WW1 – Oversimplified (Part 1)


The world of 1914. A time of modern technology, culture, and fashion. Truly the height of civilization. Let’s have a war. Everyone knew a big war was coming. France wanted some stuff back that Germany had taken from it, Germany wanted to take more of EVERYONE’S stuff, and they’re building a big sexy navy that was making the British uncomfortable. These two empires thought they’re really cool. But lots of different people who live there didn’t think it was so cool. And some of them had even been declaring independence, with help from Russia. Everyone was talking about each other behind each other’s backs. Throw in the fact that military
technology had come a long way since the last major war, and suddenly everyone was pretty eager to beat each other up. In this area of Austria-Hungary lived some Serbs and Bosnians who hated living in Austria-Hungary. So the Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand goes there for a nice drive in an open-top car, with his car’s route published in advance. And that went just about as well as you’d expect. Some assassins were waiting for him along the way and threw bombs at his car, but they missed and blew up some officers behind him, instead. So, the Archduke goes into hiding, leaves Sarajevo and whole war never happens. Except no. The Archduke doesn’t leave, but instead goes back out in the open top car, to visit the injured officers in hospital. The driver takes a wrong turn and by sheer coincidence gets stuck besides one of the failed assassins. Who shoots him. Austria-Hungary is understandably pissed about all this, and they think the Serbian government had something to do with it (which they might have). So they go to their ally Germany and say: “Hey Germany, we’re gonna declare war on Serbia!”, and Germany is all for that. So Austria-Hungary sends a big list of impossible demands to Serbia and when Serbia refuses, they declare war. Austria-Hungary and Germany are friends and Serbia is protected by Russia, who’s friends with France, so they all declare war on each other. Montenegro joins in, too. France and Britain also have a kind of alliance. So, when France says: “Hey, Britain you got my back?”, Britain is like: “Maybe…?”, and then they decide to stay out of it. Which is great for Germany because Germany has a plan: They know that Russia is so big and clumsy that it will take them all to get ready for war. So with this guy in charge Germany will send all its troops into France at Lightning speed while Russia is getting ready. Defeat France then move all the troops to Russia and defeat Russia. Then we all speak German and eat Pfefferpotthast every day. Just one problem: France has loads of forts and defences along its German border. And Germany can’t waste any time fighting them so Germany decides to go around them. Through Belgium. Belgium is neutral but Germany wants to march 750 thousand troops through it to get around France’s defenses. They’re hoping Belgium will just kind of sit down and shut up. But they don’t. They fight back, and they’re pretty good, too, so they slow the Germans down. What’s worse is that Britain shows up. And they’re pretty pissed that Germany is invading neutral countries. So now Britain declares war on Germany. So Germany push on through Belgium and commit some atrocities along the way. They also wear spikes and sometimes skulls on the uniform. So, if you’re trying to not look like the bad guys: Good job. The allies have a propaganda extravaganda and this starts having an influence around the world, notably in America. The US President Woodrow Wilson sees himself as a bit of a Jesus figure and spends most of the war trying to get everyone to just hug it out. But there’s also a large population of ethnic Germans living in the United States and when the war first broke out they were like: “Yay, Germany!!” But now that they are committing atrocities in Belgium they are less enthusiastic. Let’s play: Spot the French soldier! Did you see him? Easy right? He’s wearing a bright blue uniform with red trousers and do you know who else spotted him easily, too? The Germans. So, when the French were slowly marching in columns to the countryside the Germans easily tore them to shreds with their giant guns. All the nations involved in this war went in with an old-school war mentality. And all of them had to update the uniforms and tactics a lot during the great war. Because this war was going to be like nothing anyone had ever seen before. Russia is ready for war and way earlier than expected. “Hey, Austria-Hungary, can you get on top of that?” “Oh? Yeah, sure! We’ve got this.” nope. So, Germany has to send some troops back to the east to defend against the Russians. The chief of staff of the Austro-Hungarian army is this guy. And although he is handsome, He turns out not to be the best military strategist. Austria-Hungary constantly ignores Germany’s advice, …and then comes running back to Germany whenever they get in trouble. Austria-Hungary even gets its ass kicked by tiny Serbia who repels all their invasion attempts at the start of the war. It’s better news for Germany in the North, though, where they almost completely wipe out the Russians second army. Back on the western front, the Germans continue advancing and are in sight of Paris. At this point anyone would be forgiven for thinking the Germans were going to get that quick victory after all. But then things start to go wrong. The French commander-in-chief knew something had to be done. And he ordered his armies to stop retreating. In the resulting battle, a gap opened up in the German lines. If a gap opens up, the enemy can use it to flank you from the side and behind. So the German armies have to retreat. The Allies launch a counter-attack, so the Germans dig into defensive positions. The Allies do the same. Then both sides move north trying to outflank each other along the way. When they reach the sea, They’re in a stalemate with trench systems running the whole way from the coast to Switzerland. The beginning of trench-warfare on the Western front. Here’s, how trench warfare works: Two opposing lines of trenches with No-man’s land in between. One side would pummel the other with hundreds of thousands of artillery shells, sometimes for days at a time. This had a huge psychological effect on the soldiers leaving many shell-shocked. Then, the attacking troops would leave their trenches and rush across no-man’s land, A muddy wet mess of shell craters and barbed wire. The defending trench would unleash machine-gun fire on the attackers inflicting thousands of casualties. The attackers would send wave after wave until either they gave up or the opposing trench was finally overrun. There would be months of fighting and the deaths of thousands in order to gain a few meters or kilometers of land. Living in the trenches was hard work, too. Corpses, mud that could swallow you whole, pools of poisonous water, rats, disease, the smell… It’s insane that millions of soldiers put up with these conditions and commanders ordered them to do so for years.

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