What we now call the First World War, or World War I (1914-1918), was originally called The Great War, because of the unprecedented international involvement, the massive destruction due to "improvements" in weapons and military strategies; and then, by the end of what was supposed to be over in 6 months but lasted 4 years, the "War to end all wars". Only when World War II (1939-1945) happened did it become common to number the two World Wars.
World War I is generally considered a watershed between an older world order and the modern one, where modern refers to 20th century movements in political and social structures, philosophy, culture, nations and empires. The end of WWI was the end of the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Tsarist Russian Empire, and the Ottoman Empire. The British and French Empires made major gains, and the Italian and Belgian ones also benefited. The 1917 overthrow of the Tsar by communists taking advantage of the world war to effect a revolution led eventually to the Soviet Empire.
It is widely held that the vindictiveness, harshness, humiliation, and financial crippling of Germany in the Treaty of Versailles--the major treaty ending the war--led to conditions that facilitated the rise of Nazism, and prepared the way for World War II. The Treaty of Versailles also carved the Ottoman Empire into new nations and colonial dependencies of Europe, with national boundaries and spheres of British and French dominance, which resulted in wars of decolonization and independence that erupted more fully after WWII, and continue in some areas to today; and to the Cold War--with its multiple proxy wars throughout the Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
In that sense, the "War to end all wars" was part of the beginning of many new ones.
However, long before the Treaty of Versailles finally came about in 1920, there was the fighting, and a necessary series of armistices, given the nature of the war, the combattants, and the delays in negotiating a lasting peace.
"The shot heard around the world"
It is far beyond the scope of this post to address the multi-faceted aspects of the genesis and evolution of the war, but as most know, the war is deemed to have begun when a Serbian Bosnian nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as the latter's car traversed the Princip or Latin Bridge in Sarajevo. Also killed was the Archduke's wife, the Duchess Sofia.
While this could have been resolved as a conflict between Austro-Hungary and Serbia, multiple alliances among European powers, sympathy for the Austrians including a desire to preserve monarchies and their alliances, even their family relations (most were related through ascendants and descendants of Queen Victoria), and choices made by the leaders of the time resulted in a cascade of allied nations entering into the war until the final adversaries were: the Allied (Entente) Powers comprised of France, the British Empire (all colonies were in at the same time as Britain, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, African colonies), the Russian Empire (1914–17), Serbia, Italy (1915–18), Japan, Romania (1916–18), Belgium, Greece (1917–18), Portugal (1916–18), Montenegro (1914–16), Brazil (1917-18), and the United States (1917–18) and others (eg Greece, Latin American and Asian nations); and the Central Powers comprised of the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria (1915-18).
Green: Allied countries (at varying times); Orange: Central Powers (includes German colonies); Grey: neutral.
As seen in the above map, what are now MENA countries were then officially aligned (or neutral) by the imperial divisions of North Africa and the Middle East: British, French, Italian, Ottoman, and Spanish. However, rebel groups and the officially neutral cross-aligned: Moroccan rebels, the Senussi (parts of Egypt, Libya, and Sudan) and the Al-Rashid (of the Nejd) sided with the Ottoman Empire, while the Hashemites under Sharif Hussein ibn Ali, ruler of the Hejaz, and the Sultanate of Nejd (Al-Saud) allied with Britain against the Ottoman Empire, as part of the Arab Revolt.
Most attention has probably been given in the West to the Eastern and Western Fronts, the Arab Revolt of the Middle Eastern Front, and less to the Italian Front, the Southern Fronts, the African wars, and the Asian Fronts. Because of their heavy involvement there, Australians and New Zealanders are more conscious of both the Pacific theatre and the Middle Eastern Front.
Trench warfare, chemical warfare (chlorine gas, mustard gas), air war (bomber pilots, flying aces. balloon reconnaissance), submarine warfare, wireless communication and field telephones, and asymmetrical warfare (the Arab Revolt, and the Senussi revolt both used classic techniques of asymmetrical warfare like small raiding parties, sabotage, strike and blend into the surrounding geography and populace) are all major military features of WWI. It was essentially the last war where the European cavalaries had a role--to be replaced during the war by armoured cars and tanks. Tactics shifted from 19th century recognizable front lines and large units to 20th century less determinant front lines and smaller units.
Major events in the midst of the war and connected to it--the Armenian Genocide of 1915; the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the pogroms against Jews; and the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19--had a lasting impact beyond the confines of the war itself.
The signing of the Treaty of Versailles, 1919, the main treaty ending WWI
Given the extent, the diversity and the length of the Great War with its many wars within the war, and the complexities of national and imperial interests, it is understandable that multiple armistices preceded multiple treaties.
Armistice with Bulgaria
September 29, 1918 at Saloniki (Thessaloniki), Greece
Armistice with the Ottoman Empire
October 30, 1918 at Mudros, Lemnos Island, Greece
Armistice with Austria
November 3, 1918 at the Villa Giusti, near Padua, Italy
Armistice with Germany
First Armistice (11 November 1918 - 13 December 1918)
First prolongation of the armistice (13 December 1918 - 16 January 1919)
Second prolongation of the armistice (16 January 1919 - 16 February 1919)
Third prolongation of the armistice (16 February 1919 - 10 January 1920)
Peace Ratified (10 January 1920)
The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
March 3, 1918, at Brest-Litovsk between Revolutionary Russian Forces and the Central Powers
Paris Peace Conference (January 18, 1919-January 21, 1920):
Treaty of Versailles, 1919, 28 June 1919, (the German Empire/Weimar Republic)
Treaty of Saint-Germain, 10 September 1919, (Austria)
Treaty of Neuilly, 27 November 1919, (Bulgaria)
Treaty of Trianon, 4 June 1920, (Hungary)
Treaty of Sèvres, 10 August 1920, (Ottoman Empire)
Treaty of Lausanne, 24 July 1923, (Ottoman Empire)
Inauguration of the League of Nations, 21 January 1920
The "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month"
The main Armistice with Germany was signed in a railway carriage in France at 5AM on November 11, 1918, with the provision that all hostilities would stop at 11AM on the same day. Notifications were dispatched to the fronts and arrived at various times over the course of the morning. The notice below was received by American forces at 9AM.
Official Radio from Paris - 6:01 A.M., Nov. 11, 1918. Marshal Foch to the Commander-in-Chief.
1. Hostilities will be stopped on the entire front beginning at 11 o'clock, November 11th (French hour).
2. The Allied troops will not go beyond the line reached at that hour on that date until further orders.
By convention, the last soldier to die in WWI was Canadian Private George Lawrence Price, conscripted October 15, 1917 and serving with "A" Company, 28th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, in a November 11 offensive to take a small French Belgian town, when he was shot in the heart. He died one minute later at 10:58, age 25, at Ville-sur-Haine. However, not all troops were notified on time, and not all believed hostilities were over, so there were further deaths after 11AM.
For the same reasons of disbelief and uncertainty, with exhaustion added, there was less celebration on the front lines than in major centres around the world.
London, Trafalgar Square
London, Trafalgar Square
London, Royal Family on the Balcony of Buckingham Palace, servicemen and civilians in front
Paris © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS
Toronto, Canada at Bay and King Streets
Sydney, Australia, Martin Place
Christchurch, New Zealand, Cathedral Square
New York Times, front page, November 11, 1918
Armistice Day was celebrated annually on November 11 with a minute of silence at 11AM for the fallen, then later certain countries (like England) changed the date to the closest Sunday. Alternate names like Remembrance Day (Canada) and Veteran's Day (US) are part of the acknowledgement that all wars since are now commemorated at the same time, the date and hour of the end of the "War to end all wars".
Your comments, thoughts, impressions?
*This post is timed to appear November 11, 2010, 11AM French Time.