World War one saw the end of all but one of Europe’s monarchies. Rightfully so, perhaps, as many of these monarchs took actions and made alliances that caused the Great War to occur. Through overambition and unchecked nationalism, the Great War was not just a military clash, but a political one as well. The actions taken by European and Middle Eastern powers from 1910 to 1914 gave rise to the conflict that became the Great War.
Leading up to World War one, the United Kingdom was driven mainly by colonial and maritime interests. “Her supremacy on the seas and the security of her colonies has been her guiding principle” (Seymour 1916, 115-116). Like many nations they began to abandon the concept of intervening in the conflict of other conflicts to prevent countries from gaining power or for religious crusades. They began implementing imperialistic methods as they gained territory in Africa, and Asia. They were simply interested in maintaining their own economic empire and cared very little for international conflict, provided that no one challenges their naval superiority or interferes with their occupation of Egypt and India.
After their humiliating performance in the Boer War Years, they made some reforms to their military system, specifically the formation of the British Expeditionary Force or BEF, an infantry army one hundred and fifty thousand strong that could deploy to help wage land battles for its allies, while their homeland would be defended by their naval force. From 1906 to the outbreak of the war they could now boast as one of the world’s greatest powers, including the most powerful naval force.
France was in a miserable state in the nineteenth century regarding their military and diplomatic affairs. After a suffered defeat to the Germans in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, France found herself isolated by Otto van Bismarck’s new German Empire. But by 1914, France had found the support of England and Russia, giving France an informal alliance with Great Britain and reluctant alliance with Russia (Tucker 1998, 2-3). This alliance allowed France to fight on equal terms with Germany and her allies as France was no longer isolated from the support of other countries, an achievement they had struggled with since the Napoleonic Era. The British Expeditionary force would support France in the west, and Russia would attack from the East, France and Russia would soon be put on the frontlines of a Central Powers invasion.
Germany was in its golden age before World War One, after the successful defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War, saw them unite as an empire. Alliances were then formed with the Dual Monarchy of Austria and Hungary and Russia, through a secret reinsurance treaty. (Tucker 1998, 2-3) Under the leadership of Wilhelm II, the efforts of Bismarck’s actions became undone as Germany now faced the formation of an alliance of equal power that was formed with their longtime rival France. The inability of Germany to renew their economic contract with Russia led them to seek alliance with France. Russia became an ally lost to the Germans.
German overambition and unchecked nationalism led them to pursue power beyond their realistic capabilities as they began a failed attempt to beat out the United Kingdom naval superiority which the United Kingdom relied on to maintain their economic empire, and failed to retain the support of crucial allies such as Russia and Italy, a mistake that would soon see Germany become a devastated empire, as the Great War brought devastation upon them, to the point of poverty.
Italy had joined the Central Powers alliance out of hatred and rivalry for the French. With war on the horizon, Italy started having second thoughts about the nature of their allegiance to the Central Powers. Joining them had meant having to concede the prime positions they had desired as a major Mediterranean power. When World War I broke out in 1914, Italy declared neutrality.
Russia had two main factors that influenced its military decisions. The attempted conquests of the Ottoman Empire. Russia needed to expand into the Balkan region and the continued conflict with the Ottoman Empire and the Dual Monarchy, and the long term economic support of a fellow superpower, much like the United Kingdom, Russia was forced to rely on another empire for an economic lifeline, under Bismarck Germany could abide, but under Wilhelm II Germany failed to renew their economic ties with Russia and the Russians were forced to seek alternate means of an economic supporter. Both these factors led Russia to declare a reluctant alliance with France after severing ties with the German Empire. Thus, Russia entered World War One as the largest allied power of Eastern Europe.
The Dual-Monarchy was comparatively weak as a military power. (Tucker 1998, 17 – 18) Despite being closely aligned with the Germany, their desire to expand into the Mediterranean region led to uneasy relations with the Italians who sought their own territorial expansion as well. The Dual Monarchy’s position so close to the nearby Balkans meant that Russia would inevitably target them as means of entry against the Ottoman Empire. “The one thing that Bismarck had good reason to fear was a war in the Balkans between Austria and Russia.” (Howard 1675, 17) Though Germany managed to keep them at peace for a little while, the loosely created alliance soon began to unravel, and Germany had soon found themselves caught up in a Balkan conflict.
The comparatively weaker countries of the World War One alliances still had their own goals and agendas too. The Ottoman Empire which proved to be a large economic asset to itself, and its allies, possessed a monopoly on seventy percent of the oil supply in the Balkans, making them the center of economic interests of several countries, specifically the United Kingdom who would continually intervene when a Balkan war would break out.
Before the “Black Hands” had drawn Serbia into World War I. They were already seeking territorial expansion. (Hamilton and Herwig 2008, 92) They had previously fought in the First Balkan War to try to take control of Macedonia, which was held by the Ottoman Empire (Hamilton and Herwig 2008, 93) These minor hostile incidents were a forewarning of WW1.
The Major powers decisions to intervene in international conflicts, make alliances, and ultimately declare war with each other. Were driven by many issues, one of which was the control and colonization’s of African territories. The Age of Imperialism saw this continent occupied by the Europeans, who would use them for trade and territory. Britain and France were the main participants in this as they dominated the African colonies. This was just one of the many things that stood between Britain, and France uniting for a formal alliance. Britain had control over Egypt and had fortified it as a key highway to their own controlled colony of India. After their purchase date of the bankrupt Khedive’s share of the Suez Canal Company France felt that the British had cheated them out of it. Even though the shares were previously offered to them. (Seymour 1916, 117). Whenever revolts occurred that had threatened Egypt, the British government intervened with the recognition that Egypt was an essential part of the British Empire. (Seymour 1916, 119)
Control of the continent of Africa continued to draw the attention of Western European powers. In the nineteenth century, the French, who had already annexed Algeria then tried to annex Morocco in the First Moroccan Crisis. (Tucker 1998, 5) Germany, despite having little interest in the territory, threatened war if not properly compensated. (Tucker 1998, 5) Both sides reluctantly agreed to an international peace conference, and France ended up receiving most of the territory that it had originally wanted. (Porch 1983, 144-47).
While Western Europe was concerned with control of Africa. Eastern Europe was involved heavily in the conflicts of the Balkan Region. From 1910-1918, the Ottoman Empire suffered the threat of invasion from its nearby enemies. Romania, Serbia, Greece, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Russia, and Italy all had incentive to invade the Ottoman Empire. Italy was the first aggressor to successfully attack the Ottoman Empire. Though their alliance with the Central Powers prevented an all-out assault on the mainland, they still invaded the islands and in 1912, they had successfully gained control of the island of Tripoli, through the Treaty of Lausanne. (Seymour 1916, 223-224).
This was the start of the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Although facing threats from all sides, the lack of a unified assault allowed them to repel the assaults. Despite feuds over the much-sought Macedonia, in October 1912, Montenegro, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece, with the Russian secretly supporting them so that the Ottoman Empire could be weakened for their own conquest of the Balkans, Montenegro, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece cast aside all differences and united to form the Balkan Alliance.
The Ottoman Empire was demoralized by the loss of Tripoli to Italy and weakened by their war with Italy. On October eighth a week before the Turks signed an armistice with Italy, Montenegro declared war on the Ottoman Empire and on October seventeenth Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece proceeded to declare war on the Ottoman Empire (Turner 1998, 39). On October twenty second and on October twenty third, Bulgaria successfully attacked the Ottoman Empires army at Kirk Kilise, and the Ottoman Empire was forced to retreat into the Chatalja line (Turner 1998, 39-40). On October twenty fourth, Serbia had taken Macedonia, and on the eighth of November the Ottoman Empire was pushed out of Europe. (Turner n.d., 39-40). On the eighteenth of November Bulgaria tried to make to take the capital of Constantinople but were repulsed by the Ottoman Empire at the Chatalja line and the Bulgarians withdrew. (Turner 1998, 42) The First Balkan War would continue until peace was declared by the London Conference on May thirtieth, but the Ottoman Empire continued to defend the Chatalja line and it did not get breached during the First Balkan War.
While the military conflict of the First Balkan War raged on, another political situation was on the rise. As the Serbians started to gain power in the Balkan region, the two major alliances were conflicted on giving Serbia access to the Adriatic Sea. the Austro-Hungarian Empire was against giving Serbia control of an Adriatic port and proposed the formation of the independent nation of Albania, a proposal supported by Italy. Russia however, supported Serbian access to an Adriatic port, and began to mobilize their forces to support the Serbians. The Austrio Hungarian Empire also began to mobilize its military forces with the likely intent to attack Belgrade, the capital city of Serbia. Germany was initially hesitant to join in the conflict, but they eventually pledged full support to Austria in the event the Russians attacked the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The country of Europe was pushed to the brink of declaring war, but Russia backed down and the Serbians were forced to settle with only having commercial access to an Adriatic Port. On May the thirtieth the United Kingdom successfully negotiated the Treaty of London between the Balkan powers, under its terms, the Ottoman Empire agreed to concede all its territory west of the Enosmida line (Turner n.d., 48). Macedonia was split between Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria, and the independent country of Albania was created.
With Albania snatched from Serbia, they found themselves unsatisfied with their gains. “The Serbian Government had signed a treaty of partition with Bulgaria in March 1912, by which the greater part of Macedonia was allotted to Bulgaria; but this was on the understanding that Serbia was to find her aggrandizement in Albania” (Seymour 1916, 233). In early 1913, Serbia and Greece formed an alliance to defend their Macedonian conquests against any Bulgarian attacks (Seymour 1916, 233). For Bulgaria this meant the loss of Monastir, and Salonika two portions of Macedonia that Bulgaria coveted. Backed by the Germanic Powers of Germany and the Austrio-Hungarian Empire Bulgaria advanced. “On June 29, 1913, a general advance against the Greek and Serbs was ordered without declaration of war or any imitation of attack” (Schurman n.d., 94-108). This was the start of the Second Balkan War. Bulgaria was worn out from the First Balkan War, and the positions held by Greece, and Serbia were well defended and on July sixth, 1913, the Bulgarians began to retreat (Seymour 1916, 235). On July thirteenth, Serbia was satisfied with their territorial gains and had halted its advance into Bulgaria, but the Greeks continued to push forward rapidly (Seymour 1916, 235). A big difference of the Second Balkan War was the added forces of Rumania who feared the superiority of Bulgaria over the Balkans. On July tenth, Rumania invaded Bulgaria, and advanced upon Sofia (Seymour 1916, 235). This ended any chance the Bulgarians had for victory, and on July Thirtieth, an armistice was declared, and the Second Balkan War was resolved by the Balkan settlement of 1913, negotiated at the Conference of Bukarest (Seymour 1916, 235-237).
“The terms of the settlement of Bukarest were naturally unfavorable to Bulgaria;” (Seymour 1916, 236) the Allied power of Serbia extend its territories southward, as far as Monastir. (Seymour 1916, 236). Greece secured Salonika, Crete, and extended her coastline East to include Kavalla, and Rumania took the Bulgarian territory near its southern border. (Seymour 1916, 236). The Ottoman Empire reclaimed Adrianople. (Seymour 1916, 235).
The losses of the Ottoman Empire in the First Balkan War and the losses of Bulgaria in the Second Balkan War, was a loss of power and prestige to the Central Powers. They could no longer count on the support of Rumania and the Ottoman Empire, as they started falling under the influence of the Triple Entente. (Seymour 1916, 239). In both Balkan Wars, the Austrio Hungarian Empire had supported the losing side, and this hurt their political prestige. The rapid expansion of Serbia had inspired Slavic revolts within the Austrian Hungarian Empire, and the disintegration of the Austrio – Hungarian Empire seemed to be at hand, unless the power of Serbia was broken (Seymour 1916, 239-240).
During the First Balkan War, the Ottoman Empire had used an German trained army, and the failure of the German tactics to keep out the weaker Balkan Powers hurt Germanys military prestige (Seymour 1916, 239-240). The loss of the Ottoman Empires territory in the Balkan region meant that Germany could not implement its plan for the Bagdad Railway, a railroad system between Germany and Asia Minor.
Italy was the only Central Power that was satisfied with the results of the two Balkan Wars. The formation of an independent Albania meant that Serbia would not interfere with her attempts to control the Adriatic Sea trade routes, and Italy was able to take control of the Aegean islands that were not given to Greece.
The formation of Albania appeased the country of Italy but Austria and Germany, would only be satisfied by the destruction of the Serbian power. “Austria, with Germany behind her, was ready to strike, but the occasion was lacking” (Seymour 1916, 244).
When the great war was declared, each side had its own advantages. The British, with their powerful navy, gave the allies dominant control of the seas, their ground forces, the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) was a small elite army, but this meant that they lacked the manpower to meet the demands of the war. (Tucker n.d., 19-20) France was in a similar position, but they did not have nearly as powerful a navy, their initial fleet was small. (Tucker n.d., 18) These two powers controlled the Western Front for the allies, although both had problems in that they were limited in manpower, a problem that their Eastern ally could easily account for.
Russia was the most populous of all the European nations. After their humiliating defeat to Japan, they set about to reorganize their own military force, but the benefits of their manpower were limited, the Russian army was made to defend their country, which would do very little to stop Germany’s Schlieffen Plan, and their soldiers had very little effective transport options. Although considerably powerful as a defensive nation, ultimately Russia role was as an offensive diversion which they performed poorly at due in part to bad leadership.
The Triple Entente were a group of scattered allies that no effective way to transport men. (Tucker n.d., 20) The Central Powers could make great use of this due to the well-constructed German Railroad system, they could send out large numbers of troops effectively and this helped to counteract the forced fighting on two fronts. In addition to their efficient transportation system, Germany was the strongest of the Central Powers. They were among the leading industrial powers. Their army was the best equipped. (Herrmann n.d., 221) The Kaiser had made extensive efforts to build up the German navy, and they were the second most powerful, but after their defeat to Britain in the Battle of Falkland their naval fleet was useless.
Germany was a strong military might among the Central Powers, but her allies were quite weak. The Dual Monarchy was one of the smallest army’s available, but they could change that with their “skeletonizing” methods. (Tucker 1998, 17- 18) The forces that they sent struggled with racial and ethnic divides, which led to a loosely united empire, their only real role was as a support extension to the German military. In this role they had a huge advantage in their mechanized forces, the Dual Monarchy had control of strong artillery, that the German found useful when trying to drive out the dug in French/Belgian defenses. (Tucker 1998, 18)
This was how it was for the other powers; the Ottoman Empire was too weakened from the Balkan Wars to make any major offensives and could only hold off the inevitable allied assaults on their territory. Serbia ended up being one of two allied powers to find offensive victory at the end of 1914 as they had not only repulsed the Dual Monarchy assaults but had begun making minor pushes into the Dual Monarchy’s territory. Italy although pledged to fight for the Central Powers was neutral, Japan was for the allied powers, but only made one attack on a small German held area off the coast of China, and the US stayed neutral at the start of the war.
Many of the major powers had anticipated the war with the alliances and drawn up battle plans based on their own potential enemies. Germany, knowing that time would favor their enemies strategized the Schlieffen Plan, a bold knockout strategy that involved attacking Frances northern flank through the neutral region of Belgium, but in doing so Germany brought the British into the conflict and caused a massive supply blockade to take place.
France also used an offensive strategy that involved a direct assault through their former territory, this became known as Plan XVII. The attack was a miserable failure and French forces were pushed to the brink of defeat.
The Dual Monarchy went with Plan R, and went full force against Serbia, before swinging over to fight the Russians, but the Dual Monarchy was poorly prepared for a war of multiple fronts and the Russian attacks slowed them down to the point where they were never able to take full advantage of their numerical advantage over Serbia.
Russia employed a similar tactic, as they planned to attack the weaker Austrian/Hungarian Empire then sweep over to deal with the Germans, but Allied forces pressured the Russians into simultaneous assaults, a mistake that would come to cost them at Tannenberg.
After four years of war, the Central Powers surrendered, and the peace negotiations began at the Paris peace conference at the beginning of 1919. Out of the twenty-seven countries that were sent to Paris, but only five of them Japan, Italy who had defected from the Central Powers and joined the Triple Entente, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, and France would make the major decisions. They each sent two delegates, to meet “as the Council of Ten, the main deliberative body of the conference” (Tucker 1998, 215). Together, they negotiated five separate peace treaties with the Central Powers” (Tucker 1998, 215).
For the United Kingdom, the First World War was the bloodiest conflict in their nation’s history (Hamilton and Herwig 2008, 92). They paid the price of the war, in both the lives they lost and the economic detriment they suffered. After World War I they managed to hold on to India and still had partial control of Africa, but their loss of military power and international standing meant that their days as a world power were numbered.
France remained bitter towards Germany since France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. Their demands all centered around the weakening of Germany, they supported Woodrow Wilson in recreating the independent country of Poland, (Tucker 1998, 220) and lobbied for the total disarmament of the German military, a notion that was later rejected. The goal of their actions was to weaken Germany and to prevent them from invading France again, but within the first year of World War Two these efforts proved to be in vain.
After the end of the First World War, Germany attempted to rebuild itself economically, but by 1923, their self-inflicted inflation caught up to them and they suffered a collapse like the Great Depression experienced in the United States (Tucker 1998, 215). It would not be until the end of the Cold War, that Germany made any effective attempts to restore their nation to power. The poverty and collapse of the German Empire led to the rise of one of the most tyrannical dictators the world has ever known.
Italy’s defection to the Triple Entente meant that they walked away the dominant central power, their new territory consisted of a general territorial expansion northward, a couple of coastal provinces, (Tucker 1998, 219) and two territories in northern Africa. Much of Italy’s gain went away with their decision to side with Germany in World War Two. This costly alliance would prove disastrous to Italy, and like the United Kingdom, Italy would soon lose its territorial holds in Africa.
Russia decision to withdraw from the World War One cost them, as they were excluded from the Paris Peace Conference, they also suffered another military defeat in 1921, when the newly formed nation of Poland pushed Russia further east into their territory. Russia would not be taken seriously as a military power until the end of World War Two.
World War one saw the end of the Balkan powers, Serbia joined the other Slavic territories and in 1929 changed its name to Yugoslavia. (Tucker 1998, 223).
The Dual Monarchy was divided into several different countries. Hungary managed to maintain some economic balance, but the remainder of the Dual Monarchy sank into economic despair, and to this day, these countries never saw the return of the power they had when they were united. (Tucker 1998, 223).
The Ottoman Empire no longer existed after the First World War, they had to change their name to Turkey under the terms of the Treaty of Sevres. On July Twenty Fourth, 1923 Turkey had restored its former power under the terms of the Treaty of Lausanne.