World War I: An Overview
In the years before the First World War, the Balkans were attempting to gain independence from the Hapsburg Empire of Austria. So, the Balkans were a conglomeration of city-states on the Balkan Peninsula.
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And so, different city-states within the Balkans or that resided geographically on the Balkan Peninsula didn’t like being a part of the Austrian empire, and so, they were trying to gain their independence from Austria.
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The insurrection from this independence movement culminated in the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 by Gavrilo Princip, a member of a Serbian nationalist group.
So, the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was in line for the throne, he was an heir to the throne. And so, since the Serbian nationalist group, Serbia being one of these Balkan city-states, had sent a member of their group to assassinate this Austrian Archduke, there was a big problem here. And at this point, a chain reaction of war declarations spurred by the comprehensive alliances of the time ensued. So, because lots of different nations in Europe at this time had formed alliances when one country declared war, other countries in their alliance were supposed to back them up. So, obviously, Austria was going to declare war against Serbia, because Serbia had sent one of its members to assassinate the Austrian heir.
Then, Germany and Turkey joined with the Austrians. Germany and Austria had been in the Triple Alliance together, therefore, Germany was supposed to back up Austria, and it did. And Turkey also joined with them. Russia declared war on these countries in support of Serbia. So, Russia agreed and said, “Yes, you should be independent. We’re going to back you up against the Austrians.” France joined with Russia because France, Russia, and Britain had been in the Triple Entente alliance together. And Britain and Italy joined with France, even though Italy had been a member of the Triple Alliance. Originally, Italy, Germany, and Austria were the members of the Triple Alliance, the larger powers of Europe that were members of the Triple Alliance, but Italy backed out on that alliance and instead sided with the Triple Entente group.
Despite the fact that almost every nation in Europe had entered into this war, most Europeans thought the conflict would be brief. They figured, “Okay, we’ve all backed up the people we’re supposed to back up, now this war is just going to end quickly and things will go back to normal.” But that’s not what happened. Instead, advances in weapons technology made the war bloody and excruciatingly slow. Much of the fighting was done from trenches.
So, the soldiers would hide in trenches until they could make a move forward, or until they could perform some kind of military maneuver to get some ground. But a lot of the time, they were hiding in their trenches, waiting. And some battles saw the deaths of thousands of soldiers at one time. So, this did become a very bloody war.
The war was also slow because the sides were very evenly matched. Large countries had come to back up both Austria and Serbia, which meant that the sides ended up being evenly matched by the size of the countries, the availability of troops and supplies. And so, being evenly matched, it made it harder for you to just instantly win. You weren’t going to win quickly if the sides were evenly matched. If no one had declared war with Austria, if Germany and Turkey hadn’t backed them up, and had instead backed up Serbia, then Austria would have been all alone against almost every other European nation, and they would’ve lost quickly.
But since large countries had come to both of these smaller countries’ defenses, now they’re pretty evenly matched. At least until 1917, when the United States entered on the side of Britain, which means they would’ve been backing up Serbia as well, but really, they were there because Britain was there, and they had another kind of alliance of their own, where the United States said, “Okay, I’ll help you Britain.” They weren’t necessarily saying, “I’m going to help Serbia.” But in the chain reaction of countries declaring war, that is what they were doing. Also in 1917, the Russians exited the war via the Brest-Litovsk Treaty. And Russia was basically exhausted after suffering through a revolution in 1917, in which the Bolsheviks came to power. So, Russia wasn’t trying to bail on Serbia after declaring their support, they just were exhausted. They didn’t have the troops, they didn’t have the supplies, they were already messed up internally because they had had this internal revolution, and so, they signed a treaty all on their own and backed out of World War I.
And the entry of the United States provided the British and French with supplies, so where things may have been running low, where some of these other countries – Germany, Turkey, Austria – may have blocked off supply lines to the countries on Serbia’s side, now the United States was bringing in fresh supplies for Britain and France. And troops, they sent over troops as well. So, where thousands had died, now the Serbian side was getting more troops, where the Austrian side didn’t have any new troops coming forward. And Germany was soon forced to call a truce, and even though it was Austria and Serbia that had originally started this war, Germany was the biggest country in power over on the Austrian side, so it came to Germany to call a truce, because once that biggest country decided they were going to end up calling a truce and backing down, the other countries would have to do the same.