World War One Facts
World War One was a hugely destructive and deadly conflict. It was fought on two fronts and saw the emergence of new countries.
The Central Powers operated under the Schlieffen Plan, which had hopes of a quick victory. However, it was a flawed strategy.
The American government wanted to remain neutral but was forced to enter the war after a German submarine sunk the British passenger ship Lusitania, killing 128 Americans in 1915.
1. It was started by the assassination of Franz Ferdinand
There was a lot that led up to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, but one thing is for sure, it started world war one. It was a time of crumbling empires, and the nationalism movement was strong.
The archduke and his wife were killed by Gavrilo Princip, a member of the Young Bosnia movement and the Black Hand secret society. This was part of a larger plan to break up Austria-Hungary’s South Slav provinces into Yugoslavia. The assassination led to the start of a war that ended in 30 million deaths.
2. It was fought on two fronts
The first world war was a global conflict. It was fought on two fronts, and involved more than 20 countries.
On the Western Front the armies spent years trying to break a series of layered trench networks. This created a bloody stalemate that lasted four years.
Millions of able-bodied men were drafted or conscripted into mass citizen armies. Nations committed atrocities against their opponents’ civilian populations in an attempt to break their morale and diminish popular support for the war.
Yet even a major advance on the Eastern Front would risk extending Germany’s logistical problems. This was what Falkenhayn feared, and it shaped his strategy for 1917.
3. It was fought with chemical weapons
Aside from high explosives, World War I was the first major military conflict to use poison gas as a weapon. Chlorine, mustard gas and phosgene were among the asphyxiating gases used by belligerents during WWI.
On April 22, 1915, the German military unleashed chlorine gas from cylinders at the Second Battle of Ypres in Belgium. The gas terrified and asphyxiated French troops.
During the war, both sides developed new types of chemical weapons, including phosgene, which smelled like moldy hay. Phosgene was more deadly than chlorine gas, accounting for 85% of all chemical-weapons fatalities in WWI. Soldiers wore masks to protect themselves.
4. It was fought with trench warfare
At night, the trenches became hives of activity. Under cover of darkness, workers repaired barbed wire and dug new trenches, while patrols moved into No Man’s Land—the blasted landscape between the opposing front lines—to observe and listen for enemy movements.
The trenches were dirty, unhealthy places to live, and many soldiers died of disease, including cholera, typhoid fever, and dysentery. They also suffered from trench foot, which was a painful condition caused by constant exposure to wetness. They also struggled with trench mouth, which was a gum infection that was made worse by poor oral hygiene, smoking, malnutrition, and stress from nonstop bombardment.
5. It was fought with gas masks
At the start of WWI, chemical weapons weren’t yet widely used. But chlorine gas became a staple, causing coughing that burned eyes and throats. The poison was designed to spread rapidly through the trenches, igniting days or weeks of pent-up claustrophobia and causing victims to flee in terror, which made them easy targets for machine gun fire.
Scientists quickly began developing gas masks to protect soldiers. They weren’t easy to wear, with their labored breathing and limited vision, but they saved millions of lives. Some of the first models looked similar to the modern face masks we use today.
6. It was fought with African American soldiers
After the United States entered the war, Blacks demanded that they be allowed to serve in combat units. After much pressure, the Army established the 92nd and 93rd Divisions, both primarily Black combat units, in 1917.
But many African American soldiers never saw combat, while others were placed in noncombat roles like stevedore and labor battalions and companies. This did not sit well with the community, and some resisted serving in the military at all.
Others fought on the front lines, including one regiment that became known as the Harlem Hellfighters. Members of this unit earned a number of French Croix de Guerre and Medals of Honor for their bravery on the battlefield.
7. It was fought with food shortages
In the first years of the war, food shortages in belligerent countries threatened both civilians and soldiers. Blockades and other forms of interference with regular shipping put a strain on food supply systems. People began to revert to frugality and recipes to save flour, meat, and sugar.
Rationing was introduced in 1918. Rations were originally for sugar but eventually included coffee, meats, fats and cheeses, canned fish and tyres. Macaroni and cheese became a popular recipe because it only used a small amount of ration points. People also turned to substitutes for wheat such as cornmeal, corn syrup and hominy grits.