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Chapter: 10th Social Science : History : Chapter 1 : Outbreak of World War I and Its Aftermath

Causes, Course and Results of World War I

In 1900 five of the European Great Powers were divided into two armed camps. One camp consisted of the Central Powers-Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy.

Causes, Course and Results of World War I


(a) Causes

European Alliances and Counter-Alliances

In 1900 five of the European Great Powers were divided into two armed camps. One camp consisted of the Central Powers-Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy. Under the guidance of Bismarck, they had formed the Triple Alliance in 1882. The understanding was that Germany and Austria would help each other. The other camp consisted of France and Russia. Their alliance was formed in 1894 with the promise of mutual help if Germany attacked either of them. An isolated Britain wanted to break her isolation and approached Germany twice but in vain. As Japan was increasingly hostile towards Russia, as France was the ally of Russia, it preferred to ally with Britain (1902). The Anglo-Japanese Alliance prompted France to seek an alliance with Britain to resolve colonial disputes over Morocco and Egypt. This resulted in the Entente Cordiale (1904). In return for letting the French have a free hand in Morocco, France agreed to recognize the British occupation of Egypt. Britain subsequently reached an agreement with Russia over Persia, Afghanistan and Tibet.

Thus was formed the Triple Entente of Britain, France and Russia.

Violent Forms of Nationalism

With the growth of nationalism, the attitude of “my country right or wrong I support it” developed. The love for one country demanded hatred for another country. England’s jingoism, France’s chauvinism and Germany’s Kultur were militant forms of nationalism, contributing decisively to the outbreak of War.

Aggressive Attitude of German Emperor

Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany proclaimed that Germany would be the leader of the world. The German navy was expanded. The sea being considered a preserve of England ever since Napoleon’s defeat at Trafalgar (1805), Germany’s aggressive diplomacy and rapid building of naval bases convinced Britain that a German navy could be directed only against her. Therefore, Britain embarked on a naval race, which heightened the tension between the two powers.

Hostility of France towards Germany

France and Germany were old rivals. Bitter memories of the defeat of 1871 and loss of Alsace and Lorraine to Germany rankled in the minds of the French. German interference in Morocco added to the bitterness. The British agreement with France over Morocco was not consented by Germany. So Kaiser Wilhelm II intentionally recognised the independence of the Sultan and demanded an international conference to decide on the future of Morocco.

Imperial Power Politics in the Balkans

The Young Turk Revolution of 1908, an attempt at creating a strong and modern government in Turkey, provided both Austria and Russia with the opportunity to resume their activities in the Balkans. Austria and Russia met and agreed that Austria should annexe Bosnia and Herzegovina, while Russia should have freedom to move her warships, through the Dardanelles and the Bosporus, to the Mediterranean. Soon after this, Austria announced the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Austria’s action aroused intense opposition from Serbia. Germany gave Austria firm support. Germany went to the extent of promising that if Austria invaded Serbia and in consequence Russia helped Serbia, Germany would come to Austria’s assistance. The enmity between Austria and Serbia led to the outbreak of war in 1914.

The Balkan Wars

Turkey was a powerful country in the south west of Europe in the first half of eighteenth century. The Ottoman empire extended over the Balkans and across Hungary to Poland. The Empire contained many non-Turkish people in the Balkans. Both the Turks and their subjects of different nationalities in the Balkans indulged in the most frightful massacres and atrocities. The Armenian genocide is a frightful example.

Taking advantage of the political and economic instability of the Turkish Empire from the second half of the eighteenth century, Greeks followed by others began to secede, one after another, from Turkish control. Macedonia had a mixed population. There were rivalries among Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria and later Montenegro for the control of it. In March 1912 they formed the Balkan League. The League attacked and defeated Turkish forces in the first Balkan War (1912–13). According to the Treaty of London signed in May 1913 the new state of Albania was created and the other Balkan states divided up Macedonia between them. Turkey was reduced to the area around Constantinople.

The division of Macedonia, however, did not satisfy Bulgaria. Bulgaria attacked Serbia and Greece. But Bulgaria was easily defeated. The Second Balkan War ended with the signing of the Treaty of Bucharest in August 1913.

Immediate Cause

The climax to these events in the Balkans occurred in Sarajevo in Bosnia. On 28 June 1914 the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to Franz Joseph, Emperor of Austria-Hungary, was assassinated by Princip, a Bosnian Serb. Austria saw in this an opportunity to eliminate Serbia as an independent state. Germany thought that it should strike first. It declared war on Russia on 1 August. Germany had no quarrel with France, but because of the Franco-Russian Alliance, the German army which was planning a war against both France and Russia wanted to use the occasion to its advantage. The German violation of Belgian neutrality forced Britain to enter War.


(b) Course of the War

Two Warring Camps Central Powers

The warring nations were divided into two. The Central powers consisted of Germany, Austria–Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria. Italy which was earlier with Germany and Austria had left, as her attempt to recover Trentino in north east Italy, where Italians lived in majority but remained as part and parcel of Austria-Hungary, was not supported by Germany. Italy remained a neutral country when the War broke out. But it decided to enter the War hoping to gain the territory in the north - east. Britain, France and Italy signed the secret Treaty of London in April 1915, by which Italy agreed to enter the War against the Central Powers in return for this territory after the War.


Nine states that opposed the Central powers were: Russia, France, Britain, Italy, the United States, Belgium, Serbia, Romania and Greece. Romania and Greece declared war on the Central Powers in 1916 and 1917 respectively but played little part in the war. Most Americans wanted their country to remain neutral and so in the first three years the United States gave only moral support and valuable material aid to Britain and France.

Tsar’s Abortive Attempts for Peace

Tsar Nicholas II of Russia suggested to the Powers that they meet together to bring about an era of universal peace. In response, two Peace Conferences were held at The Hague in Holland in 1899 and 1907 but in vain.

War in Western or French Front

Germany steamrolled and smashed the resistance of the people of Belgium. On the side of the Allies, the burden of the fighting fell on the French army. Within a month Paris seemed almost doomed.

Battles of Tannenberg and Marne

Meanwhile Russian forces invaded East Prussia. Germany defeated them decisively. At the Battle of the Marne (early September 1914), the French succeeded in pushing back the Germans. Paris was thus saved. The battle of Marne is a memorable for trench warfare.

Trench Warfare: Trenches or ditches dug by troops enabled soldiers to safely stand and protect themselves from enemy fire. The main lines of trenches were connected to each other and to the rear by a series of linking trenches through which food, ammunition, fresh troops, mail, and orders were delivered.

Battle of Verdun

Between February and July 1916, the Germans attacked Verdun, the famous fortress in the French line. In the five-month Battle of Verdun two million men took part and half of them were killed. The British offensive against Germans occurred near the River Somme. In this four-month Battle of Somme Britain lost 20,000 men on the first day. The battle of Verdun, however, decided the fortunes of the War in favour of the Allies.

War in Eastern or Russian front

In the eastern front, Russian troops repeatedly defeated the Austrians. But the Russians were in turn defeated by the Germans. Russia had the worst trained and equipped army and therefore Russian losses were the greatest. In 1917, the Tsarist regime in Russia was overthrown in a revolution. Russia wanted peace and consequently it signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (3 March 1918) with Germany.

Minor Theatres of War In the Middle East

Turkey also fought on the side of the central powers.Though Turkey met with initial success and the Allies suffered reverses, particularly in Mesopotamia and Gallipoli, ultimately Turkey was defeated.The Turks tried to attack Suez Canal, but were repulsed. Britain attacked Turkey in Iraq, and later in Palestine and Syria.

In the Far East

China also joined the allies. Japan was able to capture the province of Kiauchau given by the Germans to China in the province of Shantung. There was no war in the Far East. Japan made use of the occasion to threaten China into ceding valuable concessions and privileges.

In the Balkans

The Austro-German army in coordination with Bulgaria crushed Serbia. Serbia came under German rule. Rumania watched the course of the War and in August 1916 joined the Allies. Rumania also passed under Austro-German occupation.

Fate of Colonies of Germany in Africa

The German colonies in western and eastern Africa were also attacked by the Allies. As these colonies were quite far from Germany they could not receive any immediate help, and therefore surrendered to the Allies.

Italy falls to Austrian onslaught

Italy formally joined the Allies in the war in May 1916. Italians were fighting with the Austrians and continued to sustain their resistance. But when the Germans came to Austria’s help, the Italians collapsed.

Central Powers’ Victories

The Central Powers successfully occupied Belgium and a part of France in the north-east, Poland, Serbia and Romania.

The epicentre of the struggle was the western front and the seas. As the Allies controlled the sea-routes, they cut off the supply of food and other material reaching the Central Powers. In Germany and Austria women and children suffered from hunger and privation. Germany attacked England by air. Bombs were thrown on London and places where there were major factories. Later aeroplanes were used for targeting civilian population. The Germans introduced poison gas and soon both sides resorted to its use.

Naval Battles and America’s Entry into the War

In 1916 a naval battle (Battle of Jutland) had taken place in the North Sea. The British won the battle. Thereafter Germany started their submarine warfare and their cruisers went roaming about, interfering with the shipping of the Allies. One of these was the famous Emden, which bombarded Madras. As a counter measure to the blockade the Germans proclaimed in January 1917 that they would sink even neutral ships in certain waters. Lusitania, an American ship, was torpedoed by a German submarine. There was a lot of resentment in the USA and President Wilson declared war against Germany in April 1917. America’s entry with its enormous resources made Allied victory a foregone conclusion.


(c) The Armistice and Treaty of Versailles

Germany ultimately surrendered in November 1918. The armistice took effect from 11 November 1918. Germany was forced to accept harsh terms by the political situation at home with the abdication of the Kaiser William II.

Peace Conference in Paris

The Peace Conference opened in Paris in January 1919, two months after the signing of the armistice. Woodrow Wilson (USA), Lloyd George (Prime Minister of England) and Clemenceau (Prime Minister of France) played a very important part in the deliberations.

Faced with a threat of a renewed war, the German government was forced to agree to the terms. On 28 June, 1919 the peace treaty was signed in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.

Provisions of the Treaty

1. Germany was found guilty of starting the War and therefore was to pay reparations for the losses suffered. All Central Powers were directed to pay war indemnity.

2. The German army was to be limited to 100,000 men. A small navy was allowed.

3. The union of Austria and Germany was forbidden.

4. All German colonies became mandated territories under the League of Nations.

5. Germany was forced to revoke the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (with Russia) and Bucharest (Bulgaria).

6. Alsace–Lorraine was returned to France.

7. The former Russian territories of Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were to be independent

8. Northern Schleswig was given to Denmark and some small districts to Belgium.

9. Poland was recreated.

10. The Rhineland was to be occupied by the Allies. The area on the east bank of the Rhine was to be demilitarized.

President Wilson laid down his Fourteen Points, which were to be followed by the Allies. The most important one he highlighted was the need for ‘a general association of nations for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states like’.

Separate treaties were drawn up and signed by the Allies with Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey. T e Treaty with Turkey (Treaty of Sevres), though accepted by the Sultan, failed because of the resistance of Mustafa Kemal Pasha and his followers.

Fallout of the First World War

The First World War left a deep impact on European society and polity. Through conscription, and through air raids, the War had involved and affected far more of the population than in the past. 8 million had died in four years, while more than twice as many were wounded, and many crippled for life. Millions more had succumbed to the worldwide influenza of 1918. The outcome, in all countries, was imbalance between the sexes—a shortage of men. Soldiers came to be placed above civilians.

The War and its aftermath turned out to be a stirring period of history. The most striking of all was the rise and consolidation of the Soviet Union, the U.S.S.R or the Union of Socialist and Soviet Republics, as it was called. America entered the War as a debtor country but it emerged as the money-lender to the world in the aftermath of the War.

Another outstanding event of this period was the awakening of the colonies and their inspired attempts to gain freedom.

Mustafa Kemal Pasha played a remarkable role for Turkey’s rebirth as a nation. Kemal Pasha modernised Turkey and changed it out of all recognition.

Impact on India

The First World War had a significant impact on India. The British recruited a vast contingent of Indians to serve in Europe, Africa and West Asia. After the War, the soldiers came back with new ideas which had an impact on the Indian society. India contributed £ 230 million in cash and over £ 125 million in loans towards war expenses. India also sent war materials to the value £ 250 million. This caused enormous economic distress. There were grain riots as poor people looted shops. Towards the end of the War India too suffered under the world-wide epidemic of influenza. (£ - symbol of Pound sterling)

The War conditions led to the rise of Home Rule Movement in India. The Congress was reunited during the war.

India and Indians had taken an active part in the War believing that Britain would reward India's loyalty. But only disappointment was in store.Thus the War had multiple effects on Indian society, economy and polity.

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10th Social Science : History : Chapter 1 : Outbreak of World War I and Its Aftermath : Causes, Course and Results of World War I |

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