Origins of The First World War and ramifications

Discussion in 'World War I' started by renrich, Oct 30, 2010.

  1. renrich

    renrich Active Member

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    The thread about the Rape of Nanking has threatened to evolve into a discussion of how WW1 and WW2 got started so here are some of the events which took place during the period just before WW1 broke out. During the late 1800s and early 1900s there were many inventions with great war making potential. Some of them were the breech loading rifle, breech loading fast firing artillery. aeroplanes, dreadnought battleships and battle cruisers and perhaps the most terrible of all, the machine gun. All of the major countries in the world adopted these innovative inventions for possible use.

    One of the events which really gave impetus to the arms race was the launching of HMS Dreadnought in 1906 which immediately made every battleship in the world obsolete. All the major countries in the world immediately attempted to join the dreadnought club including even some of the Latin American countries. Some of the European monarchies were related and perhaps that fact gave rise to the rivalries that resulted in the arms races. Wilhelm of Germany wanted to have a navy equal to Great Britains' navy and GB was determined to have a navy equal at least to any two possible adversaries.

    At any rate all the major players in Europe, including Germany, Russia, Great Britain, France and Austria Hungary were commited to having powerful armies and navies. All that was needed for war was a fuse to be lit. Tha fuse was lit in June, 1914, when a Serbian nationalist assasinated Arch Duke Ferdinand of Austria Hungary'

    A-H declared war on Serbia and attacked. Since Germany had an alliance with A-H, she was drawn into that war. Russia had an alliance with Serbia so she joined on the side of Serbia. France had an alliance with Russia so she was drawn in. Great Britain had no alliance with any of the combatants but she had guaranteed the neutrality of Belgium. Germany knew that it would take a while for Russian to mobilise her armies so rather than have a two front war, she decided to knock out France before handling Russia. Her plan called for invading France through Belgium, which she did and GB entered the war because of her commitment to Belgium. The "Guns of August" sounded. It almost seems an accidental war but it would be a terrible long drawn out affair with huge ramifications.
     
  2. tail end charlie

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    In the days before television was dumbed down I remember seeing a programme by the historian AJP Taylor who spoke for one hour on this subject. One of the main points he made was that all major powers had a plan to mobilize their forces to the front except Germany. European countries used mobilization as posturing and bargaining tools. For Germany their plan was based on the troops arriving at a railway head and then straight on to attack, to avoid a war on two fronts they had to knock out France quickly. There was no plan or capacity to hold troops on the border so as soon as Germany "mobilized" the war started.

    I dont know how true it all was but it was a fascinating case he made for it, basically world war one started because of German railways.
     
  3. renrich

    renrich Active Member

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    To me, there are several highly interesting points about WW1. One is that the war did not seem to stem from any nation's desire to acquire more territory. It also did not appear to be an ideological war. No communism against capitalism, for instance. Yet, the war turned out to be the most costly in history up until that time.

    It was costly in more than lives and treasure also. Without WW1, the Russian Revolution may not have happened. There may not have been the USSR with many millions of people slaughtered or enslaved. Perhaps no Korean War and Viet Nam war or no Cold War. Without WW1, perhaps no rise of the Nazi Party and Hitler. WW2 might not have been a world war but only a war to contain Japanese imperialism. Without WW1, perhaps the British Empire would have endured through the twentieth century.
     
  4. Glider

    Glider Well-Known Member

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    While this is certainly true I believe that something would have set off a conflict of major proportions, probably resources. There were a lot of small countries in Europe and a few large ones. The Franco Prussian War was a recent memory and something would have set it off. If nothing else Germany had designs on making an empire of its own mainly in Africa and when the importance of oil was recognised then anything could happen. Portugal is a good example of a country with a pretty large empire but without the economic clout to hold it if Germany became greedy, Spain was also vulnerble and Russia was almost certain to implode. So in the late 1920's there would have been a delayed World War 1 somewhere over something.
     
  5. BombTaxi

    BombTaxi Active Member

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    There was an element of ideology in the initial causes of WW1, although from a 'Western' viewpoint it can be slightly obscure. Austria-Hungary's move to crush Serbia was essentially geopolitical, and Germany's decision to support them was also political, although there was also an element of solidarity with the Reich's Germanic cousins. The Russian move to support Serbia was heavily influenced by pan-Slavic sentiments - so racial ideology was a factor in the initial events which led to the activation of the two treaty blocs.

    Nationalism also supported the British declaration of war, although the German invasion of Belgium was the immediate cassus belli. The German challenge to British naval supremacy in the years preceding the war certainly ignited the 'jingoistic' tendencies of the British public, as well as being construed as a threat to the security of the Empire, which demanded a strong navy to secure communications with the overseas possessions.

    I'm not sure WW1 can be seen as accidental. The 'Balance of Power' which had existed since Waterloo was still an important factor a century later - there was definitely a feeling, expressed in British nationalism and the French desire for revanche that Germany had grown too big and too powerful and would upset the existing order if her expansionist tendencies were not curbed. A clash between France and Germany was essentially inevitable - the French desire to retake Alsace and Lorraine make it likely that the war would have started sooner or later, and drawn in both alliances. As it happened, the Balkan situation provided an excuse for the Entente to achieve several aims - the reduction of German power, the re-taking of the lost territories, and a re-imposition of the European order, accompanied by the removal of a severe threat to the security of the British Empire. I tend to think that WW1 was inevitable - there were so many tensions among the European powers that one was bound to light the touchpaper, and the alliance systems guaranteed that whatever the initial cause, the war would take essentially the same form that it did.
     
  6. michaelmaltby

    michaelmaltby Well-Known Member

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    ".... Without WW1, the Russian Revolution may not have happened. "

    The 1905 Russian Revolution - precursor to 1917 - was caused by the Russo-Japan War and the staggering incompetence and general shakiness of the House of Romanov and their peers.

    More than most - WW1 was a war about Empires - rising (German), collapsing (Ottoman-Turk), British, French, Russian - and economics - mercantile economics (as opposed to free market. free trade economics).

    Germany wanted Empire - and all the trappings that enable and compliment Empire such as deep water navy.

    As such - a clash of Empires - WW1 had been in the 'making' for almost 3 decades.

    As for dreadnoughts - symbol of the arms race - that weapon never got tested - much the same way as we escaped the Cold War without the use of the A-bomb.

    MM
     
  7. BombTaxi

    BombTaxi Active Member

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    I would question that assertion - the dreadnought was well tested at Jutland, particularly in it's battlecruiser guise, which was found wanting. In a wider scale, dreadnought battlecruisers participate in a number of surface engagements. So the design was hardly 'untested'.
     
  8. michaelmaltby

    michaelmaltby Well-Known Member

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    The German Fleet remained "contained" as a Fleet after Jutland - the Dreadnought fleet, designed to "project German power" at sea, worldwide, (like the Royal Navy did for Britain) never got into the open ocean, never got past Jutland. Never functioned as a "fleet". Do you have an alternative understanding of events ..? :)

    MM
     
  9. BombTaxi

    BombTaxi Active Member

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    I wasn't seeking to say that the German fleet ever projected power globally. Although the heavy units did sortie after Jutland, you rightly point out that they never made it into open water, and eventually made the largest contribution in the Baltic.

    What I was contesting was the assertion that dreadnoughts were never tested - they were tested in combat, and the result was unsurprising - in terms of battleships, neither side was capable of inflicting a decisive defeat on the other in direct combat. This was not true, however, of the BCs, which were derivatives of the dreadnought BBs, and saw relatively extensive combat, which proved the British designs to be brilliant in their designed role as cruiser-killers, but hopelessly inadequate for the line of battle. Conversely, the German BCs took a horrendous pounding and still stayed afloat.

    Coming back slightly toward the point of the thread, the German navy would never have been capable of truly global power projection, even without the RN to contend with. German ships were small (as they had to clear the Jade sandbars), and carried smaller guns than most contemporaries, while also having poor habitability - the crews spent a lot of time ashore due to the cramped conditions aboard ship. These handicaps would have been thrown into sharp relief had major surface forces been required to sail to Africa or the Pacific and project German power there. However, the British simply saw a threat to be contained, which did much to push them towards war.
     
  10. Capt. Vick

    Capt. Vick Well-Known Member

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    A great book that deals with just this subject is "The Guns of August" about the first few months before and after the begining of WWI. A very good read.
     
  11. michaelmaltby

    michaelmaltby Well-Known Member

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    #11 michaelmaltby, Nov 1, 2010
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2010
    Good call, Capt. Vick. Great book.

    @Bombtaxi: ".... the German navy would never have been capable of truly global power projection, even without the RN to contend with. German ships were small (as they had to clear the Jade sandbars), and carried smaller guns than most contemporaries, while also having poor habitability - the crews spent a lot of time ashore due to the cramped conditions aboard ship. These handicaps would have been thrown into sharp relief had major surface forces been required to sail to Africa or the Pacific and project German power there".

    Which sort of determined that Germany was NEVER going to be an overseas power (unlike for example, Japan. Briefly) - which in tern explains why - for Germany - empire was EAST, by land, if there was to be an Empre.

    MM
     
  12. renrich

    renrich Active Member

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    #12 renrich, Nov 1, 2010
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2010
    It is a misconception that dreadnoughts were never tested. The German Fleet (High Seas Fleet) came out and there was a substantial confrontation between the High Seas Fleet and the Grand Fleet, (British). The fighting qualities of both combatants designs were severely tested at Jutland and, if anything, the German designs were proven better. The German ships were just as large as the British ships on average, their habitibility was not as good as that of the British, their ships were slightly slower and guns slightly smaller but they were better protected and almost unsinkable by gunfire. The German gunnery was somehat better than the British and their gun's projectiles were more effective.

    The dreadnought design was followed by all navies all the way into WW2. The German High Seas Fleet served a purpose even though it was bottled up mostly in harbor. It's very existence forced the British to keep the Grand Fleet ready at all times and relatively close by in order to counter the High Seas Fleet and the RN needed to make sure that they had a numerical superioity. The loss of the High Seas Fleet would not lose the war for Germany. The loss of the Grand Fleet would finish Great Britain and lose the war for the Allies. Jellicoe was truly the only man who could lose the war in one day.
     
  13. michaelmaltby

    michaelmaltby Well-Known Member

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    @renrich: I welcome this thread and thank you for starting it, but your initial premise needs a hard look:

    "... During the late 1800s and early 1900s there were many inventions with great war making potential. Some of them were the breech loading rifle, breech loading fast firing artillery. aeroplanes, dreadnought battleships and battle cruisers and perhaps the most terrible of all, the machine gun".

    Consider - electricity. The telegraph. The railroad. Interchangeable-parts. Industrial-age BOOTS.

    I read a book on the Russo-Japan War ("Human Bullets") - a great little book by a Japanese soldier. In it he describes how the Russians had electric spotlights and fences (I believe) at Port Arthur. I thought - 1904 - amazing.

    Weapons are just tools - and while tools may facilitate the bloody work of war - they don't cause or make war. If necessary war can be fought with rocks from the field. Wars are fought over for "territory", "tribe", economic "opportunity" and the like.

    WW1 was a kind-of 20th Century Punic War(s) that sealed the fate of Empires in a Colonial Age and ended that Colonial Age by bankrupting the major stakeholders (France and England) - even though they won.

    MM
     
  14. The Basket

    The Basket Well-Known Member

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    Tinned food and barbed wire.

    Plus the U Boat.

    Telephones...Ariel reconnaissance...

    Tanks and road vehicles.

    Modern warfare.

    How does tinned food make war? Coz you can fight all year even in the harsh winter without having to decamp to winter quarters.
     
  15. renrich

    renrich Active Member

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    Those of you adding to my opening are most welcome. I started this so that those more knowledgeable than I would hopefully contribute. Tanks were only developed after the war began though and I believe that the machine gun was responsible for the changes in infantry tactics which took place during the war although trench warfare was prevelant in the War of Northern Aggression in America.

    An added point about dreadnoughts. The German dreadnought were beamier than the British counterparts because the British dry docks were more narrow. That, along with more subdivisions made the German ships more damage resistant.
     
  16. michaelmaltby

    michaelmaltby Well-Known Member

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    It's a great topic - if you don't understand WW1 it is impossible to understand WW2 in any complete way.

    "... It's very existence forced the British to keep the Grand Fleet ready at all times and relatively close by " :) Absolutely true - in the end it was a counter that the British always had to content with. In that sense it was effective.

    MM
     
  17. renrich

    renrich Active Member

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    An example of comparable dreadnoughts, German and British:
    Kaiser-1911, 24700 tons, beam-95 feet, 10- 12 inch-50 cal. guns, designed speed-20 knots
    Thunderer-1911, 22500 tons, beam-85 feet, 10-13.5 inch guns, designed speed-21 knots
    The British devoted more tonnage to guns and engines(HP), the Germans, less HP and smaller guns and more armor.
    In reality the speed differences were negligible and the German guns fired a projectile at higher MVs with a better BC so that down range performance was as good as the British shells especially considering the somewhat poor performance of the British AP rounds.
     
  18. Glider

    Glider Well-Known Member

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    Have to agree with all this (Until the Queen Elizabeth arrived).
     
  19. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    My opinions are somewhat disjointed on the causes of WWI. However, in there is that it was primarily a european war, about dominance of Europe.

    as far as Britains position was concerned, she had little interest in events on the continent, except that it was vital to British interests that no single power gain overwhelming dominance. For that reason Britain has always backed the second most powerful continental power. In 1800, that was Russia, Austria and Prussia, whilst the most powerful country was the enemy, and at that time happened to be France.

    by 1914, the most powerful country on the continent was Germany, so fot the British it became necessary to relaign herself with the French. Given that german actions threatened to upset the balance of power and establish a dominance in Europe, it was inevitable that the British and the germans would clash. The circumstances of how that actually occurred are in my opnion window dressing.

    The strategic issue for the British was the control of the oceans, and as an extension of that, control of trade with and by the Europeans. Whilst Britain controlled the Euopean oceans she could dictate who and how much could be traded.If the germans had achieved European dominance it would have upset that situation for the Brits.

    Therein lies the root cause s of the war....
     
  20. BombTaxi

    BombTaxi Active Member

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    All of that is true parsifal, but command of the oceans wasn't just about trade - it was also about maintaining the structural integrity of the Empire. It would have been impossible to supply and garrison the Empire, and distribute it's material benefits, without total control of the seas. That was the crux of the dreadnought arms race. A German navy that could break into the Atlantic to menace links with Canada and the Carribean or work with Austrian-Hungary to close the Med (and therefore the Suez Canal) could not be allowed to exist as long as the Empire did...
     
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