Outbreak of World War I

Outbreak of World War I

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Europe by 1914

Almost exactly a century before, a meeting of the European states at the Congress of Vienna had established an international order and balance of power that lasted for almost a century. By 1914, however, a multitude of forces were threatening to tear it apart. The Balkan Peninsula, in southeastern Europe, was a particularly tumultuous region: Formerly under the control of the Ottoman Empire, its status was uncertain by the late 1800s, as the weakened Turks continued their slow withdrawal from Europe. Order in the region depended on the cooperation of two competing powers, Russia and Austria-Hungary. The slumping Austria-Hungary--in which small minorities (Germans in Austria, Magyars in Hungary) attempted to control large populations of restless Slavs--worried for its future as a great power, and in 1908 it annexed the twin Balkan provinces of Bosnia-Herzogovina. This grab for territory and control angered the independent Balkan nation of Serbia--who considered Bosnia a Serb homeland--as well as Slavic Russia.

Upstart Serbia then doubled its territory in back-to-back Balkan wars (1912 and 1913), further threatening Austro-Hungarian supremacy in the region. Meanwhile, Russia had entered into an alliance with France--angry over German annexation of their lands in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870-71--and Great Britain, whose legendary naval dominance was threatened by Germany's growing navy. This Triple Entente, squared off against the German-Austro-Hungarian alliance, meant that any regional conflict had the potential to turn into a general European war.

Assassination of Franz Ferdinand

Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a great friend of Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, met with him in mid-June 1914 to discuss the tense situation in the Balkans. Two weeks later, on June 28, Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, were in Sarajevo to inspect the imperial armed forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina. When 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip and his fellow members of the nationalist Young Bosnia movement learned of the archduke's planned visit, they took action: Supplied with weapons by a Serbian terrorist organization called the Black Hand, Princip and his cohorts traveled to Sarajevo in time for the archduke's visit.

The royal couple was touring the city in an open car, with surprisingly little security; one of the nationalists threw a bomb at their car, but it rolled off the back of the vehicle, wounding an army officer and some bystanders. Later that day, the imperial car took a wrong turn near where Princip happened to be standing. Seeing his chance, Princip fired into the car, shooting Franz Ferdinand and Sophie at point-blank range. He then turned the gun on himself, but was tackled by a mob of bystanders who restrained him until the police arrived. The archduke and his wife were rushed away to seek medical attention, but both died within the hour.

The Road to World War I

In order to maintain its credibility as a force in the Balkan region (let alone its status as a great power), Austria-Hungary needed to enforce its authority in the face of such an insolent crime. However, with the threat of Russian intervention looming and its army unprepared for a large-scale war, it required Germany's help to back up its words with force. Emperor Franz Josef wrote a personal letter to Kaiser Wilhelm requesting his support, and on July 6 German Chancellor Theobald Bethmann Hollweg informed Austrian representatives that Vienna had Germany's full support.

READ MORE: Did Franz Ferdinand’s Assassination Cause World War I?

On July 23, the Austro-Hungarian ambassador to Serbia delivered an ultimatum: The Serbian government must take steps to wipe out terrorist organizations within its borders, suppress anti-Austrian propaganda and accept an independent investigation by the Austro-Hungarian government into Franz Ferdinand's assassination, or face military action. After Serbia appealed to Russia for help, the czar's government began moving towards mobilization of its army, believing that Germany was using the crisis as an excuse to launch a preventive war in the Balkans. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 28. On August 1, after hearing news of Russia's general mobilization, Germany declared war on Russia. The German army then launched its attack on Russia's ally, France, through Belgium, violating Belgian neutrality and bringing Great Britain into the war as well.

The Great War and Its Impact

Over the next four years, the Great War (as World War I was then called) would grow to involve Italy, Japan, the Middle East and the United States, among other countries. More than 20 million soldiers died and 21 million more were wounded, while millions of other people fell victim to the influenza pandemic that the war helped to spread.

READ MORE: The 1918 Flu Pandemic

The war left in its wake three ruined imperial dynasties (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey) and unleashed the revolutionary forces of Bolshevism in another (Russia). In the end, the uneasy peace brokered at Versailles in 1919 kept tensions in check for less than two decades before giving way to another devastating world war.

Killed, wounded, and missing

The casualties suffered by the participants in World War I dwarfed those of previous wars: some 8,500,000 soldiers died as a result of wounds and/or disease. The greatest number of casualties and wounds were inflicted by artillery, followed by small arms, and then by poison gas. The bayonet, which was relied on by the prewar French Army as the decisive weapon, actually produced few casualties. War was increasingly mechanized from 1914 and produced casualties even when nothing important was happening. On even a quiet day on the Western Front, many hundreds of Allied and German soldiers died. The heaviest loss of life for a single day occurred on July 1, 1916, during the Battle of the Somme, when the British Army suffered 57,470 casualties.

Sir Winston Churchill once described the battles of the Somme and Verdun, which were typical of trench warfare in their futile and indiscriminate slaughter, as being waged between double or triple walls of cannons fed by mountains of shells. In an open space surrounded by masses of these guns large numbers of infantry divisions collided. They fought in this dangerous position until battered into a state of uselessness. Then they were replaced by other divisions. So many men were lost in the process and shattered beyond recognition that there is a French monument at Verdun to the 150,000 unlocated dead who are assumed to be buried in the vicinity.

This kind of war made it difficult to prepare accurate casualty lists. There were revolutions in four of the warring countries in 1918, and the attention of the new governments was shifted away from the grim problem of war losses. A completely accurate table of losses may never be compiled. The best available estimates of World War I military casualties are assembled in Table 4.

Armed forces mobilized and casualties in World War I*
*As reported by the U.S. War Department in February 1924. U.S. casualties as amended by the Statistical Services Center, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Nov. 7, 1957.
country total mobilized forces killed and died wounded prisoners and missing total casualties percentage of mobilized forces in casualties
Allied and Associated Powers
Russia 12,000,000 1,700,000 4,950,000 2,500,000 9,150,000 76.3
British Empire 8,904,467 908,371 2,090,212 191,652 3,190,235 35.8
France 8,410,000 1,357,800 4,266,000 537,000 6,160,800 73.3
Italy 5,615,000 650,000 947,000 600,000 2,197,000 39.1
United States 4,355,000 116,516 204,002 4,500 323,018 8.1
Japan 800,000 300 907 3 1,210 0.2
Romania 750,000 335,706 120,000 80,000 535,706 71.4
Serbia 707,343 45,000 133,148 152,958 331,106 46.8
Belgium 267,000 13,716 44,686 34,659 93,061 34.9
Greece 230,000 5,000 21,000 1,000 27,000 11.7
Portugal 100,000 7,222 13,751 12,318 33,291 33.3
Montenegro 50,000 3,000 10,000 7,000 20,000 40.0
total 42,188,810 5,142,631 12,800,706 4,121,090 22,064,427 52.3
Central Powers
Germany 11,000,000 1,773,700 4,216,058 1,152,800 7,142,558 64.9
Austria-Hungary 7,800,000 1,200,000 3,620,000 2,200,000 7,020,000 90.0
Turkey 2,850,000 325,000 400,000 250,000 975,000 34.2
Bulgaria 1,200,000 87,500 152,390 27,029 266,919 22.2
total 22,850,000 3,386,200 8,388,448 3,629,829 15,404,477 67.4
Grand total 65,038,810 8,528,831 21,189,154 7,750,919 37,468,904 57.5

Similar uncertainties exist about the number of civilian deaths attributable to the war. There were no agencies established to keep records of these fatalities, but it is clear that the displacement of peoples through the movement of the war in Europe and in Asia Minor, accompanied as it was in 1918 by the most destructive outbreak of influenza in history, led to the deaths of large numbers. It has been estimated that the number of civilian deaths attributable to the war was higher than the military casualties, or around 13,000,000. These civilian deaths were largely caused by starvation, exposure, disease, military encounters, and massacres.

World War I Lessons: The Importance of History

Gavrilo Princip is captured in Sarajevo after assassinating the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria on June 28, 1914.

One of the most destructive wars in human history started 100 years ago. What have we learned&mdashor failed to learn&mdashsince &ldquothe war to end all wars&rdquo?

On June 28, 1914, a Serbian terrorist named Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. Within a month, most of Europe, the Ottoman Empire and Japan had declared war. In the next four years, Europe would be nearly decimated the United States would be drawn into the war empires would end a bloody revolution would occur in Russia and the whole fate of the world would be drastically changed. All these were fruits of World War I.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of this world-changing war. After 100 years, what have we learned from World War I? Does the war actually have any lessons for us today? In our globalized society where some experts believe that a major war between world powers will never occur again, should such questions even be asked?

This blog begins a 4 part series on the lessons we can learn from the history of World War I.

The right question

The philosopher George Santayana famously said, &ldquoThose who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.&rdquo Time has proven this statement true.

One of the greatest, and saddest, examples of this truth is within the First World War itself. When we think of the war, we may think of soldiers rushing across the no-man&rsquos-land in a desperate attempt to overrun the enemy&rsquos trenches. On the Western Front, this is mostly what the war was. Thousands of young men were sent to their death in an attempt to capture muddy trenches protected by machine guns, barbed wire and land mines.

Yet this didn&rsquot have to be the case. The American Civil War had already proven that trench warfare created mass casualties with little reward. A brief look at a war fought barely 50 years earlier could have uncovered the flaw in trench warfare and saved countless lives.

This puts a different spin on the need to look at history. We really should ask, &ldquoCan we afford not to learn the lessons of history?&rdquo

This year marks the 100th anniversary of this world-changing war. After 100 years, what have we learned from World War I? Does the war actually have any lessons for us today? Shaky alliances

One such historical lesson that the leaders in 1914, and today, would do well to learn is that alliances are not always the answer. Nations often turn to alliances, seeking stability and safety on the international scene. The idea is that an alliance with another military power will act as a deterrent against attack from another nation.

But too often human alliances don&rsquot prevent war and only serve to draw more nations into a war.

Relying on alliances was also a mistake made by ancient Israel. God told them, &ldquoThe LORD has rejected your trusted allies&rdquo (Jeremiah 2:37). The Bible records at least one case where honoring such an alliance brought someone into direct conflict with God (2 Chronicles 35:20-22).

The Bible shows that the real answer is to trust in God (Psalm 146:3-5).

World War I escalated because of the networks of alliances between Serbia, Russia, France, Britain and Belgium on one side and Germany, Austria and Italy on the other.

After World War I, an attempt was made to correct this problem by creating the League of Nations, the first international organization dedicated to world peace. Unfortunately, while it had a few successes, the League of Nations was unable to prevent the outbreak of World War II. Its successor, the United Nations, has similarly too often been ineffective and the world still has tangled alliance systems.

How history helps

Studying history helps us know and understand more about yesterday&mdashand today. History is a collection of stories, stories that are made by and about people just like you and me.

History shows us what was done before. By determining what failed and what worked, we can use the examples of the past to shape a better future. This is the purpose of the Bible&rsquos stories as well (1 Corinthians 10:11).

History also enables us to understand today&rsquos events a little better. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to understand the current situation in the Middle East without at least a basic knowledge of the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. An understanding of history also helps us better understand today&rsquos headlines about Russia and Ukraine.

In this series about World War I, we will examine lessons that come from one of the largest conflicts in the history of humanity.

The history is there. Will we learn from it? Or will we be condemned to repeat it?.

This is the first in a four part series on World War I Lessons. For part 2 in this series, see &ldquoThe Value of Human Life.&rdquo

Joshua Travers

Joshua Travers grew up and lives in Athens, Ohio. He graduated in 2016 with a bachelor&rsquos degree in social studies and Spanish education from Ohio University. He also studied theology at Foundation Institute, Center for Biblical Education, in Allen, Texas and graduated with a certificate in biblical studies in May 2017.

Family Squabbles and the Outbreak of World War I

Rebecca Fachner starts a series of articles on World War I by considering how close family ties between many European rulers may have contributed to the outbreak of war – like a family squabble on a grandiose scale.

This summer marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, and over the next few months there will be plenty of articles and books that deal with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the diplomatic machinations between the various countries after the Archduke’s death, and the outbreak of hostilities a few weeks later. One of the most interesting aspects of the beginning of the war is how most of the major powers seemed completely prepared for war, but stunned that war broke out so quickly. It is then, worth considering the political situation before the war to understand why the situation fell apart in the way it did, with the speed that it did.

Queen Victoria in 1887. Her relatives were closely connected prior to World War I.

Many people have compared World War I to a bar fight there is even an internet graphic floating around that imagines the entire war as if the countries involved were drunks fighting at a bar rather than nations. If the war itself was a bar fight, the political situation leading up to the war is best characterized as a family squabble. Part of the reason that a comparison to a family makes sense is that the European political landscape at that time was in some ways like that of a large family. King George V of Great Britain was a grandson of Queen Victoria, first cousin of Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany through his father and the Kaiser’s mother. He was also first cousins with the Tsarina of Russia, Empress Alexandra, herself a granddaughter of Victoria. To make family dinners even more complicated, George was also a first cousin of Alexandra’s husband, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia their mothers were sisters. His own sister was married to King Haakon of Norway, whose brother was King Christian X of Denmark, both of whom were cousins of both George and Nicholas. George and Wilhelm also had cousins in the royal houses of Greece, Romania and Spain. Confused yet? Well, almost every European royal family was related to almost every other European royal family, and untangling the branches of the family tree is a complicated endeavor, to say the least.

In an age when Europe was dominated by kingdoms and emperors, minor family disagreements became a huge problem. We all have family members that we don’t like too much for whatever reason, that’s the nature of families. But it is one thing if you don’t like your annoying cousin Nick or don’t trust cousin Bill, but when you all run countries, your dislike becomes both political and very important. Suddenly, the fact that you don’t trust your cousin has major policy implications for your government’s relationship with him and his government. This is not to suggest that pre-war alliances were purely based on family discord, or that the world lost millions of lives because of family drama. Two of the major players in the story were not linked to this large family: France because it no longer had a monarchy and Austria-Hungary because its rulers weren’t closely entwined in Queen Victoria’s royal circle. Since the war actually started between Serbia and Austria-Hungary, the non-family political situation was clearly very important too.

Why war broke out

As almost all histories tell us, World War I was the product of entangling alliances between the various powers, and their inability to stop the chain of events from overtaking them in the wake of the Archduke’s assassination. That is true however, the crucial piece is not the entangling alliances, but the inability of each country in Europe to stop the train wreck as it was happening. The manifest weakness of many of the hereditary rulers of Europe was lethally exposed in 1914, along with their lack of diplomatic skills, their poor management style and general incompetence.

It is impossible to say whether better and more skilled (i.e. merit based) rulers would have been able to stave off a war, but it does seem clear that letting nations behave like a dysfunctional family is not the way to international harmony. Unfortunately it took an awful lot of lives to convince world leaders that international conferences shouldn’t look quite so much like a family reunion. One of the most enduring legacies of the war is that it ultimately toppled a number of the monarchies in Europe, perhaps because the conflict exposed the problems of hereditary rulers to such an extreme extent. Hereditary rule is like rolling the dice with your leadership, sometimes you roll a Peter the Great or Frederick the Great at other times you roll a Nicholas II or Kaiser Wilhelm. Taking that kind of chance might have been a good idea at some point in history, but in an age of warfare on a massive scale and increasingly deadly weaponry, the major powers needed more skilled diplomats to manage international affairs, not to mention better military commanders.

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As always, your feedback is welcome. If you have the time to leave a comment below, we’d really like to hear what you thought about the article.

Outbreak of World War I Digital Notebook for World History

This digital interactive notebook for World History covers the Outbreak of WWI and will allow students to understand the shifting perspective of war. Students will examine an image and song that show the excitement for war but will then learn how the Schlieffen Plan failed and trench warfare commenced with the battle of the Marne. Students will explore life in the trenches and ultimately "bring it together" by answering: How was WWI different than people anticipated at the outbreak of the war? Why did it turn out differently than people had anticipated?

This 8 slide digital notebook.

  • is fully editable
  • requires no textbook
  • is ready to assign on Google Classroom: No prep needed & ideal for asynchronous or synchronous distance learning or in-class use

Check out the full notebook in the PREVIEW!

Check out my other World History Activities & Units! I am developing more World History & AP Euro Curriculum, so make sure to follow my store to get notifications when new resources are available.

Please let me know if you have questions. You can email me at [email protected] and I am happy to help.




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The Beginning of World War I

Frantic competition among European powers marked the late 1800s and early 1900s. The strength of a nation was measured by the scope of its wealth and resources, the amount of land it held, and the size of its army and navy. The leaders of many countries believed that a nation could only achieve its political and economic goals if it had a strong military, a belief known as militarism. Conscript armies grew in most countries, in which young men were required to undergo a year or two of military training and were then sent home as reserves to be mobilized or called to action when needed for fighting. Naval budgets increased every year, especially in Great Britain and Germany. No country wanted to be without allies if war broke out, so two major military alliances took hold. Germany, fearful of being hemmed in by enemies on its east and west, signed an agreement with Austria-Hungary to support each other in a European war. Russia and France reached a similar agreement.

Militarists increasingly viewed their nations’ armed forces as above criticism. And many greatly admired such military values as self-sacrifice, discipline, and obedience. War was increasingly seen as an adventure, an opportunity to fight and even die for one’s country. Karl Pearson, a British writer at the time, claimed that wars are necessary. He maintained that nations could establish their rightful position in the world “by contest, chiefly by way of war with inferior races, and with equal races by the struggle for trade routes and for the sources of raw materials and food supply.” 1

Others held similar views. Count Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, the chancellor of Germany at the turn of the twentieth century, claimed that “the old saying still holds good that the weak will be the prey of the strong. When a people will not or cannot continue to spend enough on armaments to be able to make its way in the world, then it falls back into the second rank.” 2

For Pearson, Hollweg, and other Europeans, a nation was more than a country. To them, the members of a nation not only shared a common history, culture, and language but also common ancestors, character traits, and physical characteristics. Many believed, therefore, that a nation was a biological community and that membership in it was passed on from one generation to the next. In other words, belief in a nation was similar to what many believed about race.

Some historians refer to Europe in the early 1910s as a powderkeg (a barrel of gunpowder). European nations were eager for war to prove their superiority over other nations. They had growing militaries. And they had joined together to form opposing military alliances, pledging to support their partner nations in case of war. Like a barrel of gunpowder, the smallest spark could make everything explode.

The spark that set off World War I came on June 28, 1914, when a young Serbian patriot shot and killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire (Austria), in the city of Sarajevo. The assassin was a supporter of the Kingdom of Serbia, and within a month the Austrian army invaded Serbia. As a result of the military alliances that had formed throughout Europe, the entire continent was soon engulfed in war. Because European nations had numerous colonies around the world, the war soon became a global conflict.

Early Battles

Following the outbreak of war in August 1914, the German Army opened the Western Front by invading Luxembourg and Belgium, but were forced back with the Battle of the Marne.

Learning Objectives

Summarize the general trends of the early battles of World War I

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Western Front was the main theatre of war during World War I.
  • Following the outbreak of war in August 1914, the German Army opened the Western Front by invading Luxembourg and Belgium, then gained military control of important industrial regions in France.
  • These early German offensives include the Battle of Liège and the Battle of the Frontiers at the border of France.
  • The tide of the advance was dramatically turned with the Battle of the Marne, in which French and British troops were able to force a German retreat by exploiting a gap between the 1st and 2nd Armies, ending the German advance into France.
  • The resulting “Race to the Sea” had both sides establishing a meandering line of fortified trenches stretching from the North Sea to the Swiss frontier with France in an attempt to outflank the opposition.
  • This line remained essentially unchanged for most of the war.

Key Terms

  • First Battle of the Marne: Also known as the Miracle of the Marne, this World War I battle fought in September 1914 resulted in an Allied victory against the German Army. The battle was the culmination of the German advance into France and pursuit of the Allied armies that followed the Battle of the Frontiers in August and reached the eastern outskirts of Paris. A counter-attack by six French field armies and the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) along the Marne River forced the Imperial German Army to retreat northwest, leading to the Battle of the Aisne and the “Race to the Sea.” The battle was a victory for the Allies, but also set the stage for four years of trench warfare stalemate on the Western Front.
  • Battle of the Frontiers: A series of battles along the eastern frontier of France and in southern Belgium shortly after the outbreak of World War I. The battles resolved the military strategies of the French Chief of Staff General Joseph Joffre with Plan XVII and an offensive interpretation of the German Aufmarsch II deployment plan by Helmuth von Moltke the Younger. The Franco-British forces were driven back by the Germans, who were able to invade northern France. French and British rearguard actions delayed the German advance and thus allowed the French time to transfer their forces to the west to defend Paris, resulting in the First Battle of the Marne.
  • Siege of Liège: The opening engagement of the German invasion of Belgium and the first battle of World War I. The attack on Liège city began on August 5, 1914, and lasted until August 16 when the last fort surrendered. The length of the siege of Liège may have delayed the German invasion of France by 4–5 days.

Battle of Liège

At the outbreak of the First World War, the German Army (consisting in the west of seven field armies) executed a modified version of the Schlieffen Plan, designed to quickly attack France through neutral Belgium before turning southwards to encircle the French Army on the German border. Belgium’s neutrality was guaranteed by Britain under the 1839 Treaty of London this caused Britain to join the war at the expiration of its ultimatum at 11 p.m. GMT on August 4, 1914, when armies under German generals Alexander von Kluck and Karl von Bülow attacked Belgium. Luxembourg had been occupied without opposition on August 2. The first battle in Belgium was the Siege of Liège, which lasted from August 5-16. Liège was well-fortified and surprised the German Army under von Bülow with its level of resistance. Nonetheless, German heavy artillery was able to demolish the main forts within a few days. Following the fall of Liège, most of the Belgian field army retreated to Antwerp, leaving the garrison of Namur isolated, with the Belgian capital, Brussels, falling to the Germans on August 20. Although the German army bypassed Antwerp, it remained a threat to their flank. Another siege followed at Namur, lasting from about August 20-23.

For their part, the French had five armies deployed on their borders. The pre-war French offensive plan, Plan XVII, intended to capture Alsace-Lorraine following the outbreak of hostilities. On August 7 the VII Corps attacked Alsace with the objective to capture Mulhouse and Colmar. The main offensive was launched on August 14 with 1st and 2nd Armies attacking toward Sarrebourg-Morhange in Lorraine. In keeping with the Schlieffen Plan, the Germans withdrew slowly while inflicting severe losses upon the French. The French advanced the 3rd and 4th Armies toward the Saar River and attempted to capture Saarburg, attacking Briey and Neufchateau, before being driven back. The French VII Corps captured Mulhouse after a brief engagement on August 7, but German reserve forces engaged them in the Battle of Mulhouse and forced a French retreat.

Battle of the Frontiers

The German Army swept through Belgium, executing civilians and razing villages. The application of “collective responsibility” against a civilian population further galvanized the allies, and newspapers condemned the German invasion and the army’s violence against civilians and property, together called the “Rape of Belgium.” After marching through Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Ardennes, the German Army advanced in the latter half of August into northern France, where they met the French Army under Joseph Joffre and the initial six divisions of the British Expeditionary Force under Sir John French. A series of engagements known as the Battle of the Frontiers ensued, which included the Battle of Charleroi and the Battle of Mons. In the former battle the French Fifth Army was almost destroyed by the German 2nd and 3rd Armies and the latter delayed the German advance by a day. A general Allied retreat followed, resulting in more clashes at the Battle of Le Cateau, the Siege of Maubeuge, and the Battle of St. Quentin (also called the First Battle of Guise).

First Battle of the Marne

The German Army came within 43 miles of Paris but at the First Battle of the Marne (September 6-12), French and British troops were able to force a German retreat by exploiting a gap that appeared between the 1st and 2nd Armies, ending the German advance into France. The German Army retreated north of the Aisne River, establishing the beginnings of a static western front that would last for the next three years. Following this German retirement, the opposing forces made reciprocal outflanking maneuvers known as the Race for the Sea and quickly extended their trench systems from the Swiss frontier to the North Sea. The territory occupied by Germany held 64 percent of French pig-iron production, 24 percent of its steel manufacturing, and 40 percent of the coal industry, dealing a serious blow to French industry.

Laying Trenches and the First Battle of Ypres

On the Entente side (those countries opposing the German alliance), the final lines were occupied by the armies of the Allied countries, with each nation defending a part of the front. From the coast in the north, the primary forces were from Belgium, the British Empire, and France. Following the Battle of the Yser in October, the Belgian army controlled a 22-mile length of West Flanders along the coast known as the Yser Front, along the Yser river and the Yperlee canal from Nieuwpoort to Boesinghe. Stationed to the south was the sector of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).

From October 19 until November 22, the German forces made their final breakthrough attempt of 1914 during the First Battle of Ypres. Heavy casualties were suffered on both sides but no breakthrough occurred. After the battle, Erich von Falkenhayn judged that it was no longer possible for Germany to win the war and on November 18 called for a diplomatic solution, but Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff disagreed.

Stabilization of the Western Front WWI: Map of the Western Front and the Race to the Sea, 1914


Audoin-Rouzeau, Stéphane, and Annette Becker. 1914–1918: Understanding the Great War. Translated by Catherine Thompson. London, 2002. A stimulating essay.

Bourne, J. M. Britain and the Great War 1914–1918. London, 1989.

Chickering, Roger. Imperial Germany and the Great War, 1914–1918. Cambridge, U.K., 1998.

Gatrell, Peter. Russia's First World War: A Social and Economic History. London, 2005.

Hardach, Gerd. The First World War, 1914–1918. Translated by Betty Ross and Peter Ross. London, 1977. A still-useful economic history.

Horne, John, ed. State, Society, and Mobilization in Europe during the First World War. Cambridge, U.K., 1997.

Herwig, Holger H. The First World War: Germany and Austria-Hungary 1914–1918. London, 1997. An excellent military history focused on the Central Powers but covering both camps.

MacMillan, Margaret. Peacemakers: The Paris Conference of 1919 and Its Attempt to End War. London, 2001. A study sympathetic to the peacemakers.

Mombauer, Annika. The Origins of the First World War: Controversies and Consensus. London, 2002.


Phase two: the conflict widens to Germany, Russia, and France

German satirical map of Europe in 1914

Satirical map of Europe drawn by German graphic artist Walter Trier in 1914, showing Germany and Austria-Hungary as aggressors.

Phase three: Germany invades Luxemburg and Belgium, Britain intervenes

A History of Fidelity, a summary of Alsace-Lorraine's history

Brochure summarising the history of Alsace-Lorraine which by 1914 had been part of the German Empire for 50 years.

A World Language: why not Esperanto?, by Margaret L Blaise

Booklet published in June 1916 by Margaret L. Blaise (née Jones, 1878-1935), pioneer of the Esperanto movement in Britain.

David Stevenson is a Professor of International History at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He has published extensively on the causes, course, and consequences of the First World War. His books include 1914-1918: the History of the First World War With Our Backs to the Wall: Victory and Defeat in 1918 and 1917: War, Peace, and Revolution. He is currently working on the British home front in 1916-17.

Germany Millenarianism &ndash Spirit of 1914

Millenarianism is a belief held by a religious, political or social group or movement that a coming major transformation will occur, after which all things will be changed. For Germany, leading into World War I, historians report that the Spirit of 1914 was high, with support from the German population for participation in the war. The German government believed that the onset of war and its support of Austria-Hungary was a way to secure its place as a leading power, which was supported by public nationalism and further united it behind the monarchy. The success Germans saw in the opening battles of WWI provided a platform for the German government to position itself as able to accomplish more when unified and nationalistic. However, this millenarianism was short-lived, as Germany was unprepared to fight the long war, which took a dramatic and demoralizing toll on its people and later set the stage for the rise of the Third Reich, less than two decades later.

Following the events above, World War I moved into full force from 1914 through 1918, ending when peace was brokered between the German and Central Forces and the Allied Powers with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. However, this treaty forced punitive measures on Germany that further destabilized Europe and laid the groundwork for the start of World War II. By understanding the causes of World War I, historians can develop a keen comprehension of how and why this devastating conflict began.

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Norwich University is an important part of American history. Established in 1819, Norwich is a nationally recognized institution of higher education, the birthplace of the Reserve Officers&rsquo Training Corps (ROTC), and the first private military college in the United States.

With Norwich University&rsquos online Master of Arts in History program, you can enhance your awareness of differing historical viewpoints while developing the skills needed to refine your research, writing, analysis, and presentation skills. The program offers two tracks &ndash American History and World History, allowing you to tailor your studies to your interests and goals.