The First World War Begins

In June 1914, Austro-Hungarian archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated by Serbian nationalists as they rode through the streets of Sarajevo in Bosnia. This event in itself was troublesome, but didn't lead immediately to conflict. It did, however, provoke hostilities in Europe and foster the combat readiness of many armies put on alert. These deeply rooted hostilities were remnants of political and economic struggles that had raged throughout Europe in the previous century. The assassination was not the sole trigger of international tensions, merely a catalyst. In August, the Aus-tro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia.

Causes of the Great War

Russia, as the protector of Greek-Orthodox Christians, feared that Austria intended to annex Serbia and wanted to settle the issue in the Hague Tribunal (a court of arbitration). Austria refused. Germany backed Austria, for the two countries were allies. On July 28, 1914, Austria declared war on Serbia, and this caused Russia, an ally of Serbia, to mobilize. Germany sent an ultimatum to Russia to halt its mobilization or face German action. Russia refused, and Germany then declared war on Russia on August 1. As if this wasn't enough wrangling between world powers, France, a Russian ally, refused to urge the Russians to stop. France wanted to regain the Alsace Lorraine region, which it had lost to Germany in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71. Germany declared war on France on August 3, and also invaded Luxembourg and Belgium.

Few realize that World War I was fought between countries whose rulers were relatives. King George V of England was the first cousin of Kaiser Wilheim of Germany and Czar Nicholas II of Russia. Queen Victoria, grandmother to these royal children, was their determined matchmaker, believing that if she arranged international marriages it would help bring about world peace.

Conflict Spreads

The French joined the fighting, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Russia in August 1914. President Wilson was committed to neutrality while the other countries began to fight the Great War, named World War I years later. Eventually thirty-two nations became embroiled in the conflict. The French-British-Russian alliance became known as the Allied Forces. Germany and Austria-Hungary formed the Central Powers.

Britain's sea power had effectively halted German shipping, but this created problems for the United States, which had supplied food and arms to both sides. The British tightened their blockade, and as Germany's supply routes were closed off, the Germans faced starvation unless they worked around it. By April 1917, more than $2 billion worth of goods had been sold by the United States to England and the Allied countries. The German navy used submarines, called U-boats, to torpedo vessels supplying England. Unfortunately, this included U.S. ships.

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