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.
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.
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 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.
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.
The year 1917 was big year for other reasons as well. That was the year the Russian Revolution broke out, resulting in the overthrow of Tsar Nicolas II and the installation of the Soviet government. Once the Bolsheviks (Russian working-class communists) had seized power, Russia withdrew from World War I under the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, signed in March of 1918.
On November 11, 1918, an armistice brought the fighting to an end. The war officially ended under the Treaty of Versailles, signed June 28, 1919. Under the treaty, Germany was forced to admit blame for the entire war and agree to pay enormous financial sums in the form of reparations. The harsh terms of the treaty created conditions under which Adolf Hitler came to power and ultimately sought revenge in the form of World War II.
Let's review by looking at the below key WWI dates and events.
- June 28, 1914 - Archduke of Austria-Hungary, Franz Ferdinand is assassinated by a Serbian terrorist.
- September 5-12, 1914 - French and British forces halt the German advance at the Battle of the Marne.
- May 7, 1915 - The RMS Lusitania is stuck by a German u-boat and sinks, killing nearly 1,200.
- February-December, 1916 - The Battle of Verdun rages, killing an estimated 1,000,000.
- July-November, 1916 - The Battle of the Somme rages.
- April 1917 - The U.S. Congress votes to enter World War I.
- 1917 - The Russian Revolution breaks out, overthrowing Tsar Nicholas II and laying the foundation for the Soviet Union.
- March 1918 - The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk is signed, ending Russian participation in World War I.
- November 11, 1918 - An armistice takes place, bringing an end to fighting.
- June 28, 1919 - The Treaty of Versailles is signed, bringing the official end to World War I.
To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account
Register to view this lesson
Unlock Your Education
See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com
Become a Study.com member and start learning now.Become a Member
Already a member? Log InBack