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Question 12. Great Britain in World War I.

By the end of the 19th century Britain was no longer as powerful as it had been. In Europe Germany was no united and very strong. Like the USA it was producing more steel than Britain, and it had built strong industry and a strong navy. The danger of war with Germany had been clear from the beginning of the 20th century, and it brought France and Britain together.

By the 1914 the political situation in Europe was extremely dangerous. Germany and Austria-Hungary had made a military alliance. Russia and France had made another alliance. In June 1914 the Austria Archduke Francis Ferdinand was killed in Serbia. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Russia, which was an ally of Serbia, declared war on Austria-Hungary. Automatically, it meant a war with Germany. France was Russia’s ally, so it was now also at war with Germany. I August 1914 Germany’s troops invaded France through Belgium. Britain, which had been Belgium’s ally since 1838, immediately declared war on Germany. Thus, practically the whole of Europe was fighting. The First World War had started.

Germany had better trained soldiers and better equipment (it was the first time in history poisonous gases and chemical weapons were used) and in the first few weeks of war in1914 it nearly defeated the Allies, Britain and France. The German troops crossed the border and penetrated into the territory of France. The French army and the small British force managed to stop the German army only at River Marne deep inside France. Then followed four years of bitter fighting, during which both armies lived in trenches. The war was going on not only in Europe. In the Middle East the British fought against Turkish troops in Iraq, in Palestine, and in the Dardanelles. There, too, the fighting went on for a long time. Only in 1917 the British were able to drive back the Turks.

The war at sea was more important than the war on land, because defeat at sea would have caused Britain’s surrender. Being an island state, Britain had always depended on imported goods. Beginning with 1915, German submarines started sinking merchant ships which carried supplies to Britain. 40 per cent of Britain’s merchant fleet was sunk during the war. There was one period in the course of the war when for six weeks the British population was on the point of starvation. When Russia, after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 made peace with Germany, the German generals hoped for victory against Germany. The arrival of American troops in France ended Germany’s hopes, and it surrendered in November 1918.

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