Conflict has played a role in human civilization since its inception, but it was World War I that first introduced warfare to the global stage and brought a deadly arsenal of new military technology along with it. Though tensions over foreign policy had been building for some time prior, it was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that triggered the beginning of World War I in 1914 and pitted the world’s biggest powers against each other.
The Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire stood in one corner of the global ring and the Allied forces of Great Britain, the United States, France, Russia, Italy and Japan stood in the other. The Allied Powers claimed victory four years later in 1918 but not before more than 16 million people lost their lives in what was an unprecedented level of death and destruction.
World War I Timeline
- A Bosnian Serb Nationalist named Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his pregnant wife
- Germany announced its support for Austria-Hungary against Serbia
- Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia
- Germany declared war on Russia
- Germany declared war on France
- Britain declared war on Germany
- Germany declared war on Belgium
- Montenegro declared war on Austria-Hungary
- Austria-Hungary invaded Russia
- Japan declared war on Germany
- Germany invaded France
- Germany defeated Russia at the Battle of Tannenberg
- The Battle of the Marne began
- The Battle of Ypres began
- Turkey entered the war in support of Germany. Trench warfare began to take over the Western Front
- Russia declared war on Turkey
- Britain and France declared war on Turkey
- First airship raid on Britain
- Allied forces began a naval attack on Turkish forts in the Dardanelles
- Allied forces landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula of the Ottoman Empire
- A German submarine sank the passenger liner Lusitania
- Italy declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary
- Germany captured Warsaw from the Russians
- The Battle of Loos began
- Allied forces began evacuating Gallipoli
- Battle of Verdun began
- British forces surrendered to Turkish forces at Kut in Mesopotamia
- Battle of Jutland began
- The Brusilov Offensive began
- The Battle of the Somme began
- The Brusilov Offensive ended
- Bulgaria declared war on Rumania
- Lloyd George became British prime minister
- Germany began an unrestricted submarine warfare campaign
- The United States declared war on Germany
- France launched an offensive on the Western Front but was unsuccessful
- The Third Battle at Ypres began
- Britain launched a major offensive on the Western Front
- British tanks claimed victory at Cambrai
- Germany and Russia signed an armistice
- Britain captured Jerusalem from Turkey
- Russia and Germany signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
- Germany broke through on the Somme
- Marshal Foch was appointed Allied commander on the Western Front
- Germany began an offensive in Flanders
- Second Battle of the Marne began
- The German army began to collapse
- Successful advance of the Allies
- Turkish forces collapsed at Megiddo
- Germany requested an armistice from the Allies
- Germany’s navy mutinied
- Turkey made peace
- Austria made peace
- Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated
- Germany signed an armistice with the Allies ending World War I
Read more: What Happened During the Early Weeks of WWI?
World War I Fast Facts
- World War I officially started on July 28, 1914, and ended on November 11, 1918.
- It was a Serbian terrorist group called the Black Hand that planned the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which Bosnian revolutionary Gavrilo Princip carried out.
- Foreign policy differences between major world powers was an underlying cause of the war.
- World War I was known by several other names, such as The Great War, The War to End All Wars, The War of the Nations and WWI.
- The United States joined World War I in response to the 128 Americans who were killed when a German submarine sank the British passenger ship Lusitania in 1915.
- World War I ushered in the first use of chemical weapons, such as mustard gas. There were 8 million soldier casualties in the war and 21 million more injured.
- The United States's direct involvement in actual combat only spanned seven and a half months, which resulted in 116,000 casualties and 204,000 wounded.
- The Russian, Ottoman, German and Austro-Hungarian empires all collapsed by the end of 1918 because of the war.
- The Treaty of Versailles, which was signed in 1919, officially ended World War I by requiring Germany to accept responsibility for the war, make reparations, surrender some of its territories and restrict the size of its military. The treaty was also designed to prevent future wars through the establishment of the League of Nations, which helped to rebuild Europe.
- Despite resentment by some Germans toward the Treaty of Versailles, Germany officially joined the League of Nations in 1926 but then withdrew in 1933 along with Japan. Three years later, Italy also withdrew from the League of Nations. The League of Nations was powerless over the German, Italian and Japanese expansion of power and subsequent conquering of smaller countries.
- An explosion on the battlefield in France was so loud that it was heard in England.
- Journalists risked their lives and those who were caught faced execution during World War I.
- Every week during the war, 12 million letters were delivered to the frontline.
- Injuries during the war led a surgeon named Dr. Harold Gillies to develop facial reconstruction techniques and invent plastic surgery.
- More than 250,000 underage soldiers fought in the war. The youngest British soldier was only 12 years old.
- American army doctor Captain Oswald Johnson established the first blood bank on the Western Front in 1917.
- Most British soldiers survived the trenches, with nine out of 10 making it out alive.
- To avoid losing highly trained and experienced leaders, army generals were banned from going “over the top” and putting their lives at higher risk.
Read more: Types of Weapons Invented for WWI
World War I Movies
World War I inspired the creation of countless movies, including:
- The Water Diviner (2014)
- War Horse (2011)
- Beneath Hill 60 (2010)
- The Admiral (2008)
- Passchendaele (2008)
- The Ode to Joy (2006)
- Joyeux Noel (2005)
- A Very Long Engagement (2004)
- Max (2002)
- Behind the Lines (1997)