Why did WWI break out? International Relations 1900-1939 Unit 1 Edexcel GCSE History

revision notes

The world in 1900

  • Germany-it was ruled by Kaiser Wilhelm, who was cousin to the king of England and Tsar of Russia. It was imperialist. Had lots in common with Austria Hungary. Its main rival was France.
  • Italy- Ruled by King Vittorio Emmanuelle III. Many internal problems, but was on good terms with Austria Hungary.
  • France-Ruled by a president, and wanted to gain the Alsace-Lorraine back from Germany. It heavily paid for losing war with Germany in 1870 and therefore dislikes Germany.
  • Britain- Ruled by King George, who was imperialist and wanted to protect the British Empire in India and Africa.
  • Austria-Hungary- Ruled by Emperor Franz Joseph and controlled a large empire. Friends with Germany and wanted to expand territory into the Ottoman Empire.
  • Russia-Ruled by Tsar Nicholas II. Controlled the largest land mass in Europe and wanted to gain territory from the Ottoman Empire.
  • Ottoman Empire-Ruled by Turkey, but by 1914 it was falling apart and lots of territory was up for grabs.
1 of 11

Alliance Systems

  • The growth in power of Germany and rivalry with other powers, particularly France, triggered the Alliance systems occuring.
  • Before 1871, Germany was a collection of small independent states which were brought together as a single country by Otto von Bismarck, and Wilhelm I was made emperor, the king of Prussia.
  • Germany had defeated France in war in 1871, and had made it pay 200 million francs and in land, which resulted in tension between the two.
  • Bismarck tried to isolate France by making agreements with other countries so France had no allies to fight with against Germany. In 1882, Germany formed an agreement with Austria-Hungary and Italy, forming the Triple Alliance. In 1887, an agreement was made between Russia and Germany.
  • Britain had no interest in war as it cared too much about its empire.
  • Kaiser II dismissed Bismarck and then the alliance with Russia was never renewed.
  • France and Britain were fearful of war, so made an Entente Cordiale (friendly agreement) to not argue over colonies.
  • In 1907, Britain made an agreement with Russia, forming the Triple Entente.
  • Triple Alliance- Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy.
  • Triple Entente-France, Britain and Russia.
2 of 11

The Arms Race

  • Britain had the world's strongest navy and Germany was threatening it.
  • In 1898, Kaiser Wilhelm announced that he was building 41 battleships and 61 cruisers, in order to defend itself and protect it growing overseas trade. However, Germany didn't need a large navy; it had little coast line, and needed more army than anything else.
  • In 1906, Britain launched the Dreadnought. All previous battleships were immediately out of date and it became an race as to who could build the most dreadnoughts.
  • By 1906, Britain had built 24 dreadnoughts, and Germany had built 17.
  • All great powers had introduced conscription and built up armed forces by 1914. This was so they weren't more vulnerable to attack, so was in effect a way of preventing war.
3 of 11

The Moroccan Crises

  • The (1st) Moroccan Crisis (1905):
    • The Kaiser wanted to test the Entente Cordiale.
    • France wanted to take Morocco, so the Kaiser declared support for Moroccan independence, which enraged France. A conference in Algeciras in Spain was made, and countries stood by France and said that it had special rights in Morocco.
    • As a result, the Entente Cordiale was strengthened.
  • The Agadir Crisis (2nd Moroccan Crisis) (1911):
    • There was a rebellion against the Sultan in 1911, and France sent troops to put it down, and then used it as an excuse to take Morocco.
    • France offered compensation in case countries were worried about trade being affected.
    • Germany, however, sent a gunboat called the Panther to the Agadir Port in Morocco.
    • Britain threatened war on Germany as a result, and Germany then back down.
4 of 11

Bosnian Crisis 1908

  • Austria-Hungary didn't want to see anymore independent countries in the Balkans, nor the expansion of Russian influence, and therefore supported Ottoman control over the region.
  • However, there were problems with this. At a conference in 1878, it was agreed that Austria-Hungary should 'administer' Bosnia-Herzegovina, as the Ottomans no longer had the military power to keep control, and Austria-Hungary did not want to see Serbians in Bosnia-Herzogovina joining with Serbia-she was happy to provide 'peaceful protection'.
  • In 1908, there was an uprising in the Ottoman army and a group of 'Young Turks' overthrew the sultan and put his brother, Mohammad V, on the throne, and then began to reform Turkey and turn it into a modern state.
  • This caused alarm in Austria-Hungary; if the Ottomans were strong again, they could try to recover Bosnia-Herzegovina, which was still technically Ottoman. Therefore, the Austrian foreign minister announced that Austria-Hungary had formally annexed (taken) Bosnia-Herzegovina, and that it was officially part of the Habsburg Empire.
  • This increased tension in the Balkans; the Ottomans considered this as their territory being siezed; the Serbians were angry as they had wanted to bring Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina into Serbia; and Russia disliked the increase in Habsburg power.
  • Austria-Hungary pain the Turks compensations and it seemed that that was the end of the matter. Russia considered war, but Germany made it clear that it was to stand by its ally, so Russia backed down. Serbia wanted war too, but couldn't without Russian support.
  • Austria-Hungary's success meant that both Serbia and Russia were determined to win next time, and a Serbian terrorist organisation, the Black Hand, was formed.
5 of 11

Balkan Wars

  • First Balkan War
    • Despite reforms carried out by the Young Turks, the Ottoman Empire continued to break up and they fell from power in Turkey in 1911. The Balkan states took this opportunity to attack the Ottomans. Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria and Montenegro came together in the organisation known as the Balkan League, and declared war in 1912.
    • Within three weeks the Balkan League pushed the Ottomans back as far as Adrianople; almost out of Europe.
    • The huge decline of the Ottomans worried Austria-Hungary, who feared that nationalism would rise again and unsettle its people, so persuaded the Great Powers to hold a conference in London to draw up a peace treaty, ending the First Balkan War.
  • Second Balkan War
    • Within a month, fighting started again due to the Balkan League arguing over what they had won in the first war.
    • Bulgaria attacked its former allies simply because it was unhappy with its gains. Romania joined in to try and win land from Bulgaria. Even the Ottomans joined in and took back some land which was lost in the first war
6 of 11

Balkan Wars-Consequences


  • The wars had been fought over possession of land in south-east Europe, but had widespread consequences.
  • The Ottoman Empire was now confirmed as ending at Adrianople. In effect, its European possessions were lost.
  • Greece, Romania and Serbia had new territories won from Serbia.
  • Serbia emerged as the most powerful but most dissatisfied Balkan country, as Adriatic coastline they had won (they were previously landlocked) had been taken away from them at Austria-Hungary's insistence, due to Austria-Hungary's fear of Serbian growth in power and becoming a bigger threat.
  • This more convinced some Serbs that they would eventually go to war with the might Habsburgs one day.
7 of 11

The Assassination of Franz Ferdinand-Introduction

  • Archduke Franz Ferdinand
    • Heir to the throne of Austria. 1890-married Countess Sophie Chotek, although forbidden by his father (Emperor Franz Joseph) due to her not being of royal blood. Kaiser Wilhelm II, Tsar Nicholas II and even Pope Leo XIII wrote to the father asking him to allow the marriage. Joseph eventually relented, but he, government officials and most of the royal family didn't attend the ceremony. Sophie was made princess of Hohenberg, but her children could not inherit the throne and public appearances were limited as it was 'inappropiate' for the heir of the throne to be seen with non-royalty.
  • Visting Sarajevo
    • Ferdinand was the head of the army so could go to military reviews with his wife.
    • On 28th June 1914, he and his wife boarded a train to Sarajevo to inspect local troops early in the morning of a sunny day at a military camp near the railway station, and then they climbed aboard an open-top limousine waiting to take them to their next appointment and crowds cheered them as their motorcade made its way through the streets.
8 of 11

The Assassination of Franz Ferdinand-Events

  • There were 6 young Bosnian Serbs, part of the Black Hand, who had been given guns and bombs to kill Franz Ferdinand.
  • 2 conspirators failed to act, but the third, Nedeljko Cabrinovic threw a hand grenade at the Archduke but it bounced off the car and blew up the car behind, killing 2 officers and about 20 people. Cabrinovic swallowed poison but it didn't work and he was arrested.
  • Franz Ferdinand's car sped to the town hall, and two more lost their nerve and the last, Gavrilo Princip, couldn't shoot as the car was too fast.
  • At the town hall, Franz Ferdinand told officials that he wanted to visit the injured bomb victims at the hospital, and so to prevent further attacks, he wouldn't take the direct route via Franz Joseph Street.
  • However, the driver misheard the instructions and took a wrong turn, and then stopped to turn the car around. The car was reversing in front of Gavrilo Princip, who had stayed in town after the failed attack, but took two steps forward and fired two shots.
  • Both died.
9 of 11

Consequences of the Assassination

  • 5 of the conspirators were arrested, as well as the organiser of it, Danilo Ilic. Ilic was in contact with the chief of Serbian military intelligence, Colonel Apis. The Black Hand also recieved help from Serbia, so it seemed likely that Serbia was involved in the assassination, although at the trial the conspirators claimed to be acting on their own.
  • The were found guilty at a trial in October 1914, by which time the war had began.
  • Ilic- hanged, but Cabrinovic and Princip were under 20 years old-no death penalty, so got the maximum prison sentence-20 years. Both died in prison of tuberculosis and neither lived to see the end of the war that their actions had triggered.
  • Just after the assassination, the Habsburgs decided that action had to be taken against Serbia. Russia was likely to support Russia, so on the 5th July Kaiser Wilhelm was told that Austria-Hungary was to take action against Serbia, and promised to stand by its ally, even if it meant war with Russia.
  • On 23rd July, the Habsburg government sent an ultimatum to Serbia, which was mainly about removing any negativity towards Austria-Hungary mainly. Serbia agreed to it all apart from one: that they must alow government officials from AH to go into Serbia to take part in an inquiry (against conspirators of 28th June).
  • The British foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey, tried to organise a conference between the Great Powers, but both AH and Germany rejected this. AH had expected its ultimatum to Serbia to be unacceptable, and then declared war on 28th July. Russians had been expecting this, and on the 30th the Tsar agreed to prepare his forces for war.
  • Germany had promised to support Austria, so told Russia it must not help Serbia. When Serbia didn't do so, Germany declared on Russia on 1st August.
10 of 11

World War One

  • German Schlieffen plan, prepared in 1905:
    • At the outbreak of war, AH would invade Russia, so Germany only had to worry about France.
    • A full scale attack on France meant a quick victory, so they could then move on to attack the Russians with Austria Hungary.
    •  Britain might not enter war, as defeats of France and Russia made it more likely to lose.
  • Therefore, when France mobilised their forces for war on 2nd August, and Germany launched the Schlieffen Plan.
    • Attacked France through Belgium. Until this point it was possible that Britain was going to stay out of the war. However, Britain announced that it was going to honour its agreement of 1839 to guarantee Belgium's independence.
    • The agreement had been made in another century; Germany complained that Britain was going to war over a 'scrap of paper'. Britain declared on Germany on 4th August.
    • Grey had told the House of Commons the day before "We are going to suffer, I am afraid, terribly in this war, whether we are in it or whether we stand aside."
11 of 11




good notes, also on slide 2 you said in 1882 Austria - Hungary and Italy joined to make the Triple Alliance, this does not make sense as the word "Triple" gives the impression that there is three, which there was, because Germany should be included too.




No problem, and I did mean that, although the wording of it is ambiguous, thanks for telling me.

Halima Mohamed


Lloyd George wasnt the king. He was the Prime Minister of Britain.

Thanks for the great notes.

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all Causes and effects of WW1 resources »