Chapter 29: Great War 1914-1918 Marching Towards War



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Chapter 29: Great War 1914-1918

Marching Towards War



  • At the turn of the 20th century, the nations of Europe had been largely at peace with one another for nearly 30 years

  • Efforts to outlaw war and achieve a permanent peace had been gaining momentum in Europe since the middle of the 1800s (Congress of Vienna)

  • By 1900, peace congresses convened regularly between 1843 and 1907

  • Some people believed that progress made war a thing of the past; yet in a decade, a war would engulf the world

I. Rising Tensions in Europe: The Rise of Nationalism

  • Many gradual developments would eventually propel Europe into war

  • One such development was the rise of nationalism, or deep devotion to one’s country

  • It can serve as a unifying force within a country, but also cause intense competition among nations when seeking power

  • By the 20th Century, a rivalry developed between Europe’s Great Powers—Germany, Austria-Hungary, Great Britain, Russia, Italy and France

  1. The Rise of Nationalism

  • This increasing rivalry among European nations stemmed from several sources

  1. Competition for materials and markets

  2. Territorial disputes—France still angry over losing land to Germany in the Franco-Prussian War; Austria-Hungary and Russia were both trying to dominate the Balkans; and within the Balkans there was intense nationalism of the Serbs, Bulgarians, Romanians, and other ethnic groups which eventually leads to demands for independence

  1. Imperialism and Militarism

  • Another force that helped set the stage for war in Europe was imperialism

  • Imperialism is fierce competition among the European nations for colonies in Africa and Asia which often almost pushed the countries to war and often increased their rivalry and their mistrust of one another

  • Another troubling development throughout the early years of the 20th century was the rise of a dangerous European arms race

  • The nations of Europe believed that to be truly great, they needed to have a powerful military

  • By 1914, all the Great Powers besides Britain had large standing armies; military experts stressed the importance of being able to quickly mobilize in case of war; Generals developed plans for mobilization

  • The policy of glorifying military power and keeping an army prepared for war was called Militarism

  • Having large standing armies made citizens feel more patriotic which increased their sense of nationalism, but it also frightened some people


II. Tangled Alliances: Bismarck Forges Early Pacts

  • Alliances were originally formed among the Great Powers in the 1870s to keep peace, but it eventually helped push Europe into war

  • Between 1864-1871, Prussia’s chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, freely used war to unify Germany

  • After 1871, however, Bismarck declared Germany a “satisfied power” and turned his energies to maintaining peace in Europe

  1. Bismarck Forges Early Pacts

  • Bismarck saw France as greatest threat to peace so he tried to isolate France so they would have no allies

  • He still believed that France wanted revenge for its defeat in the Franco-Prussian War

  • In 1879, he created the Dual Alliance between Germany and Austria-Hungary.

  • Italy joined three years later making it the Triple Alliance

  • In 1881, Bismarck took another potential ally away by signing a treaty with Russia

  1. Shifting Alliances Threaten Peace

  • In 1890, Germany’s foreign policy changed dramatically

  • Kaiser Wilhelm II, the ruler of Germany forced Bismarck to resign in 1890 because he did not wish to share power with anyone

  • Kaiser Wilhelm wanted to show the world how strong Germany had become

  • The army was his greatest pride

  • Wilhelm let Germany’s treaty with Russia expire in 1890.

  • Russia responded by forming a defense military alliance with France in 1892 and 1894

  • This alliance is what Bismarck feared since it would make Germany the enemy of both France and Russia

  • Germany would be forced to fight a two-front war

  • Wilhelm next started a shipbuilding program so that the German fleet would be equal to the British fleet

  • This alarmed Britain who then made another entente with both France and Russia, The Triple Entente in 1907

  • This alliance did not bind Britain to fight with France and Russia, but it did ensure that Britain would not fight against them

  • By 1907, there were two rival camps in Europe

  • On one side was the Triple Alliance, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy

  • On the other side was the Triple Entente, Great Britain, France and Russia

  • A dispute between two rival powers could draw all the nations of Europe into war

III. Crisis in the Balkans

  • The Balkan Peninsula was a likely place where that dispute would occur

  • With a long history of nationalist uprisings and ethnic clashes, the Balkans were known as the “powder keg” of Europe

  1. A Restless Region

  • By the early 1900s the Ottoman Empire, which included the Balkan region (Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia) was in decline

  • All had freed themselves from their Turkish rulers and nationalism was strong here

  • Nationalism was a strong force in these countries

  • Serbia had a large Slavic population and wanted to absorb all of the Slavs on the Balkan Peninsula

  • Russia supported Serbian nationalism, but Austria-Hungary did not because they feared that efforts to create a Slavic state would stir rebellion among its Slavic people

  • In 1908, Austria annexed (took over) Bosnia and Herzegovina (these were two Balkan areas with large Slavic populations)

  • Serbian leaders, who had sought to rule these provinces, were outraged

  • Tensions grew between Serbia and Austria over the next few years because Serbia vowed to take Bosnia and Herzegovina away from Austria

  • Austria said they would crush any Serbian effort to undermine their authority in the Balkans

f) A Shot Rings Throughout Europe

  • Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne and his wife Sophie went to Sarajevo (Bosnian capital) on June 28, 1914

  • They were shot at point-blank range as they rode through Sarajevo by a 19 year old Serbian and member of the Black Hand named Gavrilo Princip

  • The Black Hand was a secret society committed to ridding Bosnia of Austrian rule

  • Austria decided to punish Serbia since the assassin was a Serbian

  • On July 23, Austria presented Serbia with an ultimatum containing numerous demands

  • Serbia realized that refusing Austria’s demands would lead to war, so they agreed to most of the demands and offered to settle the rest at an international conference

  • Austria was in no mood to negotiate and declared war on July 28

  • That same day, Russia, an ally of Serbia, mobilized troops toward the Austrian border

  • The British foreign minister, the Italian government, and even Kaiser Wilhelm urged Austria and Russia to negotiate

  • It was too late, war had already been set into motion

Europe Plunges Into War

  • By 1914, Europe was divided into two rival camps: the Triple Entente—Great Britain, France, and Russia; the Triple Alliance—Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy

  • Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war against Serbia set off a chain reaction within the alliance system

  • The countries of Europe followed through with their pledges to support one another; as a result most of Europe joined the largest, most destructive war the world had ever seen

I. The Great War Begins

  • Since Austria declared war on Serbia, Serbia’s ally, Russia, moved its army toward the Russian-Austrian border

  • Expecting Germany to join Austria, Russia also mobilized along the German border

  • To Germany, Russia’s mobilization basically was a declaration of war so they declared war on Russia on August 1.

  • Russia looked to its ally France for help

  • Germany didn’t wait for France to act, two days after declaring war on Russia, the Germans declared war on France on August 3.

  • Soon after, Great Britain declared war on Germany; most of Europe was locked into battle

  1. Nations Take Sides

  • By mid August 1914, the battle lines were clearly drawn

  • The Central Powers, Germany and Austria-Hungary were allied, eventually Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire would join them

  • The Allied Powers or Allies--Great Britain, France and Russia.

  • Japan joined within weeks and Italy later joined even though they were once part of the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary

  • Italy joined because they accused their former partners of unjustly starting the war

  • By later summer, 1914, soldiers went off to war

  1. A Bloody Stalemate

  • As the summer of 1914 turned to fall, the war turned into a long and bloody stalemate, or deadlock, along the fields of France

  • This deadlocked region in northern France became known as the Western Front

  1. The Conflict Grinds Along

  • Since Germany was facing war on two fronts, a battle strategy was developed by General Alfred Graf von Schlieffen that called for attacking and defeating France in the west and then rushing east to fight Russia

  • This battle strategy was called the Schlieffen Plan

  • The Germans felt they could achieve this goal since Russia was behind Europe industrially and it would take them longer to supply their front lines

  • Speed was vital to this plan in order to defeat France.

  • At first it appeared the Germans would succeed

  • By early September, German forces had swept into France and reached the outskirts of Paris; victory was days away

  • On September 5, the Allies regrouped and attacked the Germans NE of Paris in the valley of the Marne River; after 4 days of fighting, the Germans retreated

  • First Battle of the Marne—first major clash on the Western Front and the single most important event of the war—the defeat of the Germans left the Schlieffen Plan in ruins because a quick victory in the west was no longer possible

  • In the east, Russian forces were already invading Germany

  • Germany was going to have to fight a long war on two fronts

  • Realizing this, the German High Command sent thousands of troops from France to aid its forces in the east

  • Meanwhile, the war on the Western Front settled into a stalemate

  1. War in the Trenches

  • By early 1915, opposing armies on the Western Front fought each other from miles of parallel trenches that were dug opposite of each other in order to protect soldiers from enemy fire

  • This set the stage for what became known as trench warfare

  • In this type of warfare, soldiers fought each other from trenches

  • Armies traded huge losses of human life for pitiful small land gains

  • Life in the trenches was miserable; it was muddy, there were rats, fresh food was non-existent and sleep was almost impossible

  • The space between the opposing trenches won the grim name “no man’s land” because soldiers usually met murderous rounds of machine gun fire

  • The Western Front had become a “terrain of death.”

  • Military strategists were at a loss

  • New tools of war (machine guns, poison gas, armored tanks, and larger artillery) did not speed up the war like military strategists had hoped, instead it just killed more people more effectively

  • Slaughter reached a peak in 1916

  • In February Germans launched major attack against French near Verdun where each side lost 300,000 men (Battle of Verdun). Germans only gained 4 miles of territory

  • In July 1916, the British army tried to relieve the pressure on the French so they attacked the Germans at the Battle of the Somme (NW of Verdun) and lost massive numbers. British only gained about 5 miles. Each side had suffered more than half a million casualties

II. The Battle on the Eastern Front

  • As thousands of lives were lost on the Western Front, both sides were sending millions more men to fight on the Eastern Front

  • This area was a stretch of battlefield on the German and Russian border where Russians and Serbs battled Germans and Austro-Hungarians

  1. Early Fighting

  • At the beginning of the war, Russian forces attacked both Austria and Germany

  • At the end of August 1915, the Germans had counterattacked near the town of Tannenberg

  • Battle of Tannenberg was a 4 day battle where the Germans crushed the invading Russians and drove the Russian army into a full retreat, more than 30,000 Russian soldiers were killed

  • The Russians fared much better against the Austrians

  • In September 1914, Russians defeated the Austrians twice driving them deep into their country

  • In December 1914, Austria finally defeated the Russians and pushed them out of Austria-Hungary

  1. Russia Struggles

  • By 1916, Russia’s war effort was about to collapse, especially since Russia had yet to become industrialized

  • As a result, Russia was short on supplies—food, guns, ammo, clothes, boots and blankets

  • Also, Allied shipments were limited because Germans controlled the Baltic Sea, and they had submarines which attacked in the North Sea and beyond

  • The Ottomans controlled the straits leading from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea

  • The Russian army had only one asset, its numbers

  • Because of the country’s enormous population, they tied up the Germans in the east which meant the Germans could not send a full fighting force in the west

  • Germany and its allies were concerned with more than just the Western and Eastern Front

  • As the war raged on, the fighting spread to Africa and Southwest Asia thus making the European conflict a World War

  1. Trench Facts

  • Each battalion had its own supply of rum that it distributed to its soldiers.

  • Each division of 20,000 men received 300 gallons.

  • Every soldier carried iron rations -- emergency food that consisted of a can of bully bee, biscuits and a tin of tea and sugar.

  • A single pair of rats could produce up to 880 offspring in a year.

  • A total of 3,894 men in the British Army were convicted of self-inflicted wounds. A firing-squad offense -- none were executed, but all served prison terms.

  • The British Army treated 20,000 soldiers for trench foot during the winter of 1914-15.

  • One-third of all casualties on the Western Front may have been killed or wounded in a trench.

  • A lit candle was fairly effective in removing lice, but the skill of burning the lice without setting yourself on fire was difficult to learn.

  • Soldiers in the trenches often depended on impure water collected from shell-holes or other cavities, causing dysentery.

  • If you have never had trench foot described to you, I will explain. Your feet swell to two to three times their normal size and go completely dead. You can stick a bayonet into them and not feel a thing. If you are lucky enough not to lose your feet and the swelling starts to go down, it is then that the most indescribable agony begins. I have heard men cry and scream with pain and many have had to have their feet and legs amputated. I was one of the lucky ones, but one more day in that trench and it may have been too late.”  (Harry Roberts)

A Global Conflict

  • World War I was much more than a European conflict

  • Australia and Japan fought alongside the Allied forces; the Ottoman Turks and Bulgaria allied themselves with Germany and the Central Powers

  • As the war promised to be a grim, drawn out affair, all the Great Powers looked for other allies around the globe to tip the balance

  • They sought new war fronts to achieve victory

I. War Affects the World

  • As the war dragged on, the main combatants looked beyond Europe for a way to end the stalemate

  • However, no new alliances or new battlefronts did much to end the grinding conflict

  1. The Gallipoli Campaign

  • A promising strategy for the Allies seemed to be to attack a region in the Ottoman Empire known as the Dardanelles

  • This narrow sea strait was the gateway to the Ottoman capital, Constantinople

  • By securing the Dardanelles, the Allies believed that they could take Constantinople, defeat the Turks, and establish a supply line to Russia

  • The effort to take the Dardanelles began in February 1915

  • Known as the Gallipoli Campaign, British, French, and Australian troops made repeated assaults on the Gallipoli Peninsula

  • The Turks vigorously defended the region and by May both sides dug trenches; the region turned into another stalemate

  • By December, the Allies gave up the campaign and began to evacuate; suffered about 250,000 casualties

  1. Battles in Africa and Asia

  • In various parts of Africa and Asia, German colonies began to come under assault

  • Japan quickly overtook German outposts in China and captured Germany’s Pacific island colonies; French and British forces attacked German colonies in Africa

  1. America Joins the Fight

  • In 1917, the focus of the war shifted to the high seas

  • The Germans intensified the submarine warfare that had raged in the Atlantic Ocean since shortly after the war began

  • In January 1917, the Germans announced that their submarines would sink without warning any ship in the waters around Britain

  • This policy was called unrestricted submarine warfare

  • On May 7, 1915, a German submarine or U-boat, had sunk the British passenger ship Lusitania

  • The attack left 1,198 people dead, including 128 U.S. citizens

  • Germany claimed that the ship had been carrying ammunition, which turned out to be true

  • Still, the American public was outraged; President W. Wilson sent a strong protest to Germany and the Germans agreed to stop attacking neutral ships

  • Desperate for an advantage, the Germans eventually returned to unrestricted submarine warfare in 1917

  • They knew it might lead to war against the United States

  • They gambled that their naval blockade would starve Britain into defeat before the U.S. could mobilize

  • U-boat attacks sank three American ships, despite Wilson’s warnings

  • In February 1917, U.S. officials intercepted a telegram written by Germany’s foreign secretary, Arthur Zimmerman

  • It stated that Germany would help Mexico “reconquer” the land it had lost to the United States if Mexico would ally itself with Germany

  • This telegram proved to be the last straw

  • A large part of the American population already favored the Allies

  • Also, America felt a bond with England; the two shared a common ancestry and language as well as similar democratic institutions and legal systems

  • More important, America’s economic ties were stronger with the Allied Powers than with the Central Powers

  • April 2, 1917, America declared war on Germany

II. War Affects the Home Front

  • By the time the U.S. joined the Allies, the war had been raging for more than three years

  • Europe had lost more men in battle than in all the wars of the previous three centuries

  • The Great War, as it came to be known, had changed millions of lives forever

  • Not only were the soldiers in the trenches affected, but civilians as well

  1. Governments Wage Total War

  • World War I soon became a total war, or that countries devoted all their resources to the war effort

  • In each country involved, the wartime government took control of the economy

  • Governments told factories what to produce and how much

  • Numerous facilities were converted to munitions factories; nearly every able-bodied civilian was put to work; unemployment all but disappeared

  • So many goods were in short supply that governments turned to rationing

  • Under this system, people could only buy small amounts of those items that were also needed for the war effort; ranged from butter to shoe leather

  • Governments also suppressed anti-war activity

  • Censoring news about the war became common because many leaders feared it would turn people’s opinion against the war

  • Governments also used propaganda, one sided information designed to persuade, to keep up morale and support for the war

e) Women and the War

  • Help was needed from women as well

  • Thousands of women replaced men in factories, offices, and shops

  • Women built tanks and munitions, plowed fields, paved streets, and ran hospitals

  • Although women left the workplace once the war was over, it changed many people’s views about what women were capable of

  • Women also saw the horrors of war firsthand, working near the frontlines as nurses

III. The Allies Win the War

  • With the U.S. entered into the war, it seemed that the scales were tipping in the Allies favor

  • However, events in Russia gave Germany a victory on the Eastern Front and a new hope for winning the conflict

  1. Russia Withdraws

  • In March 1917, civil unrest in Russia due to war related shortages of foods and fuel, forced Czar Nicholas II to step down

  • The new provisional government promised to continue fighting the war

  • However, by 1917, nearly 5.5 million Russian soldiers had been wounded, killed, or captured

  • The war, weary Russian army refused to fight any longer

  • 8 months into the new government, revolution took place in Russia

  • November 1917, Communist leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin seized power

  • Lenin insisted on ending Russia’s involvement in the war

  • One of his first acts was to offer Germany a truce

  • In March 1918, Germany and Russia signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which ended the war between them

  1. The Central Powers Collapse

  • Russia’s withdrawal from the war allowed Germany to move nearly all its forces to the Western Front

  • In March 1918, the Germans mounted one last major offensive against the Allies in France

  • The Germans crushed everything in their path

  • By late May 1918, the Germans again reached the Marne River; 40 miles away from Paris

  • The German military push weakened because the effort to reach the Marne had exhausted men and supplies

  • The Allies sensing this and with the aid of 140,000 fresh U.S. troops, launched a counterattack

  • July 1918, the Allies and Germans met at the Second Battle of the Marne

  • 350 Allied tanks smashed through the German lines

  • 2 million more U.S. troops arrived to help the Allies advance steadily toward Germany

  • Soon, the Ottomans Turks and Bulgarians surrendered

  • In October 1918, revolution swept through Austria-Hungary

  • In Germany, soldiers mutinied and the people turned against the Kaiser

  • November 9, 1918, Kaiser Wilhelm II stepped down and Germany declared itself a republic

  • A representative of the German government met with French Commander Marshal Foch near Paris

  • The two signed an armistice, or agreement to stop fighting; November 11, 1918, World War I came to an end

  1. The Legacy of War

  • World War I was a new kind of war

  • It involved new technologies and ushered in war on a grander scale

  • Also, death and destruction had never been seen like this before

  • 8.5 million soldiers died and another 21 million were wounded; countless civilians also died due to starvation, disease, and slaughter

  • Basically an entire generation of Europeans were wiped out

  • The war also had a devastating impact on the European economy

  • The treasuries of European countries were completely drained; total cost of war--$338 billion

  • Farmlands, homes, villages, and towns were all destroyed

  • A sense of great disillusionment, despair, and insecurity was left amongst the survivors

  • The peace treaties of this time were also compromised quickly and rushed; it brought forth a lot of anger and resentment amongst some of the countries

A Flawed Peace

  • World War I was over and the killing had stopped

  • The terms of peace still had to be worked out

  • On January 18, 1919, a conference to establish those terms began at the Palace of Versailles, outside Paris

  • 32 countries were represented and bitter debate would take place; the Allied Powers struggled to solve their conflicting aims



I. The Allies Meet and Debate

  • Despite representatives from numerous countries, the meetings major decisions were made by a group known as the Big Four

  • Woodrow Wilson of the United States, Georges Clemenceau of France, David Lloyd George of Great Britain, and Vittorio Orlando of Italy

  • Russia was in the middle of a civil war and Germany and its allies were not represented

  1. Wilson’s Plan for Peace

  • In January 1918, while the war was still going on, President Wilson had drawn up a series of peace proposals

  • Known as the Fourteen Points, they outlined a plan for achieving a just and lasting peace

  • The first four points included an end to secret treaties, freedom of the seas, free trade, and reduced national armies and navies

  • The fifth goal was the adjustment of colonial claims with fairness toward colonial peoples

  • The sixth through thirteenth points were specific suggestions for changing borders and creating new nations

  • The idea behind these points was self determination —allowing people to decide for themselves under what government they wished to live

  • Finally, the fourteenth point proposed a “general association of nations” that would protect “great and small states alike”

  • Reflected the hope for an organization that could negotiate solutions to world conflicts

  1. The Versailles Treaty

  • As the Paris Peace Conference opened, Britain and France showed little enthusiasm for Wilson’s vision

  • They were concerned about national security; also wanted to strip Germany of its war making power

  • The differences between the U.S., France and Britain led to heated arguments between the countries leaders

  • A compromise was finally reached with the Treaty of Versailles between Germany and the Allied powers on June 28, 1919—5 years to the day of Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination in Sarajevo

  • Adopting Wilson’s fourteenth point, the treaty created a League of Nations

  • The league was to be an international association whose goal would be to keep peace among nations

  • The treaty also punished Germany

  • They lost substantial territory and had severe restrictions placed on its military operations

  • As harsh as these provisions were, the harshest was Article 231, the “war guilt” clause

  • It placed sole responsibility for the war on Germany’s shoulders; reparations had to be paid to the Allies

  • All of Germany’s territories in Africa and the Pacific were declared mandates or territories to be administered by the League of Nations

  • The Allies would govern, until they were judged ready for independence

  1. A Troubled Treaty

  • The Versailles treaty was just one of five treaties negotiated by the Allies

  • In the end, these agreements created feelings of bitterness and betrayal

  • Both among the victors and the defeated

  1. The Creation of New Nations

  • The Western powers signed separate peace treaties in 1919 and 1920 with each of the other defeated nations

  • Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire included

  • The treaties led to huge land losses for the Central Powers

  • Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia separated from Austria-Hungary and were independent nations

  • The Ottoman Turks were forced to give up almost all of their former empire

  • They retained only the territory that is today the country of Turkey

  • The land that the Ottomans lost were Palestine, Iraq, and Transjordan to the British; Syria and Lebanon went to France

  • Russia who left the war early lost land was well; Romania and Poland gained Russian territory and Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania became independent nations

  1. A Peace Built on Quicksand”

  • The Treaty of Versailles did little for lasting peace

  • The United States, considered the dominant nation after the war, rejected the treaty

  • Many Americans objected to the settlement and Wilson’s League of Nations

  • Americans believed the best hope for peace was to stay out of European affairs

  • So the U.S. worked out a separate treaty with Germany and its allies several years later

  • The treaty with Germany, in particular the war guilt clause, left a legacy of bitterness and hatred in the hearts of the German people

  • Throughout Africa and Asia mandated territories were angry at the way the Allies disregarded their desire for independence

  • European powers talked about self determination, but European colonialism, disguised as the mandate system, continued in Asia and Africa

  • Allied powers were upset as well

  • Both Japan and Italy, which had entered the war to gain territory, had gained less than they wanted

  • Lacking the support of the United States, the League of Nations was in no position to take action on these or other complaints

  • The Treaty of Versailles, like quicksand, would eventually give way

  • In a little more than two decades, the treaties’ legacy of bitterness would help plunge the world into another catastrophic war.


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