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World War 1 Explained

The Great War. The War to End All Wars. The War of the Nations. The First World War. These all are the names of the same war, the same conflict, one of the largest and deadliest of wars in the history of all humankind. It starts with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and eventually transformed into a conflict, which engulfed the whole world. The conflict was mainly fought between Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire (the Central Powers) against Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Romania, Japan and the United States (the Allied Powers). Technological and strategical advancements resulted in a drastic change in the nature, destruction and horrors of the war as compares to previous x wconflicts. The war also saw the introduction of airplanes in combat and military use, which left soldiers and civilians vulnerable to attacks from above for the first time. Major innovations were also made in manufacturing, chemistry and communications. Medical advances made the First World War the first major conflict in which British deaths in battle outnumbered deaths caused by disease. The War also turned out to be the major reason for the fall of most monarchies and governments and les to revolutions all around Europe and in Russia. The destabilization of Europe and its society that the war caused eventually laid out the groundwork for the Second World War (WWII). By the time the Allied Powers claimed victory in 1918, more than 16 million people—soldiers and civilians alike had died.

Geographical Location Division

The majority of the fighting took place in Europe which was divided between two fronts: - Eastern Front and Western Front. The Western Front was mainly constituted of a long line of trenches that ran from the coast of Belgium to Switzerland. The majority of the fighting on this front took place in France and Belgium. The Eastern Front was between Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria on one side and Russia and Romania on the other.


1914: (June 28) - Archduke Franz Ferdinand, prince to the Austria-Hungary throne, is assassinated in Sarajevo by a Serbian named Gavrilo Princip. (July 23) - Austria-Hungary makes demands on Serbia for retribution. Serbia does not meet demands.(July 28) - Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia. Russia begins mobilizing its troops. (August 1) - Germany declares war on Russia. (August 3) - Germany declares war on France as part of the Schlieffen Plan. (August 4) - Germany invades Belgium. Britain declares war on Germany. (August 23 to 30) - The Battle of Tannenberg is fought between Germany and Russia. The Germans defeat the Russian Second Army. (September 5 to 12) - The British and French at the First Battle of the Marne stop The advancing German army before Paris. The Germans dig in and four years of trench warfare begins. (October 19 to November 22) - The Allies defeat the Germans at the First Battle of Ypres. (November 2) - The British begin a naval blockade of Germany. (November 11) - The Ottoman Empire declares war on the Allies. (December 24) - An unofficial truce is declared between the two sides at Christmas.

1915: (February 4) - The Germans begin to use submarines against Allied merchant ships around the island of Britain. (April 25) - The Allies attack the Ottoman Empire at the Battle of Gallipoli. This campaign will last over eight months and will end as a victory for the Ottomans and the retreat of the Allies. (May 7) - The Lusitania, a luxury British passenger ship, is sunk by a German submarine. 1,195 civilians were killed. This act sparks international outrage and contributes to the United States joining the war against Germany. (October 14) - Bulgaria enters the war by declaring war on Serbia.

1916: (February 21) - The Battle of Verdun begins between France and Germany. This battle will last until December of 1916 and will finally result in a French victory.(May 31) - The largest naval battle of the war, the Battle of Jutland, is fought between Britain and Germany in the North Sea. (July 1) - The Battle of the Somme begins. Over 1 million soldiers will be wounded or killed.

1917: (January 19) - The British intercept the Zimmerman Telegram in which Germany tries to convince Mexico to join the war. This will result in the United States declaring war on Germany. (March 8) - The Russian Revolution begins. Tsar Nicholas II is removed from power on March 15. (April 6) - The United States enters the war, declaring war on Germany. (November 7) - The Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, overthrow the incompetent Russian government. (December 17) - The Russians agree to peace with the Central powers and leave the war.

1918: (January 8) - President Woodrow Wilson issues his “Fourteen Points” for peace and an end to the war. (March 21) - Germany launches the Spring Offensive hoping to defeat the Allies before reinforcements from the United States can be deployed. (September 6) - Battle of Marne begins. This battle will end on August 6 as a decisive victory for the Allies. (November 11) - Germany agrees to an armistice and the fighting comes to an end at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month. (June 28) – The Treaty of Versailles is signed by Germany and World War I comes to an end.


There are multiple factors, which can be accredited to the start of the first World War. The immediate reason can be the series of decisions and steps taken by various statesmen and generals during the July crisis. The July Crisis was triggered by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria by the Bosnian Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip. Eventually with the passage of time the crisis escalated as the conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia was joined by their allies Russia, Germany, France, and ultimately Belgium and the United Kingdom. The long-time reasons include a combination of different nationalistic policies, alliances, the prolonged dynamic and explosive situation in the Balkans, a series of different misconceptions and a shift in the balance of power between the major European powers of the time.


Germany’s strategy for a war on two fronts against France and Russia was to rapidly concentrate the bulk of its army in the West to defeat France within 6 weeks, then shift forces to the East before Russia could fully mobilize; this was later known as the Schlieffen Plan. On 2 August, Germany demanded free passage through Belgium, an essential element in achieving a quick victory over France. When this was refused, German forces invaded Belgium on 3 August and declared war on France the same day; the Belgian government invoked the 1839 Treaty of London and, in compliance with its obligations under this treaty, Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August. On 12 August, Britain and France also declared war on Austria-Hungary; on 23 August, Japan sided with Britain, seizing German possessions in China and the Pacific. In November 1914, the Ottoman Empire entered the war on the side of Austria-Hungary and Germany, opening fronts in the Caucasus, Mesopotamia, and the Sinai Peninsula. The war was also fought in the colonies. The Entente and its allies eventually became known as the Allied Powers, while the grouping of Austria-Hungary, Germany and their allies became known as the Central Powers.

The German advance into France was halted at the Battle of the Marne and by the end of 1914, the Western Front settled into a war of attrition, marked by a long series of trench lines that changed little until 1917 (the Eastern Front, by contrast, was marked by much greater exchanges of territory). In 1915, Italy joined the Allied Powers and opened a front in the Alps. Bulgaria joined the Central Powers in 1915 and Greece joined the Allies in 1917, expanding the war in the Balkans. The United States initially remained neutral, though even while neutral it became an important supplier of war materiel to the Allies. Eventually, after the sinking of American merchant ships by German submarines, the declaration by Germany that its navy would resume unrestricted attacks on neutral shipping, and the revelation that Germany was trying to incite Mexico to initiate war against the United States, the U.S. declared war on Germany on 6 April 1917. Trained American forces did not begin arriving at the front in large numbers until mid-1918, but the American Expeditionary Force ultimately reached some two million troops.

Though Serbia was defeated in 1915, and Romania joined the Allied Powers in 1916 only to be defeated in 1917, none of the great powers were knocked out of the war until 1918. The 1917 February Revolution in Russia replaced the Monarchy with the Provisional Government, but continuing discontent with the cost of the war led to the October Revolution, the creation of the Soviet Socialist Republic, and the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk by the new government in March 1918, ending Russia’s involvement in the war. Lenin’s government also set up Russia and subsequently the USSR to go into a glorious era of prosperity the likes of which the world had never seen before, this also lead multiple western powers to accommodate and give concession to the working class in fear of another Marxist Revolution. Germany now controlled much of eastern Europe and transferred large numbers of combat troops to the Western Front. Using new tactics, the German March 1918 Offensive was initially successful. The Allies fell back and held. The last of the German reserves were exhausted as 10,000 fresh American troops arrived every day. The Allies drove the Germans back in their Hundred Days Offensive, a continual series of attacks to which the Germans had no reply. One by one the Central Powers quit: first Bulgaria (September 29), then the Ottoman Empire (October 31) and the Austro-Hungarian empire (November 3). With its allies defeated, revolution at home, and the military no longer willing to fight, Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated on 9 November and Germany signed an armistice on 11 November 1918, ending the war.


The War had far ranging effects on Europe and the world as a whole. It turned out to be a significant turning point in the political, cultural, economic and social climate of the world. The Big 4, namely the United States, UK, France and Italy, imposed terms suitable to them on the defeated powers in a series of treaties agreed at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, the most well-known being the German peace treaty: The Treaty of Versailles. Ultimately, as a result of the war, the Austro-Hungarian, German, Ottoman, and Russian Empires ceased to exist, and numerous new states were created from their remains. The borders of most European countries were modified and 4 dynasties (Romanovs, Habsburgs, Ottomans and Hohenzollerns) together along with their ancillary aristocracies fell as a result of the war. It encouraged and strengthened nationalistic movements in most parts of the world and as a result revolution took place in many areas resulting in the loss of colonies by various European countries. This war can also be seen as a direct reason to the United States becoming a world power and the rise of Soviet Socialism and the rise of Fascism in Europe. The balance of power approach to international relations was broken but not shattered.

More than 16 million people, both military and civilian, died in the war. An entire generation of young men was wiped away. It is tragic to consider all of the lost potential, all of the writers, artists, teachers, inventors and leaders that were killed in ‘the war to end all wars.’ The war and it’s related events and their results also eventually culminated into the Spanish Flu, a disease which took as many as 50 million lives apart from the war casualties. The league of nations was formed.

Innovation in Military, Equipment & Health

The First World War saw many innovations and improvements in military strategies, equipment and healthcare services. WW1 became the first major conflict, which saw the use of tanks and airplanes for military purposes. Poison gas and gas masks were also developed at this time and we’re widely used in the war. Development in handheld weapon technology eventually led to the invention of ‘Machine Gun’, which for its portability and firing power soon became an important aspect of the war. It was during the same time that sanitary napkins were developed during the war. Major medical innovations made during the war are facial reconstructive surgery and new types of prosthetics, neurosurgery for head wounds and the Carrel-Dakin solution. The war also led to the invention of handheld mini portable bombs that could be thrown at the enemy known as grenades or hand-grenades. Many other things such as stainless steel, zips, pilot communications, vegetarian sausages, wristwatches, sun lamp, tea bags and paper hankies were all innovations that were made during the duration of the First World War. The concept of Daylight Savings time was also invented at this time.

Author : Shaurya Mahajan

Editors : Uddheshya Agarwal & Aadi Sardesai


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