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World War I ‘WWI’ Summary

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World War I took place between 1914 and 1918.
Although the conflict began in Europe, it ultimately involved countries as far away as the United States and Japan.
At the time, the English-speaking world knew it as the “Great War”—the term “World War I” was applied decades later.
Historians still actively disagree over the fundamental causes of the war.
The period leading up to the war was a complex tangle of diplomacy and political maneuvering—many countries debated over strategies and alliances until nearly the last minute—and the first few weeks of the conflict were similarly chaotic and confusing.
However, historians agree nearly unanimously about the war’s consequences: World War I led almost directly to World War II and set the stage for many other important events in the twentieth century.


By conservative estimates, around 9 million soldiers died in battle—many of them defending entrenched front lines that were so stalemated that they rarely moved even a few yards in either direction.
Civilian loss of life totaled an additional 13 million.
Epidemics of influenza and other diseases, either induced or exacerbated by the war, raised the death toll by at least an additional 20 million.
In total, counting battle casualties, civilian deaths, and victims of disease, the loss of life worldwide surpassed 40 million.


Political tensions ran high in early twentieth-century Europe.
Abroad, Europe’s great powers were increasingly coming to impasses over the acquisition of new colonies.
As the unclaimed lands of the earth ran short, the race to claim them became fiercely competitive.
At the same time, the Turkish-ruled Ottoman Empire, which had existed for hundreds of years, was slowly decaying.
Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, and other southern European nations that had been under Ottoman rule became independent, changing the balance of power in Europe.
The many ethnic groups of Austria-Hungary, inspired by these new southern European nations, began to agitate for their own independence.
Furthermore, Serbia wanted back the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina, lost to Austria in a previous war.


At the same time, technological and industrial developments in Europe were advancing with unprecedented speed.
Military technology was at the forefront of this trend, and a horrible war using these new weapons was both feared and seen as inevitable.
Indeed, World War I turned out to be a showcase of new technologies that would change the nature, speed, and efficiency of warfare in the century to come.

Tanks, airplanes, and submarines changed the way wars were fought.
Other types of motorized vehicles, such as trucks, cars, and especially trains, vastly improved the speed with which troops and supplies could be deployed and increased the distance over which they could be transported.
Guns in all categories, ranging from pistols to major artillery, greatly improved in accuracy and range of fire, enabling armies to fire upon each other across long distances and in some cases without even having to see each other.
The machine gun made it possible for a single soldier to effectively take on multiple opponents at once.
Chemical warfare was seen on a large scale for the first time, with results so gruesome that most countries vowed never to use such weapons again.


By war’s end, the map of Europe began to resemble the one we know today.
The German and Austro-Hungarian empires ceased to exist.
Much of eastern Europe, in particular, was redivided along ethno-linguistic lines, and Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland all became independent countries.
Several other nations were awkwardly combined into the countries of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia.
A major reorganization of the Near and Middle East also took place following the war, establishing the forerunners of the countries we know today as Armenia, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq.


The aftermath of World War I also marked the practical end of monarchy on the continent and of European colonialism throughout the rest of the world.
Most European nations began to rely increasingly upon parliamentary systems of government, and socialism gained increasing popularity.
The brutality of the conflict and the enormous loss of human life inspired a renewed determination among nations to rely upon diplomacy to resolve conflicts in the future.
This resolve directly inspired the birth of the League of Nations.

Who fought in World War I?

World War I fought between the Allied Powers and the Central Powers.
The main members of the Allied Powers were France, Russia, and Britain.
The United States also fought on the side of the Allies after 1917.
The main members of the Central Powers were Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria.

Where was most of the fighting?

The majority of the fighting took place in Europe along two fronts: the western front and the eastern front.
The western front was a long line of trenches that ran from the coast of Belgium to Switzerland.
A lot of the fighting along this front took place in France and Belgium.
The eastern front was between Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Bulgaria on one side and Russia and Romania on the other.

How did it start?

Although there were a number of causes for the war, the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the main catalyst for starting the war.
After the assassination, Austria declared war on Serbia.
Then Russia prepared to defend its ally Serbia. Next, Germany declared war on Russia to protect Austria.
This caused France to declare war on Germany to protect its ally Russia.
Germany invaded Belgium to get to France which caused Britain to declare war on Germany.
This all happened in just a few days.

Major Battles

A lot of the war was fought using trench warfare along the western front.
The armies hardly moved at all.
They just bombed and shot at each other from across the trenches.

Some of the major battles during the war included the First Battle of the Marne, Battle of the Somme, Battle of Tannenberg, Battle of Gallipoli, and the Battle of Verdun.

How did it end?

The fighting ended on November 11, 1918 when a general armistice agreed to by both sides.

The war officially ended between Germany and the Allies with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.

Interesting Facts about World War I

  • More than 65 million men fought in the war.
  • Dogs used in the trenches to carry messages. A well-trained messenger dog considered a very fast and reliable way to carry messages.
  • It was the first major war where airplanes and tanks were used.
  • Ninety percent of the 7.8 million soldiers from Austria-Hungary who fought in the war were either injured or killed.
  • When the British first invented tanks they called them “landships.”
  • The terrorist group responsible for assassinating Archduke Ferdinand called the Black Hand.
  • Famed scientist Marie Curie helped to equip vans with x-ray machines that enabled French doctors to see bullets in wounded men. These vans called “petites Curies”, meaning “little Curies.”

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