The Global Atrocity - World War 1

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How Did It All Begin?

The First World War was actually the result of an undesired geopolitical conflict between the Austro – Hungarian Empire and the Kingdom of Serbia for control over the territories of Bosnia and Herzegovina. With the motivation to end this clash, many Serbian nationalists had been suffering for long. One of them was Gavrilo Princip, who went on to carry out the assassination of the heir to the Austro – Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, on June 28, 1914.

The Austro – Hungarian government was furious after the incident, and blamed the Serbian government for the assassination and began questioning Serbian nationalism.

The Pre-War Phase 

Angered by the killing of the successor to the throne, Austria-Hungary sought to declare an official war against Serbia. However, they feared the involvement of the Russian Federation which was an ally of Serbia. But this was not the only problem, involvement of the Russian Federation also created the possibility of participation of the United Kingdom and France (allies of Russia) in the war. 

This made the Austro-Hungarian Empire doubt its prowess and capability to defeat Serbia in a battle. Building upon this, Austro-Hungarian leaders made sure that Germany supported them in case a violent war breaks out. Kaiser Wilhelm II, the then German leader, assured Germany’s support to Austria-Hungary on July 5th, 1914.

Following the surety of Germany’s assistance, Austria-Hungary sent an ultimatum to Serbia, on July 23rd, consisting of a series of ten demands, intentionally made impossible to accept and inevitably commence a war. The Serbian government accepted all demands mentioned in the ultimatum except Article 6 which stipulated the allowance of Austrian officials in Serbia in order to investigate the crime.

The Initial Build-Up

Eager for revenge, as soon as the Serbian government refused to fulfill the demand in Article 6 of the ultimatum, The Austro-Hungarian Empire declared an official war on the Serbian nation. The war initially began with an order for partial mobilization against the Austrian-Hungarian Empire by the Russian Federation on the 29th of July and a general mobilization on July 30th seeing these developments, Germany officially passed a “Statement on the war status” on the 31st of July. 

It issued an ultimatum providing a commitment of not supporting Serbia and another one, issued in favour of France, calling it out to take a neutral stance on the issue and not support Russia so that Germany could distribute its troops in the required proportions according to the locations since it would be difficult for the Germans to change its strategic formation once it is already underway. The Germans formulated two kinds of distributions for the same:

  • Aufmarsch II West – deployment of 80% of the army in the West.

  • Aufmarsch I Ost and Aufmarsch II Ost – deployment of 60% of the army in the West and 40% in the East.

The French, however, did not respond to the ultimatum but made military movements, ordering troops to recede from the border but also call for extra back up forces. In a misconception, Germany only kept 20% of its total troop capacity along the Eastern coast and were provided false information that the British would stay neutral about the matter too if the Germans did not attack France. 

However, due to the unfavourable situation and speculation of attack by the British, the Germans had to move their troops along the Eastern Coast. Eventually, on August 2nd, in the hope for revenge, Germany attacked and took control over Luxembourg and declared war against France on the 3rd of August.

Germany then demanded for passage through Belgium to provide itself with a geographical advantage, however when this demand was denied, the Germans invaded Belgium on the morning of August 4th. Due to the neutrality of Belgium in the war, The United Kingdom demanded that Germany back out from Belgium with respect to the 1839 Treaty of London. However, The British declared a war on The Germans in the evening of the 4th of August, stating the reason to be “an unsatisfactory reply” to the situation caused by them in Belgium. 

The Slaughter Begins

After the first week of August, The World War saw many sub-wars who inherited their own names over time at a plethora of locations among the fighting nations. While these wars were fought by Germany and Austria-Hungary as separate forces and not as a united team, they faced many complications due to the lack of communication about the war fronts that each one would be coordinating.

One of the first battles fought during The 1ST World War was the First Battle of the Marne from 6th – 9th September, 1914. The British and The French joined hands in facing their opponents, The Germans, who had entered the French territory from the northeast, near Paris. The two Allied forces built a strong counter attack to stop the Germans and drive them back to the coast of river Aisne.

One of the longest wars fought during this time period was the Battle of Verdun which lasted from February to December, 1916. The war resulted in a clash between the 5th army of the Germans and the 2nd army of the French and also artillery strikes launched by both ends.

The German strategy was to inflict as much damage upon the French military as possible disregarding at what cost it came. After the Battle of Verdun came to an end, the French upgraded the ammunition and artillery machines available at the Verdun base and also increased them in numbers for future security. The Battle of Verdun saw more than a million casualties alone from both ends.

However, similar was not the case along the Eastern Front of the German border, where the German personnel faced the powerful Russian forces. The first attack by the Russian army was in late August 1914, when the Russian forces attempted to attack the region of East Prussia and Poland which were under the control of Germany then. 

They were, eventually, stopped and defeated by German and Austrian forces in the Battle Tannenberg. But in an unlikely situation, in order to defend their Eastern front, the German had to shift two units of soldiers from the Western to the Eastern fronts which contributed to their loss in the Battle of the Marne on the German Western front. 

Russian Participation and The Russian Revolution

The Russian Revolution began taking place in 1917, near to the end of the World War. From 1914-1916, Russia landed many offensive attacks upon Germany, however, could not ever break through the German defense lines. The need to provide for soldiers away from the homeland, defeats on the battlefield and extreme conditions of poverty combined with economic instability caused the

Russian population to launch a revolution against the unpopular rule of the Tsar. This not only brought an end to the Czarist rule in Russia but also halted Russian participation in the world war.

This allowed Germany to move its troops from the Eastern front (where it was previously facing off Russia) to the Western front against France and Britain. However, the backing out of Russia from the World War did not prove of much advantage to Germany because of the support lent by the United States to the Allied powers 1917 onward. 

United States Participation in the War

When the First World War commenced, the United States of America voted to stay neutral on the matter and not interfere in the war. However, United States and Britain shared a very close relationship as trading partners. Merchant ships, therefore, regularly commuted from the US to the United Kingdom. But, in 1915, Germany, in its warfare against the UK attacked and sunk US cargo ships and declared that it would attack all ships that entered the war area around Britain.

When the news that the Germans had sunk an American private cruiser by the name of William P. Frye broke out, the American government was enraged. The Germans got away easily this time with an apology. However, history repeated itself, and in the future Germany attacked many ships of Ireland and Japan which hosted persons of American origin. The American government, infuriated by this, demanded an end to German attacks on unarmed and merchant ships.

With the intent to win the war in 1917, Germany announced unrestricted warfare in the war zone around France and Britain. Subsequently, the United States broke its diplomatic relations with Germany, hours after which a German U-boat attacked and sunk the American liner Housatonic. The American Congress then passed a bill to propose $250 million for preparation for war.

When Germany once again attacked four unarmed American merchant ships, the then President, Mr. Woodrow Wilson emerged in front of the Congress on 2nd April to declare a war on Germany. His demand was granted a go within four days and America declared war against Germany on 6th April, 1917.

The Aftermath

The war ended with the defeat of the Central Powers on 11th November, 1918. Germany was blamed to be the main source of destruction among the Central Powers and was subjected to the Armistice, an agreement to stop fighting and acceptance of defeat by the Germans, as well as an extremely harsh treaty, known as the ‘Treaty of Versailles’, while the other nations signed separate treaties. 

Until the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28th June, 1919, Germany was subjected to a naval blockade and Germany being largely dependent upon imports, suffered the loss of about 523,000 Germans in the seven month period.

The terms of the Treaty of Versailles made it near impossible for Germany to rise above from the extremely dismal condition the country was in and rebuild a stable economy.

The treaty took away, from the hands of Germany, its major areas of mining which were the major source of money for the nation, lands which were native to the country, put a strict restriction on the army limit and was also made to sign the War Guilt Clause. According to the War Guilt Clause, Germany was solely responsible for the war and the damage caused to the Allied countries and the countries among the Central Powers as well.

The end of the war also led to the formation of the ‘League of Nations’ on 10th January 1920, an international organization meant for resolving any international disputes in the future and maintain peace and harmony among the states of the world.

The League of the Nations was dissolved on 20th April. 1946. The main cause for this was that the League was found to be incapable of preventing another world war or maintain peace among nations or resolve disputes at the international level. The League was neither able to gain the confidence of the United States which prevented it from joining the organization and the Soviet Union joining it late. The distrust in the League was also evident after Germany, Italy, Spain and other countries withdrew as members of the League. 

Written by - Arnav Mehra

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