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The First Great War (FGW) was a global war centered mostly in Europe, along with the Second Mexican-American War on the North American continent, which began on the 4th of August 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918. It was predominantly called the Great War or the World War from its occurrence until the start of Second Great War (World War II) in 1938, and the First Great War or World War I thereafter. It involved all the world's great powers, which were assembled in two opposing alliances: the Allies, based on the Triple Entente of the United States, France and Russia, (with the United Kingdom entering the war as an independent actor) and the Central Powers (originally the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Mexico; (but, as Austria–Hungary had taken the offensive against the agreement and with Romania's entering of the war the name changed.) These alliances both reorganised and expanded as more nations entered the war. Ultimately, more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, were mobilised in one of the largest wars in history. More than 9 million combatants were killed, largely because of technological advancements that led to enormous increases in the lethality of weapons without corresponding improvements in protection or mobility. It was the sixth-deadliest conflict in world history, subsequently paving the way for various political changes, such as revolutions in many of the nations involved.
In the 19th century, the major European powers had gone to great lengths to maintain a balance of power throughout Europe, resulting in the existence of a complex network of political and military alliances throughout the continent by 1900. These had started in 1815, with the Holy Alliance between Prussia, Russia, and Austria. Then, in October 1873, German Chancellor Bismarck negotiated the League of the Three Emperors (German: Dreikaiserbund) between the monarchs of Austria–Hungary, Russia and Germany. This agreement failed because Austria–Hungary and Russia could not agree over Balkan policy, leaving Germany and Austria–Hungary in an alliance formed in 1879, called the Dual Alliance. This was seen as a method of countering Russian influence in the Balkans as the Ottoman Empire continued to weaken. Starting in 1881, Russia began to go through major political changes within the government set off by another failed assassination attempt on Tsar Alexander II, which resulted in Russia becoming a constitutional monarchy by 1883. These changes further weakened relations between the Germanic nations and Russia, forcing the large country to look for new partners, which lead to closer relations with the United States. The German shelling of villages in Samoa and the subsequent stand off between the navies of Germany, the United States, and later Russia (Who's government offered support to the American side) lead the German Empire to open relations with Mexico.
After 1893, a European conflict was averted largely by a Russo-French military alliance and careful dimlomacy between the German Empire and the remainder of Europe orchestrated by Bismarck. He especially worked to hold Russia at bay as to avoid a two-front war with France. On the North American continent on the other hand, the situation began to grow more tense as Germany continued to invest heavily in Mexico's industry and economy. Flooded with prospects the Mexican government began to invest in their military and war industries, out right planning to over take the United States as a military power.In 1904, the United Kingdom signed a series of agreements with France, the Entente Cordiale, and in 1906 Mexico joined the Dual Alliance which officially changed it into the Triple Alliance, the United States signed into the French-Russian Alliance to counter Mexico a few months later, the system of interlocking bilateral agreements became known as the Triple Entente.
Meanwhile, Germany's industrial and economic power had grown greatly after unification and the foundation of the Empire in 1871. Thus, by the mid-1890s Wilhelm II used this base to devote significant economic resources for building up the Kaiserliche Marine (Imperial German Navy), established by Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, in rivalry with the British Royal Navy for world naval supremacy. As a result, each nation strove to out-build the other in terms of capital ships. With the launch of HMS Dreadnought in 1906, the British Empire expanded on its significant advantage over its German rival. The arms race between Britain and Germany eventually extended to the rest of Europe and later to the North American continent with all the major powers devoting their industrial base to producing the equipment and weapons necessary for a full out continental war.
Outbreak of WarOn 28 June 1914, Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb student and member of Young Bosnia, assassinated the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo, Bosnia. This began a month of diplomatic maneuvering between Austria-Hungary, Germany, Russia, France, and Britain called the July Crisis. Wanting to finally end Serbian interference in Bosnia, Austria-Hungary delivered the July Ultimatum to Serbia, a series of ten demands intentionally made unacceptable, intending to provoke a war with Serbia.When Serbia agreed to only eight of the ten demands, Austria-Hungary declared war on 28 July 1914
The Russian Empire, unwilling to allow Austria–Hungary to eliminate its influence in the Balkans, and in support of its longtime Serb protégés, ordered a partial mobilisation one day later. The German Empire mobilized on 30 July 1914, ready to apply the "Schlieffen Plan", which planned a quick, massive invasion of France to eliminate the French army, then to turn east against Russia. The French cabinet resisted military pressure to commence immediate mobilisation, and ordered its troops to withdraw 10 km from the border to avoid any incident. France only mobilized on the evening of 2 August, when Germany invaded Belgium and attacked French troops. Germany declared war on Russia on the same day. The United Kingdom declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914, following an "unsatisfactory reply" to the British ultimatum that Belgium must be kept neutral.
Austria invaded and fought the Serbian army at the Battle of Cer and Battle of Kolubara beginning on 12 August. Over the next two weeks, Austrian attacks were thrown back with heavy losses, which marked the first major Allied victories of the war and dashed Austro-Hungarian hopes of a swift victory. As a result, Austria had to keep sizable forces on the Serbian front, weakening its efforts against Russia. Serbia’s defeat of the Austro-Hungarian invasion of 1914 counts among the major upset victories of the last century.
At the outbreak of the First World War, the German army (consisting in the West of seven field armies) carried out a modified version of the Schlieffen Plan. This marched German armies through neutral Belgium and into France, before turning southwards to encircle the French army on the German border. Since France had declared that it would "keep full freedom of acting in case of a war between Germany and Russia", Germany had to expect the possibility of an attack by France on one front and by Russia on the other. To meet such a scenario, the Schlieffen Plan stated that Germany must try to defeat France quickly (as had happened in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71). It further suggested that to repeat a fast victory in the west, Germany should not attack through the difficult terrain of Alsace-Lorraine (which had a direct border west of the river Rhine), instead, the idea was to try to quickly cut Paris off from the English Channel and British assistance, and take Paris, thus winning the war. Then the armies would be moved over to the east to meet Russia. Russia was believed to need a long period of mobilization before they could become a real threat to the Central Powers.
The only existing German plan for a two-front war had German armies marching through Belgium. Germany wanted free escort through Belgium (and originally Holland as well, which plan Kaiser Wilhelm II rejected) to invade France. Neutral Belgium rejected this idea, so the Germans decided to invade through Belgium instead. France also wanted to move their troops into Belgium, but Belgium originally rejected this "suggestion" as well, in the hope of avoiding any war on Belgian soil. In the end, after the German invasion, Belgium did try to join their army with the French (but a large part of the Belgian army retreated to Antwerp where they were forced to surrender when all hope of help was gone).
The plan called for the right flank of the German advance to bypass the French armies (which were concentrated on the Franco-German border, leaving the Belgian border without significant French forces) and move south to Paris. Initially the Germans were successful, particularly in the Battle of the Frontiers (14–24 August). By 12 September, the French, with assistance from the British forces, halted the German advance east of Paris at the First Battle of the Marne (5–12 September), and pushed the German forces back some 50 km. The last days of this battle signified the end of mobile warfare in the west. The French offensive into Southern Alsace, launched on 20 August with the Battle of Mulhouse, had limited success.
The Eastern Front
In the east, the Russians invaded with two armies, surprising the German staff who had not expected the Russians to move so early. A field army, the 8th, was rapidly moved from its previous role as reserve for the invasion of France, to East Prussia by rail across the German Empire. This army, led by general Paul von Hindenburg defeated Russia in a series of battles collectively known as the First Battle of Tannenberg (17 August – 2 September). But the failed Russian invasion, causing the fresh German troops to move to the east, allowed the tactical Allied victory at the First Battle of the Marne. The Central Powers were denied a quick victory in France and forced to fight a war on two fronts. The German army had fought its way into a good defensive position inside France and had permanently incapacitated 230,000 more French and British troops than it had lost itself. Despite this, communications problems and questionable command decisions cost Germany the chance of early victory.
The Mexican FrontAcross the Atlantic, the Second Mexican-American War, also known as the Mexican Front, began on August 4,1914. The initial fighting began purely out of allegeances to the various sides, and had very little real merit. Yet, militarily, the Americans had numerical superiority, along with a slight technological advantage as well. Unfortunately, these advantages were lost, not only because of the difficult terrain in which fighting took place, but also because of the strategies and tactics employed. General John Joseph Pershing, a proponent of the frontal assault, had planned of breaking into the Mexican territories, taking vast tracks of land with his infantry and breaking the Mexican army's will to fight. Pershing's plan did not take into account the difficulties of the rugged desert terrain, or the technological changes that the dry climate would bring. Thus, even as the American forces were able to push deep into Mexican territory they were repelled by the troops of General José Arámbula, who, once given weapons and support by German U-boats quickly turned their knowledge of the country against the invaders. In the end, very soon, the Mexican Armies were not only able to push the Americans out of Mexico, they were able to push forward into American territory as well.
The sudden turn of fortune destroyed the moralle of the troops, and the public, both of which had expected a series of victories against their smaller southern neighbor. Afraid to loose face, the Supreme Command of the Mexican Front ordered a new invasion, this time in Baja, General Frederick Funston was given command of the expedition. What would come about ended up being the most embarrassing, deadly, and costly move in the war.
Still hoping to score a land grab from the Mexicans the American army launch a major attack on Baja California. Despite heavy losses, Mexican troops fend off the attack and the Americans do not break through. During the battle, the Americans send waves of inexperienced 17 to 20-year-old volunteer soldiers, some fresh out of school. They advance shoulder-to-shoulder while singing patriotic songs only to be systematically gunned down by rapid fire. When news of the massacre reached the American press, it spread like wild fire, despite censorship, the fall out was disastrous. Not only was the army, government and Funston disgraced, the American public, already straining under harsh war time conditions, began to question the need for the war itself. In most major cities around the country anti-war protests which called for the end of the bloodshed filled the streets. In Washington, more than 12,000 people converged on the Capital Building in an attempt to "Wake Congress and stop the War!" By the end of the month, the First Battle of Baja had come to an end with 250,000 dead, 450,000 wounded, General Funston himself could not live with himself and committed suicide in his battle tent. It is here that many historians feel was the final turning point against the United States in the Great War.