The British navy blockaded the Central powers from receiving any "contraband." The British included foodstuffs in their definition of contraband. While some neutral nations complained, none attempted to force the issue and Germany was cut off from the markets of the Americas and Asia.
The Germans attempted to destroy British morale by using zeppelins to bomb British locations. This failed to accomplish its goal, but demonstrated how infrastructure and civilians were considered a part of the war effort and were thereby, viable targets.
After the Ottoman Empire joined the war on the side of the Central powers, the British attempted to open the Dardanelles to shipping so that they could help supply their beleaguered ally Russia. This plan was supported by then First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill. Due to poor management of the attack, the Australian and New Zealand troops were bogged down and failed to accomplish even minimal successes. The failure at Gallipoli suggested to British plan makers that the war would not be won outside the Western Front.
Italy attempted to take Austrian territories which contained ethnic Italians, but the mountainous grounds made such offensive action difficult. Hundreds of thousands of Italian troops died attempting to take hundreds of yards of ground from the well dug in Austria-Hungarian troops. These battles were complete failures and depleted both armies.
Russia mobilized more quickly than German plan makers expected and two large Russian forces entered East Prussia. The German commanders were able to take advantage of intercepted Russian communications and defeated the two forces while they were separated. The victories alleviated fears of a Russian invasion of more German territory, but had led to a weakening of the armies involved in the attack on Belgium when troops were recalled to protect eastern Germany.
German attack on Russian positions which intended to relieve Russian pressure on Austria-Hungary. It was vastly more successful than expected and took large swathes of Russian territory including Poland and the Baltic states. Although successful, and damaging to the Russian governments prestige, the German Headquarters decided to focus on the Western Front in future attacks.
Russian General Brusilov focused huge amounts of Russian resources and men on attacking Austria-Hungary. This attack benefited from the German focus on Verdun and the Western Front. The Russians took back lost lands and pushed into Austria-Hungary. While successful, this attack was costly for the Russians and was their last successful campaign. They lost the lands gained when the Germans renewed attacks on Russia in 1917.
The German army followed the Schlieffen Plan, which called for a large wheeling maneuver through neutral Belgium with the goal of encircling Paris and the French Armies on the Franco-German border. The German forces were slowed by the rigorous defenses by the Belgian forces and the arrival of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).
The French were able to take advantage of a gap in the advancing German armies. They attacked the flank of the German forces and stopped their advance at the Marne River. This ended the German hopes of the Schlieffen Plan and early victory.
German and Allied (French, British, and Belgian) forces attempted to outflank one another to the north but failed to do so. These outflanking attempts resulted in numerous indecisive battles. The failures to turn the flank of opposing armies and the success of defensive positions led to a stalemate on the Western Front as each side began working on their defensive lines.
Across the trenchlines, German soldiers began singing "Silent Night." When British soldiers joined in, an impromptu and informal truce occurred and the opposing trips met in "No Man's Land" and exchanged photos, signatures, rations, and other trinkets. Headquarters opposed such occurrences and often called for raids in areas where they occurred so that animosity would be preserved. Hence, the Christmas Truce did not result in an end to hostilities.
German Headquarters planned to "Bleed France White" by forcing French forces to attack them in a location which suited the Germans. The German army attacked the French at Verdun, a historic and heavily fortified city, in order to force the French to take back the lost areas. Since Verdun was surrounded by German held territory on three sides, the Germans would be able to bombard the French forces in the city and cause huge casualties. German commanders, however, became obsessed with taking the fortress city and the battle became one in which both sides lost huge numbers of troops.
A joint Anglo-French offensive became primarily a British assault on German-held areas with the goal of a breakthrough and alleviating pressure on the French at Verdun. The British attack relied on an extensive artillery bombardment to prepare for the assault. Although it achieved success in advancing a few miles, it was at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives. Ultimately, it was a failure and showed that the desired offensive breakthrough could not be accomplished by dogged straightforward attacks.
The French general Robert Nivelle promised an offensive that would win the war in two weeks and with light casualties. His attack had some limited successes, but maintained heavy casualties and was ultimately a failure. The attack was not substantially different from those of the 1916 battles of attrition (The Somme and Verdun).
When French units were ordered to continue fruitless attacks on German positions, a substantial number of units refused to go forward. The soldiers did not attack their officers or leave the war, but they refused to take part in offensives. The French army replaced its commander with General Petain, and he promised no more useless assaults and dealt fairly leniently with the mutineers. The French were able to keep the widespread nature of these mutinies secret from the Germans.
The British attempted to break the stalemate in the West through major offensive actions at Ypres. These attacks ultimately failed and were a scene of widespread misery. The first use of tanks occurred, but did not sway the results due to their sporadic use and unreliable nature.
This was the German attempt to win the war before American troops and material could arrive and alter the power balance. The use of German "stormtroopers" to infiltrate enemy lines and bypass strongholds succeeded in breaking through the trench lines. German troops made significant gains (relative the the stalemate of the previous years), but were halted, partially by the arrival of U.S. troops.
These attacks came on the heels of the failed German Spring Offensive. The Allies, now flush with freshly arriving American troops, pushed the Germans back to their previously held lines and beyond. This offensive demonstrated the inevitable defeat of the German forces and led to Germany's request for an armistice.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austria-Hungarian Empire, and his wife Sophie were killed by a group of Bosnian Serbs while he was visiting Bosnia, a province of the Austria-Hungarian Empire.
In response to a partial rejection of the Austria-Hungarian ultimatum, the Austria-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia.
To aid its ally in the Balkans, the Russians partially mobilized their army against Austria-Hungary and informed Germany that they did not wish to go to war with them. They hoped the partial mobilization would limit the scale of the war to one with only Austria-Hungary.
Germany saw Russian mobilization as a precursor to war and, after Russia failed to respond to a German demand to end its mobilization, mobilized against and declared war on Russia.
Due to the nature of the Schlieffen Plan, war with Russia necessitated war with France since the two were allied. When the French responded to a German note by stating that France would act in its best interests (ie. support Russia by going to war with Germany), Germany declared war on France.
Britain maintained its neutrality until the Germans invaded Belgium. This invasion gave British politicians who desired war against Germany an opportunity to force the issue. The British, who had guaranteed Belgian neutrality, declared war on Germany.
Austria-Hungary followed German lead and declared war on Russia.
Italy had remained neutral at the beginning of the war in spite of being a part of the Triple Alliance. It stated that Germany and Austria-Hungary were fighting an offensive war and it therefore had no responsibilities due to the treaty. After diplomatic discussions with both sides, Italy came in on the side of the Allies due to their promises of Austria-Hungarian territories that Italy coveted.
The German Foreign Minister, anticipating U.S. intervention on the side of the Allies, sent a telegram to the Mexican government which stated that Germany would support Mexican seizure of U.S. territory if the U.S. entered the war. This telegraph was intercepted and published in U.S. newspapers.
Russian defeats and disillusionment with the war, as well as mismanagement by the Tsar's government in domestic policies, led to mass demonstrations in Petrograd (St. Petersburg). The army supported the demonstrators and the Tsar soon abdicated. A Provisional Government, which was democratic in nature, was established; but soviets, local councils elected by workers and soldiers, also held much power. The Provisional Government chose to remain in the war despite its unpopularity.
Due to continued U.S. aggravation at the German use of unrestricted submarine warfare, the U. S. declared war on Germany. President Woodrow Wilson claimed that the U.S. sought to "make the world safe for democracy." He also issued "Fourteen Points," a set of war aims that desired such things as democratic governments, "Peace without victors," and self-determination.
Bolsheviks, a radical party of Marxist-socialists, attacked the Provisional Government and overthrew it. When the Bolsheviks failed to abide by the elections that they themselves established and delegitimized all opposition, Russia was thrown into a Civil War.
The Bolsheviks had long preached an end to the war with Germany and Austria-Hungary. They negotiated a treaty with Germany which gave large amounts of European Russia to the Germany. The humiliating treaty left the Bolshevik troops (called the Reds) able to focus on defeating opposition groups within Russia (called the Whites)
German sailors refused to set sail and this led to protests throughout Germany. The Kaiser abdicated and the provisional government negotiated an armistice. The British and American navies continued the blockade of Germany in order to maintain a good bargaining position during the treaty negotiations.