How did the First World War spread around the world?

The First World War

The assassination attempt in Sarajevo

On June 28, 1914, the Austro-Hungarian heir to the throne, Archduke Franz-Ferdinand, visited the Bosnian city of Sarajevo with his wife Sophie. The city and Bosnia were then under Austro-Hungarian rule after the annexation in 1908. This annexation was felt by many in Bosnia and Serbia as an occupation.

During their visit to Sarajevo, the couple sat in an open car and were accompanied by an escort. A bomb attack was carried out on them that morning, injuring two companions and several bystanders. The journey was nevertheless continued, the visit to the town hall completed.

Even after that, they continued to drive in an open car - apparently neither the heir to the throne and his wife nor the escort took the danger seriously. And so there was a second, fatal attack: Franz-Ferdinand and his wife Sophie died from pistol bullets.

The killer, Gavrilo Princip, was a Bosnian with Serbian roots. He saw himself as a fighter for liberation from the rule of Vienna.

The outbreak of war

After the attack, the Austro-Hungarian leadership under Emperor Franz Josef soon suspected that the Serbian state was behind the murder. Exactly one month after the murders, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 28, 1914. It had the full support of the German Emperor Wilhelm II. The two Central Powers stuck together.

On the side of Serbia, however, stood the Russian Tsar Nicholas. His troops also got ready for battle. The French republic, in turn, was allied with Russia - the alliance to which Great Britain belonged was called the Entente - and was also getting ready.

On August 1, the German Reich declared war on Russia, and on August 3, then on the French.

The wave of enthusiasm

A wave of national enthusiasm, a real feeling of happiness seized many people in Germany at the beginning of the war in August 1914 - the so-called "August experience".

Flags were waved, services were celebrated and God's assistance was requested for this armed conflict. The people gathered in the streets, they cheered their soldiers, and the soldiers drove, laughing and waving, towards the front - in train wagons on which they had written slogans in chalk like "Off to the price shooting in Paris!"

The people in Germany saw the war as just, as a war of defense. Although Germany had not been attacked, many people felt they had to defend themselves.

And not just in Germany. Waging a defensive war was the widespread belief in all states in this war. The enthusiasm in Germany was spurred on by the fact that the population, the military and the political leadership assumed a quick victory within a few months.

The conviction that the war opponents were superior was widespread and had been nurtured for years by excessive nationalism, militarism, rapid armament and the development of the navy. In addition, hardly anyone had a realistic picture of a war. The last war - against France in 1870/71 - was won very quickly.

But since then, weapons technology had developed rapidly, and so had the size of armies. Even the military had no idea what was in store for the soldiers. This ignorance and the associated unrealistic view of the situation contributed to the enthusiasm.

But the enthusiasm for the war was not unbroken from the start, nor was it equally pronounced everywhere. There was a clear difference between town and country.

In the country the enthusiasm was far less. Because most of the people lived there from agriculture, and the start of the war in August meant a direct threat to the harvest, as many men were immediately drafted into the army. A total of two million men had to go to war for Germany right from the start.