McCartney's Journeys

World War I, Briefly

There are many names for the conflict which started in 1914: the War to End All Wars, the Great War, the War of Nations, the First World War, the Seminal Conflict and, in North America, the European War. Most commonly, though, it is referred to as WW1. This is said to be the 6th most deadly war in history. Deaths included 9 million members of the military and 7 million civilians during the four years the war lasted. However, not all military deaths were from combat injuries. An epidemic of Spanish Flu ravaged Europe during the war. Slightly over 3 million military deaths are attributed to the flu epidemic.

A singular event occurred on 28 June 1914 that precipitated the conflict. Archduke Ferdinand of the Austria/Hungary Empire and his wife, Sophie, were on a state visit to Serbia when they were assassinated by a Bosnian Serb named Gavrilo Princip. Since the empire had wanted to take over Serbia, this gave them a reason. If this was a situation between Austria/Hungary and Serbia, how did the rest of Europe get involved?

Serbia had a treaty with Russia, so if Austria attacked Serbia, the Russians would come to Serbia’s aid. Austria, on the other hand had a treaty with Germany. If Germany came to Austria’s aid against Russia, the treaty between Russia and France would draw the French into the fray. This would activate Germany’s treaty with Italy, which would, in turn, activate France’s treaty with England. This diplomatic stew blew a somewhat local situation into a war that ravaged an entire continent. Surprisingly, when Italy did join the war, they declared war on Austria/Hungary and joined the British and French.

Actually, the conflict extended farther than the European continent. Most of the nations involved had territories in Africa, the Middle East and the Far East. Germany had maritime refueling depots on the Chinese coast. When Britain declared war on Germany, the Japanese government sided with them and captured the Germany refueling depots and other German possessions in the area. Australia, which was part of the British empire, sent their naval forces to take control of the German-held islands of New Guinea. Japan also declared war on the Austro/Hungarian Empire when they refused to remove their warship SMS Kaiserin Elizabeth from the Japanese port of Tsintao.

The Ottoman Empire (currently, Turkey) entered the fray in November, 1914, on the allied side, thus expanding the conflict to Mesopotamia, the Sinai Peninsula and the Caucasus.

In 1915 a German submarine sank the English ship Lusitania. Among the nearly 1200 passengers to lose their lives were 128 Americans. President Woodrow Wilson had managed to keep the United States out of the conflict up to this point, but emotions in the States were running high. The U. S. entered the war on 6 April 1917, almost three years after the conflict started.

In 1918 England had enough control of the seas that they could blockade German ports. With the ports closed, Germany was running out of food and people were starving. With shortage, supply and demand takes hold and prices rise significantly. Workers went on strike, causing further economic chaos. The German economy collapsed. Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated his throne and the leaders of the country sued for peace.

The war officially ended at 11:00 o’clock in the morning of 11 November 1918 when both sides met and signed the Treaty of Versailles. Unfortunately, the treaty was extremely punitive, and resentment soon developed in Germany. This ultimately gave rise to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party.


For a much better history of the Great War, on a week-by-week basis, check out the YouTube show, The Great War, with historian Indy Neidell.