The First World War was a bloody, gruesome global war. During the years 1914-1918, many senseless killings and murders of soldiers and innocent civilians, young and old took place. Today we can only imagine what these individuals went through, and this wouldn’t come near to the true tragedy, horrors, and realities of the war. Read on to learn more about WW1 (World War 1).
Fact 1: In 1914, there were 2 alliances in Europe that declared war against each other.
- The first was known as, The Triple Entente or the Allied Force. This was made up of Great Britain, France, and Russia.
- On the other side, the Triple Alliance or the Central Force, was made up of Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Italy. (Italy broke out of the alliance during the war).
Fact 2: Before the First World War, Britain and Germany were fighting over supremacy where warships were concerned.
- Both counties had a considerable number of commercial and war boats before the war.
- By 1914 it was still not over, Britain had 38 battlecruisers, and Germany had 24.
Fact 3: The combined ‘peacetime armies’, (or the reserved armies prior to war), of France and Russia alone were almost a million more than the forces of Dual Alliance, (as Italy left the Triple Alliance).
- If the peacetime army of Great Britain was added, they would have had a significant advantage against the Dual Alliance.
- But this didn’t affect the spirit of Germany and Austria-Hungary. Instead, they fought harder to defeat the Allied Forces.
Fact 4: The assassination of Austro-Hungarian, Archduke Franz Ferdinand ignited a chain of events that led to the First World War.
- He was assassinated by Serbian forces around 11:00 AM on a Sunday on June 28, 1914.
- A war against Serbia (who ordered the assassination) broke out. Russia supported Serbia, a deal which Germany saw as an act of war.
Fact 5: Germany had created a separate plan to fight and win the war.
- This plan was called, the Schlieffen plan. This was a plan to defeat Belgium and France, but it was fundamentally flawed. This plan required the German army to defeat the French army in just 6 weeks.
- Which inevitably didn’t happen as France were able to surprise and defeat the Germans on the Marne, plus Britain arrived to help.
Fact 6: The British Government initially didn’t plan on joining the war.
- ¾ of the British parliament voted to keep out of all WWI affairs.
- And many other politicians were against the intervention.
Fact 7: Britain only joined the war on the 4th of August 1914.
- They only joined because Germany attacked Belgium, which was one of the British allies.
- Britain was obligated to defend Belgium, due to the treaty signed in 1839, that tasked them with protecting Belgium’s sovereignty.
Fact 8: Tsar Nicholas II mobilized the Russian Army, this was deemed as a declaration of war by Germany.
- When he called upon the army, the Russian army produced up to 4.5 million men to defend the country and its allies.
- By sheer number, Russia called the largest army mobilization in history. Germany was second, while France was third.
Fact 9: Britain initially contributed the least to the mobilization of its army.
- In contrast to Fact 8, Britain was only able to gather around 400,000 men to join the war.
- However, by the end of 1916, the number went up to 3.5 million men, thus ending with a much larger army.
Fact 10: The British army was able to recruit thousands of new recruits.
- Although the army was small to begin with, close to 300,000 men did volunteer in the end, thus exceeding the initial target by 100,000 men.
- Most of these new recruits were looking for an adventure, and they thought that they would be home for Christmas.
Fact 11: Of all the recruits of the British Army mentioned above, around 750,000 men appealed to be sent home instead.
- Most were given exemption due to various reasons, and they were temporarily sent home.
- While others permanently refused to fight, due to some personal principles, and they were given white feathers to symbolize their stand.
Fact 12: Theoretically, Britain could’ve added around 400 million men to its army if it mobilized its colonies.
- For example, during that time, India was still under the jurisdiction of the British. Britain could’ve called upon them to help.
- Nonetheless, even though they could’ve mobilized the entire country to support Britain’s war, they only recruited a few thousand to be a part of their army, which was actually enough.
Fact 13: The Russian government also recruited women to be part of their army.
- Women were rarely put into the battlefield, and were only sent if it was necessary and as a last resort.
- But, womens talents were very effective in other ways. Women were often used to perform psychological warfare for their male counterparts. This was often used to encourage males to fight harder.
Fact 14: The Battle of Tannenberg in 1914 was a huge loss to Russia.
- This was a Russian defeat caused by the German Army, Russia never recovered.
- The Russian Army lost almost 170,000 men in the battlefield, and Germany only lost 10% of that number.
Fact 15: The longest battle during the First World War lasted for 300 days.
- The Battle of Verdun was the longest battle. The battle started in February and ended in December 1916.
- Due to the strain on French forces (the loss of too many men), the British Army helped launch offensive attacks to make Germany retreat. This is often recorded as the Primary reason for the the Battle of the Somme, July 1916.
Fact 16: The bloodiest battle in the First world War had a casualty record of more than a million.
- On the first day alone, the British forces lost 60,000 soldiers.
- At the end of the battle, the British lost 400,000, the French lost 200,000 and the German lost a little over half a million men.
Fact 17: The ‘100 Days Offensive’ marked the continued success of the Allied forces and subsequently the end of the war.
- It began on August 1918, when the German forces were forced to retreat past the Hindenburg line.
- Continued effort from the Allied forces paid off, and by November 1918, there was widespread surrender from different German forces.
Fact 18: When the war broke out, the soldiers wore unsuitable uniforms and their equipment was not meant for warfare.
- When the First World War began, soldiers were using soft hats. This was not protecting them from anything and many would be knocked unconscious by flying objects.
- Later on, they were issued a much sturdier and heavier steel helmet. These new helmets would go on to prove their worth and save countless men from death.
Fact 19: A single machine gun could fire up to 600 rounds in a minute.
- This was almost the equivalent of 150-200 rifles firing during the war.
- The machine guns success was the main reason why ‘trench warfare’ became the standard during the war. The machine guns capabilities far outweighed any other weapon, and could easily defend the trenches.
Fact 20: People in London could hear the explosions 140 miles away.
- Hearing the power of the explosions demonstrates the extent the British army went to, to try and defeat the Germans. Britain poured hours of research into creating the highest quality weapons, creating bigger and stronger explosions was just one thing.
- Planting bombs became a normal tactic for the allied forces to gain advantage in the war.
Fact 21: Around 70 types of planes were used in the First World War.
- Most of these planes were used as reconnaissance vehicles. They could observe the areas from high above and scout out the best locations for the armies.
- They were later used as fighter and bomber jets, to aid the armies’ attacks.
Fact 22: The term ‘dogfight’ was initially used during the First World War.
- The term was used to coin the action of a pilot turning off the planes engine, while in mid-air. Pilots had to do this when they needed to turn sharply, as the plane would often stall otherwise.
- The sound the engine made when being restarted sounded like a dog barking, hence the name.
Fact 23: The first naval battle of the First World War happened in 1914.
- It was known as the Battle of Heligoland. Here the British proved their supremacy with their huge naval fleet.
- The British forces sank and ambushed at least 3 German Light Cruiser and 1 huge Destroyer.
Fact 24: A commercial passenger cruiser, Lusitania, was sunk by a German Torpedo.
- The Germans thought it was a battle fleet. They proceeded to sink this commercial boat, killing thousands of innocent civilians, including at least a 100 Americans.
- This was a main reason for the United States joining the Allied forces in 1917.
Fact 25: It was dangerous to go into the sea during the First World War.
- German U-Boats and submarines were often lurking in the hidden depths of the seas, and were prepared to sink anything that they didn’t associate with their own army.
- In fact, 50% of all the British commercial boats perished due to these German attacks.
Fact 26: Germany was the first country to use a flamethrower.
- The flamethrower was first seen in the Battle of Malancourt in 1915. Because ‘trench warfare’ had become the standard, the German army had to find a way of fighting back. The flamethrower could be use to burn the trenches, thus giving the Germans a huge advantage over the machine guns.
- The flamethrower could fire jet of fire as far as 40 meters.
Fact 27: The First World War gave birth to the use of tanks.
- When the tank was first used, it was called a ‘landship’. It was called this as it mimics a battleship and has the same properties.
- It was later renamed to ‘tank’ to disguise itself better, as people were used to the term ‘battleship’. Calling the tank, ‘tank’ meant that people wouldn’t make the association between its original and new name, thus they would not expect any issues.
Fact 28: Women played a big role in the war as labourers.
- The war forced the men to enlist and be part of the army. Therefore, there was a shortage in the workforce and lots of vacant positions.
- The women decided to pick up these vacant positions, and proceeded to carry on with the work once done by the men. The women were often a main driving force in the ammunition production. Without these women, the soldiers fighting wouldn’t have had any ammo.
Fact 29: The winter of 1916-1917 was known as the “Turnip Winter” in Germany.
- The turnip was traditionally fed to livestock.
- But due to starvation and scarcity of meat and other vegetables during the war, people in Germany had to turn to the turnip for their sustenance. The turnip later became a huge substitute for majority of their meals.
Fact 30: There was a real life sniper who managed to kill at least 150 soldiers from a distance.
- Australian sniper, Private Billy Sing, showed his skills by decimating soldiers at the Battle of Gallipoli.
- Because of his astounding feat, he earned the moniker “The Murderer.”
Fact 31: One nurse, called Edith, was instrumental in the war.
- Edith Cavell, a British nurse, helped more than 200 Allied soldiers flee Belgium, which was occupied by Germany at that time.
- She was later arrested and executed by firing squad for her actions. Her death was denounced by other countries, and she remains a prominent figure of the war today.
Fact 32: There was a soldier who single-handedly survived two German assaults.
- Anilbal Milhais, was a decorated Portuguese soldier, who was highly skilled in the firearms and combat areas.
- Due to his rate of fire and skills, the enemies often thought that they were fighting a unit, instead of a lone man.
Fact 33: Cher Ami, a carrier pigeon, received a military award for its service during the war.
- The carrier pigeon played a huge part in helping to save at least 200 Americans, who were trapped behind the German lines in 1918.
- It was able to do its job effectively, despite being shot through the breast, blinded in one eye, and almost losing a leg.
Fact 34: A Boston Bull Terrier named Stubby, was the first and only dog to ever became a Sergeant.
- He was the most decorated dog during the war because of his outstanding assistance to different army units.
- He was able to hear shellfire from a distance, well before humans could hear it.
Fact 35: There were one million dogs that died during the war.
- Dogs were often used by soldiers for different tasks and to aid them during the war.
- Most of them were used to guard army camps or to detect bombs and other attackers within their vicinity.
Fact 36: It was illegal to kill or wound a Homing Pigeon during the war.
- Homing Pigeons were an essential part of the army. Homing Pigeons were used to deliver messages to far away areas.
- It was a punishable offense to hurt a pigeon of this nature. Someone seen doing harm would be sent to prison for at least 6 months.
Fact 37: In total, 37.5 million died at the end of the First World War (from both sides).
- This number includes all of those who died from starvation and other diseases caused by the war.
- Only around 7.5 million survived the war, but they were often severely disabled forever.
Fact 38: Germany suffered the biggest defeat, losing more than 2 million men at the end of the war.
- Germany became the main target of all the Allied forces, due to its offensive attacks and power during the war.
- The Allied forces even blocked supplies and other trades coming in and out of Germany, putting it in a state of hunger and poverty.
Fact 39: It was very expensive for Allied forces to kill an opposing enemy.
- The cost of killing 1 enemy for the Allied forces was more than $35,000.
- However, for the Central forces, it only cost them around $11,000 to kill an Allied force soldier.
Fact 40: At the end of the war, 4 empires collapsed.
- Ottoman, now known as Turkey, collapsed due to the attacks from multiple sides.
- Germany and Austro-Hungary suffered from the devastating effects of the war. As well as Russia collapsing in 1917.
Fact 41: Independent nations rose after the war.
- Germany lost at least 13% of its land area to other countries, or a total of 27,000 square miles.
- Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, and Latvia became recognised independent nations at the end of the First World War.
Fact 42: Germans found it hard to accept that they had lost the war.
- The Treaty of Versailles was signed after the war ended by Germany. This was a way to punish Germany for their wrongdoings during the war. Nationalists in Germany, at the time, though this was terrible and could not accept that Germany was willing to give up fighting.
- Those who signed the Treaty were dubbed as the “November Criminals.” It was the start of the ‘back-stabbed myth,’ wherein those who signed were believed to be the cause of Germany’s greatest downfall.
Fact 43: It was thought that the Treaty wasn’t a sign of peace, but rather a preparation for an upcoming bigger war.
- This was said by a French General named Ferdinand Foch, and he was right.
- Adolf Hitler completely disregarded the Treaty after 20 years, and used it to fuel his desire for expansion.
Fact 44: It was a dangerous time to be a journalist.
- The Government wanted to control the flow of information at that time. They forbade journalists from reporting on any activities, as it could have been used as intel by the other countries.
- However, a handful of journalists risked their lives in order to report what was really happening during the war.
Fact 45: It took 2 days to deliver a letter from Britain to France.
- At the end of the war, it was estimated that 2 billion letters were delivered to the respective countries.
- There were also around 114 million parcels shipped to both destinations.
Fact 46: Because of the after-effects of the war, plastic surgery was introduced.
- Many soldiers and civilians had deformities at the end of the war. People were unhappy with their new appearances, so specialists thought of innovative ways of helping them.
- A surgeon, named Harold Gillies, pioneered the early practice of facial reconstruction to help victims all over the world.
Fact 47: The youngest soldier to fight for Britain was 12 years old.
- Sidney Lewis lied about his age to join the army. He was not alone as thousands of young boys who wanted to fight for Britain also did the same.
- Some of these you men were fueled by their patriotism, while some just wanted to escape their impoverished lives.
Fact 48: The First World War almost bankrupted Britain.
- Before the war, Great Britain was an economic superpower having colonies in Asia.
- However, the cost of the war proved to be difficult even for a rich country, they almost plunged into debt towards the end of the war.
Fact 49: Ships were painted with colorful patterns instead of dark patterns to hide them.
- While the instinct would be to hide battleships using dark colors, the British military decided that they would do the complete opposite.
- Also called the ‘dazzle camouflage’. It was used to confuse enemies into thinking that they were merchant ships instead of army ships.
Fact 50: Generals were banned from the forefront of fights.
- Although it is easy to assume that Generals never fought during the war, in reality, the opposite was true, as they wanted to be as close as possible to the fight.
- The army banned the Generals from joining in, as many of them died during the fights, and they were too valuable to lose.