Causes of WW1
An overview of the Alliance System before the outbreak of the First World War including archive footage from the time.
On the 10th February 1906 the British King, Edward VII, launched HMS Dreadnought – a revolutionary new type of battleship that made all other ships obsolete. She was the fastest and most heavily-armed ship in the world, and the name Dreadnought began to be used to describe a whole class of similar ships.
You might think that having the best ship in the world would make Britain the undisputed champion of the seas, but the launch of the Dreadnought arguably created more problems than it solved. Ever since the British government adopted the Two-Power Standard as part of the Naval Defence Act in 1889, the Royal Navy had to have at least the same number of battleships as the next two largest navies in the world combined. At that point it was France and Russia, but by 1906 Wilhelm II had become Kaiser of Germany and began aggressive military expansion and the development of a German Empire under his ‘World Policy’ or Weltpolitik.
But why was the Dreadnought a problem to Britain the Two-Power Standard? The issue was that Britain now only had one more Dreadnought than every other country in the world. With all other ships obsolete in the wake of the new design, it was too easy for other countries to catch up. When Germany launched the first of its Dreadnought-style Nassau ships in 1908, Britain was forced to keep ahead by building more and more. The naval arms race and the tension that followed was a major contributing factor to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.
Beginning with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary, this video explores the 6-week period known as the July Crisis. It explains the concept of Germany’s ‘Blank Cheque’ and how the alliance system caused the nations of Europe to become embroiled in what was now a ‘world’ war. Reference is made to the Schlieffen Plan and how this led to Britain’s declaration of war.
Since becoming a teacher, I’ve been disturbed by the number of people who claim that the First World War was caused by a sandwich. Having read a huge amount of sources about the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, I’ve put together this video that presents a detailed look at the claim that Gavrilo Princip was able to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand and cause the First World War because he went to buy a sandwich from Schiller’s Delicatessen.
My video was inspired by Mike Dash’s excellent article at http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/history/2011/09/gavrilo-princips-sandwich/ – it’s well worth ten minutes of your time to read it.
On the 23rd July 1914, Austria-Hungary issued an ultimatum to Serbia specifically designed to be rejected and lead to war between the two countries.
The ultimatum was delivered at 6pm by the Austro-Hungarian ambassador to Belgrade, with a deadline of 48 hours within which the Serbian government had to respond. They accepted all but one of the numerous demands, which led Austria-Hungary to declare war three days later on 28th July.
Austria-Hungary had been concerned about the growing power of Serbia, and was keen to find a way to weaken the government and stop it taking over the Southern Slavic populations of the northern Balkans, and especially Bosnia, under the banner of pan-Slavism. To the government officials who favoured war, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, on the 28th June was the perfect excuse.
Following the assassination, Germany had given Austria-Hungary assurances that it would support military action against Serbia, in what is known as the ‘Blank Cheque’ of 5th July. Acting with the knowledge that the strongest army in Europe was on their side, the Austro-Hungarian Crown Council began to discuss how best to justify a war against Serbia. They decided that an ultimatum containing unacceptable demands would be the best course of action, and finally agreed the wording on the 19th.
After Serbia’s refusal of the sixth point in the ultimatum, Austria-Hungary declared war. Although it was intended to remain localised, the network of European alliances that had developed from the late 19th Century soon saw the conflict develop into the First World War.
An explanation of the causes of the First World War…sheer brilliance.
This video is taken from BBC Bitesize revision, and it gives an excellent overview of the key long-term causes of the war.