Action & Reaction: How WWI Really Started

For Every Action, There Is An Equal And Opposite Reaction. ~Sir Isaac Newton

“Wait a second…I thought this was a history blog.”  It is.  “Then why’d you start with Newton Third Law of Motion?”  Read on and you’ll see…

Welcome back; this is post #3 in our series: Demystifying the Start of World War I

We’ve discussed the pre-1914 world and Germany’s Schlieffen PlanToday’s the day to find out how the war started and became global.  We’re going to look at it step by step and try to break away the mystery and confusion surrounding the start of WWI.

1. Archduke Goes For A Car Ride  Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, was on a state visit to Sarajevo, which was the capital of Bosnia.  Now, the European powers had been having an unfriendly debate about who should control the Balkans area and the Slavic peoples wanted to be free to rule themselves.  On June 28, 1914, Francis and his wife Sophie, were on their way from the train station to the town hall, when a Serbian assassin shot at the car.  Both the duke and his wife were wounded and died within a few minutes.

2. First Declaration of War  The Austrians believed that the assassination was instigated by Serbia, who had been issuing Anti-Austria propaganda.  For about a month, Austria waited and considered.  Then on July 28, 1914, Austria declared war on Serbia.

3. Russia Mobilizes Feeling threatened, Russia began preparing for war, causing Germany to…

4. Germany Declares War on Russia  Hoping to win before Russia was mobilized for war, German declared war on August 1, 1914.

5. Germany Declares War on France  It’s always a good time to get back at an old enemy…or is it?  On August 3 Germany declared war on France (Russia’s ally).  It was time to try the Schlieffen plan

6. March Thru Belgium Oops…Belgium is a proclaimed neutral country and German troops marched through (without permission) on August 4.  This is one of the fatal flaws in the Schlieffen Plan because…

7. Britain Declares War on Germany  Angered by Germany’s invasion of Belgium’s neutrality, Britain took a stand and declared war against Germany on August 4, 1914.

This map shows European Alliances at the start of WWI - note that Italy did eventually declare neutrality and later joined the Allies. (Map from Wikicommon Images)

This map shows European Alliances at the start of WWI – note that Italy did eventually declare neutrality and later joined the Allies. (Map from Wikicommon Images)

Do you see how the web of alliance drew the European powers into a conflict that could have been regional? Here’s how the nations aligned for the war:

Central Powers: Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, Ottoman Empire (Turkey)

Allies: Britain, France, Russia, Serbia, Belgium, Romania, Japan, Portugal, Montenegro, Greece, and Italy

Note that Japan is an Asian country involved in the war and the United States will join later.  Also consider that many of the European powers had colonial empires from which they drafted armies and used resources and sometimes even fought in these territories.   The war is global.

So, how did the Schlieffen Plan turn out?  Well, the Belgians weren’t happy about their peaceful country getting invaded and fought defensively; they were ultimately defeated.  Fatigue and the need to send an army to Russia caused a change in the Plan, allowing the Allies to make a stand at the Marne River outside of Paris.  The Battle of the Marne (September 5-10, 1914) saved Paris from capture and the war locked into a stalemate on the Western Front, with both sides digging entrenchments.  Germany was surprised at how quickly Russia mobilized; it didn’t take six weeks.  This caused Germany to have to send troops to hold Russia back on the Eastern Front.

And there, in approximately 500 words, you have a simplified and condensed account of the start of World War I.  A spider-web of alliances set the stage and allowed a tragic assassination to trigger a war from local conflict.

According to Sir Isaac Newton, there is always an equal and opposite reaction to every action.  I think the start of WWI clearly exemplifies this statement in the political and military arenas.  What do you think?

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Now the world was at war…what new weaponry was tested or accepted during this conflict?  If you can think of some inventions that became widely used during World War I – leave a comment and we’ll discuss your answers next Friday.

 

 

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, historian, living history enthusiast, and historical fiction writer. When sharing history, I try to keep the facts interesting and understandable. History is about real people, real actions, real effects and it should inspire us today.
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5 Responses to Action & Reaction: How WWI Really Started

  1. greasethelandings:) says:

    THE AIRPLANE!!!!! You can’t miss that as new tech of WWI. Even today, we follow some of the same rules of air warfare that were developed in WWI. Mitchell began to formulate his ideas about an Air Force, and incredibly smart German pilots figured out how to fight 3D. Just my opinion, but this one is (hands down) the most important new tech.

    The tank also comes to mind. Though not exactly a stunning success in the first battles, the brave guys who tried it paved the way to better tanks

    The machine gun. Perhaps the one weapon the commanders didn’t think about enough. Maybe the stalemate could have been avoided if there were no machine guns. Maybe not. We’ll never know.

    A few more that seem to have appeared in this war: flamethrower, synchronized machine gun (for planes), and poison gas. I’m sure I’ll learn more about this next week. No doubt I’m leaving a few off; hence I’m not a historian 🙂

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