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World War I - 1914-1918   A Stan Klos Company

World War I
1914-1918

by Neal McLaughlin -- August 2004



It was a gorgeous sunny morning in Sarajevo as Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his beautiful wife Sophie left an Austrian troop exercise and began their motorcade through the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Despite the warning that a rebellion was in the air, The Archduke and his wife decided to tour the capital on their way to a reception at city hall.

Unbeknownst to the Royal Party and their entourage, the Serbian terrorist party, the Black Hand, had plotted to assassinate Ferdinand. Seven Serbian assassins were strategically located throughout the town, each waiting for the opportunity to eliminate the Archduke before he had the opportunity to ascend to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, from where he could continue to persecute the Serbs who were living within the Austro-Hungarian regions.

Having gained their independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1878 the Serbs settled into the regions of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The fires of anger were lit when the Berlin Congress allowed Austria-Hungary to occupy the regions, including those settled by the Serbs. To further antagonize the Serbs, in 1908, Austria-Hungary authoritatively annexed all of occupied Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Motorcade continued its journey through the Bosnian streets oblivious to the fact that they were targets for the Black Hand. Eventually, as was hoped, the motorcade traveled a street where one of the assassins had been placed. Upon seeing the convoy, Gabrinovic singled out the Royal car and tossed an explosive device. The driver quickly applied the gas; the Archduke deflected the bomb, sending it to the car behind where it exploded, demolishing the following sedan and severely injuring his aides.

The remaining 5 cars then sped towards city hall passing other members of the terrorist group, who let the convoy pass safely by. Following the reception at city hall it was time for the Archduke and Archduchess to leave the town of Sarajevo. General Oskar Potiorik urged Ferdinand and his escorts to leave the city as quickly as they could and by the shortest route possible.

Alarmed by the General's intense warning the motorcade quickly left city hall and headed out of town back to the site of the military maneuvers. The cars quickly sped through the city streets until it came to the "V" like turn at the bridge spanning the Nilgacka River. To safely negotiate the sharp turn the cars had to slow considerably, offering the assassins the opportunity they so desired.

Nineteen year-old Serb Nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, stepped from the curb, drew his automatic pistol and fired, The first round striking the pregnant Archduchess Sophie in the abdomen, killing her instantly. The second bullet struck the Archduke near his heart, moments after crying out to "Sophie" he too, succumbed to his injury.

The already strained relationship between Austria-Hungary and Serbia had now been snapped into the fragments of war. The ensuing Great War was said to be the War to end all Wars and would become the most destructive war in modern history. Following the June 28, 1914 assassination of the Archduke and his wife, Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia. Almost as quickly the diplomatic relationships began to turn to dust.

With the unconditional backing of Germany assured by Emperor William II, Austrian foreign minister, Count Leopold von Berchtold, determined to use the assassination to once and for all squash the Serbian Nationalist movement, issued an ultimatum to Serbia with a 48 hour clause. Serbia, assured of Russian support by Sergei Sazonov, refused to acknowledge the ultimatum thus inciting Austria to declare war on Serbia.

On July 28, 1914 the theater was set and World War I was under way. By the 31st of July the Russian military had began to mobilize its troops. This action infuriated Germany who issued an ultimatum to the Russian Government. Russia, who had already promised to support Serbia, ignored the correspondence and on August 1, 1914 Germany declared war on Russia.

Following the declaration of war on Russia, Germany had convinced itself that France had been preparing her troops for an attack along its Western Front that the German Government declared war on France. Germany, wanting to get her troops to engage the French as quickly as possible took advantage of Britain's neutrality by sending her troops through Belgium and Luxembourg. This violation so enraged the people of Britain that they throw their support to the British government whom then choose to enter World War I.



Within a matter of weeks the allied forces were composed of Monknegegro, Japan, Great Britain, France, Russia, Serbia and Belgium. The Central Powers were comprised of the Ottoman Empire, Germany and Austria- Hungary. These military forces were to become engaged in the most costly and aggressively fought battles in military history.

From the deeply dug trenches, one side would peer over at the other and then all hell would break loose as each side tried to over-run the position of the other. Each assault brought the death toll higher and higher as the troops were met with rapid machine gun fire, mortars, hand-grenades and the most fatal of all elements; poison gas, which the German Army had first used against the Canadians at Ypres, Belgium.

As the war raged on with heavy death toll, the United States was striving to remain neutral. Perhaps America was attempting to follow the advice offered by President George Washington's 1776 farewell address, where he urged the United States to remain out of the affairs of Europe, and to steer clear of any alliance with any part of the foreign world.

America and her desire to remain neutral would soon be tested when in May of 1915 a German U-boat sunk the Lusitania as she slowed to await the arrival of the Juno, which was to escort her from the English Channel. Following the sinking of the Lusitania, Germany has issued a warning that they would utilize unrestricted submarine warfare to sink any and all merchant ships, crew and content.

Seething with rage at the sinking of the Lusitania, the American populace was now urging for the U.S. Government to justify the hideous act, which cost 138 Americans their lives. President Woodrow Wilson issued a protest to Germany, who temporarily suspended their sub-campaign fearing that they did not have enough subs to do the job if America decided to enter the war at that time.


By 1917Germany had increased her submarine force substantially and feeling that they no longer needed to fear the U.S., once again declared unrestricted submarine warfare, and that this time all ships, including those of neutral America would fall prey. This proclamation plucked at the final nerve of America and on April 6th she declared war on Germany.

By inciting the Americans into the war, Germany had in essence slit her own throat. The allied forces, which had been taking a severe beating and were nearing submission to the Central Powers, were now assured a victory as America offered unlimited resources and manpower. President Wilson planned to weaken the Central Powers even further by encouraging revolutionary groups to take action in their hometowns.

While the Western Front became locked in a bloody stalemate, the forces of the Middle East were making great progress in their push forward. The British troops not only stopped the Turkish assault on the Suez Canal they pushed even further and destroyed the Ottoman Empire.

Germany, obsessed with getting into Paris attempted a second counteroffensive strike at Marne, their strike met with heavy resistance and the German troops were stopped before they could enter Paris. In response, Marshal Foch regrouped his soldiers and and issued the command for a counter-attack which succeeded in pushing the German army back to the Hindenberg Line.

With the initial counterattack effective the allies continued the push with the British advancing in the north and the Americans attacking through the Argonne region of France. The determination of the battling allies was beginning to soften the Central Powers. The Germans were quickly loosing their hold on the Western Front as Bulgaria fell to the invasion of ally General Franchet d'Espery and his troops.

By instigating a revolt among the Arabs, T.E. Lawrence has been credited with the March 1917, fall of Baghdad, and in December of that year, Field Marshall Allenby took Jerusalem The war was beginning to see an end, however, there were still pockets of resistance which need to be eliminated before total peace could be restored.

Following their landing in France in June of 1917, General John Pershing and the 1st American Expeditionary Forces were rapidly deployed to the Chateau-Thierry where it would help to squash a new German offensive.

World War I  - Perspective Map of the Western Front - Stan Klos Collection

Perspective Map of the Western Front

Showing the Furthest German Advance (September, 1914)
and the Armistice Line of November II, 1918.



The severely weakening Central Powers had hoped to gain new strength with the signing of the Brest-Litovsk treaty of 1918. With the resources from the Ukraine they were hoping to be able to balance, to some degree, the effects of the allied blockade and concentrate their efforts on the Western Front. This last ditch effort at being victorious was not to be. The powers of the allied forces. which grew to include Italy, Portugal and Romania proved to be just too much.

Following the invasion of ally General Franchet d'Esperey, Bulgaria surrendered on September 30th, followed by Turkey on October 30th. By November 4th the Austria-Hungary army was disintegrating so badly that their defeat at Vittorio Veneto forced them into surrendering to the Italian army

By now, the German army had exhausted their resources, her morale had collapsed and all hopes of a victory had been obliterated. German Chancellor Maximillian, Prince of Baden accepted President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points as a basis of a peace negotiation.

Any reservations that may have existed by Germany in the signing of a peace agreement were nullified after a brief revolution broke out in Germany. Following this up rise Germany finally signed the armistice on November 11th 1918, which basically ended all hostilities. As per the terms of the armistice, the German Army was immediately removed from the territory West of the Rhine, and the previously Brest-Litovsk treaty became void.

World War I officially ended with the signing of the Versailles Treaty on June 28, 1919. The total cost of the 4-year war was astonishing in both manpower and resources. Of the Central Powers, their total causalities were 37,508, 686 or 57.6 % of their immobilized forces. The Allied Powers who mobilized a total of 42,188,810 troops experienced 52.3% causality or 22,104,209.


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