World War 1 (WW1) or the Great War was a global war fought between powerful empires of the world (mainly Europe) from July 1914 to November 1918. World War 1 was fought in Europe, Asia and Africa. There were two alliances during WW1. Germany was leading the bloc of Central Powers while other members of this bloc were Austro-Hungarian Empire, Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria. Its opponent union was named the Allied Powers. British Empire, France, Russian Empire, USA and several other countries were present in this coalition.
Due to advancement in weaponry, WW1 proved to be one of the deadliest wars of human history. The military dead and wounded of both the coalitions were more than 38 million while more than 6 million civilians also lost their lives due to war and its effects. Allied Powers remained victorious in the WW1 and the war ended the German Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire, Ottoman Empire and Russian Empire.
Causes of WW1 (World War 1)
European colonial powers were expanding their influence and occupation in various parts of the world during the end of 19th Century which resulted in their opposing interests. In order to protect their interests, these European powers signed several pacts. The first such alliance was the Triple Alliance. It was a military alliance among the empires of Austria-Hungary, Germany and Italy that was signed in May 1882.
France, Russia and Britain also came closer in response to Triple Alliance. Initially France and Russia made an alliance in January 1894 and then France signed a pact with Britain in 1904, known as Entente Cordiale. In the last, Britain and Russia also settled their differences over the Great Game and the Anglo-Russian Entente was signed in August 1907.
The defining and last event that led to the First World War was the assassination of the heir of Austro-Hungarian Empire Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie on 28th June 1914 in Sarajevo by the members of a pan-Serbism secret group Black Hand. Austria-Hungary blamed the involvement of Serbia behind this assassination and gave a ten-point ultimatum to Serbia on 23rd July 1914 with deadline of 48 hours. Apart from one term, Serbia accepted all the terms of ultimatum but Austria-Hungary rejected their reply and declared war on Serbia on 28th July 1914 which started the World War 1.
Theatres and Campaigns of World War 1
Different powers of both alliances were controlling several parts of the world due to which the war spread in various parts of the world. But the two most important theatres of the war were European Theatre and the Middle Eastern Theatre. Apart from these theatres, the WW1 was also fought in Africa, East Asia and various oceans.
European Theatre of WW1
The initial and most important area of World War 1 was Europe. The war started with Austria-Hungary invasion on Serbia due to latter’s alleged involvement in the assassination of the former’s heir. The first campaign of the WW1 was Balkan Campaign. This campaign was fought in the areas of Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania and other parts of Balkan. In 1914, Serbia surprisingly defeated the Austria-Hungary in the Battle of Cer, Battle of Drina and Battle of Kolubara and defended its territory. But the situation changed after entering of Bulgaria in the war in favor of Central Powers in October 1915. Bulgaria played important role in capturing Serbia in the last months of 1915 after decisive battles of Morava and Ovce Pole. On the other hand, Austria-Hungary captured Montenegro in January 1916. After the fall of Serbia and Montenegro, the Serbs started their resistance from Macedonia while they were assisted by France, Britain, Romania and Allied supporters of Greece. The resistance lasted till 1918 and the Allied forces liberated Serbia, Montenegro and Albania from Central Powers in November 1918.
Balkan Campaign also comprised Romania that entered the war in August 1916 as supporter of Allied Power in hope of getting Transylvania (Romanian majority area of Hungary). Romania fought against the combined forces of Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, Ottoman Empire and Germany while main support for Romania was provided by Russia alone. Romania’s invasion on Transylvania failed and later it lost a major part of its own country after counterattack of the Central Powers. After evacuation of Russia from war, Romania also surrendered and had to suffer hard conditions from Central Powers. But later the Allied victory in WW1 made it possible for Romania to take control the areas of Transylvania and Bukovina.
The main front of the European Theatre of WW1 was the Western Front. Most of the war on Western Front was fought in Belgium, France and Germany. The campaign of Western Front started in August 1914 with German invasion and occupation of Luxembourg. Germans also captured Belgium in October 1914. On the other hand, German army made their way in to France and captured the northern frontier cities of France in their rapid advance during Battle of the Frontiers. The German advances were halted by French and British troops near Paris in the First Battle of Marne in September 1914. After this battle, both the opponents dug trenches to protect their territories. It is known as Trench Warfare. Despite severe efforts, no side was able to cross the opponent’s trench. The Allied used tanks for the first time in war, while both the opponents used chemical weapons but no changes could be made in the years 1915 and 1916.
|French troops during Trench Warfare|
Two events of 1917 changed the whole situation of the war. After Russian Revolution in 1917, the new communist Russian regime declared the end of its participation in WW1 and later USA entered the war in favor of Allied Powers. Russia and Germany signed a treaty in March 1918 after which Russia’s presence in the war ended. It helped Germany to transport its troops from Eastern Front to Western Front. In Mach 1918, Germany started its final effort to capture France through its Spring Offensive. The offensive lasted till July 1918 with minor gains. The Allied responded by their counter attack Hundred Days Offensive that lasted from 8th August to 11th November 1918. Around 2 million troops from USA also joined this decisive offensive that ended the war in favor of Allied Powers and brought an end to the German Empire.
Eastern Front was another important campaign of European Theatre of WW1 that was fought in Eastern and Central Europe. War on the Eastern Front started with Russian invasion of East Prussia (Germany) on 17th August 1914. This attack was repulsed but Russia captured Galicia (province of Austria-Hungary) in September 1914 after Battle of Galicia. After Russian offences, Germany helped Austria-Hungary with additional troops which halted the advances of Russia after few indecisive battles.
In May 1915, German and Austro-Hungarian army launched a major offensive (Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive) against Russia in order to push them back from frontiers. This 1915 summer offensive remained successful which forced the Russians to Great Retreat from Galicia after heavy casualties. Despite Russia’s great victory in Brusilov Offensive in summer of 1916, the ground situation of the area remained unchanged till the collapse of Russian Empire in 1917.
Another important campaign of the Eastern front was the Caucasus Campaign that was launched by the Ottoman Empire in order to recapture its South Caucasus area. German Empire was behind the Ottomans while Britain and Romania (entered the war in 1916 for Allied forces) were assisting Russia. This campaign lasted till 1918. The Ottoman Caucasus Campaign remained failed while the Armenians of Turkish Armenia suffered atrocities at the hands of Turks, commonly known as the Armenian Genocide.
Italy was a member of Triple Alliance but it refused to join the Central Powers in the beginning of WW1 due to its reservations. Later in February 1915, Italy secretly signed Treaty of London with Allied Powers and entered the war against Central Powers.
Most battles of the Italian front were fought on the border of Austria-Hungary and Italy while these two empires were the belligerents in most of the battles. Twelve of these battles were fought around the Isonza River. From June 1915 to March 1916, Italy launched five offenses (from First Battle of Isonzo to Fifth Battle of Isonzo) against Austria-Hungary to capture the town of Gorizia (now in Slovenia) but Austria-Hungary repulsed the Italian attack each time. Italy managed to capture Gorizia after the Sixth Battle of Isonzo in August 1916. The next four battles of Isonzo (from seventh Battle of Isonzo to tenth Battle of Isonzo) were fought from September 1916 to June 1917 during which Italy remained unsuccessful.
In 1917, Germans joined the Austria-Hungary army. Their joint forced crushed the Italian army in the Battle of Caporetta (October-November 1917) where the Italians faced their biggest defeat of the war. But the Italians soon recovered. They prevented the fall of Venice after defeating the Austria-Hungary in the First Battle of Monte Grappa (November 1917). The situation changed in 1918. Italy initially defeated Austria-Hungary in the Battle of the Piave River (June 1918) and then in the decisive Battle of Vittorio Veneto (October-November 1918) where the other Allied powers were there to assist Italy.
Middle Eastern Theatre of WW1
The Middle Eastern Theatre of the WW1 was mainly fought in Middle East and its surround areas. Ottoman Empire was the main opponent of the Middle Eastern campaign as they were trying to retake their areas lost to Russia and Britain in late 19th and early 20th Century. Another importance of this area was due to the presence of oil in Persia that was under control of Britain and Russia who want to protect these precious resources from Ottomans and Central Powers.
Gallipoli peninsula is located in East Thrace while the presence of Dardanelles strait increased its strategic importance. The campaign for Gallipoli started in April 1915 after the Allied (Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand) attack on Gallipoli and lasted till January 1916 with victory for Ottoman. This campaign is known as the greatest Ottoman victory during WW1. Apart from Ottomans, this campaign is also given huge importance in Australia and New Zealand due to large number of casualties suffered by these two neighboring countries.
During Persian campaign, Ottoman Empire was on one side (aided by Germany) while its opponents were the Russian Empire, British and Armenian and Assyrian volunteers. This campaign was fought in the mountainous areas of Armenia and northern Persia. This campaign lasted from December 1914 to October 1918 and ended with defeat for Ottomans.
The Mesopotamian campaign was fought in today’s Iraq mainly between Ottoman Empire and British Empire (assisted by Kuwait). In 1914, Iraq was under the control of Ottomans but the area was quite significant for British due to the presence of petroleum. The campaign lasted from November 1914 to 1918.
In 1914 and 1915, British remained victorious in most battles of Mesopotamian Campaign. In November 1914, British captured important southern city of Basra and they captures Qurna in December which protected their oilfields from Ottomans. Ottomans attempts to take these areas back in 1915 remained unsuccessful.
Ottomans first victory came in November 1915 when they defeated the invading British forces in the Battle of Ctesiphon. Later in April 1916, Ottomans also captures southern town of Kut after the successful Siege of Kut. Several British efforts to retook Kut and relieve their besieged army in Kut garrison failed during January to March 1916.
But the situation changed in 1917. Britain recaptured Kut in February 1917 and took Baghdad and Fallujah in March 1917. In April 1917, British also captured Samarrah. Ramadi was the last important city of Iraq that was captured by Britain in September 1917 after the Second Battle of Ramadi. In 1918, Britain captured the northern Iraqi areas after the last battle of the campaign Battle of Sharqat (October 1918).
Sinai & Palestine Campaign
The Sinai and Palestine Campaign was fought in Egypt (Sinai) and the Levant (Palestine, Jordan, Syria) between Ottoman Empire (aided by German Empire) and British Empire (including troops from Australia, New Zealand and India). The campaign lasted from January 1915 to October 1918 and ended with British capture of all these areas.
The campaign started with Ottoman invasion of Sinai (in control of British) in order to capture Suez Canal. But the invasion failed as the British repelled Ottomans during Raid on the Suez Canal (Jan-Feb 1915) and Battle of Romani(August 1916) despite Ottomans victory in Battle of Katia (April 1916). British successfully drove the Ottomans out of Sinai Peninsula in the start of 1917 after their decisive victory at the Battle of Magdhaba (December 1916).
The British offensive in Palestine started with successful Battle of Rafa (January 1917) but Ottomans successfully defended the important area of Gaza during First Battle of Gaza (March 1917) and Second Battle of Gaza (April 1917). After these defeats, Britain changed its strategy and started the Southern Palestine Offensive after a long stalemate. After capturing Beersheba on 30th October 1917, the British launched the successful Third Battle of Gaza on 1st November 1917 while the Ottomans completely evacuated Gaza till 7th November after Battle of Tel al-Khuweilfe and Battle of Hareira and Sheria. After defeating Ottomans in few small battles, the British invaded Jerusalem on 17th November 1917. The Battle of Jerusalem ended in December 1917 with Britain occupation of Jerusalem which completed the Southern Palestine Offensive.
After southern Palestine, British started the Jordanian front in 1918. Jericho (now in Palestine) was captured in February 1918. The Ottomans defended Amman during the First Battle of Amman (March 1918) but Amman was later captured by British in September 1918 after the decisive Second Battle of Amman.
Britain later defeated the Ottomans in the Battle of Megiddo, Battle of Sharon and Battle of Nablus to capture northern Palestine in September 1918. After Palestine, Britain captured Damascus on 1st October 1918 and later, whole of Syria in the end of October 1918 which completed the Sinai and Palestine Campaign.
The Young Turks was a nationalist Turkish organization that was practically controlling the Ottoman Empire since the beginning of 20th Century. Their Turkish nationalism gave rise to several other nationalist movements in the Ottoman Empire and one among them was Arab nationalism, initiated by Hussian bin Ali (Sharifate of Makkah). The aim of Hussian bin Ali was to create a unified Arab state from Aleppo in the north to Aden in the south. British were aware about the plans of Sharifate of Makkah and assured their support to him in June 1916 and the soon after the agreement, the Arab revolt started against the Ottomans.
The Arabs capture Makkah and Taif in July 1916 while they besieged Madinah also but due to stiff resistance from Ottomans they could capture Madinah in 1919 (after end of WW1). After taking control of Hejaz, the Arabs started their campaign in the Levant. In July 1917, they captured Jordanian port of Aqaba After the Battle of Aqaba and then defeated the Ottoman invasion during Battle of Wadi Musa. In October 1918, the Sharifate army captured Aleppo after defeating Ottomans in the Battle of Aleppo.
African Theatre of WW1
Before the start of World War 1, almost the whole of Africa was under the control of European colonial powers including Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, Italy, Belgium and Spain. Germany had the possession of colonies in South-West Africa (now Namibia), Togoland (now Togo and Ghana), Cameroon and East Africa (now Tanzania) and the African campaigns were mainly fought in and around these areas while Ottomans fought a campaign in North Africa.
Togoland campaign was the shortest campaign of African Theatre of WW1. British Empire and France invaded Togoland on 9th August and defeated the Germans till 26th August 1914. Later, Britain and France divided German Togoland in to Western and Eastern Togoland respectively.
Britain, France and Belgium invaded German Cameroon (Kamerun) in August 1914. Colony’s largest city Douala surrendered in September 1914 while Germany lost the whole colony in March 1916.
South-West Africa Campaign
British colony of Union of South Africa and Portuguese colony of Angola played important role in this campaign against German South West Africa (now Namibia). Dung start of campaign, the Boers (Dutch settlers in South Africa) also rebelled against South Africa which is known as Maritz Rebellion (Maritz was leader of the rebels). But the rebellion was successfully crushed by South Africa in the start of 1915.
Germany invaded Portuguese Angola and South Africa several times with little success and lost the South-West Africa at the hands of South Africa in July 1915.
East African Campaign
East African Campaign was the longest and fatalist campaign of the African Theatre of World War 1. The campaign started in August 1914 and ended in November 1918 with the end of WW1. Against German East Africa, the Britain was accompanied by Portugal, Belgium and South Africa. Thousands of Europeans and native people from both the sides died during the campaign and Germany lost its East African colony also.
North Africa in WW1
At the start of World War 1, North Africa was in the control of British Empire, France and Italy. Ottoman Empire encouraged the Muslim groups of the North Africa to rebel against the “Christian rule”. The most famous movement was Senussi Campaign that started armed resistance in eastern Egypt (under British control) and western Libya (under Italian control) in November 1915. After few initial successes, the Senussi were defeated by the alliance of Britain and Libya till February 1917.
The Zaian War was fought in the French-occupied Morocco between France and Berber tribes (known as Zaian confederation) with support from Ottomans. The war started in 1914 and France could pacify the whole area in 1921. The biggest victory of Zaian came in November 1914 at the Battle of al-Harri which made them close to capture the important city of Khenifra but their later efforts to get any such victory remained unsuccessful due to artillery and other modern weaponry of the French and the French managed to defeat the rebels.
The rebellions of Sultanate of Darfur and Tuareg tribe were successfully suppressed by British Empire and France respectively.
In the start of 20th Century, Germany was trying to build a navy comparable to the British royal navy which was also a cause of enmity between the two empires. The naval campaign during World War 1 was fought mainly in Atlantic Ocean, North Sea, Baltic Sea, Mediterranean etc. but the naval warfare in Atlantic was the most famous one because of the activities of German U-Boats (submarines).
Germany was suffering a blockade by British navy in after which it used its U-Boats to counterattack Britain. German U-Boats drowned thousands of ships (mostly merchant ships) during the campaign but the intensity of the attacks reduced after better measures taken by the Allied navy. Due to indiscriminate sinking of ships, many neutral countries also suffered losses from German U-Boats and it was an important reason for USA to enter the war in favor of Allied powers.
Effects of World War 1
World War 1 was the deadliest war of 20th Century before the start of World War 2 and its effects were severe and long-lasting. Neither of the opponents was expecting this war to be fought on such large-scale with such huge loses. The Treaty of Versailles was signed on 28th June 1919 with Germany that formally ended the WW1.
· Central Powers lost the war and the winners (Allied Powers) inflicted harsh conditions on the defeated empires and nations.
· Germany suffered badly after the war. Germany lost all of its colonies in Africa and Asia and some part of its European area to other countries while most of the war penalties were laid on Germany. Several restrictions were imposed on German military in order to discourage Germany from any other military adventure. These sanctions created the feelings of humiliation, nationalism and patriotism. German Empire was replaced by Weimer Republic. Later, Nazi Party and its leader Adolf Hitler used these feelings of German people to start the bloodiest war of the human history World War 2.
· Austro-Hungarian Empire was completely abolished. Austria and Hungary became two independent states while the north-west of the Empire became a new state of Czechoslovakia. Serbian Empire became Yugoslavia after annexing the Slav-speaking areas of Austria-Hungary. Romania and Poland (became independent country after over a century) also got a good share from this division.
· According to Treaty of Sevres (1920), Ottoman Empire lost all its area outside Anatolia while the East Thrace and Smyrna were awarded to Greece and Constantinople and its nearby area became demilitarized zone. Apart from that the eastern area of Erzurum was acquired by Romania. This treaty was rejected by the Turkish people and the Turkish nationalists started the Turkish War of Independence under the leadership of Mustafa Kamal Pasha. Turks successfully regained all of their Anatolian areas in the east (Erzurum), west (Smyrna, East Thrace, Constantinople) and south which resulted in a more respectful Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. Later, Grand National Assembly abolished the Ottoman Empire and Turkey became a secular republic.
· Russia evacuated from the war after the Russian Revolution in 1917 and later the new regime signed a treaty with Central Powers. After the war, many new states were formed from former Russian Empire in Eastern Europe and Baltic including Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
· In 1920, League of Nations was established in order to prevent any such large scale war and maintain peace in the world through negotiations. But the League of Nations failed to prevent the start of World War 2.