First World War
Newsreel footage of the signing of the peace treaty at Versailles
On 28 June 1914, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist. This caused a rapidly escalating July Crisis resulting in Austria-Hungary declaring war on Serbia, followed quickly by the entry of most European powers into the First World War. Two alliances faced off, the Central Powers (led by Germany) and the Triple Entente (led by Britain, France and Russia). Other countries entered as fighting raged widely across Europe, as well as the Middle East, Africa and Asia. In 1917, two revolutions occurred within the Russian Empire. The new Bolshevik government under Vladimir Lenin in March 1918 signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk that was highly favourable to Germany. Sensing victory before American armies could be ready, Germany now shifted force to the Western Front and tried to overwhelm the Allies. It failed. Instead the Allies won decisively on the battlefield and forced an armistice in November 1918 that resembled a surrender.
US entry and the Fourteen Points
On 6 April 1917, the United States entered the war against the Central Powers. The motives were twofold: German submarine warfare against merchant ships trading with France and Britain, which led to the sinking of the RMS Lusitania and the loss of 128 American lives; and the interception of the German Zimmermann Telegram, urging Mexico to declare war against the United States. The American war aim was to detach the war from nationalistic disputes and ambitions after the Bolshevik disclosure of secret treaties between the Allies. The existence of these treaties tended to discredit Allied claims that Germany was the sole power with aggressive ambitions.
On 8 January 1918, President Woodrow Wilson issued the nation's postwar goals, the Fourteen Points. It outlined a policy of free trade, open agreements, and democracy. While the term was not used self-determination was assumed. It called for a negotiated end to the war, international disarmament, the withdrawal of the Central Powers from occupied territories, the creation of a Polish state, the redrawing of Europe's borders along ethnic lines, and the formation of a League of Nations to guarantee the political independence and territorial integrity of all states. It called for a just and democratic peace uncompromised by territorial annexations. The Fourteen Points were based on the research of the Inquiry, a team of about 150 advisors led by foreign-policy advisor Edward M. House, into the topics likely to arise in the expected peace conference.
Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, 1918
The borders of Eastern Europe, as drawn up by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
After the Central Powers launched Operation Faustschlag on the Eastern Front, the new Soviet Government of Russia signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany on 3 March 1918. This treaty ended the war between Russia and the Central powers and annexed 1,300,000 square miles (3,400,000 km2) of territory and 62 million people. This loss equated to a third of the Russian population, a quarter of its territory, around a third of the country's arable land, three-quarters of its coal and iron, a third of its factories (totalling 54 percent of the nation's industrial capacity), and a quarter of its railroads.
During the autumn of 1918, the Central Powers began to collapse. Desertion rates within the German army began to increase, and civilian strikes drastically reduced war production. On the Western Front, the Allied forces launched the Hundred Days Offensive and decisively defeated the German western armies. Sailors of the Imperial German Navy at Kiel mutinied, which prompted uprisings in Germany, which became known as the German Revolution. The German government tried to obtain a peace settlement based on the Fourteen Points, and maintained it was on this basis that they surrendered. Following negotiations, the Allied powers and Germany signed an armistice, which came into effect on 11 November while German forces were still positioned in France and Belgium.
The terms of the armistice called for an immediate evacuation of German troops from occupied Belgium, France, and Luxembourg within fifteen days. In addition, it established that Allied forces would occupy the Rhineland. In late 1918, Allied troops entered Germany and began the occupation.
Both the German Empire and Great Britain were dependent on imports of food and raw materials, primarily from the Americas, which had to be shipped across the Atlantic Ocean. The Blockade of Germany (1914–1919) was a naval operation conducted by the Allied Powers to stop the supply of raw materials and foodstuffs reaching the Central Powers. The German Kaiserliche Marine was mainly restricted to the German Bight and used commerce raiders and unrestricted submarine warfare for a counter-blockade. The German Board of Public Health in December 1918 stated that 763,000 German civilians had died during the Allied blockade, although an academic study in 1928 put the death toll at 424,000 people.