16.2 Fighting the Great War

World War I—known at the time as the “Great War”—was the largest conflict in history up to that time. The French mobilized almost 8.5 million men, the British nearly 9 million, the Russians 12 million, and the Germans 11 million. For those who fought, the statistics were more personal. “One out of every four men who went out to the World War did not come back again,” recalled a survivor, “and of those who came back, many are maimed and blind and some are mad.”

Photo of young men in soldiers uniforms burdened with packs, walking on an outdoor path.

Austrian soldiers advance into Russian Poland during the winter of 1915.


  • Understand how trench warfare led to a stalemate on the Western Front.
  • Identify and describe the impact of modern military technology on the fighting.
  • Outline the course of the war on multiple European fronts.
  • Explain how World War I was a global conflict.

Key Terms

  • stalemate
  • zeppelin
  • U-boat
  • convoy
  • Dardanelles
  • T. E. Lawrence

A New Kind of War

The early enthusiasm for the war soon faded. There were no stirring cavalry charges, no quick and glorious victories. This was a new kind of war, far deadlier than any before.

Stalemate on the Western Front

As the war began, German forces fought their way through Belgium toward Paris, following the Schlieffen Plan. The Belgians resisted more than German generals had expected, but the German forces prevailed. However, Germany's plans for a quick defeat of France soon faltered.

The Schlieffen Plan failed for several reasons. First, Russia mobilized more quickly than expected. After Russian forces won a few small victories in eastern Prussia, German generals hastily shifted some troops to the east. This move weakened their forces in the west. Then, in September 1914, British and French troops pushed back the German drive along the Marne River. The first battle of the Marne ended Germany's hopes for a quick victory on the Western Front.

Both sides then began to dig deep trenches to protect their armies from fierce enemy fire. They did not know that the conflict would turn into a long, deadly stalemate, a deadlock in which neither side is able to defeat the other. Battle lines in France would remain almost unchanged for four years.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments