A German trench occupied by British Soldiers during the Battle of the Somme, 1916
France and England held the line in 1914 and both sides settled into trench warfare—dug-in multiple layers of lines stretching from the North Sea to the Alps. The war lurched from one stalemate to the next across Europe, with hundreds of thousands of casualties mowed down in “no-man’s land” by machine guns and artillery. The war extended to the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey and into the mountains of Italy. They fought in the Middle East, Africa, and the through the oceans of the world. It consumed entire armies of Russians, British Commonwealth soldiers (Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders, and Indians), and Europeans of every nation. Unrestricted submarine warfare drew the United States into the war, with President Woodrow Wilson calling it the war to preserve democracy and civilization, after totally opposing U.S. entry since the beginning of the conflict, and being reelected on the slogan “he kept us out of war.” It was declared “the war to end all war.”
Men of the Wiltshire Regiment cross “No Man’s Land” during an attack near Thiepval, August 7, 1916 during the Battle of the Somme
On the very day of the armistice, soldiers still went over the top of their trenches a minute before the truce went into effect on that November day in 1918, killing a few hundred more to no purpose. The Armistice was followed by the Treaty of Versailles, in which the Allies redistributed German lands around the world and demanded punitive damages. The Germans faced revolution at home from Communist subversives and starvation of the civilian population by British blockade. The Kaiser went into exile and the great monarchies of Europe collapsed — Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Germany — and the Allies re-drew the map of the world. The First World War proved to be the greatest catastrophe since the Black Death of the Middle Ages, and laid the groundwork for the coming of an Austrian corporal named Adolph Hitler, to create a new party in the decade following, that would lead the world, once again, into a second world war; some would say, merely the extension of the First.
The Treaty of Versailles, signed June 28, 1919