Why Did The First World War Break Out in 1914?
The First World War was the most terrible war ever known due to the number of deaths that took place each day on the gory battlefields of the war. Altogether eight million soldiers lost their lives fighting in the trenches. The system of trenches stretched across Europe from the English Channel to Switzerland and soldiers faced their foe across a few hundred metres of churned up ground with barbed wire known as ‘No Man’s Land’. The grounds in and around the trenches were turned into a huge ocean of mud because of the rain and exploding bullets. It was impossible to attack the other side’s trenches effectively because they were so greatly secured. Twenty million people were wounded and there was an extensive destruction, which ravaged cities and their civilian populations. The First World War lasted for four whole years and broke out in 1914 due to a number of reasons. The reasons that led the nations of Europe and later the world to go to war in 1914 are complex, and it is impossible to say the war started because of one single cause. There are a series of events, which derived in the early 19th century, which engulfed most of Europe by 4th August 1914. Some causes of the war were long-term whereas others were short term.
One reason for the outbreak of the war in 1914 was the competition for colonies between the European countries, especially Germany who wanted a large empire and colonies like Britain. In 1800 both Britain and France had large empires and these continued to grow in the nineteenth century. Italy and Germany both became united countries for the first time in the 1870s and they also wanted to have overseas empires. The German endeavour to become a world power with its own remote empire was the personal ambition of the young Kaiser Wilhelm II who came to power in Germany in 1888. Germans argued that ‘an overseas empire was needed not only for prestige but because the German economy would atrophy if it did not acquire colonies that could provide raw materials and markets for finished products’. This all caused competition between the European powers to grow extreme in the years up to 1900. In Africa there was a scramble for territory between the European forces. In 1900, nearly everyone agreed that ‘a large empire was important not only for trade but also for prestige’, which was a statement made by a French politician. Different European powers controlled large parts of the world. Several disputes were caused due to the competition for colonies. An example of this is in 1906 and 1911 when Germany and France quarrelled about Morocco but fortunately none of these disputes led to war. Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that the competition for colonies was a long-term cause, as it had been going on for many years and it was not an important reason for the outbreak of the war in 1914 because although there were many disputes, it did not trigger off the war but however the competition of colonies did lead to a series of events, which slowly caused reasons for a war breaking out at any moment.
Another cause of the First World War was the naval race, which led on from the competition of colonies. Wilhelm II, Emperor of Germany in 1898 said, “Germany was very keen to become an imperial power. In order to do this, it was building up its navy very rapidly.” In 1900, Britain’s navy was by far the largest in the world, which it had to be to protect the British Empire. To protect its vast Empire, Britain realised that it did not have enough resources. Britain was also particularly anxious about the German navy, which was growing. Germany decided that a sturdy German naval and merchant fleet was crucial to obtain, service and defend these colonies. Britain were determined that there navy should remain the largest therefore a direct contest and conflict between Britain and Germany developed. There was a race between these two countries to see who could construct the most powerful fleet of battleships, which made Germany a significant maritime power. Since the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 Britain’s Royal Navy had been the dominant fighting fleet in the world; now Germany was challenging this position. In 1898 and 1900 Germany passed Navy Laws, which identified the types and numbers of warships required, and which provided permission and cash for the project. To justify the vast cost of the enterprise, these laws also identified a specific and treacherous enemy that the fleet was being constructed to oppose: 'For Germany, the most dangerous naval enemy at the present time is England.... Our fleet must be constructed so that it can unfold its greatest military potential between Heliogoland and the Thames....' As the construction of a massive fleet was being debated and agreed by the Kaiser, his military and political advisors another undertaking, of great relevance to future German naval strategy, was being completed. The Kiel Canal, which opened in 1895, provided the German navy with a fast connection between the Baltic and the North Sea and allowed its different fleets to work in close co-operation. Britain’s response to the spectacle of Germany providing itself with the will, the motif and the means for launching an invasion was to reinforce its first and best line of defence, the Royal Navy. Despite its prestige and perceived power the Royal Navy was, in the late 19th century, outdated, disorganised and unready for war with a major world power. The First Lord of the Admiralty, John Arbuthnot Fisher recognised the distressing truth and when he came to power in 1904 he began reforms and promoted the construction of a revolutionary battleship, HMS Dreadnought. Britain launched the first HMS Dreadnought in 1906, which was the most strongest and fastest battleship that had ever been built before. Dreadnoughts had fast, modern turbine engines, thick armour plating and guns on rotating turrets that could fire shells over six miles in any direction. The Kaiser recognised HMS Dreadnought as the ‘armament of the future’ and the German navy joined Britain in the race to create a new navy organised around this powerful new type of battleship. In one year, 1914, Britain built twenty-nine dreadnoughts and Germany built seventeen, which shows that Britain were winning the naval race by the amount of battleships they were constructing but Germany were determined to overcome Britain.
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In Britain alone there were 750,000 soldiers and the amount of money spent on military was £50 million. Germany had 4,250,000 soldiers, far more than Britain and the amount of money they spent on military was £60 million, which was also more than Britain. As you can see that the German army and navy were increasing in size therefore Britain’s rivalry with Germany was growing stronger. Therefore I have come to the conclusion that the naval race was a long-term cause because it went on for a many years and I think it wasn’t that much of an important reason because it didn’t actually trigger the war off. However, I think it was quite an important reason because the naval race developed the disagreements and competitions between Germany and Britain and if this hadn’t happened then the alliances wouldn’t have formed and then Germany wouldn’t have been worried about been surrounded and drawn up the Schlieffen Plan, which all caused reasons for a war to take place.
A further reason for the First World War was the formation of alliances, which led on from the naval race. Europe was divided into two alliances, the Triple Entente and the Triple Alliance. The Triple Entente consisted of Britain, France and Russia whereas the Triple Alliance consisted of Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary. The two alliances formed because:
- Germany became a united country and had ambitions to become a great power like Britain in 1870, which led to the competition for colonies and the naval race. To win back two rich industrial areas, Alsace and Lorraine, which the Germans had recently won from France in a war, Germany were troubled that France might attack them therefore they wanted an alliance incase of an attack so they could turn to another country for help. With the support of Russia, some areas of the Empire were trying to become independent causing the immense Austrian Empire to be in jeopardy of decaying. To prevent this from happening Austria needed a powerful ally. There were also many conflicts between Austria and Russia because of this.
- France dreaded attacks from Germany after they had lost the land of Alsace and Lorraine therefore they built up their forces on their border with Germany in 1870 incase of an attack.
- Austria and Germany promised to help each other if either country went to war forming an alliance between them. Germany needed an alliance because they dreaded attacks from France whereas Austria needed a strong ally to protect its vast empire.
- The Triple Alliance was formed in 1882, when Italy saw that it would benefit from joining Germany and Austria.
- Russia had borders with both Germany and Austria therefore France thought it would be beneficial to them if they formed an alliance with Russia and both countries agreed to help each other if either of them was attacked by the Triple Alliance because France was worried about Germany attacking them whereas Russia was worried about Austria attacking them and then Germany joining in because of their alliance system.
- Although France had always been Britain’s main competitor, in 1904 they patched up their old disagreements and reached a settlement mainly due to Britain becoming extremely anxious about the German power growing.
- The Triple Entente was formed when Britain and Russia reached a similar agreement. (Entente is French for Alliance.)
Britain and Germany had different views on why the Triple Entente was formed. The British said that they had formed the Triple Entente to prevent Germany taking over all of Europe whilst Germany said that the Triple Entente had been formed to surround and threaten Germany. The Times newspaper commented on the two alliances that had been formed saying “The division of the great powers into two balanced groups will check ambition and outbreaks of race hatred,” which many people agreed with. They thought peace would be kept this way because no country would risk attacking the other as long as the two alliances were equal in power. This did not work mainly because the suspicion between the two alliances grew deeper. In 1905, German army generals drew up the Schlieffen Plan because they were positive that they were been surrounded ready for an attack. Germany planned to go through neutral Belgium that way they could avoid France’s defences and attack and defeat France quickly. They then decided to turn and fight the Russians who they believed would take long getting their army ready to fight. Due to the evidence above I have come to the conclusion that the alliance system was a long-term cause because the Triple Alliance was formed in 1882 and the Triple Entente was formed in 1904 and the First World War took place in 1914, therefore the alliance system had been in formation for thirty-two years since the Triple Alliance had been formed. I also think that the alliance system led to the suspicion between the main countries because Germany were sure that they were being surrounded by the Triple Entente ready for an attack therefore they drew up the Schlieffen Plan.
I think the Triple Entente was the stronger alliance because although both alliances had the same amount of soldiers, the Triple Entente had more battleships so they could defeat the Triple Alliance quicker and they also had a greater population who could help with war supplies such as making guns and dreadnoughts. Also the Triple Entente surrounded the Triple Alliance therefore they had a greater chance of winning because they could attack the Triple Alliance from three places at once, which is basically the reason the suspicion in the Triple Alliance grew.
As you can see from all the evidence above it would only have taken a small trigger to set the stage for war with guns blazing high in the sky like the sound of fireworks high above but without the same joy, immense and agonised violence, moans turning into ear-piercing yells and pitiful sobs and a chain reaction throughout Europe. The small spark that set the whole war off was when Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian Throne and his wife, Sophie were assassinated in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia. There had been much hatred of the Austrian rule in Bosnia, especially amongst the Serbs who wanted to join with Serbia. There had been six attempts altogether by the Serbs to take the lives of the Austrian Royal Family between 1910 and 1914 and they finally succeeded on June 29, 1914. The Archduke had ignored warnings of a possible assassination plot “Some young Serb might put a live rather than a blank cartridge in his gun and fire it,” and his wife’s Sophie’s advice who had begged him not to go to Sarajevo because of the threats of assassination. Unfortunately, Archduke did not heed his wife’s advice. He decided to accept the invitation of Bosnia’s governor, General Oskar Potoirek, to inspect the army manoeuvres being held outside Sarajevo. The Archduke’s role as Inspector General of the Army made the visit logical. It had also been four years since an important Hapsburg had made a goodwill visit to Bosnia. He toured the capital on the anniversary of the 1389 battle of Kosovo, St. Vitus’s Day. This battle was a mortifying memory for all Serbs, in which the Turks, ending Serbia’s independence as a nation, defeated Serbia. The visit also coincided with his 14th wedding anniversary. While his wife Sophie, was not of royal blood, she was not permitted to ride in the same car as her royal husband back in Vienna, but this did not apply to provincial cities like Sarajevo. During the visit, Sophie would be able to ride beside her husband, which was a thoughtful anniversary gift. At around 10.00am, the archducal party left Philipovic, an army camp, where the Archduke had performed a brief review of the troops. The motorcade, consisting of six automobiles travelled through Sarajevo, the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was headed for City Hall for a reception hosted by Sarajevo’s mayor. The chosen route was the wide avenue called Appel Quay, which followed the north bank of the River Miljacka. In the first automobile rode the Mayor, Fehim Effendi Curcic, and the city’s Commissioner of Police, Dr. Gerde. In the second automobile, its top folded down and flying the Hapsburg pennant, rode the Archduke, Sophie and General Potoirek. The driver and the car’s owner, Count Harrach, rode in front. The third automobile in the procession carried the head Franz Ferdinand’s military chancellery; Sophie’s lady in waiting; Potoirek’s chief adjutant, Lieutenant Colonel Merizzi; the car’s owner and his driver. The fourth and fifth automobiles carried other members of the Archduke’s staff and assorted Bosnian officials. The sixth automobile was empty incase one of the others fail. Many of the houses and buildings lining the route were decorated with flags and flowers. Crowds lined the Appel Quay to cheer the imperial couple. The Black Hand, a Serbian terrorist organization, had trained a small group of teenage operatives to penetrate Bosnia and carry out the assassination of the Archduke. Amid the festive crowd mingled seven young assassins. They took up their assigned positions, all but one along the riverside of the Appel Quay. First in line was Mehmedbasic, to the west of the Cumurja Bridge and near him was Cabrinovic. The others were strung out as far back as the Kaiser Bridge. One of the reasons that the assassination was able to take place was due to the few security measures, there were only 120 policemen for a route of 4 miles because the Archduke was a brave man and disliked the presence of secret service men. As the Archduke and his party proceeded through Sarajevo, the motorcade approached and the crowds began to cheer. As his car passed Mehmedbasic, he did nothing. The next man in line, nineteen-year-old Nedjelko Cabrinovic, had more resolve. He took a bomb from his coat pocket, struck the bomb’s percussion cap against a lamppost, took aim and threw the bomb directly at the Archduke. In the short time it took the bomb to sail through the air, many small events took place. The car’s owner, Count Harrach, hearing the bomb being struck against the lamppost, thought they had suffered a flat tire. “Bravo. Now we’ll have to stop.” The driver, who probably saw the black object flying, stepped on the accelerator. As a result, the bomb did not land where it was intended. The Archduke, also catching a glimpse of the hurtling package, raised his arm to deflect it away from Sophie. She sat to his right, and so was between her husband and Cabrinovic. The bomb glanced off the Archduke’s arm and bounced off the folded car top and into the street behind them. The explosion injured about a dozen spectators. The third car was hit with fragments and stalled. Merizzi received a bad cut to the back of his head. Others in the party received minor cuts. The first and second cars continued on for a few moments then stopped while everyone assessed who was injured and who was not. To avoid capture and questioning, the unsuccessful assassin swallowed a cyanide pill and jumped into the river. However, the poison was old and it only made him vomit, also the river was only a few inches deep. He was quickly seized by the crowd and arrested. The motorcade continued on to City Hall, passing the other assassins. Either because they thought Cabrinovic hadn’t succeeded or from lack of resolve, they failed to act. By the end of the Mayor’s speech, at the City Hall the Archduke had regained his composure and thanked his host for his cordial welcome. Discussions were held as to whether to change the rest of Franz Ferdinand’s schedule. The Archduke did not wish to cancel his visit to the museum and lunch at the Governor’s residence, but wished to alter his plans to include a visit to see Merizzi in hospital. Even though a life-threatening incident has just occurred, Archduke in the same motorcade set out along the Appel Quay, but neither the Mayor’s driver, nor the Archduke’s driver had been informed of the change in schedule. With no assurance that the Archduke would follow his original route, the remaining assassins took up various other positions along the Appel Quay. One assassin, Gavrilo Princip crossed the Appel Quay and strolled down Franz Joseph Street. He stepped into Moritz Schiller’s food store to get a sandwich. As he emerged, he met a friend who asked about a mutual friend. The Mayor’s car, followed by the Archduke’s car turned off the Appel Quay and onto Franz Joseph Street, as originally planned, to travel to the museum. General Potoirek leaned forward. “What is this? This is the wrong way! We're supposed to take the Appel Quay!” The driver put on the brakes and began to back up. The Archduke’s car stopped directly in front of Schiller’s store, which was within ten feet of another terrorist Gavrilo Princip, who was another Black Hand agent. Princip noticing that this was the best chance he was going to receive, pulled out a pistol from his pocket, took a step towards the car and fired two pistol shots. Gavrilo Potoirek happened to look directly at Princip as he fired. Both the Archduke and Sophie were still sitting upright. Potoirek thought the shots had missed, but given the assault, ordered the driver to drive directly to the Governor’s residence. Like Carbinovic, Princip attempted suicide to avoid imprisonment by turning the gun on to himself, but was mobbed by the crowd. Police had to rescue Princip from the crowd before they could arrest him. Princip had swallowed his poison, but it was from the same batch as Cabrinovic’s. He was violently ill, but did not die and was imprisoned. One bullet hit Franz Ferdinand in the coat collar, severed his jugular vein and stopped in his spine. As the car sped across the Lateiner Bridge, a stream of blood shot from the Archduke’s mouth. Sophie, seeing this, exclaimed, “For Heaven’s sake! What happened to you?” She sank from her seat. Potoirek and Harrach thought she had fainted and were trying to help her up. The Archduke, knowing his wife better, suspected that she was dying. Sophie had been shot in the abdomen and was bleeding internally. “Sophie dear! Sophie dear! Don't die! Stay alive for our children!” pleaded the Archduke whilst blood still poured out of his mouth. The cars rushed to the Governor’s residence. Sophie died instantly, before they arrived whilst the Archduke died shortly afterward. All was over by 11.30am. This was the spark and triggered off the war because there was a chain reaction throughout Europe. On 28th July, Austria blamed the Serbian government for the assassination of the Archduke and his wife because they thought Austria trained the Bosnian assassins and used it as an excuse to attack Serbia. Serbia had a friendship with Russia and they turned to Russia for help who then mobilised their army to help Serbia defend themselves against the Austrian attack on 29th July. Germany sent a demand to Russia ordering them to hold back from helping Serbia and then Austria declared war on Serbia. Belgrade in Serbia was shelled. On 1st August, Germany then declared war on Russia because they were friends with Serbia and they also started moving their army towards France and Belgium. On 2nd August, Britain mobilised its fleet of warships. The French army was put on a war-footing ready to fight any German invasion and Germany declared war on France on 3rd August, either because Germany was worried about a French attack or because the Schlieffen Plan said France had to be attacked before Russia. Germany invaded neutral Belgium on 4th August. Britain then ordered Germany to withdraw from Belgium because Britain had promised Belgium that they would protect them. Britain and Belgium then declared war on Germany while they were still in Belgium on 4th August and Austria declared war on Russia on 6th August. To complete the picture, Britain and France then declared war on Austria on 12th August. As you can see this all started off a chain reaction throughout Europe causing the First World War to take place. Due to the evidence above I think that the assassination of the Archduke and his wife, Sophie were a short-term cause of the war because the assassination took place in a couple of hours and it did trigger off the war.
In conclusion, there were several causes of the First World War. Some were long-term causes like the competition for colonies, the increasing size of the German army and navy, Britain’s rivalry with Germany, Germany’s fear of being surrounded by France and Russia, Germany’s desire to dominate Europe, suspicion between the main countries and the alliance system. However, other causes were short-term like the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the behaviour of Austria towards Serbia. I think that all the reasons together started off the First World War because many of them were linked together such as the competition for colonies led to the naval race because Britain were afraid that Germany would become too powerful and dominate Europe, as the size of the German army and navy was increasing and it was Germany’s desire to dominate Europe. This then led to Britain’s rivalry with Germany which led to the alliances been formed for protection, which then led to Germany being anxious about being surrounded by France and Russia and forming the Schlieffen Plan. Also the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand led to the behaviour of Austria towards Serbia because Austria blamed Serbia of the assassination, therefore those two reasons were also linked. I have also come to the conclusion that I think the most important reason was the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. I think this because although all the other causes led to another thing such as the two alliances being formed led to suspicion between the main countries growing but they didn’t actually spark the war off. I think if the Archduke hadn’t been assassinated then perhaps there wouldn’t have been a First World War, as this triggered off the war and started a chain reaction throughout Europe and later involving the United States of America. Also if the Archduke Franz Ferdinand had not been assassinated then Austria wouldn’t have blamed Serbia for anything and Serbia wouldn’t have turned to Russia for help etc. However all the other causes of the war such as the alliance system helped make the war a European War and later a World War instead of a war between Austria and Serbia. I think all the reasons together, long or short term, added up to make a war and it would only have been a matter of time before a war started. Therefore I think that the First World War broke out due to all the causes because it is impossible to say it broke out due to one reason but the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand triggered the war off.
Here's what a teacher thought of this essay
This is an incredibly detailed account that demonstrates excellent understanding and offers useful analysis to explain why the war breaks out. At one point, the author drifts into narrating events, which weakens the answer, but it is a very strong response overall. 5 out of 5 stars.