Causes of World War I

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The First World War, 1914 - 1918, was caused by the build up of tension between countries and the trigger which sparked a whole series of events to follow. The three long-term causes were imperialism, militarism and alliances. The trigger was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

One of the reasons for World War 1 breaking out was imperialism. From the late nineteenth century onwards the power of an empire was judged by the size of that empire, and Britain had the largest with vast territories overseas. Its strength was shown in the saying, "The sun never sets on the British Empire."

In order to conquer these remote areas in different continents it was necessary for the imperial powers to build up large armies and navies, hence the second main cause of the war, militarism. Countries spent huge amounts of money in a short space of time to build battleships to achieve this goal. In 1900 Britain's navy was the biggest by far, so Germany was under a lot of pressure to get ahead. So, when Britain launched the Dreadnought, the latest battleship, Germany launched their own version of the Dreadnought to compete with Britain.

The final long-term cause was alliances. The bigger countries of Europe formed two sides. They were called the "Triple Entente" and the "Triple Alliance". The Triple Entente included France, Great Britain and Russia whereas Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy formed the Triple Alliance. Great Britain, France and Russia were worried about the growing strength of Germany so they decided to help each other if any one of the countries were under attack. Germany objected to this arrangement because should they decide to threaten Germany, they would be surrounded, with France and Great Britain on the west and Russia on the right, so Germany formed an alliance with Austria-Hungary and Italy.

The trigger which started World War 1 was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, in Sarajevo on 28th June 1914. He and his wife Sophie, who was also murdered in the attack, were making a state visit to the capital of Bosnia. The Serbian secret society, The Black Hand, wanted Bosnia to break free from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They were backed up by Russia who thought that they expand their territory. The Duke and his wife arrived at 09:30 and they got into an open-topped car at the station. The Black Hand members found out that the car was third in line. So, when the time came, one of the many trained assassins threw a hand grenade at the Archduke's car. However, when he threw it he must have forgotten the ten second time delay, so, rather than blowing up the third car in line it bounced off the back of the car ,which drove on, it injured the driver and passengers in the fourth car instead. When the Archduke realised he was a target he immediately abandoned his planned trip and went to visit the hospital. However, the driver took a wrong turn up Franz Joseph Street and had to reverse. Just by chance he slowed down in front of Gavrilo Princip, leader of the Black Hand. He thought, after hearing the bomb go off, that he was already dead. Seeing that this was his only chance to carry out their plan , he pulled his gun and fired, killing the Archduke, Sophie and their baby, as Sophie had been pregnant at the time. Gavrilo Princip was arrested and beaten up for this rebellious act.

Austria-Hungary was outraged that the heir to their throne had been assassinated. They blamed Serbia and bombed the capital, Belgrade. Serbia's ally, Russia, then helped to defend it from attack. Soon after, Germany, Austria-Hungary's ally, declared war on Russia as well as starting to move towards French territory, ready to invade, attacking Belgium as they progressed. The French soldiers started to get ready for a German invasion. When Germany declared war on France, then under the terms of the Triple Entente, Britain then ordered Germany to stop attacking Belgium, who was neutral during the war. When the Germans didn't retreat from Belgium, Britain declared war on Germany. Finally, Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia and WWI commenced.