The event that set off war in Europe came in late June 1914 at Sarajevo, when a fanatical Serbian nationalist assassinated Archduke Francis Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. In other times and under different conditions, this act might not have been enough to catapult the world into the most widespread and costly conflict man had yet known, one that would eventually put under arm...
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n men from thirty countries representing every continent. Yet as matters stood that summer of 1914, Europe was a tinderbox awaiting a spark, an armed camp with two rival power blocs. There was at first the Triple Alliance composed of Germany, Austria, and Italy. On the other side, the Entente Cordiale between Britain and France gradually merged with the Dual Alliance of France and Russia to become the Triple Entente. With the defection of Italy, Germany and Austria became the Central Powers, which Bulgaria and Turkey eventually joined. The Triple Entente became, with the addition of Italy, the nucleus of the Allied Powers.Despite some halfhearted efforts to localize the dispute over the assassinated prince, since Russia backed Serbia and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany promised Austria full support, the only real question was when the war was to begin. The answer to that came on July 28, when Austria declared war on Serbia. As Russia began its ponderous mobilization process to back the Serbs, Germany rushed to strike first.Germany’s location between Russia and France dictated for the Germans a two-front war. To meet this contingency, the German General Staff had laid plans to defeat France swiftly before the Russians with their ponderous masses could fully mobilize, then to shift forces rapidly to the east and destroy the Russians at will...