Random Facts: World War I

WWI began on June 28, 1914, when a Serbian terrorist shot and killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 28, 1914. Russia and France sided with Serbia, and Germany supported Austria-Hungary. Other countries around the world were soon pulled into the fighting. WWI officially ended 4 years later on November 11, 1918.

The United States joined WWI during the final year and half of fighting.

Although Germany may have forced the hand of the European powers in the summer of 1914, it did not cause war. Germany was not responsible for creating the atmosphere in which war was a probability. WWI broke out against a background of rivalry between the world’s great powers, including Britain, Germany, France, Russia, Austria-Hungry, Italy, the Ottoman Empire, and Japan. The previous 40 years were characterized by increasing nationalism, imperialism. militarism, and various alliances.

More than 65 million men from 30 countries fought in WWI. Nearly 10 million died. The Allies (The Entente Powers) lost about 6 million soldiers. The Central Powers lost about 4 million.

Nearly 2/3 of military deaths in WWI were in battle. In previous conflicts, most deaths were due to disease.

Tanks were initially called “landships.” However, in an attempt to disguise them as water storage tanks rather than as weapons, the British decided to code name them “tanks.”

The most successful fighter pilot of the entire war was German fighter pilot Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen (1892-1918), or the “Red Baron.” He shot down 80 planes, more than any other WWI pilot. He died after being shot down near Amiens. France’s René Fonck (1894-1953) was the Allies’ most successful fighter pilot, shooting down 75 enemy planes.

The term “dogfight” originated during WWI. The pilot had to turn off the plane’s engine from time to time so it would not stall when the plane turned quickly in the air. When a pilot restarted his engine midair, it sounded like dogs barking.

Edith Cavell (1865- 12th October 1915) was a British nurse who saved soldiers from all sides. When she helped 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium, the Germans arrested her and she was executed by a German firing squad. Her death helped turn global opinion against Germany.

The Harlem HellFighters were one of the few African American units that saw the front lines. For their extraordinary acts of heroism, the soldiers received the French Croix de Guerre, a medal awarded to soldiers from Allied countries for bravery in combat. However, in the U.S their deeds were largely ignored.

WWI helped bring about the emancipation of women. Women took over many traditionally male jobs and showed that they could perform them just as well as men. In 1918, most women over the age of 30 were given the vote in the British parliamentary elections. Two years later, the 19th amendment granted American women the vote.

WWI helped hasten medical advances. Physicians learned better wound management and the setting of bones. Harold Gillies, an English doctor, pioneered skin graft surgery. The huge scale of those who needed medical care in WWI helped teach physicians and nurses the advantages of specialization and professional management.

WWI is the sixth deadliest conflict in world history. There were over 35 million civilian and soldier casualties in WWI. Over 15 million died and 20 million were wounded.

Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen (1892-1918)