101 Facts… World War One!
by IP Factly
Over 101 fascinating facts about the first official world war in history.
It contains incredible facts and contemporary photos that help illuminate one of the darkest periods of the modern world.
World War I
Alliances before the War
Lead-up to War
Entry of the US
Hundred Days Offensive
End of War
World War I had several names which included “The War to End All Wars”, “The War of the Nations” and “The Great War”.
Before World War I broke out, two blocs of opposing allies existed among European countries – the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente.
Map of military alliances of Europe in 1914
The Triple Alliance was made up of Germany, Italy and the Empire of Austria-Hungary.
The Triple Entente consisted of Russia, France and Britain. In French, entente means “friendship”, “understanding” or “agreement”. It was named entente because the three had, for much of the previous hundred years, been enemies (Britain and France had been fighting wars against each other for nearly 900 years).
There were two opposing alliances during World War I – the Allies and the Central Powers.
Final alliances of World War One. Green – Entente and Allies (some entered the war or dropped out later), Orange – Central Powers (some in green began as orange and switched),Gray – Neutral Countries
The Allies were made up of Russia, France, the British Empire, Italy (from September 8th, 1943), the United States (as an associated ally from April 6th, 1917), Japan, Romania, Serbia, Belgium, Greece, Portugal and Montenegro.
Russian Poster from 1914 depicting France, Russia & Britain
The Central Powers were composed of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy (up to September 8th, 1943), the Ottoman Empire (modern Turkey) and Bulgaria.
World War I postcard showing Central Powers’ monarchsGermany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II, Austria’s Kaiser and Hungary’s King Franz Joseph, the Ottoman Empire’s Sultan Mehmed V, Bulgaria’s Tsar Ferdinand
The World War I arms race focused on Germany and Great Britain, who were challenging each other for naval supremacy.
When the war broke out, all the major European powers except for Britain had conscripted (drafted) armies. Much of Britain’s efforts focused on strengthening the Royal Navy which was the largest sea force in the world at that time.
By 1914, Britain had twenty-nine Dreadnoughts and nine Dreadnought battle-cruisers while Germany had seventeen Dreadnoughts and seven battle cruisers.
World’s first dreadnought – HMS Dreadnought, 1906
The Balkan Peninsula in Eastern Europe was strategically located between the Mediterranean, the Black, the Adriatic and the Aegean seas.
It was composed of several nations, including Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Bosnia.
The Balkan States as well as much of Eastern Europe were under the rule of the Ottoman Empire.
The weakening and disintegrating empire caused several significant economic and political disorders among the states which would later become catalysts for World War I.
Balkan campaigns during World War I
The path to World War I can be seen in the Moroccan Crises which included the Tangier Crisis (1905-1906) and the Agadir Crisis of 1911. Morocco was under French influence and Germany attempted to undermine the French.
The Tangier Crisis was an attempt by Germany, using the call for the independence of Morocco, to drive Britain away from France. British fears of German motives led them to back the French and in 1907, to sign the Triple Entente with Russia.
The Agadir Crisis saw France ignoring the peace treaty after Tangier and moving troops into Morocco following a rebellion. Germany responded by sending a gunboat called the Panther to Agadir. This may have been a further attempt by Germany to splinter the Entente. However, Britain was worried about Germany’s ambitions in North Africa and the possibility of its setting up a naval base to rival Britain’s in Gibraltar. The two armed camps were only driven closer together.
Some historians believe that German militarism (especially efforts to build up naval supremacy) created a tension among European powers (especially Britain) that led to war.
The war was finally triggered by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria
The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand took place on June 28th, 1914.
The terrorist group responsible for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was called the Black Hand of Sarajevo.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand was killed by Gavrilo Princip, a 19-year-old Serbian Nationalist.
Some of the opening hostilities of World War I involved a battle between the Allies and German colonial forces in Africa, which started on August 7th, 1914. Most historians refer to this event as the beginning of the African Campaigns.
One of the first battles of the war was the Battle of Cer, which was fought between the invading Austro-Hungarian army and the defending Serbian army on August 12th, 1914.
The Battle of Cer marked the first major Allied victory in the war. It meant that Austria had to keep a large army on the Serbian front and that it was much more difficult for Austria to take on Russia.
The youngest known soldier in World War I joined up following the death of his relatives in this early part of the war. He was a Serbian called Momčilo Gavrić and was only 8 when he began serving.
Momčilo Gavrić in 1916
At the age of 10 he was promoted to Corporal, and at 11 he became a Lance Sergeant. He went on to live until 1993.
Momčilo Gavrić and another soldier reporting to major Stevan Tucović, 1916
One of Germany’s first major offensives at the outbreak of the war was the Schlieffen Plan which was designed to quickly occupy France through Belgium.
Although the Schlieffen Plan proved to be very successful at first, the German army was held in check by French and British forces on September 12th, 1914.
Within a few months of the outbreak of the war, the Allies (consisting of Japan, New Zealand and Australian military forces) had seized all German territories in the Pacific – completely paralyzing the German offensive in that region.
The Eastern Front was where the battles between Russia and Germany took place.
Russia attempted to invade Austrian Galicia and German East Prussia at the same time. They were initially successful in Galicia but failed in East Prussia and were eventually pushed back in both.
Russian prisoners and guns captured at Tannenberg. Tannenberg was a huge early German victory against Russia.
The Russians were forced all the way back past Poland (Poland prior to World War I was partitioned and its different parts ruled by Prussia, Austria-Hungary and Russia).
Russian troops in a typical rear-guard trench built during the great retreat, 1917
The economic hardship in Russia, made worse by World War I, led to two revolutions in 1917. The February Revolution saw Tsar Nicholas II forced to abdicate, but Russia continued fighting. However the October Revolution saw Lenin and the Communist Party take control of Russia and they wanted to end their part in the war.
The signing of the Brest-Litovsk treaty in early 1918 took the Russians out of the war.
Signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (February 9, 1918) by 1. Count Ottokar Czernin, 2. Richard von Kühlmann and 3. Vasil Radoslavov
During the war, Russia had mobilized twelve million troops, making it the largest army in the war.
More than eight million Russian soldiers were killed or missing during the course of the conflict.
Some of the battles fought on the Eastern Front included the battles of Tannenberg, Masurian Lakes, Bolimov, Lake Naroch and Riga.
Serbia managed to drive Austria out of its country in 1914, but in 1915 Bulgaria was persuaded to join the Central powers and together with Austria-Hungary, they gathered together 600,000 troops and invaded Serbia and Montenegro. The invasion defeated Serbia within a month and Montenegro followed shortly in early 1916.
Bulgarian soldiers aiming at an incoming airplane
During the war, Serbia lost about 850,000 people. That was a quarter of its pre-war population!
A secret German and Ottoman Empire alliance was signed in August 1914.
Allied forces including British, French, and Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs) attempted to open up a front against the Ottoman Empire but were unsuccessful at Gallipoli in 1915.
Australian troops charging an Ottoman trench at Gallipoli
The vital Suez Canal was successfully defended from Ottoman attacks in 1915 and 1916. The Suez Canal was the link between Britain and the most vital part of its empire – India. Ottoman forces were then pushed back as far as Palestine by the Allies. There it was held.
In 1918, much of the British force went to the Western Front and was replaced by infantry from the Indian army. The Indian army and remnants of the British army plus units from the West Indies, Australia and New Zealand broke through the Ottoman lines and pushed the Ottoman forces all the way back to what is now Syria.
Romania had been a Central Power ally since 1882, but when war came it declared itself neutral because Austria-Hungary had declared war first.
The Allies offered Romania large parts of Hungary if it declared war against Austria. On August 27th, 1916 Romania, with Russian help, attacked Austria-Hungary. However initial success faltered, and when the Russians withdrew from the war Romania was forced to ask for peace in late 1917.
Romanian troops at Marasesti in 1917
Romania rejoined the war on November 10th, 1918, one day before it officially ended on the 11th.
Romanian deaths from 1914 to 1918, including both military and civilian, were believed to be 748,000.
Italy had been allied with Germany and Austria-Hungary since 1882 but, like Romania, refused to act because Austria was the aggressor.
In the Treaty of London the Allies offered Italy the Southern Tyrol, Austrian Littoral and territory on the Dalmatian coast after the defeat of Austria-Hungary.
In May 1915 Italy joined the Allies and declared war on Austria-Hungary; the following year Italy declared war on Germany.
Painting of Italian and Austro-Hungarian Battle of Doberdò, August 1916
By November 1918, Italy had fought its way to and seized the territory on the Dalmatian coast first offered in the Treaty of London.
Troops from both sides of the front sung Christmas carols to each other on Christmas Eve in 1914. The next day, soldiers along two-thirds of the Front declared a ceasefire, some which lasted for a week.
British and German troops meeting in no man’s land, 1914 (134th Saxon Regiment and Royal Warwickshire Regiment)
The Western Front, or Western Theater, was the line where the Allies (made up of British and French soldiers) faced the opposing German army. The Western Front stretched from Belgium to Switzerland.
The German and Allied armies in this front dug trenches that were several miles long. Because of these trenches, neither side gained more than a few miles of ground for much of the war.
Royal Irish Rifles in a communication trench on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916
Some of the more famous battles fought in this theater were the battles of Marne, Ypres, Verdun, Somme, Passchendale and Cambrai. They were extremely bloody and terrible battles as both sides slowly understood the enormous casualties the new machine guns and other weaponry could cause.
The worst of all the battles was the Battle of the Somme, which raged from July to November 1916. The first day saw the British army alone suffer 57,470 casualties, including 19,240 dead. The entire Battle of the Somme is estimated to have cost the British army 420,000 casualties, the French 200,000 and the Germans 500,000 casualties.
German soldier at the Battle of the Somme, 1916
The naval war saw Britain attempt to blockade German ships in port and stop supplies from getting into Germany. This was largely successful. However, Germany developed submarines known as U boats, and these were used to attack ships bringing supplies to Britain from North America. Germany hoped simply to starve Britain out of the war.
Although the world’s first submarine was used during the American Revolution, submarines never really gained prominence until World War I. German U-boats were one of Germany’s finest naval weapons in the war.
Most of the time, U-boats stayed on the surface and submerged only to attacks ships with torpedoes.
From 1914 to 1918, 274 German U-boats sank 6596 ships. The most successful of these U-boats was the U-35, which sank 224 ships.
The sinking of the ship Lusitania in 1915 by German U boats, with the loss of 128 American lives, altered the war. President Woodrow Wilson successfully demanded that Germany stop attacking passenger ships.
German postcard showing the SM U-20 sinking of RMS Lusitania
The most notable sea battle of World War I was the Battle of Jutland in 1916, between Germany and Britain, which ended in a draw. It was one of the largest naval battles in history. Even now, historians debate which country actually won. Britain lost the most ships but Germany was forced to retreat and as a result was unable to stop the British blockade.
Germany had been very successful in stopping supplies from getting to Britain. After the Lusitania sinking, Britain could now get food and arms across the Atlantic much more easily. Britain took charge of the seas after the Battle of Jutland as its blockade of Germany was also firmly in place. Germany was now in danger of being starved into surrender.
In 1917 Germany, despite its agreement with the US, once again began using U boats to attack all shipping. It gambled that it could starve Britain into submission before the US joined the war.
The German gamble on the U-boats failed because the Allies developed a convoy system of shipping which the Allies’ navy was better able to defend. Britain did not starve and the United States joined the war much earlier than the Germans anticipated.
US Navy recruitment poster showing a German wading through a sea of dead bodies, 1917
The United States’ initial refusal to participate in the war stirred a small division among American soldiers. As a result, some Americans joined the French Foreign Legion or the British or the Canadian armies, and fought on the Western Front.
Early in 1917, seven US merchant ships were sunk by German U-boats. Just as important in bringing the US into the war was an intercepted telegram, called the Zimmermann Telegram. The German Foreign Minister, Arthur Zimmermann, asked Mexico to join Germany in a war against the United States. Zimmermann promised to finance a Mexican war against the US to help it recover Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.
President Wilson before Congress on 3rd February 1917
On April 2nd, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson called for a Declaration of War before the US Congress. The US Senate passed the war resolution on April 4th, 1917 and the country officially entered the war two days later.
The United States entered the war on April 6th, 1917. They never formally allied with Britain or France, but become an “Associated Power”.
The United States only participated in actual combat for seven and a half months.
US troops fought their first battle on November 2nd, 1917 in Barthelemont, France.
The United States entered World War I with just over 200,000 soldiers.
American major in the basket of an observation balloon, June 1918
To increase the number of Americans joining the war, the US Congress passed the Selective Service Act in May 1917, which drafted 2.7 million American soldiers.
The United States spent about $30 billion on World War I.
The United States became the largest military power in the world after World War I.
One of the very few African-American units that fought on the front lines was called the Harlem Fell Fighters. After the war, the soldiers received the French Croix de Guerre medal in honor of their bravery and heroism.
The British blockade, the entry of the US and a failed German spring offensive in 1918 all sapped German morale. The Allies were in a position to make a push for victory.
The Hundred Days Offensive started on August 8th, 1918 and ended on November 11th, 1918.
The Allied offensive started with the Battle of Amiens, which took a heavy toll on the surprised German army. The battle made use of over 400 tanks and 120,000 British and French troops.
Artist’s depiction of a German prisoners of war column being led away. 8 August 1918 by William Longstaff
More than 15,000 German prisoners of war were taken captive on the first day of the Allied offensive.
Rather than continuing to attack in the same place, the Allied commanders at last realized that, as resistance got stronger in one area, they had to switch the focus of attack. This was too much pressure for the beleaguered German army and it got pushed further and further back.
Canadian troops taking cover near Arras, September, 1918
The Hundred Days Offensive ended with the signing of the Armistice of Compiègne, which officially ended the war on the Western Front.
One of the last soldiers to die in the Hundred Days Offensive was Canadian Private George Lawrence Price. He died two minutes before the armistice took effect.
US 64th regiment celebrate the Armistice
The signing of the Armistice of Compiègne signaled the defeat of Germany and the end of the conflict in the Western Front.
The armistice was agreed in a rail carriage at Compiègne
The Armistice was signed on November 11th, 1918 just after 5 a.m. Paris time.
Historians believe that the last German casualty was Lieutenant Tomas and the last soldier that died in World War I was the American soldier Henry Gunther who was killed one minute before the armistice was due to come into effect at 11am November 11th,1918.
Four empires collapsed at the end of World War I: the German, Russian, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires.
Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland became independent countries after World War I.
Map of Europe in 1923
Britain was no longer the world’s leading power at the end of World War I. Unemployment was rampant and the country had incurred vast debts.
The 1919 Treaty of Versailles officially ended World War I. As a result, the agreement imposed several economic, military and territorial sanctions on the defeated Germany.
The League of Nations, a world organization designed to promote peace, was born from the rubble and ashes of World War I. The League of Nations was the forerunner of today’s United Nations.
The United States was now the world’s strongest power but its Senate refused to back President Wilson and join the League of Nations. This left the League significantly weaker in the following decades.
Cartoon from ‘Punch’ magazine suggesting the League of Nations was bound to collapse without US support (10 December 1919)
World War I was the catalyst that led to the formation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) – the world’s very first communist state.
The formation of the USSR also introduced a new era of governance in world history – communism.
Because of the horrible deaths caused by poisonous gases, most countries that participated in World War I signed treaties that abolished the use of chemical weapons.
Chemical weapons like mustard gas were one of the most unfortunate technological developments of World War I.
The first army to launch a tear gas attack against its opponents was the French in August 1914. The Germans attempted to use it against the Russians in January 1915 but theirs turned to liquid because of the cold air.
Germany was the first country to use the poisonous chlorine gas in World War I.
British machine gun crew wearing anti-gas helmets, Battle of the Somme, July 1916
More than thirty poisonous gases were used throughout the war. At some point, soldiers were even told to hold a urine-soaked cloth over their faces for protection.
Gas masks fitted with air filtration, which provided more effective protection, were not invented until 1918.
During World War I, British tanks were categorized into “males” and “females”. Male tanks had cannons while female ones had machine guns.
The first tank of World War I was named “Little Willie”. It was built in 1915 and carried a crew of three.
The first ever tank, ‘Little Willie’
Germany used giant Howitzer cannons during World War I. Such models were named “Big Bertha” after the wife of the designer, Gustac Krupp.
“Big Bertha” could fire a 2050-pound (930-kilogram) shell a distance of nine miles (fifteen kilometers). and took a crew of 200 men six hours to assemble it. Germany had a total of thirteen “Big Berthas” during the war.
Big Bertha howitzer
France’s “Big Bertha” counterpart was a 75-millimeter cannon called “Devil Gun”. The French claimed that it was accurate up to four miles (six and a half kilometers). Furthermore, French authorities claimed that its Devil Gun won the war.
Machine guns were widely introduced during World War I. One of the very first models was the US Maxim, which was capable of firing 450 to 600 rounds per minute.
During the 1916 US election, one of President Woodrow Wilson’s campaign slogans was “He kept us out of war”. Yet just a month after he took office, President Wilson took the US into World War I
German trenches were far more “convenient” that their British counterparts. These trenches had bunk beds, furniture, cupboards, electric lights, faucets and even doorbells!
Initially, tanks were called “landships”. The British started to use the word “tanks” in an attempt to disguise them as water storage tanks instead of weapons.
British Mark V tanks with attachments
The term “dogfight” originated from World War I. During the war, pilots had to switch their planes’ engines off during rapid turns so the planes would not stall. The sound of restarting engines in mid-air sounded like barking dogs.
Manfred von Richthofen with other members of Jasta 11
The deadliest fighter pilot of World War I was the German Manfred Von Richthofen, who shot down eighty planes throughout the war. Most people refer to him as the “Red Baron”.
Remains of Baron von Richthofen’s plane after it crashed. He had been killed by a single bullet to the heart, 21 April 1918.
World War I is the sixth-most deadly conflict the world has known.
Around twenty-one million troops were wounded during the war.
About 1.2 million soldiers on both sides died from gas attacks in World War I.
250,000 British soldiers suffered total or partial amputations by the end of World War I.
More than 200,000 men died in the trenches during the war.
Eleven percent of France’s entire population was killed or wounded during World War I.
More than 80,000 British soldiers suffered from shell-shock, which is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder.
Aside from the 2.7 million US soldiers drafted by the Selective Service Act of 1917, around 1.3 million more voluntarily joined the ranks by the end of World War I.
World War I claimed more than 116,000 American soldiers.
Around 204,000 US soldiers were wounded during the war.
More than one million soldiers died in the 1916 Battle of Verdun, which lasted for ten months.
Overall, around 65 million soldiers participated in the war.
More than eight million soldiers died in World War I.
Douaumont ossuary cemetery for French and German soldiers who died at the Battle of Verdun. There are at least 130,00 unknown remains at the memorial.
Image01 Map of military alliances of Europe in 1914 by historicair cc2.5
Image02 Final alliances of World War One
Green – Entente and Allies (some entered the war or dropped out later)
Orange – Central Powers (some in green began as orange and switched)
Gray – Neutral Countries
Image by Thomashwang at the English language Wikipedia cc3.0
Image03a Russian Poster from 1914 depicting France, Russia & Britain.
Image03b World War I postcard showing Central Powers’ monarchs
Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II, Austria’s Kaiser and Hungary’s King Franz Joseph, the Ottoman Empire’s Sultan Mehmed V, Bulgaria’s Tsar Ferdinand.
Image04 World’s first dreadnought – HMS Dreadnought (British Battleship, 1906)
Image05 Balkan campaigns during World War I by Kandi cc3.0
Image06a Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria
Image06b Gavrilo Princip
Image07 Momcilo Gavric in 1916
Image08 Momcilo Gavric and another soldier reporting to major Stevan Tucovic, 1916.
Image09a Russian prisoners and guns captured at Tannenberg. Tannenberg was a huge early German victory against Russia.
Image09b Russian troops in a typical rear-guard trench built during the great retreat in 1917.
Image10 Signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (February 9, 1918) by 1. Count Ottokar Czernin, 2. Richard von Kühlmann and 3. Vasil Radoslavov
Image11 Bulgarian soldiers aiming at an incoming airplane
Image12 Australian troops charging an Ottoman trench at Gallipoli
Image13 Romanian troops at Marasesti in 1917
Image14 Painting of Italian and Austro-Hungarian Battle of Doberdò, August 1916
Image15 British and German troops meeting in no man’s land, 1914 (134th Saxon Regiment and Royal Warwickshire Regiment)
Image16 Royal Irish Rifles in a communication trench on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916
Image17 German soldier at the Battle of the Somme, 1916
Image18 Submarine “U-14” between 1910 and 1915
Image19 German postcard showing the SM U-20 sinking of RMS Lusitania
Image20 W.A. Rogers 1917 U.S. Navy recruitment poster showing a German wading through a sea of dead bodies
Image21 President Wilson before Congress on 3rd February 1917
Image22 American major in the basket of an observation balloon in June 1918
Image23 Artist’s depiction of a German prisoners of war column being led away
8 August 1918 by William Longstaff
Image24a Canadian troops taking cover near Arras, September, 1918
Image24b US 64th regiment celebrate the Armistice
Image25a The armistice was agreed in a rail carriage at Compiègne
Image26 Map of Europe in 1923
Image27 Cartoon from ‘Punch’ magazine suggesting the League of Nations was bound to collapse without US support (10 December 1919)
Image28 British machine gun crew wearing anti-gas helmets, Battle of the Somme, July 1916.
Image29 The first ever tank, the British made ‘Little Willie’. Image by Andrew Skudder cc2.0
Image30 Big Bertha howitzer
Image31a British Mark V tanks with attachments
Image31b Manfred von Richthofen with other members of Jasta 11
Image32 Remains of Baron von Richthofen’s plane after it crashed. He had been killed by a single bullet to the heart, 21 April 1918.
Image32 Douaumont Ossuary cemetery for French and German soldiers who died at the Battle of Verdun. There are at least 130,00 unknown remains at the memorial. Image by Ketounette cc2.5