The First World War was a human tragedy on a global scale. It originated in Europe, but countries from around the world were soon dragged into the fighting. The war lasted for four bleak years-from 1914 to 1918, and a staggering 65 million men were mobilized to fight. Over 21 million people died, including 13 million civilians. So, what were the causes that led up to this terrible war? Why did it become a European affair? Now, undercover the mysteries of World War I.
In 1914, the major powers of Europe – Britain, Germany, France, Austria-Hungary and Russia had been at peace for more than 40 years. However it was an armed peace. All the major powers sought security by having bigger armies and better weapons than their rivals. Example: Britain had a policy called the Two Power Standard, which meant that the Royal Navy always had to be as big the next two strongest navies in Europe put together. It meant that Britain would never be outnumbered at sea.
On the European mainland, countries enforced compulsory military service on their male population, and were prepared to mobilize armies of millions of men in days. Peace was maintained only by the threat of war breaking out; in fact countries formed alliances with one another for security.
Britain stood aside from European alliances, relying on its powerful navy to make it secure from invasion. But, during the early years of the twentieth century, the British became increasingly worried about the rising power of Germany. In 1900, the Germans embarked on a programme of warship building which challenged British supremacy at sea.
By 1914, Germany had built 40 battle ships and cruisers. Britain responded by building the first ever Dreadnought (a new superior kind of battle ship) in 1906. Germany built its own version in 1907 but by 1911 Britain had a new bigger kind. By 1914 Britain had 29 Dreadnoughts and Germany had 16.
This was called period was called the arm race between the British and the Germans.
The major powers were already making plans for war against their enemies for their own intentions, but they were just waiting for the excuse.
The last war between two of the major powers had occurred in 1870-71, when the Germans, led by the King of Prussia Kaiser, defeated France, annexing the French provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. With Alsace Lorraine under the Germans power, the French had a strong desire to claim back their land. So in 1894, the French Republic formed an alliance with the Russian Empire, which also feared German power and had conflicts with Germany’s alley, the Habsburg-ruled Austro- Hungarian Empire. The tension between the Franco- Russian alliance and the Central Powers- Germany and Austria-Hungary- became a fixed feature of European international relations.
Britain negotiated an entente cordiale with France- an informal agreement on issues that might cause tension between the two countries. Britain did not sign an alliance but, over the following decade, British and French military leaders did form plans to resist a possible German attack.
Both Britain and France ruled large colonial empires in Africa and Asia. Germany, however, despite the power of its economy and military forces, had only a small overseas empire. This was a source of discontent for the Germans. Germany’s efforts to expand its influence outside Europe threatened British and French interests. For example, in 1905 and again in 1911, Germany tried to contest French influence on Morocco. These confrontations were ultimately settled by compromise but, in 1911 in particular,