In all, 32 nations were listed as combatants in World War I - some in name only, however. Germany's military and technological might enabled the Central Powers* to fight on nearly even terms for four years.* NOTE: The Central Powers are indicated by the shaded areas in the table below.
|Austria-Hungary||July 28, 1914||Declared war on Serbia|
|August 5, 1914||Declared war on Russia|
|August 28, 1914||Declared war on Belgium|
|March 15, 1916||Declared war on Portugal|
|Belgium||August 3-4, 1914||Invaded by Germany|
|Bolivia||April 13, 1917||Broke relations with Germany|
|Brazil||April 11, 1917||Broke relations with Germany|
|October 26, 1917||Declared war on Germany|
|Bulgaria||October 14, 1915||Declared war on Serbia|
|September 1, 1916||Declared war on Romania|
|China||March 14, 1917||Broke relations with German|
|August 14, 1917||Declared war on Germany|
|August 14, 1917||Declared war on Austria-Hungary|
|Costa Rica||September 21, 1917||Broke relations with Germany|
|May 23, 1918||Declared war on Germany|
|Cuba||April 7, 1917||Declared war on Germany|
|Ecuador||December 8, 1917||Broke relations with Germany|
|France||August 12, 1914||Declared war on Austria-Hungary|
|August 23, 1914||Invaded by Germany|
|November 5, 1914||Declared war on Turkey|
|October 16, 1915||Declared war on Bulgaria|
|Germany||August 1, 1914||Declared war on Russia|
|August 3, 1914||Declared war on France|
|August 4, 1914||Declared war on Belgium|
|March 9, 1916||Declared war on Portugal|
|Great Britain||August 4, 1914||Declared war on Germany|
|August 12, 1914||Declared war on Austria-Hungary|
|November 5, 1914||Declared war on Turkey|
|October 15, 1915||Declared war on Bulgaria|
|Greece||June 27, 1917||Declared war on Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, Germany and Turkey|
|Guatemala||April 23, 1918||Declared war on Germany|
|Haiti||July 12, 1918||Declared war on Germany|
|Honduras||July 19, 1918||Declared war on Germany|
|Italy||May 23, 1915||Declared war on Austria-Hungary|
|August 21, 1915||Declared war on Turkey|
|October 19, 1915||Declared war on Bulgaria|
|August 28, 1916||Declared war on Germany|
|Japan||August 23, 1914||Declared war on Germany|
|August 25, 1914||Declared war on Austria-Hungary|
|Liberia||August 4, 1914||Declared war on Germany|
|Montenegro||August 5, 1914||Declared war on Austria-Hungary|
|August 8, 1914||Declared war on Germany|
|October 15, 1915||Declared war on Bulgaria|
|Nicaragua||May 8, 1918||Declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary|
|Panama||April 7, 1917||Declared war on Germany|
|December 10, 1917||Declared war on Austria-Hungary|
|Peru||October 6, 1917||Broke relations with Germany|
|Portugal||March 9, 1916||Object of German war declaration|
|March 15, 1916||Object of Austro-Hungarian war declaration|
|Romania||August 27, 1916||Declared war on Austria-Hungary|
|May 7, 1918||Surrendered to Central Powers (Treaty of Bucharest)|
|November 10, 1918||Resumed hostilities against Central Powers|
|Russia||November 2, 1914||Declared war on Turkey|
|October 19, 1915||Declared war on Bulgaria|
|San Marino||June 3, 1915||Declared war on Austria-Hungary|
|Serbia||August 6, 1914||Declared war on Germany|
|November 2, 1914||Declared war on Turkey|
|Siam||July 22, 1917||Declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary|
|Turkey||August 30, 1916||Declared war on Romania|
|April 23, 1917||Broke relations with the US|
|United States||April 6, 1917||Declared war on Germany|
|December 7, 1917||Declared war on Austria-Hungary|
|Uruguay||October 7, 1917||Broke relations with Germany|
See also World War I Timeline.
U.S. Participation in the Great War (World War I)
War broke out in Europe in the summer of 1914, with the Central Powers led by Germany and Austria-Hungary on one side and the Allied countries led by Britain, France, and Russia on the other. At the start of the war, President Woodrow Wilson declared that the United States would be neutral. However, that neutrality was tested and fiercely debated in the U.S.
Submarine warfare in the Atlantic kept tensions high, and Germany&rsquos sinking of the British ocean liner Lusitania on May 7, 1915, killed more than 120 U.S. citizens and provoked outrage in the U.S. In 1917, Germany&rsquos attacks on American ships and its attempts to meddle in U.S.-Mexican relations drew the U.S. into the war on the side of the Allies. The United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917.
Within a few months, thousands of U.S. men were being drafted into the military and sent to intensive training. Women, even many who had never worked outside the home before, took jobs in factories producing supplies needed for the war effort, as well as serving in ambulance corps and the American Red Cross at home and abroad. Children were enlisted to sell war bonds and plant victory gardens in support of the war effort.
The United States sent more than a million troops to Europe, where they encountered a war unlike any other—one waged in trenches and in the air, and one marked by the rise of such military technologies as the tank, the field telephone, and poison gas. At the same time, the war shaped the culture of the U.S. After an Armistice agreement ended the fighting on November 11, 1918, the postwar years saw a wave of civil rights activism for equal rights for African Americans, the passage of an amendment securing women&rsquos right to vote, and a larger role in world affairs for the United States.
As you explore the primary sources in this group, look for evidence of the different roles U.S. citizens played in the war effort, as well as the effects of the war on the people of the United States.
To find additional sources, visit the Library of Congress World War I page. You can also search the Library&rsquos online collections using terms including World War I or Great War, or look for specific subjects or names, such as Woodrow Wilson, doughboys, trench warfare, or &ldquoOver There.&rdquo
To analyze primary sources like these, use the Library&rsquos Primary Source Analysis Tool.
World War I Participants - History
The German Army Marches Through Brussels, 1914
"This was a machine, endless, tireless, with the delicate organization of a watch and the brute power of a steam roller."
The Beginning of Air Warfare, 1914
"Have you got a revolver, old boy? My ammunition's all gone." The beginning of air-to-air combat.
Christmas in the Trenches, 1914
"We and the Germans met in the middle of no-man's-land." A spontaneous truce takes over the front lines during the first Christmas of World War I on the Western Front.
Battle At Gallipoli, 1915
". . . Had a good supper and nearly finished our water. The last meal poor Jack ever had." The futile attempt to open a new front and relieve the stalemate in France.
The Birth of the Fighter Plane, 1915
"I thought of what a deadly accurate stream of lead I could send into the plane." The Dutch inventor of the modern fighter plane takes it on its first trial run in combat.
The Sinking of the Lusitania, 1915
"Many people must have lost their heads. " View the destruction of the Lusitania through the periscope of the submarine that sank her.
The Battle of Jutland, 1916
". then came the big explosion." On board the battle cruiser Queen Mary as she is sunk during World War I's largest naval battle.
A Death at the Battle of the Somme, 1916
He was young, an American, and a poet and he joined the French Foreign Legion to defend the country he loved.
In the American Ambulance Field Service, 1916
"Just overhead as the car passes comes a blasting, shattering crash which is like sudden death." Ride with the volunteer crew of an American ambulance as it heads for the French front lines before America's entrance into WWI.
The Battlefield Debut of the Tank, 1916
". lumbering slowly towards us came three huge mechanical monsters such as we had never seen before."
U-boat Attack, 1916
"I saw that the bubble-track of the torpedo had been discovered on the bridge of the steamer." Aboard a German submarine as it attacks and sinks a cargo vessel in World War I.
"He sank to the ground, clutching at his throat, and after a few spasmodic twistings, went West." In the trenches as the Germans launch the newest innovation in weapons of mass destruction - gas
Death of a Zeppelin, 1916
"I saw high in the sky a concentrated blaze of searchlights, and in its centre a ruddy glow which rapidly spread into the outline of a blazing airship." The terror of the night skies is shot down over London.
The "Red Baron" Scores Two Victories, 1917
"He paid for his stupidity with his life." Manfred von Richthofen, World War I's highest scoring air ace, describes a day in combat.
America Declares War on Germany, 1917
"What else can I do?" The dilemma over how to maintain a balance between individual liberty and national security in a time of war is nothing new in American history. President Wilson faced the same problem as he prepared to ask Congress to declare war with Germany.
"When the torpedo struck, there was no mistaking it for anything else." A passenger describes the attack and sinking of his ship by a German submarine.
The Execution of Mata Hari, 1917
"Must I wear that?" she asked as the blindfold was shown to her. World War One's most famous spy meets her end.
Death Of An Air Ace, 1918
Major Raoul Lufbery, one of America's greatest aces, meets a fiery death in air combat.
The Beginning of the End of World War I, 1918
"These thirteen Americans performed a feat never to be forgotten." Four years of stagnation on the Western Front ends as the Germans gamble on a massive offensive on the Western Front and American doughboys enter the fray.
Lawrence of Arabia, 1918
Attack on a Turkish column - "Take no prisoners!"
Armistice - The End of World War I, 1918
". at the front there was no celebration." At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month the guns fell silent and the Great War came to an end.
Signing the Treaty of Versailles, 1919
"Through the few open windows comes the sound of distant crowds cheering hoarsely." The curtain falls on the "War to End all Wars."
The Unknown Soldier Comes Home, 1921
[Sergeant Younger] "circled the caskets three times, then silently placed the flowers on the third casket from the left." America's Unknown Soldier is selected in France.
The Brutal Realities of World War I
This reading is available in several formats. Choose the version you wish to read using the dropdown below.
In August 1914, both sides expected a quick victory. Neither leaders nor civilians from warring nations were prepared for the length and brutality of the war, which took the lives of millions by its end in 1918. The loss of life was greater than in any previous war in history, in part because militaries were using new technologies, including tanks, airplanes, submarines, machine guns, modern artillery, flamethrowers, and poison gas.
The map below shows the farthest advances of Axis and Allied forces on the fronts to the west, east, and south of Germany and Austria-Hungary. Most of the war's major battles took place between those lines of farthest advance on each front. Germany’s initial goal was to knock the French out of the war by occupying Belgium and then quickly march into France and capture Paris, its capital. German troops could then concentrate on the war in the east. That plan failed, and by the end of 1914, the two sides were at a stalemate. Before long, they faced each other across a 175-mile-long line of trenches that ran from the English Channel to the Swiss border. These trenches came to symbolize a new kind of warfare. A young officer named Harold Macmillan (who later became prime minister of Britain) explained in a letter home:
Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about the modern battlefield is the desolation and emptiness of it all. . . . Nothing is to be seen of war or soldiers—only the split and shattered trees and the burst of an occasional shell reveal anything of the truth. One can look for miles and see no human being. But in those miles of country lurk (like moles or rats, it seems) thousands, even hundreds of thousands of men, planning against each other perpetually some new device of death. Never showing themselves, they launch at each other bullet, bomb, aerial torpedo, and shell. And somewhere too . . . are the little cylinders of gas, waiting only for the moment to spit forth their nauseous and destroying fumes. And yet the landscape shows nothing of all this—nothing but a few shattered trees and 3 or 4 thin lines of earth and sandbags these and the ruins of towns and villages are the only signs of war anywhere.
The glamour of red coats—the martial tunes of fife and drum—aide-de-camps scurrying hither and thither on splendid chargers—lances glittering and swords flashing—how different the old wars must have been. The thrill of battle comes now only once or twice in a [year]. We need not so much the gallantry of our fathers we need (and in our Army at any rate I think you will find it) that indomitable and patient determination which has saved England over and over again. 1
World War I was fought between the Central powers and the Allied powers simultaneously on several fronts in western Europe, eastern Europe, and the Middle East. See full-sized image for analysis.
The area between the opposing armies’ trenches was known as “No Man's Land” for good reason. Fifty years after the war, Richard Tobin, who served with Britain’s Royal Naval Division, recalled how he and his fellow soldiers entered No Man’s Land as they tried to break through the enemy’s line. “As soon as you got over the top,” he told an interviewer, “fear has left you and it is terror. You don’t look, you see. You don’t hear, you listen. Your nose is filled with fumes and death. You taste the top of your mouth. . . . You’re hunted back to the jungle. The veneer of civilization has dropped away.” 2
Unlike the war on Germany’s western front, the war on the eastern front was a war of rapid movement. Armies repeatedly crisscrossed the same territories. Civilians were frequently caught in the crossfire, and millions were evacuated from their homes and expelled from territories as armies approached. On both sides of the conflict, many came to believe that what they were experiencing was not war but “mass slaughter.” A private in the British army explained, “If you go forward, you’ll likely be shot, if you go back you’ll be court-martialed and shot, so what the hell do you do? What can you do? You just go forward.” 3
The carnage was incomprehensible to everyone, as millions of soldiers and civilians alike died. Historian Martin Gilbert details the loss of life:
More than nine million soldiers, sailors and airmen were killed in the First World War. A further five million civilians are estimated to have perished under occupation, bombardment, hunger and disease. The mass murder of Armenians in 1915 [see reading, Genocide Under the Cover of War], and the [Spanish] influenza epidemic that began while the war was still being fought, were two of its destructive by-products. The flight of Serbs from Serbia at the end of 1915 was another cruel episode in which civilians perished in large numbers so too was the Allied naval blockade of Germany, as a result of which more than three-quarters of a million German civilians died. 4
The chart below provides estimates of the number of soldiers killed, wounded, and reported missing during World War I. Exact numbers are often disputed and are nearly impossible to determine for a variety of reasons. Different countries used different methods to count their dead and injured, and some methods were more reliable than others. Records of some countries were destroyed during the war and its aftermath. Also, some countries may have changed the number of casualties in their official records for political reasons. The numbers of civilians from each country killed during the war are even more difficult to estimate. The numbers in the chart reflect the estimates made by most historians today (see reading, Negotiating Peace in Chapter 3).
Who was involved in the First World War? Who was on each side?
Which countries fought in WW1, what side was Germany on and when did America join the fight?
This competition is now closed
Published: March 5, 2019 at 11:00 am
Before 1914 the Great Powers were in two big alliance blocs: the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy) and the Triple Entente (France, Russia and Britain).
Read more about the First World War here, including:
The war extended and changed these two sides. Germany and its allies were known as the Central Powers: Germany and Austria-Hungary, later joined by the Ottoman Empire (Turkey plus the Middle East) and Bulgaria. The war quickly involved countries not part of the Triple Entente, so the opposing side was known as the Allies: Serbia, Russia, France and its Empire, Belgium, Montenegro and Britain and its Empire, including self-governing colonies like Canada and Australia.
Italy changed sides and joined the Allies in 1915. Other Allied nations included Portugal, Japan, Greece, Romania, China and, towards the end of the war, various South American countries, including Brazil and Peru.
The United States fought alongside the Allies from 1917, but as an ‘Associated Power’ with no formal military alliance.
Seán Lang is a senior lecturer in history at Anglia Ruskin University, and the author of First World War for Dummies.
To read more about the First World War, click here.
This answer was first published by History Extra in January 2016
A Black Delawarean at War: One Soldier’s Experience
William Henry Furrowh’s portrait
William Henry Furrowh of Wilmington was drafted into the U.S. Army on Aug. 1, 1918. Like so many African Americans who served during World War I, he was assigned to a segregated labor unit in the American Expeditionary Forces that had joined the British and French troops along the Western Front in France. To record his military experiences, Furrowh wrote brief notations in his diary. His unit sailed for France on Sept. 20, 1918 from the military port in Hoboken, N.J., and arrived in Brest, France on Oct. 1, 1918. He noted that one of his first duties with the Depot Labor Company #23 was to unload flour at the Navy yard.
While serving in France, Furrowh dealt with his feelings of homesickness by writing and sending postcards to his mother, relatives and friends. On special occasions and birthdays, he also mailed beautiful, silk-embroidered greeting cards of a type sold to soldiers. He traveled to several other towns before starting his new military duty on Nov. 2, 1918 at the American ordnance repair shop in Mehun-sur-Yèvre, located in central France. Furrowh’s skilled vocation in the Army was as a pipefitter. After 11 months of service, he returned to the United States and received an honorable discharge at Camp Dix, N.J. on July 24, 1919. In August 1919, he was issued a bronze victory lapel-button for his service.
He traveled to several other towns before starting his new military duty on Nov. 2, 1918 at the American ordnance repair shop in Mehun-sur-Yèvre, located in central France. Furrowh’s skilled vocation in the Army was as a pipefitter. After 11 months of service, he returned to the United States and received an honorable discharge at Camp Dix, N.J. on July 24, 1919. In August 1919, he was issued a bronze victory lapel-button for his service.
The Start of World War 1: The Outbreak of the Great War
The following article is an excerpt from H.W Crocker III’s The Yanks Are Coming! A Military History of the United States in World War I. It is available for order now from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
When Sir Edward Grey, Britain’s foreign secretary, received word that Germany had declared war on France, he was watching the street lamps being lit below his office window. He remarked to a friend, “The lamps are going out all over Europe we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” In the United States, the lamps would continue to burn brightly, and they would be lit again in Europe, but only after the New World came to redress the balance in the Old.
To reach France, Germany overran Belgium. But Belgium was more than overrun, it was terrorized. While propagandists exaggerated German atrocities in Belgium, the reality was striking enough. The Germans razed Belgian villages and executed villagers—men, women, and children, eventually numbering into the thousands—en masse. Priests, as authority figures and potential symbols of resistance, were particular targets. If that outraged some, even more were outraged by the burning and looting of the famous university town of Louvain. Over the course of five days, beginning on 25 August 1914, the Germans pillaged the city. Its celebrated library, with its collection of medieval manuscripts, was put to the torch its townspeople were driven out as refugees.
“NECESSITY KNOWS NO LAW”
The Germans, however, believed they were fighting a war for civilization—for German Kultur against Latin decadence and Slavic barbarism. The highly educated German general staff had readily adopted social Darwinist ideas and applied them to the conduct of war—for example, in General Friedrich von Bernhardi’s book Germany and the Next War (published in 1911). He called war “a biological necessity” in the struggle for existence, adding that war “is not merely a necessary element in the life of nations, but an indispensable factor of culture, in which a true civilized nation finds the highest expression of strength and vitality.”
The first problem was the Belgians. They refused to capitulate, blunting the initial German assault, inflicting heavy casualties, and withdrawing only when the German army’s determination to stay on schedule at any price was backed by heavy guns. Despite gallant Belgian resistance, the German juggernaut bombarded its way through the country: the Germans took Brussels on 20 August and sped to France.
The French, meanwhile, in traditional finery—blue coats, red trousers, officers in white gloves, all of which gave courage to their hearts if not concealment from the enemy—stormed into Lorraine and the forest of the Ardennes to be met by Germans in field grey manning entrenched machine guns and artillery. The results were what might be expected: a grand sacrifice pour la patrie. In the single month of August, 10 percent of the French officer corps fell as casualties.
As the Germans made their great wide sweep through Belgium and into France, they stubbed their toe on the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) on the far left of the French line at the Belgian city of Mons. At the war’s commencement, Kaiser Wilhelm had ordered the BEF destroyed, dismissing it as a “contemptibly small army.” Small it was, at least in the context of the Great War. About eighty thousand men of the BEF were at the Battle of Mons on 23 August. Contemptible it was not, as the British regulars stopped the German advance before being ordered to withdraw against an enemy that had twice their number of men and guns. The Battle of Mons was the sort of thing the British specialize in—heroic withdrawals, which if they do not win wars at least exemplify the bulldog spirit. The Battle of Mons inspired a legend about the Angels of Mons, where St. George and the Bowmen of Agincourt were said to have descended from the heavens to help the British.
In the East, Austria had to divert troops from its Serbian offensive to fend off the Russians, and a worried Moltke reinforced East Prussia. Before those reinforcements arrived, the German Eighth Army, under Generals Paul von Hindenburg (called out of retirement to meet the crisis) and Erich von Ludendorff, had knocked the wheels off the Russian steamroller, destroying its Second Army at the Battle of Tannenberg (26–30 August). Russian losses (170,000 casualties, more than 90,000 of them surrendering) were greater in size than the entire German Eighth Army, which suffered 12,000 casualties. The stolid, determined Hindenburg, the embodiment of the tough, dutiful virtues of the Prussian aristocracy, became a hero, as did the emotionally tempestuous and not quite as well-born Ludendorff. Ludendorff, brilliant and aggressive, had already made his name and been awarded the Blue Max for his conduct in Belgium, where he had taken a sword and pounded on the gates of the citadel at Liège, and accepted the surrender of hundreds of Belgian soldiers.
Though impeded in the West and outnumbered in the East, the Germans were crushing their enemies, proving themselves the best soldiers in Europe. The Austrians, however, were taking a pounding. The Austrian Field Marshal Conrad von Hötzendorff was as aggressive as Ludendorff but with an army incapable of carrying out his ambitious plans. By the end of 1914, the Habsburg Empire had suffered an astonishing number of casualties—more than six hundred thousand men—and was in constant need of German support. Many German officers felt that being allied to the Habsburg Empire was, in the famous phrase, like being “shackled to a corpse.”
While the Austrians were struggling, the Germans had blown through Belgium and now appeared almost unstoppable: the French government felt compelled to evacuate Paris on 2 September. One very important Frenchman, however, retained his savoir faire. The French commander General Joseph Joffre—walrus-moustached, imposing, imperturbable—rallied his army for what became “the miracle of the Marne.” French troops, still in their prideful blue coats and pantaloons rouge, came ferried to the front in an armada of French taxis pressed into emergency service. The French hit the exhausted German First and Second Armies, surrounding them on three sides and bringing them to a shuddering halt Moltke had a nervous breakdown, fearing he had stumbled into a disaster (though the Germans were able to extricate themselves) and the Schlieffen Plan fell to pieces. Two million men fought at the First Battle of the Marne (5–12 September 1914), and the consequence of this epic battle was not just an Anglo-French parrying of the German slash and thrust, it was a stalemated war of trenches from which there appeared no escape.
When Confederate veteran John Singleton Mosby was asked to comment on the trench warfare in Europe, he said that Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson would have found a way around. “As it is, the forces are just killing. The object of war is not to kill. It is to disable the military power.” But with all due respect to Mosby, Jackson, and Lee, there was no easy way around.
If you followed the war through American newspapers, you were getting a quick refresher course in the geography of Europe and Asia as generals struggled to find a way to break the deadlock on the Western Front. In 1914, there was the “race to the sea,” with both sides attempting to outflank each other in northwestern France and southwestern Belgium. When the belligerents’ confronting trenches stretched from the English Channel to Switzerland, there were attempts to turn more distant strategic flanks, as in the Gallipoli Campaign against the Turks in 1915. Of massive battles there was no shortage, but by sticking pins in a map you could see that huge expenditures of men often moved the armies hardly at all, or moved them in ways that seemed marginal to any ultimate victory.
French fought the First Battle of Ypres (19 October to 22 November 1914), where each side tried to gain the offensive in southwestern Belgium. The resulting combined casualties were nearly three hundred thousand men. While the Entente Powers blocked German attempts to renew the rightward thrust of the Schlieffen Plan, the battle also marked the end of the British regulars, the “Old Contemptibles.” They had fought brilliantly throughout, starting at the Battle of Mons, but were worn to the quick by casualties.
French’s last battle with the BEF was the Battle of Loos (25 September to 14 October 1915) in northwestern France. Outnumbering the Germans in front of him, he thought he could blast his way through. The result was fifty thousand British casualties (including Rudyard Kipling’s son, John, missing, presumed dead) and half that many German. The British tried using chlorine gas, already employed by the Germans, to overcome the stasis of the trenches. Instead, it blew back over the British, who had to charge through their own poison mist. Lack of artillery support and replacements for exhausted infantry units meant that while the British captured Loos, they could go no farther and were forced to withdraw.
To the relief of the American newspaper reader, French’s replacement was the much less confusingly named Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig. Haig had the additional advantage of confirming American stereotypes that British commanding officers were all bluff, wellturned-out, well-mannered, white-moustached British aristocrats (as indeed many of them were). Haig held command of the British forces through the end of the war, so it was he who would eventually greet General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, in late July 1917, about a month after Pershing arrived in France.
On the French side, American newspaper readers would have been familiar with General Joffre—who actually came to America in April 1917 on a goodwill mission after Congress’s declaration of war—because Americans still remembered him as the hero who had saved France at the Battle of the Marne. Joffre, like Sir John French, had believed the Germans could be defeated on the Western Front if the Western Allies applied sufficient artillery and men at the crucial point. Finding that crucial point, however, was proving immensely costly it was not easily discovered.
Another familiar French general was Joffre’s fellow hero of the Marne, Ferdinand Foch. A renowned writer and lecturer on military strategy and allegedly the finest military mind of his generation, he was sixty-two years old in August 1914, and up to that point he had never seen combat. Nor had he served abroad, in the training ground of France’s empire. But those disadvantages paled to insignificance compared with his detailed understanding of the German army, which he had always regarded as the main enemy. The key problem for Foch was how to overcome German military superiority in numbers, equipment, and training. He found part of the answer in a patriotic assertion of the French spirit. Foch’s own spirit was one of the legends of the Battle of the Marne. Commanding the Ninth Army, his headquarters exposed to the enemy, he famously proclaimed, “My center is giving way, my right is in retreat. Situation excellent. I attack.”
Foch and Haig were commanders at the Battle of the Somme, which lasted from July through November 1916. To the newspaper reader, it was doubtless an awful and awe-inspiring event, with more than a million combined casualties between the Germans and the Western Allies. To the soldiers in the trenches, it was a test of fire and endurance that most of them met with incredible but matter-offact fortitude, even with “Death grinning at you from all around and hellish 5.9 inch shells shrieking through the air and shrapnel dealing death all round,” as one Australian captain wrote to his parents. “I don’t know how long I stood it without breaking.” He was “very thankful to get my wound as it got me out of the firing line for a rest.” Rest, aside from the permanent kind, was hard to come by.
The Battle of the Somme was an Anglo-French offensive to break the German line in northwestern France through a mighty assault the hope was to force a gap that would allow cavalry (and tanks, which made their first appearance here) to plunge through, starting a war of movement that would end the deadlock of the trenches. The British lost nearly sixty thousand casualties on the first day of the Battle of the Somme trying to make this happen, with an opening artillery barrage so earth-shattering it was heard across the English Channel. But in four and a half months of battle, there never was a major gap to exploit. The Somme was primarily a British battle, and Haig kept thinking that a tenaciously pursued offensive must eventually “overthrow” the enemy. His resolute confidence was not matched by his political minders in London, who wondered how such losses could be justified, even as part of a war of attrition, for such minimal territorial gains. German lines had been pushed back six or seven miles at most.
The Battle of the Somme was preceded and outlasted by another battle equally enormous in cost, the Battle of Verdun, fought between the Germans and the French from February to December 1916. Erich von Falkenhayn, Helmuth von Moltke’s successor as chief of the German general staff (since November 1914), recognized that attacks against fortified lines were generally futile, but nevertheless concluded that a decisive blow could be made against Verdun, a heavily fortified French city of the northeast, which projected into a pocket of the German front line. The French, out of pride and because it guarded a path to Paris, could not abandon it, and for that reason Falkenhayn believed he could turn Verdun, ringed on three sides by the Germans, into a killing ground for the French army, a massive battle of attrition fought by artillery. The Germans opened with a barrage that lasted nine hours.
General Philippe Pétain was given command of the citadel of Verdun. He would not relinquish it. Pétain, who believed in superior firepower as the way to win battles, worked hard to keep Verdun well supplied, tried to match German artillery shells with his own, and rotated his men to lessen the nerve-shattering effects of perpetual bombardment. The Germans, commanded in the field by Crown Prince Wilhelm, inflicted enormous numbers of casualties, but ended the battle suffering almost as badly as the French and because Verdun was held, it was the French who claimed the victory. Frenchmen, and Americans who read about the battle, would remember the order given in June 1916 by Pétain’s subordinate, General Robert Nivelle, commanding the French Second Army at Verdun: “They shall not pass”—and the Germans, by battle’s end, had not. By the time the Americans arrived in France, Pétain was commander in chief of the French army, and Hindenburg had replaced Falkenhayn as chief of the German general staff.
This article is part of our extensive collection of articles on the Great War. Click here to see our comprehensive article on World War 1.
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World War I: The Progressive War
One hundred years ago, on April 6, 2017, the United States entered World War I. It was a difficult decision on the part of President Woodrow Wilson, but one that he believed held the potential to change the entire future of human civilization and to turn away from its bloody, destructive past.
Since 1914, the war had been brutal, with a level of destruction that shocked even jaded observers, and the United States remained on the sidelines, vowing repeatedly that it had no reason to take part in the conflagration.
Now, however, it was at last going to fight.
Surrendering to Militarism
The US entry into World War I is often regarded as the end of what was called the Progressive Movement – the years since 1901 that had seen great reform-minded activism embraced by the national government.
In this interpretation, America joining the war amounted to nothing less than the betrayal of all progressive impulses and an abject surrender to the type of uncivilized militarism many progressives bitterly opposed and for which they blamed the war in the first place. Wilson, campaigning for reelection in 1916 and desperately wanting progressive support, acquiesced in allowing “He kept us out of war” to be one of his campaign slogans.
Any peace that could possibly come would be short and meaningless, only setting the stage for future conflict.
But in fact, the American entry into the war was the apotheosis of progressivism – the high-water mark of its crusading zeal – not a betrayal of its central tenets. America joining the war was clothed in progressive rhetoric with the goal being nothing less than ending war forever as a blight on humanity.
President Wilson had repeatedly hoped the belligerents would accept mediation, particularly during 1916, the “Year of the Offensives,” in which Germany and Britain bled each other dry on the fields of the Somme and Verdun. But they did not.
As historian Arthur S. Link notes, the British and the French even made it clear that they would regard any attempt by Wilson to mediate as a hostile act. The President grew furious with such refusals and became convinced that no participant in the war cared anything whatever for real peace: all they cared about was winning, regardless of the cost.
Any peace that could possibly come from these barbarous participants would be short and meaningless, only setting the stage for future conflict. With all the self-righteousness he could muster, Wilson convinced himself that only he could bring peace to Europe.
Progressivism at Home
The progressive mentality in the United States approached social and political problems not as conditions to be managed but as things a modern, rational government could fix once and for all. Whether it was dismal, unsanitary conditions in the nation’s meatpacking plants, rapacious corporations that destroyed free competition, or the chaos of a decentralized financial system that allowed millionaires to dictate banking policy, such challenges for America demanded creative and authoritative measures.
For Wilson, this was no betrayal of progressivism. This would be its culmination.
No longer were local ameliorative efforts to be endorsed it was the national government that would bring about definitive permanent solutions. And now, under Wilson’s leadership, it would take on the most destructive and persistent problem that mankind had ever faced.
“The world must be made safe for democracy,” he told the Senate in January, 1917, adding that the United States had “no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion.” This would be a type of war the world had never seen. True, it was Englishman H.G. Wells and not President Wilson who initially described the war as “a war for peace,” one that “shall stop this sort of thing forever.” But it summed up the president’s understanding.
For Wilson, this was no betrayal of progressivism. This would be its culmination.
European recalcitrance regarding peace led Wilson to the odd insistence that America participate in the war not as an ally of the British and the French, but as an “associated power.” The distinction was largely lost on London and Paris, which cared little for such semantics provided that once they arrived, American soldiers would shoot at the Germans. But for Wilson, the difference was crucial: America was not fighting for the same discredited goals for which other nations were fighting. America was fighting to end war permanently.
The centerpiece of his vision was the creation after the war of a worldwide organization that would ensure peace, rationally and fairly. The League of Nations would be the Federal Reserve System on an international scale.
As American participation in the war ultimately showed (and as more recent presidents like George W. Bush and Barack Obama have learned), when a crusading determination to remake the world seizes the government, policy failure, disappointment, and disillusionment are often the results. Woodrow Wilson’s approach to World War One ultimately stands as a continual reminder of the need for a realistic understanding of what politics can achieve.
World War I was the first major conflict to see widespread use of powered aircraft -- invented barely more than a decade before the fighting began. Airplanes, along with kites, tethered balloons, and zeppelins gave all major armies a new tactical platform to observe and attack enemy forces from above.
As countries caught up in the war sent soldiers to the front lines, they also built support behind the lines and at home, with women taking many roles. As villages became battlefields, refugees were scattered across Europe.
Produced by MWM Interactive, directed by Brandon Oldenburg and developed by Flight School Studio, with audio designed by Skywalker Sound.
War Remains premiered to international acclaim at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2019 and later opened for a limited run in Austin, Texas. It went on to win the “Out-of-home VR Entertainment of the Year” award at the VR Awards.
I have tickets to War Remains. Where do I go?
War Remains is located in the Museum and Memorial’s Memory Hall. To access Memory Hall, enter the Museum through the main entrance and use the east elevator. (Access from the Memorial Courtyard is currently closed due to renovations.)
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Please arrive 15 minutes prior to your ticketed time. Note that the walk from the Museum and Memorial’s west parking lot to the entrance takes approximately five minutes.
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All War Remains participants MUST sign a release or they will not be allowed to participate in the War Remains experience. Individuals aged 14 through 17 must have a signed release from a parent or guardian to participate. We recommend you download the release in advance and bring it to your ticketed time slot, or you can fill one out on-site.
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Due to the graphic and sometimes disturbing nature of the War Remains content, participants must be 14 years of age or older.
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War Remains, like other virtual reality experiences, may not be suitable for those who are pregnant or have health issues, including vertigo, photosensitive epilepsy and mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety. If you have any health conditions, we suggest you consult your doctor before using VR.
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You will be viewing War Remains on a Vive Pro virtual reality headset. The headset uses "room scale" tracking technology, allowing the user to move in 3D space and interact with the environment using motion-tracked handheld controllers.
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The Museum and Memorial takes health and safety of guests, volunteers and staff very seriously. Between participants, we utilize Cleanbox on VR headsets which has been independently lab-tested to kill 99.999% of bacteria, viruses and fungi in 60 seconds.
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You will be walking through a physical set with obstacles and moving floors in the War Remains experience. We recommend that you wear closed-toe shoes.
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Absolutely! Tickets to the Museum can be purchased online in advance or at our ticketing counter. Be sure to check out our Museum Café for a bite to eat and stop by the Museum Store for exclusive War Remains merchandise.
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Peace treaties and national boundaries
After the war, the Berlin Peace Conference imposed a series of peace treaties on the remaining Allies. The 1919 treaties of Berlin also brought into being Mitteleuropa on June 28, 1919.
In signing the treaty, Italy agreed to pay war reparations to the Central Powers, particularly Austria. The Treaty of Lichtenberg caused enormous bitterness in Italy, which various movements, especially the Fascists, exploited with conspiracy theories. Unable to pay them with exports, Italy like many other Allied nations, did so by borrowing from the United States. The payment of reparations was suspended in 1931 following the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the beginnings of the Great Depression worldwide.
Austria–Hungary was completely restructered to prevent collapse. These new states within the old empire were largely but not entirely along ethnic lines. Transylvania was created from Hungary due to its Romanian majority population.
The Russian Empire, which had withdrawn from the war in 1917 after the October Revolution, lost much of its western frontier as the newly independent nations of Finland, Livonia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and Poland were carved from it. Bessarabia was re-attached to Romania, as it had been a Romanian territory for more than a thousand years.
The Ottoman Empire disintegrated, and much of its non-Anatolian territory was seized by various Allied powers that still occupied the area and set up protectorates. The Turkish core was reorganised as the Republic of Turkey. The Ottoman Empire was to gain nearly all of the British possessions on the Arabian peninsula. These agreements were never ratified by the Sultan and was rejected by the Turkish republican movement, leading to the Turkish Civil War and, ultimately, to the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.List of site sources >>>