CHARLOTTE, NC. In a few weeks, the world will reflect upon the centennial anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I fighting between the Allies and Germany on land, sea, and air. At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 in Compiègne, France, Germany signed the document that would become a major victory for the Allies.
However, it was not a formal surrender by the Germans.
Earlier armistices had eliminated Bulgaria, the Ottoman Empire, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Despite this armistice, however, it took three additional negotiations until the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, taking effect on January 20, 1920.
For many Americans, World War II forms a clearer picture of global conflict than the First World War. Whether it’s because the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is a singular event that is easier for most us to understand. Or that German Chancellor Adolf Hitler was such an evil force to reckon with. Both events offering a clear evil that America needed to eradicate.
It may also be that WWII hostilities are more vividly ensconced in our minds because the timeline of history is more recent. The records and photos exist. That the evil that was eradicated was clear. For whatever reason, it seems that World War II, is more clearly defined for most of us than its older brother.
World War I
The catalyst for World War I was the June 28, 1914 Sarajevo assassination of Archduke Ferdinand by Bosnian Serb nationalists. Ferdinand was a member of the imperial Habsburg dynasty and the presumptive heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne.
Within a month, leaders of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, along with their powerful ally Germany declared war on the Kingdom of Serbia. Issuing an ultimatum to Serbia with a ridiculous set of demands the countries knew were unacceptable, the conflict erupted into a worldwide playground brawl that would rage for the next four years.
Like dominos, other countries quickly followed Germany and Austria-Hungary’s poorly devised efforts to contain the fighting locally.
In what has become known as the “July Crisis”, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. The declaration leading Serbia’s Slavic ally Russia to mobilize against Germany and its partner.
On August 1, Germany declared war on Russia and the Soviet ally, France. Three days later Britain joined the conflict against Germany after German troops violated Belgian neutrality.
In a matter of mere weeks, the world was at war.
As the conflict raged on both sides suffered major defeats until the opposing armies, now completely exhausted attempted to outflank each other time and again with no success in the “Race to the Sea.” In the end, the combatants left parallel lines of trenches behind them, ultimately reaching the North Sea in Flanders in Northern Belgium.
It was here the Germans made one desperate last attempt to break through the Allied lines at Ypres, which became the site of two additional major battles as the war progressed.
As 1914 drew to a close, the Ottoman Empire entered the war on the side of the Central Powers in November, extending the ferociously bloody gridlock even further. Perhaps the only positive event occurred on Christmas Eve of 1914. Troops on both sides of the fighting came to a truce. Albeit temporary. The enemies emerged from their sunken hovels to embrace, share food and drink. The singing of carols before resuming hostilities the following day is a frequently told story.
1915 – The road to Gallipoli
At the dawn of 1915, France and Britain tried to remove the Ottoman Empire from the war. They did this by flooding the Turkish straits with warships, followed by amphibious landings at Gallipoli. If the first maneuver was a disaster, the results at Gallipoli were even worse.
Italy, thinking the attack at Gallipoli would be a huge victory, ended a year of debate. Italy then joining the Allies in the fray by declaring war on Austria-Hungary. Almost immediately, the Italians found themselves bogged down in trench warfare as well.
Germany managed a backlash of world opinion in early 1915 when it introduced two weapons into the conflict. Using chlorine gas on Allied forces at the Second Battle of Ypres in the spring of the year, the results, though horrible, did not produce a breakthrough.
What it did do, however, was to establish a precedent for the remainder of the war. Both sides began using artillery bombardments as a means to strengthen their gas attacks.
The sinking of the Lusitania
Elsewhere, in May of 1915, Germany made a major mistake by mounting unrestricted U-boat warfare on the neutral sleeping giant, the United States. With the sinking of the Lusitania, a peaceful non-combat passenger ship, the action, much like Pearl Harbor, aroused the ire of the American public.
In 1916, some of the largest battles in history took place in Europe, starting with the German onslaught at Verdun in February. The German strategy was to bring France to submission by attrition. However, the tactic was a failure. In the end, Germany took almost as many casualties as France.
Later in the year, in June, General Alexei Brusilov orchestrated Russia’s most successful offensive of the war. By September, Brusilov’s efforts resulted in the near collapse of the Austro-Hungarian armies in Galicia. This causing Germany to reinforce its devastated lines with troops from other sections of the front.
It was here, however, that the Russian offensive faltered.
The Russian offense falters
As the fourth year of the war unfolded, a new layer of conflict came to the forefront – The Russian Revolution in March of 1917. Soviet workers and soldiers overthrew the Romanov Dynasty. An action leaving a new, but weak, Provisional Government in power.
That was the opening the leftist radicals, including Vladimir Lenin’s Bolsheviks, needed to overthrow the new government.
When Lenin succeeded in ousting the Provisional Government in November, he withdrew Russia from the war. Thus leaving a huge manpower gap for the Allies.
The void did not last long.
Mexico declares war on the U.S.
When Germany resumed unrestricted U-boat attacks, secretly encouraged Mexico to declare war on the U.S., President Woodrow Wilson had no choice. Following American public opinion, Truman found himself declaring war on Germany on April 4, 1917.
Signing the armistice on the 11th of November, 1918, this major conflict of the 20th century came to an end. An armistice that will be forefront in the weeks to come as we mark the 100th anniversary of the events that ended World War I.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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