Bruce Morrison » The Great War, 1914–1918

The Great War, 1914–1918

Several factors lead to World War I, a conflict that devastates Europe and has a major impact on the world.


Section 1: Marching Toward War

Section 2: Europe Plunges into War

Section 3: A Global Conflict

Section 4: A Flawed Peace


Section 1: Marching Toward War

In Europe, military buildup, nationalistic feelings, and rival alliances set the stage for a continental war.


Rising Tensions in Europe


The Rise of Nationalism

  • Europeenjoys peace in late 1800s but problems lie below the surface
  • Growing nationalism leads to competition among nations
  • Nationalism in the Balkans leads many groups to demand independence


Imperialism and Militarism

  • Competition for colonies stirs mistrust among European nations
  • Mutual animosity spurs European countries to engage in arms race
  • Militarism—policy of glorifying military power, preparing army

Tangled Alliances


Bismarck Forges Early Pacts

  • Germany’sOtto von Bismarck works to keep peace in Europe after 1871
  • BelievesFrancewants revenge for loss in 1870 Franco-Prussian War
  • Seeks to isolate the French with a series of treaties and alliances:

-signs treaty with Russia in 1881

-forms Triple Alliance—Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy—in 1882


Shifting Alliances Threaten Peace

  • Kaiser Wilhelm IIbecomes German ruler in 1888
  • Foreign policy changes begin in 1890 with dismissal ofBismarck

-alliance with Russia dropped; Russia then allies with France

-effort to strengthen German navy, which alarms Britain

  • Britain,France, Russia form Triple Entente alliance in 1907


Crisis in the Balkans


A Restless Region

  • Many groups in Balkans win independence during early 1900s
  • New nation ofSerbiamade up largely of Slavs
  • Austria-Hungaryannexes Slavic region—Bosnia and Herzegovina (1908)
  • Serbiaoutraged, sees itself as rightful ruler of these Slavic lands


A Shot Rings Throughout Europe

  • Serbian rebel kills Austro-Hungarian royal official in June 1914
  • Austriadeclares war on Serbia; Russia comes to aid of Serbia


Section 2: Europe Plunges into War

One European nation after another is drawn into a large and industrialized war that results in many casualties.


The Great War Begins


Armies on the March

  • Russiamoves troops to its borders with Austria and Germany
  • Germanydeclares war on Russia, quickly attacks France
  • Great Britaindeclares war on Germany

Nations Take Sides

  • By mid-August 1914, two sides at war throughoutEurope:

-Central Powers—Germany, Austria-Hungary (and other nations)

-Allies—Britain, France, Russia (and other nations)


A Bloody Stalemate


The Conflict Grinds Along

  • Western Front—heavy battle zone in northernFrance
  • Schlieffen Plan—German plan to defeatFrance, then fight Russia
  • German army quickly advances to outskirts ofParis
  • Forced to retreat at First Battle of theMarne
  • Schlieffen Plan fails;Germanyhas to fight two-front war


War in the Trenches

  • Conflict descends intotrench warfare—armies fighting from trenches
  • Battles result in many deaths, small land gains
  • Life in trenches is miserable, difficult, unsanitary
  • New weapons only lead to more deaths
  • Massive losses for both sides at 1916 battles ofVerdunand Somme


The Battle on the Eastern Front


Early Fighting

  • Eastern Front—site of main fighting along the German-Russian border
  • Russians push intoAustriaand Germany, but soon forced to retreat


Russia Struggles

  • Russia’s war effort suffering by 1916; many casualties, few supplies
  • Huge size of Russian army keeps it a formidable force -preventsGermanyfrom sending more troops to the Western Front


Section 3: A Global Conflict

World War I spreads to several continents and requires the full resources of many governments.


War Affects the World


The Gallipoli Campaign

  • Allies move to capture Ottoman Dardanelles strait in February 1915
  • Hope to defeatOttoman Empire, a Central Powers ally
  • Also want to open a supply line through region toRussia
  • Effort ends in costly Allied defeat


Battles in Africa and Asia

  • Allies take control of German holdings in Asia,Africa
  • Britainand France use their colonial subjects to help in war effort


America Joins the Fight

  • Germanyseeks to control Atlantic Ocean to stop supplies to Britain
  • Uses unrestrictedsubmarine warfare-ships near Britain sunk without warning
  • Halts policy in 1915, after sinking ofLusitaniaangersU.S.
  • Renews unrestricted policy in 1917, hopes to starveBritainquickly
  • Renewal of policy and effort to enlistMexicoanger U.S.
  • U.S.declares war against Germany in April 1917, joining Allies


War Affects the Home Front


Governments Wage Total War

  • World War I becomestotal war—nations devote all resources to war
  • Governments take control of economy to produce war goods
  • Nations turn torationing—limiting purchases of war-related goods
  • Propaganda—one-sided information to build morale, support for war


Women and the War

  • At home, thousands of women fill jobs previously held by men, also experience the war by working as nurses


The Allies Win the War


Russia Withdraws

  • Civil unrest inRussiaforces czar to step down from throne in 1917
  • Communists soon take control ofRussia’s government
  • Russiasigns treaty with Germany in March 1918, pulls out of war


The Central Powers Collapse

  • WithRussiagone, Germany moves most forces to Western Front
  • Engage in major fighting; Allies force Germans to retreat
  • Allies win war;armistice—end of fighting—signed in November 1918


The Legacy of the War


A High Price

  • War takes heavy toll: 8.5 million soldiers dead, 21 million wounded
  • War devastates European economies, drains national treasuries
  • Many acres of land and homes, villages, towns destroyed
  • Survivors suffer disillusionment and despair; reflected in the arts


Section 4: A Flawed Peace

After winning the war, the Allies dictate a harsh peace settlement that leaves many nations feeling betrayed.


The Allies Meet and Debate


Key Leaders Come Together

  • Group of leaders known as theBig Fourdominate peace talks:

-U.S. president Woodrow Wilson

-French ruler Georges Clemenceau

-David Lloyd George of Great Britain

-Vittorio Orlando of Italy


Wilson’s Plan for Peace

  • Wilsonproposes Fourteen Points—outline for lasting world peace
  • Calls for free trade and end to secret alliances, military buildups
  • Promotesself-determination—right of people to govern own nation
  • Envisions international peace-keeping body to settle world disputes


The Versailles Treaty

  • Britain,France oppose Wilson’s ideas; want to punish Germany
  • Allies,Germanysign accord, Treaty of Versailles, in June 1919

-creates League of Nations—international organization to keep peace

-blames Germans for war, forces Germany to pay damages to nations

-League to rule German colonies until deemed ready for independence


A Troubled Treaty


The Creation of New Nations

  • Versaillestreaty, other peace accords change the look of Europe
  • Austria-Hungary,Bulgaria, Ottoman Empire lose lands - former Ottoman lands in SW Asia turn into mandates
  • New countries created in southeastern Europe;Russiagives up land


“A Peace Built on Quicksand”

  • Treaty ofVersaillescreates feelings of bitterness on both sides
  • German people feel bitter and betrayed after taking blame for war
  • Americanever signs Treaty of Versailles

-many Americans oppose League of Nations and involvement with Europe

  • Some former colonies express anger over not winning independence
  • Japan,Italy criticize agreement; gain less land than they want