The profound tensions that had simmered under Europe’s surface for so many years had made the continent volatile. In June 1914, in Sarajevo, the Austro-Hungarian heir to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife Sophie, were assassinated by a young, Serbian-trained, Bosnian student named Gavrilo Princip. From this one, admittedly momentous, yet isolated incident, the diplomatic situation that had been so strained in the preceding decade and a half began to unravel, until eventually all of Europe would be consumed by war.
It is almost incomprehensible to us, a century later, that one murder would lead to the deaths of millions, but as we have already seen, circumstances were already in play that made war in Europe likely, though not inevitable. Arguably, there was no worse place for this assassination to have occurred than the Balkans, the one region in Europe in which all of the European great powers had interests, and in which several of them might be tempted to assert themselves.
In this series of posts, we will attempt to chart the crisis that led to the outbreak of war. We will also look in depth at the war itself, before concluding with its petering away into Armistice on 11 November 1918. The First World War came as a profound trauma and shock to the world. No war had been as costly in terms either of resources or of human lives. It was for this reason that the war was termed “the Great War”; indeed, by the end of it, no fewer than four empires had been destroyed, and of those remaining, the balance of power had irrevocably shifted. The war was also, perhaps optimistically, called “the war to end all wars”, since the degree of human suffering had been so horrific that it was impossible to believe that humanity would ever again attempt to do the same thing to itself. Sadly, this was not the case. Only two decades after the end of the First World War, the world would again be facing another, even more terrible conflict, with many of the same dramatis personae as the first.
In this series:
- July – December 1914 – the first months of the war – timeline will open in a new tab