World War I (WWI):


The Start of WWI:

This major war was predominantly called the World War, or the Great War, from its occurrence right up until after the start of the Second World War (WWII) on the 1st September 1939; after that it generally became known as the First World War or World War I (WWI); WWI was centred in Europe and began on the 28th July 1914 and lasted, 4 years and 4 months, until it ended on the 11th November 1918.

WWI involved all the world's great powers, which were grouped into two opposing alliances, the Allies, which was based on the Triple Entente of the United Kingdom, France and Russia and the Central Powers, which originally centred around the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy; although Italy ended up fighting for the Allies.

It is estimated that more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, were mobilised in one of the largest wars in history; more than 9 million combatants were killed, largely because of great technological advances in Weaponry without the corresponding advances in defence and mobility; it was the sixth deadliest conflict in world history, subsequently paving the way for various political changes such as revolutions in the nations involved.

Long-term causes of the war included the imperialistic foreign policies of the great powers of Europe, including the German Empire, the Austria-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Russian Empire, the British Empire, France, and Italy.

The war began on the 28th June 1914, which was the same day as, and because of, the assassination, by a Yugoslav nationalist, of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary; the assassination resulted in an Habsburg ultimatum against the Kingdom of Serbia; several alliances which had formed over the previous decades were invoked and within weeks the major powers were at war and the conflict soon spread, via their colonies, around the world.

The main fighting began on the 28th July 1914, when Austria-Hungary declared war on, and invaded, Serbia; this seemingly small conflict between two countries soon spread however, and Germany, Russia, Great Britain and France were all drawn into the war, largely because they were involved in treaties that obligated them to defend certain other nations; the Serbian invasion was followed by the German invasion of Belgium, Luxembourg and France, and a Russian attack against Germany; this resulted in western and eastern fronts opening up along the borders of Germany and Austria-Hungary.

Within weeks of WWI starting, after the German march on Paris was brought to a halt, the Western Front settled into a static battle of attrition with a trench line that changed little until 1917.

In 1914 the British Army had a reported strength of 710,000 men including reserves, of which around 80,000 were regular troops ready for war.

But to keep the trenches manned required vast amounts of British men and resources; at first these men were obtained through eager volunteers, in fact around 2.67 million men joined as Volunteers.

But when the voluteer force dried up and the war effort still needed more men Conscription was introduced, forcing many more men into the army; records show that around 2.77 million men were conscripted; though a few of these may well have been volunteers.

By the end of WWI almost 1 in 4 of the total male population of Great Britain and Ireland had joined, over 5 million men.

The men of Alexandra, Princess of Wales's Own Yorkshire Regiment, also known as the Green Howards, fought in WWI; this Regiment alone raised 24 Battalions, made up of 65,000 men; of these 9,000 died and 24,000 were wounded.

Conscription took most of the able bodied men, leaving a gaping hole in Britain's industrial workforce, which could only be replaced with Working Women.

In the East, the Russian army successfully fought against the Austria-Hungarian forces but was forced back by the German army; additional fronts opened up after the Ottoman Empire joined the war in 1914, Italy and Bulgaria in 1915 and Romania in 1916.

The Western and Eastern Fronts:

The first month of combat consisted mainly of bold attacks and rapid troop movements on both fronts; in the west, Germany attacked Belgium, which brought Britain into the war and then Germany attacked France; in the east, Russia attacked both Germany and Austria-Hungary and in the south, Austria-Hungary attacked Serbia; following the Battle of the Marne (from the 5th to the 9th September 1914), the western front became entrenched in central France and remained that way for the rest of the war; the fronts in the east also gradually locked into place.

The Ottoman Empire:

Late in 1914, the Ottoman Empire was brought into the fray as well, after Germany tricked Russia into thinking that Turkey had attacked it; as a result, much of 1915 was dominated by Allied actions against the Ottomans in the Mediterranean; Britain and France launched an attack on the Dardanelles, which was followed up by a British invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula; Britain also launched a separate campaign against the Turks in Mesopotamia; although the British had some successes in Mesopotamia, the Gallipoli campaign and the attacks on the Dardanelles resulted in British defeats.

Trench Warfare:

Around 1916 and 1917, the war was dominated by continued Trench warfare in both the east and the west; soldiers fought from dug-in positions, striking at each other with chemical weapons, heavy artillery, machine guns, and Planes; though soldiers died by the millions in brutal conditions, neither side had any substantive success or gained any advantage.

The United States’ Entrance and Russia’s Exit:

Despite the stalemate on both fronts in Europe, two important developments in the war occurred in 1917; in early April, the United States, angered by attacks upon its ships in the Atlantic, declared war on Germany and US forces entered the trenches enabling the Allies to drive back the German armies in a series of successful offensives; and in March the Russian Empire collapsed followed by the Bolshevik Revolution in November, which prompted Russia to pull out of the war.

Although both sides launched renewed offensives in 1918 in an all-or-nothing effort to win the war, both efforts failed; the fighting between exhausted, demoralised troops continued to plod along until the Germans lost a number of individual battles and very gradually began to fall back.

A deadly outbreak of influenza, meanwhile, took heavy tolls on soldiers of both sides; eventually, the governments of both Germany and Austria-Hungary began to lose control as both countries experienced multiple mutinies from within their military structures; Germany, which had its own trouble with revolutionaries at this point, agreed to a cease-fire on the 11th November 1918, later known as Armistice Day.

The End of the War and Armistice:

The war ended, in the late fall of 1918, with a victory for the Allies, after the member countries of the Central Powers signed armistice agreements one by one; Germany was the last to sign, signing its armistice on the 11th November 1918; four major imperial powers, the German, Russian, Austria-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, had been militarily and politically defeated and ceased to exist; the successor states of the former two lost a great amount of territory, while the latter two were dismantled entirely; the map of central Europe was redrawn into several smaller states.

The League of Nations was formed in the hope of preventing another such conflict; although, the European nationalism spawned by WWI, the breakup of empires, the repercussions of Germany's defeat and problems with the Treaty of Versailles are generally agreed to be factors that contributed to WWII.

Germany, under the Treaty of Versailles, was severely punished with hefty economic reparations, territorial losses and strict limits on its rights to develop militarily; many historians now believe that the Allies were excessive in their punishment of Germany and that the harsh Treaty of Versailles actually planted the seeds of World War II, rather than foster peace.

The treaty’s declaration that Germany was entirely to blame for the war was a blatant untruth that humiliated the German people; furthermore, the treaty imposed steep war reparations payments on Germany, which were meant to force the country to bear the financial burden of the war.

Although Germany ended up paying only a small percentage of the reparations it was supposed to make, it was already stretched financially thin by the war and the additional economic burden caused enormous resentment; ultimately, extremist groups, such as the Nazi Party, were able to exploit this humiliation and resentment and take political control of the country in the decades that followed.

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