World War I, also known as the First World War, the Great War, or the War to End All Wars, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from July 28th, 1914 to November 11th, 1918. More than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, were mobilised in one of the largest wars in history. Over nine million combatants and seven million civilians died as a result of the war, a casualty rate exacerbated by the belligerents' technological and industrial sophistication, and the tactical stalemate caused by gruelling trench warfare. It was one of the deadliest conflicts in history, and paved the way for major political changes, including revolutions in many of the nations involved.
The war drew in all the world's economic great powers, assembled in two opposing alliances: the Allies versus the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary. Although Italy was a member of the Triple Alliance alongside Germany and Austria-Hungary, it did not join the Central Powers, as Austria-Hungary had taken the offensive, against the terms of the alliance. These alliances were reorganised and expanded as more nations entered the war: Italy, Japan and the United States joined the Allies, while the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria joined the Central Powers.
The trigger for the war was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, by Yugoslav nationalist Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914. This set off a diplomatic crisis when Austria-Hungary delivered an ultimatum to the Kingdom of Serbia, and entangled international alliances formed over the previous decades were invoked. Within weeks, the major powers were at war and the conflict soon spread around the world.
On 25 July Russia began mobilisation and on 28 July, the Austro-Hungarians declared war on Serbia. Germany presented an ultimatum to Russia to demobilise, and when this was refused, declared war on Russia on 1 August. Being outnumbered on the eastern front, Russia urged its Triple Entente ally France to open up a second front in the west. Back in 1870, the Franco-Prussian war had ended the Second French Empire and ceded the provinces of Alsace-Lorraine to a unified Germany. France began full mobilisation on 1 August and on 3 August, Germany declared war on France. The border between France and Germany was heavily fortified on both sides so according to the Schlieffen Plan, Germany then invaded neutral Belgium and Luxembourg before moving towards France from the north, leading the United Kingdom to declare war on Germany on 4 August due to their violation of Belgian neutrality. After the German march on Paris was halted in the Battle of the Marne, what became known as the Western Front settled into a battle of attrition, with a trench line that changed little until 1917. On the Eastern Front, the Russian army led a successful campaign against the Austro-Hungarians, but the Germans stopped its invasion of East Prussia in the battles of Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes. In November 1914, the Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers, opening fronts in the Caucasus, Mesopotamia and the Sinai. In 1915, Italy joined the Allies and Bulgaria joined the Central Powers; Romania joined the Allies in 1916, as did the United States in 1917.
The Russian government collapsed in March 1917, and a revolution in November followed by a further military defeat brought the Russians to terms with the Central Powers via the Treaty of Brest Litovsk, which granted the Germans a significant victory. After a stunning German offensive along the Western Front in the spring of 1918, the Allies rallied and drove back the Germans in a series of successful offensives. On 4 November 1918, the Austro-Hungarian empire agreed to an armistice, and Germany, which had its own trouble with revolutionaries, agreed to an armistice on 11 November 1918, ending the war in victory for the Allies.
By the end of the war or soon after, the German Empire, Russian Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire ceased to exist. National borders were redrawn, with several independent nations restored or created, and Germany's colonies were parceled out among the victors. During the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, the Big Four (Britain, France, the United States and Italy) imposed their terms in a series of treaties. The League of Nations was formed with the aim of preventing any repetition of such a conflict. This effort failed, and economic depression, renewed nationalism, weakened successor states, and feelings of humiliation eventually contributed to World War II.
War at Sea Edit
German U-boats attempted to cut the supply lines between North America and Britain. The nature of submarine warfare meant that attacks often came without warning, giving the crews of the merchant ships little hope of survival. The United States launched a protest, and Germany changed its rules of engagement. After the sinking of the passenger ship RMS Lusitania in 1915, Germany promised not to target passenger liners, while Britain armed its merchant ships, placing them beyond the protection of the "cruiser rules", which demanded warning and movement of crews to "a place of safety" (a standard that lifeboats did not meet). Finally, in early 1917, Germany adopted a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare, realising that the Americans would eventually enter the war. Germany sought to strangle Allied sea lanes before the United States could transport a large army overseas, but could maintain only five long-range U-boats on station, to limited effect.
On the morning of November 21st, 1916 HMHS Britannic hit a mine lais by German submarine U-73. She sank in only 55 minutes because the nurses left the portholes open to keep the wounded healthy. Whilst the lifeboats were launching, the engines were not turned off. Two boats containing a dozen people, were destroyed by the propellers.
The ship slipped below the surface at 9:07 AM. There were 1,066 people on board, and all of them but 30 were taken from the water and lifeboats. In spite of Britannic being the biggest ship lost during the First World War, her sinking was not as tragic in terms of loss of human life as were the sinking of the Titanic and Cunard's RMS Lusitania, or many other ships lost during the First World War.