World War I brutally claimed over 16 million lives. The United States fought in World War I alongside Japan, France, Italy, Romania, Russia, and Great Britain. They were called the Allied Powers. The Allied Powers fought against Germany, Bulgaria, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire, who were known as the Central Powers.
Timeline of World War I
Tensions had been rising in Europe in the years prior to the official beginning of the war in 1914. The Balkan region had ongoing conflicts between political groups that were coming to a head. The incendiary event that officially began the war was the assassination of the Archduke of Austria.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were shot dead in Bosnia on June 28th, 1914. Their assassin was a Serbian nationalist who opposed the Austro-Hungarian governance over Bosnia.
The Start of World War I
A month after the Archduke’s assassination, Austria-Hungary would officially declare war on Serbia on July 28th, 1914. Knowing that Serbia was backed by Russia (and possibly Russia’s allies France and Great Britain), Austria-Hungary sought out allies of their own before making an official declaration of war. Once they had secured Germany as an ally, they felt confident to challenge Serbian nationalism once and for all.
The Schlieffen Plan
Marshal Alfred von Schlieffen of Germany hatched up a plot known as the Schlieffen Plan. Their aggressive war strategy involved Germany invading their enemies’ borders with both a western and an eastern front. The plan was to invade France from the west and Russia from the east.
Germany acted out their war plan in August of 1914 and, by using war cannons, captured the city of Liege in Belgium in the first battle of World War I. The German army killed anyone who stood in their way, including a priest who lead a religious citizen’s resistance to the invasion.
When the Germans finally reached France after passing through Belgium, they were met with the allied resistance of France and Great Britain. During the First Battle of the Marne in September of 1914, the French were able to push the German forces back.
Both sides resorted to trench warfare, and intense bloodshed began that would last for the next three years. The Western Front would result in some of the longest and deadliest battles of the war, with up to a million soldiers dying in just one single battle in 1916.
On the Eastern Front, Austrian-Hungary was faced with the powerful Russian army. Despite initial success in their first battles with Russia, it was undeniable that the Russians posed a big problem for Austria-Hungary and Germany. Russia tried to invade Poland and East Prussia, but the Germans and Austrians were able to hold them back.
The Russian army was such a force to be reckoned with that some of the troops in the Eastern Front had to be sent to the Western Front. This move ended up costing the Germans the First Battle of Marne. Overall, the Schlieffen Plan did not prove to be successful for Germany.
America’s Role In World War I
When World War I began America was content to not get involved. At first, America was able to maintain neutrality with all of the European nations involved in the war. That changed after the aggressive German naval force sunk multiple American ships on the coast of Great Britain in 1915.
The American government began to prepare for war as the public outcry grew over Germany’s actions. By 1917, President Woodrow Wilson was able to obtain permission from Congress to declare war against Germany. The decision for America to get involved in WWI was a controversial one.
The Gallipoli Campaign
In 1915 the Allied Powers invaded the Gallipoli Peninsula of the Ottoman Empire (an ally of the Central Powers) in the hopes of getting the upper hand in the war, which at this point had reached a stalemate. Over a quarter of a million soldiers died in the battle, forcing the allies to retreat.
At the same time, battles waged on in Egypt and Italy between the Allied Powers and the Central Powers. Italy joined forces with the Allied Powers, and with their help, the Allied Powers were able to achieve a significant victory at the Battle of Caporetto in 1917.
World War I Weaponry
World War I was a bloodbath. By 1914, weaponry had advanced significantly since previous wars. At the beginning of the war, the Allied Powers relied on carrier pigeons for communication and rode on horses. By the end of the war, the Allied Powers were flying in airplanes and using a combination of tear gas and chlorine on their enemies.
Facing enemies armed with machine guns for the first time, soldiers were forced to dig deep trenches to hide in. The trenches were constructed out of sandbags, barbed wire, wood, and mud. Trench warfare often led to stalemates, with soldiers spending many long hours in the trenches. A lot of soldiers had to have their feet amputated because of infections from standing in wet mud for extreme periods of time. They called this condition “trench-foot”.
While in the trenches, soldiers could see nothing besides a few feet ahead of them, and the sky above them. In order to advance their position, the soldiers would need to venture into “no-man’s-land”, the dangerous stretch between the enemy lines.
Soldiers in no-man’s-land would be mowed down by the enemy’s machine guns, which they fired from the safety of trenches of their own. Millions of soldiers died in this manner over the course of the war. The stretch of trenches went on for an incredible 475 miles on the Western Front.
The battles of World War I also took place in the air and the water. At the time, Great Britain was known for having the most powerful Navy in the world, but during WWI Germany began to catch up. Germany relied on a deadly fleet of U-boat submarines to fight against Great Britain’s superior warships.
The first airplane was invented a little over a decade before the war began. The technology was still relatively new, so planes did not play an overwhelming role in the first World War. However, the use of planes in WWI was a monumental moment for the future of warfare. Initially, planes were used to get a better view of the enemy’s position. As the war progressed, planes were outfitted with machine guns and went to work as fighter planes. The propellers had to be armored to prevent the flying bullets from crashing the plane.
As the war progressed, the Allied Powers and the Central Powers both raced to produce more powerful weapons than the enemy, including airplanes. By 1917, bomber planes were being used to lay siege on foreign lands. Governments on both sides of the war were beginning to recognize airplanes as the next step for modern warfare. In 1918, the Royal Air Force was founded by the British.
America’s All-Black Army Regiments During World War I
During World War I, America had not yet integrated African Americans into the military. Instead, they fought in all-black ranks. There were four all-black army regiments during World War I.
Even though black Americans volunteered to fight in the war, they were turned away from the military. They were only allowed to join when the American government realized that they lacked the necessary troops to fight.
The army regiments’ names were the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantry. These brave African American soldiers were at first not allowed to participate in combat, but eventually, they were sent to the front lines. In addition to soldiers, they also trained African Americans as officers to lead the black regiments.
It was left up to the training camps to decide whether or not to integrate black soldiers. Some of the more progressive military training camps would allow up to a quarter of their classes to be African American, whereas some would not tolerate anyone of color. Black soldiers were subject to racial discrimination during WWI and often were assigned the worst jobs. They were responsible for digging many of the trenches during trench warfare.
How World War I Ended
In 1918, the violence of World War I, also known as the Great War, came to a halt. The Allied Powers were winning and their enemies had begun to surrender one after another. When Turkey and Bulgaria surrendered, it signified the end of the age-old Ottoman Empire.
In Austria-Hungary, the war had brought the population to a state of near-starvation. Germany too was in shambles by the end of World War I, with civil war brewing. The Allied Powers were in a great position to propose their terms for peace. At 11 am, on November 11th, 1918 the guns of WWI finally stopped firing.
World leaders gathered at Versailles in France to discuss what the post-war future would look like. They signed the Treaty of Versailles on June 28th, 1919. France, Great Britain, Italy, and the United States all signed the treaty. Germany and its allies were left out of negotiations.
The blame for the war fell almost entirely on Germany. The treaty demanded that Germany pay reparations for the losses of the Allied Powers during the war, as well as relinquish its hold on all foreign lands invaded during the war. The Germans felt humiliated by the results of WWI, and their quest to reclaim their position as a global power resulted in the election of the Nazi party during WWII.
The Global Impact of World War I
At the end of World War I, the Allied Powers reworked maps of the Middle East and Europe into various zones of influence. The socio-economic impact of Western nations influencing the Middle East can still be seen to this day. Western colonialism in the Middle East was met with resistance. Social consequences following the war were dire. There was a mass execution of Armenians in Turkey. The war also contributed to the spread of the flu influenza which killed millions.
The global impact of World War I was also evident on United States soil. During the war, women’s rights became a more prevalent social issue. While the men were away, women picked up the brunt of the work. When the war ended, American women demanded the right to vote. On June 4th, 1919, women were granted the right to vote in the United States.
World War I cost more money and claimed more lives than almost any war the world had ever seen. The consequences of WWI were unprecedented, largely because of the advancement of weapon technology. The leadership of four different countries fell during the war. Russia, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Germany were all left in bad shape after the war. As a result of the instability in Europe sewn by World War I, the United States rose in prominence as a global super-power and has remained that way to this day.