the news came through that the allies had broken through from Salonika and forced Bulgaria to sue for peace.

mid Oct 1918 Allies recover France and Belgium

The allies had taken almost all of German-occupied France and part of Belgium.

30 Oct 1918 Armistice with Turkey

The allies had successfully pushed the Turkish army back and the Turks were forced to ask for an armistice. The terms of the armistice treaty allowed the allies access to the Dardenelles.

early Nov 1918 Hindenberg line collapsed

By the beginning of November the allies had pushed the Germans back beyond the Hindenberg line.

9 Nov 1918 Kaiser abdicated

Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated.

11 Nov 1918 Armistice signed

At 11 am, in the French town of Redonthes, the Armistice was signed bringing the war to an end.

World War I's Aftermath: Attack on Civil Liberties and Betrayal at Versailles

I. Attack on Civil Liberties

    A. Committee on Public Information propaganda effectively cast Germans as evil force in World War I.

    B. Espionage and Sedition Acts

      1. Loosely worded laws which gave the government wide authority to prosecute war critics 
      2. Numerous arrests and convictions with long prison sentences for those seen as "disloyal" 
      3. Supreme Court upheld acts, using "clear and present danger" doctrine to limit free speech in time of war
    C. Persecution of radicals: Wilson administration focused on IWW and Socialist Party as targets of suppression.
II. The Red Scare
    A. Following Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, American hatred for Germany was transferred to Communist Russia.

    B. Wilson sent American troops to Russia in 1918 in attempt to undercut Bolshevik government.

    C. Following the war, a number of strikes, particularly in the steel industry, alarmed Americans.

    D. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer exaggerated radical threat and created the Federal Bureau of Investigation to fight it.

      1. Series of mail bombs set off panic among government officials 
      2. Palmer Raids, January 1920. With blatant disregard for civil liberties, federal officers raided suspected anarchists and aliens without search warrants 
      3. Palmer eventually lost credibility with his tactics, though the FBI survived and became the federal crime-fighting unit
IV. The Versailles Peace Conference
    A. Hailed as a hero by the French, Wilson faced some major obstacles in implementing his 14 Points (League of Nations, freedom of the seas, etc.)
      1. Republicans had won control of Congress in 1918 and many were opposed to his plans 
      2. Allies were determined to impose a harsh peace of Germany.
    B. Wilson forced to accept compromises at Versailles
      1. Germany accepts sole responsibility for war 
      2. Germany ordered to pay massive reparations despite economic deprivation 
      3. League of Nations is established with collective security concept to stop aggression.
    C. American debate over treaty
      1. Treaty was criticized in Congress for Article X, which called for American troops to be placed under the command of League of Nations officers 
      2. In an attempt to win support from the country, Wilson embarked on a nationwide speaking tour. Suffered collapse and stroke. 
      3. Senate rejected the Treaty. Unwilling to give up tradition of nonalignment and to commit the U.S. to collective international action.
V. The Experience of War
    A. Exposed the heterogeneity of the American people and the dvisions among them.

    B. Government intervened in the economic and influenced people's lives to an extent never done previously.

    C. U.S. is now the world's leading economic power and largest trading nation.

    D. International system that came into being was unstable, fragmented, and lacked American cooperation

    E. Civil liberties restricted in attempt to achieve unity

    F. Ended Progressivism and brought mood of cynicism and discouragement to American intellectual