6 Excellent Documentaries to Cover World War I
Expected to be short, World War I became a long and horrendous “total war”. Eventually, the first world war caused an estimated total of 40 million military and civilian casualties. When in April 1917 America entered the war, it shifted the offensive in favor of the allied forces.
Once, ended in 1918, the war had torn apart the old state structures and completely dislocated the European Economy. Because the 1918 armistice failed to address the true causes of the war, the end of World War I had also set the stage for World War II. Within a decade, totalitarian political forces emerged, strengthened by the social and economic crises of the post war period. In 1937 Japan invaded China. Soon after, in 1939, Germany invaded Poland, marking the official beginning of WWII
Table of Contents
4 Main Causes of WWI
- Militarism: The growth of nationalism and imperialism led to fear and increased military spending
- Nationalism grew in the 19th century as a result of Enlightenment thinking about equality, freedom, and democracy. The concomitant political reforms and revolutions gave a voice to people who had previously been excluded, which sparked nationalism.
- Imperialism. The European industrialization increased the need for raw materials and massive markets in which to sell finished products. Therefore, stronger nations sought to exploit weaker nations.
- Alliances. By 1914, Europe’s six major powers were split into two alliances that would form the warring sides in World War I. Britain, France, and Russia formed the Triple Entente, while Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy joined in the Triple Alliance.
Apocalypse World War I | Episode I
When Serb nationalists assassinated Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Habsburg throne, in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914, few Europeans expected the majors to be locked into a bloody ‘total war’ within 5 weeks. The causes of World War I are well explained in the first episode of this awesome documentary series “Apocalypse World War One.” It demonstrates how deeper fears for the balance of power and the preservation of nationalist and imperialist interests turned a minor, but very sensitive, incident into a diplomatic crisis.
Once Austria-Hungary had decided to punish Serbia for the assassination, European Alliance blocks made it impossible to contain the conflict. Since the Germans were obliged to support Austria, the Russians had to support Serbia. Hence, it created an explosive confrontation in which neither side would give away. When Austria invaded Serbia in late July, within a week, the two European blocks found themselves fighting the world’s first total war ever.
Neither side thought the war would last for more than six months. Though heavily militarized, both were ill-prepared for a brutal war of attrition. Germany, over-confident, expected to deliver a swift knock-out blow against Belgium and France with the Schlieffen plan. The plan aimed to sweep around Paris and encircle the French troops before swinging its forces east to confront the slowly mobilizing Russian army.
However, the decision to hold forces in reserve in the industrialized regions of Alsace-Lorraine, and the Saar reduced the number of troops available. For this reason, the Anglo-French forces could stop the weakened German offensive on the Marne between 5 and 8 September. Hence, by November 1914, both sides had dug in along a 400-mile front from the English Channel to Switzerland. From behind a tangle of barbed wire, machine guns and artillery, each side combatted the other with
Apocalypse World War I | Trench Warfare | Episode 2
almost four years of extremely grim trench warfare. The horror of trench warfare haunts people even today. In particular, on the western front, the conditions were horrific. As shown in Episode 2 and 3 of Apocalypse World War I, prey to disease, rats, lice, living in damp conditions, frosty bite, constantly shelled, gassed, intermitted by suicide missions, the soldier’s life was living hell.
The Horror of Trench Warfare
Both sides had repeatedly tried to break the trench defenses on the Western Front, launching offensives at terrible costs. In February 1916 German forces attempted to seize the fortress of Verdun with no greater strategic object than to bleed the enemy white. More than 600.000 died. Although the British offensive on the Somme saved Verdun in July 1916, it was at the cost of over 400.000 British casualties.
By 1917, the constant blood-letting had produced protests. French forces mutinied until concessions were granted. Likewise, Germany, hungry and on the brink of exhaustion by the allied Naval blockade forced the military to seek a peaceful resolution. But by then Germany was under the virtual dictatorship of Field Marchal Hindenburg and General Ludendorf, both determined on victory. For three years the war continued in never-ending bombardments of the trenches and waves of horrendous massacres.
- An estimated total of 40 million people lost their lives during World War I, both military and civilian.
- While most of the civilian and military casualties fell on the allied side (56%), the central powers lost nearly 20 million people in the war (44%).
- Due to the maritime blockades, the central powers lost more civilians than the Allies.
- Although the American participation in the war proved decisive, the United States “only” lost 114.00 soldiers (1,17% of total military deaths)
- During WWI, the Ottoman Empire (Central Powers) killed an estimated 1 million Armenians (at least 662.000 and possibly 1.2 million) in the Armenian Genocide.
- The Germans lost most soldiers (2 million). Russia (1.8 million). French (1.3 million). The British Empire (1.1 million). Austria-Hungary (1.1 million)
Russia - Stalemate in the east and the Russian Revolution | Episode 4
In the east, larger areas and smaller forces made a more mobile warfare possible. At first, the Russians pushed back German and Austro-Hungarian armies at Gumbinnen and Lemberg. Later, at the end of august, German forces retaliated and nearly annihilated the Russian second army battalion at Tannenberg. Yet, trapped in a two-front war Germany never had sufficient resources to really consolidate its victories in the east. Again, like in the west, by 1916 a stalemate had developed also in the east.
Apocalypse World War I | Part 4
Because of the Russian Internal collapse in 1917, the Russians were eager to withdraw from the war. Likewise, the Germans wanted to get out of a two-front war. In March 1918, both warring parties signed the long-sought peace treaty (the Brest Litovsk treaty). Immediately, the central powers gathered all their resources for a final and decisive offensive on the western front. But it proved too late.
America entered World War I, tipping the power balance
In an effort to restrict the maritime supply of goods to the central powers, the allies had installed a naval blockade of Germany, Austria Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. Frustrated by the blockade, the German government authorized unrestricted submarine warfare to combat the Allied naval blockade. Once It had torpedoed several maritime vessels, killing many American civilians, the United States, outraged, joined the war in April 1917. As a result, the power balance tipped in favor of the allied forces.
Armistice - the End of World War I
The US decision to fight tipped the balance against the central powers. America loaned over $10 billion to its allies and sent a stream of equipment and food. In March 1918 general Ludendorf gambled on a last offensive. German forces broke through the allied line towards Paris. But exhausted, poorly fed, and short of weapons, they ground to a halt. With clear superiority in arms, the allies pushed German forces back in France and Italy. Meanwhile, Austria, Turkey and Bulgaria had already been beaten. A prostrate Germany and revolution in Russia transformed Europe and ushered in an age of violent social confrontation.
The End of WW I
Ushers in WW II
4 years of brutal total war had torn apart the old state structures between the empires. In the Armistice that followed, the winners assigned the full responsibility for the war to the losers, particularly Germany, and demanded huge reparations. It became a source of resentment and a festering wound. As a result, totalitarian political forces emerged, strengthened by the social economic crisis of the post-war period. Eventually, Europe’s unresolved issues would lead to World War II.
years of brutal war
Once finished, the first world war had redrawn the map of Europe. Centuries-old monarchies collapsed in Russia, Germany, Austria, and Hungary. Even the military victorious nations, Great Britain and France, were economically weakened by the war. Hence, only the United States profited most from the war, replacing Great Britain as the dominant world power.
The rise of Nazism
Besides the United States’ rise to world power, the most momentous development proved to be the Bolsheviks’ victory in Russia 1917. The founding of the Soviet Union – a totalitarian communist state – in 1922 influenced the internal development of the whole of Europe. The Soviet goal of a communist world revolution, stirred up fears of left-wing communist uprisings by broad sections of the populace in the unstable European democracies of the postwar period. In response, new right-wing fascist factions gained strength everywhere, most notably in Spain, Italy and Germany. Although these varied greatly from country to country, they all had a militarily nationalist, radical anti-democratic and anti-communist position in common.