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Imperialism and its Onslaught | History - World War I | 12th History : Chapter 13 : Imperialism and its Onslaught

Chapter: 12th History : Chapter 13 : Imperialism and its Onslaught

World War I

(a) Pre-War Power Politics Europe (b) Causes of the War (i) The Evolution of the System of Alliances (ii) International Crises between 1905 and 1913 (c) Course of the War War Spreads (d) Peace Conference in Paris (e) Provisions of the Versailles Treaty

World War I


(a) Pre-War Power Politics Europe

By the turn of the century Germany had emerged as the most powerful industrial state in the Continent. By then the world was largely occupied by the other imperialist powers. Under Kaiser William II, Germany sought colonies. Its ambition was to gain control over north Africa. German capitalists and imperialists also desired eastward expansion and the government obliged them by constructing a railway line from Berlin to Baghdad to facilitate economic control of the Ottoman Empire.

The objective of France was to recover Alsace and Lorraine that it had lost after the Franco-Prussian War (1871). The French also had an ambition of adding mineral-rich Morocco to their African empire. Russia entertained the hope of gaining control of the Bosporus and the Dardenelles (under Turkey’s control then), as they were expected to give access to the Mediterranean and to take possession of Istanbul. Russia’s plan was to lay claim to the Balkans once Turkey was eliminated from Europe. Italian foreign policy was based on hopes at the expense of Austria and Turkey. Austria’s hold on Trieste and other parts of Adriatic coast was precarious since much of this territory was inhabited by Italians. Turkey blocked Italy’s acquisition of Tripoli and other territories in North Africa. As for Britain, despite the lead in industrial growth and control of a vast empire, it had to compete with Germany and the United States, which were producing cheaper manufactured goods and thus capturing England’s markets.


In Asia, during the Meiji era (1867–1912), as Japan became a great industrial power and the Japanese people more educated, there developed an aggressive nationalism and a wish to become a world power. Japan joined in the scramble for China. Japan invaded Korea, then an independent kingdom and drove out the Chinese army. In the ensuing Sino-Japanese War, according to the Treaty of Shimonoseki signed at the end, Japan got Formosa, Port Arthur and Liaotung peninsula. The crushing defeat of China by Japan in (1894–95) surprised the world. Fearing this sudden increase in Japan’s power, the European powers forced Japan to give up the Liaotung peninsula. Japan resented this “Triple Intervention” (intervention of France, England and Russia in 1895) and embarked on a big armaments programme.

Japan in “Charmed Circle of Great Powers”

Even more significant than the Sino– Japanese War was the Japanese defeat of Russia in 1904–05. Following the “Triple Intervention,” Russia had occupied southern Manchuria. Japan entered into an alliance with England in 1902 and demanded that Russia withdraw its troops. Russia underestimated Japan. In 1904 a war broke out. In this Russo-Japanese War, Japan was victorious and by the treaty of Portsmouth signed at the mediation of the USA, Japan got back Port Arthur. With this war Japan had entered the “charmed circle of the great Powers”.

Strong-arm Diplomacy of Japan after 1905

The assassination of a prominent Japanese diplomat by a Korean provided the excuse in 1910 for Japan’s annexation of Korea. The confusion in China following the downfall of Manchu dynasty in 1912 provided Japan with an opportunity for further expansion. In 1915 Japan presented Twenty-One Demands to the President of the newly established Chinese Republic, Yuan Shih-kai. These demands included transfer of German rights in the Chinese coastal province of Shantung to Japan and the recognition of Japanese hold over Manchuria, and the appointment of Japanese advisers to the Chinese government. The Chinese had to concede most of the Japanese demands.


(b) Causes of the War

(i) The Evolution of the System of Alliances

The evolution of the system of alliances goes back to the 1870s. Its original architect was Bismarck. Bismarck feared that the French, on losing Alsace and Lorraine, might launch a war of revenge. Therefore he was determined to isolate France. His Three Emperors League (1873), an alliance involving Germany, Austria and Russia, however failed. But he succeeded in cementing a strong relationship with Austria, which, expectingtroubles from the Slavs inside and outside its borders, wanted to have an understanding with Germany. In 1882 this alliance was expanded into the Triple Alliance with the inclusion of Italy.

As a counter-move to Germany, France started negotiations with Russia which ended in a secret military pact signed in 1894. Accordingly, it was decided that each should come to the aid of the other in case of an attack by Germany, or Austria or Italy supported by Germany. In the meantime, Britain abandoned its isolation and struck an alliance with Japan. Since France was Russia’s ally, Japan preferred to ally with Britain (1902). The Anglo–Japanese Alliance prompted France to seek an alliance with Britain to resolve 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 in 1907 for the division of Persia into spheres of influence. Thus was formed the Triple Entente of Britain, France and Russia

Thus, by 1907, the great powers of Europe had come to be arrayed in two opposing camps: the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy) and the Triple Entente (Britain, France and Russia).


(ii) International Crises between 1905 and 1913


Relying on their understanding with England (Entente Cordiale, 1904) the French decided to go ahead with their plan in Morocco. Early in 1905, a French mission arrived at Fez, a city in Morocco, treating it as a part of French protectorate. Germany protested. French agreed to refer the dispute to a European conference. Nothing came of this conference held at Algiers. Yet it was clear that Britain had ranged itself on the side of France against Germany.

Agadir, 1911

Within a year, the French were again active in Morocco. This time the Germans sent their gunboat Panther to Agadir, a sea port on the Moroccan coast claiming German interests there. The Germans took notice of British threats and decided not to precipitate the matter further. However, France had to make considerable concessions to Germany in West Africa to balance the French gains in Morocco.

Bosnian Crisis

A serious crisis occurred in 1908 when Austria–Hungary suddenly announced the annexation of Bosnia (peopled by Serbians) and Herzegovina, which until then had remained an Austrian protectorate. This was a strategic move on the part of Russia that gave freedom to move its warships, through the Dardanelles and the Bosporus, to the Mediterranean. The Turks were angry but could do nothing. Serbia was furious and appealed to Russia for help. But Russia had not fully recovered from the war with Japan and did not therefore intervene, as it would have to face an aggressive Germany in support of Austria-Hungary. So Russia and Serbia had to wait until a more favourable time.

The Balkan Wars

Turkey was a powerful country in the south-west of Europe in the first half of eighteenth century. Its empire extended over the Balkans and across Hungary to Poland. (Balkans is a region in south-eastern Europe between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.) Taking advantage of the political and economic instability of the Turkish Empire from the second half of the eighteenth century, Greece, followed by others, began to secede, one after another, from Turkish control.

Balkan War I

With encouragement from Russia, Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria and later Montenegro the Balkan League was formed in March 1912 to take over Macedonia. Macedonia had a mixed population.The war started in October 1912 and in less than two months the resistance of the Turks was broken. The Turks were driven from their European provinces. But the problem started while dividing the conquered territories. According to the Treaty of London signed in May 1913 the new state of Albania was created and Macedonia was divided.

Balkan War II

The victors quarrelled over the division of Macedonia. Bulgarians attacked their allies Serbia and Greece, but were easily defeated. The Turks took the opportunity to retake Adrianople, which they had lost. The second Balkan War ended with the signing of the Treaty of Bucharest in August 1913.

Two things emerged out of the Balkan crisis. First, the Bulgarians felt injured and awaited an opportunity to take revenge on Serbia. Secondly, the passions of the Serbians were inflamed by victory. From this time on, anti-Austrian struggle in Serbia and in the neighbouring province of Bosnia became ever more militant.

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 a Bosnian student Princip, a Serb. Austria asserted that the assassin had acted at the instigation of Serbia. After a month, an ultimatum was served to Belgrade, demanding unconditional surrender. The Serbian explanation and Germany’s effort at mediation were turned down by Austria. Britain tried to localise the war. On 28 July Austria declared war on Serbia and bombarded Belgrade. Even as Russia was mobilising forces to intervene in support of Serbia, Germany struck first. It declared war on Russia and its ally France on 1 August.

Britain was against involving itself in the War. But on 3 August, an appeal came from the King of Belgium asking for British help. Belgium was not on the side of the Allies. Yet it was invaded by Germany. The German violation of Belgian neutrality was viewed seriously. It had been the age-long policy of Britain that the Belgian coast should not be in the hands of any adjacent Great Powers, which might use those shores as a basis for invasion. So in pursuance of this principle of national security Britain now decided to fight Germany. On 3 August an ultimatum was served on Germany demanding its immediate withdrawal from Belgian soil. On 4 August Britain and Germany were at war.


(c) Course of the War War Spreads

Following Britain’s plunge into the war other nations were quickly drawn into the conflict. Montenegro joined with the Serbia on 7 August in fighting Austria. Two weeks later the Japanese declared war on Germany, with the intention of conquering German possessions in the Far East. In October Turkey began the bombardment of Russian ports in the Black Sea. Italy maintained neutrality until May 1915, but was dragged into the war on the side of Triple Entente powers, with the promise of Austrian and Turkish territories.

Central Powers and Allies

The warring nations were grouped into two, namely the Central Powers and the Axis. The Central Powers consisted of Germany, Austria–Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria. The nine states that opposed the Central powers were: Russia, France, Britain, Italy, the United States, Belgium, Serbia, Romania and Greece. Most Americans wanted their country to remain neutral and therefore in the first three years the United States gave only moral support and (valuable) material aid to Britain and France.

Battle of the Frontiers Western Front, 1914

Belgians could do little in the face of German invasion except to make a formal protest against the violation of their neutrality. So the burden of breaking the advancing German army fell on the French. The French could not stop the overwhelming force of invasion. The first German advance was within twenty miles of Paris. The panicked French government had to move to Bordeaux.

Eastern Front, 1914

On the Eastern Front, the Russian forces penetrated far into East Prussia, In the battle of Tannenberg Russia suffered heavy losses on account of the decisive role played by Von Hindenburg. The German general Hindenburg later began the invasion of Russian Poland. But trapped in a two-front war, Germany never had sufficient resources to consolidate its victories in the east.

Though the wars fought in the Eastern Front turned out to be a disaster for Allies, this caused distraction and helped to relieve the pressure on France. In the Battle of the Marne (6–13 September 1914), the French succeeded in stopping the German advance. By 13 September the Germans had been thrust back about fifty miles. Paris was thus saved.

Conquest of German Colonies

One important result of the British command of the seas was that the Germans were unable to send aid to their colonies. So, all of them, except German East Africa, were captured during the first few months of the war.

Western Front, 1915

After the first German effort to annihilate France had failed, the opposing armies on the Western Front settled down to trench warfare, digging in along a 650 km front from the English Channel to Switzerland. Behind a barbed wire, machine-guns and artillery on each side confronted the other for almost four years in a war of attrition.

Trench Warfare: The bullets and shells flying through the air in the battle conditions of First World War compelled soldiers to burrow into the soil to obtain shelter and survive. Trenches or ditches dug by troops enabled them to protect themselves from the effects of shell-fire. The Germans supplied their infantry with deep, well-constructed dug-outs, lit by electric light, and furnished with beds. The typical trench system in World War consisted of two to four trench lines running parallel to each other. Each trench was dug in a zigzag manner so that no enemy, standing at one end, could fire for more than a few yards down its length. 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.

Battles of Somme and Verdun, 1916

Germans thought a protracted battle on a large scale would wear down the French morale. So they attacked Verdun, the famous fortress in the French line, between February and July 1916. The losses on both sides were terrible. The main burden of taking a principal part in the campaign in France, however, fell on Great Britain. The British offensive against Germans occurred near the River Somme. The battle of Verdun, in which two million people took part, along with Battle of Somme, however, decided the fortunes of the War in favour of the Allies.

Jutland, 1916

At sea, the main battle was fought in May 1916 off the Jutland peninsula, Denmark. The battle was inconclusive. The Battle of Jutland is remembered as the largest naval battle of the First World War. Naval battles ended when (1916) the German government authorised unrestricted submarine warfare to combat the Allied naval blockade.

Q Ships and U Boats: During the First World War Germany's most fearsome weapon was the submarine or U-Boat. The Germans adopted a strategy to starve Britain by sinking every ship it could. 880,000 tons of shipping went to the bottom of the seas in one month alone. The Q-ships were Britain's answer to the Germany. The British sent more than 200 steamers, trawlers, and cargo vessels in a disguised form of a cargo ship and pressed into action against the U-boat menace. The idea was to lure the U-boats into attacking these decoy ships which would unleash its hidden armed force and weaponry.

War in Eastern front, 1917

The breakthrough in the east for the Central Powers came with the overthrow of Russia’s Tsarist regime in the February 1917 revolution, allowing Germany to concentrate its efforts in the west. Soviet Russia wanted peace and consequently it signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (3 March 1918) with Germany.

The Gallipoli Campaign of 1915–16: Also known as the Dardanelles Campaign, it was an unsuccessful attempt by the Allied Powers to control the sea route from Europe to Russia. Lack of sufficient intelligence and knowledge of the terrain, along with fierce Turkish resistance, hampered the success of the invasion. By mid-October, Allied forces had suffered heavy casualties and had made little headway from their initial landing sites.

The Battle of Cambrai: (November– December 1917) This battle in Cambrai, France, was significant for the first use of tanks by the British on a large scale. Germans were taken completely by surprise when 340 tanks appeared suddenly.

America’s Entry into the War

The intensified submarine campaign brought America into the war. The British liner, Lusitania, was sunk in May 1915 by a German submarine with the loss of 128 American lives. President Woodrow Wilson who managed to maintain American neutrality for nearly two years finally yielded to the pressure from the people of America and declared war against Germany in April 1917. America’s entry with its enormous resources made Allied victory a foregone conclusion

Allies Deserting Germany

On 3 November 1918 Emperor Charles, who succeeded Francis Joseph, signed an armistice which took Austria out of power. But in the last few weeks of the war, Germany was deserted by all its allies. The first to surrender was Bulgaria. The Turks opted for an armistice. Germany was now left with the impossible task of carrying on the struggle alone. The morale of German troops was low. The blockade of the Allies was causing enormous distress to the people of Germany. Kaiser abdicated the throne and fled to Holland. In the meantime a provisional government headed by Friedrich Ebert, leader of the socialists in the Reichstag, took steps to conclude negotiations for an armistice. On 11 November Germany signed the surrender.


(d) Peace Conference in Paris

The Peace Conference opened in Paris in January 1919. Woodrow Wilson (USA), Lloyd George (Prime Minister of England), and Georges Clemenceau (Prime Minister of France) played an important part in the deliberations. The peace was based on the Woodrow Wilson’s 14-point programme.

President Wilson’s peace proposals included: 1. Open covenants openly arrived at. 2. Freedom of the seas. 1. Removal of economic barriers between nations. 4. Reduction of armaments. 5. Impartial settlement of colonial claims, with consideration for the interests of the peoples involved, 6. Russia should be allowed to operate whatever government it wanted and that government should be accepted, supported and welcomed. 7. Restoration of the independence of Belgium. 8. Restoration of Alsace and Lorraine to France. 9. readjustment of Italian frontiers on lines of nationality. 10. National Self-Determination. 11. Restoration of Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, with outlet to sea for Serbia. 12. Autonomous development for the peoples of Turkey, with the Straits from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean “permanently opened.”

An independent Poland, inhabited by indisputably Polish populations and with access to the sea. 14. A League of Nations.

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.

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


(e) Provisions of the Versailles Treaty

The provisions of the Treaty of Versailles can be summarised as follows: Germany was required to surrender Alsace–Lorraine to France.The coal mines in the Saar Valley were to be ceded to France. The Saar was to be administered by the League of Nations until 1935, when a plebiscite would be held to determine whether it should remain under the League, be returned to Germany, or be awarded to France. Poland was pieced together by the joining of Polish provinces of Russia, Austria and Germany, with a corridor to the Baltic containing the German port of Danzig which was to be under the political control of League of Nations. Germany was forced to give up all the rights and titles over its overseas possessions to the allies. All German colonies became mandated territories under the League of Nations.

To prevent any new attack upon France or Belgium, Germany was forbidden to keep soldiers or maintain fortifications in the Rhine valley. The Rhineland was to be occupied by the Allies. The area on the east bank of the Rhine was to be demilitarised. In Eastern Europe the provinces of Russia ceded to Germany according to the treaty of Brest-Litovsk were made into the independent republics of Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. After being non-existent for a century, Poland was pieced together by the joining of Polish provinces.

Germany was disarmed and was forced to give up practically all of its submarines and battleships. Germany was forbidden to have any airplanes, either military or naval and its army was to be limited to 100,000 officers and men. The union of Austria and Germany was forbidden and Germany was to acknowledge and respect the Independence of Austria.

Germany and its allies were held responsible for the loss and damage suffered during the war. The exact amount of war reparations was decided in 1921 as 33 billion dollars.

William II, the German emperor was charged with the supreme offence against the International morality and the sanctity of treaties. He was to be tried by a Tribunal. However, this provision could not be enforced as the Government of Netherlands refused to hand over the German Emperor to the Allies.

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