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Q6. Describe the Incidents Preceding the World War I?

The outbreak of the war was preceded by a series of incidents which added to the prevailing tension and ultimately led to the war. One of these was the clash over Morocco. In 1904 Britain and France had entered into a secret agreement according to which Britain was to have a free hand in Egypt, and France was to take over Morocco. The agreement became known to Germany and aroused her indignation. The German emperor went to Morocco and promised the Sultan of Morocco his full support for the independence of Morocco. The antagonism over Morocco, it appeared, would lead to a war but the war was averted when in 1911 France occupied most of Morocco and, in exchange, gave Germany a part of French Congo.


The other incidents which worsened the already dangerous situation in Europe occurred in the Balkans. In 1908 Austria annexed the Ottoman provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina. These provinces were also coveted by Serbia which had the backing of Russia in establishing a united Slav state in the Balkans. Russia threatened to start a war against Austrian annexation but Germany’s open support to Austria compelled Russia to retreat. The incident, however, not only embittered feelings in Serbia but also created further enmity between Russia and Germany.

The crisis resulting from the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina by Austria was followed by Balkan wars in 1912, four Balkan countries — Serbia, Bulgaria, Montenegro and Greece —started a war against the Turks. As a result of this war, Turkey lost almost all her possessions in Europe However, the Balkan countries fought another war over the question of distributing the former Turkish territory among them. Finally, Austria succeeded in making Albania, which had been claimed by Serbia, as an independent state. The frustration of Serbia’s ambitions further embittered her feelings against Austria. These incidents brought Europe on the verge of war.

The Outbreak of War: The war was precipitated by an incident which would not have created much stir if Europe had not stood divided into two hostile armed camps, preparing for war for many years On 28 june 1914 Archduke Francis Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary , was assassinated at Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia. (Bosnia, it may be recalled, had been annexed by Austria only a few years earlier.) Austria saw the hand of Serbia behind the assassination and served her with an ultimatum. Serbia refused to accept one of the demands of the ultimatum which went against the independence of Serbia.

The Course of the War: On 28 July 1914 Austria declared war on Serbia. Russia had promised full support to Serbia and started full scale preparations for war. On 1 August, Germany declared war on Russia and on 3 August on France. German troops marched into Belgium to press on to France on 4 August and on the same day Britain declared war on Germany.

Many other countries soon entered the war. Japan declared war on Germany with a view to capture German colonies in the Far East. Turkey and Bulgaria joined on the side of Germany. Italy, in spite of her membership of the Triple Alliance, remained neutral for some time, and joined the war against Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1915.

Germany had hoped that through a lightning strike through Belgium, it would be able to defeat France within a few weeks and then turn against Russia. The plan seemed to succeed for a while and the German troops were within 20 km of Paris. Russia had opened attacks on Germany and Austria and some German troops had to be diverted to the eastern front. Soon the German advance on France was halted and the war in Europe entered a long period of stalemate. In the meantime the war spread to many other parts of the world and battles were fought in West Asia, Africa and the Far East.

On the Western Front, which included eastern France and Belgium, the troops of the warring sides dug trenches and continued their raids on each other’s positions. For about four years, neither side could dislodge the other. The European countries made use of the troops recruited from their colonies in the war. Labor from colonies was also used to dig trenches in Europe. On the Eastern Front, Germany and Austria succeeded in repulsing the Russian attack and capturing parts of the Russian empire. They were also successful against Romania, Serbia and Italy.

Outside Europe, there were campaigns against the Ottoman empire in Palestine, Mesopotamia and Arabia and against Germany and Turkey in Iran where they were trying to establish their influence. Japan occupied German possessions in East Asia, and Britain and France seized most of the German colonies in Africa.

On 6 April 1917, the United States of America declared war on Germany. USA had become the main source of arms and other essential supplies for the Entente countries. In 1915, the German UBoats had sunk a British ship Lusitania. Among the passengers killed were 128 Americans. The Americans were generally sympathetic to Britain, and this incident further roused anti German feelings in USA. Economic considerations had turned them even more in favor of the Entente countries. These countries had raised vast amounts of loans in USA to pay for the arms and other goods bought by them. There was also a fear that if Germany won the war, it would become a serious rival to USA. The sinking of ships, including American ships carrying American citizens, by the German U-boats finally led USA to join the war.

Another major development that took place in 1917 was the withdrawal of Russia from the war after October Revolution. The Russian revolutionaries had opposed the war from the beginning and, under the leadership of Lenin, had decided to transform it into a revolutionary war to overthrow the Russian autocracy and to seize power.

After the German advance had been halted, a new type of warfare developed. The warring armies dug trenches from which they conducted raids on each other (Trench War). The kind of warfare that the armies were used to earlier — fighting in the open almost disappeared.


The Russian empire had suffered serious reverses in the war. Over 600,000 Russian soldiers had been killed. The day after the Bolshevik government came to power, it issued the Decree on Peace with proposals to end the war without any annexations and indemnities. Russia signed a peace treaty with Germany in March 1918. Realizing that the Russian government was not prepared to continue the war, Germany imposed terms which were very harsh. The Russian government accepted these terms. The Entente powers which were opposed to the revolution in Russia and to the Russian withdrawal from the war started their armed intervention in Russia in support of the elements which were opposed to the revolution. This led to a civil war which lasted for three years and ended with the defeat of foreign intervention and of those Russians who had taken up arms against the revolutionary government.

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