With the upcoming centenary of several key battles on the Western Front, I am hoping to spread some awareness of the events of the time. This week I’m giving a brief overview of the causes and over the next few posts I will focus on specific battles.
World War I, also known as the Great War, caused the deaths of over 8 million people. More than 420, 000 Australians enlisted and over 60, 000 of them died. The causes of World War I have been attributed to the alliance system, the arms race, international tensions and the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
There were two major alliances formed as a result of the Franco-Prussian War (1871). Both France and Germany sought assurance of protection in the case of another attack. In 1882 Germany formed the Triple Alliance was formed with Italy and Austria-Hungary. France formed the Triple Entente in August 1907 between Britain and Russia. When Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia they were assisted by their ally Germany. Russia went to the aid of Serbia drawing France and Britain along with their colonies into a global war which would last for more than four years.
The arms race occurred in Europe as the governments increased their spending on arms and military development. Some governments saw increasing armaments as a way to instil fear into their enemies and thus provide protection for themselves. However other countries increased their weapons and improved their military to ensure that the balance of power remained the same in Europe.
In Africa, France, Germany and Britain all experienced tensions over the borders of their African colonies. Meanwhile in Europe, many countries watched the unrest in the Balkans (which included modern day Romania, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria and Greece). The Balkans had geographic importance as they provided ports in various waterways, such as the Mediterranean Sea, which countries could use for trade or naval bases. Each country tried to take advantage of the Balkans and feared that their rivals would do the same. Previous rivalries and tensions between countries had led to warfare. These new tensions made countries feel the need to protect themselves through alliances and increasing armaments.
On Sunday 28th June, 1914 Serbian Gavrilo Princip fired two bullets from his gun. These bullets would change history. They killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne and his wife Sophie. Serbia and Austria-Hungary had been enemies for years and the assassination of a high ranking Austro-Hungarian by a Serbian allowed the government of Austria-Hungary to portray the assassination as supported by the Serbian government. They sent Serbia an ultimatum. When Serbia did not agree to all the terms, Austria-Hungary prepared to invade with the assistance of Germany (as agreed in the Triple Alliance). Meanwhile Serbia prepared to defend itself with the aid of Russia and its allies of the Triple Entente, France and Britain.
World War I was caused by many factors including the alliance system, the arms race, international tensions and the assassination of Franz Ferdinand which once combined led to the unfolding of a series of catastrophic events which shaped the lives of millions and our world today.