Wwi glossary of Terms

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WWI Glossary of Terms

To abandon or step down from power.

Agadir Crisis

A colonial crisis between France and Germany in 1911.


Provoker or attacker

Air aces

Popular term for fighter pilots.


An agreement made between two or more countries to give each other help if it is needed.


Supply of weaponry i.e. munitions, bullets, shells.


To cut off


British and French


A takeover or seizure of land.





Archduke Franz Ferdinand

Heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was assassinated 28th June 1914.


Anti aircraft gun or gunnery


Weaponry or munitions


To make clear

Asquith, Herbert Henry

Leader of the Liberal Party and British Prime Minister 1908-1916.


Strategy of wearing down the enemy through continual attack and pressure.

August Madness

The term given to describe the rush of volunteer recruits for Kitcheners Army in August 1914.


Battle cruiser

A lightly armoured warship.

BE Biplane

An aircraft with two sets of wings used mainly for reconnaissance until 1916.

Beatty, Admiral

Commander of the Grand Fleet's Battle cruiser Squadron. Most famous for his actions in the Battle of Jutland, May 1916, where attacked and inflicted damage on the German High before the Grand Fleet arrived. He was appointed Commander of the Grand Fleet in November 1916

Big Four

Sometimes called 'The Big Three' as Vittorio Orlando of Italy was sidelined by the other powers.

Blighty Ones

A self-inflicted wound in an attempt to get sent home.


To block or prevent the import or export of supplies from a port.


A heavy assault or attack of artillery

Brest-Litovsk, Treaty of

A signed agreement between Russia and the Central Powers when Russia withdrew from the War.

British Grand Fleet

The main British naval force

Bryce Report

A government report documenting German atrocities against the Belgians in 1914. The report was doubted after the war, though some German violence against civilians was proved.

Bully Beef

Slang term for tinned meat

Bleed France White

The phrase was coined by General Falkenhayn as the stated aim of the Battle of Verdun.

Business as Usual

Phrase coined by Churchill to suggest how British society should react to the wartime situation.



Disaster or catastrophe.


Scene of first successful tank battle in 1917.


Soldiers on horseback.

Cavell, Edith

A British Nurse serving in Belgium. Shot in 1915 having been accused of helping allied prisoners to escape.

Central Powers

Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey.


Charming or captivating.

Chloride of Lime

Used to purify water in the trenches.


Extremely or acutely.


Slang term used here to refer to the ill effects of shell shock.

Churchill, Winston

Lord of the Admiralty at the outbreak of war, he was later appointed minister of munitions in 1917 and state secretary for war and air in 1918.


To quote or refer to.

Clemenceau, Georges

French Prime Minister


A region of industrial and civil unrest in Glasgow.

Clydeside Workers Committee

A workers organisation set up by a group of shop stewards to resist the Munitions Act.


A unified alliance between different groups to achieve a common purpose.


Friendship among fellow soldiers


Peacemaking or appeasing.


Struggle or battle.

Conscientious Objectors

A person who objects to fighting for political, religious or humanistic reasons. A person who, because of principles of religious training and moral belief, is opposed to all war regardless of its cause.

A conscientious objector may be released from the obligation to serve in the armed forces or to participate in selective service registration. A conscientious objector must oppose war in any form, and not just a particular war, in order to avoid military service. He does not have to be a member of a religious congregation that forbids participation in war. Under the Military Selective


A system of compulsory recruitment for the armed services.


A British right-wing political party


A secret plan


People who take part in a Conspiracy.


Capital of Turkey.


To say the opposite of.


Disagreement or dispute over something.

Convoy system

Merchant ships sail in groups protected by an armed naval escort. The system was used to combat threat of unrestricted submarine warfare.

Creeping barrage

Artillery fire from each unit advancing in stages of one line at a time.



A narrow strip of water dividing European from Asiatic Turkey

Daylight saving time

Introduced in 1914 under the Defence of the Realm Act to gain an added hour of daylight.

De Valera, Eamon

A member of the movement campaigning for Irish independence. He took part in the Easter Rebellion of 1916. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, but was later released in 1917.


A dummy or imitation copy used to deceive the enemy.

Defence of the Realm Act

D.O.R.A. was introduced in August 1914 to give the Government more control over Civilian life.


Person or people acting on behalf of others for a fixed purpose.

Demilitarised Zone

An area that has been demilitarised i.e. from which all military effects have been removed.


To remove from active military service.


A loss of confidence or sense of belief.

Derby, Lord

Introduced a voluntary recruitment policy called the 'Derby Scheme'. British Minister of War 1916-1918.


To leave or run away from.


Something designed to stop a person or people from doing something.


The act of reducing, limiting, or abolishing weapons. Disarmament generally refers to a country's military or specific type of weaponry. Disarmament is often taken to mean total elimination of weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear arms. General and Complete Disarmament refers to the removal of all weaponry, including conventional arms. At the end of WWI Central powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary Empire, Ottoman [Turkey] Empire


Term for enemy aircraft engaged in aerial combat.


To have power or influence over.


A country which was part of the British Empire, but had its own government.

Dorsal Gun

A type of machine gun found on some aircraft.


A town in Northern France.


An informal term for an American soldier, especially members of the American Expeditionary Forces, (AEF) in World War I. The term dates back to the Mexican–American War of 1846–48.


A heavily armed battleship.


A board which was laid down on trench floors and flooded fields to help stop soldiers from sinking into the muddy ground.


Name given to the rough living space made in a trench.


Eastern Front

Name given to the fighting on the German-Russian, Austro-Russian and Austro-Romanian fronts.


To set free.


To be fixed or deeply rooted in an area.

Espionage Act of 1917

Congress responded to a growing fear that public criticism of the war effort would make it difficult to conscript the needed manpower for American participation. Also contributing to widespread unease were the actions of labor groups, especially the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), who proclaimed their sympathy for laborers through the world, including those in Russia.

The Espionage Act, passed in June 1917, provided penalties of 20 years imprisonment and fines up to $10,000 for those convicted of interfering with military recruitment.

The law also authorized the Postmaster General to remove treasonable or seditious material from the mail.


Falkenhayn, General Erich Von

Chief of the Imperial German General Staff

First Aid Nursing Yeomanry

An organisation of women recruits, who ran field hospitals, drove ambulances and worked in troop canteens.

First Battle of Ypres

The beginning of stalemate on the Western Front in 1914.

Fitzgerald, Admiral Charles

Founder of the Order of the White Feather


A region of Belgium. It was the scene of the third Battle of Ypres and lent its name to the famous first world war poem 'In Flanders Fields' by John McCrae.

Foch, General Ferdinand

French General


Avoiding or averting

Fourteen Points

The war aims outlined by President Wilson in 1918, which he believed would promote lasting peace.



Scene of an unsuccessful naval expedition in 1915, off the Dardanelles.


Rotting body tissue

George V, King

British Monarch from 1910-1936.

German High Seas Fleet

The German Navy

'Gird up our loins'

Be prepared for the worst, be brave


A ground attack aircraft that was used to great effect on the Western and Eastern Front during the First World War.

Great Push

The term given to General Haig’s Somme offensive

Grey, Sir Edward

British Foreign Secretary during the First World War


Harsh, unpleasant to hear, throaty


Hague convention

An agreement made in 1899 forbidding the use of poison or poisoned weapons.

Haig, General Sir Douglas

Commander in Chief of the BEF.

Hawthorn Ridge

Scene where mines were detonated on the first day of the Battle of Somme, 1916.

Henderson, Arthur

Labour politician

High Command

Name given to the decision making body of the German Army i.e. Commander in Chief and senior military officials.

Hipper, Admiral Franz Von

Commander of the battle cruiser squadron of the German High Seas Fleet.

Hodge, John

Trade Union leader

Home Front

The name given to the part of war that was not actively involved in the fighting but which was vital to it.


This colourless, invisible, odourless gas was used in the Zeppelin airships. A highly flammable gas





Shameful or dishonourable


Unable to pass, blocked


Refers to all things relating to Empire or Emperor.


Imperialism is when a country takes over new lands or countries and makes them subject to their rule. By 1900 the British Empire extended over five continents and France had control of large areas of Africa. With the rise of industrialism countries needed new markets. The amount of lands 'owned' by Britain and France increased the rivalry with Germany who had entered the scramble to acquire colonies late and only had small areas of Africa. Note the contrast in the map below.


Fake, not real

Incendiary bullets

A bullet that sets fire to something on impact.


Angry or annoyed

Industrial revolution

Describes time in which Britain changed from a rural to an urban economy due to the rapid developments in technology and society.


Increase or rise in price

Influenza epidemic

A virus that broke out in 1918. It is estimated that it killed more people than were actually lost throughout four years of fighting.


Irish Republican Army founded in 1858. Took part in the Easter Rising 1916.

America's longstanding reluctance to become involved in European alliances and wars. Isolationists held the view that America's perspective on the world was different from that of European societies and that America could advance the cause of freedom and democracy by means other than war.


Jellicoe, Admiral

Commander of the Grand Fleet at the Battle of Jutland, he was blamed for the lack of a clear British success. He was appointed First Sea Lord in 1916.

Joffre, General Joseph

Chief of French General Staff. Also known as 'Papa Joffre'.


An old battle cruiser that was the only ship within reasonable distance of the Lusitania when she sank. She failed to pick up any survivors.

Jutland, Battle of

Major naval engagement between Britain and Germany, May 1916. The largest sea battle in history.


Kitchener, Lord Horatio Herbert

British Secretary of State for War until 1916.

Kith and Kin

Family members


Labour MPs

Parliamentary members of the Labour Party.




To have started or got underway

League Of Nations

A union of countries formed in 1919 by the Treaty of Versailles to uphold peace, security and promote settlements by arbitration.

Leaving certificate

Introduced in 1915 to stop employers outbidding each other for the limited supply of skilled workers


Easy-going or tolerant.

Lenin, Vladimir Illych

As leader of the Bolshevik (Communist) Party, he became leader of the country after the Russian Revolution, 1917.


Liberal British political party

Lloyd George, David

British Prime Minister, 1916-21.

Ludendorff, General Erich Von

Chief of staff of the German Army he was responsible for German military decisions. After the failure of his peace offensive in August 1918 he demanded an armistice.


British passenger ship that was sunk by a German U-boat in 1915.


Mannock, Edward

Most successful British fighter pilot.

Marne, Battle of

September 1914, marked the failure of the Schlieffen Plan. A second battle, fought there in 1918, ended in Allied victory.


Someone willing to suffer or die for a cause.


Negotiation or arbitration.


A region of South West Asia.


Promoting military beliefs and ideals. A nation’s policy of aggressive military preparedness. Militarism signifies a rise in military expenditure, an increase in military and naval forces, more influence of the military men upon the policies of the civilian government, and a preference for force as a solution to problems. Militarism was one of the main causes of the First World War.
Ministry of Munitions

Established in March 1915 to address the shortage of shells.


To make less severe.


To make ready or muster forces for military service.


Confidence or spirits

Moroccan Crisis

An attempt to split the Anglo-French 'Entente Cordiale' in 1906


Name given to woman who worked in a munitions factory.


Weapons i.e. shells



Innocence or gullibility


Nationalism means being a strong supporter of the rights and interests of one's country. The Congress of Vienna, held after Napoleon's exile to Elba, aimed to sort out problems in Europe. Delegates from Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia (the winning allies) decided upon a new Europe that left both Germany and Italy as divided states. Strong nationalist elements led to the re-unification of Italy in 1861 and Germany in 1871. The settlement at the end of the Franco-Prussian war left France angry at the loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany and keen to regain their lost territory. Large areas of both Austria- Hungary and Serbia were home to differing nationalist groups, all of whom wanted freedom from the states in which they lived.

Naval Arms Race

Term given to the competition between Germany and Britain to out-build each other’s Navy.

Neutral (Neutrality)

Does not take sides, impartial.

Neuve Chapelle

Battle in the Artois region of France, 10-13 March 1915.

Nicholas II, Tsar

Last Emperor of Russia. He was overthrown in the Russian Revolution.

Night patrols

Practice of keeping guard or monitoring enemy positions, by night.

No-man's land

The barren territory that lay between the opposing Allied and German trenches on the Western Front.

Northcliffe, Lord Alfred

Powerful British newspaper tycoon



Duty or responsibility to


An attack or assault

Owen, Wilfred

Soldier and celebrated war poet. He served in the First World War from 1915 until he was killed in 1918, a week before peace was declared.

Order of the White Feather

Group of women who handed out white feathers to non-uniformed men to shame them into joining up.

Orlando, Vittorio

Prime Minister of Italy 1917-1919.


Term given to the act of climbing out of a trench and going forward into battle.



Belief that conflict should be settled by peaceful means. Pacifists opposed World War I as they would oppose any war, while socialists viewed the conflict as a callous attempt by capitalists to expand their markets for military materiel.


Peacekeeper or anti-War


Name given to the men from the same town or trade who were encouraged to join up together.

Pankhurst, Emmeline

The famous British woman suffragist. She founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903, aimed at giving women the vote and greater social freedom. On the outbreak of World War I, she turned her powers of leadership from the suffragist movement to the war effort.


A member of the Clergy e.g. priest or vicar.

Peer group pressure

Pressure to conform or agree with the beliefs or actions of a dominant social group.


Neck of land or cape that juts out from the land.


Industries like mining, building, engineering had to be kept going to make jobs for other people.

Poison gas

First used as a weapon at the second Battle of Ypres. It could cause temporary blindness and suffocation.


Representation or description


Planned or intentional

Primary Source

First hand evidence

Princip, Gavrilo

A member of the Serbian Black Hand Gang, he assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, during his visit to Sarajevo on 28 June 1914


Information given to show something or someone in a biased way. The United States government formally established agencies whose purpose was to generate and mobilize public support for war. The Committee on Public Information (CPI) during World War I and the Office of War Information (OWI) during World War II directed extensive wartime propaganda efforts at the American public as well as foreign audiences. While governmental activities to generate public support for foreign policies are common in American history, the scope of activities of these official propaganda agencies during times of war represented governmentally directed propaganda campaigns of an unprecedented scale in the history of American foreign policy.


To put on trial or act against


To exact punishment



Position or level

Rank and file

The ordinary members

Rasputin, Grigori

Russian monk who exerted much influence over Tsar Nicholas II and the Tsarina.

Ration (or rationing)

A limited portion or allowance of food or goods

Rawlinson, General Sir Henry

Field Commander during the First World War and British representative on the Supreme War Council, February 1918.


Investigation or exploration or something

Red Baron

Nickname given to the famous German fighter pilot, Baron Von Richthofen


Compensation or repayment. At the conclusion of World War I, Germany reluctantly agreed to pay unspecified reparations in the armistice (cease-fire) agreement of November 1918. Later at Versailles they were required to sign a treaty that assigned full responsibility to them for causing the conflict (Article 231, the "war guilt clause") and called for the creation of an international reparations commission to determine the amount of damages.


Rejection or denial of.


To fight back, revenge


An area of land extending from the northern borders of France and Western Germany

Richthofen, Baron Von

Famous German fighter pilot, also known as the 'Red Baron'

River Aisne

Place where the German Army took up a defensive position after the Battle of Marne, 1914.

Royal Air Force

Formed in April 1918 when the British Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service joined together.




Sassoon, Siegfried

Soldier and famous poet of the First World War

Scapa Flow

Area in the North Sea where the British Grand Fleet were based during the First World War.

Scheer Admiral Reinhardt Von

Commander of the German High Seas Fleet

Schlieffen Plan

A strategy drawn up by Germany to avoid fighting a war on two fronts

Schlieffen, Count von

Chief of General Staff until 1906, he was responsible for drawing up the Schlieffen Plan.

Schweiger, Captain

Captain of the U-20 submarine

Second Battle of Ypres

April 1915. Battle in which poison gas was first used.

Secondary Source

Refers to a source that is not a first hand

Sedition Act of 1918

The Espionage Act of 1917 was amended by Congress the following year to not only target those who interfered with the draft, but also those individuals guilty of sedition, in other words, those who publicly criticized the government — including negative comments about the flag, military or Constitution

Selective Service Act

Some six weeks after the United States formally entered the First World War, the U.S Congress passes the Selective Service Act on May 18, 1917, giving the U.S. president the power to draft soldiers.

At the start of WWI the U.S. did not have a military force that could adequately aid American allies (Britain and France). Despite Wilson's effort to improve military preparedness over the course of 1916, at the time of Congress's war declaration the U.S. had only a small army of volunteers—some 100,000 men—that was in no way trained or equipped for the kind of fighting that was going on in Europe.

To remedy this situation, Wilson pushed the government to adopt military conscription, which he argued was the most democratic form of enlistment. To that end, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, which Wilson signed into law on May 18, 1917. The act required all men in the U.S. between the ages of 21 and 30 to register for military service. Within a few months, some 10 million men across the country had registered in response to the military draft.


The process by which a group of people, usually possessing a certain degree of national consciousness, form their own state and choose their own government. As a political principle, the idea of self- determination evolved at first as a by-product of the doctrine of nationalism, to which early expression was given by the French and American revolutions. In World War I the Allies accepted self- determination as a part of the peace plan at the end of the war. The purpose was to allow nationalities that were caught up in the fighting to determine themselves how they would be governed.

Shell scandal

The term was popularly used to describe the shortage of shells at the battle of Neuve Chapelle in 1915.

Shell shock

Medical condition caused by prolonged exposure to the distressing experiences of trench warfare.

Shop steward

Elected by fellow workers as the voice of the 'shop-floor' in meetings with management.

Sinn Fein

Meaning 'we ourselves' in Gaelic, it is the name of an Irish political party in favour of a united Irish Republic. It became active during the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland.


Term given to peoples living in Eastern European countries like Russia, Serbia, Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia and Bulgaria, etc.


Hidden enemy gunman


Individuals that subscribe to the ideology that collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods. During WWI the Socialist Party did not want the U.S. to get involved in the war because they felt that "wars bring wealth and power to the ruling classes, and suffering, death and demoralization to the workers".
Somme, Battle of

Major British offensive, July – November 1916. Biggest number of casualties suffered by the British army in a single day.

Sopwith Camel

A single-engine fighter aircraft introduced by the British in 1917.


Highest power or authority

Splendid Isolation

Term used to describe Britain's diplomatic isolation and attitude towards foreign policy before the outbreak of the First World War.


Term used to describe the deadlock on the Western Front during the First World War.


Name given to the daily evening routine in the trenches.


Name given to the daily morning routine in the trenches.


A refusal to work aimed at forcing employers to accept workers' demands.

Strike truce

An agreement not to strike. In this context, it was to last for the duration of the War.


The right to vote. Suffragettes were women who campaigned for the right to vote for British women. In WWI women in the US were campaigning for the right to have a say (vote) in decisions related to the war.


Food and drink

Sweated industry/ labour

People work long hours for low pay in poor conditions



Plan of action of strategy to achieve particular objective.


Witness, proof of

The Great Migration

The Great Migration was the movement of 6 million African Americans out of the rural Southern United States to the Northeast, Midwest, and West from 1890 – 1970. Between 1910 and 1930, the African- American population increased by about forty percent in Northern states as a result of the migration, mostly in the major cities. Cities including Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, and New York City had some of the biggest increases in the early part of the 20th century. Blacks were recruited for industrial jobs, such as positions with the expansion of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Because changes were concentrated in cities, which had also attracted millions of new or recent European immigrants, tensions rose as the people competed for jobs and housing. Tensions were often most severe between ethnic Irish, defending their recently gained positions and territory, and recent immigrants and blacks.

Third Battle of Ypres

The last great battle of attrition, 1917. More commonly known as Passchendaele.

Tirpitz, Admiral Alfred Von

Secretary of State and Grand Admiral of the German Navy


A self-propelled missile fired from a ship, submarine or aircraft that explodes on impact.

Total War

Organisation of whole countries, its people and products, to provide for the war machine

Trade Union

A group of employees organised to exercise some influence over the labour market.

Trade Unionist

Member of a trade union

Trench fever

An influenza-like disease spread by lice

Trench Foot

A rotting disease of the feet caused by overexposure to the cold and damp of the trenches.

Trench warfare

Form of fighting whereby two sides fight each other from opposing trenches

Triple Alliance

Name of the defensive alliance between Germany, Austro-Hungary and Italy

Triple Entente

Name of the French, British and Russian partnership of the First World War.

Trotsky, Leon

A member of the Bolshevik (Communist) Party he became Commissar of War after the Russian Revolution, 1917 until 1927.

Turner, Captain

Captain of the Lusitania



German U-boat that sunk the Lusitania.


German submarine, taken from the German 'Unterseeboat'


Terms presented by one power (or group of powers) to another


Growth or development of Trade Unions

Unrestricted Submarine Warfare

Policy adopted by the German Navy to stop supplies of food and resources from reaching Britain.


Greatest or furthest



To be conquered or beaten


Conquerors or defeaters


The setting of a major German offensive against the French in 1916

Vickers Machine Gun

The standard heavy machine gun used by the British Army from 1912.

Voluntary Aid Detachments

VADs, formed in 1909 to provide medical help in times of war.

Volunteer Army

Name given to British troops who answered Lord Kitcheners calls for recruitment.


War fatalism

An offhand attitude to war owing to the belief that actions are predetermined and therefore unavoidable.

War Propaganda Bureau

Set up by Lloyd George, August 1914 to encourage public support for the War.

Western Front

The name given to the stretch of land in France and Belgium between the North coast and the Swiss border that saw the bulk of the action in the First World War.

Wilhelm II, Kaiser

The last Emperor of Germany. He abdicated the throne in 1918.

Wilson, President Woodrow

President of the United States 1912-1920.

Women's Land Army

Established to help produce more food supplies and goods to sustain the war effort.

Women's Auxiliary Corps

WAACs were used to release men from administrative jobs so they could join the fighting.

Women's Royal Air Force

Branch of the Royal Air Force formed in April 1918. Also known as the WARF.

Women's Royal Naval Service

Formed in 1916, they were also known as the Wrens (or WRNS)



Town in Belgium that was the scene of three major battles in the First World War.



Large, hydrogen filled airships named after Count Alfred Von Zeppelin.

US History Glossary of Terms

Prince Max von Baden

The chancellor of Germany during the final months of the war. As Kaiser Wilhelm II lost control of the country, Prince Max temporarily assumed leadership and played a major role in arranging the armistice.
Winston Churchill

The first lord of the British admiralty. Although Churchill is better known for his role as Britain’s prime minister during World War II, he played a significant role in World War I as well, serving as the head of Britain’s navy until he was demoted in 1915 following the British failure at the Dardanelles. Shortly thereafter, Churchill resigned his post and went to serve on the western front as a battalion commander.
Constantine I

The king of Greece for much of the war. Although Greece remained neutral during his reign, Constantine himself had strongly pro-German sentiments, at the same time that his government favored the Allies. He abdicated on June 12, 1917, under pressure of a threatened Allied invasion. Less than one month later, Greece entered the war on the side of the Allied forces.
Sir Christopher Cradock

A British admiral in command of the Fourth Squadron. Cradock is known primarily for his catastrophic defeat at the Battle of Coronel on November 1, 1914, in which he lost his life.
Franz Ferdinand

The archduke of Austria, nephew of Emperor Franz Joseph, and heir to the Habsburg throne. Franz Ferdinand’s assassination on June 28, 1914, by Serbian militant Gavrilo Princip, is widely considered the unofficial start of World War I.
Franz Joseph I

The emperor of Austria-Hungary until his death in late 1916.
Paul von Hindenburg

A German general credited with a major victory over Russia at the Battle of Tannenberg in August 1914. One month later, Hindenburg was promoted to commander in chief of the German land armies, the position in which he served until the end of the war.
Erich Ludendorff

A German general who assisted Paul von Hindenburg in achieving victories at the Battle of Tannenberg and the Battle of the Masurian Lakes. Throughout the rest of the war, Ludendorff continued to serve Hindenburg, first as chief of staff and later as quartermaster general.
Nicholas II

The Russian tsar who committed Russia to the defense of Serbia when Serbia was attacked by Austria. Nicholas II committed to this course only with hesitation and under great pressure from his military advisers. He abdicated in March 1917 after the “February” Revolution and was eventually murdered, along with his wife and children, by the Bolsheviks in July 1918.
John J. Pershing

The American general in command of all U.S. forces in Europe during the war. To the Allies’ consternation, Pershing strongly opposed the idea of sending American forces to fight on the front alongside regiments from Britain and France. Nevertheless, he did eventually reach a compromise, allowing limited numbers of U.S. soldiers to do exactly that.
Gavrilo Princip

A teenage Serbian militant who assassinated Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914. Princip was armed and trained by a Serbian terrorist group known as the Black Hand. His assassination of Ferdinand is widely considered to be the opening shot of World War I. Princip spent the war in prison, where he died of tuberculosis in 1918.
Maximilian von Prittwitz

The German general in command of the Eighth Army at the opening of the war. In August 1914, in the first battle Prittwitz fought following Russia’s initial invasion of Germany, he was defeated, panicked, and retreated. He was promptly replaced by Generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff.
Radomir Putnik

The Serbian chief of general staff, known primarily for leading a successful defense of Serbia during the beginning of the war. In August 1914, Putnik’s forces ambushed the Austro-Hungarian army in the Jadar Valley and pushed them out of Serbia.
Paul von Rennenkampf

The general in command of the Russian First Army. Following his defeat in the Battle of the Masurian Lakes in September 1914, Rennenkampf was dismissed from the army on grounds of incompetence.
Alexander Samsonov

The general in command of the Russian Second Army, which suffered a catastrophic defeat at the Battle of Tannenberg on August 29, 1914. Samsonov committed suicide that same day.
Wilhelm Souchon

The admiral in command of the Mediterranean Squadron of the German navy. Souchon led the attack on Russia’s Black Sea ports in October 1914, which brought the Ottoman Empire into the war.
Maximilian von Spee

The German admiral in command of the famous East Asia Squadron. Spee is famous for his victory in the Battle of Coronel against the British admiral Sir Christopher Cradock on November 1, 1914. Just over a month later, Spee died in the Battle of the Falkland Islands, in which the East Asia Squadron was defeated.
Alfred von Tirpitz

An admiral and first secretary of the German navy. Tirpitz was largely responsible for the buildup of the German navy prior to the war, as well as for the country’s aggressive submarine strategy. Although the policy was highly effective, it damaged Germany’s international reputation, leading to Tirpitz’s resignation in 1916.
Sir Charles Townshend

British general in command of the Sixth Indian Division. Townshend is known for leading the British campaign in Mesopotamia from 1915 to 1916. On April 29, 1916, he surrendered all 10,000 of his men at Kut, Mesopotamia—the largest military surrender in British history.
Wilhelm II

The German kaiser (emperor) during the war. Wilhelm II was a cousin of Nicholas II of Russia and George V of Britain; all were grandsons of Queen Victoria of England.
Woodrow Wilson

The president of the United States for the entire period of the war. During the first half of the war, Wilson, a Democrat, maintained a strictly neutral position and tried to serve as an active intermediary between the two sides. American neutrality remained a major theme during his 1916 reelection campaign. However, Wilson was soon forced to change his position when Germany began unrestricted submarine warfare and the American public was scandalized by the infamous Zimmermann telegram in 1917.
Arthur Zimmermann

The German foreign minister responsible for the 1917 Zimmermann telegram, which attempted to coerce Mexico into attacking the United States in exchange for financial incentives and a military alliance between Mexico and Germany. The exposure of Zimmermann’s communiqué was a major factor provoking the United States into declaring war on Germany.


Allied Powers

An alliance during World War I that originally consisted of Russia, France, and Britain. Many other countries, including Belgium, Canada, Greece, Italy, Japan, and Romania, joined later as associate powers. Although the United States never joined the Allied Powers—preferring on principle to fight the Central Powers independently—it cooperated closely with the Allied Powers once it joined the war in 1917.
Austria’s Ultimatum to Serbia

An ultimatum that Austria issued to Serbia on July 23, 1914, escalating tensions between the two nations. The ultimatum demanded that Serbia crack down on anti-Austrian propaganda in the Serbian press and that Serbia allow Austria to participate directly in judicial proceedings to prosecute the parties guilty of assassinating Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
Battle of the Bight

A battle on August 28, 1914, in which the British Royal Navy baited German warships in Helgoland Bight out to sea, where British forces sank three of the German ships with few losses of their own.
Battle of Coronel

A November 1, 1914, engagement in which the German East Asia Squadron defeated a weaker British squadron off the coast of Argentina.
Battle of the Falkland Islands

A battle on December 8, 1914, in which the British decimated the German East Asia Squadron during an attack on the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic.
Battle of Gallipoli

A lengthy campaign, lasting from April 25, 1915, to January 6, 1916, in which Britain invaded Turkey’s Gallipoli Peninsula as part of its effort to force open the Dardanelles, the strait between Europe and Asia. The operation failed and cost hundreds of thousands of lives before the British abandoned the operation and evacuated their forces at the start of 1916.
Battle of the Marne

A battle on September 5–9, 1914, in which Allied forces, following their retreat from Mons, stopped German forces on the banks of the Marne River and forced them back forty-five miles to the river Aisne.
Battle of the Masurian Lakes

An engagement on September 9–14, 1914, in which two German armies under the command of General Paul von Hindenburg defeated Russia’s First Army under General Paul von Rennenkampf. Russia suffered 125,000 casualties.
Battle of Messines Ridge

An intensive June 7, 1917, assault by the British on German forces in northern France. The British began preparations six months in advance, digging nineteen tunnels under a ridge where the Germans were entrenched and then filling the tunnels with explosives. The operation was a success and forced the Germans to retreat.
Battle of Mons

A battle on August 23, 1914, that was one of the earliest battles on the western front. The German advance in Belgium overwhelmed British and French forces, who began a fourteen-day retreat to the outskirts of Paris.
Battle of Passchendaele

An engagement lasting from September 20 to October 12, 1917, in which British forces in Belgium continued to push the Germans back. The fighting was especially miserable because it was carried out during a period of heavy rains.
Battle of the Somme

One of the largest battles of the war, fought in northern France from July 1 to November 18, 1916, simultaneously with the Battle of Verdun. The Battle of the Somme was the result of an Allied offensive along a twenty-five-mile front. Although it ended up as a small victory for the Allied Powers, it cost them 146,000 lives in order to advance less than six miles.
Battle of Tannenberg

A battle in Prussia (present-day Poland) on August 26–30, 1914, in which two German armies under command of General Paul von Hindenburg engaged Russia’s Second Army under General Alexander Samsonov. It was a catastrophic defeat for Russia, which suffered over 120,000 casualties.
Battle of Verdun

The longest and one of the deadliest battles of the war, lasting from February 21 to December 18, 1916. Germany, hoping to wear France down and inflict large numbers of casualties, assaulted the fortified town of Verdun, which blocked the German forces’ path to Paris. The battle ended without a clear victor, despite the deaths of more than 650,000 soldiers.
Black Hand

A terrorist Serbian nationalist group that was responsible for training and arming Gavrilo Princip and others who participated in the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
Blank Check”

Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany’s unconditional promise to defend Austria-Hungary if Russia attacked it while Austria was invading Serbia. The guarantee was made on July 5, 1914, a week after Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination.

Technically, the term for the total number of people who are killed, wounded, or captured in a battle. Use of this word varies, but historians generally follow this convention.
Central Powers

An alliance during World War I that originally consisted of Germany and Austria-Hungary. Other nations, including Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire, joined later.
Schlieffen Plan

A German military plan, formulated in 1905, that addressed how Germany should handle the threat of a war on two fronts with Russia and France. In short, the plan stipulated that if war were expected, Germany should first attack France before embarking upon military actions against Russia. The rationale for this approach was that Russia would require several weeks in order to mobilize its troops and assemble them along the German border. Under the plan, Germany hoped to overrun France in only six weeks by attacking across France’s borders with Belgium and Holland, which were less fortified than the border with Germany.
Triple Alliance

A prewar alliance among Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy, formalized in 1882. At the start of World War I, Italy dropped out of this alliance, initially maintaining a neutral position in regard to the war.
Triple Entente

A vaguely defined prewar alliance among Russia, France, and Britain, finalized in 1907. The Triple Entente was not a formal treaty and had little real substance.
War of Attrition

A war in which victory is determined purely by which side is better able to endure numerous, prolonged casualties (as opposed to a war in which victory is determined by accomplishing a specific objective, such as capturing a major city).
Zimmermann Telegram

A January 1917 telegram sent by German foreign minister Alfred Zimmermann to the German ambassador to Mexico, discussing a secret plan to bait Mexico into attacking the United States. Under the plan, Germany intended to offer Mexico financial incentives to attack the United States, as well as military support to help Mexico retake its former territories of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. British intelligence intercepted the telegram, which was eventually published in the American press, sparking an uproar that shifted American public opinion in favor of entering the war.

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