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World War I

§1 What was the First World War?

WW1 was a global war fought between the Allied Powers (led by Britain, France and Russia) and the Central Powers (led by Germany and Austria-Hungary). This war led to the mobilization of over 70 million soldiers, 60 million of which were Europeans. The scale of the war was unseen in previous history and it is still one of the largest wars ever. It is also one of the deadliest, with an estimated 16 million deaths, 7 million of which were unarmed civilians.

§2 When did the war happen?

The war initiated in Europe in 1914, after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. It lasted four years and the Allied Powers won the war in November 1918, when the treaty of Versailles was signed.

§3 Which countries were involved in the war?

There were two sides involved in the First World War: the Allied Powers and the Central Powers. The main countries on the allied side are Britain, France, Russia and later America. The main countries on the central side are Germany and Austria-Hungary. However the war affected the whole of Europe and its colonies beyond; it affected the economy of the whole world.

§4 Why was there a war?

On 28 June 1914, Franz Ferdinand was assassinated. Austria-Hungary issued an ultimatum to Serbia and eventually they prepared for war. At this point, a large network of alliances triggered in Europe. There was the Triple Entente (Britain, France and Russia) and the triple alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy). Russia decided to back Serbia. Partial mobilization was approved after Austria-Hungary bombed the capital of Serbia. On the next day, both Germany and Austria-Hungary did the same. Germany demanded Russia to demobilize within 12 hours, and as Russia showed no sign of complying Germany declared war in support of Austria-Hungary. Five days later Austria-Hungary did the same. France ordered full mobilization against Germany in support of Russia. After Belgium was invaded Britain also declared war against Germany.

§5 The Schlieffen Plan

The Schlieffen Plan was Germany’s strategy for a war on two fronts. Germany planned to send the majority of its troops to France on the Western Front and defeat France within four weeks. This allowed Germany to then shift its forces to the East before Russia could fully mobilize. Free passage through Belgium was essential to the speed of the plan. When this was refused, Germany invaded Belgium. Britain was forced to declare war on Germany under obligation from the 1839 Treaty of London.

§6 Crucial Battles

The First Battle of the Marne

The first Battle of the Marne was a counter-offensive launched by the Allied forces (mainly the British and the French). It happened 6-10 September 1914. After several days of bitter fighting the Germans retreated. This was strategically important as it gave time for Russia to fully mobilize, forcing Germany to fight a long war on multiple fronts. This battle marked an end to open warfare (where the two armies engaged on open ground), as high casualties were caused by the power of modern weapons. From then on soldiers protected themselves by digging trenches. Trench warfare dominated the Western Front until 1918.

The Battle of Jutland

The Battle of Jutland was the biggest naval battle of the first world war. It was the only naval encounter between the British fleet and the German fleet. The Germans hoped to take out the Battlecruiser Fleet before Britain’s main fleet arrived. However this was leaked by the British code-breakers and both fleets set out early. The battle was bloody but Britain’s naval dominance was confirmed. Britain lost 14 ships and more than 6,000 men but was ready to fight the next day. Germany lost 11 ships and over 2,500 men but no longer had the ability to challenge Britain’s control over the North Sea. This allowed Britain to put in place the blockade that would contribute to German defeat in 1918.

The Battle of Verdun

The Battle of Verdun was the longest and costliest battle of the first world war. It began in February 1916 and ended in December the same year. The German firepower was overwhelming, beginning with a 10 hour bombardment. The French were forced back but kept fighting. In the summer the Germans were forced to reduce their strength as Britain and Russia launched offensives elsewhere. Later in that year the French regained lost ground and eventually secured a defensive victory. This battle resulted in 430,000 French casualties and 550,000 German casualties.

The Battle of the Somme

The Battle of the Somme was a joint operation between the British and the French intended to achieve decisive victory on the Western Front. The enormous amount of French casualties in the Battle of Verdun meant the British would take the leading role in the offensive. The Allied forces did not make a quick breakthrough as their leaders had hoped. Over the next 141 days a million soldiers from all sides were killed, wounded or captured. On the first day of the battle there were 57,000 British casualties, 20,000 of which were killed. This was the bloodiest day in British military history.

The Brusilov Offensive

The Brusilov Offensive was the most successful Russian offensive of WW1. Russian commander Aleksei Brusilov used short, sharp bombardments and shock troops to exploit weak points and gain a small but crucial element of surprise. This tactic also proved successful on the Western Front. This battle weakened both Austria-Hungary and Russia, creating political and social unrest, and led to the collapse of the Russian Army. However this offensive took lots of pressure off the Allied forces on the Western Front.

The German Spring Offensives

The German Spring Offensives were German gambles to take over on the Western Front once and for all. The first offensive was on 21 March 1918. Germany concentrated all its resources after the defeat of Russia. That morning the Allied forces were greeted by a mixture of artillery, gas, smoke and infantry. The Allies were pushed back in places by miles. The offensives were tactical successes, but strategic failures. The Germans only advanced where the Allies could afford to give ground. There were no decisive goals other then to punch a hole in the Allied line. The Germans suffered huge losses particularly amongst the best units. After these offensives the tide began to turn and the Allied forces saw hope of victory.

The Hundred Days Campaign

The Hundred Days Campaign was a four month period of Allied success. The Battle of Amiens opened 8 August 1918. On that one day the British Expeditionary Force pushed the Germans back seven miles. The offensive was stopped in four days and a fresh one was launched elsewhere. A series of co-ordinated hammer blows forced the increasingly exhausted German forces back. Although the Allies had a clear upper hand at this point the number of casualties was still high. This campaign eventually led to allied victory.

The Treaty of Versailles

The Treaty of Versailles was signed exactly five years after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. It marked the symbolic end of WW1. The treaty was written in Paris by the Allies without much German participation. The treaty consisted of 15 parts and 440 articles. Part 1 created the League of Nations, which Germany was not allowed to join until 1926. Part 2 specified new German borders, pushing it back to its pre-war area. Part 4 stripped Germany of all its colonies. Part 5 reduced Germany’s armed forces to very low levels and prohibited Germany from processing certain classes of weapons. Part 8 established Germany’s liability for reparations. It the war on the aggression of Germany and its allies and stated that they were responsible for all losses and damages. Part 9 placed numerous other financial obligations on Germany. The German government signed the treaty under protest. The right-wing parties called it betrayal. The treaty was strictly enforced for five years by the French and the Belgians. Its harsh terms led to the rise of Hitler and subsequently the Second World War.

American Influence on WWI

The Americans managed to stay out of the war until 1917. The majority of the American people wanted to stay out of the war after seeing horrific images from the frontlines. For a president looking to remain in power in 1916, Wilson was forced to listen to his people. However America was the main supplier of weapons for the Allies, earning itself a fortune and building the world’s largest economy. Wilson and the American government were looking for the war to end without them until 1917. During that time America proposed many peace initiatives, sending one of his closest advisors to London in 1915, but the war went on. Eventually America was pushed to war by the sinking of American trade ships by German U-boats, including a cruise ship in 1915 carrying 128 American passengers. America declared war 6 April 1917. At first the American army consisted of only 400,000 men and was in no position to join a major war. Through a draft and enlistments however the number swelled to nearly 5 million by the end of the war. The American army was crucial to Allied victory. The capturing of 25,000 German soldier in Verdun September 1918 by the American Expeditionary Force led directly to Germany calling it quits 11 November 1918.

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written by Freddie Yu.