WWI: Timeline and Dates

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will learn about the key events of World War I in chronological order, including its start in 1914, the armistice in 1918, and the treaty 1919. We will explore the course of the war from a timeline perspective, and highlight some of the most important developments.

WWI: A War of 'Firsts'

Imagine you have never seen a military tank before. You're used to seeing men with rifles charge across open spaces. From a distance you see a clumsy, large mass moving toward you. It's going three miles an hour, and you have no idea what to make of it - until it begins firing at you with machine guns. For some people, this was their introduction to a military vehicle we consider essential today. The tank saw its first action in World War I during the Battle of the Somme.

The British Mark I, the first tank in history.

In many respects the Great War (another name for World War I) was a war of 'firsts.' Not only was the tank introduced, but it was also the first war in which aircrafts saw widespread use. This was also true of the machine gun and poison gas. Modern mechanized weaponry made World War I the deadliest conflict up at that point in time.

In this lesson, we will highlight the key developments and events of the Great War. We will look at these chronologically, in a timeline format. We're going to cover a lot of information in a little space. So, here we go!

The Early War: 1914-1915

On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary was assassinated by a Serbian terrorist in the city of Sarajevo. This is the tragic event that sparked the Great War. For decades nationalism and militarism had been on the rise among the European powers. They had also entered into systems of entangling alliances.

The assassination provided the spark that set off the war. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and soon Russia came to Serbia's defense. Similarly, Germany came to aid of Austria-Hungary. France and Great Britain also jumped in on the side of Serbia and Russia. Boom! Europe had itself a world war.

The assassination of Franz Ferdinand triggered the outbreak of World War I.

The Germany Army invaded Belgium and pushed into France. Between September 5th-12th, 1914, the Battle of the Marne raged. Along the Marne River in France, the French and British were successful in halting the German advance toward Paris. For this reason the Battle of the Marne was a critical early engagement.

On May 7, 1915, a German u-boat torpedoed and sank the RMS Lusitania off the coast of Ireland, killing roughly 2,000. Because the British ocean-liner contained many American passengers, the sinking of the Lusitania was an event that helped sway American public opinion toward becoming involved in the war.

Mid-War: 1916

The year 1916 saw some of the deadliest fighting in human history. Two key battles raged throughout much of that year. Between February-December 1916, the Battle of Verdun raged, killing an estimated 1,000,00 men. The German intention of the battle was to 'bleed the French Army dry,' but the French managed to achieve a victory, albeit at an astronomical cost. The Battle of the Somme was fought between July-November 1916 along the Somme River in France. Like Verdun, the casualties at the Battle of the Somme were astounding, with 1,000,000 killed or wounded.

Late War and Aftermath: 1917-1919

The United States Congress voted to enter World War I in April 1917, following the publication of the Zimmerman Telegraph, a telegraph sent from the German government to the Mexican government in which Mexico was encouraged to attack the United States. American involvement hasted the end of the war. An American offensive in 1918 helped drive the Germans out of France.

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