World War I

From Wiki 2005
Jump to: navigation, search

World War I, also known as the First World War, the Great War, the War of the Nations and the War to End All Wars, was a world conflict lasting from 1914 to 1919, with the fighting lasting until 1918. The label World War I or First World War did not come into general use until after the outbreak of World War II in 1939, and until then it was known as the Great War or the World War. The war was fought by the Allied Powers on one side, and the Central Powers on the other. No previous conflict had mobilized so many soldiers or involved so many in the field of battle. By its end, the war had become the bloodiest war in recorded history.

World War I became infamous for trench warfare along the Western Front. The trenches went from the North Sea to the border of Switzerland. More than 9 million died on the war's battlefields, and nearly that many more on the home fronts because of food shortages and genocide committed under the cover of various civil wars and internal conflicts (e.g. the Armenian genocide). In World War I about 5% of the casualties (directly caused by the war) were civilian - in World War II, this figure was 50%.

World War I proved to be the decisive break with the old world order. Four empires were shattered: the German, the Austro-Hungarian, the Ottoman, and the Russian. Their four dynasties, the Hohenzollerns, the Habsburgs, the Ottomans, and the Romanovs, who had roots of power back to the days of the Crusades, all fell during the war. The French Empire survived with little change; the British Empire saw the semi-independence of Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.

Some historians have argued that upheaval of war led to the rise of Communism in Russia, Fascism in Italy, and Nazism in Germany. In the east, the demise of the Ottoman Empire paved the way for a modern democratic successor state, Turkey. In Central Europe, new states such as Czechoslovakia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Yugoslavia were born and Austria, Hungary and Poland were re-created.




Gavrilo Princip - the assassin of Franz Ferdinand. The murder was the igniting torch of World War I.


On June 28, 1914, Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria and heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was assassinated in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb student. He was part of a group of fifteen assassins, acting with support from the Black Hand, a secret society founded by pan-Serbian nationalists, with links to the Serbian military. The assassination sparked little initial concern in Europe. The Archduke himself was not popular, least of all in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. While there were riots in Sarajevo following the Archduke's death, these were largely aimed at the Serbian minority. Though this assassination has been linked as the direct trigger for World War I, the war's real origins lie further back, in the complex web of alliances and counterbalances that developed between the various European powers after the defeat of France and formation of the German state under the leadership of Otto von Bismarck in 1871.

Reasons & Responsibilities

Template:WW1Causes Template:Seealso

There are many different hypotheses that try to explain who, or what, is to blame for the outbreak of the First World War. Early explanations, prominent in the 1920s and 1930s, stressed the official version of responsibility as described in the Treaty of Versailles and Treaty of Trianon, that Germany and its allies were solely responsible for the war. The official version was a hypothesis based on the idea that the war begun when Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia, backed by Germany, and that Germany later invaded Belgium and Luxembourg without provocation. The hypothesis is that responsibility for the war lies with Germany and Austro-Hugary for their aggression, and that Russia, France and Britain were reacting legitimately against this aggression. This idea was later backed by academics such as Franz Fischer, Imanuel Geiss, Hans-Ulrich Wehler, Wolfgang Mommsen, and V.R. Berghahn. As time progressed, scholars looked at other factors, such as the rigidity of both German and Russian military planning, each of which stressed the importance of striking first and executing plans quickly.

Some observers have suggested that for many decades the British had been accustomed to colonial wars which were won relatively easily against much weaker adversaries, and that this helped build enthusiasm for the Great War. However, the difficulties encountered in the Boer War (1899-1902) make it unlikely that the British were naive as to the potential cost of a major war. The fact that no major political force opposed the war meant that those who did not agree with it had little organisational power to build opposition, though small protests continued throughout the war.

Another cause of the war was the building of alliances and arms races. An example of the latter is the launch of HMS Dreadnought, a revolutionary battleship that rendered all previous ships obsolete as "pre-dreadnoughts", in 1906. This weakened Britain's power as a seafaring nation and sparked a major naval arms race in shipbuilding, particularly between Britain and Germany due to new imperialism. Overall, nations in the Triple Entente became fearful of the Triple Alliance and vice versa.

The civilian leaders of the European powers also found themselves facing a wave of nationalist zeal that had been building across Europe for years. This left governments with ever fewer options and little room to manoeuvre as the last weeks of July 1914 slipped away. Frantic diplomatic efforts to mediate the Austrian-Serbian quarrel simply became irrelevant, as the automatic military escalations between Germany and Russia reinforced one another.

Furthermore, the problem of communications in 1914 should not be underestimated; all nations still used telegraphy and ambassadors as the main form of communication, resulting in delays from hours to even days.

There is probably no single concise or conclusive assessment of the exact cause of the First World War.

Opening battles

File:Guetteur au poste de l'écluse 26.jpg
Haut-Rhin, France 1917. A complete set of these images can be found at World War One Color Photos

Some of the very first actions of the war occurred far from Europe, in Africa and in the Pacific Ocean. The first British Empire soldier killed in the war was John Parr, on August 21, 1914. On August 8 1914 a combined French and British Empire force invaded the German protectorate of Togoland. On August 10 German forces based in South-West Africa attacked South Africa. New Zealand occupied German Samoa (30 August 1914) and on September 11 the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force landed on the island of Neu Pommern, which formed part of German New Guinea. Within a few months the Entente forces had accepted the surrender of or driven out German forces in the Pacific. Sporadic and fierce fighting continued in Africa for the remainder of the war.

In Europe, Germany and Austria-Hungary suffered from miscommunication regarding each army's intentions. Germany had originally guaranteed to support Austria-Hungary's invasion of Serbia, but the interpretations of this idea differed. Austro-Hungarian leaders thought Germany would cover her northern flank against Russia, but Germany had planned for Austria-Hungary to focus the majority of its troops on Russia while Germany dealt with France on the Western Front. This confusion forced the Austro-Hungarian army to split its troop concentrations from the south in order to meet the Russians in the north. The Serb army, coming up from the south of the country, met the Austrian army at the Battle of Cer on 12 August 1914.

The Serbians occupied defensive positions against the Austrians. The first attack came on August 16th, between parts of the 21st Austro–Hungarian division and parts of the Serbian Combined division. In harsh night-time fighting the battle ebbed and flowed, until Stepa Stepanovic rallied the Serbian line. Three days later the Austrians retreated across the Danube, having suffered 21,000 casualties as against 16,000 Serbian. This marked the first major Allied victory of the war. The Austrians had not achieved their main goal of eliminating Serbia, and it became increasingly likely that Germany would have to maintain forces on two fronts.

Germany's plan (named the Schlieffen plan) to deal with the Franco-Russian alliance involved delivering a knock-out blow to the French and then turning to deal with the more slowly mobilized Russian army. Rather than invading eastern France directly, German planners deemed it prudent to attack France from the north. To do so, the German army had to march through Belgium. Germany demanded free passage from the Belgian government, promising to treat Belgium as Germany's firm ally if the Belgians agreed. When Belgium refused, Germany invaded and began marching through Belgium anyway, after first invading and securing Luxembourg. It soon encountered resistance before the forts of the Belgian city of Liège, although the army as a whole continued to make rapid progress into France. Britain sent an army to France (the British Expeditionary Force, or BEF), which advanced into Belgium. Initially the Germans had great successes in the Battle of the Frontiers (14–24 August 1914).

However, the delays brought about by the resistance of the Belgian, French and British forces; the unexpectedly rapid mobilization of the Russians; and the overly-ambitious objectives upset the German plans. Russia attacked in East Prussia, diverting German forces intended for the Western Front. Germany defeated Russia in a series of battles collectively known as the Second Battle of Tannenberg (17 August2 September). This diversion exacerbated problems of insufficient speed of advance from railheads, not allowed for by the German General Staff, and allowed French and British forces to finally halt the German advance on Paris at the First Battle of the Marne (September 1914) as the Entente forced the Central Powers into fighting a war on two fronts. The German army had fought its way into a good defensive position inside France and had permanently incapacitated 230,000 more French and British troops than it had lost itself in the months of August and September. Yet staff incompetence and leadership timidity, as Ludendorff had needlessly transferred troops from the right to protect Sedan, cost Germany the chance for an early knockout.

Early stages: from romanticism to the trenches

The perception of war in 1914 was romanticized by many people, and its declaration was met with great enthusiasm by these people. The common view was that it would be a short war of manoeuvre with a few sharp actions (to "teach the enemy a lesson") and would end with a victorious entry into the enemy capital, then home for a victory parade or two and back to "normal" life. However, many people regarded the coming war with great pessimism and worry. Many military figures, such as Lord Kitchener and Erich Ludendorff, predicted the war would be a long one. Other political leaders, such as Bethmann Hollweg in Germany, were concerned by the potential social consequences of a war. International bond and financial markets entered severe crises in late July and early August reflecting worry about the financial consequences of war.

The perceived excitement of war captured the imagination of many in the warring nations. Spurred on by propaganda and nationalist fervor, many eagerly joined the ranks in search of adventure. Few were prepared for what they actually encountered at the front.


Trench warfare begins

Main article: Western Front (World War I)

Advances in military technology meant that defensive firepower out-weighed offensive capabilities, making the war particularly murderous, as tactics had failed to keep up. Barbed wire was a significant hindrance to massed infantry advances; artillery, now vastly more lethal than in the 1870s, coupled with machineguns, made crossing open ground a nightmarish prospect. General Staffs of European armies had uniformly ignored the lessons of the U.S. Civil War and were often indifferent to massive loss of life (General Haig's diaries are particularly striking in this respect).

After their initial success on the Marne, Entente and German forces began a series of outflanking manoeuvres to try to force the other to retreat, in the so-called Race to the Sea. Britain and France soon found themselves facing entrenched German positions from Lorraine to Belgium's Flemish coast. Britain and France sought to take the offensive while Germany defended occupied territories. One consequence was that German trenches were much better constructed than those of their enemy: Anglo-French trenches were only intended to be 'temporary' before their forces broke through German defences. Some hoped to break the stalemate by utilizing science and technology. In April 1915, the Germans used chlorine gas for the first time, opening a four mile wide hole in the Allied lines when French colonial troops retreated before it. This breach was closed by Canadian soldiers at Ypres, earning German respect. Neither side proved able to deliver a decisive blow for the next four years, though protracted German action at Verdun throughout 1916, and the Entente's failure at the Somme in the summer of 1916 brought the French army to the brink of collapse. Futile attempts at more frontal assaults, at terrible cost to the French poilu (infantry), led to mutinies which threatened the integrity of the front line after the Nivelle Offensive in spring of 1917. News of the Russian Revolution gave a new incentive to socialist sentiments. Red flags were hoisted and the Internationale was sung on several occasions. At the height of the mutiny, 30,000 to 40,000 French soldiers participated. Throughout 1915-17 the British Empire and France suffered many more casualties than Germany, but both sides lost millions of soldiers to injury and disease.

Around 800,000 soldiers from the British Empire were on the Western Front at any one time, 1,000 battalions each occupying a sector of the line from Belgium to the Arne and operating a month-long four stage system, unless an offensive was underway. The front contained over 6,000 miles of trenches. Each battalion held its sector for around a week before moving back to support lines and then the reserve lines before a week out-of-line, often in the Poperinge or Amiens areas.

Southern theatres

Ottoman Empire

Main article: Middle Eastern theatre of World War I

The Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers in OctoberNovember 1914, due to the secret Turko-German Alliance signed on August 2, 1914, threatening Russia's Caucasian territories and Britain's communications with India and the East via the Suez canal. British Empire action opened another front in the South with the Gallipoli (1915) and Mesopotamian campaigns, though initially the Turks were successful in repelling enemy incursion. In Mesopotamia, by contrast, after the disastrous Siege of Kut (1915–16), British Empire forces reorganized and captured Baghdad in March 1917. Further to the west in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign, initial British failures were overcome with Jerusalem being captured in December 1917 and the Egyptian Expeditionary Force under Edmund Allenby going on to break the Ottoman forces at the Battle of Megiddo (September 1918).

Russian armies generally had the best of it in the Caucasus. Enver Pasha, supreme commander of the Turkish armed forces, was a very ambitious man, with a dream to conquer central Asia. He was not a practical soldier. He launched an offensive with 100,000 troops against the Russians in the Caucasus in December of 1914. Insisting on a frontal attack against Russian positions in the mountains in the heart of winter, Enver lost 86% of his force at the Battle of Sarikamis. The Russian commander from 1915 to 1916, General Yudenich, with a string of victories over the Ottoman forces, drove the Turks out of much of present-day Armenia, and tragically provided a context for the deportation and genocide against the Armenian population in eastern Armenia. In 1917 Grand Duke Nicholas took operational control away from Yudenich. With control of part of the southern Black Sea coast, Nicholas pushed forward the construction of railway lines to bring up supplies. He was ready for an offensive in the spring of 1917. But, because of the Russian Revolution, no offensive was launched and the Russian armies soon fell apart.

Italian participation

Main article: Italian Campaign (WWI)

Italy had been allied to the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires since 1882, but had its own designs against Austrian territory in the Trentino, Istria and Dalmatia, and a secret 1902 understanding with France effectively nullifying its alliance commitments. Italy refused to join Germany and Austria-Hungary at the beginning of the war, because the alliance was defensive, while Austria declared war on Serbia. The Austrian government started negotiations to obtain Italian neutrality in exchange for French territories (Tunisia), but Italy joined the Entente by signing the London Pact in April and declaring war on Austria-Hungary in May 1915; it declared war against Germany fifteen months later.

In general, the Italians enjoyed numerical superiority, but were poorly equipped; instead, the Austro-Hungarian defence took advantage of the elevation of their bases in the mostly mountainous terrain, which was anything but suitable for military offensives. For the most part the front remained unchanged during the war, while Austrian Kaiserschützen and Standschützen and Italian Alpini fought bitter close combat battles during summer and tried to survive during winter in the high mountains.

Beginning in 1915, the Italians mounted 17 major offensives on the Isonzo front (the part of the border nearest Trieste), all repelled by the Austro-Hungarians, who had the higher ground. The Austro-Hungarians counter-attacked from the Altopiano of Asiago towards Verona and Padua in the spring of 1916 (Strafexpedition), but they also made little progress. In the summer, the Italians took back the initiative, capturing the town of Gorizia. After this minor victory, the front remained practically stable for over one year, despite several Italian offensives, again all on the Isonzo front. In the fall of 1917, thanks to the improving situation on the Eastern front, the Austrians received large reinforcements, including German assault troops. On October 26, they launched a crushing offensive that resulted in the victory of Caporetto: the Italian army was routed, but after retreating more than 100km, it was able to reorganize and hold at the Battle of the Piave River. In 1918 the Austrians repeatedly failed to break the Italian line, and, decisively defeated in the Battle of Vittorio Veneto, surrendered to the Entente powers in November.

Throughout the war Austro-Hungarian Chief of Staff, Conrad von Hötzendorf had a deep hatred for the Italians because he had always perceived them to be the greatest threat to his state. Their betrayal in 1915 enraged him even further. His hatred for Italy blinded him in many ways, and he made many foolish tactical and strategic errors during the campaigns in Italy.

The War in the Balkans

After repelling three Austrian invasions in August-December 1914, Serbia fell to combined German, Austrian and Bulgarian invasion in October 1915. The Serbian army retreated into Albania and Greece. In late 1915, a Franco-British force landed at Salonica in Greece to offer assistance and to pressure the Greek government into war against the Central Powers. Unfortunately for the Allies, the pro-allied government of Eleftherios Venizelos fell before the allied expeditionary force even arrived, and the pro-German king, Constantine, prevented official Greek entry into the war for two years, until 1917. Meanwhile, the Salonica Front proved entirely immobile, so that it was joked that Salonica was the largest German prisoner of war camp. Only at the very end of the war, after most of the German and Austro-Hungarian troops had been removed and the front had to be held by the Bulgarians alone, were the Entente powers able to make a breakthrough, leading to Bulgaria's signing an armistice on September 29, 1918.

The Eastern Front

A German trench in the swamp area near the Mazuric Lakes on the Eastern Front. Picture taken in February 1915, just before the German winter-offensive started in heavy snowstorms.
Main article: Eastern Front (World War I)

While the Western Front had reached stalemate in the trenches, the war continued in the east. The Russian initial plans for war had called for simultaneous invasions of Austrian Galicia and German East Prussia. Although Russia's initial advance into Galicia was largely successful, they were driven back from East Prussia by the victories of the German generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff at Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes in August and September 1914. Russia's less-developed economic and military organization soon proved unequal to the combined might of the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires. In the spring of 1915 the Russians were driven back in Galicia, and in May the Central Powers achieved a remarkable breakthrough on Poland's southern fringes, capturing Warsaw on August 5 and forcing the Russians to withdraw from all of Poland, known as the "Great Retreat".

The Russian Revolution

Main article: Russian Revolution of 1917

Dissatisfaction with the Russian government's conduct of the war grew despite the success of the June 1916 Brusilov offensive in eastern Galicia against the Austrians, when Russian success was undermined by the reluctance of other generals to commit their forces in support of the victorious sector commander. Allied fortunes revived only temporarily with Romania's entry into the war on August 27: German forces came to the aid of embattled Austrian units in Transylvania, and Bucharest fell to the Central Powers on December 6. Meanwhile, internal unrest grew in Russia, as the Tsar remained out of touch at the front, while Empress Alexandra's increasingly incompetent rule drew protests from all segments of Russian political life, resulting in the murder of Alexandra's favourite Rasputin by conservative noblemen at the end of 1916.

In March 1917, demonstrations in St. Petersburg culminated in the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II and the appointment of a weak centrist Provisional Government, which shared power with the socialists of the Petrograd Soviet. This division of power led to confusion and chaos, both on the front and at home, and the army became progressively less able to effectively resist Germany.

The war, and the government, became more and more unpopular, and the discontent led to a rise in popularity of the Bolshevik party, led by Vladimir Lenin, who were able to gain power. The triumph of the Bolsheviks in November was followed in December by an armistice and negotiations with Germany. At first, the Bolsheviks refused to agree to the harsh German terms, but when Germany resumed the war and marched with impunity across Ukraine, the new government acceded to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on March 3, 1918, which took Russia out of the war and ceded vast territories including Finland, the Baltic provinces, Poland and Ukraine to the Central Powers.

After the Russians initially dropped out of the war, Entente led a small-scale invasion of Russia. The invasion was made with intent to punish the Russians for dropping out of World War I and to support the Tsarists in the Russian Revolution. Troops landed in Archangel (see North Russia Campaign) and in Vladivostok. The Entente forces were told they were invading to defend supplies from German troops. In reality, they were defending them from communist Russians.

The Last Half

Events of 1917 would prove decisive in ending the war, although their effects would not fully be felt until 1918. The Entente's naval blockade of Germany began to have serious impact on morale and productivity on the German home-front. In response, in February 1917, the German General Staff (OHL) were able to convince Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg to declare unrestricted submarine warfare, with the goal of starving Britain out of the war. Tonnage sunk rose above 500,000 tons per month from February until July, peaking at 860,000 tonnes in April. After July, the newly introduced convoy system was extremely effective in neutralizing the U-boat threat. Britain was safe from the threat of starvation.

The decisive victory of Germany at the Battle of Caporetto led to the Entente decision at the Rapallo Conference to form the Supreme Allied Council at Versailles to co-ordinate plans and action. Previously British Empire and French armies had operated under separate command systems.

In December, the Central Powers signed an Armistice with Russia, thereby releasing troops from the eastern front for use in the west. Ironically, German troop transfers could have been greater if their territorial acquisitions had not been so dramatic. With both German reinforcements and new American troops pouring into the Western Front, the final outcome of the war was to be decided in that front. The Central Powers knew that they could not win a protracted war now that American forces were certain to be arriving in increasing numbers, but held high hopes for a rapid offensive in the West, using their reinforced troops and new infantry tactics. Furthermore, rulers of both the Central Powers and the Entente became more fearful of the threat first raised by Ivan Bloch in 1899, that protracted industrialized war threatened social collapse and revolution throughout Europe. Both sides urgently sought a decisive, rapid victory on the Western Front as they were both fearful of collapse or stalemate.

Entry of the United States

File:Wilson announcing the break in the official relations with Germany.jpg
President Wilson before Congress, announcing break in official relations with Germany on February 3, 1917.

America's long-standing policy of isolationism left the United States reluctant to involve itself with what was popularly perceived as a European war.

Early in 1917 Germany resumed its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare. This, combined with public indignation over the Zimmermann telegram, led to a final break of relations with the Central Powers. After further U-boat attacks on American merchant ships, President Woodrow Wilson requested that Congress declare war on Germany, which it did on April 6, 1917 (see: Woodrow Wilson declares war on Germany on Wikisource). The House approved the war resolution 373-50, the Senate 82-6. Wilson hoped a separate peace could be achieved with Austria-Hungary; however, when it kept its loyalty to Germany, the US declared war on Austria-Hungary in December 1917.

Although the American contribution to the war was important, particularly in terms of the threat posed by increased US presence in Europe, the United States was never formally a member of the Entente, but an "Associated Power". Significant numbers of American troops only arrived in Europe in the summer of 1918.

Germany calculated that it would be some time before large number of American troops could be sent to Europe, and that in any event the U-boat offensive would prevent their arrival. Still, the United States had been in a state of full military-related production, aiding the Entente for quite some time, and had also loaned the Allied powers vast sums of money. For these reasons the Germans had made the decision to resume unrestricted submarine warfare, despite the threat of U.S. intervention, gambling that they would win the war before America could make an impact on the battlefield.

The United States Navy was able to send a battleship group to Scapa Flow to join with the British Grand Fleet, a number of destroyers to Queenstown, Ireland and several divisions of submarines to the Azores and Bantry Bay, Ireland to help guard convoys. Several regiments of U.S. Marines were also dispatched to France. However, it would be some time before United States forces would be able to contribute significant manpower to the Western and Italian fronts.

The British and French insisted that the United States emphasize sending infantry to reinforce the line. Throughout the war, the American forces were short of their own artillery, aviation, and engineering units. However, General John J. Pershing, American Expeditionary Force commander, resisted breaking up American units and using them as reinforcements for British Empire and French units, as suggested by the Allies. Pershing also maintained the use of frontal assaults, which had been discarded by that time by British Empire and French commanders. As a result the American Expeditionary Force suffered a very high rate of casualties in its operations in the summer and fall of 1918.

German Spring Offensive of 1918

Throughout World War I, Entente forces were stalled at trenches on the Western Front
Main article: Spring Offensive

Ludendorff made plans for a 1918 general offensive along the Western Front, codenamed Operation Michael. The Spring Offensive sought to divide the British Empire and French armies in a series of feints and advances. The German leadership hoped to strike a decisive blow before the United States forces could be deployed. Before the offensives even began, Ludendorff made what may have been a mistake, leaving the elite Eighth Army in Russia and sending over only a small portion of the forces from the east to aid the offensive in the west.

Operation Michael opened on 21 March, 1918 with an attack against British Empire forces, towards the rail junction at Amiens. It was Ludendorff's intention to split the British Empire and French armies at this point. German forces achieved an unprecedented advance of 60 km. For the first time since 1914, manoeuvre had returned to the battlefield.

British and French trenches were defeated using novel infiltration tactics. To this time, attacks had been characterized by long artillery bombardments and continuous-front mass assaults. However, in the Spring Offensive the German Army used artillery briefly and infiltrated small groups of infantry at weak points, attacking command and logistics areas and surrounding points of serious resistance. These isolated positions were then destroyed by more heavily armed infantry. German success relied greatly on this tactic.

The front line had now moved to within 120 kilometres of Paris. Three super-heavy Krupp railway guns advanced to fire 183 shells on Paris, causing many Parisians to flee the city. The initial stages of the offensive were so successful that Wilhelm II declared March 24 a national holiday. Many Germans thought victory to be close. However, after heavy fighting the German offensive was halted. German casualties between March and April 1918 were 270,000.

United States divisions, which Pershing sought to field as an independent force, were assigned to depleted French and British Empire commands on 28 March. A supreme command of Entente forces was created at the Doullens conference in which British Field Marshal Douglas Haig handed control of his forces over to Ferdinand Foch.

Following Operation Michael, Germany launched Operation Georgette to the north against the Channel ports. This was halted with less significant territorial gains. Operations Blücher and Yorck were then conducted by the German Army to the south, broadly towards Paris. Operation Marne was then launched on 15 July as an attempt to encircle Reims, beginning the Second Battle of the Marne. The resulting Entente counter attack marked the Entente's first successful offensive of the war. By July 20, 1918, the Germans were at their Kaiserschlacht starting lines. Following the last phase, the German Army never again held the initiative.

Meanwhile, Germany was crumbling internally as well. Anti-war marches were a frequent occurrence and morale within the army was at low levels. Industrial output had fallen 53% from 1913.

Entente’s victory

File:Battle of St. Mihiel 03.jpg
American engineers returning from the front during the Battle of St. Mihiel in September 1918.
Main article: Hundred Days Offensive

On August 8, 1918, the predicted counter-offensive occurred with III Corps Fourth British Army on the left, the First French Army on the right, and the Canadian and Australian Corps spearheading the offensive in the centre. It involved 414 tanks of the Mark IV and Mark V type, and 120,000 men. The Entente forces advanced as far as twelve kilometres into German held territory in just seven hours. Erich Ludendorff referred to this day as "the Black Day of the German army".

However, after a few days the offensive had slowed down— British Empire units had encountered problems with all but seven tanks. On 15 August 1918, Haig called a halt and began planning an offensive in Albert. This began on August 21. Some 130,000 United States troops were involved, along with soldiers from Third and Fourth British Armies. It was an overwhelming success. The Second German Army was pushed back over a 55km front. The town of Bapaume was captured on August 29 and by September 2, the Germans were on the Hindenburg Line.

The attempt to take the Hindenburg Line (the Meuse-Argonne Offensive) began September 26, as 260,000 American soldiers went "over the top". All divisions were successful in capturing their initial objectives, except the 79th Infantry Division, AEF, which met stiff resistance at Montfaucon and was unable to progress. This failure allowed the Germans to recover and regroup. Montfaucon was captured on 27 September; however, failure to take it the day before proved to be one of the most costly mistakes of the entire campaign.

By the start of October it was evident that things were not going according to plan for the Allies. Many tanks were once again breaking down, and those actually operable were rendered useless due to impassable terrain. Regardless of this, Ludendorff had decided by October 1 Germany had two ways out—total annihilation or an armistice. He recommended the latter to senior figures at a summit in Spa, Belgium on that very same day. Pershing unrelentingly continued to pound the exhausted and bewildered Germans for all of October along the Meuse-Argonne front. The pressure did not let up until the end of the war.

Meanwhile, news of Germany's impending defeat had spread throughout the German Armed forces. The threat of mutiny was rife. Naval commander Admiral Scheer and Ludendorff decided to launch a last ditch attempt to restore the "valour" of the German navy. Knowing any such action would be vetoed by the government of Max von Baden, Ludendorff decided not to inform him. Somehow, word of the impending assault reached sailors at Kiel. Many took unofficial leave, refusing to be part of an offensive which they believed to be nothing more than a suicide bid. It was Ludendorff who took the blame for this—the Kaiser dismissed him on 26 October.

However, since the end of September 1918, Ludendorff had been concocting a plan of his own. Although he was a traditionalist conservative, he decided to try and incite a political revolution by introducing new reforms that "democratized" Germany; also satisfying the monarchists as the Kaiser's reign would continue unabridged. He believed democratization would show the German people the government was prepared to change, thus reducing the chance of a socialist style revolt as was seen in Russia in 1917. However, some historians believe, by doing so, Ludendorff had an ulterior motive. His reforms would hand more power over to the members of the Reichstag—particularly the ruling parties, at this time the centre party (under Matthias Erzberger), the liberals, and the social democrats. Therefore, with Ludendorff handing more power to these parties they would have the authority to request an armistice. With 5,989,758 Germans casualties ( 1,773,700 killed, 4,216,058 wounded,), they did just that. Soon after, Ludendorff had a dramatic change of heart and began to claim that the very parties to whom he had handed power to had lost Germany the war. These politicians had "stabbed Germany in the back". Prince Max von Baden (SDP) was put in charge. Negotiations for a peace were immediately put into place on his appointment. Also, he was torn between the idea of a constitutional monarchy or complete abolition. However, the matter was taken out of his hands by Philipp Scheidemann, who on November 9, 1918, declared Germany a Republic from a balcony atop the Reichstag. Von Baden announced that the Kaiser was to abdicate—before the Kaiser had himself made up his mind. Imperial Germany had died, and a new Germany had been born: the Weimar Republic.

End of the war

Front page of the New York Times on Armistice Day, 11 November 1918

Bulgaria was the first of the Central Powers to sign an armistice (29 September, 1918). Germany requested a ceasefire on 3 October 1918. When Wilhelm II ordered the German High Seas Fleet to sortie against the Entente's navies, they mutinied in Wilhelmshaven starting 29 October 1918. On 30 October the Ottoman Empire capitulated. On November 3 Austria-Hungary sent a flag of truce to the Italian Commander to ask an Armistice and terms of peace. The terms having been arranged by telegraph with the Entente Authorities in Paris, were communicated to the Austrian Commander, and were accepted. The Armistice with Austria was granted to take effect at three o'clock on the afternoon of November 4. Austria and Hungary had signed separate armistices following the overthrow of the Habsburg monarchy.

Following the outbreak of the German Revolution, a Republic was proclaimed on 9 November, marking the end of the monarchy, but not of the German Empire, as the Republic still called itself offcially "Deutsches Reich". The Kaiser fled the next day to the Netherlands, which granted him political asylum. (See Weimar Republic for details).

On 11 November, an armistice with Germany was signed in a railroad carriage at Compiègne in France. At 1100 hours that day, a ceasefire came into effect and the opposing armies began to withdraw from their positions. George Lawrence Price is traditionally regarded as the last soldier killed in the Great War. German sources usually claim nine German sailors, that were fired upon and shot by British guards in their lifeboats after having successfully scuttled the Kaiser's fleet at Scapa Flow as the last soldiers being killed in action during WWI. This is based on the assumption, that the War was not officially ended before the signature of the Peace Treaty and that the ships according to the German view (and the Armistice terms) had not been surrendered, but were still German war ships, though guarded in a British anchorage.

The state of war between the two sides persisted for another seven months until it was finally ended by the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919 with Germany and the following treaties with Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and The Ottoman Empire signed at St. Germain, Trianon, Neuilly and Sèvres. However, the latter treaty with the Ottoman Empire was followed by strife and a final peace treaty was signed by the Allied Powers and the country that would shortly become the Republic of Turkey, at Lausanne on 24 July 1923.

Many war memorials date the end of the war as being when the Versaille treaty was signed, 1919; by contrast, most commemorations of the war's end concentrate on the Armistice of 1918; however, the formal ending of all hostilities was not until 1923.


Social effects

Woodrow Wilson and the American peace commissioners during the negotiations on the Treaty of Versailles.

One of the most distinguishing impacts of the war was that the reality of totality set in. Many consider World War I to have been the first modern war, a total war where the civilian population were deliberately endangered as a direct tactic of war, which has continued in all subsequent wars. While civilians have always died or even been targeted in wars, World War I made civilian casualties accepted and commonplace (from, for example, aerial bombardment). All aspects of the societies fighting were affected by the conflict, often causing profound social change, even if the countries were not in the war zone.

One of the most dramatic effects was the expansion of governmental powers and responsibilities in Britain, France, the United States, and the Dominions of the British Empire. In order to harness all the power of their societies, new government ministries and powers were created. New taxes were levied, and laws enacted, all designed to bolster the war effort, many of which have lasted to this day.

At the same time, the war strained the abilities of the formerly large and bureaucratized governments such as in Austria-Hungary and Germany. Here, however, the long term effects were clouded by the defeat of these governments.

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 least in many of the Entente powers. At the same time, industry needed to replace the lost laborers sent to war. This aided the struggle for voting rights for women.

From the first year, there had been spontaneous armistices (such as the 1914 Christmas truce), uprisings and mutinies (such as in France in May 1917) on both sides. The pointlessness of many (suicide) actions had caused a loss of respect for the leaders. In several places, shots were fired for form only, aimed to miss, also at executions for desertion. The longlasting proximity of the trenches often created feelings of comradery across the lines. The impotence of military leaders who were not adapted to modern warfare and the breakdown of the three empires and subsequent redrawing of borders after the war created a leadership-void that gave an extra impulse to new ideologies, including bolshevism (in Russia), socialism (in the trenches) and nazism (after the war).

At the outbreak of the war, it was a widely held belief that the war would usher in a new age of humanity. In reality, the war failed to deliver on both sides. For combatants and non-combatants alike, the war had been justified for reasons future generations simply would not be able to understand without seeing the war in the context of the "spirit of 1914". Instead of feeling jubilation, the victors entered a period of mourning. For the defeated, the post-war world was an even greater disappointment, for the Treaty of Versailles was a bitter pill to swallow after the armistice. Since the German public had been under the impression that the war was a defensive measure all along, the harsh terms of the agreement did little to discredit this theory.

The severity of the treaty helped to raise suspicions about the Weimar Republic. Germany's new democratic government became associated with the treaty in the public eye. At the same time, the nature of Germany's defeat became another topic of controversy. Accounts from soldiers at the front, as well as the statements made by influencial figures such as Ludendorff, seemed to confirm the theory that Germany had not really lost the war. It was proposed that Germany had been betrayed from within. The "Dolchstoßlegende" (literally dagger push legend) suggested that Germany had been "stabbed in the back" by those not committed to the cause. Jews and communists quickly became targets of accusation.

The popularity of the Dolchstoßlegende helped to garner support for the movement for National Socialism. It has also been proposed that the experience of the war established with German youths a militaristic and fascist mindset that made it possible for the Nazi party to take control of Germany two decades later. In the aftermath of WWI, post-war depression and nationalist (retributionist) views were a prominent aspect of German public sentiment; an important cornerstone of what would become Nazi ideology.


Nieuport Fighter, France 1917


The First World War was a clash of 20th century technology with 19th century tactics. This time, millions of soldiers, both volunteers and conscripts fought on all sides with Kitchener's Army being a notable volunteer force.

Much of the war's combat involved trench warfare, where hundreds often died for each metre of land gained. Many of the deadliest battles in history occurred during the First World War. Such battles include Ypres, Vimy Ridge, Marne, Cambrai, Somme, Verdun, and Gallipoli. Artillery was responsible for the largest number of casualties during the First World War.

The First World War also saw the use of chemical warfare and aerial bombardment, both of which had been outlawed under the 1907 Hague Convention.

Chemical warfare was a major distinguishing factor of the war. Gases used ranged from tear gas to disabling chemicals such as mustard gas and killing agents like phosgene. Only a small proportion of casualties were caused by gas, but it achieved harassment and psychological effects. Effective countermeasures to gas were found in gas masks and hence in the later stages of the war, as the use of gas increased, in many cases its effectiveness was diminished.

Fixed-wing aircraft were first used militarily during the First World War. Initial uses consisted primarily of reconnaissance, though this developed into ground-attack and fighter duties as well. Strategic bombing aircraft were created principally by the Germans and British, though the former used Zeppelins to this end as well.

U-boats (submarines) were used in combat shortly after the war began. Alternating between restricted and unrestricted submarine warfare during the First Battle of the Atlantic, they were employed by the Kaiserliche Marine in a strategy of defeating the British Empire through a tonnage war. The deaths of British merchantmen and the invulnerability of U-boats led to the development of several countermeasures: depth charges (1916), hydrophones (passive sonar, 1917), blimps, hunter-killer submarines (HMS R-1, 1917), ahead-throwing weapons, & dipping hydrophones (both abandoned 1918). To extend their operations, the Germans proposed supply submarines (1916). Most of these would be forgotten in the interwar period until World War II revived the need.

Tanks were introduced in World War I by the British and created mechanized warfare that dominated the rest of the 20th century. The first tank was nicknamed Mother The first use of tanks was during the Battle of the Somme on 15 September 1916. This was not as successful as intended, but as a start the tanks proved their value against the machine gun. Trenches, the machine gun, air reconnaissance, barbed wire, and modern artillery with fragmentation shells helped stalemate the battle lines of World War I by making massed infantry attacks deadly for the attacker. The infantry was armed mostly with a bolt action magazine rifle, but the machine gun with the ability to fire hundreds of rounds per minute stalemated infantry attacks as a defensive weapon; therefore, the British sought a solution and created the tank. The first use proved tanks needed infantry support and massed formations, but within a year the British were fielding tanks by the hundreds and showed their potential during the Battle of Cambrai, in November 1917, breaking the Hindenburg Line while capturing 8000 enemy and 100 artillery guns.

Dirigible balloons were used as stationary reconnaissance points on the front lines. Balloons commonly had a crew of two with parachutes: upon an enemy air attack on the flammable balloon the balloon crew would parachute out. Recognized for their value as observer platforms, they were important targets of enemy aircraft; fixed, they were also heavily defended by antiaircraft guns. Blimps and balloons helped contribute to the stalemate of the trench warfare of World War I, and the dirigible balloons contributed to air to air combat among the aircraft to defend the skies for air superiority due to its significant reconnaissance value. The Germans conducted air raids during 1915 and 1916 on England and London with dirigible balloons with the intent of damaging the morale and will to fight of the British and cause aircraft to be reassigned to England away from the front lines. Dirigible balloons were part of the new found aerial warfare of World War I.


Pie chart showing deaths by alliance and military/civilian. Please note that most of the civilian deaths were due to the outbreak of the Spanish flu or related to famine.
Main articles: Aftermath of World War I & World War I casualties

The First World War ended with a Europe scarred by trenches, spent resources, and littered with the bodies of the millions who died in battle. The direct consequences of WWI brought many old regimes crashing to the ground, and ultimately, would lead to the end of 300 years of European hegemony.

No other war had changed the map of Europe so dramatically - four empires were shattered: The German, the Austro-Hungarian, the Ottoman and the Russian. Their four dynasties, the Hohenzollerns, the Habsburgs, the Ottomans, and the Romanovs, who had roots of power back to the days of the Crusades, all fell during or after the war.


Main article: World War I casualties

The total death toll (military and civilian) of World War I was at least 16 million, of which about 9 million were military and about 7 million civilian. The Entente Powers lost more than 5 million soldiers and the Central Powers more than 3 million. See World War I casualties for more details.

Other names

World War I has also been called "The Great War" (a title previously used to refer to the Napoleonic Wars) or sometimes "the war to end all wars" until World War II. The term "First World War," implying an event distinct from a "Second World War" has fallen into disfavour by some scholars, who regard World War I as merely the first phase of a three-decade long war spanning the period 19141945.Template:Fn

In Australian popular legend, the First World War is known as the nation's "baptism of fire" as it was the first major war which the then young nation fought, and one of the first cases where Australian troops fought as Australians, not just subjects of the British Empire. They were tried and not found wanting. Anzac Day is thus held in great reverence by many Australians. Similarly, Canadians believe although they participated in wars before this time, it was the first time they proved they were their own country, not just subjects of the British Empire; unlike Australia, however, Canada had to deal with Quebec, and the situation would only be exacerbated as a result.


Prayer saying "Gott strafe England" (May God punish England) on a wall in France. Autochrome color picture made in 1917.

"Yesterday I visited the battlefield of last year. The place was scarcely recognisable. Instead of a wilderness of ground torn up by shell, the ground was a garden of wild flowers and tall grasses. Most remarkable of all was the appearance of many thousands of white butterflies which fluttered around. It was as if the souls of the dead soldiers had come to haunt the spot where so many fell. It was eerie to see them. And the silence! It was so still that I could almost hear the beat of the butterflies' wings." - a British officer, 1919.

"The First World War killed fewer victims than the Second World War, destroyed fewer buildings, and uprooted millions instead of tens of millions - but in many ways it left even deeper scars both on the mind and on the map of Europe. The old world never recovered from the shock." - Edmond Taylor, in "The Fossil Monarchies"

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
- John McCrae, from the poem "In Flanders Fields"

"Gott strafe England" was a common slogan of the German Army, which means "May God punish England".

"In war-time the word patriotism means suppression of truth." - S. Sassoon in 'Memoirs of an Infantry Officer'.

"In war there are three courses of action open to the enemy, and he usually chooses the fourth." - General Helmuth von Moltke'.

"We will support Britain to the last man and the last shilling." - Andrew Fisher, Australian Prime Minister at the outbreak of the war.


See Also

Main articles

Template:World War I


Template:Multi-video start Template:Multi-video item Template:Multi-video item Template:Multi-video end




Causes and Diplomacy

Specialty Topics

New Weapons: Air, Tank, Gas, Submarine

  • Haber, L. F. The Poisonous Cloud: Chemical Warfare in the First World War (1986);
  • Palazzo, Albert. Seeking Victory on the Western Front: The British Army and Chemical Warfare in World War I (2000)
  • Lawson, Eric and Jane Lawson. The First Air Campaign, August 1914-November 1918 (1996)
  • Kennett, Lee B. The First Air War, 1914-1918 (1992)
  • Morrow, John. German Air Power in World War I. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982. Contains design and production figures, as well as economic influences.
  • Winter, Denis. First of the Few. London: Allen Lane/Penguin, 1982. Coverage of the British air war, with extensive bibliographical notes.
  • Gray, Edwyn A. The U-Boat War, 1914-1918 (1994)
  • van der Vat, Dan. The Atlantic Campaign. Harper & Row, 1988. Connects submarine and antisubmarine operations between wars, and suggests a continuous war.
  • Fuller, J.F.C. Tanks in the Great War. 1920.
    • Guderian, Heinz. Achtung! Panzer. (2003 from 1937 edition) Panzer Leader (1952) is revised on the basis of wartime experience...


  • Beesly, Patrick. Room 40. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1982. Covers the breaking of German codes by RN intelligence, including the Turkish bribe, Zimmermann telegram, and failure at Jutland.
  • Kahn, David. The Codebreakers. Scribners, 1996. Covers the breaking of Russian codes and the victory at Tannenberg.
  • Tuchman, Barbara W. The Zimmermann Telegram (1966)

USA & Canada at War

Europe: Economic and Social

Cultural, Literary, Artistic, Memorial

Popular Books & Films

  • Keegan, John. The First World War (1999)
  • Taylor, A. J. P. The First World War: An Illustrated History, Hamish Hamilton, 1963.
  • Editors of American Heritage. History of WWI. Simon & Schuster, 1964. popular
  • Toland, John. No Man's Land. 1918 - The Last Year of the Great War (1980)
  • ----------
  • The Great War, television documentary by the BBC.
  • Aces: A Story of the First Air War, written by George Pearson, historical advice by Brereton Greenhous and Philip Markham, NFB, 1993. Argues aircraft created trench stalemate


  • Template:Fnb Gilpin, p200; Knutsen, p6-7; Tammem, p51-52; Rasler & Thompson, p4.

External links

<span class="FA" id="de" style="display:none;" />

<span class="FA" id="eo" style="display:none;" />

<span class="FA" id="he" style="display:none;" />

af:Eerste Wêreldoorlog ar:حرب عالمية أولى ast:Primera guerra mundial bg:Първа световна война be:Першая сусьветная вайна bs:Prvi svjetski rat ca:Primera Guerra Mundial cs:První světová válka cy:Y Rhyfel Byd Cyntaf da:1. verdenskrig de:Erster Weltkrieg et:Esimene maailmasõda el:Α' Παγκόσμιος Πόλεμος es:Primera Guerra Mundial eo:Unua mondmilito eu:Lehen Mundu Gerrate fa:جنگ جهانی اول fr:Première Guerre mondiale ga:An Chéad Chogadh Domhanda gl:Primeira Guerra Mundial ko:제1차 세계 대전 hr:Prvi svjetski rat io:Unesma mondo-milito id:Perang Dunia I it:Prima guerra mondiale he:מלחמת העולם הראשונה la:Bellum Orbis Terrarum I lv:Pirmais pasaules karš lt:Pirmasis pasaulinis karas lb:Éischte Weltkrich hu:I. világháború mk:Прва Светска војна ms:Perang Dunia I nl:Eerste Wereldoorlog nds:Eerst Weltorlog ja:第一次世界大戦 no:Første verdenskrig nn:Den fyrste verdskrigen pl:I wojna światowa pt:Primeira Guerra Mundial ro:Primul război mondial ru:Первая мировая война sh:Prvi svjetski rat scn:Prima Guerra Munniali simple:World War I sk:Prvá svetová vojna sl:Prva svetovna vojna sr:Први светски рат fi:Ensimmäinen maailmansota sv:Första världskriget tl:Unang Digmaang Pandaigdig ta:முதல் உலகப் போர் th:สงครามโลกครั้งที่หนึ่ง vi:Đệ nhất thế chiến tr:I. Dünya Savaşı wa:Prumire guere daegnrece uk:Перша світова війна zh:第一次世界大战

Personal tools