Why did a European war break out in the summer of 1914? In 1914, war broke out in Europe between the most powerful countries. There were a number of reasons why World War One broke out and this essay will examine these reasons. Rising tensions in Europe between the great powers were created by many different things. For example, the ‘Arms Race’ between Britain and Germany, Germany was jealous of and felt threatened by Britain’s huge empire. In 1898, years before the war broke out; Germany had begun to build up their navies. Britain, who saw this as a threat, retaliated by designing and building the ‘Dreadnought’, a fast and dangerous war ship. With both Germany and Britain building up their defences, tensions would grow higher, and countries could feel threatened by a large empire such as Britain, gaining an even larger army.
There was a lot of tension between Germany and France, this tension had been caused by Germany’s victory over France in 1871. This had resulted in France losing land, Alsace-Lorraine, to Germany. France was angry about this and wanted their land back. France wanting their land back could result in France going to war with Germany, which would result in all of the their allies becoming involved, leading to a huge European war. Many European countries were trying to win land in Africa. This is known as ‘The scramble for Africa’, and caused a lot of tension between the countries in Europe. Individually, each of these factors contributed to the build up of tension between the countries in Europe. When they are put together, war seemed to be inevitable.
As a result of the rising tensions in Europe, a series of alliance systems began to be made. In 1914, Britain, Russia and France signed an agreement to not sign for peace separately. Alliances had first been made in Europe in 1879, with Germany and Austria-Hungary making an alliance to protect each other from Russia.
Alliances were made between many countries during the years from 1879 to 1914. In 1881, Austria-Hungary made an alliance with Serbia to stop Russia gaining control of Serbia. The triple alliance was formed in 1882 between Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy. Russia and France formed an alliance in 1894 to protect themselves from Austria-Hungary and Germany. In 1904 there was an agreement, but not a formal alliance, between France and Britain, called the Entente Cordiale. In 1907, Britain and Russia agreed to help each other; this was called the Anglo-Russian Entente.
The Triple Entente was formed between Britain, Russia and France; this was also signed in 1907. Britain had previously signed a treaty to protect Belgium in 1839. The rising tensions had resulted in a lot of Europe rushing to protect themselves from attack. Alfred von Schlieffen was a top German commander who devised the ‘Schlieffen Plan’, which was later modified by Helmuth von Moltke. Schlieffen’s plan was for the German army to invade France quickly through neutral Belgium, and then defeat her, before Russia had the chance to mobilise.
The German army wanted to invade and defeat France without causing a full scale war. Germany didn’t think that Russia would mobilise their forces quickly enough to be much of a threat. The plan scheduled 39 days for the defeat of Paris, and 42 for the surrender of France. Schlieffen wanted to have achieved all of this and then attack Russia. Germany thought that Russia, who was seen as the slowest to mobilise, would not have time to gather their forces, so would not be much of a threat. Schlieffen formulated this plan in 1905, 9 years before war broke out.
This plan showed that the Germans were ready for war, something that would cause a lot of tension and displeasure within European countries. Countries would feel threatened by Germany being so ready for battle, they would want to feel prepared for conflict, so would create their own military plans. With all these countries getting ready for war, it seems that war was becoming increasingly likely. On 28th June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne was shot dead with his wife, Sophie. They were assassinated in Sarajevo, Bosnia, by Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian nationalist who was part of a dangerous Serbian nationalist group, Black Hand. Austria-Hungary had taken control of Bosnia in 1908. Many Serbs lived in Bosnia and Serbia wanted to free Bosnia from Austro-Hungarian rule.
The archduke and his wife had been in Sarajevo on a state visit representing Emperor Franz Josef, his brother. Earlier in the day, there had been an explosion and the archduke’s car had been diverted toward Franz Josef Street. On every street there were members of the Black Hand group carrying pistols and bombs. The assassination was the trigger for war breaking out. On 6th July the German government announced their full support of Austria-Hungary if they decide to go to war with Serbia. On 24th July, Serbia asks Russia for help against an attack from Austro-Hungary, two days later, Russia promise to help Serbia.
Because of the alliances between Russia, Britain and France, Russia promising to help Serbia in war gets France and Britain involved. Germany and Austria-Hungary are allied with Italy, who will help them if a war breaks out. The assassination leads to the First World War breaking out. The First World War broke out for many different reasons, the arms race between Britain and Germany, the tension between France and Germany, the scramble for Africa, the alliances formed, the Schlieffen plan and the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.
I think that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the most important and obvious reason the war broke out. The assassination lead to Austro-Hungary declaring war on Serbia on 28th July 1914, because of Russia’s promise to help Serbia, this automatically involves Russia in the war. Russia is part of the Triple Entente, along with Britain and France, because of the alliance, France and Britain will have to help Russia if war breaks out. The Triple Alliance, made up of Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary, will become involved as Austria-Hungary has declared war on Serbia. I think the alliance system played a big part in helping war come about, Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary formed The Triple Alliance in 1882.
This would have made Britain, and the rest of Europe feel threatened, knowing that if war did break out, these countries would band together against the rest of Europe. If the assassination hadn’t taken place, war would not have happened when it did. I think that because tensions were so high, war would have eventually broken out, over a different reason. If the tensions within Europe had not been so high, I don’t think World War One would have taken place.