What Happened Between 1914 & 1918?
Today is the 90th anniversary of the armistice that brought World War I to an end. A war that lasted four years and three months (1914-1918) and wiped out four great empires: the Russian, Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, and German. The number of dead was estimated at 10 to 13 million and another 20 million wounded. What began as a European War involving dual monarchy Austria-Hungary, Germany, Russia, France and Great Britain soon drew in the Japanese, Italians, Americans and a number of other countries both large and small.
20th Century nationalism and imperialism spark early conflicts
Civil unrest was very much in the air at the beginning of the 20th Century, even prior to World War I. A Revolution had occurred in Russia (1905-1907), Turkey (1908), Mexico (1910), and China (1911). Britain and Russia argued over control of Persia (1907), Russia and Japan fought over Manchuria and Korea (1905), Germany and France fought over Morocco, Russia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire fought over the Balkans eventually leading to the ‘war to end all wars’ – World War I.
Terrorism of Serbia’s secret Black Hand society ends in World War I
in 1903 the Serbian army killed their unpopular King Alexander to establish a democracy. The government encouraged Serbs in the neighbouring countries of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Austria-Hungary to unite and form a single state. Austria-Hungary invaded Bosnia in 1908 to prevent this from happening but several years later the threat still existed and had gone underground. The Black Hand secret society was formed by 11 Serbs including high ranking army officers and government officials with the intention to unite all Serbs through terrorism. The secret society had ‘terror-cells’ throughout Bosnia and was responsible for the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary. Serbia refused to give up the Black Hand members involved in the assasination and on 28th July 1914 Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia sparking World War I.
Germany supported the Austria-Hungary attack of Serbia in accordance with the Triple Alliance that also included Italy (who later broke the agreement by invading Austria-Hungary). Russia supported Serbia and mobilized its army on the German and Austrian frontiers. Germany declared war on Russia and then France. The German army marched through Belgium to reach France giving Great Britain cause to enter the war. After three years the war was still being waged and German U-boats had Great Britain under siege by launching attacks on any ship that approached the island. It was this action coupled with an intercepted telegram from Germany to Mexico inciting Mexico against the U.S. that the Americans entered the war against Germany and Austria-Hungary.
The end of the war
Germany signed the Treaty of Versailles on 28th June, 1919. The war had cost them 25, 000 square miles of territory. The treaty forced them to admit guilt for a war they didn’t initiate, limited their military capabilities and instructed that they pay billions of dollars for losses and damages caused by the war. A whole generation of French, German and British men had almost been wiped out. Europe was financially indebted to the U.S., France and Britain borrowed heavily to finance the war and Germany to pay the war reparations outlined in the Treaty of Versailles. Eastern Europe was completely redrawn with the creation of new states Poland, Lithuania, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Latvia and Yugoslavia. Austria lost three-quarters of its area and Hungary gave most of its territory to Romania.
Commemorate & visit the battlefields
It’s possible to visit the main sites of battles in France and Belgium to learn more about the events that occurred between 1914 and 1918. In Ypres an act of Remembrance takes place every evening. For information on tours of the Ypres and Somme battlefields visit Somme Battlefield Tours. The Vimy Ridge Tunnels occupied by the Canadians have been reconstructed and can be visited, they are located about 110km from Calais near Arras. Verdun was the site of the longest battle of the war.