Gavrilo Princip the Man who caused the First World War: Image by

Gavrilo Princip the Man who caused the First World War: Image by PixShark

Causes of World War I

Balkan nationalism.

  • This is by far the largest cause of the First World War as Turkey was being destroyed by nationalism.
  • Serbia was the first to break away from Turkey in 1804 followed by Greece in 1829.
  • Serbian and Bulgarian independence was recognized by the great powers great powers in the 1878 at The Congress of Berlin.
  • Austria-Hungary was also battling with fragmentation as the Magyars fought for independence from Austria-Hungary in 1866.
  • The Slavs of Bosnia and Herzegovina also threatened to destroy Austria-Hungary as they wanted to unite with Serbia instead.
  • Serbia waned to incorporate all the Slave people into one Slave state of Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
  • Archduke Ferdinand was murdered by Slav nationalists (The Black Hand) who wanted to break away from Austria and to join Serbia.
  • The conflict between Slav nationalism and German Nationalism ultimately led to war.
  • Serbian nationalism was of greater danger to Austria-Hungary because it was backed by Russia as Russia supported Pan Slavism whilst Germany was defending Pan Germanism of the German empire and Austria-Hungary.
  • Germany and Austria-Hungary had a Pan German alliance thus Germany came into the Sarajevo conflict because she could not allow Austria-Hungary to be destroyed by Pan Slavism.

The Bosnian crisis of 1908

  • Austria-Hungary had been given Bosnia and Herzegovina to administer at The Berlin Conference of 1878.
  • Serbia which had an interest in these two territories was disappointed and encouraged the Young Turk revolution that sought to overthrow the Sultan Hamid II and bring about liberal reforms.
  • Austria-Hungary took advantage of the ensuing chaos.
  • Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina whilst Russia annexed the Straits.
  • Serbia mobilized her troops against Austria-Hungary.
  • Russia threatened to join Serbia against Austria-Hungary.
  • Germany threatened war against Russia if Russia supported Serbia and this nearly brought about the outbreak of a general war.
  • Russia backed out because she had not yet recovered from the Russo-Japanese war.
  • Serbia backed out because she could not fight Austria alone.
  • This increased the strain between the Triple Alliance and Triple Entente camp.

The First Balkan war

  • Italy went to war with Turkey over Tripoli which she had annexed and the Albanians took advantage of the situation to revolt against Turkey.
  • The Turkish Army mutinied in sympathy of the revolt.
  • The Balkan nationals made up of Greece, Serbia, Montenegro and Bulgaria took advantage to eject Turkey from the Balkans and formed the First Balkan League to fight Turkey.
  • They agreed that Serbia would annex Albania so as to have access to the sea.
  • Greece would occupy Thrace and Salonika.
  • Bulgaria would take a larger part of Macedonia and the rest of Macedonia would be shared equally amongst the members.
  • To the surprise of Europe the league won the war against Turkey.
  • A conference was called in London in May 1913.

The treaty of London (1913)

  • Germany and Austria-Hungary blamed Russia for causing the Balkan war.
  • Austria-Hungary did not like Serbian expansion because both had large Slav populations especially Bosnia and Herzegovina.
  • Germany feared that the Balkan league would continue to fight Austria-Hungary to take back Bosnia and Herzegovina.
  • At the conference Austria-Hungary blocked Serbia’s annexation of Albania and a new state of Albania was created.
  • Greece was also prevented from annexing Valona.
  • Serbia and Greece gained small portions of Macedonia.
  • Greece won Thrace and Salonika.
  • Bulgaria acquired the largest part of Macedonia.
  • At the conference Russia supported Serbia and it in turn got support from France.
  • Germany and Italy supported Austria-Hungary.
  • Britain pretended to be neutral.

The second Balkan war

  • The other states were jealous of Bulgaria’s acquisition of a large part of Macedonia.
  • Serbia and Greece asked Bulgaria to share Macedonia with them but Bulgaria refused.
  • Greece and Serbia formed the Second Balkan League and declared war on Bulgaria in June 1913.
  • They were joined by Romania.
  • Turkey rejoined the war on the side of Bulgaria to regain lost territory and managed to regain Adrianople.
  • The war was ended by the treaty of Bucharest 1913.

The treaty of Bucharest (1913)

  • Bulgaria lost her former gains of the Aegean coast and Adrianople to Turkey.
  • The war pushed Europe closer to the Great War.
  • Russia supported Serbia and the success of the Balkan war was interpreted as Russian success against Austria-Hungary and Germany.
  • Bulgaria supported the Triple Alliance and joined them immediately when the war broke out in 1914.
  • Serbia had gained the most territory and had used French artillery in the war which was a clear assistance by the Triple Entente powers.
  • Austria-Hungary was troubled by this and made up her mind to destroy Serbia as soon as possible.
  • This explains why the events of the Sarajevo assassination led to an all out war.
  • The events of of the contributed greatly towards the outbreak of the war but the Sarajevo assassination was the proverbial match that sparked the outbreak of war.

Sarajevo assassination

  • In June 1914 Archduke Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne toured Bosnia.
  • On June 28 he and his wife were murdered by a Bosnian nationalist called Gavrilo Principe
  • Austria-Hungary blamed Serbia and issued an ultimatum to her.
  • The demands in set in the ultimatum were:

-Serbia was to ban all nationalist movements in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

-Serbia was to investigate and hand over the culprits of the assassination.

-Serbia was to sack all government officials which Austria-Hungary opposed.

-Serbia was to allow Austrian officials into Serbian to oversee and ensure that the ultimatum was complied with.

  • Serbia accepted all the terms except the fourth which effectively meant her losing her independence.
  • On July 28 Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.
  • On July 30 Russia mobilized her forces in support of Serbia.
  • On July 31  Germany demanded that Russia demobilize within 24 hours.
  • Russia failed to demobilize and Germany declared war on Russia on August 1.
  • On August 3, Germany declared war on France and invaded Belgium on 4 August.
  • Germany followed the Schlieffen plan as it invaded Belgium in order to attack France.
  • Britain then declared war on Germany.

Aims of the Schlieffen Plan

  1. To avoid fighting war on two fronts i.e the western front of France and the eastern Front with Russia.
  2. To defeat France in 6 weeks.
  3. To capture French channels so that the British army would not land on the greater continent of Europe.
  4. To concentrate German troops in the attack and defeat Russia after the defeat of France.
  5. To pass through Belgium on the way to France.

The Schlieffen Plan.

  • Germany believed that in the event of war with Russia, France would assist as it was a member of the Dual Entente.
  • It also believed that any war with France would bring Russia to her aid.
  • In the plan Germany would have to defeat France first in a within a period of 6 weeks as it was smaller and concentrated then divert its forces to the East to deal with Russia.
  • Germany believed that Russia would take time to mobilize.
  • Germany would invade France through Belgium which was a neutral country at the time.
  • The violation of Belgian neutrality brought Britain into the war.
  • France came into the war immediately because she had been attacked.
  • From this it is clear that the Schlieffen plan contributed to the war also as it brought in more countries into the conflict.

The role of individual countries in the outbreak of the war.


  • Her extreme nationalism could be blamed for the outbreak of the war. It backed terrorist movement in Bosnia leading to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand.
  • She did not fear her neighbor Austria-Hungary since she had had victory in the Balkan wars with the support of Russia and France thus emboldening her.


  • She wanted to avenge the defeat she had suffered at the hands of Germany in the Franco-Prussian war so as to recover Alsace and Lorraine.
  • France gave unconditional support to Russia and it also took part in the arms race.


  • It caused a lot of tension with its involvement in the Balkan wars especially the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
  • Austria was also the first to declare war and attack Serbia.


  • She competed fiercely with Germany for naval supremacy and the arms race which worsened international relations.
  • Britain declared war on Germany when Germany invaded Belgium thus bringing herself in a multidimensional war.
  • Britain gave Russian unlimited support.


  • Some blame her for solely causing the First World for because of her many acts of aggression for example the naval race and the Agadir crisis.
  • She gave unconditional support to Austria-Hungary.
  • She declared war on Russia and France.
  • She invaded Belgium which was a neutral country.
  • She had planned for the was as early as 1905 as evidenced by the Schlieffen plan.
  • German desired a raise in her status in the world which led to tensions and competition.

Why Britain joined the war?

  • Because Germany violated Belgian neutrality.
  • This may have been a pretext and the real reason could have been fear of Germany.
  • Britain feared Germany’s growing ambitions.
  • These were shown by Germany’s participation in the naval race with Britain.
  • Germany’s move in Turkey shown by the construction of the Berlin-Baghdad  were viewed suspiciously by Britain.
  • Germany was giving the impression that it was on a course to conquer the world.
  • Britain did not allow Germany to conquer the channel as it was doing via the invasion of Belgium.
  • If the France had been defeated the Channel would fall into the hands of Germany and Britain would be in danger.
  • Britain therefore entered the war for her own security.
  • However, this security was tied with the rest of Europe thus she joined the rest of the Entente powers.
  • Britain wanted to maintain her status as the leading global power and economic powerhouse.

Why Russia joined the war?

  • It had to secure its economic interests in the Balkans.
  • It wanted to build and maintain its status as a powerful nation.
  • It felt it had the obligation to assist the Triple Entente so as to maintain its status as a great power and so it would not be isolated.

Why Germany joined the war?

  • She wanted to achieve permanent security on the western and eastern fronts.
  • She also wanted to fulfill her expansion program of annexation and expansion.

Why Austria-Hungary joined the war?

  • It wanted to maintain its status as a great power in the world.
  • It wanted to end Slav nationalism that was being led by Serbia.

War on the western front.

  • The war began according to the Schlieffen plan on the western front however it was to change following unexpected challenges.
  • Germany invaded France through  Belgium and hope to force France to surrender within six weeks.
  • Germany also according to plan invaded through the north east and veered around to the south towards France.
  • Belgian resistance to the Germans proved stiffer than expected thus delaying their progress in the process.
  • The French also mobilized their troops faster than the Germans had anticipated.
  • The British also came to the assistance of the French earlier than had been anticipated by Germans further hindering Germany’s progress.
  • The Russians mobilized faster than expected forcing the Germans to abandon the plan and send a lot of troops to the western from earlier.
  • Bulgaria joined the war on the side of the central powers in 1915.
  • Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary by the secret treaty of the Entente allies in August in 1916.
  • Romania joined war on the Entente side but was quickly defeated by Germany and Austria-Hungary.