World War I Breaks Out
War Breaks Out
World War I—called simply “the Great War” at the time, since no one knew that there would later be a World War II—was a conflict over territory. Both Serbia and Austria-Hungary claimed the right to control the tiny kingdom of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Austria annexed the territory in 1908, provoking Serbian anger and vows of revenge.
In June of 1914, as Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Archduchess Sophie of Austria-Hungary rode through the streets of Bosnia’s capital, Sarajevo, in an open car, a Serbian nationalist named Gavrilo Princip shot and killed them both. Many historians believe that if Austria had invaded Serbia immediately, the war would have been between these two nations only and would have been concluded quickly. However, while Austria hesitated, Russia began to mobilize its army in preparation for the defense of its fellow Slav nation Serbia. Germany considered this mobilization a serious threat of war and promptly came to Austria’s defense by declaring war on Serbia.
The German military had long assumed that it would one day have to fight a war against France and Russia and had worked out a war plan, known as the Schlieffen Plan after the officer who designed it. The Schlieffen Plan called for an immediate march on France through Belgium, which stood between their borders. The German army would then march south, capture the capital city of Paris, and thus sew up a quick victory on the Western Front before the Russians had time to muster an attack on Germany from the east.
However, the army did not proceed according to the Schlieffen Plan. Due to disagreements among the commanding officers, the army turned aside before reaching Paris and met the French army on the Marne River. When the French unexpectedly won the Battle of the Marne, the Germans changed their plans; the Western Front would now become a setting for trench warfare. By this time, Britain had declared war on Germany.
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