Central Powers fought a two-front war; they were fighting France and Great Britain in the West at the same time as they were fighting Russia in the East.
The Germans planned to defeat France quickly, and then use its army to defeat Russia. Fighting on the Western Front developed into trench warfare. Soldiers on each side hid in hundreds of miles of trenches, or ditches, which were separated by barbed wire. They fired machine guns and poison gas at the enemy from the trenches. Later in the war, tanks were used for the first time to cross the trenches.
Airplanes were used in warfare for the first time. Planes were used to find the enemy, to fight each other in dogfights and to drop bombs.
WWI was also fought at sea. The British navy blockaded German ports so they could no receive supplies. The Germans used submarines to sink ships headed to Britain and France.
WWI was fought in the Middle East and North Africa as well. Great Britain and France fought Turkey for control of the Middle East.
The Russian Revolution 1917
By 1917, almost 2 million Russian soldiers had been killed. The ruler of Russia, Czar Nicholas II, refused to surrender. The Russians did not have enough weapons, food, or fuel for the war.
In March of 1917 there was a revolution in Russia, and the Czar was forced to resign. The leaders of the revolution started a new democratic government, and continued to fight the war.
In November 1917 Russia had a second revolution, called the Russian Revolution. In this revolution, Communist won control of the government. The leader of the Revolution, V.I. Lenin, signed a peace treaty with Germany. Thousands of German soldiers left the eastern front to fight with France.
America’s Entry into the War 1917
America entered the war after the Germans started unrestricted submarine warfare, meaning that they would sink any merchant ship that was headed to England or France. On April 6, 1917, Congress declared war on Germany.
Life in America During the War
America was not well prepared to fight this war. The nation had to collect money to pay for the war, raise an army, and grow enough food to feed the Allies.
To raise an army, Congress passed the Selective Service Act. By 1918, all men ages 18-45 were required to register for the draft, about four million American men served during the war.
To raise enough food to feed the soldiers and the allies in France, the federal government paid farmers to grow more food. Americans were also asked not to eat meat on certain days of the week. Americans everywhere grew small food gardens in their yards.
Because millions of men joined the army, women began to work in the factories that made the weapons of war. These jobs had always been done by men. Women did not serve as soldiers, but they did work as army nurses and ambulance drivers.
The first American soldiers reached France in June of 1917. The Americans reinforced the Allies just as the German soldiers were leaving Russia to fight in France. The addition of American troops helped turn the tide of the war in favor of the Allies.
The turning point was the second battle of Marne in 1918, after this Allied victory the Allies won more battles and recaptured land they had lost earlier in the war. The fighting moved away from Paris, the capital of France.
By November 1918 the Germans knew that they Allies would win the war. They agreed to stop fighting. At 11:00 AM on November 11, 1918, the fighting stopped.
The Treaty of Versailles
Before the end of the war President Wilson had began to think about creating a fair peace treaty. Wilson presented his ideas for peace to Congress, in a speech known as the “Fourteen Points”, Wilson listed fourteen ways to keep peace between nations. The following are examples of the fourteen points:
I. Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view. (No Secret Treaties)
II.Absolute freedom of navigation upon the seas, outside territorial waters, alike in peace and in war, except as the seas may be closed in whole or in part by international action for the enforcement of international covenants.
III. The removal, so far as possible, of all economic barriers and the establishment of an equality of trade conditions among all the nations consenting to the peace and associating themselves for its maintenance.
IV. Adequate guarantees given and taken that national armaments (weapons) will be reduced to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety.
XIV. A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike. (League of Nations)
The speech also called for people of different ethnic groups to form their own nations, and idea called self determination. Wilson believed that the League of Nations could help to prevent future wars.
In 1919 the Allied leaders met in Paris to write a peace treaty, the treaty was called the Treaty of Versailles. The treaty placed all the blame for the war on Germany, and forced Germany to pay billions of dollars in reparations to the Allies. Germany also lost a large amount of its territory. Wilson thought that the treaty was unfair, and he did not want to punish Germany and the Central Powers. But the other Allies wanted Germany to pay for the war. Wilson accepted the Treaty of Versailles only because it included a plan for the League of Nations.
Although Wilson signed the treaty, the United States Senate had to approve it with a two-thirds majority. Many Americans feared that the League of Nations would involve America in future European Wars. The Senate refused to ratify (approve) the treaty, and the United States never joined the League of Nations.
Results of the War
World War I caused terrible damage and loss of life. The Allies lost more than five million soldiers. The Central Powers lost more than three million. America lost 126,000 soldiers. Large areas of France and Russia were destroyed. The war cost both sides billions of dollars. The Treaty of Versailles planted the seeds of anger in Germany that would grow and lead to World War II