A very brief overview of the World Wars

This page seeks to provide a brief overview of the events leading up to the start and end of the two world wars.


The start of the First World War

Before World War 1 started, a series of defence alliances existed between many European countries. If one country declared war against another, other countries would be forced to enter the conflict.
  • France, Britain and Ireland, and Russia formed an alliance known as the Triple Entente (later the Allies).
  • Germany was allied with Austria-Hungry. They were known as the Central Powers.

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, in Sarajevo on 28th June 1914 triggered a chain of events that resulted in World War 1. Austria-Hungary blamed Serbia for the death of the Archduke, and threatened war unless Serbia agreed to a set of harsh demands. Germany sided with Austria-Hungary, and Russia backed Serbia. Europe was on the brink of war.

On 28th July, Austria-Hungary (supported by Germany) declared war on Serbia. On 1st August, Germany declared war on Russia, on 2nd August France ordered full mobilisation in support of Russia, and on 3rd August Germany declared war on France. On 4th August, German troops marched on France, taking a route through Belgium. Britain had agreed to guarantee Belgium’s neutrality, and under the 1839 Treaty of London immediately declared war on Germany.

British and German forces clashed on 23rd August at the Battle of Mons, which took place in Belgium. This was the first battle between the British and the Germans on the Western Front.


During the First World War

Eventually, Japan, Serbia, Portugal, Romania, Italy, and China joined the Allies (Britain, France, and Russia). The Ottoman Empire cast its lot with the Central Powers (Germany and Austro-Hungary). 

In 1915, the British passenger liner Lusitania was sunk by a German submarine. In all, 1,195 passengers, including 128 Americans, lost their lives. Americans were outraged and put pressure on the U.S. government to enter the war. President Woodrow Wilson campaigned for a peaceful end to the war. However, in 1917 when the Germans announced that their submarines would sink any ship that approached Britain, Wilson declared that America would enter the war and restore peace to Europe. 


The end of the First World War

By 1918, German citizens were striking and demonstrating against the war. The British navy blocked German ports, which meant that thousands of Germans were starving and the economy was collapsing. Then the German navy suffered a major mutiny. After German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated on November 9th, 1918, the leaders of both sides met at Compiegne, France. The peace armistice was signed on November 11th, 1918.

By the time it was said and done, four empires — the Russian, the Ottoman, the German, and the Austro-Hungarian - had collapsed because of the war. 

In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles officially ended the War. But the Treaty was regarded as brutal towards Germany — requiring that Germany accept full responsibility for causing the war; make reparations to some Allied countries; surrender some of its territory to surrounding countries; surrender its African colonies; and limit the size of its military. 


After the First World War

The Treaty also established the League of Nations to prevent future wars. The League of Nations helped Europe rebuild and fifty-three nations joined by 1923. But the U.S. Senate refused to let the United States join. As a result, President Wilson (who had established the League) suffered a nervous collapse and spent the rest of his term as an invalid. 

Although Germany joined the League in 1926, continuing resentment because of the Versailles Treaty caused them to withdraw (along with ally Japan) in 1933. Italy withdrew three years later. The organisation subsequently proved helpless to stop German, Italian, and Japanese expansionism. 


Leading up to the Second World War

Some might argue that World War I never had an effective ending, but the battles just stopped. World War II may never have happened if not for World War I, because had the Germans not been so affected by the Treaty of Versailles, Adolf Hitler may not have risen to power in the 1930s and convinced the Germans to fight to regain their dignity and place in the world.


The start of the Second World War

Throughout the 1930s, several events conspired to push the world back to the brink of war. The Spanish Civil War, the Anschluss (annexation) of Austria, the occupation of the Sudetenland and the subsequent invasion of Czechoslovakia all became key components of the potent tinderbox that was Europe in the late 1930s.

The nations of Europe, led by Great Britain and France, hoped to avoid war by allowing the German dictator Adolf Hitler to have this additional territory. Hitler, however, saw the concessions as a sign of weakness and continued his conquest of Europe.

The trigger point for World War 2 was the German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939. The war didn't begin officially until Great Britain and France declared war on Germany.

The German army quickly defeated the Polish forces and proceeded to attack and conquer most of Western Europe, including Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and France.


During the Second World War

The United States entered the war on December 8, 1941 by declaring war on Japan for bombing the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor on December 7. The USA entered the war in Europe when Germany declared war on December 11, 1941.


The end of the Second World War

World War 2 finally came to an end on the 8th of May 1945, when Adolf Hitler had committed suicide. News quickly spread and the guns fell silent. Winston Churchill, the British prime minister, announced Victory in Europe.

Even though World War 2 was officially declared over in Europe and other western countries in the Far East, countries such as Japan carried on. The USA dropped two atomic bombs were on Japan, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on the 6th and 9th of August 1945. On the 10th of August, Emperor Hirohito agreed in principle to surrender.

On 15th August 1945, World War 2 ended for the entire world.