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Causes Of World War One


Night of August 5, 1914. Five columns of German assault troops moved silently through Belgium towards the town of Liege. The Germans expected no resistance but were surprised by the opposition from the Belgian forts outside the town. Capturing Liege was vital as only after that the Germans could move towards France. Major shelling by heavy guns started hitting the walls of the forts. Soon they were in ruins. The forts surrendered on August 14.


WW1 happened because of the conflict of interest between the big nations. Who were the big boys in 1914? Germany was a big power militarily and economically. It was producing more pig iron and steel than Britain. Much more than the other major powers like France Italy and Austria-Hungary. Russia was jacking up its economic production rapidly but still was way behind the other countries. USA in 1914 had emerged as a world power with its coal and iron production exceeding that of Germany. Japan too was a major rising power after it defeated Russia in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-5.


After 1880 there was a mad scramble for African colonies by the European powers. This was a major reason of friction.

 This cartoon called "A chain of friendship" published in an American newspaper 'The Brooklyn Eagle' in July 1914 neatly describes how the First World War started. The last guy seen is Britain


The Triple Alliance: Germany, Austria Hungary, Italy
The Triple Entente: Britain, France, Russia.

  • Naval rivalry between Germany and Britain. Control of the seas. Since 1908, Britain started making the Dreadnought warships. Germany too started making them but could not match Britain
  • France was still bugged with Germany for grabbing Alsace-Lorraine after the Franco-German War of 1871.
  • The Germans thought that Britain, France and Russia were trying to encircle it. This fear was not without reason.In 1894 France and Russia signed an alliance. in 1904, Britain and France signed the Entente Cordiale. In 1907, Britain and France signed an agreement.
  • The Russians were uncomfortable with the Austrian ambitions in the Balkans. Russia felt the Balkans with its Slavic population fell in its area of influence.
  • Serbian nationalism. Serbia dreamt of uniting all parts with Serbian and Croatian populace. The problem was some of the areas were controlled by the Austrian-Hungarian (Hapsburg) empire.
A British Dreadnought. At the start of WW1 Britain had 27 of them. Germany had only 14. All throughout the war the British navy dominated the seas. That was one of the factors for Germany's defeat.

The dreadnought was the predominant type of 20th-century battleship. The first of the kind, the Royal Navy's Dreadnought had such an impact when launched in 1906 that battleships built after her were referred to as 'dreadnoughts', and earlier battleships became known as pre-dreadnoughts. Her design had two revolutionary features: an 'all-big-gun' armament scheme and steam turbine propulsion. The arrival of the dreadnoughts renewed the naval arms race, principally between the United Kingdom and Germany but reflected worldwide, as the new class of warships became a crucial symbol of national power.


The Moroccan Crisis (1905-6): The Entente Cordiale between France and Britain in 1904 consisted of France being allowed a free hand in Morocco in exchange for British domination in Egypt. Germany was naturally apprehensive. It announced it would support Morocco's Sultan and an independent status for the country.  In the conference at Algeciras in Spain in January 1906 Britain, Russia, and Italy supported french claims on Morocco. Germany was alarmed at the banding together of Britain and France.

 Kaiser Wilhelm went to Tangier in March 1905 and made a speech stressing on Moroccan independence. Germany resented increasing French influence in Morocco

British agreement with Russia in 1907: After Japan defeated Russia in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904, Britain cosied up to a weakened Russia. Russia had signed an alliance with France in 1894 so an agreement with Britain (France's Entente Cordiale pal) was natural. Russia wanted British investments. Germany saw this as the three ganging up against it.

The Bosnian Crisis (1908): Austria seeing a weakened Turkey invaded and occupied Croatia, which was earlier under Turkey's control. Now Croatia had large number of Serbs and Serbia had ambitions of ceding it.  But Serbia was too small to take on Austria by itself so it appealed to its big brother Russia for help which called for a conference. At the conference Germany made it clear it stood by Austria. Britain and France did not want a conflict with Germany so they backed away. Russia weakened after the defeat at the hands of Japan in 1904-5 too did not dare to take on the Germans alone (without British and French support) so it kept silent. Austria thus had its way and Serbia was left fuming against Austria. Russia too was left angry at failing to support its ally Serbia and vowed that next time it would act with greater resolve. The cauldron, as we can see, was already boiling

The Agadir Crisis 1911: The French troops occupied Fez the capital of Morocco ostensibly to put down a rebellion against the Sultan. Germany was alarmed. It seemed France would annex Morocco. It sent a battleship, Panther to the Moroccan port of Agadir. But Britain staunchly supported the French. All Germany got was a few strips of territory in French Congo.

 The Germans sent a gunboat 'Panther' to Agadir

The First Balkan War 1912: Serbia, Greece, Montenegro and Bulgaria attacked and captured most of Turkish territories in the Balkans. Britain afraid that the conflict could spread involved Germany and called a peace conference in London where the Turkish territories were distributed amongst the Balkan states. But Serbia was unhappy. It had wanted Albania but Austria which wanted to keep Serbia subdued insisted it be an independent state.

 First Balkan War. Bulgarians overrun a Turkish position at bayonet-point during
the First Balkan War of 1912-1913 

First Balkan War. Greek soldiers wait for action

The First Balkan War. The Greek army captures Thessasaloniki from the Turks. October 26, 1912

The Second Balkan war 1913: Bulgaria has desired Macedonia most of which was given to Serbia. So it attacked Serbia and tried to snatch Macedonia from it. But Greece, Romania and Turkey helped Serbia and the Bulgarians were defeated. At the treaty of Bucharest (1913) Bulgaria lost most of the gains from the First Balkan war. Austria wanted to intervene and help Bulgaria to crush Serbia but was restrained by Britain and Germany.


  • Serbia emerged stronger and wished to grab areas under Austrian control with Serbian populations
  • Austria hated Serbia's rise and wanted to crush it at the first excuse it got
  • Germany started thinking that Britain to maintain peace would act independently of France and Russia. A recipe for disaster.
 Serbian terrorist Gavrilo Princip shoots the archduke and Sophie his wife

 Ferdinand a few moments before his death

 The assassin is arrested

      It happened at Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital. On June 28, 1914. Nephew and heir to the Austrian empire, Archduke Ferdinand and his wife were shot and killed by a Serbian terrorist. Austria already itching for a fight declared war on Serbia. Russia wanted to support its ally more firmly this time and so it ordered general mobilisation on July 29, 1914. Germany declared war on Russia on August 1 and on France on August 3. When German troops entered Belgium on way to France, Britain declared war on Germany on August 4. Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia on August 6.

      Hitler seen cheering in a crowd in Munich on August 2, 1914 the declaration of war by Germany

       The two opposing sides


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