Outbreak of War

In the years leading up to the First World War, Germany sought to gain international presence by extending her empire and increasing her naval capacity. 

Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy formed the Triple Alliance in 1882, agreeing to support each other if attacked by either France or Russia. The objective of the Anglo-French Entente Cordiale of 1904 was to settle Britain and France’s disagreements outside Europe, in Africa and Asia. France and Russia had an alliance from 1894, and in 1907 Russian and Britain reached agreements about Central Asia. These agreements gradually developed to form the Triple Entente, from 1905-07 onwards the three countries were co-operating more closely against Germany and Austria-Hungary.

Archduke Franz ferdinand

When Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, was assassinated in Bosnia-Herzegovina in June 1914, the Austro-Hungarians issued an ultimatum to Serbia which would make Serbia an effective client-state of the Austrians. It was expected that Serbia would reject the ultimatum, providing a pretext for a war against them, but running the risk of drawing Russia in on the side of Serbia. With this in mind, Austria-Hungary sought assurances from Germany that she would come to her aid if Russia declared war in support of Serbia.

Dissatisfied with Serbia’s response, Austria-Hungary declared war on 28th July which sparked a series of events culminating into the Great War. Russia announced the mobilisation of her army, which Germany viewed as a threat to the Austrians and to themselves, and thus declared war on Russia and its ally France on 1st and 3rd August, respectively.

Britain had initially hoped for a diplomatic solution to the situation; she feared that if Germany were to defeat France, Europe would be dominated by a single, militarist autocracy. Germany launched her attack on France on 4th August, invading neutral Belgium in an attempt to bypass French defences. The Germans aimed to defeat France before turning eastward to Russia. 

This act of war broke the 1839 Treaty of London which bound Britain to guard the neutrality of Belgium. Britain was nervous that a German success against Belgium or France would guarantee German domination of Europe, and thus declared war on Germany. 


On the 28th June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was assassinated. The Archduke and his wife were shot by Gavrilo Princip, a member of the Black Hand Gang, an organisation that wanted to rid Bosnia of Austrian rule, while they were visiting Sarajevo, Bosnia. Shortly afterwards Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and the chain of events that led to the First World War were set in motion. 

Schlieffen Plan

the sunday news war map, 1914

the sunday news war map, 1914

Germany had been preparing for war since the 1870’s. Their SCHLIEFFEN-MOLTKE PLAN took nine years to finalise and was based on the theory that if Germany went to war with Russia, France would inevitably attack Germany, producing the military nightmare of Germany fighting a war on two fronts. 

The plan assumed France was weak and could be beaten quickly, and that Russia would take 6 weeks to mobilise its army, in which time if Germany knocked out France, Germany would  be left fighting one enemy, Russia. 

Russia issued the general mobilisation order on 31st July, but France did not attack. Germany was forced to invent a pretext to declare war on France.