The Great War, or the first world war, is one of those wars that people don't think about as much these days. This makes sense, given the abundance of more recent wars one has to pick from. But I have some interest in it (my grandfather served in it) and I realized I had a general idea how it started, but not in enough detail.
I'm rereading Keith Robbins' book The First World War, which is meant to be a concise coverage of the entire conflict. Here are some notes on the proximate causes and events leading to this massive war.
Notes in the extended.
Notable conflicts influencing the world situation before the war include:
The Russo-Japanese war – This made the Russians wary of additional loss in prestige, and probably made other great powers think less of Russian military might.
The Franco-Prussian war – Put France in fear of German military efforts, leading to the Franco-Russian alliance. It also robbed France of Alsace-Lorraine, which gave them a standing grievance against their German neighbors. It also made Germany appear to be a looming danger in the British consciousness, leading into a naval arms race between the two nations.
The Balkan conflict – I don’t know much about this at the moment.
France and Russia – To balance German power
Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy – To balance French and Russian power (Italy was not a staunch member, though)
The sequence of events leading directly to war:
28 June, 1914 – Franz Ferdinand travels to Bosnia, where he is killed by Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian student associated with Mlada Bosnia (Young Bosnia). The Serbian government was likely not directly involved, but may not have done much to warn Austria about known assassination threats. Action was wanted against Serbia in Austria, but a call for investigation won out.
5 July 1914 – Germany gives Austria-Hungary the go ahead to do as it likes, imagining Russia will complain, but not intervene.
23 July 1914 – A ten-point Note is sent to Serbia, with forty-eight hours given to comply with the demands therein (which were designed to be unpleasant, by way of punishing Serbia). The Serbian government gives qualified acceptance and mobilizes its army.
24 July 1914 – Russia mobilizes some military districts nearest Austria-Hungary and lends support to Serbia. Serbia continues mobilizing its army and handed a “partially accepting” letter back to Austria-Hungary by way of replying to the Note.
Britain appears disinclined to intervene, suggesting an international meeting. Austria-Hungary and Russia continue their partial mobilization.
28 July 1914 – Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia. The same day, Kaiser Wilhelm returns from vacation, reads the Serbian reply and decides it “removed every reason for war.” Tsar Nicholas appears to be of like mind. Too late.
Initial bombardment of Serbian territory by Austrian ships begins.
29 July 1914 – Tsar Nicholas decides on partial mobilization.
30 July 1914 – The tsar changes his mind and orders full mobilization. French forces are ordered near the border with Germany.
31 July 1914 – News of the Russian mobilization drives Moltke to push for full mobilization in Germany and an ultimatum to Russia.
1 August 1914 – The German ultimatum is ignored by Russia. Russia and Germany are at war. The French military mobilizes.
2 August 1914 – Germany gives an ultimatum to Belgium demanding free passage and surrender of the Belgian army.
3 August 1914 – Germany declares war on France (the logic is that France would support Russia in any war, and rather than fight a two-front war, Germany would crush France first before Russia could fully mobilize, then be able to carry out a single-front war against Russia).
German troops enter Belgium and Luxembourg in an effort to flank French defenses (this is actually before the German ultimatum to Belgium expires). German and Belgian troops begin fighting.
6 August 1914 – Austria-Hungary declares war on Russia.
The British interference deadlock is finally broken by the breach of Belgian neutrality. Britain enters the war on the Allied side.
Naturally, this still leaves some things out, such as how the Ottoman empire was dragged into all this.
2004-08-20 03:55 pm UTC (link) DeleteFreezeScreen Select
I'd strongly recomend Raymond Massey's "Dreadnought" as another source of information - the history of the pre-WWI naval arms race, and how Edward's well-meaning attempts to prevent the war helped to make it the bloody mess that it was.