GCSE History - Causes to WW1

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  • Created by: JacobRees
  • Created on: 21-01-16 19:54

Background to the War - (ANIMAL): Nations & Govs

Awful governments:

  • Many of the governments of Europe autocracies (ruled by one man) and had stupid and corrupt governments.  
  • Very few of the countries of Europe were democracies - it is hard for a democracy to go to war because the people (not just an individual ruler) need to agree to go to war.   
  • There was no idea of going to war for the 'right' reasons - many people in those days thought it was alright to go to war simply to win more power and territory for the ruler.   


  • EVERYONE was nationalist in those days, and this helped cause war in two ways:
    • It made the people of countries like Britain, Germany and France more warlike. For example French politicans hated Germany and were enraged when someone insulted their country
    • Made the races ruled by Turkey and Austria-Hungary want to be free. An example of this in Panslavism leading to rebellions and terrorism which destablised the Balkans.
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Background to the War - (ANIMAL): Imperialism


  • Countries who believed that they were superior thought it was alright to conquer and rule others. Example: In 1900, the British Empire covered a fifth of land-area of the earth.
    • This led to clashes between imperialist powers.   Britain was trying to conquer Africa from Cairo (in the north) to Cape Town (in South Africa).   France was trying to conquer Africa from the Atlantic to the Red Sea.   In 1898 their two armies met, at Fashoda in the Sudan,  almost causing a war.(FASHODA INCIDENT)
    • Led to HUGE tension when Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany decided that HE wanted some colonies too!
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Background to the War - (ANIMAL): Militarism


  • All the nations of Europe were militaristic, but the governments of Germany and Austria-Hungary were especially so.   All the countries of Europe built up their armies and navies.   
  • And as one country increased its armies, so all the others felt obliged to increase their armed forces to keep the ‘balance of power’.
  • It is important to realise that - although in 1914 the German army was the biggest and best in the world - the Russian army was growing the fastest, and German generals were worried that, in a few years time, they would not be able to defeat Russia so easily.

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Background to the War - (ANIMAL): Alliances


  • As well as seeking protection in the size of their armies, the countries of Europe sought protection by forming alliances.   
  • At first, Bismarck had kept Germany friendly with Russia.   Kaiser Wilhelm overturned this, and concentrated instead on the Dual Alliance of 1879 between Germany and Austria-Hungary - which became the Triple Alliance when Italy joined in 1882.
    • Alarmed by this strong central bloc:
    • France in 1894 + Russia
    • In 1904 France + England = Entente Cordial   
    • In 1907, Britain + Russia = Tripple Entente
    • In 1902 Britain + Japan (navy agreement) 
    • The Triple Entente alarmed Germany, which felt itself surrounded by the France-Russia alliance.  
    • The countries of Europe thought that the alliance system would act as a deterrent to war; in fact it tied the countries together so that, when one country went to war, the others felt themselves obliged to follow.
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Background to the War - (ANIMAL): List of Events

List of events:

  • So it was against this background of long-term underlying tensions that the countries of Europe were pushed into war by a sequence of events after 1900 which we will explore:
    • 1899-1900: Boer War
    • 1900: German Navy Law
    • 1905-6: First Moroccan Crisis
    • 1908: Daily Telegraph article
    • 1908-9: Bosnian crisis
    • 1911: Agadir Crisis (2nd Moroccan Crisis)
    • 1912-13: Balkan Wars 
    • 1914: Assassination at Sarajevo
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The alliances of Europe in 1914

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The countries of Europe in 1914


Ruled by a corrupt government.   Turkey was known as ‘the sick man of Europe’.    Once, Turkey had ruled all of the Balkans, but now the peoples of that area were rebelling and driving the Turks out – this created a significant area of instability in Europe: ‘the Balkan pressure-cooker’.


Germany was massively powerful, with the most up-to-date industry in the world.

Austria Hungary:

Had once been a strong empire, but now the government was weak and divided (the Austrians and the Hungarians hated each other). Was known as the ‘polyglot (many languages) empire’ because of all the different races in it. Emperor Franz Josef was old and autocratic.   

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The countries of Europe in 1914


A new country formed in 1866.   A weak ruler, chaotic governments and a pathetic army. 


Russia was huge but backward. Nicholas II was a weak and ineffectual rule. Russia lost a war to Japan disastrously in 1904.


France was a democracy, but the French government was weak. In 1870-1, Germany won a war against them and took Alcase and Loraine = French really wanted revenge


Britain was a democracy with a huge empire, but until 1900 Britain believed in ‘splendid isolation’ – keeping out of affairs in Europe.   

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Crises of 1900 - 1914: The Boer War (1899-1900)

Boer War (1899-1900):

Event: Britain was fighting a colonial war to conquer South Africa against the Dutch Boer settlers there.   The war was going badly. Kaiser Wilhelm announced that he supported the Boers, and that Britain had no right to conquer South Africa.

Effect: The British were outraged, and developed the idea that Germany wanted to challenge Britain's role as a world empire.

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Crises of 1900 - 1914: German Naval Agreement (190

German Navy Laws (1900):

Event: In 1900 Kaiser Wilhelm began to build up the German navy, announcing that he wanted 'a place in the sun'.   After 1906, he began to build numbers of the new, large 'Dreadnought' battleships.


  • The British thought that Germany wanted to challenge British sea power - the basis of Britain's greatness strong navy = threaten British colonies overseas.
  • Britain made an alliance with Japan in 1902, = not to have to worry so much about the Pacific.
  • Britain also began to build Dreadnoughts.  The British government had planned to build four Dreadnoughts in 1909, but when Germany refused to limit the number of ships it was building, the British public protested, demanding: 'We want eight and we won't wait'.   Britain and Germany thus had a naval arms race.
  • By 1914, the British navy was much larger than the German navy, so it is arguable that this was NOT a cause of World War I.
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Crises of 1900 - 1914: First Moroccan Crisis (1906

First Moroccan Crisis (1906):

Event: France hoped to conquer Morocco in Africa, and one of the points of the Entente Cordiale (1904) was that the British would help them.  But in 1905, Kaiser Wilhelm visited Morocco and promised to protect Morocco against anyone who threatened it.   


  • The French were furious with Germany.
  • The British saw it as yet another attempt by Germany to build a German Empire to rival Britain's empire.
  • A Conference was held at Algeciras (1906), where Britain, Russia and France, forced Germany to promise to stay out of Morocco.   This annoyed Germany.
  • In 1907, Britain and Russia, alarmed by German ambitions, made an Entente.
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Crises of 1900 - 1914: Telegraph Article (1908)

Telegraph Article (1908):

Event: Kaiser Wilhelm gave an interview to the Daily Telegraph newspaper, in which - although he claimed that he wanted to be friends with Britain - he said that the English were 'mad', said that the German people hated them, and demanded that: 'Germany must have a powerful fleet to protect her interests in even the most distant seas'.   


  • The article outraged the British.
  • It convinced them that Germany wanted to challenge the British Empire overseas.


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Crises of 1900 - 1914: Bosnian Crisis (1908)

Bosnian Crisis (1908):

Event: Turkey had been in decline for a long time.   In 1908 there was a revolution in Turkey, and Austria-Hungary took advantage of this to annex (take over) the Turkish state of Bosnia.   


  • Serbia was furious, because Bosnia included many Serbs whom it had hoped to rule.  This eventually led to the assassination at Sarajevo and the First World War.
  • Serbia asked her ally Russia to help, and Russia called a European Conference, expecting support from France and Britain.   However, Britain and France did NOT support Russia, no conference took place, and Russia had to back down and was humiliated - but Russia vowed not to back down again.  This, again, was to help to cause the war in 1914.
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Crises of 1900 - 1914: Agadir Crisis (1911)

Agadir Crisis (1911):

Event: There was a revolution in Morocco, and the French sent in an army to put it down, then took over the country.   In the middle of this, Kaiser Wilhelm sent the gunboat Panther to the Moroccan port of Agadir.


  • The French and British were furious - the British minister Lloyd George said that 'Britain's interests were vitally affected'.   Fear of Germany's intentions increased.
  • Germany was forced to back down and remove the gunship, and was given only a small piece of jungle in the Congo.   This increased German resentment: 'the Kaiser was determined not to be the loser in the next crisis'.
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Crises of 1900 - 1914: Balkan Wars (1912-13)

Balkan Wars (1912-13):

Event: As Turkey continued to grow weaker, in 1912 Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria (calling themselves the Balkan League) attacked Turkey and captured almost all the remaining Turkish land in Europe.   Sir Edward Grey, the British Foreign Secretary, arranged a peace conference in London, but in 1913 the Bulgarians, unhappy with the deal they had got, attacked Serbia - but were defeated.   

Britain and Germany got together and used their influence to bring the war to an end (Treaty of Bucharest, 1913)   


  • Serbia became the most powerful Balkan state, and felt confident enough to threaten Austria - the Serbian Prime Minister Pasic said: 'the first round is won; now for the second round - against Austria'.
  • The Kaiser took Sir Edward Grey's co-operation as a sign of Britain's weakness.   When the next crisis happened, he assumed that Britain would co-operate again. 
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Crises of 1900 - 1914: Murder at Sarajevo

Assassination at Sarajevo (1914):

Event: On 28 June 1914 Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb, shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary.  


  • This started a sequence of events which led to World War One.


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The Murder of Franz Ferdinand

The Murder of Franz Ferdinand:

  • In Serbia, after 1908, a terrorist groupnicknamed the `Black Hand' had waged a terrorist war to free Bosnia from Austrian control. The Austrian Army wanted to destroy the Black Hand by attacking Serbia. In the summer of 1914, Austria sent 70,000 troops to Bosnia to try to scare the Serbian government. On 28 June 1914, the Archduke Franz-Ferdinand and his wife visited Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, to review these troops.
  • It was the Archduke's wedding anniversary. It was also Serbia's National Day – a day linked with Serbian nationalism. Waiting for Franz Ferdinand, lined up along the Appel Quay, Sarajevo's main road, were six young men. They were armed with pistols and bombs supplied by the Black Hand. They were going to try to murder Franz Ferdinand.
  • Franz Ferdinand ignored warnings about an assasination attempt (the Prime Minister of Serbia, had also told the Austrian government that there was going to be trouble).
  • To reach the Town Hall the procession had to drive along the Appel Quay.At 10.10 am, as the procession drew near the Cumuria Bridge, 
  • All attempts failed and the procesion was cancelled however the car drove the wrong way and Gavriolo Princip shot both the Duke and the Duches (11:30, June 28th 1914)
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Steps to War: Austria Declares War

Austria Declares War (July):

It is important to realise that Austria hated Serbia anyway. Nationalism threatened the very existence of the 'polyglot empire', and the Austrian Chief of Staff had asked for a 'surprise' war to destroy Serbia more than 20 times in the eight years after 1906. So the assassination was used by Austria as an opportunity to sort out the Serbs:

  • 5 JulyAustria-Hungary approached the Germans and got a 'blank cheque' that they could rely on Germany's support.
  • 23 July: The Austro-Hungarian government sent Serbia an ultimatum containing ten really tough demands. Failure to meet all of these demands, they said, would result in war.   (They expected Serbia to reject the ultimatum, which would give Austria-Hungary an excuse to invade.) 
  • 25 JulyBut the Serb government did not reject the ultimatumSerbia sent a reply in which it agreed to everything EXCEPT part of demand 6.
  • 28 July: Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.
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Steps to War: Russia Mobilises

Russia Mobilises:

The Serbs had wrong-footed the Austrians. Whereas, on 28 June, everyone in the world had supported the Austrians, now they looked unfair, unreasonable and war-mad.As the Austrian army shelled the capital of Serbia the Serbians called up their army and asked their ally, Russia, for help.

  • 24 July: Russia did not want war. The Russian Grand Council decided - if Serbia was invaded - not to give military support, but to appeal to a conference of the Great Powers.   Even the mad Rasputin warned that a war would destroy Russia.
  • 29 July: But the Tsar Nicholas had already let down Serbia in the Bosnian crisis of 1908. And - he told the Kaiser in a telegram - it was a matter of right and wrong. Nicholas decided to mobilise (call up) his army.   
  • 31 July: At first, Nicholas hoped to mobilise only against Austria-Hungary, but - when his generals told him that this was impossible - he was forced to order a general mobilisation (against Germany as well as Austria-Hungary).   However, he sent a telegram to the Kaiser assuring him that the mobilisation was NOT against Germany.
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Steps to War: Schlieffen Plan

Schlieffen Plan:

To allow a country to mobilise against you without response, said the Germans, was like allowing someone to hold a loaded gun to your head without doing anything. It is important to realise that the Schlieffen Plan for mobilisation was a plan of attack - so Germany mobilising, and Germany going to war, were one and the same thing.   

Things were going wrong for Germany - Russia was mobilising, but France showed no sign of going to war to help the Russians.   Now Russia was mobilising and was going to be ready too soon - every day that passed gave the Russian army one more day to get ready. 

  • 1 August: The Kaiser, therefore, gave the order to mobilise and Germany declared war on Russia.
  • 3 August: claiming that French planes had bombed the German town of Nuremberg, Germany declared war on France.
  • 4 August: with German troops on the march to invade France, the French declared war on Germany.
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Steps to War: England joins in

England joins in:

The British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, had spent the crisis trying to get the different countries to negotiate.

  • 1 August: Grey proposed to Germany that Britain would stay neutral if Germany did not attack France.   Kaiser Wilhelm wanted to agree, but when he tried to pause the invasion, his generals told him that he couldn't.
  • 2 August: The Schlieffen Plan had an error. It planned for the German army, when it attacked France, to go through Belgium. The day after declaring war on Russia, The Belgians refused a the German army to pass through!   So the next day, Germany invaded Belgium.
  • 4 August: Britain was obliged by a treaty of 1839 to help Belgium in the event of an invasion.   Therefore, Britain sent Germany an ultimatum demanding, by midnight, a German promise to withdraw from Belgium. The Germans were amazed: 'For a scrap of paper, Great Britain is going to make war?'. Britain went to war against Germany. 
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