P. M. H. Bell: “Only victory would do, and only victory could justify the sacrifices made in the war.”

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Total War

Aims of the Belligerents

  • The aims of the powers involved in the fighting were ‘total’, meaning that they fought not for limited aims, but for complete victory.

  • Both sides believed they could win.

  • P.M.H. Bell: “Only victory would do, and only victory could justify the sacrifices made in the war.”


  • Determined to regain Alsace-Lorraine

  • Committed to crushing ‘Prussian Militarism’

  • Invested in propaganda to reinforce nationalist sentiment.


  • Committed to crushing ‘Prussian Militarism’

  • Invested in propaganda to reinforce nationalist sentiment.

Use of Weaponry

  • Both sides used the full arsenal of weapons at their disposal.

  • Both sides developed new technologies for land, sea and air warfare.

  • Broke the Hague Convention of 1899 that had prohibited the use of poisons as weapons.

  • Niall Ferguson: “introduction of machines of death”


  • Zeppelins carried out bombing runs

  • Fighter Planes with machine gun synchronization

  • Airships useful for escorting ships and spotting U-boats


  • Machine guns (heavy artillery tactics)

  • Grenades

  • Chemical warfare (poison gas) i.e. Ypres, April 1915

  • Tanks


  • Sea Mines

  • Submarines that launched torpedoes

  • U-boats (Unterseebooten, meaning ‘underwater boats’)

  • Ships

Role of Civilians

  • Civilians involved in the violence, sometimes accidentally, sometimes deliberately. I.e. Jews were viewed with suspicion by the Russian military and were sometimes actively attacked.

  • Niall Ferguson: “[WWI] had dissolved the old boundaries between combatant and civilian.”

Economic impact

  • Both sides employed supply blockages to cut off their enemies and disrupt trade routes.

  • Vital foods and raw materials were prevented from getting through by naval warfare.

British blockade on Germany, 1914-1919

  • Caused desperate food shortages that contributed to Germany’s defeat in 1918.

  • Daily calorie input for a civilian adult dropped from around 1500 in 1915 to below 1000 in the winter of 1916-17.

  • Not only attacked warships, but also merchant and hospital ships, thus affecting civilians as well.

  • Britain and Russia also suffered from blockades, but to a lesser extent.

  • Led to the introduction of rations.

  • German U-boat sank the RMS Lusitania, which was a passenger liner.

Women in WWI

  • The war saw rapid growth of industry in all countries to keep up with the production demands of total war.

  • In Britain, France, and Germany, this meant women joining the workforce as men left to fight.

  • They helped to nurse the wounded, provide food to the military, entertain troops etc.

  • Negotiations that the change would be temporary and that the women would not be fully skilled tradesmen.

  • By 1917, one in four workers were female.

  • Women often shamed men to goad them into joining the war effort.

Causes of WWI

The war that followed the fateful shot fired in Sarajevo on June 28th, 1914, was one that was both unexpected and long overdue. As historian Alan Farmer said, “The war may have been an accident, but it was also an accident waiting to happen”. Relations between the powers had been taking hits for more than a decade, tracing back to the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 when Germany took Alsace-Lorraine from France. This essay will argue that the alliance system was a contributing factor to the outbreak of World War I, but not more so than militarism, imperialism, and nationalism, all of which played a part in increasing the tensions between powers and pushing the situation to a tipping point. This will be done through examination of the implications of the alliance system, as well as the consequences of the arms race, Bosnian Crisis, and the conflict in the Balkans.

  • With one declaration of war, many main powers were dragged in to support their allies.

  • The Franco-Russian alliance pitched France and Russia against Germany and her allies.

  • As France and Russia were also allied to Britain, Britain joined their side to honour its pledge to Belgium in 1839.

  • France, Russia, and Britain formed the Entente side of the war.

  • The Triple Alliance involved Germany and Austria due to Italy declaring neutrality at the outbreak. They were later joined by Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire.


  • 1879 – Dual Alliance: Germany, Austria

  • 1881 – Dreikaiserbund: Germany, Austria, Russia (ended due to Balkan conflict)

  • 1882 – Triple Alliance: Germany, Austria, Italy

  • 1892-94 – Franco-Russian Alliance

  • 1904 – Entente Cordiale: Britain, France

  • 1907 – Anglo-Russian Entente: Britain, Russia (BRF form the Allied Powers)

Triple Alliance, 1882

  • Based on existing relations with Austria (1879 Dual Alliance).

  • Designed to prevent French revenge (Alsace Lorraine).


  • Italy and Germany: Mutual aid if attacked by France.

  • Italy and Austria: Neutrality (Italy) and aid (Austria) if attacked by France.

  • Italy, Austria, Germany: Other signatories must aid if attacked by powers.

  • Treaty would not operate against Britain.

Franco-Russian Alliance, 1894

  • Germany rejected Russia’s reinsurance treaty in 1890.

  • France would provide financial assistance.

  • France was anti-German.

  • Russia was anti-British.


  • Mutual aid in the event of attack from one or more members of the Triple Alliance.

  • Valid as long as the Triple Alliance existed.

Entente Cordiale, 1904

  • Anglo-Japanese alliance improved Anglo-French relations.

  • Mounting tension between Russia and Japan made Britain and France worried about being drawn into conflict.

  • April 1904 – Settled past colonial differences (Egypt and Morocco)


  • Mutual support if spheres of influence were challenged by a third power.

Anglo-Russian Entente, 1907

  • Convinced that Germany posed a threat.

  • Sought to improve relations with Russia.

  • Covered three disputed regions: Persia, Tibet, Afghanistan.

  • Similar to Entente Cordiale.


  • Persia divided into 3: North (Russia), South (Britain), Central (Persia)

  • Russia renounced interest in Afghanistan.

  • Both recognized China’s influence in Tibet.


  • The ambition to expand one’s territory based on ideas of superiority and dominance, involving extending authority over one state or people.

  • By 1900, the British Empire had expanded over five continents.

  • France had control of large areas of Africa.

  • The amount of land owned by both Britain and France increased the rivalry with Germany who had joined the scramble for Africa (1880) late.


  • 1896 Start of a new ‘world policy’ that demanded Germany have a ‘place in the sun’.

  • Wilhelm desperately wanted Germany to be a world power.

  • Revisionists believe there was no more meaning behind Weltpolitik than a vague longing to be a world power.

  • Fritz Fischer thinks there was a master plan.

  1. Control of the seas would demonstrate Germany’s status as a world power.

  2. A great Central African empires comprising of the Congo, Angola, and Mozambique.

  3. A scheme for a German-dominated central European economic zone comprising of Austria-Hungary, the Balkan states, and the Ottoman Empire.

First Moroccan Crisis, 1905-6

  • March 1905, Wilhelm II landed at the Moroccan port of Tangier with the intention of “upholding Morocco’s independence”.

  • Demanding “fair share for all” masked Germany’s true intentions, to weaken the Anglo-French Entente.

  • Germany assumed that Britain would vote in favour of “open door” leadership over French dominance, humiliating France and proving that Germany was a more reliable ally than Britain.

  • The Algeciras Conference, 1906, backfired on the Germans.

  • Britain supported France throughout the crisis, strengthening the entente.

Bosnian Crisis, 1908

  • Austria-Hungary and Russia had an agreement in 1897, which kept tensions in the Balkans minimal for over ten years.

  • Serbia was a major concern; many Serbian politicians had ambitions for a Greater Serbia.

  • There were twice as many Serbs in the Habsburg Empire and in Bosnia-Herzegovina than in Serbia itself, meaning the Serbian ambitions would have to be at Austria-Hungary’s expense.

  • In 1903, Serbia went from pro-Austrian to pro-Russian.

  • Austria-Hungary tried to bring economic pressure to Serbia, worsening relations.

  • Russia was keen on the Balkans to ensure that its warships had access to the Mediterranean Sea via the Straits.

  • September 1908, Izvolsky (Russian foreign minister) met Aehrenthal (Austro-Hungarian foreign minister) to discuss a ‘deal’, whereby Russia would support Austria’s annexation of Bosnia in return for support on the Straits’ issue.

  • The annexation of Bosnia would stop the Young Turks’ objectives in restoring Bosnia-Herzegovina to Turkish rule, as well as ending Serbia’s ambitions.

  • Austria-Hungary announced the annexation of Bosnia in October 1908.

  • The Russian government denied any knowledge of Izvolsky’s informal deal, and instructed him to support Serbia and oppose Austria-Hungary’s action.

  • Izvolsky tried to call for a conference to discuss the situation, but was rejected.

  • Tensions mounted when Turkey demanded compensation and Serbia threatened war.

  • January 1909, Germany promised Austria-Hungary full support.

  • March 1909, Russia recognized the annexation of Bosnia. Its hopes of passage through the Straits were dashed, and relations between Russia and the Dual Alliance deteriorated rapidly.

Second Moroccan Crisis, 1911

  • May 1911, French troops occupy the Moroccan capital of Fez.

  • July 1911, a German gunboat (the Panther) arrived at the Moroccan port of Agadir, seemingly to protect German lives and property.

  • Its real aim was to ‘persuade’ France to give German territorial compensation in return for German recognition of Morocco as a French sphere of influence; a prestige victory for Germany and also French goodwill.

  • The French government was willing to improve relations with Germany, but Kiderlen’s demand for the entire French Congo made a compromise impossible.

  • Late July 1911, suspicious of German intentions with the Panther incident, Lloyd George declared that Britain was ready to support France to a hilt.

  • The British fleet was put on alert and war between Britain and Germany seemed possible – this ended the crisis.

  • Ultimately, an accord was signed in November 1911 by which Germany obtained two meager strips of territory at the price of increasing tensions between Germany and Britain/France.


  • Nationalism and patriotism feed into each other; to be a strong supporter of the rights and interest of one’s country.

  • A strong example of that were the radical pan-Slavic nationalists who were convinced that their future lay in a Greater Serbia/Yugoslavia.

  • Serbian nationalism was a potential threat to the Habsburg Empire.

  • Austro-Hungarian leaders thought it was essential to ‘smash’ Serbia for the survival of the Habsburg Empire.

The Balkans

  • The role that nationalism played in the growing international tensions is best demonstrated in the Balkans.

  • Politically split into two rival empires: Austro-Hungarian Empire, Ottoman Empire.

  • Polyglot nation, consisting of a number of ethnic groups referred to as Slavs.

  • Centred in Serbia.

  • The crumbling influence/power of the Ottoman Empire by the end of the 19th century as well as Austria-Hungary’s desire to retrench and expand influence in the region made the Balkans a very unstable part of the European political system.

The Balkan Wars, 1912-13

  • 1911, Italy wins war against Turkey in pursuit of Libya, weakening the Ottoman Empire.

  • The weakened empire encouraged the expansionist ambitions of small Balkan states.

  • Spring 1912, Balkan League forms (Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro). Nothing in common but a common desire to drive the Turks out of Macedonia and to divide the spoils.

Great Powers Involvement

  • Russia and Austria-Hungary could not benefit from either Balkan nationalism or Turkish decay – AGAINST

  • Russia also clashed with Bulgaria on ambitions for Thrace and Constantinople.

  • France did not want to fight Germany – AGAINST

  • The British Empire was conflicted; while technically supporting the Ottoman Empire, it had taken steps to encourage Greece to join the Balkan league to balance out Russian influence - CONFLICTED

  • Germany was against the war but saw the inevitability of Ottoman disintegration and considered the possibility of a Greater Bulgaria - CONFLICTED

First Balkan War, 1912

  • October 1912, The Balkan League went to war against Turkey.

  • Quickly defeated, the Turks were driven out of Europe.

  • An armistice was signed in December 1912.

  • Treaty of London signed in May 1913 that dealt with territorial adjustments, the Ottoman Empire, and the independence of Albania.

Second Balkan War, 1913

  • Bulgaria attacked Serbia out of anger at being cheated of its gains (Macedonia and Thrace).

  • Greece, Romania and Turkey joined the Second Balkan War on Serbia’s side.

  • Bulgaria quickly defeated and forced to surrender most of its gains from the First Balkan War.

The Balkan League, consisting of Serbia, Greece, Montenegro, and Bulgaria, was a key alliance in exacerbating the tension between the European powers before 1914 because of their great ambitions towards conquering the Ottoman Empire. Russia could not benefit from Balkan nationalism and at the same time clashed with Bulgaria over ambitions for Thrace and Constantinople. Meanwhile, the British Empire had been taking steps to balance the Russian influence within the League by encouraging Greece to join the alliance, and supported Bulgaria through the conflict with Russia as it preferred for Thrace to be controlled by Bulgaria rather than Russia. Besides the rising differences between Britain and Russia, France, Germany, and Austria were on edge from their original stance towards the Balkan war, which was against the notion. It was because of the Balkan League’s decision to invade the Ottoman Empire that the First Balkan War came into being, and this was a major contribution to the rising conflicts between the European Powers.


  • Militarism is defined by an overall societal emphasis on the military.

  • At the turn of the century, the militaries of the major European powers were the largest in history.

  • There was an idea of deterrence that held that the larger a country’s military, the less likely other countries would be to attack.

The Arms Race

  • 1906, Britain releases the HMS Dreadnought, a new battleship superior to everything in terms of speed, firepower and strength.

  • 1907-1910, British Naval Expenditure goes from 31.5 to 50 million pounds per year.

  • Increased anti-German sentiment.


  • Following the concept of Weltpolitik, Wilhelm believed Germany needed a great navy.

  • 1898 and 1900, Germany passed two navy laws designed to create a powerful fleet.

  • This challenged British supremacy of the seas and poisoned relations between the two countries.

  • 1908-1910, Arms Race climaxed.


  • Three-year law in 1913 that increased mandatory military service from two to three years.


  • Largest army in the world: 1.3 million with 5 million reservists.

The arms race contributed to the rising tensions by generating fear among the powers and encouraging each one to expand their military. The German policy of Weltpolitik necessitated the enhancement of the German navy in order to allow them to achieve their goal of naval dominance and to give them greater control over the colonies they were trying establish. This aggressive move was essentially a direct challenge to British supremacy on the seas and elsewhere, thus instigating similar action by the British. Since the two greatest powers in Europe, and consequently the world, were beginning to increase their military might, this created widespread fear and intimidation among the remaining powers. Due to the fact that each of these powers were allied to either Germany or Britain in some way, they too were forced to begin militarizing. This deepening cycle of aggression could not help but exacerbate the existing tension between the nations due to imperialism, nationalism, and the growing Balkan conflict.

Schlieffen Plan

  • The Schlieffen Plan aimed for the quick defeat of France by invading it through neutral Belgium and moving rapidly on to capture Paris.

  • Having defeated France, Germany would then be able to concentrate her efforts on the Russians rather than having to fight on two fronts at once.

  • Germany did not think Britain would go to war over their 1839 treaty with Belgium.

  • The Schlieffen Plan relied on speed to succeed; could not work if Germany allowed Russia time to mobilize.

  • These German mobilization plans meant almost immediate war.

  • The war plans of all the great powers hinged upon railway timetables and the rapid deployment of men.

  • It was assumed that the side which mobilized the fastest and struck the first blow would triumph.

  • A. J. P. Taylor, War by Timetable: The outbreak of war in 1914 was provoked by rival plans of mobilization.

July Crisis, 1914

The Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (The Sarajevo Assassination), 28 June

  • Archduke Franz Ferdinand visited Sarajevo, Bosnia.

  • Serbian terrorists with links to pan-Slavic nationalists in the Balkans had known of this visit. There were half a dozen terrorists in Sarajevo that day.

  • A showdown between Austria-Hungary and Serbia now seemed inevitable.

  • The assassination provided Austria-Hungary with the perfect excuse for military action against Serbia after a history of mounting tensions from the Balkans.

  • It was agreed that Austria-Hungary’s prestige and survival demanded that severe reprisals be taken against Serbia.

The Blank Cheque, 5-6 July

  • The Kaiser and his Chancellor promise full German support for Austria-Hungary in whatever measures it took against Serbia in the form of a “blank cheque”.

  • This gesture of unlimited military support destroyed all hope of localizing the conflict.

The Ultimatum, 23 July

  • Austria-Hungary presents Serbia with an ultimatum that Austria-Hungary was certain would be unacceptable.

  • The ten demands had to be accepted in their entirety within 48 hours.

  • 25 July, the Serbian Government words a seemingly conciliatory reply that rejected the key demand for an enquiry into Franz Ferdinand’s death.

  • With the assurances of Russian support, Serbia was also prepared to risk war.

  • Since Serbia had not unconditionally accepted the ultimatum, Austria-Hungary severed all diplomatic relations and ordered the mobilization of most of its army.

Powers at War, 25 July – 12 August

  • 24-25 July, Russia announces support for Serbia due to threatened prestige in the Balkans.

  • 28 July, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, bombarding Belgrade the next day.

  • 28 July, Russia ordered partial mobilization to deter Austria-Hungary, but soon resorted to full mobilization (30 July) with French support due to Germany’s unwavering stance.

  • 1 August, Germany declared war on Russia in the absence of a reply to cease military activities and began to mobilize her troops.

  • 2 August, Germany invaded Belgium after Belgium government refused Germany’s ‘request’ for free passage.

  • 3 August, Germany declared war on France in the absence of a promise of neutrality.

  • 4 August, Britain declared war on Germany after refusal to withdraw German troops from Belgium.

  • 6 August, Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia.

  • 12 August, Britain and France declared war on Austria-Hungary.

Consequences of WWI

Domestic Effects

Changes in population structure

  • Many killed were young; between the ages of 18-38.

  • Fall in birth rate 1914-1918.

  • The ‘baby boom’ that followed the war meant huge demand for school places.

  • Manpower shortage during the 1930s due to injured/lack of men.

Changes in society

  • Social barriers were undermined because of the emphasis on national unity during the war period.

  • Women were much more prominent in the workplace.

Increased role of Governments

  • Increased intervention in areas of health and education.

  • Government intervention in private sectors.

  • ‘Laissez-Faire’ (Let Them Do) – a market free from government intervention.

Belief in the need for economic self-sufficiency

  • Normal trade was disrupted.

  • Countries tried to develop alternative home supplies.

  • Promoted the idea of autarky – a self-sufficient entity that can survive without external assistance.

International Effects

  • Development in the area of international organizations to prevent the horrors of war (i.e. LON)

  • Nationalism reached a peak through treaties that took into account the ‘right of self determination’ of Woodrow Wilson.


  • Creation of the world’s first communist state.

  • Spreading of democratic ideals – new states that emerged from war initially dedicated to democracy.


  • Pre-war trading patterns had changed during the war and were never restored. World trade dislocated.

  • War debts and reparation payments left all victorious Allies (except the US) heavily in debt.

  • Debt led to a shift away from Europe as the financial centre of the world.

Further Economic Impacts of WWI

  • Massive direct cost to all nations involved.

  • Fall in European living standards (cutting down on imports).

  • Shift in financial centre of the world, as European nations became debtor nations.

  • Lack of stable currency led to decrease in international trade.

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