The Great War
Chronology of Events
Leading to and During
World War I
• Historical Background: 19th Century
• The Outbreak of War
• The Course of the War
• Versailles and Peace
The Great War
• US war fatalities in Iraq (2003 - present):
• US war fatalities in Vietnam (1963-1973):
• US war fatalities in WWI (1917-1918):
WW1 Fatalities (1914-1918)
1,811,000 1,500,000 3,311,000
WW1 Fatalities (1914-1918)
4,200,000 5,000,000
4,024,397 5,193,000 9,217,397
WW1 Casualties (1914-1918)
• Total Casaulties
(Killed and Wounded),
all sides:
– Military Deaths:
– Civilian Deaths:
• Total Death:
– Military Wounded:
WW 1 Casualties
• 1918 global flu
• 1/4th of US population
afflicted, 1/5th of
global population
• Estimated death from
• World War I innovations:
– first use of machine gun
– first use of chemical
– first use of tanks
– first use of aerial
bombardment of civilian
– first genocide (Armenians
by Turks)
Chronology: Deep Roots
• Picking up our political narrative from 1830 and
the abortive revolutions and restorations around
• Keep in mind the two interrelated ideas of
nationalism and class coming to the fore in 19th
century thought
• Rising bourgeoisie across much of Europe, but
especially in France, puts pressure on aristocracy
for greater role in government
Chronology: Deep Roots
• Only option is some form of democracy,
which, of course, means reaching out to
working class to some extent
• In removing the aristocracy and landed
gentry as the center of political power,
nationalism assumes a central role in
helping to organize and unite a disparate
population (it cuts across class lines)
Chronology: Deep Roots
• By a nation we mean a people who share:
– common language (or dialects of common
– common customs and traditions
– common interests
– common identity (a “sense” of themselves as a
unified whole)
Chronology: Deep Roots
• Note that this defintion does not include a
specifically political component; that is, no
mention is made of a government
• A state would be an
– association of persons
– living in a determinate part of the world
– legally organized for their own government
Chronology: Deep Roots
• In other words, it would be possible to have
– a single nation in a single state (e.g, Japan)
– nations without a state (e.g., the Kurds today)
– states with multiple nations (e.g., the UK
• Mid 19th century Europe had a quite a few
states composed of multiple nations
Chronology: Deep Roots
• An abortive string of
democratic and socialist
revolutions spread across
Europe again in 1848
(starting in Sicily, they
spread to all major
European powers with the
exception of Russia,
England, Poland, the
Netherlands, and the
Ottoman Empire
Chronology: Deep Roots
• In France, the Second
Republic begins with
the successful
February revolution,
but by 1851 Louis
Bonaparte gains power
and rules as Napoleon
19th Century Background
• Germany as we know it today did not
exist as a sovereign unified state until
the end of the 19th century
• It took 3, relatively quick wars to
accomplish that
19th Century Background
By the end of the
Napoleonic era,
“Germany” was a
loose confederation
comprising at least:
4 kingdoms
6 grand duchies
5 duchies
7 principalities
19th Century Background
• Wars of
‣ 1864 DanishPrussian War
‣ 1866 AustroPrussian War
‣ Franco-Prussian
War 1870-1871
Otto von Bismarck
19th Century Background
• The longest of these wars (Franco-Prussian) lasted 6
• Casualties were relatively minor and all three
advanced important political objectives for the
victor (Prussia)
• German unification culminated with Kaiser
Wilhelm I crowned as the leader of the state
• In France, end of Napoleon III (2nd French Empire)
and creation of the Third French Republic
19th Century Background
• Austria-Hungary was in some
sense the mirror image of
“Germany” in that it comprised
multiple nations within a single
state, including: ethnic Germans,
Hungarians, Serbs, Croats,
Czechs, Romanians, Slavs
• Franz-Joseph became Emperor
of Austria/King of Hungary in
1848 and would rule until his
death in 1916
• Habsburg line ends with his
19th Century Background
Despite its longevity, Franz Joseph’s rule was
difficult, presiding over significant loss of empire
prior to WWI:
lost 2 major wars (France, 1848; Prussia 1866)
lost most of its Italian possessions (e.g., Lombardy and
Venetia) following Italian unification
lost alliance with Russia as a result of not supporting Russia
in Crimea War
19th Century Background
– His brother,
Maximilian, was
installed as emperor
of Mexico by
Napoleon III at the
request of some
Mexican monarchists
– He was executed
during a Mexican
Revolution (1867)
19th Century Background
His wife, Elizabeth
of Bavaria, was
assassinated on 10
September 1897
Assassin Luigi Lucheni
19th Century Background
His nephew and heir,
Archduke Franz Ferdinand
was assassinated on 14
June 1914 by Serbian
nationalists opposed to
Austrian-Hungarian rule in
Sarajevo (the capital of
Bosnia-Herzegovenia, a
province within the empire
Assassin Gavrilo Princip
19th Century Background
• Russia
- Under rule of the Romanov family line
- Probably the least developed economically
of the “great” European powers
- Volatile combination of autocratic rule at
top, fairly well organized and well led
radical political movements at bottom, and
welter of ethnic and protonationalist forces
19th Century Background
• Following loss in
Crimean War, Tsar
Alexander II
embarked on some
• Serfs were freed in
1861, essentially
ending the last feudal
regime in Europe
• Despite the reforms
(or perhaps because of
them), numerous
assassination attempts
19th Century Background
• On March 13,
1881 Alexander
was assassinated
(bomb explosions)
by revolutionaries
on return from
watching a
military parade
19th Century Background
• Alexander III assumed
throne after the
assassination, and
ushered in a new era
of autocratic rule.
• Dies of kidney failure
a few years later
• His son Tsar Nicholas
II ascended to throne
Coronation of Tsar Nicholas II, 1896
and rules until 1917
19th Century Background
• During Nicholas reign,
Russia suffers defeat in
Russo-Japanese war
(1904-1905), the first
time a modern European
power loses to an Asian
• The loss helps spark an
unsuccessful revolution
in 1905 led by mutinous
soldiers and radical antitsarist groups
19th Century Backgroud
• Nicholas attempts to stay ahead of political unrest
with combination of crackdowns on radicals and
liberal reforms, neither of which were successful
in the long run
• For example, introduced a legislature (the
“Duma”) with universal male suffrage (25 years
and older) but had 4 electoral colleges and a
weighted voting system (aristocratic votes
counted more than peasant or worker voters)
19th Century Background
• Ottoman Empire (Turkey)
• One of the oldest ongoing political units in
Europe, lasting from 1299 to 1923
• In 19th Century, Ottoman Empire was much
like Austrian-Hungarian empire in that
contained a huge variety of ethnic groups
organized under single sovereign, with semiautonomous regions
19th Century Background
• A revolt in 1908 (led by the
“Young Turks”) brought about
some liberal reforms (including
instituting a parliament), but also
stoked nationalist sentiments
among other ethnic groups within
the Empire
• Sultan Abdul Hamid II, the
Ottoman ruler attempted to stage a
counter revolution and abandon the
Sultan Abdul Hamid II
reforms. Instead he was deposed
and exiled
19th Century Background
• Ismaiel Enver (Enver
Pasha) emerges as new
ruler and seeks to navigate
a course that protects
Ottoman rule from further
European encroachments,
particularly Russia
• As a result, he concludes a
secret treaty with Germany
in 1914
Enver Pasha
Prelude to War
• So, by the turn of the century, we have a
series of essentially monarchical regimes
clinging to power with...
• Burgeoning nationalist movements, and...
• Fairly severe economic and social stresses
brought on by capitalist expansion
Prelude to War
• To help placate
working class at
home, by late 19th
century the
European powers
were engaged in a
scramble to claim
other lands in Asia
and Africa
Prelude to War
• As part of the legacy of the 19th century
conflicts, political leaders across Europe
had important and significant underlying
resentments towards each other
- e.g., France vs. Germany, Russia vs. AustriaHungary, Russia vs Turkey, Britain vs.
Germany, etc.
Prelude to War
In the interests of promoting security, the leaders of the major
European powers enter into series of (often secret) defensive
pacts that call for signatory states to come to the defense of
other states:
Austria-Hungary and Germany (1879-1918)
A-H/Germany/Italy (1882-1915)
A-H/Germany/Romania (1883-1916)
France/Russia (1894-1917)
Bulgaria/Russia (1902-1913)
France/UK (1904-1918)
UK/Russia (1907-1917)
UK/Russia/France (1907-1917)
Turkey/Germany (1914-1918)
Prelude to War
• Lessons from 19th Century War
War can advance political objectives
War can be quick and relatively low cost
Key to success is rapid military mobilization
Military doctrine for Germany in particular
calls for rapid strike west to knock out France,
then go east against Russia
Outbreak of War
• On 28 June 1914
Archduke Franz Ferdinand
is travelling in Bosnia
(celebrating his 14th
wedding anniversary) and
is assassinated by Serbian
• 28 June was also St.Vitus
Day, a holiday
memorializing a Serbian
defeat by Turkish forces in
Outbreak of War
• Serbia leadership disavows any
involvement in the assassination and sends
condolences to Vienna
• Kaiser Wilhelm II in Germany urges caution
for Austria
• Austria nonetheless begins mobilization and
issues ultimatum to Serbia on 22 July 1914
demanding a response in 48 hours
Outbreak of War
• Serbia leadership rejects ultimatum with 5
minutes to spare, and begins mobilization to
prepare for Austrian-Hungarian attack
• On 26 July, Russia, an ally of Serbia, begins
pre-mobilization to dissuade Austria from
attacking Serbia
• 28 July (one month after the assassination)
Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia
Outbreak of War
• On 31 July, Russia starts full
• Germany, getting reports of
Russian mobilization, begins to
mobilize to protect Austria
• Germany threatens Russia with
war unless it halts mobilization,
Russia refuses to halt
• 1 August, Germany declares
war on Russia
• 3 August, Germany declares
war on France
Outbreak of War
• Germany asks neutral Belgium for “right of
access,” Belgium refuses and Germany
invades Belgium en route to France
• 4 August Britain demands Germany leave
Belgium under threat of war
• Germany refuses and Britain declares war
on Germany
Outbreak of War
• Main forces arrayed against each other:
• Triple Alliance: Austria-Hungary,
Germany, Ottoman Empire
• Triple Entente: UK, France, Russia
• But both groups tried to bring allies on
board and war quickly spread beyond
Europe, including the Middle East, North
Africa, South Africa, and India
The War
• Rather than the quick
strikes that characterized
19th century conflict, this
war quickly settled into a
defensive struggle
• Both sides dug trench
lines, and the latest
military technology -machine guns -- favored
defensive positions
The War
• War drags on for 4
years with little
progress on any fronts
for either side, but
The War
• Internal revolutions in
• Russia (Bolshevik
topple the tsar in 1917
and Russia concludes
peace treaty with
The War
• And the UK, with the
Irish Easter Rising of
• Irish nationalist forces
seize government
buildings in Dublin
and declare
independence for
The War
• US enters war in 1917
on side of UK and
France and the
infusion of new troops
breaks the deadlock on
the Western Front
• German troops begin
to pull back in fall of
• On 29 September, Bulgaria became the first of the
central powers to sign an armistice
• On 30 September, the Ottoman Empire
• On 9 November, an internal revolution in
Germany deposes Kaiser Wilhelm and a republic
is declared
• On 11 November, general armistice is signed
ending the fighting
• Formal peace
commence on 18
January at Versailles
and after six months of
negotiating, the Treaty
of Versailles is signed,
formally ending the
war between Germany
and the rest of Europe
• Treaty includes provisions in which
• Germany acknowledges that it bears sole responsiblity for
the war
• Germany agrees to pay retributions for the costs of the war
Germany agrees to arms limitations regarding the size of
its military
• Germany cedes all its colonial territories and significant
territory (e.g., East Prussia, Alsace-Lorraine) to other
European powers (e.g, France and Poland)
• Also created a series of nation-states in
what was left of the Austrian-Hungarian and
Ottoman empires
• Created League of Nations

The Great War - New Jersey City University [NJCU]