The First World War, also known as The Great War, lasted for four years. A global war, it started on July 28th, 1914 and ended on November 11th, 1918. It began in Europe and spread throughout the world. So massive was the scale of this war that it was described as ‘the war to end all wars’. It was the largest war effort as yet known to mankind.
One of the most deadly conflicts in history, it was the direct cause of more than seven million civilian deaths. An estimated nine million combatants were also part of the casualties of the First World War.
This number does not include the 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide, that took place as a direct result of the genocide and influenza epidemic that followed the end of The Great War.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the heir presumptive to the Austrio-Hungarian throne. He, along with his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, was assassinated in Sarajevo on June 28th, 1914. Gavrilo Princip, one of six assassins of varying nationalities, was a member of Young Bosnia (YB). Young Bosnia was a Yugoslav organization working to end Austrio-Hungarian rule in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The assassination led directly to World War I, when Austria-Hungary directly issued a warning to the Kingdom of Serbia. After the warning was rejected, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.
Shortly after the outbreak of the First World War, the Battle of Frontiers was a small but important series of battles fought along the eastern frontier of France, in southern Belgium. The battles took place between German troops and the armies of France and Britain.
The Franco-British troops were driven back by the German armed forces. This resulted in the Germans invading northern France. Their advance was delayed by Franco-British rearguard, resulting in the First Battle of the Marne.
Fought on the Western front around Ypres (a Belgian municipality), the battle lasted for a month. It was part of the First Battle of Flanders. German, French, Belgian armies and the British Expeditionary Force fought from Arras in France to Nieuport on the Belgian coast.
The fighting was so fierce that historians later divided it into five stages. These included the Battle of Langemarck (October 21st – 24th), the Battles at La Besse and Armentieres and the Battle of Gheluvelt.
The fighting was fierce. Industrial warfare between opposing armies was indecisive, with the movement of troops hindered by the heaps of bodies.
The battle saw the first mass use of poison gas by the German armed forces on the Western Front. It marked the first time a former colonial force defeated a European power in Europe. Once again, historians divided the Battle into five smaller stages. These included the Battles of Gravenstafel Ridge, St. Julien and Frezenberg.
It was at the Battle of Gravenstafel Ridge that the Germans released 168 tons of Chlorine gas over a 6.5 kilometer front. The effects were disastrous. The French troops sustained about 6000 casualties. Many others were blinded.
By the end, the city of Ypres was demolished. The war caused both sides to develop gas weapons, forever changing the future of warfare.
The Dardanelles Campaign was disastrous for the British. Hoping that a victory against the Turks would turn the odds in their favor, Franco-British forces launched a naval attack on Turkish forces in the area of Dardanelles. The waters were heavily mined and 10 Allied Battleships were sunk and two more were badly damaged. The failure of the campaign dealt a stunning blow to the reputation of British First Lord of the Admiralty, Churchill, who submitted his resignation.
The longest battle of the First World War, it took place on the hills of Verdun in north-eastern France. The battle was fought between the German and French armed forces on the Western Front. The strategy of the Germans was to inflict mass casualties on French forces. The battle was a huge loss to the German forces, however, resulting in General Falkenhayne being sacked.
The United States of America entered the First World War in April, causing a shift in the balance of the war. In March 1917, after Berlin sank five American ships, it forced the issue. President Wilson asked the Congress to vote on ‘a war to end all wars’ and American troops began to arrive on the Western Front by 1918.
A major German offensive during the war, it was launched from the Hindenburg Line in France. The aim was to break through the Allied forces and capture the Channel Ports, which supplied the British Expeditionary Forces (BEF). It consisted of various smaller battles, including the Battle of St. Quentin, the Battle of Roseires and the Battle of Ancre.
Over 75,000 British soldiers were taken prisoner by the end. The Allies lost 255,000 men. However, the offensive was a failure, which marked the beginning of the end for Germany.
One of the last major battles of the War, it involved the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) and the U.S. Army Air Service. It was the first and only offensive launched solely by the USA. The attack caught the Germans by surprise as they were retreating. It marked the first use of the term ‘D-Day’ by the American forces. While it established the status of the U.S. Forces in the eyes of the Franco-British troops, the attack (initially aimed to capture the city of Metz) did not come to fruition. It did, however, lead to the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.
After the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the Armistice of November 11th was signed at Le Francport near Compiegne. It effectively ended the fighting on land, sea and air in the First World War. It marked a victory for the Allies and a defeat for the German forces, though not a formal surrender.