World War I, often abbreviated as WWI or WW1, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a international conflict that began on 28 July 1914 and ended on 11 November 1918. It involved much of Europe, as well as Russia, the United States and Turkey, and was also fought in the Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia. One of the deadliest conflicts in history, an estimated 9 million were killed in combat, while over 5 million civilians died from occupation, bombardment, hunger or disease.
In 1914, the Great Powers were divided into two opposing alliances, the Triple Entente, consisting of France, Russia, and Britain, and the Triple Alliance, made up of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy. Tensions in the Balkans came to a head on 28 June 1914 following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Austro-Hungarian heir, by Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb. Austria-Hungary blamed Serbia and the interlocking alliances involved the Powers in a series of diplomatic exchanges known as the July Crisis. On 28 July, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia; Russia came to Serbia’s defence and by 4 August, the conflict had expanded to include Germany, France and Britain, along with their respective colonial empires. In November, the Ottoman Empire, Germany and Austria formed the Central Powers, while in April 1915, Italy joined Britain, France, Russia and Serbia as the Allied Powers.
Facing a war on two fronts, German strategy in 1914 was to defeat France, then shift its forces to the East and knock out Russia, commonly known as the Schlieffen Plan
. This failed when their advance into France was halted at the Marne; by the end of 1914, the two sides faced each other along the Western Front, a continuous series of trench lines stretching from the Channel to Switzerland that changed little until 1917. By contrast, the Eastern Front was far more fluid, with Austria-Hungary and Russia gaining, then losing large swathes of territory. Other significant theatres included the Middle East, the Alpine Front and the Balkans, bringing Bulgaria, Romania and Greece into the war.
Shortages caused by the Allied naval blockade led Germany to initiate unrestricted submarine warfare in early 1917, bringing the previously neutral United States into the war on 6 April 1917. In Russia, the Bolsheviks seized power in the 1917 October Revolution and made peace in the March 1918 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, freeing up large numbers of German troops. By transferring these to the Western Front, the German General Staff hoped to win a decisive victory before American reinforcements could impact the war, and launched the March 1918 German spring offensive. Despite initial success, it was soon halted by heavy casualties and ferocious defence; in August, the Allies launched the Hundred Days Offensive and although the German army continued to fight hard, it could no longer halt their advance.