World War One

This timeline examines the events leading up to the First World war, its outbreak, and how it unfolded and ended.

Alliances between European powers, mainly Germany, Austria-Hungary, Great Britain, France, Russia, and Italy, created conditions ripe for a massive European war. ;xNLx;;xNLx;Source Material: Storey, William Kelleher. "The First World War: A Concise Global History," London: Rowman and Littlefield, 2014.

1870-07-19 00:00:00

German Unification

German-speaking territories were unified, ending with the Franco-Prussian War. The Alsace and Lorraine provinces, previously part of France, were incorporated into the new German territory. Now unified thanks in part to the negotiations of Otto von Bismarck, Germany began to compete with other European powers industrially and colonially.

1873-10-22 00:00:00

Three Emperors League

Otto von Bismarck established an agreement between Russia and Austria-Hungary that any disputes over the Balkans between the two empires would be mediated by Germany., known for a time as the Three Emperors League.

1880-01-01 00:00:00

German-British Relations

Germany and Great Britain came close to a military alliance, but Kaiser Wilhelm I gained several territories in Africa and began competing with British naval superiority. Wilhelm II continued these naval policies, leading to naval disputes. As a result, Britain leaned away from supporting Germany in the event of a war.

1882-05-22 00:00:00

Triple Alliance

Italy joined Germany and Austria-Hungary, the Dual Alliance, to form the Triple Alliance.

1887-06-18 00:00:00

The Reinsurance Treaty

In an effort to avoid potential conflicts, Otto von Bismarck created a treaty guaranteeing that if Russia or Germany were attacked, the other party would refrain from intervening and stay neutral. However, this policy was later abandoned by Germany in favor of strengthening the Triple Alliance.

1890-01-01 00:00:00

French-Russian Relations

Russian leadership turned to France for military allegiance after Germany abandoned the Reinsurance Treaty. By doing so, Germany made war with Russia a possibility. By 1899, France and Russia agreed to both fight against Germany if Germany attacked one or the other. Now, Germany had united enemies on two fronts.

1891-01-01 00:00:00

The Schlieffen Plan

As a response to the threat of a war on two fronts, German General Alfred von Schlieffen began drafting and revising a plan to tackle both France and Russia. By 1905, the plan involved a quick assault of France through Belgium, capturing Paris, and rapidly moving troops east to counter the slower Russian assault. Helmuth von Moltke revised the plan slightly to avoid conflict with the Netherlands. In any case, the Schlieffen Plan was risky.

1905-01-01 00:00:00

The Dreadnought

The British began constructing a new kind of battleship, called the Dreadnought, and constructed many more over the next decade. Germany also began constructing a stronger navy to compete with British naval power.

1908-10-06 00:00:00

Bosnian Annexation

Austria-Hungary formally annexed the province of Bosnia, a former territory of the Ottoman Empire. Bosnia was ethnically and religiously diverse. Nationalist Orthodox Serbian movements wanted autonomy and union with the independent Serbian state, and resented Austrian rule.

1910-01-01 00:00:00


France's offensive plan of attack was developed. The French worked with Russian military leaders to have troops mobilized within sixteen days of the outbreak of war. In 1911, French and British generals Joseph Joffre and Sir Henry Wilson met, and Britain began planning troop deployment to the continent to support France, but made not official commitments.

1911-01-01 00:00:00

French Military Planning

Joseph Joffre was appointed by the new right-wing French government as a leading general and military planner. He changed previous French plans for war with Germany to include the immediate recapturing of the Alsace and Lorraine provinces, followed by an offensive toward Berlin. This plan put France on the offensive rather than the defensive.

1914-06-28 00:00:00

Assassination of Ferdinand and Sophie

In Bosnia's capital, Sarajevo, a Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip assassinated the heir to the Austrian Throne Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie.

1914-06-28 00:00:00

The July Crisis

In the wake of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, tensions rose among European powers and alliances. Austria-Hungary issued an ultimatum to Serbia; Serbia demanded military support from Russia, and Austria requested support from Germany. Both Austria and Serbia received the help they requested, and Russia mobilized its army. In response, Germany demanded that Russia cease its mobilization or else Germany would declare war. France and Russia demanded that Germany cease its own aggression, but Germany proceeded. On August 1, 1914, Germany declared war on Russia.

1914-08-03 00:00:00

Germany Declares War on France

One day after Belgium denied Germany unmitigated access through its country to France, as part of the Schlieffen Plan, Germany declared war on France.

1914-08-04 00:00:00

The Invasion of Belgium

Germany invaded Belgium to access France from a neutral territory. Britain had previously signed a treaty protecting Belgian neutrality, and responded to the German invasion by declaring war on Germany. Now, Austria-Hungary and Germany were at war with Russia, France, and Great Britain.

1914-08-17 00:00:00

German Victories on the Eastern Front

The German army made significant advances in August and September against the Russians, particularly at Tannenberg in late August and the Masurian Lakes in early September.

1914-10-28 00:00:00

The Ottoman Empire Joins the War

The Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers in late 1914. Its entrance was perceived partly as a way for colonial powers to extract territory if the Ottomans were defeated.

1915-01-01 00:00:00

Stalemate on the Western Front

Germany enacted the Schlieffen Plan and the French enacted Plan XVII, putting both countries on the offensive. Germany attacked France through Belgium, and France tried to regain the Alsace and Lorraine provinces. Germany's treatment of Belgian civilians and destruction of its territory became useful anti-German propaganda.The Western Front quickly became locked in a stalemate with neither side making significant advances toward the other, on a line of 475 miles.

1915-02-01 00:00:00

Gallipoli and the Dardanelles

Allied forces attempted to attack the Ottoman Empire by moving ships into the Dardanelles Strait. The initial naval campaign was a disaster, and the fighting on the Gallipoli Peninsula proved insufficient as well. Turkish forces eventually defeated Allied forces, who fled the peninsula in early 1916.

1915-05-01 00:00:00

The Armenian Genocide

After Ottoman forces failed to make progress into southern Russia and suffered immense casualties, Turkish forces placed blame on the religious and ethnic Armenian minority, on both Ottoman and Russian territory. Turkish leaders ordered the forced removal of Armenians, and under brutal conditions, thousands died. Ottoman troops massacred many Armenian civilians as well. Death tolls are still contested, but a common estimate is six hundred thousand.

1915-05-23 00:00:00

Italy Joins the Allies

Italy, previously part of the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary, joined the war on the side of France, Britain, and Russia, creating a new enemy for Germany and Austria in Southern Europe.

1915-09-01 00:00:00

The Tsar Takes Command

The Russian Tsar took sole command of the Russian military after significant defeats from Germany. The Russian Army was pushed to the Carpathian Mountains, where they established a new defensive line against the Germans.

1916-02-01 00:00:00

Germans Flee Cameroon

French, British, and Belgian troops in their African colonies defeated German colonists in Cameroon. The Germans fled to a Spanish port, and the territory was taken by the Allies.

1916-07-01 00:00:00

Battle of the Somme

On the Western Front, Allied troops moved slowly across a portion of France. The battle resulted in heavy losses for all involved, and the territory gained was eleven kilometers.

1917-01-01 00:00:00

The Zimmerman Telegram

German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmerman attempted to plan for a potential U.S. entrance into the war by negotiating with Mexico. His telegram was intercepted and made public in the U.S. in March. Its discovery persuaded many Americans that war was necessary.

1917-02-01 00:00:00

Germany Resumes Unrestricted Submarine Warfare

Germany announced that it would resume unrestricted submarine warfare around Great Britain. The German Navy had previously abandoned such warfare after the sinking of a U.S. ship, in order to avoid provoking the U.S. to join the war against Germany. The announcement motivated many in the U.S.

1917-02-25 00:00:00

The February Revolution

In Russia, soldiers and workers protested and mutinied, and the Russian Parliament created the Provisional Government. Russian governance changed rapidly as little Soviets (councils) formed. The Petrograd Soviet was divided ideologically between Mensheviks and Bolsheviks. The Russians continued to fight Germany nevertheless.

1917-04-06 00:00:00

The U.S. Enters the War

Motivated by German submarine warfare and the Zimmerman Telegram, the United States Congress voted to declare war on Germany.

1917-07-31 00:00:00

Ypres and Passchendaele

Allied forces made slow progress, advancing ten kilometers and eventually capturing the village of Passchendaele after five months of fighting. Thousands died in this campaign.

1917-10-24 00:00:00

The October Revolution

In Russia, the Bolsheviks organized a coup against the Provisional Government. Under Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky, Russia declared a temporary ceasefire against Germany.

1918-03-01 00:00:00

American Troops Arrive

U.S. Troops arrived in early 1918 and were continually supplemented with reinforcements, giving the Allies a new advantage against the Germans, who would also increase troops on the Western Front after Russia left the war.

1918-03-03 00:00:00

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk

Under new Bolshevik leadership, Russia signed the treaty of Brest-Litovsk and officially ended its war against Germany. Now, Germany could move much of its army to the Western Front.

1918-10-04 00:00:00

German Armistice

Germany requested an armistice and began peace negotiations, partly relying upon U.S. President Wilson's Fourteen Points as a model.

1918-10-30 00:00:00

Ottoman Armistice

The Ottoman Empire negotiated an armistice and settled Allied control of the Dardanelles Strait as well as Armenia.

1918-11-11 11:00:00

The War Ends

After the Kaiser abdicated and a new socialist government took over in Germany, the last terms were negotiated and the war ended.

1919-05-07 11:00:00

The Treaty of Versaille

Allied diplomats presented the harsh Treaty of Versailles to Germany. The Treaty of Versailles placed absolute blame on Germany for the war. Among its requirements were that Germany pay for the war debt, reduce its army, drastically reduce its navy, allow French occupation of western industrial regions, and surrender all of its colonial territories. Under the conditions created by the Treaty, Germany fell into immense debt.

1920-01-01 00:00:00

The Treaty of Sevres

French and British diplomats negotiated the distribution of the Ottoman Empire's former Arab territories, which were placed under Allied control as mandates.

World War One

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