In the summer of 1914 a massive war was started between the great powers.
In this essay I will investigate the causes of World War 1 and try to work
out which country or countries were to blame for starting it.
In the 1800’s, Britain was by far the leading nation. It had an enormous
world-wide empire and powerful navy to protect the large amount of land
overseas that it owned. Britain manufactured many different goods, which
were exported to other countries, including Germany. Before 1900 Britain
was the world’s leading industrial power, with it’s main rival being
France. Britain was by far the leading European power, but it feared other
countries building up a larger navy and catching it up, especially Germany.
Britain knew that Germany had caught up with it in industrial production
and that Germany’s leaders also had strong ambitions to build up a world-
wide empire, like Britain already had. In 1914 Britain had an empire of 27
million km and Germany only had 2.5 million km, but Britain was still
In 1870 there was a war between Germany and France called the Franco-
Prussian war. The Germans captured a piece of French land called Alsace-
Lorraine. The French wanted the Alsace-Lorraine back and were still worried
that the Germans may attack again. Previously the French had had a fairly
small army, but they expanded it and built strong fortresses on their
border with Germany.
In 1908 Kaiser Willhelm, the king of Germany and the ruler of the German
army announced that he intended to develop the German navy. Germany started
to build more battleships. Because Britain was worried about Germany
catching it up and having a larger navy, Britain also started to build more
battleships. In 1906 Britain launched HMS Dreadnaught, a new battleship,
which could get up to speeds of 21 knots. It was faster and more powerful
than any other warship. The Germans copied the British and started to build
their own Dreadnaughts. In 1914 Germany had 17 Dreadnaughts and Britain had
29. Even though Britain was well ahead in the Naval Race, it was worried
that it could not fund many more of these ships to be built and that
Germany would continue to build more of these battleships and threaten
Britain’s naval supremacy.
In the 1800’s the very large country of Russia was a very backward country,
with a large population. It also had a large army, but it was badly
equipped and poorly led. Russia was quite a poor country which hardly had
any industry at all. Russia, along with France and Britain, was worried
about Germany’s growing strength.
In 1904 France and Britain became allies. Fear of Germany’s apparently
aggressive policies led these countries to join in military alliance.
Because Russia was also worried about Germany’s growth, France and Russia
made a similar defensive agreement and became allies in 1907. This alliance
between Britain, France and Russia was known as the Triple Entente.
Because Russia was a very backward country the other two countries in the
Triple Entente planned to help Russia become more powerful. Some ways that
they planned to do this were by funding its army to help it improve, by
funding it’s transport network to improve communications and to help the
army get from one place to another more quickly and also by helping it to
become more industrial.
Germany was surrounded by the three countries in the Triple Entente.
Germany’s leaders were worried by this and they started to make military
plans, in case France and Russia jointly declared war on them. The
countries in the Triple Entente knew that they were in a good position.
They desperately wanted to weaken Germany and stop it becoming a very
powerful country. Another country that surrounded Germany, but was not
against it was Austria-Hungary.
Previously Germany had formed an alliance with Austria-Hungary. This was
because the Austrians felt threatened by the Russians and by nationalism in
the Balkans (an area of land in south-east Europe.)
The Russians wanted the Austrian empire (made up of many different
nationalities) to fall apart because the Russians wanted a chance to expand
their influence into Europe. Russia had a long-term aim of gaining ports on
the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The Austrians were particularly worried
by Serbia. Austria owned the land to the west of Serbia, called Bosnia.
However many of the people living in Bosnia were Serbs. Austria did not
want Serbia to expand but Serbia wanted a coastline. Russia was friends
with Serbia and thought that their friendship would increase their
influence in the Balkans. This put the Russians in direct conflict with the
Austrian government. Serbia was made up of mainly Slavs and wanted to bring
them all together into one country. Austria-Hungary didn’t agree with the
idea of Slavs being united because it was concerned that the large number
of Slavs that lived in its lands would not want to live in its lands
anymore and would join with Serbia.
So, Austria-Hungary had conflicts with the Russians about the Balkans and
also with Serbia because of Serbia’s friendship with Russia and Serbia’s
ideas about Panslavism (uniting the Slavs.)
Previously Austria-Hungary had an alliance with Germany. The Austrians
wanted this alliance because they felt threatened by the Russians and by
nationalism in the Balkans.
The Italians did not really have any reasons to be part of an alliance.
They were an ambitious nation and wanted to be part of an alliance, just to
be seen as a significant country and an important European power. Italy,
Germany and Austria-Hungary became the Triple Alliance in 1882.
In 1910 there were two defensive agreements; the Triple Alliance and the
Triple Entente. Each country promised to help and defend it’s allies if
they were attacked. Some people thought that the defensive agreements were
a good idea, because they would prevent countries from declaring war
because it would lead to their own destruction. Others thought that it was
not such a good idea and it was very dangerous because instead of smaller
wars between two countries like the Franco-Prussian war, a huge war
involving all of the powers would happen, which would be started by a minor
dispute between just two countries. Also it was dangerous because clever
diplomats from both sides sometimes tested and threatened the other side to
see how they reacted. This was called brinkmanship and it often got out of
The Triple Entente had placed a “ring of steel” around Germany. Germany
would have stood no chance if the Triple Entente chose to attack it before
1906. In 1906 Germany’s war minister Count Alfred von Schlieffen who was
worried about this made military plans to defeat both the French and the
Russians, should they declare war on Germany. This plan was called the
Schlieffen Plan. He thought that if there was going to be a war then the
huge country of Russia would be slow to mobilize because they would have
such long way to go with a very backward transport system. Because Germany
thought that it would take Russia a couple of months to have it’s forces
ready, he planned to defeat the French first and then go and deal with the
Russians. It was planned that the Germans would invade France through the
neutral country of Belgium, so that the French wouldn’t realize what was
happening until the Germans got close to their country. The Germans then
planned to surround Paris, win the battle and move the bulk of the army
away again to fight the Russians. This plan was worked out precisely down
to every last detail. Even the train times were planned down to every last
The Austrian-Hungarian government strongly opposed the Serbs ideas about
Panslavism. Some Serbs began to carry out acts of terrorism in Austria-
Hungary because they disagreed with the government. Several secret
societies were formed in Serbia and were dedicated to throwing the
Austrians out of the Balkans. One of the well-known terrorist group was
called the Black Hand.
On June 28th 1914 the heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne and his wife
visited Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia. The Black Hand saw this as an
opportunity to protest about the Austrians taking over Bosnia to stop
Serbian expansion. Several members of the Black Hand were waiting for the
archduke when he visited Sarajevo. Firstly a bomb was thrown at his car,
which miraculously did not hit him. After this incident Franz Ferdinand was
going to leave Sarajevo. His driver turned the car around and as he was
doing so, one of the members of the Black Hand, Gavrillo Princip fired two
shots at the car. The first killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the second
killed his wife, Countess Sophia.
After this event Austria-Hungary was very annoyed with Serbia and blamed
them for the killing of the archduke. They accused the Serbian government
of helping Princip. This then annoyed Serbia because it was not actually
their country, but a small group of Bosnian Serbs. Austria-Hungary declared
war on Serbia. Before doing so they checked that their German allies would
stand by them. The Austrian-Hungarians attacked Belgrade, the capital of
On the 29th July the Russian army got ready to help Serbia defend itself
against the Austrians. The next day Germany, being in the Triple alliance
with Austria-Hungary, sent a threatening message to the Russians ordering
them not to help Serbia.
Because Austria-Hungary didn’t like Serbia this caused Germany to declare
war on Russia. Germany also began to move its army towards France and
Belgium, because France was a member of the Triple Entente along with
Russia. The French army was aware of this and was put on war alert, ready
to fight a German invasion.
On the 3rd and 4th of August Germany invaded France through neutral
Belgium. Britain, being on France’s side, ordered Germany to leave Belgium.
When Germany refused, Britain declared war.
On the 6th August Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia, because Russia
was friendly with Serbia, whom Austria-Hungary had already declared war on
and Russia had tried to defend. Also Austria-Hungary had had previous
conflicts with Russia about the Balkans.
The German’s meticulously planned Schlieffen Plan actually failed. It was a
lot weaker in practice than the German’s had expected because they were
slowed down by fierce resistance in Belgium. The British succeeded at the
Battle of Mons and pushed the Germans to the east of Paris. The French had
sent the Russians money to develop the army, who mobilized more quickly
than the Germans had expected. The Germans had to send two divisions of the
army to try to stop them on the Eastern front.
There was a deadlock on the Western front by the end of September 1914
because both sides dug trenches which eventually stretched from the channel
coast to the Swiss border. The war of movement was over.
I will now try to work out which were the most important and relevant
causes of the war, which country or countries actually caused World War 1
and whether the long term or the short term causes were more important.
Because many of the countries declared war on each other, one country can
not be solely to blame.
The disputes between the different countries before and after they joined
the alliances were about nationalism. From 1870 to 1914 the French wanted
the Alsace Lorraine back. Russia wanted to gain ports on the coast, Serbia
wanted independence in the Balkans and Austria-Hungary was worried about
nationalism within its empire.
This nationalism led to imperialism. France and Germany were rival empires,
so were Russia and Austria-Hungary and Serbia and Austria-Hungary.
Militarism also caused imperialism. Britain and Germany were rival empires
because of the Naval Race. France helped Russia to become more powerful by
funding its army. The German Schlieffen Plan that finally pushed Europe
It was also the alliance system that made so many countries become involved
in the war. Instead of sorting out problems by having small disputes
between two different countries, the alliance system made many more
countries become involved, just because they were defending their allies.
Some people would blame Serbia for starting World War 1. After all they did
assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which started the whole chain of
events. Serbia also stirred up trouble among the southern Slavs.
Some people would say that Russia should share the blame with the Serbs.
This is because Serbia could not have been as powerful without Russian
support. Russia also stirred up trouble with the Slavs. It was also the
Russians that mobilised in July, which then caused the Germans to mobilise
and declare war. If I was to decide which one of the two countries (Russia
and Serbia) declared war then I would blame Russia. This is because the
whole of Serbia was not to blame for assassinating Franz Ferdinand, it was
just a small group of Bosnian Serbs and it was the Russians who mobilised
first. It is unfair to blame Russia for the war because Russia was under
pressure to mobilise from France’s ambassador.
Some historians think that it was actually Germany that started the war.
They think this because they seized the Alsace Lorraine in 1870, which made
the French angry with the Germans. They also started the naval race which
made the British people angry with the Germans. In 1908 Germany threatened
Russia with war, and planned exactly what they would do if any of the
members of the Triple Entente started to mobilise, which pushed Europe into
war. Also without Germany’s support ( Germany being the most powerful
country in the Triple Alliance), Austria-Hungary would not have declared
war on Serbia or on Russia.
Some people blame Austria-Hungary for starting the war. They were the first
people to declare war. Maybe if they hadn’t have declared war on Serbia
then Russia wouldn’t have mobilised and the war wouldn’t have started. It
was Austria-Hungary that placed the blame on Serbia for the assassination,
when actually it was not the Serbian government or the whole of Serbia’s
Other people may say that Austria-Hungary is not to blame for Russia
mobilising, but it was actually France. The French didn’t stop the Russians
from mobilising, they helped them. Also France’s ambassador in Russia urged
Russia to declare war on the countries in the Triple Alliance.
It was not just France that could have stopped the war from happening.
Britain could have warned Germany that they would fight alongside Russia
and France, to scare the Germans and make them see that the Schlieffen Plan
would not work and they would have to fight three countries, instead of
The only country that is free from blame is Italy.
Not being biased, I think that Britain is almost free from blame as well.
The Germans should’ve at least worked out which countries were going to
fight in the war before they worked out the train time tables! It is
understandable that Britain did not want to be overpowered by Germany and
it was the Germans that started the Naval Race, between the two countries.
Britain did not want the Germans to get ahead of them so they had no choice
but to join in with the naval race to try to stay ahead of their enemy.
France is also almost blame free. It made sense that France should help
Russia to mobilise, after all they both hated Germany and didn’t want it to
become powerful. Russia was a very backward country so France helped it to
become more modern.
Apart from Britain and France I think that Serbia should have the smallest
share of the blame. Some Serbs disagreed with Panslavism and protested
against it. I don’t really blame Gavrilo Princip because he was standing up
for what he believed in and he did not know that a war would be started
after the shooting. The assassination at Sarajevo was just a perfect excuse
a war to begin. Germany and Britain had been looking for an excuse to start
a war for a long time before that.
Some people may think that Gavrilo Princip is to blame because he started
the chain of events in June 1914, but actually arguments were happening
between the countries well over 30 years before the assassination.
Germany started the arguments by seizing the Alsace Lorraine in 1870.
Germany was also the first country that wanted an alliance system, which it
made with Austria-Hungary. Also Germany ignored the Treaty of London which
was signed by Britain and other European nations, promising to protect
Even though no country is solely to blame, if I had to blame one country
for starting the war then it would be Germany. This is because if Germany
did not start making defensive agreements and did not start the battle for
power then there would have been no arguments about the Morocco (with the
Moroccans), the Alsace Lorraine(with the French), no Naval Race(against the
British), no Schlieffen Plan (against the Triple Entente) and the
brinkmanship wouldn’t have got so out of hand.
It is not just the Germans fault that the war started. There were many
different causes, both long term and short term. There were many disputes
about things in the past and there were short term causes but I don’t think
that the war would have happened if the Triple Alliance, the Triple Entente
and the alliance between Serbia and Russia had not been formed. These
alliances could, and did, create a huge war out of a small dispute. I blame
the suspicions and assumptions that all of the countries involved made. All
of the countries were suspicious of each other and some of these suspicions
had gone on for hundreds of years. All of these suspicions made Britain a
very tense place. All of the countries wanted to show that themselves and
their allies were stronger than their enemies.
Many assumptions also were made. The Germans just assumed that the British
would not join the war.
If I had to blame a single cause for starting the war then it would be the
Schlieffen Plan. It was very dangerous because the military chiefs planned
to start mobilising the German army just before war was declared and once
they mobilised it would be very difficult to stop them. The Schlieffen Plan
led to hasty decisions to declare war being made.
I blame the long term causes more than the short term causes. This is
because a long time before the war there were more meaningful disputes over
land and power. The short term causes such as the assassination of the
archduke just sparked off the war.