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Germany entered into World War I on August 1, 1914, when it declared war on Russia. In accordance with its war plan, it ignored Russia and moved first against France–declaring war on August 3 and sending its main armies through Belgium to attack Paris from the north. The German invasion of Belgium caused Britain to declare war on Germany on August 4. Most of the main parties were now at war. In October 1914, Turkey joined the war on Germany's side, becoming part of the Central Powers. Italy, which was allied with Germany and Austria-Hungary before World War I, was neutral in 1914 before switching to the Allied side in May 1915.

Historians have vigorously debated Germany's role. One line of interpretation, promoted by German historian Fritz Fischer in the 1960s, argues that Germany had long desired to dominate Europe politically and economically, and seized the opportunity that unexpectedly opened in July 1914, making her guilty of starting the war. At the opposite end of the moral spectrum, many historians have argued that the war was inadvertent, caused by a series of complex accidents that overburdened the long-standing alliance system with its lock-step mobilization system that no–one could control. A third approach, especially important in recent years, is that Germany saw itself surrounded by increasingly powerful enemies–Russia, France and Britain–who would eventually crush it unless Germany acted defensively with a preemptive strike.[1]

Military alignments in 1914. When the war started Italy declared neutrality; in 1915 it switched and joined the Triple Entente (i.e. the Allies).



As the war started, Germany stood behind its ally Austria-Hungary in a confrontation with Serbia, but Serbia was under the protection of Russia, which was allied to France. Germany was the leader of the Central Powers, which included Austria-Hungary at the start of the war, and later included the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria; arrayed against them were the Allies, consisting chiefly of Russia, France and Britain at the beginning of the war, Italy, which joined the Allies in 1915, and the United States, which joined the Allies in 1917.

There were several main causes of World War I, which broke out unexpectedly in June–August 1914, including the conflicts and hostility of the previous four decades. Militarism, alliances, imperialism, and ethnic nationalism played major roles. However the immediate origins of the war lay in the decisions taken by statesmen and generals during the July Crisis of 1914, which was sparked by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, by a Serbian secret organization, the Black Hand.[2]

Since the 1870s or 1880s all the major powers had been preparing for a large-scale war, although none expected one. Britain focused on building up its Royal Navy, already stronger than the next two navies combined. Germany, France, Austria, Italy and Russia and some smaller countries set up conscription systems whereby young men would serve from one to three years in the army, then spend the next 20 years or so in the reserves with annual summer training. Men of higher social status became officers.[3]

Each country devised a mobilisation system whereby the reserves could be called up quickly and sent to key points by rail. Every year the plans were updated and increased in complexity. Each country stockpiled arms and supplies for an army that ran into the millions. Germany in 1874 had a regular professional army of 420,000, with an additional 1.3 million reserves. By 1897, the regular army was 545,000 strong and the reserves 3.4 million. The French in 1897 had 3.4 million reservists, Austria 2.6 million, and Russia 4.0 million. All major countries had a general staff which designed war plans against possible enemies.[4] All plans called for a decisive opening and a short war.[5] Germany's Schlieffen Plan was the most elaborate; the German Army was so confident that it would succeed that they made no alternative plans. It was kept secret from Austria, as well as from the German Navy, the chancellor and the foreign ministry, so there was no coordination–and in the end the plan failed.[6]


Historians focus on a handful of German leaders, as is the case for most countries in 1914.[7] For Germany special attention focuses on the Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, thanks to the discovery of the very rich, candid diary of his top aide Kurt Riezler.[8]

Wilhelm II, German Emperor, the Kaiser, was given enormous publicity by both sides, and signed off on major decisions, but he was largely shunted aside or persuaded by others.[9]

Helmuth von Moltke, the Chief of the German General Staff, was in charge of all planning and operations for the German army. He kept his plans quiet. He had the Kaiser's approval, but did not share any details with the Navy, the Chancellor, or his allies. Increasingly as a crisis grew, Moltke became the most powerful man in Germany.[10]

Public opinionEdit

Public opinion and pressure groups played a major role in influencing German politics. The Army and Navy each had their nationwide network of supporters, with a million members in the German Navy League, founded in 1898,[11] and 20,000 in the German Army League, founded in 1912.[12]. The most articulate and aggressive civilian organization was the "Pan-German League".[13] The agrarian interest was led by large landowners who were especially interested in exports and was politically well organized. Major corporations in the steel and coal industries were effective lobbyists. All of these economic groups promoted an aggressive foreign-policy. Bankers and financiers were not as pacifistic as their counterparts in London, but they did not play a large role in shaping foreign policy.

Pacifism had its own well-organized groups, and the labour unions strongly denounced war before it was declared. In the 1912 elections, the Socialists (Social Democratic Party or SPD), based in the labour unions, won 35% of the national vote. Conservative elites exaggerated the implicit threats made by radical Socialists such as August Bebel and became alarmed. Some looked to a foreign war as a solution to Germany's internal problems; others considered ways to suppress the Socialists.[14] SPD policy limited antimilitarism to aggressive wars--Germans saw 1914 as a defensive war. On 25 July 1914, the SPD leadership appealed to its membership to demonstrate for peace and large numbers turned out in orderly demonstrations. The SPD was not revolutionary and many members were nationalistic. When the war began, some conservatives wanted to use force to suppress the SPD, but Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg wisely refused. The SPD members of parliament voted 96-14 on 3 August to support the war. There remained an antiwar element especially in Berlin. They were expelled from the SPD in 1916 and formed the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany.[15]

Newspaper editorials indicated that the nationalist right-wing was openly in favor of war, even a preventive one, while moderate editors would only support a defensive war. Both the conservative press and the liberal press increasingly used the rhetoric of German honour and popular sacrifice, and often depicted the horrors of Russian despotism in terms of Asiatic barbarism. [16][17]

German goalsEdit

Historian Fritz Fischer unleashed an intense worldwide debate in the 1960s on Germany's long-term goals. American historian Paul Schroeder agrees with the critics that Fischer exaggerated and misinterpreted many points. However, Schroeder endorses Fischer's basic conclusion:

From 1890 on, Germany did pursue world power. This bid arose from deep roots within Germany's economic, political, and social structures. Once the war broke out, world power became Germany's essential goal.[18]

However, Schroeder argues, all that was not the main cause of the war in 1914--Indeed the search for a single main cause is not a helpful approach to history. Instead, there are multiple causes any one or two of which could have launched the war. He argues, "The fact that so many plausible explanations for the outbreak of the war have been advanced over the years indicates on the one hand that it was massively overdetermined, and on the other that no effort to analyze the causal factors involved can ever fully succeed."[19]

Many historians in recent years have stressed that insecurity about the future deeply troubled German policy makers and motivated them toward preemptive war before it was too late. The nation was surrounded by enemies who were getting stronger; the bid to rival British naval supremacy had failed.[20] Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg was mesmerized by the steady growth of Russian power, which was in large part due to French financial and technical assistance. For the Germans, this deepened the worry often expressed by the Kaiser that Germany was being surrounded by enemies who were growing in strength.[21] One implication was that time was against them, and a war happening sooner would be more advantageous for Germany than a war happening later. For the French, there was a growing fear that Russia would become significantly more powerful than France, and become more independent of France, possibly even returning to its old military alliance with Germany. The implication was that a war sooner could count on the Russian alliance, but the longer it waited the greater the likelihood of a Russian alliance with Germany that would doom France.[22]

France, a third smaller than Germany, needed Russia's vast potential, and the fear was that together the two would in a few years clearly surpass Germany's military capability. This argued for war sooner rather than later. Bethmann Hollweg knew he was undertaking a calculated risk by backing a local war in which Austria would politically destroy Serbia. The hope was to "localize" that war by keeping the other powers out of it. Russia had no treaty obligations to Serbia, but was trying to fashion itself as the leader of the Slavic peoples in opposition to their German and Austrian oppressors. If Russia intervened to defend Serbia, Germany would have to intervene to defend Austria, and very likely France would honor its treaty obligation and join with Russia. Bethmann Hollweg assumed Britain had no interest in the Balkans and would remain neutral. It was also possible that Russia would go to war but France would not follow, in which case the Triple Entente would become meaningless. The calculated risk failed when Russia mobilized. The German general staff, which was always hawkish and eager for war, now took control of German policy. Its war plan called for immediate action before Russia could mobilize much force, and instead use very rapid mobilization of German active duty and reserve forces to invade France through Belgium. Once France was knocked out, the German troops would be sent to the East to defeat Russia with the assistance of the Austrian army. Once Russia mobilized, on July 31, Austria and Germany mobilized. The Germans had a very sophisticated plan for rapid mobilization. It worked well while everyone else was days or weeks behind. The general staff convinced the Kaiser to activate their war plan, and Bethmann Hollweg could only follow along. Most historians treat the Kaiser as a man far out of his depth who was under the spell of the Army General staff. [23]

In 1913, the Army Act raised Germany's peace strength to 870,000 men, and raising the eventual war strength from 4.5 million to 5.4 million. France responded by expanding the training period for all draftees from two years to three. Russia likewise raised its army size to a wartime basis of 5.4 million. Austria in 1913 raised its war strength to 2.0 million. All the rival armies improved their efficiency, especially with more powerful artillery and machine guns.[24][25]

The main war plan, the Schlieffen Plan, was drawn up by the Army headquarters. It called for a great infantry sweep through Belgium to encircle Paris and defeat France in a matter of weeks. Then the forces would be moved by rail to the Eastern Front, to defeat the Russians. The plan was not shared with the Navy, the Foreign Office, the Chancellor, the main ally in Vienna, or the separate Army commands in Bavaria and the other states. No one could point out problems or plan to coordinate with it. The generals who did know about it counted on it giving a quick victory within weeks--if that did not happen there was no "Plan B."[26][27]

Rivalry with BritainEdit

In explaining why neutral Britain went to war with Germany, Paul Kennedy (1980) recognized it was critical for war that Germany become economically more powerful than Britain, but he downplays the disputes over economic trade imperialism, the Baghdad Railway, confrontations in Central and Eastern Europe, highly-charged political rhetoric and domestic pressure groups. Germany's reliance time and again on sheer power, while Britain increasingly appealed to moral sensibilities, played a role, especially in seeing the invasion of Belgium as a profound moral and diplomatic crime. Kennedy argues that by far the main reason was London's fear that a repeat of 1870 — when Prussia and the German states smashed France — would mean that Germany, with a powerful army and navy, would control the English Channel and northwest France. British policymakers insisted that that would be a catastrophe for British security.[28]

Naval raceEdit

The British Royal Navy dominated the globe in the 19th century, but after 1890, Germany attempted to challenge Britain's supremacy. The resulting naval race heightened tensions between the two nations. In 1897, Admiral Tirpitz became German Naval Secretary of State and began transformation of the German Navy from a small, coastal defence force to a fleet that was meant to challenge British naval power. As part of the wider bid to alter the international balance of power decisively in Germany's favour, Tirpitz called for a Risikoflotte (Risk Fleet), so called because, although still smaller than the British fleet, it would be too large for Britain to risk taking it on.[29][30]

The German Navy, under Tirpitz, had ambitions to rival the British Navy and dramatically expanded its fleet in the early 20th century to protect the colonies, German commerce, the homeland, and to exert power worldwide.[31] In 1890, to protect its new fleet, Germany traded possessions. It obtained the strategic island of Heligoland off the German North Sea coast and gave up the island of Zanzibar in Africa.[32] In 1898, Tirpitz started a programme of warship construction. The British, however, were always well ahead in the race. The British Dreadnought battleship of 1907 was so advanced in terms of speed and firepower that all other warships were immediately made obsolete. Germany copied it but never surged ahead in quality or numbers.[33]

Blank chequeEdit

Berlin repeatedly and urgently called on Vienna to act quickly in response to the assassination on June 28, so that a counter alliance would not have time to organize, and Austria could blame its intense anger at the atrocious act. Vienna delayed its critical ultimatum until July 23, and its actual invasion until August 13. That allowed time for the Russian-French opposition to organize. It also allowed an investigation to turn up many details but no evidence pointing directly to the government of Serbia. The main reason for the delay was the fact that practically the entire Austrian army was tied down at home in harvest work, providing a food supply that would be essential for any war once the reserves were called to duty.[34][35]

In July, 1914, Germany gave Austria a "blank cheque" in handling its punishment of Serbia regarding the assassination of the heir to the Austrian throne. It meant that Germany would support whatever decision Austria made. Austria decided on war with Serbia, which quickly led to escalation with Russia. Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg on July 6 told the Austrian ambassador in Berlin:

Finally, as far as concerns Serbia, His Majesty, of course, cannot interfere in the dispute now going on between Austria-Hungary and that country, as it is a matter not within his competence. The Emperor Francis Joseph may, however, rest assured that His Majesty will faithfully stand by Austria-Hungary,[editor: Bethmann-Hollweg here deleted the phrase "under all circumstances" which had appeared in his first draft] as is required by the obligations of his alliance and of his ancient friendship.[36]

Shortly after the war began, the German foreign office issued a statement justifying the Blank Check as necessary for the preservation of Austria, and the Teutonic (German) race in central Europe. The statement said:

it was clear to Austria that it was not compatible with the dignity and the spirit of self-preservation of the monarchy to view idly any longer this agitation across the border. The Imperial and Royal Government appraised Germany of this conception and asked for our opinion. With all our heart we were able to agree with our ally's estimate of the situation, and assure him that any action considered necessary to end the movement in Servia (sic) directed against the conservation of the monarchy would meet with our approval. We were perfectly aware that a possible warlike attitude of Austria-Hungary against Servia might bring Russia upon the field, and that it might therefore involve us in a war, in accordance with our duty as allies. We could not, however, in these vital interests of Austria-Hungary, which were at stake, advise our ally to take a yielding attitude not compatible with his dignity, nor deny him our assistance in these trying days. We could do this all the less as our own interests were menaced through the continued Serb agitation. If the Serbs continued with the aid of Russia and France to menace the existence of Austria-Hungary, the gradual collapse of Austria and the subjection of all the Slavs under one Russian sceptre would be the consequence, thus making untenable the position of the Teutonic race in Central Europe.[37]

July: crisis and warEdit

In early July 1914, in the aftermath of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and the immediate likelihood of war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, the German government informed the Austro-Hungarian government that Germany would uphold its alliance with Austria-Hungary and defend it from possible Russian intervention if a war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia took place.

Austria depended entirely on Germany for support – it had no other ally it could trust– but the Kaiser lost control of the German government. German Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg had repeatedly rejected pleas from Britain and Russia to put pressure on Austria to compromise. German elite and popular public opinion also was demanding mediation. Now in late July he reversed himself, and pleaded, or demanded, that Austria accept mediation, warning that Britain would probably join Russia and France if a larger war started. The Kaiser made a direct appeal to Emperor Franz Joseph along the same lines. However, Bethmann-Hollweg and the Kaiser did not know that the German military had its own line of communication to the Austrian military, and insisted on rapid mobilization against Russia. German Chief of Staff Moltke sent an emotional telegram to the Austrian Chief of Staff Conrad on July 30: "Austria-Hungary must be preserved, mobilise at once against Russia. Germany will mobilise." Vienna officials decided that Moltke was really in charge--which was true--and refused mediation and mobilized against Russia.[38]

When Russia enacted a general mobilization, Germany viewed the act as provocative. The Russian government promised Germany that its general mobilization did not mean preparation for war with Germany but was a reaction to the events between Austria-Hungary and Serbia. The German government regarded the Russian promise of no war with Germany to be nonsense in light of its general mobilization, and Germany, in turn, mobilized for war. On 1 August, Germany sent an ultimatum to Russia stating that since both Germany and Russia were in a state of military mobilization, an effective state of war existed between the two countries. Later that day, France, an ally of Russia, declared a state of general mobilization. The German government justified military action against Russia as necessary because of Russian aggression as demonstrated by the mobilization of the Russian army that had resulted in Germany mobilizing in response.[39]

After Germany declared war on Russia, France with its alliance with Russia prepared a general mobilization in expectation of war. On 3 August 1914, Germany responded to this action by declaring war on France. Germany, facing a two-front war, enacted what was known as the Schlieffen Plan, which involved German armed forces needing to move through Belgium and swing south into France and towards the French capital of Paris. This plan aimed to gain a quick victory against the French and allow German forces to concentrate on the Eastern Front. Belgium was a neutral country and would not accept German forces crossing its territory. Germany disregarded Belgian neutrality and invaded the country to launch an offensive towards Paris. This caused Great Britain to declare war against the German Empire, as the action violated the Treaty of London that both Britain and Prussia had signed in 1839 guaranteeing Belgian neutrality and defense of the kingdom if a nation reneged.

Subsequently, several states declared war on Germany in late August 1914, with Italy declaring war on Austria-Hungary in 1915 and Germany on 27 August 1916; the United States on 6 April 1917 and Greece in July 1917.

Ottoman allyEdit

1912 Danish cartoon shows Balkan states tearing apart the rickety Ottoman Empire in First Balkan War, October 1912

Turkey had been badly defeated in a series of wars in the previous decade, losing the two Balkan wars of 1912-13 and a war with Italy in 1911-12.[40] However, relations with Germany had been excellent, involving investment aid in financing, and assistance for the Turkish army.[41] In late 1913 German general Liman von Sanders was hired to reorganize the army, and to command the Ottoman forces at Constantinople. Russia and France vigorously objected, and forced a reduction in his role. Russia had the long-term goal of sponsoring the new Slavic states in the Balkan region, and had designs on control of the Straits (allowing entry into the Mediterranean), and even taking over Constantinople.[42]

There was a long-standing conflict between Britain and Germany over the Baghdad Railway through the Ottoman Empire. It would have projected German power toward Britain's sphere of influence (India and southern Persia), was resolved in June 1914. Berlin agreed not to construct the line south of Baghdad, and to recognize Britain's preponderant interest in the region. The issue was resolved to the satisfaction of both sides and did not play a role in causing the war.[43]

In June, 1914, Vienna and Berlin discussed bringing Bulgaria and Turkey into their military alliance, to neutralize the threat of the Balkan League under Russian and French auspices. When the war broke out, the Ottoman Empire was officially neutral at first, but leaning toward the Central Powers. Promises of war loans, military coordination, and recovery of lost territories appealed to Turkish nationalists, especially the Young Turks under Enver Pasha and the nationalist organization "Committee of Union and Progress" (CUP).[44][45][46]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Mark Hewitson. Germany and the Causes of the First World War (2004) pp 1-20.
  2. ^ Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 (2012)
  3. ^ F. H. Hinsley, ed. The New Cambridge Modern History, Vol. 11: Material Progress and World-Wide Problems, 1870-98 (1962) pp 204-42, esp 214-17.
  4. ^ Paul M. Kennedy, ed., The War Plans of the Great Powers, 1880-1914 (1979)
  5. ^ Hinsley (1962) pp 204-42.
  6. ^ Craig, "The World War I Alliance of the Central Powers in Retrospect: The Military Cohesion of the Alliance"
  7. ^ T,G, Otte, July Crisis (2014) pp. xvii-xxii for a list.
  8. ^ Konrad H. Jarausch, "The Illusion of Limited War: Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg's Calculated Risk, July 1914" Central European History 2.1 (1969): 48-76. online
  9. ^ Lamar Cecil, Wilhelm II: Emperor and Exile, 1900–1941 (1996) online.
  10. ^ Craig, Gordon A. The politics of the Prussian army 1640-1945 (1955) pp 292-95.
  11. ^ Geoff Eley, "Reshaping the right: Radical nationalism and the German Navy League, 1898–1908." Historical Journal 21.2 (1978): 327-340 online.
  12. ^ Marilyn Shevin Coetzee, The German Army League: Popular Nationalism in Wilhelmine Germany (1990)
  13. ^ Roger Chickering, . We men who feel most German: a cultural study of the Pan-German League, 1886-1914 (1984).
  14. ^ Dieter Groh, "The 'Unpatriotic Socialists' and the State." Journal of Contemporary History 1.4 (1966): 151-177. online.
  15. ^ V. R. Berghahn, Germany and the Approach of War in 1914 (1974) pp 178-85
  16. ^ Margaret MacMillan, The war that ended peace p. 605.
  17. ^ Jeffrey Verhey, The Spirit of 1914: Militarism, Myth, and Mobilization in Germany (2000) pp 17-20.
  18. ^ Paul W. Schroeder, "World War I as Galloping Gertie: A Reply to Joachim Remak," Journal of Modern History 44#3 (1972), pp. 319-345, at p/ 320 online
  19. ^ Schroeder p 320
  20. ^ Matthew S. Seligmann, "‘A Barometer of National Confidence’: a British Assessment of the Role of Insecurity in the Formulation of German Military Policy before the First World War." English Historical Review 117.471 (2002):
  21. ^ Jo Groebel and Robert A. Hinde, eds. (1989). Aggression and War: Their Biological and Social Bases. p. 196.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  22. ^ Otte, July Crisis (2014) pp 99, 135-36.
  23. ^ Konrad H. Jarausch, "The Illusion of Limited War: Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg's Calculated Risk, July 1914" Central European History 2.1 (1969): 48-76. online
  24. ^ Frank Maloy Anderson; Amos Shartle Hershey (1918). Handbook for the Diplomatic History of Europe, Asia, and Africa, 1870-1914. pp. 471–72.
  25. ^ Members of the Oxford Faculty (1914). Why We are at War, Great Britain's Case. p. 45.
  26. ^ Holger H. Herwig, "Through the Looking Glass: German Strategic Planning before 1914" The Historian 77#2 (2015) pp 290-314.
  27. ^ Peter Padfield, The Great Naval Race: The Anglo-German Naval Rivalry, 1900-1914 (2005) p 335.
  28. ^ Paul M. Kennedy, The Rise of the Anglo-German Antagonism, 1860–1914 (1980) pp 464–70.
  29. ^ William L. Langer, The diplomacy of imperialism: 1890-1902 (1951) pp 433-42.
  30. ^ Peter Padfield, The Great Naval Race: Anglo-German Naval Rivalry 1900-1914 (2005)
  31. ^ David Woodward, "Admiral Tirpitz, Secretary of State for the Navy, 1897–1916," History Today (July 1963) 13#8 pp=548–55.
  32. ^ David R. Gillard, "Salisbury's African Policy and the Heligoland Offer of 1890." English Historical Review 75.297 (1960): 631-653. online
  33. ^ Holger H. Herwig, "The German reaction to the Dreadnought revolution." International History Review 13.2 (1991): 273-283.
  34. ^ Richard F. Hamilton, and Holger H. Herwig, Decisions for War, 1914-1917 (2004) pp. 63-67.
  35. ^ Samuel R. Williamson, Jr. "Confrontation With Serbia: The Consequences of Vienna's Failure to Achieve Surprise in July 1914" Mitteilungen des Österreichischen Staatsarchivs 1993, Vol. 44, pp 168-177.
  36. ^ Claudia Durst Johnson; James H. Meredith (2004). Understanding the Literature of World War I: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents. Greenwood. pp. 13–14.
  37. ^ See "The German White Book" (1914)
  38. ^ Margaret MacMillan, The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 (2013) pp 605-607.
  39. ^ Richard F. Hamilton and Holger H. Herwig, Decisions for War, 1914-1917 (2004), pp 70-91.
  40. ^ R. Ernest Dupuy and Trevor N. Dupuy, The Encyclopedia of Military History from 3500 B.C. to the Present (1977) pp 926-28.
  41. ^ Frank G. Weber, Eagles on the crescent: Germany, Austria, and the diplomacy of the Turkish alliance, 1914-1918 (1970).
  42. ^ Alastair Kocho-Williams (2013). Russia's International Relations in the Twentieth Century. Routledge. pp. 12–19.
  43. ^ Mustafa Aksakal (2008). The Ottoman Road to War in 1914: The Ottoman Empire and the First World War. pp. 111–13.
  44. ^ F. W. Beckett, "Turkey's Momentous Moment." History Today (June 2013) 83#6 pp 47-53.
  45. ^ Hasan Kayalı, "The Ottoman Experience of World War I: Historiographical Problems and Trends," Journal of Modern History (2017) 89#4: 875-907.
  46. ^ Mustafa Aksakal (2008). The Ottoman Road to War in 1914: The Ottoman Empire and the First World War.

Further readingEdit

  • Afflerbach, Holger. "Wilhelm II as Supreme Warlord in the First World War." War in History 5.4 (1998): 427-449.
  • Albrecht-Carrié, René. A Diplomatic History of Europe Since the Congress of Vienna (1958), 736pp; basic survey.
  • Berghahn, V. R. Germany and the Approach of War in 1914 (1973), 260pp; scholarly survey, 1900 to 1914
  • Brandenburg, Erich. (1927) From Bismarck to the World War: A History of German Foreign Policy 1870–1914 (1927) online.
  • Buse, Dieter K., and Juergen C. Doerr, eds. Modern Germany: an encyclopedia of history, people and culture, 1871-1990 (2 vol. Garland, 1998.
  • Butler, Daniel Allen. Burden of Guilt: How Germany Shattered the Last Days of Peace (2010) excerpt, popular overview.
  • Carroll, E. Malcolm. Germany and the great powers, 1866-1914: A study in public opinion and foreign policy (1938) online; online at Questia also online review; 862pp; written for advanced students.
  • Cecil, Lamar Wilhelm II: Emperor and Exile, 1900–1941 (1996), a scholarly biography
  • Clark, Christopher. The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 (2013) excerpt
    • Sleepwalkers lecture by Clark. online
  • Coetzee, Marilyn Shevin. The German Army League: Popular Nationalism in Wilhelmine Germany (1990)
  • Craig, Gordon A. "The World War I alliance of the Central Powers in retrospect: The military cohesion of the alliance." Journal of Modern History 37.3 (1965): 336-344. online
  • Craig, Gordon. The Politics of the Prussian Army: 1640-1945 (1964).
  • Craig, Gordon. Germany, 1866-1945 (1978) online free to borrow
  • Evans, R. J. W.; von Strandmann, Hartmut Pogge, eds. (1988). The Coming of the First World War. Clarendon Press. ISBN 978-0-19-150059-6. essays by scholars from both sides
  • Fay, Sidney B. The Origins of the World War (2 vols in one. 2nd ed. 1930). online, passim
  • Fromkin, David. Europe's Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914? (2004).
  • Geiss, Imanuel. "The Outbreak of the First World War and German War Aims," Journal of Contemporary History 1#3 (1966), pp. 75-91 online
  • Gooch, G.P. Franco-German Relations 1871-1914 (1923). 72pp
  • Hale, Oron James. Publicity and Diplomacy: With Special Reference to England and Germany, 1890-1914 (1940) online
  • Hamilton, Richard F.. and Holger H. Herwig. Decisions for War, 1914-1917 (2004), pp 70-91, a scholarly summary.
  • Hensel, Paul R. "The Evolution of the Franco-German Rivalry" in William R. Thompson, ed. Great power rivalries (1999) pp 86–124 online
  • Herwig, Holger H. "Germany" in Richard F. Hamilton, and Holger H. Herwig, eds. The Origins of World War I (2003), pp 150-87.
  • Herwig, Holger H. The First World War: Germany and Austria-Hungary 1914-1918 (1997) pp 6-74.
  • Herweg, Holger H., and Neil Heyman. Biographical Dictionary of World War I (1982).
  • Hewitson, Mark. "Germany and France before the First World War: a reassessment of Wilhelmine foreign policy." English Historical Review 115.462 (2000): 570-606; argues Germany had a growing sense of military superiority
  • Hewitson, Mark. Germany and the Causes of the First World War (2004), thorough overview online at Questia
  • Jarausch, Konrad (1973). Von Bethmann-Hollweg and the Hubris of Imperial Germany. Yale University Press.
  • Jarausch, Konrad H. "The Illusion of Limited War: Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg's Calculated Risk, July 1914." Central European History 2.1 (1969): 48-76. online
  • Jarausch, Konrad Hugo. “Revising German History: Bethmann-Hollweg Revisited.” Central European History 21#3 (1988): 224-243, historiography in JSTOR
  • Joll, James; Martel, Gordon (2013). The Origins of the First World War (3rd ed.). Taylor & Francis.
  • Kennedy, Paul. The Rise of the Anglo-German Antagonism 1860–1914 (1980) pp 441-70.excerpt and text search
  • Kennedy, Paul. The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (1987), pp 194-260. online free to borrow
  • Kennedy, Paul. The Rise and Fall of British Naval mastery (1976) pp 205-38.
  • Kennedy, Paul M. "Idealists and realists: British views of Germany, 1864–1939." Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 25 (1975): 137-156. online
  • McMeekin, Sean. July 1914: Countdown to War (2014) scholarly account, day-by-day
  • MacMillan, Margaret (2013). The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914. Random House.; major scholarly overview
  • Mombauer, Annika. "German War Plans" in Richard F. Hamilton and Holger H. Herwig, eds. War Planning 1914 (2014) pp 48-79
  • Mombauer, Annika and Wilhelm Deist, eds. The Kaiser: New Research on Wilhelm II's Role in Imperial Germany (2003) online
  • Murray, Michelle. "Identity, insecurity, and great power politics: the tragedy of German naval ambition before the First World War." Security Studies 19.4 (2010): 656-688. online[dead link]
  • Neiberg, Michael S. Dance of the Furies: Europe and the Outbreak of World War I (2011), on public opinion
  • Otte, T. G. July Crisis: The World's Descent into War, Summer 1914 (Cambridge UP, 2014). online review
  • Paddock, Troy R. E. A Call to Arms: Propaganda, Public Opinion, and Newspapers in the Great War (2004) online
  • Padfield, Peter. The Great Naval Race: Anglo-German Naval Rivalry 1900-1914 (2005)
  • Papayoanou, Paul A. "Interdependence, institutions, and the balance of power: Britain, Germany, and World War I." International Security 20.4 (1996): 42-76.
  • Pratt, Edwin A. The rise of rail-power in war and conquest, 1833-1914 (1915) online
  • Rich, Norman. Great Power Diplomacy: 1814-1914 (1991), comprehensive survey
  • Ritter, Gerhard. The Sword and the Sceptre, Vol. 2-The European Powers and the Wilhelmenian Empire 1890-1914 (1970) Covers military policy in Germany and also France, Britain, Russia and Austria.
  • Scheck, Raffael. "Lecture Notes, Germany and Europe, 1871–1945" (2008) full text online, a brief textbook by a leading scholar
  • Schmitt, Bernadotte E. "Triple Alliance and Triple Entente, 1902-1914." American Historical Review 29.3 (1924): 449-473. in JSTOR
  • Schmitt, Bernadotte Everly. England and Germany, 1740-1914 (1916). online
  • Scott, Jonathan French. Five Weeks: The Surge of Public Opinion on the Eve of the Great War (1927) pp 99-153 online.
  • Stowell, Ellery Cory. The Diplomacy of the War of 1914 (1915) 728 pages online free
  • Strachan, Hew Francis Anthony (2004). The First World War. Viking. ISBN 978-0-670-03295-2.
  • Stuart, Graham H. French foreign policy from Fashoda to Serajevo (1898-1914) (1921) 365pp online
  • Taylor, A.J.P. The Struggle for Mastery in Europe 1848–1918 (1954) online free
  • Tucker, Spencer C., ed. The European Powers in the First World War: An Encyclopedia (1996) 816pp.
  • Verhey, Jeffrey. The Spirit of 1914: Militarism, Myth, and Mobilization in Germany (2006) excerpt
  • Vyvyan, J. M. K. "The Approach of the War of 1914." in C. L. Mowat, ed. The New Cambridge Modern History: Vol. XII: The Shifting Balance of World Forces 1898-1945 (2nd ed. 1968) online pp 140-70.
  • Watson, Alexander. Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I (2014) pp 7-52. excerpt
  • Wertheimer, Mildred. The Pan-German League, 1890-1914 (1924) online.
  • Williamson Jr., Samuel R. "German Perceptions of the Triple Entente after 1911: Their Mounting Apprehensions Reconsidered" Foreign Policy Analysis 7.2 (2011): 205-214.
  • Woodward, E.L. Great Britain And The German Navy (1935) 535pp; scholarly history online


  • Evans, R. J. W. "The Greatest Catastrophe the World Has Seen" The New York Review of Books Feb 6, 2014 online
  • Ferguson, Niall. "Germany and the origins of the First World War: new perspectives." Historical Journal 35.3 (1992): 725-752. online free
  • Herwig, Holger H. ed., The Outbreak of World War I: Causes and Responsibilities (1990) excerpts from primary and secondary sources
  • Hewitson, Mark. "Germany and France before the First World War: a reassessment of Wilhelmine foreign policy." English Historical Review 115.462 (2000): 570-606; argues Germany had a growing sense of military superiority. online
  • Hewitson, Mark. Germany and the Causes of the First World War (2004) pp 1-20 on historians; online at Questia
  • Horne, John, ed. A Companion to World War I (2012), 38 topical essays by scholars
  • Kramer, Alan. "Recent Historiography of the First World War – Part I", Journal of Modern European History (Feb. 2014) 12#1 pp 5–27; "Recent Historiography of the First World War (Part II)", (May 2014) 12#2 pp 155–174.
  • Langdon, John W. "Emerging from Fischer's Shadow: recent examinations of the crisis of July 1914." History Teacher 20.1 (1986): 63-86, in JSTOR emphasis on roles of Germany and Austria.
  • Mombauer, Annika. "Guilt or Responsibility? The Hundred-Year Debate on the Origins of World War I." Central European History 48.4 (2015): 541-564.
  • Mombauer, Annika. The origins of the First World War: controversies and consensus. (2002)
  • Mommsen, Wolfgang J. "The Debate on German War Aims," Journal of Contemporary History (1966) 1#3 pp 47-72. online; surveys Fischer debate
  • Mulligan, William. "The Trial Continues: New Directions in the Study of the Origins of the First World War." English Historical Review (2014) 129#538 pp: 639–666.
  • Seligmann, Matthew S. "Germany and the origins of the First World War in the eyes of the American diplomatic establishment." German History 15.3 (1997): 307-332.
  • Winter, Jay. and Antoine Prost eds. The Great War in History: Debates and Controversies, 1914 to the Present (2005)

Primary sourcesEdit

  • Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. Austro-Hungarian red book. (1915) English translations of official documents to justify the war. online
  • Albertini, Luigi. The Origins of the War of 1914 (3 vol 1952).
  • Barker. Ernest, et al. eds. Why we are at war; Great Britain's case (3rd ed. 1914), the official British case against Germany. online
  • Dugdale, E.T.S. ed. German Diplomatic Documents 1871-1914 (4 vol 1928-31), in English translation. online
  • Feldman, Gerald D. ed. German Imperialism, 1914-18: The Development of a Historical Debate (1972) 230 pp primary sources in English translation.
  • The German White Book (1914) online official defense of Germany; see The German White Book
  • Geiss, Imanuel, ed. July 1914, The outbreak of the First World War: Selected Documents (1968).
  • Geiss, Imanuel. German foreign policy 1871-1914 documents pp 192-218.
  • Gooch, G.P. Recent revelations of European diplomacy (1928) pp 3-101. online
  • Major 1914 documents from BYU
  • "The German White Book" (1914) English translation of documents used by Germany to defend its actions

External linksEdit