Imperial, territorial, and economic rivalries led to the “Great War” between the Central Powers (Austria-Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria, and Turkey) and the Allies (U.S., Britain, France, Russia, Belgium, Serbia, Greece, Romania, Montenegro, Portugal, Italy, and Japan). About 10 million combatants killed, 20 million wounded.
Austrian Archduke Francis Ferdinand and wife assassinated in Sarajevo by Serbian nationalist, Gavrilo Princip (June 28). Austria declares war on Serbia (July 28). Germany declares war on Russia (Aug. 1), on France (Aug. 3), invades Belgium (Aug. 4). Britain declares war on Germany (Aug. 4). Germans defeat Russians in Battle of Tannenberg on Eastern Front (Aug.). First Battle of the Marne (Sept.). German drive stopped 25 miles from Paris. By end of year, war on the Western Front is “positional” in the trenches.
German submarine blockade of Great Britain begins (Feb.). Dardanelles Campaign—British land in Turkey (April), withdraw from Gallipoli (Dec.–Jan. 1916). Germans use gas at second Battle of Ypres (April–May). Lusitania sunk by German submarine—1,198 lost, including 128 Americans (May 7). On Eastern Front, German and Austrian “great offensive” conquers all of Poland and Lithuania; Russians lose 1 million men (by Sept. 6 ). “Great Fall Offensive” by Allies results in little change from 1914 (Sept.–Oct.). Britain and France declare war on Bulgaria (Oct. 14).
May 7, 1915 brought the United States into World War I. A German submarine sank the British ocean liner Lusitania off the coast of Ireland. More than 1,000 passengers were killed, including 128 Americans. The people of the United States were shocked! Wilson did not declare war, but instead asked Germany for an apology, for damages to be paid, and for a promise not to attack any more passenger ships. Italy then entered the war for the Allies and attacked Austria-Hungary from the south.
In February, 1915, the German government announced an unrestricted warfare campaign. This meant that any ship taking goods to Allied countries was in danger of being attacked. This broke international agreements that stated commanders who suspected that a non-military vessel was carrying war materials, had to stop and search it, rather than do anything that would endanger the lives of the occupants.
The Lusitania , was at 32,000 tons, the largest passenger vessel on transatlantic service, left New York harbour for Liverpool on 1st May, 1915. It was 750ft long, weighed 32,500 tons and was capable of 26 knots. On this journey the ship carried 1,257 passengers and 650 crew.
At 1.20pm on 7th May 1915, the U-20, only ten miles from the coast of Ireland , surfaced to recharge her batteries. Soon afterwards Captain Schwieger, the commander of the German U-Boat , observed the Lusitania in the distance. Schwieger gave the order to advance on the liner. The U20 had been at sea for seven days and had already sunk two liners and only had two torpedoes left. He fired the first one from a distance of 700 metres. Watching through his periscope it soon became clear that the Lusitania was going down and so he decided against using his second torpedo.
"It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war.... but the right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts."
Two powerful groups called alliances were created. The Central Powers were led by Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey. Many Americans who had come from Germany favored the Central Powers. The Allied Powers were led by Great Britain, France and Russia. Those who had come from Great Britain rooted for the Allies.
Neutrality was the stance taken by the majority of Americans towards the war. They felt that Europe was too far away and that its conflicts were not trustworthy. President Wilson also believed that all Americans needed to "act and speak in a spirit of neutrality."
The two armies dug trenches to protect themselves from bullets and bombs. Then they put up mazes of barbed wire around the trenches. The area between the trenches was called "no man's land." Soldiers ate and slept in the trenches. First one side, and then the other would try to break through at some point along the line. It was very difficult for either side to win a battle this way, and trench warfare claimed many lives.
Woodrow Wilson, the President of the United States at the time of war, represented the United States in Versailles himself. He had a difficult time convincing the other three leaders to accept his idea of peace without victory. Wilson was forced to agree that Germany had caused the war.