The war to end wars brought collapse of four empires

Agence France Presse — English
July 25, 2004 Sunday 7:54 AM Eastern Time

The war to end wars brought collapse of four empires

PARIS, July 25

World War I, which broke out 90 years ago on July 28, 1914, embroiled
35 countries from every continent and resulted in about 10 million
deaths and 20 million injuries.

The conflict, which brought to a head the rivalries that had torn
Europe apart for half a century, began with the declaration of war on
Serbia by the Austro-Hungarian empire on July 28, a month to the day
after the assassination of the heir to the imperial crown in Sarajevo
by a Serbian nationalist.

One by one, the European powers were drawn into the conflict because
of their territorial and colonial rivalries, and their alliances.

Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, Germany and the Ottoman Empire were pitted
against the countries of the triple alliance — Britain, France and
Russia, to which were added Italy in 1915. The entry into the war of
Japan and above all of the United States, in 1917, made this the
first conflict of a truly global nature.

The illusion that the war would be of short duration was shattered
with the failure of the first great offensives on the eastern and
western fronts.

Russia launched a major offensive against Germany’s East Prussia in
August 1914, suffered a crushing defeat at Tannenberg, followed by
lesser setbacks at the first and second battles of the Masurian
Lakes. That was the start of a steady retreat towards the east that
ended with the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and the signing of the
Brest-Litovsk treaty between Germany and Russia.

The conflict spread over four fronts — in the Balkans, in France, in
Russia, and later in Italy.

>From 1915, the western front was established from the North Sea to
the Swiss frontier, and the grinding, interminable war of the
trenches began. Vast human wave assaults into the teeth of cannons
and machine guns annihilated much of a generation.

In 1916, more than 700,000 men on both sides died in the battle of
Verdun, and in 20 weeks of combat on the Somme river, 1.2 million
young men were slaughtered. Some 330,000 soliders were killed in
three years along the road known as the Chemin des Dames, leading to
mutinies in the French army against the wasteful loss of life.

Elsewhere, the allied expedition to gain control of the Dardanelles
straits, the principal access to Russia’s Black Sea coast, ended in
disastrous defeat by the Ottoman empire, and the loss of 260,000 men
killed or missing.

But the Russians pushed the Ottomans back in the Caucasus and in
Armenia and the British, exploiting Arab aspirations for
independence, managed to capture both Baghdad and Jerusalem from the
Ottoman empire.

In 1918, the allied armies, reinforced in men and supplies by the
United States, defeated the Germans at the Battle of the Marne.
Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman empire and Bulgaria suffered crushing
defeats and signed armistice agreements in September and October.

The guns officially fell silent on the eleventh hour of the eleventh
day of the eleventh month of 1918 when Germany signed the armistice
at Rethondes, near Compiegne, France.

The map of Europe was totally refashioned by the war. The peace
treaties, principally the Versailles treaty of June 28, 1919 on the
fith anniversary of the Sarajevo assassination, imposed severe
territorial, military and economic clauses on the vanquished. Germany
lost one seventh of its territory and one tenth of its population.

The conflict resulted in the collapse of four empires —
Austro-Hungarian, German, Ottoman and Russian — and brought into
being new states like Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia.

The war also marked the end of European dominance in the political,
economic and military spheres, and created a new world order in which
the United States and Japan emerged as global powers.

The “Great War” was to have been the war to end all wars — and it
gave birth to a League of Nations that was intended to assure world

But the shock of a conflict that introduced the use of poison gas,
submarines, tanks, and aerial bombardment of civilians was not
sufficient to prevent the outbreak of a second world war 20 years
later that swallowed up five times as many victims.