The War In Europe - Two Fronts
World War I for Kids
Long before the start of World War I, Germany had been preparing for war. They wanted to expand their borders. They wanted colonies. They were an industrial country and they needed places to sell their goods. If things went as planned, they assumed they would be fighting on two fronts - one in the east against Russia and one in the west against France. Their plan was to quickly defeat France and take over some or all of her colonies. That would leave them free to focus on Russia so they could take over pieces of the Russian Empire as well. Germany had no doubt they would win. They had arms, trained men, and war strategies that took years to develop. They were ready.
In June 1914, the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated in the Balkans, in Bosnia by a Serbian national. Austria-Hungary suspected that Russia and Serbia had a secret treaty. So, before Austria-Hungary in retribution declared war on Serbia, they asked Germany for her assurance that Germany would help Austria as agreed by secret treaty if Russia helped Serbia. The Germans were delighted. It was their plan. It could not have been more perfect, or so the Germans believed. Once France declared war on Austria, the Germans could put their plan into operation. France would be unprepared for war, weak and easy to conquer. Germany could then quickly focus on defeating Russia before the Russian army could be fully mobilized. As expected, Russia stepped in. But France did not declare war on Austria, not until August 1914. The Germans had to come up with a pretext to get France involved in the war. Britain came to aid of France. Britain had signed a secret treaty with France and Russia. Peace between the great powers of Europe had come to an end. The Great War had begun.
In 1914, there was an alliance system in place between various countries around the world, a system of secret treaties. Although there were clearly two sides to this war - the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary) and the Allies (France, Britain, Russia), there were many secret treaties. As a result, other countries began to join one side or the other, based on their agreements and/or which side they believed would benefit them the most. Some were not even countries; they were colonies. A war, which Germany had thought would be quickly over, dragged on for four bloody years and ultimately involved over 30 countries. Here are the main participants:
The Central Powers: Germany and Austria-Hungary were joined by Turkey and Bulgaria.
The Allies: Britain, France, and Russia were joined by Greece, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Italy, Japan, and Northern Africa including Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, and later in 1917 by the United States.
Neutrals: Some of the countries that remained neutral included Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Spain, Albania, Switzerland, and until 1917 the United States.
But the Germans were right about the location of the fighting. Most of it occurred on two fronts in Europe - the Eastern Front and the Western Front.
On the Western Front, there was a new strategy of war called Trench Warfare. Hundreds of miles of trenches were dug by both sides along the French/German border. Men, armed with new inventions called machine guns, shot at each other. When men stayed in the filthy trenches, they were protected. When they crawled out to fight, they were gunned down by machine guns and canons, while their enemy was still tucked safely in the trenches. Another new invention, the tank, was invented to help cross the open space between trenches more safely. But tanks were in their infancy, and easy to blow up.
On the Eastern Front, war was fluid. War was fought more in the old fashioned way, with combat in open spaces, assisted by a new invention - the machine gun. Tanks were not used on the Russian front. The Germans defeated the Russian army so badly that no invasion of Germany was attempted by the much later Russian army.
The Russian Revolution: While the German and Russian armies did their best to kill each other on Russian soil on the Eastern Front, millions of civilians fled into the interior of Russia to escape the fighting. The central portions of Russia were not prepared to handle this enormous influx of population. Although the people fleeing were Russian subjects, many groups, like the Poles, the Latvians, and the Jews, had their own language and customs. They did not even speak Russian. People were starving. In 1917, Russia pulled out of the Great War to handle the Bolshevik Revolution, also known as the Russian Revolution, which was the civil war in Russia caused in great part by the Imperial Russian government's insistence on Russia's involvement in WWI in spite of all the problems this caused for Russian people. The outcome of the Russian Revolution was that after centuries of Russian imperial rule, the Romanov dynasty was overthrown by the Bolsheviks, who would later become the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
America Enters the War: With Russia's withdrawal from the war effort in 1917, in spite of the many countries involved in the Great War on the Allies side, Germany might have won. Only, about the time Russia pulled out of the Great War in 1917, leaving Germany's military free to abandon the Eastern Front and join their forces on the Western Front, America entered the war on the side of the Allies, bringing with her many guns, much ammunition, and two million men. Within a year, it was over. An exhausted Germany surrendered in November 1918.