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First World War (1914 - 1918)


Course of the First World War
(in the military part, only the events in the western theatre of war are described)

Assassination of the Austrian Heir to the Throne, Franz Ferdinand, and his wife Sophie von Hohenberg in Sarajevo (28th Jun.).

Austria/Hungary declare war on Serbia (28th Jul.).

Russia, allied with Serbia, declares general mobilization, which in turn appears to threaten the German Empire (30th Jul.).

Germany declares war on Russia (1st Aug.).

Germany declares war on France (3rd Aug.).

In accordance with the so-called Schlieffen-Plan, German troops march through Luxemburg and Belgium into northern France. Because German troops violated the neutrality of Belgium, Great Britain declares war on Germany (4th Aug.).

After the rapid advance of German troops up to the Marne, the French Army manages to stop the German advance at the 1st battle of the Marne (so-called "miracle at the Marne") and forces them to make a partial retreat (5th  - 12th Sep.).

The German advance is then directed towards the Channel coast, in order to cut off the newly arrived British troops from important supply ports (so-called "race to the sea") (12th Sep. – 24th Oct.).

From the Channel coast to the border of Switzerland, mobile warfare turns into positional warfare (from Oct. 1914). This extends into a front about 750 km. long. The positional systems, consisting of a main battle line, blocking positions, approach and connecting trenches, field railway systems to reach depots and field hospitals behind the lines, reach an actual length of about 40,000 km.

All attempts of the following years will have only one aim in mind: to try to transform the positional war back into a mobile war, in order to finally bring about a military victory.

During an assault near Ypers (Flanders) German troops use poison gas for the first time (22nd Apr.).

In order to forestall an Allied offensive, the German General Chief of Staff, Erich von Fal-kenhayn, starts an attack near Verdun (from 21st Feb.).

At an unprecedented material cost (approx. 1,400 heavy guns on a front only 13 km. wide) von Falkenhayn intends to force the French Army into a "blood-letting" battle of attrition.

Von Falkenhyan is relieved of command at the end of the war by the determining duo Hindenburg and Ludendorff (28th /29th Aug.).

Failure of the German offensive at Verdun and French counter-offensive (from 24th Oct.).

Hindenburg-Programme: Mobilization of additional workforce and increase in armaments production (30th Sep.)

A rainy autumn causes potatoes to rot, destroying a large part of the harvest. Thereby rendering an important basic foodstuff scarce, in addition to bread, in the winter of 1916/17. The severe cold of the winter and the shortage of coal lead to difficulties in transport and distribution, which further aggravates the supply situation. As a "substitute" mainly turnips are eaten. This time embeds itself in people's minds as the so-called  "turnip winter".

First hunger protests in front of the City Hall in Hamburg (12th Jan.). Further protests in various German cities, such as Aachen and Cologne. Unrest grows on the so-called  "home front".

The USA declares war on Germany (6th Apr.).

From the middle of April so-called "hunger strikes" in Berlin and other German cities against the deterioration in foodstuff supplies. The protests gain an increasingly political background, directed towards the so-called war-profiteers and make stronger demands for peace without realizing the aims of the war.

After a failed major offensive, sustaining great losses, by British and French troops at Chemin des Dames, which leads to territorial gains, but does not lead to a decisive breakthrough, French units mutiny (29th Apr. - early June).

So-called "fourteen point" programme of the American President Wilson in order to bring about a general peace (8th Jan.).

The troops freed from the eastern front by the peace agreement with Russia in Brest-Litowsk (3rd Mar.) are redeployed to the west. Leaders of the German Army try in various offensives (beginning: 21st Mar.) to conclude the war in the west militarily, before the presence of American troops can affect the outcome.

German troops succeed in reaching the river Marne again, as in 1914 (16th Jul.). However, they are stopped by Allied troops, who then go onto the counter-offensive (from 18th Jul.).

A Franco-British offensive near Amiens, deploying a large number of tanks, leads to heavy German losses – according to General Ludendorff a "black day for the German Army" (8th Aug.).

The army leadership under Hindenburg /Ludendorff calls for the commencement of peace negotiations.

German troops are forced to retreat further and further. In a Franco-American offensive the promontory of Saint Michel is captured (11th Sep. – 14th Sep.).

Start of the assaults between the Argonnes and the river Meuse, which the German troops in the area of Sedan manage to repulse back to the Meuse (from 26th Sep.).

None of the military commanders responsible for the defeat signs the armistice agree-ment, but rather it is the politician Matthias Erzberger who signs it in the forest of Compiègne (11th Nov.). This is to be later reinterpreted in military and conservative circles as the so-called "legendary stab in the back".

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