Sunday, August 24, 2014

(1914-1918) THE FIRST WORLD WAR - World History

In 1914, for the first time since the Napoleonic wars, most of Europe was convulsed by warfare. Expected to be short, the conflict became a long and bloody “total war”, mobilizing civilians as well as soldiers and killing millions. By 1918, the war had become a global conflict. Its legacy was economic dislocation, political violence and heightened nationalism.

WHEN ARCHDUKE FRANZ Ferdinand, heir to the Habsburg throne, and his wife were shot by Serb nationalists in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914, few Europeans expected the major powers to be locked in war within five weeks. Yet deeper fears for the balance of power and the preservation of national interest turned a minor incident into a diplomatic crisis. Once Austria-Hungary had decided to punish Serbia for the outrage it proved impossible to contain the conflict. German support for Austria and Russian support for Serbia created an explosive confrontation in which neither side would give way. When Austria invaded Serbia in late July, the two European blocs found themselves within a week fighting the first major European war since 1815.


Neither side thought the war would last more than six months. Germany expected to be able to quickly conquer Belgium and France-the Schlieffen Plan-by sweeping round Paris and encircling French troops before swinging its forces east to confront the more slowly mobilizing Russian army. But the decision to hold forces in reserve in the industrial regions of Alsace-Lorraine and the Saar reduced the number of troops available and the weakened German offensive was blunted by Anglo-French forces on the Marne between 5 and 8 September. By November both sides had dug in along 650 km (400 miles) front from English Channel to Switzerland. Behind a tangle of barbed wire, machine-guns and artillery each side confronted t`e other for almost four years of attrition-al warfare.

The war in the east 

In the east the war was at first more mobile. The Russians pushed back German and Austro-Hungarian armies at Gumbinnen and Lemberg Then, at the end of August, German forces defeated the Russians at Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes. But trapped in a two-front war, Germany never had sufficient resources to consolidate its victories in the east. Elsewhere, the Central Powers found a decisive break-through similarly elusive. When Italy opened up a front against the Central Powers in 1915, Austro-Hungarian forces were stretched to the limit until German inter-vention helped crush the Italians at Caporetto in 1917. The conquest, with Bulgarian help, of Romania and Serbia by Austrian and German forces in 1916 was balanced by the Russian Brusilov offensive in June. The real breakthrough in the east for the Central Powers came with the overthrow of Russia’s tsarist regime in February 1917, precipitating Russia’s with-drawal from the war. In March 1918 the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk ended the war against Russia, allowing Germany to concentrate its efforts in the west. 

Both sides had repeatedly tried to break the stale-mate on the Western Front, launching offensives at terrible cost. In February 1916 German forces tried to seize the French fortress of Verdum with no greater strategic object than to bleed the enemy white. More than 600,000 died. Verdum was saved in July 1916 by a British offensive on the Somme but at the cost of over 400,000 British casualties. By 1917, the constant blood-letting had produced protests. French units mutinied until concessions were granted; the German parliament passed a Peace Resolution to force the mil-itary to seek an honourable settlement. But by then Germany was under the virtual military dictatorship of Field Marshal Hindenburg and General Ludendorff, both determined on victory in what was now seen as a “total war”. In February 1917 the German govern-ment authorized unrestricted submarine warfare to combat the Allied naval blockade. Outraged, in April the USA joined the war on the Allied side. 

Victory in the west 

The US decision to fight not only created a real world war, it tipped the balance against the Central Powers. America loaned over $10 billion to its allies and sent much equipment and food. In March 1918 Ludendorff gambled on a last offensive. German forces broke through towards Paris until, exhausted and short of weapons, they ground to a halt, With dear superiority in arms, the Allies pushed German and Austrian forces back in France and Italy. In September, Ludendorff sued for peace. When granted, on 11 November, Austria, Turkey and Bulgaria were already beaten. A prostrate Germany and resolution in Russia transformed Europe and led to an age of violent social unrest. 

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