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Topic: World War One – A Brief History And Outline

February 19, 2011





World War One, The Great War, The War to End All Wars, First World War. These are just a few names we have heard it called.


Over 65 million troops were engaged in the First World War, an unprecedented number in 1914.


Consequently, the war also set a sad record in wreaking havoc.

For the most part, the war was fought in Europe; however, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia saw action as well.




Who was involved in World War I?


In one way or another, almost everybody. Only the following countries managed to remain neutral:


In Europe: Denmark, Holland, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and Spain.

In the Americas: Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela.

In Asia: Afghanistan and Persia.

In Africa: Abyssinia.



The main combatants of WWI:

The Central Powers fought against the Allies.


The Central Powers were Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria.

 The Allies were France, Great Britain, Russia, Italy, Japan, United States, Romania, Serbia, Belgium, Greece, Portugal, and Montenegro.




What started World War I?


On June 28, 1914, Serbian radical Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz-Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo. A month later, on July 28, 1914,

 Austria declared war against Serbia and the rest of the globe followed into World War I.


Ferdinand's death at the hands of the Serbian nationalist set in motion a mindlessly mechanical series of events. Austria declared war against Serbia and the rest of the globe followed into World War I.





What were the casualties of World War I?


During the four years of war, more than 8.5 million soldiers were killed and 20 million wounded. A total of 15,000,000 million deaths are estimated.


Roughly 90% of all Austrian mobilized forces became casualties.

80% of all men who lost their lives on the battlefields in WW1 fell to artillery fire.




The US tried to remain neutral in European affairs but with unrestricted German Sub warfare it could not.


Further more the US intercepted a telegram from Germany to Mexico asking that they invade Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, what Germany called the “lost territory” for Mexico.  The telegram also proposed an alliance between Germany and Mexico.


American entered WW1 April 6, 1917


The United States held 3 drafts during WW1.

The first, June 5, 1917 registering men between the ages of 21 and 31.


The second was June 5 1918 registering men who had turned 21 since the June 5, 1917 draft. (A supplemental draft was held August 24, 1918 registering any man who had turned 21 since the June 5, 1918 draft.)


The third draft was held September 12, 1918 (Alien Draft, Senate proposing that friendly aliens in this country be made liable to- draft for military service, and all nationals of Germany and her allies to draft for noncombatant work)


which registered men from the ages 18 to 45.

All men born between 1872 and September 1900 who were not in active military service

by June 1917 filled out draft registration cards.


 At the time Britain had 3 distinct British Armies. The ‘first’ army was a small force of 400,000 soldiers over half of which were posted overseas at garrison in the British Empire.


This total included the regular army and territorial forces. Together they formed The British Expeditionary Force (BEF)


The ‘second’ army was Kitchener’s Army formed from volunteers in 1914 and 1915.


The ‘third’ was formed after the introduction of conscription in January 1916 and by the end of 1918 had reached over 4,000,000 men and could field over 70 divisions.


Conscription is the compulsory enrollment of people to some sort of public service, most often military service.


Germany and all the other combatant countries in Europe held some kind of compulsory military service of various kinds since 1870.




The first real use of armored vehicles also happened during the First World War.

Tanks and other armored transportation became regular weapons in following wars.

The machine gun was one of the most decisive technologies during World War 1.


Aircraft also came into play during the war. From “dog fights” to bombers, planes and zeppelins became a weapon that was feared by both sides.


Observation balloons were commonly adopted by all sides and considered ideal in the static trench warfare conditions largely peculiar to the First World War.


It is believed at the beginning of the war Germany had the most active chemical industry in the world and they were the first to use chemical weapons.


But this is not true. The French first used tear gas bombs in August 1914. Chlorine gas was first used by the German April 1915.


The gas appeared to be a smoke screen to hide attacking troops and Allied troops were ordered to front the trenches. The gas killed many of the defenders. Britain and France soon followed suit with their own gas weapons.


Naval weapons consisted of things from U Boats (submarines) to mining the water ways. 

German U Boats score their first successful strike against warships in 1914.


U Boats took drastic action against merchant vessels after the British blockade in 1915.

From 1915 to 1917 German subs had a great deal of success in the Mediterranean Sea.


The first US subs arrived in European water in October 1917.  At first, the Navy intended to steam the boats across the Atlantic under their own power, but marginal fuel capacity


 and the unreliability of their rudimentary two-cycle diesel engines militated against that approach.


In the long run these subs were towed Halifax Nova Scotia and then to the Azores, some 1700 nautical miles southeast. They spent an uneventful year, largely because mechanical problems kept them out of service for much of that period.


The British Submarine Service was a volunteer branch of the Royal Navy. Those who worked in the early submarines had to both effective and efficient workers and intelligent enough to use machinery that was complex for the time.


The Submarine Service was never short of volunteers and the Navy could afford to pick the very best after a thorough selection process.


During the war, Britain also purchased submarines from abroad. Italian and French submarines were bought but they could not cope with the conditions of the North Sea and were sold back to their makers at a considerable loss to the British.


There were at least 5 different kinds of ships used during the war.

Battleships usually used for ship to ship combat.


Cruisers manly for trade protection, scouting, supporting battleships and various other duties.


Destroyer’s main role was to screen larger warships against torpedo craft, convoy escort and patrolling.


Torpedo Boats were small fast torpedo carrying crafts.

Monitors were used for coastal bombardment. Not suitable of fighting against warships.





World War 1 was famous for trench warfare because of the tight defenses. This is especially true along the western front. Some of the things soldiers encountered in these trenches were


the large amounts of rats, rotting bodies, lice, trench foot and because they had no latrines, human waste. One of the worst things about trench warfare was the smell.


The areas between battle lines was called “no mans land” These areas consisted of barbed wire strung across it and listening posts. These usually ended up no more then death traps for the soldiers who manned these posts.





Both Allied and Central powers had Prisoners or War (POW) camps. The Hague Convention of 1907 was to provide rules on the treatment of prisoners but it provided insufficient


and the International Red Cross stepped in and purposed a more complete set of rules.

The Geneva Convention wasn’t enacted until 1929 and a revision in 1949.





The end of WW1 came when Bulgaria surrendered on September 30, 1918; Turkey on October 30; and Austria-Hungary on November 4, 1918.


 By 1918 there were strikes and demonstrations in Berlin and other cities protesting about the effects of the war on the population. The British naval blockade of German ports meant that thousands of people were starving.


Socialists were waiting for the chance to seize Germany as they had in Russia. In October 1918 German commander Erich Ludendorff resigned and the German navy mutinied. The end was near. Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated on November 9th 1918



On November 11th 1918 the leaders of both sides held a meeting in Ferdinand Foch's railway carriage headquarters at Compiegne. (Which Hitler used when France surrendered to him in WW2) The Armistice was signed at 6:00 a.m. and came into force five hours later.


Those who wanted their sons or husbands returned to them were in for a long wait. Fallen troops had been buried in hundreds of temporary cemeteries near the sites of major battles throughout Europe.


When World War I ended, the families of 43,909 dead troops asked for their remains to be brought back to the U.S. by boat, while roughly 20,000 chose to have the bodies remain in Europe.


The war ended in 1918, but the first bodies of troops killed in the conflict weren't sent back to the U.S. until 1921.


This was an interesting book to read through:



I also found a 3 volume set of books called “Soldiers of The Great War”

These books contain listings of soldiers by state who died during the war from

wounds, killed in action or died of disease. It gives their rank,


 and where they were from. In some cases there are photos of them or units.

These books are no longer published. I had my local library get them through inter library loan. You may check your local library to see if they have them or can get them.


Figured I’d throw this in at the last minute. On this date during World War I.










Now you might figure “What does this have to do with my research”?

If you have any relative who served in World War 1, you will run into a lot of problems like I did.


With the fire at National Personnel Records Center (St Louis, Mo) in 1973 military records for World War 1 have become scarce.

A large amount of personal records were destroyed.


British records are easier to find online. And there are quite a few other countries records also online.


If you choose to send for records from NARA make sure you use the right forms. There was no DD214’s for that time frame. This is the form you will need.

It can be mailed or faxed.


Try and supply as much info as you possibly can. This will make it easier for them research your ancestor.


There is no guarantee they will find anything, but it cost nothing to have them look. If they find anything, they will let you know how much the cost is before they send it.


There is so much info out there I’ve barely scratched the surface. I hope I have given you some ideas on how and where to research your WW1 ancestor.














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