World War I timeline


This World War I timeline lists significant events and developments from the mid-1800s to the Treaty of Versailles. It has been written and compiled by Alpha History authors.

Background
1839
April 19th: The signing of the Treaty of London, a multi-national agreement that acknowledges and guarantees Belgian neutrality.

1871
January 18th: The unification of Germany is finalised and the Hohenzollern monarch Wilhelm I is proclaimed as kaiser.

May 10th: The Treaty of Frankfurt is signed, formally ending the Franco-Prussian War.

July: The publication of The Battle of Dorking, British pulp fiction telling the story of a German invasion.

1879
October 7th: Germany and Austria-Hungary sign a military alliance.

1882
May 20th: The signing of the Triple Alliance between Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy.

1888
June 15th: Prussian crown prince Wilhelm becomes Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany.

1894
January 4th: The signing of the Franco-Russian Alliance.

November 1st: Nicholas II becomes tsar of the Russian Empire.

1901
January 22nd: The death of Queen Victoria, Britain’s longest reigning monarch. During her reign Britain’s industry, manufacturing, commerce and imperial power have all markedly increased.

1904
February 8th
: War erupts between Russia and Japan, over disputed territory in Manchuria (China) and Korea.

April 8th: The signing of the Anglo-French Entente Cordiale.

1905
January 22nd
: Workers in St Petersburg, Russia, march on the palace of the tsar, demanding political reforms and better working conditions. They are fired upon by soldiers and scores are killed.

March 31st: Kaiser Wilhelm II visits Tangier and speaks in support of Moroccan independence. This triggers controversy by threatening French interests and influence in Morocco.

May 28th: The Russian Baltic fleet is defeated by the Japanese navy at Tsushima. Most of the Russian fleet is sunk or captured, greatly reducing Russian naval power.

June 15th: As tensions with Germany worsen, France puts its military on alert and cancels all leave.

September 5th: Russia signs the Treaty of Portsmouth, formally ending its war with Japan. The war is both an economic disaster and a humiliating defeat for Russia. It also signals the rise of Japan as an Asian military power.

December 30th: Germany, fearing a possible war with France over the Morocco affair, calls its reserve troops to duty.

1906
January 16th:
Thirteen nations attend a conference at Algeciras to formulate a solution to the Moroccan crisis.

February 10th: Britain launches HMS Dreadnought, the first modern battleship.

May 31st: The Algeciras conference signs an agreement on Morocco, with France retaining its considerable influence there.

1908
July 24th: In the Ottoman Empire, the ‘Young Turk Revolution’ comes to a conclusion with the sultan agreeing to adopt a constitution.

1909
August 2nd: The US Army signs a purchase order for a military aircraft, manufactured by Orville and Wilbur Wright.

1910
May 6th: In Britain, King George V ascends the throne following the death of his father, Edward VII.

1911
July 1st: The German gunboat Panther triggers the Agadir crisis in Morocco.

1912
October 8th: The outbreak of the First Balkan War between the Ottoman Empire and the Balkan League of Greece, Serbia, Montenegro and Bulgaria.

November 5th: Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson is elected as the 28th president of the United States.

1913
March 4th:
Woodrow Wilson is inaugurated as US president.

May 30th: The signing of the Treaty of London ends the First Balkan War. The Ottoman Empire is stripped of almost all of its European territory, while an independent Albania is created.

June 29th: The outbreak of the Second Balkan War, triggered by territorial disputes emanating from the first war.

August 10th: The Treaty of Bucharest ends the Second Balkan War. Bulgaria is defended and Serbia’s territory is increased by almost 40,000 square kilometres.

October 18th: An Austro-Hungarian ultimatum leads to Serbia withdrawing troops from Albania.

1914

April 21st: The United States lands soldiers in Veracruz, Mexico, following an incident with Mexican troops. A US-Mexico war is averted but the American soldiers remain there for six months.

June 28th: Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife are assassinated by Serb nationalists, including Gavrilo Princip, during an official visit to Sarajevo.

The July Crisis begins

July 5th: Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II pledges to support Austria-Hungary and encourages Vienna to take “strong action” against Serbia for the “Sarajevo outrage”.

July 7th: Austro-Hungarian ministers hold a seven-hour meeting to form a course of action with regard to Serbia.

July 23rd: Austria-Hungary issues Serbia with a ten-point ultimatum, giving Belgrade just 48 hours to respond.

July 24th: Tsar Nicholas II secretly orders the partial mobilisation of Russian forces.

July 25th: Serbia responds to the ultimatum but fails to agree to all its conditions, prompting Austria-Hungary to sever diplomatic ties with Belgrade.

July 26th: The Serbian government orders a mobilisation of its forces, anticipating an immediate attack by Austrian forces.

July 28th: Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia. An Austrian contingent bombards Belgrade and prepares to invade.

July 29th: Tsar Nicholas II orders the full mobilisation of the Russian military to assist the Serbs. British naval chief Winston Churchill places his men on alert and orders the British fleet to sail to Scapa Flow.

The outbreak of war

August 1st: Germany formally declares war on Russia. France orders the full mobilisation of its military forces. Italy declares its neutrality in the event of  a war.

August 3rd: Germany formally declares war on France. German troops implement the Schlieffen Plan and invade France, Belgium and Luxembourg.

August 4th: Great Britain declares war on Germany and Austria for violating Belgian neutrality. Canada, Australia and New Zealand follow Britain in declaring war on Germany.

August 6th: Austria-Hungary declares war on Russia and Germany declares war on Serbia.

August 14th: French troops begin an offensive aimed at recapturing the disputed territory of Lorraine.

August 17th: Russian forces invade East Prussia. The Battle of Tannenberg begins nine days later. The first sections of the British Expeditionary Force begin to arrive at French ports.

August 20th: German forces capture Brussels.

August 22nd: French troops fail in their attempt to recapture the ‘lost’ province of Lorraine; 27,000 die in a single day. Japan, a British ally, declares war on Germany.

August 28th: The Battle of Heligoland Bight, the first naval battle of World War I, results in a decisive British victory.

August 30th: German forces complete a comprehensive victory over the Russians at Tannenberg. More than 200,000 Russians are killed, injured, missing or taken prisoner. The Russians defeat the Austrians at Lemberg. A New Zealand brigade captures German-occupied Samoa in the Pacific.

September 5th: Allied leaders sign the Declaration of London, promising not to sign separate armistices or peace deals with Germany.

September 6th: French, British and German troops engage near the Marne River, north east of Paris.

September 12th: The First Battle of the Marne halts the German advance toward Paris. It also marks the first significant use of trench defences.

September 14th: Defeat at the Marne and the failure of the Schlieffen Plan lead to the Kaiser replacing Helmuth von Moltke as chief of staff.

September 17th: The German submarine U-9 sinks three ageing British cruisers (the Aboukir, Hogue and Cressy) in the North Sea, with the loss of some 1,450 lives.

October 19th: Allied and German troops clash at Ypres in Belgium. Fighting at Ypres rages for more than a month, then periodically throughout the war.

October 27th: The British Dreadnought HMS Audacious, one of the largest ships in the Royal Navy, sinks after hitting a German mine.

October 29th: After weeks of speculation and posturing, the Ottoman Empire joins the war alongside the Central Powers.

November 1st: The British navy loses two cruisers and almost 1,600 at the Battle of Coronel, off the coast of Chile.

November 5th: Britain, France and Russia declare war on the Ottoman Empire.

November 9th: After destroying 15 Allied ships and harassing Indian ports, the German light cruiser SMS Emden is located and sunk by the Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney.

December 25th: Soldiers in various locations on the Western Front call an unofficial ‘Christmas truce’.

1915
January 1st: The British battleship HMS Formidable is torpedoed and sunk in the English Channel, with the loss of 545 lives.

January 19th: The first German Zeppelin (airship) bombing raid against English territory.

January 28th: A German cruiser sinks an American cargo vessel, William P. Frye, near Brazil. The Frye was carrying wheat destined for England and the sinking increases calls for the US to enter the war. Germany later apologises for the incident.

February 4th: Berlin announces a blockade of the British Isles, with all ships, Allied or neutral, considered targets for German U-boats.

February 16th: British ships begin to bombard Ottoman positions in the Dardanelles, to protect Allied shipping.

March 1st: A German U-boat sinks the RMS Falaba, a British civilian ship, resulting in 104 deaths.

April 10th: The German submarine UB-4 sinks a British cargo ship, Harpalyce. in the North Sea. The Harpalyce was en route to the US to collect food for starving Belgians. It was carrying a white flag and was clearly marked as a relief ship.

April 20th: US president Woodrow Wilson again asserts American neutrality, stating that “no nation is fit to sit in judgement on any other nation”.

April 22nd: German forces use chlorine gas at Ypres.

April 25th: British Commonwealth and French troops land at Gallipoli, Turkey, but their progress is soon halted by tactical errors and strong local resistance.

April 26th: After a series of secret negotiations, Italy and the Allies sign the Treaty of London, preparing for Italy’s entry into the war.

May 7th: The British liner RMS Lusitania is sunk by German submarine U-20. There are 1,198 deaths, including 128 Americans. The incident causes outrage in several nations, particularly the US and Britain. Several attacks on Germans and German-owned businesses are reported.

May 10th: Woodrow Wilson tells a Philadelphia audience that “there is such a thing as a man being too proud to fight”.

May 21st: The London Daily Mail launches a scathing attack on war secretary Lord Kitchener, blaming his mismanagement for a shortage of artillery shells on the Western Front. This marks the beginning of the ‘Shell Crisis’.

May 23rd: Italy declares war on Germany and Austria-Hungary, as per its commitments in the Treaty of London.

May 25th: The Second Battle of Ypres ends in stalemate and more than 100,000 casualties on both sides.

May 25th: Following the criticism and controversy of the Shell Crisis, British prime minister Asquith reforms his cabinet, assembling a coalition government with several Conservatives.

June 16th: The Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George, is appointed to head the newly formed Ministry of Munition and resolve the shortfall in artillery shells.

July 9th: After almost a year of fighting, British, South African and Rhodesian troops capture German South-west Africa (Namibia) and its capital Windhoek. Two days later the German cruiser SMS Konigsberg is cornered and destroyed in the Rufiji River, Tanzania.

August 4th: German troops capture the Polish capital Warsaw. Most of Poland is now in German and Austrian hands.

August 6th: The Allies attempt to break the stalemate at Gallipoli by landing another 25,000 men and launching another offensive. It is blocked by the Turkish defences.

August 21st: Italy declares war on Turkey.

September 5th: Tsar Nicholas II sacks his military commander and takes personal command of the Russian army.

September 6th: After a year of neutrality and being courted by both sides, Bulgaria joins the war alongside Germany and the Central Powers.

September 18th: Under pressure from the United States, Berlin calls an indefinite halt to its campaign of unrestricted submarine warfare. German U-boats are redeployed in the Mediterranean Sea, bringing some relief for civilian shipping around Britain.

September 22nd: Bulgaria begins to mobilise its army. Two days later the Bulgarians initiate an assault against Serbia.

October 6th: Austro-Hungarian forces attempt a second invasion of Serbia, this time supported by Bulgarian troops. Belgrade is captured and the depleted Serbian army is forced to retreat to the west.

October 12th: Edith Cavell, a British nurse who helped Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium, is executed by a German firing squad.

December 19th: General Sir Douglas Haig becomes commander of British forces on the Western Front.

December 28th: Allies begin a covert withdrawal of troops from Gallipoli. This is proceeds well and is completed successfully.

1916
January 7th: United States president Woodrow Wilson publicises his war policy of ‘preparedness’.

January 27th: The British parliament passes the Military Service Act, introducing conscription for unmarried men between the ages of 18 and 41.

February 8th: Food shortages in Berlin lead to long queues and riots.

February 10th: Britain’s Military Service Act comes into effect, permitting conscription of single men aged 18-41.

February 21st: Germans launch a massive offensive at Verdun, near France’s north eastern border. The Battle of Verdun will continue for ten months, involve 2.2 million soldiers and claim 305,000 lives.

March 9th: Germany declares war on Portugal and Portugal reciprocates. Portugal was nominally neutral but had been assisting the Allies.

March 15th: The chief of the German navy, Admiral von Tirpitz, resigns. Tirpitz wanted a return to unrestricted submarine warfare.

March 24th: The SS Sussex, a cross-channel ferry operating between England and France, is torpedoed by German submarine UB-29. Between 50 and 100 are killed, almost all of them civilians.

March 26th: Representatives of all Allied governments gather in Paris for a three day war conference.

April 19th: Woodrow Wilson calls on Germany to abandon its policy of sinking civilian shipping without warning.

April 24th: Irish republicans, frustrated at the war and the failure of Home Rule in Ireland, attempt to seize control of Dublin. The Easter Rising, as it becomes known, lasts for five days before being crushed by reinforcements of British troops.

May 4th: Under pressure from America, Germany abandons its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare and sinking without warning.

May 19th: British and French complete Sykes-Picot Agreement, giving each control over areas in the Middle East.

May 31st: Battle of Jutland, the largest naval battle of World War I, commences in the North Sea and lasts for two days. The outcome of the battle is inconclusive, however both sides suffered heavy losses of ships and personnel.

June 5th: The British cruiser HMS Hampshire hits a German mine near Scotland and sinks. One of the 650 dead is Lord Kitchener, Britain’s Secretary of State for War.

July 1st: Battle of the Somme begins; British forces suffer a record 60,000 casualties in a single day.

August 27th: Romania enters the war alongside the Allies, sending troops into Transylvania to seize it from Austria-Hungary. Germany declares war on Romania the following day.

September: German and Austrian troops counter attack and overrun Romania.

September 15th: Tanks are deployed for the first time – by British forces at the Somme.

October 26th: The Battle of Dover Strait. Defensive barrages and shipping in the English Channel are attacked by 23 German torpedo boats, resulting in the loss of a destroyer and several smaller craft.

October 28th: Australians vote in the first of two plebiscites about the issue of conscription. The proposal to introduce compulsory military service is narrowly defeated, 1.16 million to 1.09 million.

November 7th: Woodrow Wilson is re-elected as United States president, after campaigning that he would keep America out of the war.

November 18th: The Battle of the Somme concludes after four and a half months’ fighting. Combined casualties exceed 1.2 million but the outcome of the battle is inconclusive.

November 21st: The ruler of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor, Franz Joseph, dies in Vienna, aged 86. He is replaced on the throne by his 29-year-old grand nephew, Charles I.

December 5th: Facing strong public criticism and dissent within his own cabinet and party, British prime minister H. H. Asquith tenders his resignation.

December 7th: David Lloyd George becomes British prime minister.

December 12th: Germany proposes peace talks to negotiate an end to the war. The proposal does not contain any conditions or detail and is rejected by the Allies.

December 29th: The Siberian monk Grigori Rasputin is murdered in Petrograd. His assassins were trying to protect the tsarist regime by ending Rasputin’s influence over the tsarina and political interference.

1917
January 16th: The notorious ‘Zimmerman telegram’ is sent by German foreign minister Arthur Zimmerman, to Heinrich von Eckard, Germany’s ambassador to Mexico. British code-breakers decipher the telegram three days later. The contents of the telegram are given to the United States the following month.

January 31st: Germany announces it will again engage in unrestricted U-boat warfare against all Allied shipping.

February 3rd: In response to Berlin’s revival of unrestricted submarine warfare, the US cuts off diplomatic ties with Germany.

February 25th: The passenger ship RMS Laconia is sunk by German torpedoes near Ireland, causing 12 deaths.

March 1st: US government releases the Zimmerman telegram to the press, provoking public outcry.

March 15th: Russian tsar Nicholas II abdicates, following pressure from civilian politicians and his military commanders. Temporary control of Russia passes to a Provisional Government.

April 2nd: President Woodrow Wilson asks Congress to declare war on Germany. Congress does so four days later.

April 7th: Cuba declares war on Germany, followed by Panama the next day.

April 16th: The socialist leader Vladimir Ulyanov, or Lenin, returns to Russia after years living in exile. Lenin’s return is facilitated by the German high command, which hopes he will destabilise and weaken the Russian government by stimulating a revolution.

April 19th: The USS Mongolia, a converted passenger liner, fires on and damages the German submarine UB-40 in the English Channel. This marks the first offensive act by American forces in the war.

April 21st: Several German torpedo boats bombard the Dover coastline and are engaged by two British destroyers. Two German ships are sunk.

June 13th: German aircraft carry out a daylight bombing run over London. They cause 162 deaths, including 16 children killed in a primary school. It is the deadliest aerial attack on England of the war.

June 26th: Greece formally enters the war alongside the Allies, declaring war on the Central Powers.

July 31st: The Allies launch the Battle o f Passchendaele, also known as the Third Battle of Ypres. It lasts for three and a half months and produces a tactical Allied victory, albeit with heavy loss of life. Passchendaele becomes known for its atrocious battlefield conditions, with many soldiers drowning in deep craters or thick mud.

August 16th: China declares war on Germany and the Central Powers.

August 29th: The Canadian parliament passes the Military Service Act, authorising the government to use conscription.

September 17th: Desperate for enlistments, the German military calls for 15 year old volunteers.

October 15th:  Margaretha Zella, better known as ‘Mata Hari’, is executed by a firing squad in France, after being found guilty of working as a German spy.

November 7th: In the Russian capital Petrograd, socialist militias led by Lenin and Leon Trotsky storm the Winter Palace and arrest members of the Provisional Government. The government of Russia passes to the Bolshevik-led Soviets.

November 17th: Georges Clemenceau, the former leader known for his hatred of Germany, is returned as prime minister of France.

December 9th: British and Commonwealth troops capture Jerusalem from the Ottomans.

December 16th: Soviet Russia and Germany sign an armistice, ending Russia’s active involvement in the war.

December 20th: A second plebiscite in Australia votes against introducing conscription, 1.18 million votes to 1.02 million.

1918

January 8th: US president Woodrow Wilson delivers a speech to Congress, containing the basis of what will become his Fourteen Points.

January 19th: Lenin and the Bolsheviks shut down the Constituent Assembly, Russia’s first democratically constituted government, after just one day. This marks the beginning of socialist dictatorship in Russia.

February 10th: The British government creates the Ministry of Information, headed by Lord Beaverbrook, to coordinate and oversee war reports and propaganda.

February 17th: Frustrated by stalling from Soviet delegates during treaty negotiations, Germany suspends the armistice and renews its attack on Russia.

March 3rd: The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk is signed by Germany and Soviet Russia. Desperate for peace, the Soviets accept punitive peace terms that surrender large amounts of territory to Germany – including the loss of importing farming and industrial resources.

March 21st: German troops begin the Spring Offensive, their last great attempt to penetrate the Western Front. The offensive is overseen by Erich Ludendorff.

March 26th: France’s Marshal Ferdinand Foch is appointed Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, after conferences identify a lack of unity and coordination between different armies.

April 1st: The British government creates the Royal Air Force. It replaces the Royal Flying Corps, which had existed as a division of the army.

April 2nd: Anti-conscription riots in Quebec are quelled with the imposition of martial law.

April 21st: The German flying ace Manfred von Richtofen, better known as the ‘Red Baron’, is shot down and killed in France.

April 30th: The first wave of US combat troops arrives in France.

June 24th: The German gun ‘Big Bertha’, the largest artillery piece used in World War I, fires shells at Paris from 75 miles (120 kilometres) away.

June 27th: The Canadian hospital ship HMHS Llandovery Castle is torpedoed by German submarine U-86, south of the Irish coast, killing 234 people. Men from the U-86 were observed ramming lifeboats and machine gunning survivors.

July 17th: The deposed Tsar Nicholas II and his family are executed by a Bolshevik firing squad in Ekaterinburg, after spending more than a year under house arrest.

September 29th: Bulgaria becomes the first of the Central Powers to surrender, signing an armistice with the Allies.

October 3rd: The governments of Germany and Austria-Hungary forward a note to US president Woodrow Wilson, requesting an armistice and peace negotiations.

October 21st: Berlin calls a halt to its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare.

October 27th: Germany general Erich Ludendorff, second in command to Hindenburg, resigns his position.

October 30th: A delegation from the Ottoman Empire signs an armistice with the Allies.

November 3rd: Austria-Hungary signs an armistice with the Allies; a week later its emperor relinquishes power. Sailors of the German fleet mutiny at Kiel, triggering a wave of mutinies, strikes and revolts across Germany.

November 4th: British war poet Wilfred Owen is killed in action in France, one week before the armistice. Owen’s mother is informed of his death shortly after learning of the armistice.

November 7th: German military commanders meet with French generals at Compiegne and begin negotiating an alliance.

November 9th: German chancellor Prince Max von Baden proclaims the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II. The kaiser flees Germany to Holland the following day.

November 11th: German and French officers meet in a French rail car and sign an armistice at 5am Paris time. Fighting ends some six hours later, at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month.

Fighting in World War I ends

Aftermath
January 10th: The Spartacus League, communists led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, seize control of Berlin. Their attempt to initiate a German revolution is crushed within five days. Both Liebknecht and Luxemburg are captured and executed.

January 18th: Peace talks begin in Paris. A week later the delegates reach an in principle agreement to accept Wilson’s proposal for a League of Nations to resolve international disputes and conflict.

January 21st: The Allies lift their naval blockade of Turkey.

February 6th: In Germany, a newly formed elected legislature, the National Assembly, meets in the city of Weimar.

April 4th: Communists in Bavaria overthrow the government there and establish a Soviet republic. Their attempted revolution is crushed by German troops and Freikorps (nationalist militias) within four weeks.

April 7th: Frustrated by excessive French demands, President Wilson threatens to leave the peace conference.

May 6th: The Paris peace conference votes to strip Germany of all colonies, redistributing them to various Allied powers.

May 7th: The final draft of the Treaty of Versailles is submitted to delegates from Germany.

June 20th: German chancellor Philipp Scheidemann refuses to sign the Treaty of Versailles and resigns in protest.

June 21st: German naval officers order the scuttling (intentional sinking) of German ships detained in Scapa Flow.

June 28th: The Treaty of Versailles is formally signed, marking the official end of World War I.

June 28th: The Polish Minority Treaty is also signed at Versailles, creating the independent state of Poland.

July 12th: The Allies lift the naval blockade of Germany, five days after Germans ratify the treaty and eight months after the armistice. Thousands of Germans have died of starvation in that period.

September 10th: The signing of the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Lye, dissolving the Austro-Hungarian Empire and redistributing its territories.

November 11th: Britons commemorate the first anniversary of the signing of the Armistice, with two minutes silence in London. This commemoration later becomes Armistice Day, then Remembrance Day.

November 19th: Despite Woodrow Wilson’s support, the US Senate votes against ratifying and accepting membership of the League of Nations.


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This page was written by Jennifer Llewellyn, Jim Southey and Steve Thompson. To reference this page, use the following citation:
J. Llewellyn et al, “World War I timeline” at Alpha History, http://alphahistory.com/worldwar1/world-war-i-timeline/, 2014, accessed [date of last access].