The three underlying causes of the First World War are:



Alliance System

The assassination of the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, along with his wife, in Sarajevo, unleashed events that eventually led to the war=s outbreak.

1. National aspirations of many of Europe=s ethnic groups had not been met. While France existed for Frenchmen, and Germany and Italy had recently unified as political entities for Germans and Italians, many ethnic national desires went unmet. Most notable were the many ethnic groups still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Eastern Europeans, even those recently free of the Ottoman Turks, were dissatisfied. For example, though independent Rumania, Italy and Serbia existed on the map, thousands of ethnic Rumanians, Serbs, and Italians still lived inside the Dual Monarchy.

2. Europe was an armed camp in 1914. The Industrial Revolution had led to a revolution in military technology. If any nation did not wish to be caught asleep and defeated by a modernizing military which belonged to a potential enemy, it, too, had to modernize. The new Germany had greatly expanded its surface navy, and the Germans had perfected the military art, especially in the planning area, with their General Staff. The von Schlieffen Plan was a military plan designed by the German General Staff to fight a two front war against France and Russia. The plan, designed in 1905 by von Schlieffen, the head of the General Staff, called for German mobilization, a march through neutral Belgium to outflank the French border defenses, and a defeat of the French Army, followed by the transfer of German forces to the East. All had to be accomplished within eight weeks, in order to be ready to fight the Russian Army, which the General Staff assumed would need eight weeks to fully mobilize and deploy against the German Army.

3. Europe was divided largely into two camps in 1914 by the creation of alliances which committed nations to support others. The Germans had organized the Triple Alliance, with themselves, Austria Hungary, and Italy. In return, France, Russia, and Britain had organized the Tripe Entente to protect themselves. Other open or secret treaties existed with additional commitments, most notably Russian with Serbia, as the Russians saw themselves as the natural protector of the Slavic peoples of the Balkans.

With the assassination of the Archduke, Austria went looking for revenge against the Serbs, who they were quite sure had supported the assassination effort. Austria sought out Kaiser Wilhelm II, in hopes of gaining his support for their ultimatum issued to the Serbs. The kaiser, in the so-called Ablank check@ promised to back the actions of the Austrians. Thus once Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, the Russians followed their interests by allying with Serbia against the Austrians. The Triple Alliance required Germany to support Austria against the Russians. Thus, once the Russians mobilized to support the Serbs, German war plans called for the von Schlieffen Plan to begin. Germany could not risk waiting and hoping cooler heads would prevail, for once Russian mobilization began, the clock began to work against ultimate German success. The General Staff issued to appropriate orders and began to move against France, which was sure to support Russia. The outbreak of war was thus assured.

Miracle of the Marne - First Battle of the Marne, September, 1914.  The German advance on Paris was halted, thanks to the efforts of the 'taxicab army.'  Trench warfare soon settled in on all fronts.
General Staff - German military organization which processed war planning
'No Man's Land' - land between the trenches
Compiegne - site where armistice was signed on November 11, 1918
Armistice Day - November 11, 1918, now celebrated in USA as Veterans Day
Western Front - the battlefield in France
Verdun and the Somme - two lengthy battles in 1916 which symbolize the destructiveness of the entire war
Exclusion Zone - areas around France and the British Isles where Germans threatened to sink neutral vessels using submarines
Black Hand - Serbian supported terrorist group which assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand
Blank Check - Germany's go ahead to Austria-Hungary to seek retaliation against Serbia for its support of the Black Hand
Von Schlieffen Plan -  German military plan to fight (and win) a two front war against France and Russia simultaneously; required German Army to march through Belgium to outflank French Army defending French-German frontier

Power Point Presentation: World War I (Best to view in Internet Explorer 4.X or higher)


Coffin and Stacey, Western Civilizations.  Text chapter 24.


The Ablank check@ unrestricted submarine warfare Zimmermann Telegram Mobilization Von Schlieffen Plan

Taxicab Army Miracle of the Marne Meuse-Argonne trench warfare no man=s land poison gas rifled artillery Triple Alliance Triple Entente Central Powers The Allies Hindenburg and Ludendorff Armistice Day Compiegne Western Front Exclusion Zone Verdun The Somme Fourteen Points Treaty of Brest-Litovsk


Who was the commander of the American Expeditionary Force?

What was the effective immediate cause of American entry into World War I?

What was the major American military engagement on the Western Front?

What was the AMiracle of the Marne?@

What was the Ludendorff Offensive?


Martin Gilbert, The First World War.

Niall Ferguson, The Pity of War.

Robert Graves, Goodbye to All That.

Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front.

Fritz Fischer, Germany=s Aims in the First World War.

Joachim Remak, The Origins of the First World War.

Barabara Tuchman, The Guns of August.

Lyn McDonald, The Somme.