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Europe's system of alliances and centuries-old tensions erupted into war in August of 1914. This week on Crash Course Euro, we're talking about the military history of World War I, and taking a look at the broad strokes of how the war unfolded. We'll take you from the guns of August through gruesome battles like Verdun and the Somme, and follow the thread all the way through to the Armistice in 1918. It didn't turn out to be the War to End All Wars, sadly, but there is a lot to learn from it.


-Engelstein, Laura. Russia in Flames. War, Revolution, and Civil War 1914-1922. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1918.
-Hunt, Lynn et al. Making of the West: Peoples and Cultures, 6th ed. Boston: Bedford St. Martin’s 2019.
-Sanborn, Joshua A. Imperial Apocalypse: The Great War and the Destruction of the Russian Empire. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.
-Suny, Ronald Grigor. “They Can Lie in the Desert but Nowhere Else”: A History of the Armenian Genocide. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015.
-Watson, Alexander. Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I. New
York: Basic Books, 2014.

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 Intoduction (00:00)

Hi, I'm John Green and this is Crash Course European History

so leading up to World War I, Germany had promised to back Austria, Hungary in any war; whether it was offensive or defensive and armed with this so called 'blank check' of support, the Austro-Hungarian Hapsburgs issued an ultimatum to Serbia, which the Hapsburgs blamed for the assasination of their Archduke. Serbia accepted the harsh conditions ... except one: that Austria-Hungary would be allowed to participate in the investigation of the murder. "All reason for war is gone," German Kaiser Wilhem II said. And yet Austria-Hungary and Germany -- the Central Powers -- both mobilized against Serbia by the end of July; eager to crush the pesky Serbs; believing the war would be a local and contained one ... it didn't go that way.

 Opening Credits(00:50)

In a swirl of military activity, Austria and Germany mobilized their armies; while virtually simultaneously, Russia came to the defense of its ally -- Serbia. France mobilized to aid its ally -- Russia. The wild card was Britain, which Germany thought would not come to the aid of Britain's frequent historical enemy, France. And indeed, Britain did not immediately declare war, which was a good thing for the Anglophile Germany Kaiser who did not want to declare war on his cousin George, king of England, although he didn't mind declaring war on his cousin Nicholas, Tsar of Russia.  Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice hereditary succession.  

As discussed in our last episode, Europe was primed for all out war.  By this time, millions of young men had been trained in the conscription efforts of the past decades and on the eve of full mobilization, a French nationalist assassinated Jean Jaures, who was a powerful socialist and pacifist working for peace, a potent example of the rise of violent nationalism.  Already established plans for military mobilization were rolled out.  Russia ordered full mobilization on July 29, 1914 after Kaiser William said, "All reason for war is gone."

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In point of fact, the German general staff had also quickly mobilized for war.  These things could happen really fast now that military leaders had railroads and automobiles to quickly move troops and supplies and auxiliary personnel.  Let's go to the Thought Bubble.

Germany mobilized on August 2nd, following the Schlieffen plan.  According to the plan, the main German military units would proceed through neutral Belgium and descend through Northern France to encircle Paris from the West.  Then, after quickly defeating France, troops would be moved to the lightly defended Eastern front where the slow-to-mobilize Russian army would be quickly knocked out.  The war would be over by Christmas, but the very first stage of that plan involved marching through Belgium unopposed, which did not happen.

Indeed, millions of people would die on the western front in Belgium and France.  The central powers' plan was complicated when the British joined France and Russia after Germany broke Belgium's neutrality to get to France, thus forming the so-called allied partners of the war.  Also, the Russians mobilized much faster than many expected, moving swiftly to assist their French ally and as a result, scored notable early victories against the Germans and East Prussia.  However, their generals were less able than their German counterparts and did not follow up on those victories, allowing the Germans to strike back effectively.  

The Germans regrouped under Generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff who demanded that  troops from the western front be brought to the eastern one.  Thanks, Thought Bubble.

So the war in the East became a nightmare not just for soldiers, but also for civilians.  Armies moved back and forth across east central and central Europe, driving out, abusing, and killing civilian populations in the turmoil of conflict.  On the Western front, conditions were less mobile, settling into a grim pattern of trench warfare.  There was little movement or acquisition of territory but massive casualties.  

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