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European History


The Great War 1914–1918

Assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Serbian nationalists in 1914 triggers war between Serbia and Austria-Hungary; escalates to the Great War (World War I)

War spreads rapidly due to aggressive nationalism, complicated alliance system, German desire to avoid strategic encirclement:

  • Austria-Hungary, Germany, Ottoman Empire against

  • Russia (Serbian supporter), France, Britain

Western Front: French and British soldiers face Germans in unmoving line across northern France

  • 1914: Germany invades France through Belgium, following Schlieffen Plan; German attempt at quick victory fails

  • Fighting settles into muddy, demoralizing trench warfare

  • 1916: Battles at Verdun and the Somme but no decisive victories

Eastern Front: Germans and Austro-Hungarians fight Russians in moving war, devastating countryside

Balkans: British invasion of Ottoman Empire repelled at Gallipoli

War technology: Gas, machine guns, barbed wire, artillery, submarines, airplanes; both sides use propaganda, industry, workers (including women) to bolster war effort, mobilize home front

1917:Russia withdraws from war after losing ground and undergoing Russian Revolution; United States joins side of France and Britain, angered by Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare

1918:Germany admits defeat due to domestic upheaval, dwindling supplies; war leaves Europe economically ruined, disillusioned

Treaty of Versailles fails to resolve nationalist and ethnic problems in much of Europe, causes widespread discontentment; War Guilt Clause forces Germany to accept blame and payment for war