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World War 1: Steps to War - An Easy Guide for KS2/KS3 Students

Updated: Dec 4, 2020

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

It was a tense environment in Europe before World War 1. So tense, that a single event sparked a rapid descent into war. It happened like this:

28th June 1914 –

Heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, visits Bosnia, a country now under the control of the Austro-Hungarians. He is assassinated by a Serbian man, Gavrilo Princip, who thinks Bosnia should belong to Serbia.

Chart showing pre-war alliances in Europe.

5th July 1914 –

The Austro-Hungarians ask Germany for their support. The Austro-Hungarians want to take a hard-line with Serbia following the assassination of the Archduke. But they know that Serbia is supported by the Russians. The Austro-Hungarians want reassurance that Germany will protect them should the Russians get involved in their conflict with Serbia. The Germans agree.

23rd July 1914 –

The Austro-Hungarians send the Serbians an ultimatum. They want the Serbian government to accept a full investigation into the assassination of the Archduke, to be led by the Austro-Hungarians. The Serbians had 48 hours to respond.

25th July 1914 –

The Serbians accept all of the conditions in the ultimatum, except one – they would not let Austro-Hungarian police into Serbia to run the investigation.

28th July 1914 –

Austria-Hungary is unhappy with the response to their ultimatum and declares war on Serbia.

30th July 1914 –

Russia, having promised to help Serbia, asks Germany to intervene and stop the war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia. Without a satisfactory reply from the German Government, Russia start to mobilise their army.

1st August 1914 –

Germany sees the movement of the Russian army as a threat to themselves and Austria-Hungary. Having agreed to support Austria-Hungary in this exact circumstance, Germany declares war on Russia.

3rd August 1914 –

The Schlieffen Plan

Just like Germany had agreed to support Austria-Hungary against Russia, France had agreed to support Russia against Germany.

After declaring war on Russia, Germany was expecting retaliation from France. This was a problem, because Germany was surrounded with Russia on one side and France on the other. They didn’t want to have to fight a war on both sides of their country, so they came up with a plan, called The Schlieffen Plan.

They would attack and conquer France quickly (by travelling through Belgium) before turning their forces to deal with Russia behind them. Following the Schlieffen Plan, Germany declares war on France and attacks through Belgium.

4th August 1914 –

Similar to the many other alliances between countries at this time, Great Britain had signed a treaty swearing to protect Belgium against Germany. Great Britain protests against the German attack against the Belgians and declares war on Germany.


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