World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war centered in Europe that began on July 28, 1914 and lasted until November 11, 1918. It involved all the world’s great powers at the time, assembled in two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Central Powers. More than 70 million military personnel were mobilized, including 60 million Europeans. Over 9 million combatants and 7 million civilians died as a result of the war. It was one of the largest and deadliest conflicts in history.
The spark that ignited the conflict was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. In the aftermath, Austria-Hungary issued an ultimatum against Serbia which had ties to the assassins. Serbia’s refusal to comply led Austria-Hungary to declare war, backed by its ally Germany. This caused Russia, bound by an alliance with Serbia, to mobilize its forces. Germany viewed this as an act of war and declared war on Russia. France was bound by treaty to Russia, while Germany was bound to Austria-Hungary. The interconnected nature of European alliance systems led to a global escalation.
Key events on the Western Front included Germany’s initial advance into France and Belgium, halted at the Battle of the Marne in 1914. Trench warfare ensued with neither side making significant gains for several years. Key battles included Verdun and the Somme in 1916, Passchendaele in 1917, and the Hundred Days Offensive leading to Germany’s defeat in 1918. On the Eastern Front, Russia was defeated by Germany at Tannenberg in 1914 but made headway against Austria-Hungary. After the Russian Revolution in 1917, the new Bolshevik government signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk ending Russia’s involvement.
The war introduced innovative technologies including tanks, aircraft, submarines, poison gas, and flamethrowers. It also gave rise to increased government intervention in the economy and violation of civil liberties under wartime emergency measures. The social disruption and staggering casualties caused by the conflict contributed to major political upheaval after the war ended, like the Russian Revolution and collapse of the German, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman Empires. The Allies’ victory ultimately redrew the map of Europe. The Paris Peace Conference and Treaty of Versailles that followed imposed harsh terms on defeated Germany, setting the stage for World War II two decades later.
In summary, World War I was a monumental event in early 20th century history that reshaped nations and involved every major power at the time. Its unprecedented carnage and far-reaching consequences made it a pivotal moment in modern history. The complex web of alliances and nationalism that precipitated the war demonstrated the interconnected nature of global politics and the perilous risk of escalating conflicts.