World War 1: A Comprehensive Overview of the Great War

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World War 1 inflicted hitherto unseen violence on Europe and entangled the entire planet in the conflict—the first time a war was so far-reaching. It broke empires, launched new nations onto the international stage, and caused humanity to question its innate goodness.


Scroll down to learn about the causes of World War 1, major battles, their end, treaties, and aftermath.

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An alliance is an agreement made between two or more countries to give each other help if it is needed. When an alliance is signed, those countries become known as Allies.A number of alliances had been signed by countries between the years 1879 and 1914. These were important because they meant that some countries had no option but to declare war if one of their allies. declared war first. (the table below reads clockwise from the top left picture)ImperialismImperialism is when a country takes over new lands or countries and makes them subject to their rule. By 1900 the British Empire extended over five continents and France had control of large areas of Africa. With the rise of industrialism, countries needed new markets. The amount of lands ‘owned’ by Britain and France increased the rivalry with Germany who had entered the scramble to acquire colonies late and only had small areas of Africa.

Militarism means that the army and military forces are given a high profile by the government. The growing European divide had led to an arms race between the main countries. The armies of both France and Germany had more than doubled between 1870 and 1914 and there was fierce competition between Britain and Germany for mastery of the seas. The British had introduced the ‘Dreadnought’, an effective battleship, in 1906. The Germans soon followed suit introducing their own battleships. The German, Von Schlieffen also drew up a plan of action that involved attacking France through Belgium if Russia made an attack on Germany.

The Assassination of Franz Ferdinand Franz Ferdinand, aged 51, was heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire. He was married to Sophie Chotek von Chotvoka and had three children. Franz Ferdinand was, however, very unpopular because he had made it clear that once he became Emperor he would make changes. The map below, of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1914, shows that Bosnia/ Herzegovina was controlled by Austria. Austria had annexed Bosnia in 1908, a move that was not popular with the Bosnian people. Franz Ferdinand decided to visit Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, to make an inspection of the Austro-Hungarian troops there. The inspection was scheduled for 28th June 1914. It was planned that Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie would be met at the station and taken by car to the City Hall where they would have lunch before going to inspect the troops. A Serbian terrorist group, called The Black Hand, had decided that the Archduke should be assassinated and the planned visit provided the ideal opportunity. Seven young men who had been trained in bomb-throwing and marksmanship were stationed along the route that Franz Ferdinand’s car would follow from the City Hall to the inspection. The first two terrorists were unable to throw their grenades because the streets were too crowded and the car was traveling quite fast. The third terrorist, a young man called Cabrinovic, threw a grenade that exploded under the car following that of the Archduke. Although the Archduke and his wife were unhurt, some of his attendants were injured and had to be taken to hospital. After lunch at the City Hall, Franz Ferdinand insisted on visiting the injured attendants in the hospital. However, on the way to the hospital, the driver took a wrong turn. Realizing his mistake he stopped the car and began to reverse. Another terrorist, named Gavrilo Princip, stepped forward and fired two shots. The first hit the pregnant Sophia in the stomach, she died almost instantly. The second shot hit the Archduke in the neck. He died a short while later. Gavrilo Princip was arrested but was not executed because he was under 20 years. He was sentenced to twenty years in prison where he died of TB in 1918.
Theatres of War in World War 1The Theatres of War of the First World War are listed in this article, particularly those on the Western Front in France, Belgium, and elsewhere. Although World War One was a world war, most of the fighting was confined to a few key areas. These areas are usually referred to as the theatres of war.

  • Western Front
  • Eastern Front
  • Italian Front
  • Gallipoli
  • The War at Sea

Causes of World War I – 1The first world war began in August 1914. It was directly triggered by the assassination of the Austrian archduke, Franz Ferdinand, and his wife, on 28th June 1914 by Bosnian revolutionary, Gavrilo Princip. This event was, however, simply the trigger that set off declarations of war. The actual causes of the war are more complicated and are still debated by historians today.

Who Started WW1? The Background of the Great War

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Since the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, there had been several regional conflicts in Europe, but there had not been a general war (one that involved all of the major European powers). Between 1815 and 1914, the most powerful nations of Europe had coexisted in an arrangement called the “Balance of Power.” Under this arrangement, the major powers of Europe kept each other’s power in check. If one nation seemed to be growing too powerful, the others would act to stop this and preserve the balance.

In 1914, Europe was dominated by several major powers, most of which were multinational empires. They called themselves the Great Powers. There were 5 Great Powers, as well as two other nations who desired to be, although they lacked the military and economic power of the others. Let’s go around Europe and take a look at each of these powers.

What Started WW1? A Closer Look at the Origins of the Great War

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At first, it all seemed very far away. The possibility of a Great War engulfing Europe had not become a reality since the terrifying days of the Napoleonic Wars. But it did not begin due to the failure of diplomacy. The reasons for the beginning of World War One all start with a wrong turn taken on a road in Sarajevo.

On 28 June 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Countess Sophie, were assassinated in Sarajevo, Bosnia. It was the couple’s fourteenth wedding anniversary. They were utterly devoted; indeed it sometimes seemed Sophie was Ferdinand’s only friend. Politically liberal and personally difficult, Ferdinand had married against the wishes of his uncle, Austria’s Emperor Franz Joseph. As a result, his children were removed from any right to succession, but he was still next in line to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

An empire it surely was, even if its welter of nationalities were only tenuously welded together. Ferdinand was an Austrian, skeptical of Hungarians, married to a Czech, and inclined to be indulgent with Croats and Serbs. His reputation for liberalism—in what was a tolerant, cosmopolitan, fatalistic, conservative-reactionary empire, which regarded itself, in the famous Viennese phrase, as being in a situation that was hopeless but not serious—came largely from his support for expanding the dual monarchy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire into a tripartite monarchy that would have given greater autonomy to the Slavs.

It was not a popular position. Austrian hardliners saw no reason for the change, Hungarians feared it would lessen their influence, and Slavic nationalists did not want their people reconciled to Austrian rule; they wanted violence, bloodshed, and nationalist revolution. On 28 June 1914, one of their number—Gavrilo Princip, a tubercular student, an atheist in a famously Catholic if multireligious empire, and a member of the Black Hand, a Serbian terrorist movement—committed the murders that eventually created an independent Yugoslavia, all at the cost of a cataclysmic world war.

What started World War 1 began with one death. It ended with 17 million more dead.

World War One – The Treaty of Versailles

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The military hostilities of World War One ended at 11am on 11th November 1918 but a final diplomatic end of the war was not reached until the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. In 1919, Lloyd George of England, Orlando of Italy, Clemenceau of France and Woodrow Wilson from the US met to discuss how Germany was to be made to pay for the damage world war one had caused.

Wilson had devised a 14 point plan that he believed would bring stability to Europe.

  1. Open Diplomacy – There should be no secret treaties between powers
  2. Freedom of Navigation – Seas should be free in both peace and war
  3. Free Trade – The barriers to trade between countries such as custom duties should be removed
  4. Multilateral Disarmament – All countries should reduce their armed forces to the lowest possible levels
  5. Colonies – People in European colonies should have a say in their future
  6. Russia – Russia should be allowed to operate whatever government it wanted and that government should be accepted, supported and welcomed.
  7. Belgium – Belgium should be evacuated and restored to the situation before the war.
  8. France – should have Alsace-Lorraine and any lands taken away during the war restored.
  9. Italy – The Italian border should be readjusted according to nationality
  10. National Self -Determination – The national groups in Europe should, wherever possible, be given their independence.
  11. Romania, Montenegro and Serbia – Should be evacuated and Serbia should have an outlet to the sea
  12. Turkey – The people of Turkey should have a say in their future
  13. Poland – Poland should become an independent state with an outlet to the sea.
  14. League of Nations – An assembly of all nations should be formed to protect world peace in the future.

Germany expected a treaty based on these fourteen points. However, negotiations between the ‘big four’ Lloyd George of England, Orlando of Italy, Clemenceau of France and Woodrow Wilson of America did not go smoothly. Wilson believed that his fourteen points was the only way to secure everlasting peace. The French however, wanted the defeated nations to be punished severely and believed Wilson’s plan too lenient. Privately Lloyd George sided with Wilson although he was concerned about the threat from Communism, however, the British public, like Clemenceau, wanted Germany punished severely. Lloyd George knew that if he sided with Wilson he would lose the next election.

How did the Treaty of Versailles Lead to WW2?

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President Woodrow Wilson, for his part, urged Americans to be neutral in thought, word, and deed. Yet the president was at heart pro-British. Wilson himself once remarked privately, “England is fighting our fight and you may well understand that I shall not, in the present state of the world’s affairs, place obstacles in her way. . . . I will not take any action to embarrass England when she is fighting for her life and the life of the world.”

Germany’s violation of Belgian neutrality, which involved the passing of troops through Belgium on their way to France, became for the Allies a symbol of barbarity and militarism run amok and a reminder of the need to wipe autocracy from the face of the earth. Germany’s violation of Belgian neutrality was certainly an outrage, but obviously not the greatest atrocity in the history of mankind. The Germans had made the same request of the Belgians that they had of Luxembourg, which accepted them without difficulty: they wanted safe passage for German troops and agreed to compensate Belgians for any damage or for any victuals consumed along the way.

Was the US Involvement in World War One a Mistake?

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“Was the US Involvement in World War One a Mistake?”

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Most Americans are unclear about their country’s contribution to victory in World War I. They figure we entered the conflict too late to claim much credit, or maybe they think our intervention was discreditable. Some say we had no compelling national interest to enter the Great War; worse, our intervention allowed Britain and France to force on Germany an unjust, punitive peace that made the rise of Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers Party inevitable. Had we stayed out of the war, the argument goes, the Europeans would have been compelled to make a reasonable, negotiated peace, and postwar animosity would have been lessened.

WW1 Soldiers: British, German, French, Russian, Italian, and Ottoman

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“The Average WW1 Soldier Was a 110-Pound Villager”

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Let’s look at the profiles of an average soldier in World War One. We will look at the backgrounds, training, and provisions allotted to troops in the British, French, German, Russian, and Ottoman armies. We will look at their lives in the trenches, which were with very few exceptions absolutely miserable. We will also look at the terrible experiences that they faced on the battlefield, trying desperately to survive artillery barrages or poison gas attacks. Many suffered “shell shock” from the experienced, what we know today as PTSD.

II. Battle Wounds

  1. Between 9 and 10 million soldiers were killed in WW1. Serbia lost 37% of its soldiers. France lost 16%. (Expand this)
  2. Another 13 million more were wounded.
  3. About half of the bodies of those killed were never found or identified. Most ended up in mass graves. Many were too badly damaged to be identified.
  4. Millions more soldiers were wounded. It is estimated that about 85% of battle wounds came from exploding artillery shells. Wounds caused by exploding shells were often jagged and became infected due to dirt and mud getting in them. They caused extensive damage to bone and muscles. This problem was exacerbated in the Alps, due to fragments of rock.
  5. Disease was common. There was “trench foot,” “trench fever” (a form of typhus caused by lice, which were omnipresent)
  6. Some soldiers inflicted wounds on themselves, including exposing themselves to frostbite, shooting themselves, and injecting themselves with toxins.
  7. Gas poisoning affected about 1.2 million men. They caused long-term damage to lungs and eyes.

III. Medical Care

  1. When possible, wounded would be carried off the battlefield by stretcher bearers to “casualty clearing stations” behind the front lines. Triage would be done. Some would be operated on there, while others would be evacuated to hospitals further behind the lines.
  2. Antiseptic care and anesthetics were greatly improved from 19th century military medicine. Blood transfusions were now possible.
  3. Hygiene was stressed. Delousing was done, as were vaccinations. There was even medically supervised prostitution.
  4. Prosthetics were commonly used. These included not just artificial arms and legs but also noses and face masks made of rubber or wax.
  5. Cosmetic surgery advanced. Still some soldiers’ faces could not be repaired, and many stayed secluded.

IV. Psychological Damage

  1. Soldiers increasingly saw themselves as expendable.
  2. Nearly half of all surviving soldiers experienced “Shell Shock,” or PTSD. Doctors originally thought this was a physical condition caused by the impact of shells on the brain.
  3. Commanders initially thought soldiers with shell shock were being cowardly or shirking their duty. Many were punished, including a few who were executed.
  4. Treatments were primitive. They included shock therapy and solitary confinement.
  5. Some soldiers went mad.

V. Capture and Imprisonment

  1. About 8.5 million men became prisoners of war during WW1. This is about 10% of the total number of soldiers.
  2. Many prisoners were killed soon after capture.
  3. Those who were kept in prison camps dealt with shame, squalor, hunger, and disease.
  4. The International Red Cross and other organizations tried to relieve the suffering of prisoners.

US Involvement in World War One

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  • President Wilson: Background
    • Wilson had grown up in Virginia and other parts of the South. His father was a minister, and the family moved a lot.
    • Wilson attended Princeton and later taught there. Eventually, he became the president of the university.
    • He was elected Governor of New Jersey and then US president in 1912.
    • A devout Presbyterian, he believed that he was being used by God to affect change worldwide. He saw himself as an outsider and above politics. He tried to communicate directly with the American people, bypassing political institutions.
    • When the war broke out, he was determined to keep the U. S. neutral.
    • He won re-election in 1916, running under the slogan “He has kept us out of war.” But at the same time, he offered to mediate an end to the war. The Europeans rejected his offer.
  • America’s March Toward War
    • When war broke out in 1914, few Americans were interested in getting involved.
    • 12 million immigrants had come to America (most from Europe) since 1900, and many had experienced conscription, European-style military service, and even war. They wanted no part of war.

    • Many immigrants had ties to Germany and Austria-Hungary. Irish immigrants felt no love for the Allies, especially the UK.

    • Still, most Americans sympathized with the Allies. Plus, American trade had increased with the Allies due to British naval policy (especially the blockade), while trade with Germany had been virtually eliminated.

    • German sinkings of ships containing Americans caused Americans to gradually turn against the Germans. The most famous sinking was the Lusitania in 1915, a luxury liner. 1200 people died, including 128 Americans. The Sussex sinking in 1916 also caused a great deal of outrage among Americans.

    • The sinkings led to a movement among Americans called the “Preparedness Campaign.” Preparedness advocates wanted an expanded and well-trained US Army and Navy in the event that America was to join the war. Theodore Roosevelt was a key leader of the movement.

    • Some Americans volunteered to join European forces. One famous unit was the French “Escadrille Lafayette,” an air unit.

    • President Wilson tried to calm the increasingly pro-war passions of Americans, charting a middle ground. He argued that Americans were “too proud to fight.”

    • Between 1914 and 1917, American production greatly increased. Steel production increased 76%. American exports quadrupled. American loans helped finance the Allied war effort, and America went from being a debtor nation to a creditor nation.

    • In February of 1917, Germany announced the resumption of Unrestricted Submarine Warfare. The U. S. broke diplomatic relations with Germany and began arming merchant’s vessels.

    • On March 1, Wilson made the “Zimmermann Telegram” public. This had been sent by the German foreign minister to Mexico. Zimmermann had proposed that Mexico go to war with the US, with German support. In return, Germany would make sure that Mexico received the states of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico as compensation. This was the last straw for most Americans.

    • On April 6, 1917, the U. S. formally declared war on Germany. In his war message, Wilson said “The world must be made safe for democracy.” But he said the U. S. was not joining the Allies, but rather becoming an “Associated Power.”

Trench Warfare: The Hellish Fighting Conditions of WW1

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“World War 1 Trenches Were A Labyrinth of Rats, Disease, Decaying Flesh, and the Omnipresent Threat of Death”

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“Rats came up from the canal, fed on the plentiful corpses, and multiplied exceedingly. A new officer joined the company and…when he turned in that night he heard a scuffling, shone his torch on the bed, and found two rats on his blanket tussling for the possession of a severed hand.” The scene that Captain Robert Graves described in his autobiography was common for that of many soldiers. There were perhaps few places in the history of warfare as miserable as the trenches. Unlike most armies, which are constantly on the move, the armies of WW1 stayed locked in positions for months or even years. There they festered in disease, cold, hunger, and the fear that the whistle would blow and they would have to go “over the top” and face a hail of enemy artillery as they tried to charge No Man’s Land.

The world of the trenches quickly took on reality as a world apart. And trench warfare made a permanent imprint on the western imagination. Phrases like “over the top,” “in the trenches,” and “no man’s land” became a permanent part of the vocabularies of the languages of the various powers.

The Structure of Trenches

    • Trenches became increasingly elaborate.

    • Barbed wire barriers were built in front of each side’s trenches.

    • Trenches began to be built in zigzag formations.

    • Boards had to be put at the bottom of the trenches due to moisture.

    • They were typically about 10 feet high and were lined with sandbags. They had a parapet in the front.

    • Trenches had a “fire step” that allowed people to see over the edge.

    • They had a machine gun and mortar batteries placed at intervals.

Between and Behind the Trenches

    • The area in between the two sides was called “No Man’s Land.” It could be anywhere from 30 yards to several hundred yards wide.

    • It was filled with shell holes, the remains of fortifications, and dead bodies.

    • It was usually about 275 yards across.

    • Trenches consisted of several lines: front lines, support lines, reserve lines, and retreat lines. Also, there were supply lines, workshops, training facilities, and HQ.

    • They had dugouts, where up to 3 men could squeeze in for shelter.

    • Trench networks were so complicated that there had to be maps and guides.

    • Behind the trenches were bunkers that were reinforced with concrete. There

    • Behind the bunkers were artillery positions.

    • Some trenches had railways in them, which could be used to quickly bring in reinforcements.

Life in the Trenches

    • Soldiers were constantly exposed to the weather.

    • Snow and mud were commonly present.

    • Soldiers took on near-primitive existences. Filth was everywhere. The smell was horrible due to the rotting bodies of men and animals, overflowing latrines, and the inability of the soldiers to bathe.

    • Rats and vermin were everywhere.

    • Extreme boredom prevailed, although it was punctuated by moments of extreme terror. Soldiers would read and do other time-killing activities to beat the boredom.

    • Heroism seemed pointless. War seemed to be all about technology, not individuals. Soldiers felt dehumanized.

    • Soldiers would be rotated, spending (perhaps one week on the front lines, then a week in the reserve trenches, then time behind the lines (sometimes on leave).

    • The daily routine involved getting ready (“Stand To”) for an attack at the beginning of the day. Then there would be “The Daily Hate”, big artillery or machine-gun barrage. Then if no attack happened, there would be meals, sentry duty, repairing and adding on to trenches, cleaning weapons, inspections, and other duties. At the end of the day, they would “Stand To” again.

    • At night, soldiers had to be prepared for attacks. Lack of sleep was the norm. Sentry duty was assigned in 2-hour shifts.

    • The disease was rampant, like “Trench Foot” and “Trench Fever” (which came from vermin and lice). The British army alone suffered about 20,000 casualties from Trench Foot by the end of 1914. Trench foot decreased as the quality of trenches increased.

    • There was also “Shell Shock” (PTSD).

    • Soldiers gave names to sections of their trenches. The names often evoked places back home.

    • Soldiers tried to make the best of things, often with dark humor. At a British salient at Ypres, there was a spot where an arm was sticking out from a trench wall. Soldiers called the arm “Jack” and would shake the hand on their way out of and back into the trenches (Dr. Vejas Liulevicius).

    • They also published trench newspapers, put on plays, and showed movies.

    • About 1/3 of Allied casualties on the Western Front occurred in the trenches.

    • Dan Carlin: Unlike in WW2 and other wars, in which the armies often moved, in WW1, they mostly stayed put (at least on the Western Front). This means that the soldiers had to fight where they also lived. Bodies had to be buried very close to where the soldiers stayed, and often shellings and the digging of more or deeper trenches caused them to be unearthed.


    • Machine Guns: Had a range of more than 1000 yards. Fired 600 rounds per minute. One machine gun crew could hold off masses of enemies.

    • No-recoil artillery. It was not jolted out of position by every firing. It also did not have to be re-sighted or recalibrated. This allowed for precise attacks.

    • Poison Gas: First used by Germany on April 22, 1915

    • All this gave the defense a great advantage. The “Cult of the Offensive” was dead.

A Typical Attack

    • A massive artillery barrage (intended to cut barbed wire and damage enemy defenses). But the barrages seldom accomplished either of these things. Instead, they ruined the element of surprise.

    • Attacking units were ordered to go “Over the Top”…out of the trenches with bayonet charges, through no man’s land, and into enemy trenches.

    • However, the artillery barrages made attacks more difficult by tearing up no man’s land. Soldiers sometimes got caught on barbed wire.

    • The attackers would be mowed down by machine guns operated by the defenders.

    • “Defense was mechanized; the attack was not.” – AJP Taylor

    • Many commanders refused to adapt to the new reality. They stubbornly clung to old notions of warfare, including cavalry, heroic bayonet charges, and the Cult of the Offensive.

World War One Flying Aces: The Red Baron and More

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“The Flying Aces of World War One”

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Since the first successful flight of an airplane, people had imagined and dreamed of airplanes being used for combat. H. G. Wells’s 1908 book (The War in the Air was an example. When World War One broke out, there were only about 1000 planes on all sides. Planes were very basic. Cockpits were open, instruments were rudimentary, and there were no navigational aids. Pilots had to use maps, which were not always reliable. Getting lost was common. Sometimes pilots had to land and ask for directions! At the beginning of the war, airplanes were seen as being almost exclusively for reconnaissance, taking the job formerly done by cavalry. Eventually, however, it became necessary for planes to eliminate the observation planes of the enemy, so air-to-air combat (dogfights) became common.

The Development of Combat Aircraft

    • Since the first successful flight of an airplane, people had imagined and dreamed of airplanes being used for combat. H. G. Wells (The War in the Air, 1908) was an example.

    • Planes had been used in minor wars beginning in the 1910s.

    • Each Great Power had formed air branches of the army and/or navy. France had the most developed one. Britain had two: The Royal Flying Corps (part of the army) and the Royal Naval Air Service (part of the navy). They would be merged into the Royal Air Force, the first independent air service, in 1917. The German service was called the Luftstreitkrafte.

    • When the war broke out, there were only about 1000 planes on all sides.

    • Planes were very basic. Cockpits were open, instruments were rudimentary, and there were no navigational aids. Pilots had to use maps, which were not always reliable. Getting lost was common. Sometimes pilots had to land and ask directions!

    • At the beginning of the war, airplanes were seen as being almost exclusively for reconnaissance, taking the job formerly done by cavalry. They were also used for artillery spotting and range finding. Flying reconnaissance missions was dangerous, however.

    • Eventually, however, it became necessary for planes to eliminate the observation planes of the enemy, so air-to-air combat (dogfights) became common.

    • Plane technology improved throughout the war, and specialized planes began to emerge (seaplanes, fighters, bombers). There were biplanes and triplanes. Popular makes included the Neuport, the Sopwith Pup and Sopwith Camel, and the German Fokker triplane.

    • Plane speeds increased throughout the war, from about 75 mph at the start of the war to nearly twice that at the end.

    • The air forces increased greatly in size. At the beginning of the war, the British air services had 300 officers and about 1800 men. By the end of the war, they had 27,000 officers and over 300,000 men. France had less than 140 aircraft at the start of the war but 4500 at the end of the war (the most of all powers).

    • Production of planes also increased greatly. By the war’s end, France was building as many planes every day as the total number they had at the start of the war.

    • Aircraft weaponry became more elaborate. At the beginning of the war, pilots just shot at each other with pistols or other small arms.

    • Then machine guns were installed, but the bullets would hit the propeller. Metal plates were installed on propeller blades to deflect the bullets. But the bullets would sometimes ricochet, and repeated hits would wear off the plates.

    • This problem was solved by Dutch engineer Anthony Fokker, who invented an interrupter gear that synchronized the gun’s action with the propeller. This invention gave the Central Powers air superiority (“The Fokker Scourge”) for a while, but only for about a year. After about a year, the Allies had developed this technology and the German advantage was lost.

World War One Gas Attacks: When Poison Was Released in 1915

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world war one

WW1 And The Use of Gas As A Weapon”

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In 1915, the Central Powers and Allies dug in their heels and tried desperately to break the stalemate of the war, still hoping for a short conflict on the scale of a few months. Poison gas was used for the first time. Germans experimented with flamethrowers and armored shields, while the French began using hand grenades.  In April, Germans began the Second Battle of Ypres and used 168 tons of chlorine gas.  On the Eastern Front, Austria launched three offensives against Russian forces in the Carpathians.  All three failed miserably. As many as 100,000 Austrian soldiers froze to death. Further north, Russian forces began to retreat from Warsaw and Riga.  In Poland, Russian forces adopted a “scorched earth policy.”  They forced Poles and other residents of Poland and western Russia to burn their crops and abandon their homes. This created millions of refugees. In December, the remains of the Serbian Army, along with several hundred thousand civilians, fled through the freezing mountains of Montenegro and Albania to the coast.  200,000 died along the way (out of 700,000 initially). Finally, the Ottomans began the forced deportation of Armenians to Syria, which was actually a death march. It became known as the Armenian Genocide in which 1.5 million were slaughtered.

Western Front

    1. Winter Offensives: Joffre wanted to push the Germans back and help prevent them from sending more troops to the East. So they launched a series of offensives in late 1914 and 1915

      1. First Battle of Artois (17 Dec 1914 – 13 Jan 1915)

      2. First Champagne Offensive (20 Dec 1914 – 17 March 1915). 93.000 French casualties and 46,000 German.

      3. The Christmas Truce

      4. Jan 31: Poison gas used for first time – it had little effect due to cold weather. In March, Germans experimented with flamethrowers and armored shields, while the French began using hand grenades.

      5. March 10: British First Army (let by Sir Douglas Haig) attacked Germans at Neuve-Chappelle. His policy was “bite and hold,” which meant quickly taking a piece of the enemy’s line and forcing them to counterattack it, suffering many casualties.

Spring Offenses

      1. April 17: The British launched an attack at Hill 60, in which they used mines to undermine the German position.

      2. April 22: Germans began the Second Battle of Ypres and used 168 tons of chlorine gas. This time it had devastating consequences. The British used makeshift respirators, including cloths draped in urine. The Allies held the town. The battle lasted just over a month.

      3. May 8: The British and French launched a combined offensive (first time) at the Second Battle of Artois. The battle lasted 6 weeks. The French lost 100,000 casualties, while the Germans lost 75,000.

    1. In late September, the British and French launched offensives at Loos, Artois (Third Battle), and Champagne (Second Battle). The British used poison gas for the first time. The British and French initially took their objectives, but a stubborn German defense caused massive Allied casualties. Germans used phosgene gas (worse than chlorine). These ended the first week of November. Neither side gained anything.

    2. On December 19, Sir John French was replaced as the BEF commander by Sir Douglas Haig.

Eastern Front

    1. Austria launched three offensives against Russian forces in the Carpathians. All three failed miserably. As many as 100,000 Austrian soldiers froze to death.

    2. Przemysl fell to the Russians on March 23. 126,000 prisoners and over 700 big guns fell to the Russians.

    3. May 1: A combined German-Austrian army launched an offensive against the Russians at Gorlice and Tarnow. The Russians had to retreat, and they lost all the land they had gained since the start of the war. 30,000 Russian prisoners were taken. Austrian forces recaptured Przemysl on June 3 and Lvov on June 22.

    4. Further north, Russian forces began to retreat from Warsaw and Riga. In Poland, Russian forces adopted a “scorched earth policy.” They forced Poles and other residents of Poland and western Russia to burn their crops and abandon their homes. This created millions of refugees.

    5. Warsaw fell to the German Army on August 5. Soon after Ivangorod, Kovno, Novogeorgiev, Brest-Litovsk, Bialystock, and the Grodno fortress fell. 1.5 million Russian prisoners had been taken by the end of August. Soon after, Austrian and German forces linked up to form a single line.

    6. On September 5, Tsar Nicolas removed the Grand Duke Nikolai from command and assumed personal command of the army.

    7. On September 18, the Germans took Vilnius and drove its Russian defenders completely out of Poland and Galicia. Russia had lost 300 miles of territory. But the ground became muddy and the Russians improved their defenses. This stopped the German advance.

    8. After Christmas, the Russian army launched major offensives in Bessarabia, Eastern Galicia, and also attacked in other places, including the Prippett Marshes. None of these attacks succeeded.

    9. By the end of 1915, Russia had suffered 3.4 million casualties and there were 2 million Russians displaced by the war.

    10. In January, 1916, Russia successfully attacked through the

The Balkans

    1. In March, a typhus epidemic broke out, killing many Serbs and Austrians. The outbreak prevented any attacks on Serbia for a while.

    2. On April 1, a force of Bulgarian Turks attacked Valandovo, in Macedonia (then part of Serbia). Serb forces repelled the invasion.

    3. On September 6, Bulgaria joined the war on the side of the Central Powers. Along with Austria-Hungary and Germany, they invaded Serbia the next month (beginning October 6). Belgrade fell on October 9. (Bulgaria would end up sending 25% of its entire population to war…that’s the highest percentage.)

    4. On November 5, Nis fell, giving the Central Powers a direct rail link from Berlin to Constantinople. At the end of the month, the Serbian army was defeated and forced to retreat.

    5. In December, the remains of the Serbian Army, along with several hundred thousand civilians, fled through the freezing mountains of Montenegro and Albania to the coast. 200,000 died along the way (out of 700,000 initially). Allied naval forces evacuated them from the Albanian coast to Corfu.

    6. French and British forces tried to help the Serbian army but were pushed by the Bulgarian army out of Macedonia into Greece. They established a base at Salonika (over the objections of the Greek government, which was neutral).

    7. In January 2016, the Austrian army invaded Montenegro. The government surrendered, but the army fled into Albania. The Austrians pursued them.

Southern Front

    1. February: Turkish attacked British forces in Egypt in an attempt to take the Suez Canal. They were soundly defeated.

    2. Turkey began the forced deportation of Armenians.

    3. British troops defend Basra and advance up the Tigris Valley toward Baghdad. In December, they became trapped at Kut-al-Amara., which the Turks put under siege.

    4. The next month, a rescue operation tried but failed to relieve them. Repeated attempts to rescue them would also fail, and the British force would eventually surrender in April 1916.

    5. May 23: Italy joins the war on the side of the Allies and attacked Austria-Hungary at the Isonzo River. For the next few months, they fought multiple battles there but made no gains. The fighting finally ended on December 10 due to winter weather.

    6. In the summer, Italy raided the Adriatic coast in several places.

Sea & Air

    1. December 14, 1914: German ships bombarded the cities of Scarborough, Whitley, and Hartleypool. This killed several civilians (first time since 1690!), but it increased popular British hatred for the Germans.

    2. Feb: Germans begin Unrestricted Submarine Warfare

    3. Mar: British start a sea blockade of Germany. Later they mine the North Sea.

    4. May 7: A German U-boat sinks the Lusitania (1200 people, including 120 Americans are killed).

    5. The Dutch inventor Anthony Fokker invents (for the Germans) developed interrupter gear, which led to German domination of the skies (the “Fokker Scourge”).

    6. On April 1916 the Germans began a policy of Unrestricted Submarine Warfare.

World War One – End of WW1

(See Main Article: World War One – End of WW1)

Although America did not declare war on Germany until 1917, she had been involved in the war from the beginning supplying the allies with weapons and supplies. America was critical involved in military operations that led to the final conclusion of the Great War and was there to witness the end of WW1.

On May 2nd 1915 the British passenger liner Lusitania was sunk by a torpedo from a German submarine. 1195 passengers, including 128 Americans, lost their lives. Americans were outraged and put pressure on the government to enter the war.

World War OneWoodrow Wilson (right) campaigned for a peaceful end to the war. He appealed to both sides to try to settle the war by diplomatic means but was unsuccessful.

In February 1917, the Germans announced an unrestricted submarine warfare campaign. They planned to sink any ship that approached Britain whether it was a military ship, supply ship or passenger ship.

On April 3rd 1917, Wilson made a speech declaring that America would enter the war and restore peace to Europe.

The United States declared war on Germany on April 6th 1917. American troops joined the French and British in the summer of 1918. They were fresh and not war-weary and were invaluable in defeating the Germans.

The allied victory in November 1918 was not solely due to American involvement. Rapid advancements in weapon technology meant that by 1918 tanks and planes were common place.

The German commander Erich Ludendorff was a brilliant military commander and had won decisive victories over Russia in 1917 that led to the Russian withdrawal from the war.

World War OneIn 1918 he announced that if Germany was to win the war then the allies had to be defeated on the Western Front before the arrival of American troops.

Although his offensive was initially successful the allies held ground and eventually pushed the Germans back.

 By 1918 there were strikes and demonstrations in Berlin and other cities protesting about the effects of the war on the population. The British naval blockade of German ports meant that thousands of people were starving. Socialists were waiting for the chance to seize Germany as they had in Russia. In October 1918 Ludendorff resigned and the German navy mutinied. The end was near. Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated on November 9th 1918.

World War One

On 11th November the leaders of both sides held a meeting in Ferdinand Foch’s railway carriage headquarters at Compiegne.

The Armistice was signed at 6am and came into force five hours later. Thus all sides witnessed the final end of WW1.

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