Image of D-Day reenactment

A Brief History and Timeline of the World Wars

Of all the recorded events in the past, one of the most impactful series is that of the World Wars. All of us know that history books talk about a couple of World Wars that led to many changes before and after.

This post is focused on bringing about the story behind two world wars, its occurrences and global impacts briefly.

World War I

The First World War occurred between 28 July, 1914 and 11 November,1918. Based on the course of the war, there were three groups of nations around the world. Two groups of nations were fighting against each other in the war, while the third set of countries chose to take a neutral stand.

Who was involved?

Image of world map color coded to differentiate the different powers in World War I
Part of World Map (Image Credit: Pinterest)

For better understanding, let us see how the borders were divided based on the three sets of countries:

Firstly, Central Power was constituted by the German Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, Turkey, and Bulgaria. These countries were physically located in the central part of the continent’s land. They are marked in red in the above image.

Secondly, the Allied Powers had countries from other continents and were physically located in the outer region of the European Continent. That is also why they were known as the Allied power. It was constituted by Italy, France, Great Britain, Ireland, Portugal, Greece, Russia, Siberia, Japan and the United States. These are marked in green.

Thirdly, The Neutral Powers were constituted by Spain, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway. These are marked in yellow.

How did the war start?

Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the heir of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. When he visited the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, with his wife Sophie on 28 June 1914, the couple were shot to death by Gavrilo Princip. Princip was a Serbian nationalist. This naturally aroused the Austrian-Hungarian authorities. This incident marked the basis for the beginning of World War I.

" width="155" height="219" srcset=" 800w, 42w" sizes="(max-width: 155px) 100vw, 155px" /> Archduke Franz Ferdinand (Image Credit: Wikipedia)
Image of Sophie, wife of Franz Ferdinand, who was also assassined with her husband.
Sophie (Image Credit: Wikipedia)

The heir and his wife went to inaugurate the State Museum and observe the military maneuvers. Owing to the then existing unpleasant political situation between Austria and Serbia, his wife is said to have accompanied him. The tensions have been a result of years of fighting between the European nations to get hold of the superior power over the others.

In fact, around an hour before the gun was fired, the couple missed a grenade attack. It was planned by a group of six assassins on their car. They were armed with supplies from a Serbian national. The political objective of this attack was the desire of Serbia to acquire a South-Slav province. This part of Bosnia was annexed by Austria-Hungary from the Ottoman Empire.

How did the war progress?

Leading towards the declaration of War: “July Crisis”

The Austro-Hungarian authorities were agitated by the attack on the royal couple. This motivated a series of anti-Serb riots in Sarajevo. As a result, a number of Serbs were imprisoned and injured. Bosnian-Serb and Serb-owned buildings were damaged. That is how the “July Crisis” began.

There was political unrest among Austria-Hungary, Germany, France, Russia, and Britain. Although Austria was clear about the Serbian involvement in the attack, they lacked any clear evidence of it. Sensing mighty Russia’s support for Serbia, Austria secretly sought the support of Kaiser Wilhelm II. On July 5, the German leader agreed to issue a “blank check” of promise to back the dual monarchy in the rise of a war. So also, Serbia was convinced that Austria was readying for a war. Hence, the government ordered the military to be ready and appealed for Russia’s assistance.

Consequently, on 23 July 1914, Austria-Hungary delivered the “July Ultimatum” to Serbia. It was a list of ten demands that were framed to deliberately provoke them. Thus, most of them were unacceptable. Yet Serbia agreed to everything except the fifth and sixth points. Because they were related to allowing Austria-Hungary to investigate the Serbian officials.

Following this, on July 25, both Serbia and Russia commanded their military to brace up against Austria-Hungary. Then on 28 July 1914, exactly a month after the assassination, the Austria-Hungary government declared war on Serbia. Later in a week’s time, Russia, Serbia, Belgium, France, and Great Britain were lined up against Austria-Hungary and Germany. World War I had begun.

Beginning of the War

The war comprises many battles between the allies and the central powers. Germany followed the plan of Field Marshal Alfred Von Schlieffen and hence fought the war on two fronts. They were against France in the West and Russia in the East. The strategy of the German order of battle, was to place 80% percent of the army in the West. So that they knock off France via Belgium and then replicate it with Russia in the East.

On 4 August 1914, the German troops invaded the city of Liege and crossed the Belgium boundary. Initially, the Germans succeeded in advancing along the West front. In the Battle of Frontiers, nearly 260,000 people were injured and 27,000 of them were executed. But due to lack of micro-management of the army commanders, they had the freedom to carry out the broad instructions given to them in their own way. While Von Kluck used this freedom to disobey orders, the French army utilized this gap to win over the German invasion in the West.

Battles in the West

Consequently, on the 6th September, 1914, the First Battle of Marne was fought between the French-British army against the German army. The German army penetrated into northeastern France. But the allied army drove back the Germans to the north of the Aisne River.

Image of German soldiers holding guns on the fields of First Battle of Marne, taken in September 1914. Believed to be staged for picture as they are wearing medals which was not a common practice
German soldiers in First Battle of Marne (Image Credit: Wikipedia)

The Battle of Verdun was fought between 21 February – 18 December, 1916. It caused a lot of bloodshed and is known for its brutality. It was fought for 10 months in a row, making it one of the longest battles. Germans chose the city of Verdun in France as the target because it was salient, located on the Western front and already had a political history to it.

Battles in the East

While the above battles were a part of the Western Front, on the Eastern front there was the Battle of Tannenberg during late August 1914. Russia tried invading German held parts of Prussia and Poland. But the army was stopped by the allied forces of Germany and Austria. Although the Germans won this battle, it came at the cost of devoting a greater portion of their troops to the Eastern front. Eventually, it caused their loss in the Battle of Marne as well.

Image of captured Russians and guns after Germany won the Battle of Tannenberg.
Russian prisoners after Battle of Tannenberg (Image Credit: Wikipedia)

Therefore, things didn’t go per se Schlieffen’s plan. The Germans had to mobilize the troops in different proportions to face the simultaneous battles on both fronts from time to time.

Through the years from 1914 to 1916, the Russian army was unable to break through the German lines. This added political and economic instability, leading to scarcity of food and essentials. As a result, the people of Russia came together for The Russian Revolution, headed by Vladimir Lenin and Bolsheviks in 1917. As a result, Russia was forced to end the fight. It is officially known as an armistice. Thus they reached armistice with central powers in 1917.

Battle of Gallipoli

Meanwhile, the Ottoman empire took the side of Central Power in the War in November 1914.

Map showing the region of Turkey in the Gallipoli Campaign.

The U.S has joined the war

After the Russian force quit World War I, Germany only had to fight against the Western Front. Initially, at the onset of the War, The United States was neutral. Whereas during the course of the war, Germany got aggressive over neutral ships and tanks. In 1915, they declared the waters surrounding the British Isles to be a war zone. The German U-boats sunk many commercial and passenger vessels.

U.S ships were no exception to this brutality. A U.S ship named Lustania was sunk by the German navy on the 7th of May 1915. This naturally violated the International submarine warfare laws. Despite the demise of 128 citizens on board, the then U.S President Woodrow Wilson only warned the country to abide by the laws. Although Germany came to agree with this initially, they again began unrestricted warfare in January 1917, expecting that Britain might surrender.

It was rather an indirect invite to the U.S to join the war. As the president had already mentioned that they would not tolerate such illegal warfare, Germany was waiting for its entry. On 2 April, 1917, Wilson appeared before the Congress party and declared war against Germany. Four days later, on 6 April, the U.S Congress declared war on Germany.

Image of the U.S President Woodrow Wilson
U.S. President Woodrow Wilson (Image Credit: Unsplash)
Image of U.S President Woodrow Wilson declaring war on Germany on 3 February 1917 and breaking official ties.
President Wilson announcing war on Germany (Image Credit: Wikipedia)

How did the war end?

When the story has countries going out and coming in, let us see how this came to an end. Germany rose victorious over some battles recently after Russia left the war. They strengthened their presence on the Western Front, but only until the U.S set their foot on the battlefield.

Second Battle of Marne

On 15 July, 1918, the last battle was called by German forces against the French troops. With the help of American and British forces, the French army succeeded in pushing back the Germans and executed a successful counterattack after three days. Therefore, this turned the tables and the Allied powers were able to regain much of France and Belgium in the following months.

Although Turkey won Gallipoli, the Ottoman Empire collapsed after the Arab revolts. This led to the armistice of the empire and to signing a treaty with the allied powers in October 1918. Not very late, Austria-Hungary also reached an armistice on November 4 due to internal nationalist movements. Finally, Germany was forced to declare the end of war due to the surrender of its allies and lack of resources. World War I ended when Germany sought armistice on the 11th November 1918.

Treaty of Versailles

In 1919, the Paris Peace Conference was held, followed by which, on 28 June 1919, the allied and central powers signed the Treaty of Versailles. It was exactly five years after the assassination of the Austrian royal couple. The document contained many provisions. Separate treaties were signed by each of them. The controversial one being – “War Guilt” clause signed by central powers. It stated that they were responsible for all the loss and damage during the war.

The image of world map redrawn based on Peace Treaty signed by all the countries
World map changes Post World War I (Image Credit : Wikipedia)
The cover page of the "Treaty of Versailles", signed on 28 June,1919, by all countries that took part in World War I
Image Credit: Wikipedia

Borders were redrawn and as a result of the Russian Revolution, the monarchy ended and Russia became a republic nation known as, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R).

World War II

World War I appears to have ended with a peace treaty. But it was harsh on Germany by forcing it to disarm, pay France a compensation, give up some land and sign to take responsibility for the damage caused. While President Wilson felt that his fourteen points should be implemented, he also thought that Germany should not be blamed or punished for causing the damage. Thus, this “unfair treaty” is one of the causes of the sequel.

The image shows world map color coded for the Axis powers in yellow color, the allied powers (in green color and Non-aligned countries in white color.
Distribution of powers in World War II (Image Credit: MapsOfWorld)

In 1933, Adolf Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany. He quickly rose to power and became an infamous dictator by 1934. He firmly believed that for pure German race (that he called “Aryans”) to strive, he should expand the living space and conquer over the borders. Therefore, he secretly armed the country in the 1930s and signed pacts with Italy and Japan. Though it violated the Treaty of Versailles, he went ahead and even annexed Czechoslovakia in Austria in 1938. America and Britain were too busy dealing with their internal politics to react to this aggressive move. This is how the three main “Axis Powers”, namely Germany, Italy and Japan came into existence.

In August 1939, Joseph Stalin, leader of Soviet Union and Hitler signed a German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. And then Hitler began invading Poland on 1 September 1939, from the west, marking the beginning of World War II. But France and Britain had already promised to save Poland in case of such invasion. Which is why they both declared war against Germany on 3 September. On the following 17th, Soviet army attacked Poland from the east, making it an easy fall for Germany to conquer. According to the Nonaggression pact, Poland was divided among Soviet and Germany to rule.

World War II in the West

1940 – 1941

On 9 April 1940, Germany invaded Norway and Denmark simultaneously. Further, on May 10, they swept through Belgium and the Netherlands, which is referred to as the “lightning war”. France was under pressure due to continuous attacks by the German forces. The Italian dictator Benito Mussolini took advantage of the situation and signed another pact with Germany called the “Pact of Steel” on 22 May 1939. Henceforth, they waged war against Britain and France.

Image of two main leaders of the Axis powers - Benito Mussolini, an Italian Dictator with Adolf Hitler a German Dictator
(From left) Musolini and Hitler (Image Credit: Ducksters)

Due to fierce opposition, France gave up to Germany on June 16, seeking an armistice. Under the French government formed by Marshal Phillip Petain, Germany acquired control over a part of France. Now, the next target was Britain in the West. But geographically, the continent was divided by water, which made the task quite onerous for Germans.

Yet, they devised a new method to attack them by bombing from planes. From September 1940 to May 1941, a number of German planes dropped bombs on Britain, affecting civilians and causing severe damage. But in that Battle of Britain, the Royal Air force (of Britain) won over the German Air Force. Due to lack of inbound resources, Prime minister Winston Churchill sought help from the US through the Lend-Lease Act passed by Congress in 1941.

Image of No. 77 Squadron of Royal Air Force, Britain used in 1941-45.
77 Squadron of the RAF (Image Credit: Unsplash)

1941 – 1942

Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria had joined the Axis powers by early 1941. After the conquest of a fair amount of land in the west, Germany decided to execute its strategy. While there was a Nonaggression pact with the Soviets, the actual intention of Hitler was to also annex Soviet land to expand his territory. Eventually, on June 22, 1941, Operation Barbarossa was executed to invade the Soviet. Though Russia was large in size, their aviation technology was behind that of Germany. Despite such lags and unprecedented warfare that they were not prepared for, they defeated Germany.

World War II in the Pacific

1943 – 1945

Germany was left with fighting against only Britain in Europe. Whereas another axis power, Japan was attacking China in the Pacific. Because it aimed at extending its boundary to Central Asia and the Pacific. Thus, it braced up against China by 1937 and the U.S by December 1941. On 7 December 1941, about 360 Japanese aircrafts attacked the U.S naval base in Hawaii at Pearl Harbor. This triggered the U.S to declare war against Japan on December 8. Naturally, Japan and other Axis powers declared war on U.S.

Image of Japan fighter plane attacking the US naval base at Pearl harbour
Japanese Fighter plane attacking US Navy (Image Credit: Ducksters)
Image of Arizona, one of the many ships that sank due to the Pearl Harbour attack.
US Ship Arizona Sinking at Pear Harbour (Image Credit: Ducksters)

The Battle of Midway in June 1942, saw the victory of Allied forces after a long time defeated Japan with the advent of U.S. Through the following years from August 1942 to February 1943 the allied naval forces attacked Japan heavily. As the history repeats itself, the entry of U.S once again turned the tables and helped the allied powers to move closer to invading the mainland of Japan.

End of the war

In November 1942, the Soviets launched a counterattack on Germany. When they defeated Germany in the Battle of Stalingrad, they were forced to surrender by 31 January, 1943. In the same year, British and American troops defeated the Italian and German forces in North Africa. Thus, in July, Mussolini’s government collapsed.

On 6 June, 1944, the allied powers celebrated “D-Day“, as they invaded the German-held part of France on the Normandy beach by installing soldiers from America, Canada and Britain. This forced Hitler to concentrate most of the army’s power on the West front. Fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, between December 1944 – January 1945, he eventually lost on the East front against the Soviets. They furthered into the borders of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania to capture.

Image of the allied main powers. From left, Prime Minister of Britain Winston Churchill, U.S President Franklin D. Roosevelt and General Secretary of Communist Party of Russia Joseph Stalin
Winston Churchill, Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin (Image Credit: Ducksters)

On April 30th, Hitler committed suicide and on May 8th Germany surrendered to the Soviets, which had by then conquered most parts of Germany’s mainland. In the Postdam Conference held in July-August 1945, U.S, Britain and Soviet leaders discussed dividing German land to rule. They also came up with plans to face Japan.

From the aftermath of the Battle of Iwo Jima and Battle of Okinawa, U.S feared a dangerous and costly invasion from Japan. Therefore, it succumbed to the use of devastating and fatal nuclear weapons. It bombed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August. Consequently, Japan agreed to the Postdam terms on September 2 and formally surrendered to the U.S.S.R, marking the end of World War II.

Image of the atomic bomb named "The litte boy" dropped by U.S on Hiroshima on 6 Augutst, 1945.
The little boy (Image Credit: Ducksters)
The little boy (Image Credit: Ducksters)
Image of blown smoke due to atomic bomb named "Fat man" dropped by U.S on Nagasaki on 9 August, 1945.
Mushroom cloud in Nagasaki due to bomb “Fat man” (Image Credit: Duckster)