History GCSE

Origins of the first world war.

HideShow resource information

Origins Of The First World War

The First World War broke out in 1914.

The root causes lay in the alliance systems that were formed in Europe and in the crises that arose in Morocco and the Balkans.

The rivalry between alliances led to tension and for them to increase their armed forces and to develop war plans.

It was the tension caused by these alliances and crises that resulted in the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand which triggered off the war plans and lead to the start of the First World War.

1 of 13

The Triple Alliance

This was between Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy. It was signed in 1882.

It was organised by Bismark, the chancellor of Germany.

Germany had defeated France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 to 1871, took provinces of Alsace and Lorraine from the French.

Victory led to the unification of German states as one country, Germany with the King of Prussia becoming Kaiser (Emperor). 

Bismark realised that France would want revenge, so he made a series of alliances that isolated France.

The Triple Alliance formed a central block of countries across Europe, separating France from Russia. It was a defensive alliance and all three powers promised to fight if they were attacked by any other two powers.

2 of 13

The Franco-Russian Alliance

After its defeat by Prussia in 1870, France was forced to sign the Treaty of Frankfurt in 1871, where it lost its provinces of Alsace and Lorraine to Germany.

Germany also made France repay the 500 billion francs (£200 million) in war debts.

The French wanted revenge on Germany but couldn't do this alone so after Bismark was dismissed by Kaiser Wilhelm in 1890, France was able to sign an agreement with Russia.

This was a deffensive treaty.

After this, Europe was divided into two armed camps and, in the event of a war, Germany would have to fight a war on both the Western and Eastern Frontier from France and Russia resulting in Germany having to divide its forces.

3 of 13

Britain And Splendid Isolation

At the end of the 19th century, Britain played little part in European events.

This isolation, because it was a deliberate policy on the part of Britain, became known as 'splendid isolation'.

This depended on the strength of the British navy. This was for protection and to keep open trade and communications with its empire, which was the largest in the world.

Two events that made Britain question 'splendid isolation' were in 1898 which was when Germany decided to build up a navy. The British thought that they had no need to as they had no empire and the strongest army in the world. Therefore they thought it was to challenge their navy.

In 1899, the Boers rebelled against Britain and then Britain became involved with the Boer War. This lasted until 1902.

4 of 13

The Anglo-Japanese Alliance

1902-Britain and Japan saigned an alliance in which they promised to help eachother out if either were attacked by more than one power.

This made splendid isolation even more successful.

There were no charges for Britain at the end of the Boer war and with this alliance, Britain was able to prevent Russia from expanding in the Far East and therefore did not need allies in Europe.

5 of 13

Entente Cordiale

Britain was becoming worried by the size of the German Naval fleet.

In 1902, Britain put its navy to a 'Three Power Standard' meaning it would be larger than the next three naval fleets in the world combined. 

Germany had made it clear that it didn't want to be involved with France or Britain so those countries both put their differences aside and formed the 'Entente Cordiale' meaning friendly agreement.

In this France allowed Britain to go ahead with reforms in Egypt and therefore Britain promised to not oppose any French action in Morocco.

Britain had no intention of becoming involved with European affairs yet Germany didn't see it this way. Germany thought Britain had now abandoned isolation and joined with France and the Germans were intent on challenging the Entente Cordiale.

6 of 13

Kaiser Wilhelm ||'s aims in foreign policy

Kaiser Wilhelm  wanted to be in the international limelight.

He saw himself as a heroic leader of Germany's army and the founder of a great navy.

His wish was to make Germany the greatest power in the world (Weltpolitik meaning world policy)

Jealous of the British Empire he set out to give Germany a 'place in the sun' and tended to upset other countries through his dramatic guestures and statements.

This led him to supporting the build up of the German navy and challenging France in Morocco.

7 of 13

Crisis in Morocco

Morocco in North Africa was one of the few areas not controlled by a European Power. 

As part of the Entente Cordial, Britain promised not to become involved the the actions made by France in Morocco and they wanted to gain control of it.

Germany with no empire but yet the strongest army claimed the need for Weltpolitik and decided to oppose the French attempt to gain control of Morocco.

1905-Kaiser visited Morocco making a big statement with his white horse, Moroccan troops and a military band and announced that he supported the independent Morocco open to the peaceful competition of the trade.

He called for an international conference which was aimed at preventing France from gaining control of Morocco and was testing the strength of the Entente Cordiale.

Held in 1906-Southern Spain, Austria-Hungary and Morocco supported Germany and Britain and Russia supported France.

France had to recognise the independence of Morocco but was given joint control with Spain over Moroccan Police.

Germany had failed to prevent France from gaining control and the Entente Cordiale was strengthened.

8 of 13

The Anglo-Russian Agreement

This involved Britain, France and Russia and this was how Britain and Russia supported France at the Algeciras and France used its influence to improve relation between them.

This led to the signing of the Anglo-Russian agreement in 1907 and this solved over sea problems between Britain and Russia.

Because of all three having made agreements, they were all referred to as the Triple Entente, though no such agreement existed.

They were not military alliances and was not designed to surround Germany but unfortunately, Germany saw this as part of a policy of encirclement being followed by Britain. Fears like this occurred because terms of these agreements were secret.

9 of 13

The Bosnian Crisis

This arose in the Balkans which consisted of many small countries that were in the process of becoming independent from the Turkish Empire.

Most of this area was occupied by Slavs. Serbia was the leading Slavs state in the Balkans and aimed to unite all other states under Serbian leadership.

This worried Austria-Hungary as their state was also made up of several races of people, one of which were the Slavs, and if these wanted to go back and unite to their original speaking country, then maybe so might the other, maybe resulting in the break up of Austria-Hungary.

1908-revolution in Turkey and Austria-Hungary took advantage of this annex (taking possession of) Bosnia, a small country made up of Slavs that was under the control of Turkey before. This annoyed Serbia but was too small to resist Austria-Hungary. 

Serbia turned to Russia.

Russia was annoyed that Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia without telling them and therefore stood by Serbia. They backed their demands for an international conference and everything depended on the Kaiser.

The Kaiser was annoyed that also Austria-Hungary didn't consult Germany on this action but he stood by his word on being against Russia.

This was because Russia had an agreement with Britain which annoyed the Kaiser even more and he was aware that only Austria-Hungary supported Germany at Algeciras. Russia was too weak to fight and had to back down.

This event had great effect on the main powers:

Austria-Hungary felt that it now had Germany's support.

Italy became less keen on the Triple Alliance as it did not like Austria-Hungary expanding into the Balkans.

Russia was humiliated by Germany and determined that it wouldn't happen again so improved its military.

Brought Britain, France and Russia closer together as they now had reason for disliking Germany.

Serbia had been forced to accept the annexation but was now certain that it knows to oppose Austria-Hungary and looked to Russia for further support.

10 of 13

Agadir: The Second Moroccan Crisis

In 1911. This was the rebellion against the ruling Sultan broke out in Fez, the capital of Morocco. The Sultan appealed to the French for help and the French army went to Morocco to put down the rebellion.

Germany opposed the French action but didn't want to have another defeat over Morocco (like Algeciras).

Germans reacted by sending gunboat to protect German interests in Morocco, like the French did. The Germans expected the French to take over Morocco but now Germany had shown an interest, to negotiate and Germany would gain something.

The use of the gun boat was another overreaction of Germany and by other countries was seen as a warlike action.

Preparations for war were made in Germany, Britain and France in 1911 but in the end, Germany back down and accepted compensation which were two marsh strips of land in the French Congo in return for accepting French control in Morocco.

The Agidir crisis was far more dangerous than the previous crisis as it brought Europe closer to war and affected the relationship between the powers:

Germany felt humiliated and wouldn't plan on backing down again.

German people were more against Britain than France for getting involved over the gunships and were starting to like the idea of war.

Britain became more convinced that Germany wanted to dominate Europe.

Secret naval agreements were made between Britain and France.

Italy opposed Germany over Agidir and this weakened the Triple Alliance meaning Germany was relying on Austria-Hungary's support more.

11 of 13

Anglo-German Naval Rivalry

Launch of the first Dreadnought in Britain in 1906 changed the balance of navies in the world.

Used to measure the strength of navies in the world.

Germany now felt it could challenge Britain at sea if it had enough Dreadnoughts. This led to the naval race between Germany and Britain.

In 1909 the Germans were believed to be speeding up their production of Dreadnoughts and Britain was already worried by this and they came to a conclusion that Germany was increasing its fleet so it could dominate Britain and Europe.

The Agidir crisis of 1911 increased Britain fears of Germany's aims and for the first time, a war against Germany became a reality.

After 1911, Britain was further ahead then Germany and Germany didn't realise that its navy was such a threat to Britain.

12 of 13

The Arms Race

By 1907, Europe had been divided up into two armed camps: The Triple Entente and the Triple Alliance.

These were all defensive but as they were secret, this was not know, causing a lot of tension as other countries thought that specific alliances were directed against them.

The fears and crises that these alliances caused also led to countries building up their armies.

13 of 13


No comments have yet been made

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all WWII and Nazi Germany 1939-1945 resources »