After Austria-Hungary blamed Serbia for the assassination of Austro-Hungarian heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a series of diplomatic failures transformed a relatively inconsequential tragedy into the catalyst for two large Alliances of world powers to go to war in the largest conflict the world had ever seen. On this day, after 20 million deaths, World War I ends.
Sign up to receive This Happened straight to your inbox each day!
How did World War I start?
Although many nations were involved in the onset of the first World War, many scholars say tensions had been on the rise throughout Europe for years before World War I actually broke out. The spark that set off World War I was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was shot to death along with his wife, Sophie, by Serbian nationalists struggling to end Austro-Hungarian rule over Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Who was involved in World War I?
On one side, Britain, France, Italy, the Russian Empire, Serbia, Japan, and the United States formed the Allied powers, while Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, The German Empire, and the Ottoman Empire formed the Central powers.
Initially dubbed “The Great War”, World War I was the first series of interrelated conflicts between world powers to reach a near global scale. Nine million people were killed in combat alone, while millions more civilians died as the effects of war spread across the world.
Why Was World War I Called "The War To End All Wars"?
World War I came to an end shortly after the U.S. deployed troops in Western Europe, leading Germany to become overpowered and forced to sign an armistice agreement with the Allied powers.
The agreement, known as the Treaty of Versailles was signed, leaders of the U.S., Great Britain and France met in Versailles to decide next steps following the call to end fighting. Germany, Austria and Hungary were not invited, and Germany was forced to pay reparations for the war.
It is bitterly ironic to note that World War I became known retrospectively as “the war to end all wars” in an acknowledgment of the futility of the scale of destruction and loss of life. Sadly just two decades later, another World War began that would be even more bloody and involve more countries.