World War I, also known as WWI (abbreviation), the First World War, the Great War, and "The War to End All Wars," was a global military conflict that primarily took place in Europe between 1914 and 1918. It left millions dead and largely defined the 20th century.
The Allied Powers, led by France, Russia, the United Kingdom and later, Italy and the United States, defeated the Central Powers, led by Austria-Hungary, Germany, and the Ottoman Empire.
Much of the fighting in World War I took place along the Western Front, within a system of opposing manned trenches and fortifications (separated by an unoccupied space between the trenches called "no man's land") running from the North Sea to the border of Switzerland. On the Eastern Front, the vast eastern plains and limited rail network prevented a trench warfare stalemate from developing, although the scale of the conflict was just as large. Hostilities also occurred on and under the sea and — for the first time — from the air. More than nine million soldiers died on the various battlefields, and millions of civilians perished.
The war caused the disintegration of four empires: the Austro-Hungarian, German, Ottoman, and Russian. Germany lost its overseas empire, and new states such as Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Finland, Latvia and Yugoslavia were created, and in the cases of Lithuania and Poland, recreated.
World War I created a decisive break with the old world order that had emerged after the Napoleonic Wars, which was modified by the mid-19th century’s nationalistic revolutions. The outcomes of World War I would be important factors in the development of World War II 21 years later.
Main article: Causes of World War I
On 28 June 1914, Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb student, shot and killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife, Sophie Chotek, in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, which had been annexed by Austria-Hungary in 1908. Princip was a member of Young Bosnia, a group whose aims included the unification of the South Slavs and independence from Austria-Hungary (see also: the Black Hand). The assassination in Sarajevo set into motion a series of fast-moving events that escalated into a full-scale war. Austria-Hungary demanded certain actions by Serbia to punish those responsible for the assassination. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia when it was deemed that Serbia had failed to fully comply. Many major European powers came to be at war with each other within a matter of weeks. This was due to overlapping agreements for collective defense and the complex nature of international alliances at that time. However, the conflict also had deeper causes which were multiple and complex.
The naval race that developed between Britain and Germany was intensified by Britain's 1906 launch of HMS Dreadnought, a revolutionary warship that rendered all previous battleships obsolete. (Britain maintained a large lead over Germany in all categories of warship.) Paul Kennedy has pointed out that both nations believed in Alfred Thayer Mahan's thesis that command of the sea was vital to a great nation.
David Stevenson described the armaments race as "a self-reinforcing cycle of heightened military preparedness", while David Herrman viewed the shipbuilding rivalry as part of a general movement towards war. However, Niall Ferguson argues that Britain’s ability to maintain an overall advantage signifies that change within this realm was insignificant and therefore not a factor in the movement towards war
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