The World Wars

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International Politics, GOV 207

See also the material on my Western Civ II, Outline of Modern History, 20th Century pages at


The World Wars:  1914 - 1945

Great Powers:  Germany, France, Russia, Austria-Hungary, Italy, United Kingdom

German Unification

German Unification in 1871 made Germany the single most powerful state on the European continent.  The way unification was achieved and  German annexation of Alsace and Lorraine made France a mortal enemy seeking revenge (revanchism).   Once unification had been achieved, Bismarck pursued a relatively peaceful defensive strategy in Europe.

Bismarckian System

Bismarckian System :  A defensive system of alliances created by Otto von Bismarck to isolate France through a system of German alliances with both Russia and Austria-Hungary.

    Congress of Berlin 1878
    Dual Alliance of 1879 between Germany and Austria Hungary
    Three Emperor's Alliance of 1881 between Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary
    Triple Alliance of 1882 between Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy

    Declining Ottoman Empire and the rise of nationalism in the Balkans creates multiple problems  for the Great Powers.  Russia and Austria-Hungary are rivals for dominance in the Balkans.   Serbia is Russia's protege in the region.

    Bismarck finds it ever more difficult to restrain Russian and Austro-Hungarian hostility over the Balkans

    France and the United Kingdom were historical enemies from the days of Louis XIV.  They remained colonial rivals in the Mediterranean and Africa..
Suez Canal in Egypt is opened in 1869.  Shortens route to India.
1882, British troops occupy Egypt.  Establish a de facto protectorate although Egypt remains nominally as a part of the Ottoman Empire until 1914. 

Kaiser William II

1888 Kaiser William I of Germany dies.  Three emperors' year.   William II becomes emperor.
1890 Kaiser William II of Germany dismisses Otto von Bismarck as German Chancellor.

William II had a pan-German affinity and allied himself more closely with Vienna.  He allowed the German-Russian alliance to lapse.  He also believed that Germany needed to share in the race for colonies.  As a Great Power, Berlin needed a Navy. 

In 1894, Russia signs a defensive alliance with France.   France has slipped out of its isolation.

In 1898, Germany began a rapid build up of its Navy.  Admiral Tirpitz.  This alienated the United Kingdom.

1899 - 1902 Boer War in South Africa.  British put down white Afrikaaner (originally Dutch settlers) effort to establish their own country.   Diamonds.

1902. German Chief of Staff Alfred von Schlieffen developed Schlieffen Plan.  If two front war erupts, then attack France first and deal with less developed Russia second.  This changed German strategy.

1902, United Kingdom and Japan sign an alliance.

1904, Dual Entente between United Kingdom and France.  UK free hand in Egypt; France free hand in Morocco.

March 1905, Kaiser William II visited Tangier in support of Moroccan independence.  Created First Moroccan Crisis.  Settled in 1906 in Spain at the Algeciras Conference.  Recognized French dominance in Morocco.

May 1911, French troops occupy Fez, capital of Morocco, to put down rebellion.  Germans saw this as an effort to establish a French protectorate over Morocco.  Germans send a gunboat to Moroccan port of Agadir.  Second Moroccan Crisis.  Resolved November 1911 with France getting a Moroccan protectorate but Germans get some compensation in Africa.

September 1911, Italy declared war on Ottoman Empire and seized Tripoli in what is now Libya.

Balkan Crises

Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5.  Humiliating Russian defeat.
Russian Revolution of 1905.  Unsuccessful.

Balkan Crises in 1908, 1912, and 1913

Bosnia had been annexed by Austria-Hungary in 1908

German backed Austria-Hungary versus Russian backed Serbia

The Steps Leading to World War I

June 28, 1914 Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdianad, crown prince, was assassinated in Serajevo, the capital of Bosnia.  Assassination was the work of a Serbian nationalist and it had, we now know, the support of the Serbian government.

Austrian Foreign Minister, Count Berchtold, decided to use this incident to get even with Serbia.  He wants and gets reassurance from Berlin.   What is called the carte blanche or blank check

July 4, 1914, the Austrian ambassador to Germany discusses the crisis with William II.  Get German reassurance.

July 23, 1914, Austria-Hungary issues an ultimatum to Serbia with 48 hours to reply.  Terms so harsh that most thought that Serbia would refuse to accept it.  When the Russian Foreign Minister Sazanov saw the Austrian ultimatum, he declared:  "This means a European war."

July 25, 1914, Russia issued orders to prepare for the mobilization of its army.  Serbia, surprisingly, accepted most of Austria's demands.   Austria rejected the Serbian response and declared war on Serbia on  July 28.

July 29, 1914, Russian Tsar Nicholas II ordered a partial mobilization of the Russian army.

At the last minute Kaiser William II and his Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg try to persuade Russian tsar not to mobilize and to try to avoid a general European war.

July 30, 1914, Tsar Nicholas II ordered full mobilization of the Russian army.

July 31, 1914, Kaiser William II sent Russia an ultimatum   that Russian actions against Austria Hungary would lead to war with Germany.   Germany demands that France give assurances that it will not go to war against Germany if Germany and Russia go to war. 

August 1, 1914 at 3:55 a.m., French government issues order to mobilize French army.
                           at 4:00 a.m., German government issues orders to mobilize German army.
                           at 7:00 a.m. German government declares war on Russia.

August 2, 1914 Germany demands unhindered passage through Belgium.   Belgium as a neutral country refused.

August 3, 1914 Germany declared war on France and marched its troops through neutral Belgium.  This was a clear violation of international law as it then existed.

August 4, 1914, Great Britain declared war on Germany for having violated Belgian neutrality, which the British had internationally guaranteed and saw as vital to their own national interests.

World War I

1914.  First Battle of the Marne.  Germans come within 11 miles of taking Paris but fail.

           Trench Warfare on the Western Front.  300 miles from Belgium to Swiss border.  For most of the four years of fighting the trenches never shifted more than ten miles.

           Eastern Front.  After some initial Russian successes, the Germans won a major victory at Tannenberg in Eastern Prussia.  Then trench warfare set in too.

            Naval warfare was a stalemate with German fleet bottled up by British.  Germans developed the Unterseeboot, U-boat, and began to torpedo British shipping without warning in violation of the law of the sea.  British developed the convoy system to guard against submarines.

             No quick victory.  World War I became a war of attrition.

Russian Revolution of March 1917.  Tsar is overthrown.   Provisional government headed by Alexander Kerensky is formed.  This government is mildly socialist, liberal, and democratic.  War is continued.   Political prisoners are freed.  Bolsheviks return from Siberia and Exile.   Lenin, Trosky, Stalin.

Russian Revolution of November 1917.  Coup d'etat of the Bosheviks.  Communist Revolution.  Lenin takes Russia out of World War I.   Germany has won against Russia.  Harsh peace terms of Brest-Litovsk. 

With victory on the Eastern front at hand, Germans believe they will win on the Western front.  The initiate unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic in January 1917.

U.S. Entry into World War I in April 1917.  Unrestricted submarine warfare, violations of neutrality by Germany bring US into war.  President Woodrow Wilson.  14 Points state American war aims.

Last German offensive in August 1918 is halted. 

On October 3, 1918, Germans seek armistice.

November 11, 1918, armistice goes into effect.  Germany has lost the war.  No enemy soldier of Germany has yet stepped on German soil when the armistice is signed.  Hitler will use this fact later as the basis for his claim that Germany had been stabbed in the back.

Peace Settlements:  The Versailles Treaty with Germany

The Twenty Year Crisis

False Peace of the 1920s

Rise of Stalin in Russia

Rise of Mussolini in Italy

A Weak League of Nations

The Great Depression

The Rise of Hitler in Germany

The Spirit of Appeasement in the Democracies

Japanese Invasion of China

Italian Attack on Ethiopia

The Spanish Civil War

Austrian Anschluss on Germany

The Czech Crisis and the Munich Conference

The Nazi-Soviet Pact worked out by Foreign Ministers Vyacheslav Molotov of the Soviet Union and Joachim von Ribbentrop of the German Third Reich on August 23, 1939.

German and Soviet dismemberment of Poland beginning on August 1, 1939.  World War II has begun.

World War II

War in Europe

    Germany and Italy against France and United Kingdom

    Invasion of Poland

    Phony War

    Invasion of Denmark and Norway

    Fall of France

    Italian attack on Greece; Germany to the Rescue

    Hitler attacks his Ally Russia in Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941

    US entry into World War II after Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941

    Russia turns the tide after Battle of Stalingrad

    North African Invasion

    Allied Invasion of Italy

    Second Front is Opened after the Normandy Invasions of June 6, 1944--D-Day

    April 20, 1945, Soviets reach Berlin

    April 28, 1945, Allied armies meet at Elbe

    May 8, 1945, Germany surrenders unconditionally is divided into four military occupation zones.

War in Asia

    Japanese attack on China in the 1930s

    Pearl Harbor.  Japanese attack on US Navy stationed in Hawaii on December 7, 1941

    Japanese Empire

    Naval Battle of Midway--turning point of war.

    Atomic Bombs.  First atomic bomb with 14,000 tons of TNT was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945--100,000 dead; Russia declares war on Japan on August 7, 1945; Second atomic bomb is dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.  Japanese government sues for peace on August 10.  Japan formally surrendered to the U.S. on September 2, 1945.  VJ- Day. 

World War II is over.

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Copyright Dr. Harold Damerow
Senior Professor of Government and History
Coordinator of International Studies

Union County College
Cranford, NJ 07016
August 27, 2010