Increasing militarism and colonial ambition among the European powers led to four international crises: the Moroccan Crisis of 1905 and 1906; Austria’s occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908; the Agadir crisis in 1911; and the Balkan Wars between 1912 and 1913.
International tension increased to such an extent that people felt war was imminent. On 28 June 1914 the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb activist and member of the Black Hand nationalist organisation.
This assassination triggered a series of events that led to world war, with the fighting taking place on land, at sea and in the air. The result was the collapse of four empires and the death of more than 15 million people.
But the tragedy did not end there and after the war Europe was left so bitterly divided and riven by racial hatred that a second world war loomed on the horizon.
1914 The Origin of the War
1915 Globalization of the Conflict
1916 The Great Offensives
1917 Changes in the Fronts
1918 The Ending Year
1914 – THE CAUSES OF THE WAR
The industrial revolution, started in the last decades of the eighteenth century, triggered the economic expansion towards the colonies, particularly those in the African continent. Nationalism, imperialism and militarism had provoked different colonial conflicts among the European powers, which however managed to maintain a period of tranquillity known as “Peace through strength”, which broke irreparably on the 28th of June of 1914.
1915 THE WAR SPREADS
This was the first year of war. On the Western front, the Germans had managed to establish firm positions and in the East, after the success of last year in Tannenberg, the Kaiser’s forces looked at the Russian army with contempt. The Italians and Austro-Hungarians clashed in the battles of the Isonzo River, while the British troops suffered a disaster in Gallipoli, in the Middle East, in a battle with the Turks. The year ended with the Allied High Commands planning great offensives against the Germans in the Somme River sector of the Western front.
THE GREAT OFFENSIVES
Throughout the year, the Allies deployed a huge military force in the areas of the Ottoman Empire in Mesopotamia, Arabia and Palestine. In the Italian front the activity focused on the battles at River Isonzo and on the Austro-Hungarian counteroffensive at Trentino. On the Eastern front the Russian troops had withdrawn. The main German objective lay, nonetheless, in the Western sector. It was a year of colossal fighting.
1917 CHANGES IN THE FRONTS
The Russian revolution was a decisive development for both fronts. Up to that time, the alliances and the fighting between countries had been due to economic issues and resentment between them, with no ideological motives. However, the Russian revolution and the entry of the US into the war shifted the world conflict towards an ideological stance.
1918 THE LAST YEAR
The armies of the Central European Empires were exhausted, as well as the French and British troops. On the Eastern front, the Russians withdrew from the fight and the Germans moved their forces towards the Western front, where they attempted several desperate offensives before the arrival of the American troops. Germany ended up being the great looser. As the war ended, four empires disappeared, Russia had become a communist state and in central Europe the German population was bitter with rancour.