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The Cambridge History of the First World War
  • Cited by 6
  • Volume 1: Global War
  • Edited by Jay Winter, Yale University, Connecticut
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Book description

This first volume of The Cambridge History of the First World War provides a comprehensive account of the war's military history. An international team of leading historians charts how a war made possible by globalization and imperial expansion unfolded into catastrophe, growing year by year in scale and destructive power far beyond that which anyone had anticipated in 1914. Adopting a global perspective, the volume analyses the spatial impact of the war and the subsequent ripple effects that occurred both regionally and across the world. It explores how imperial powers devoted vast reserves of manpower and material to their war efforts and how, by doing so, they changed the political landscape of the world order. It also charts the moral, political and legal implications of the changing character of war and, in particular, the collapse of the distinction between civilian and military targets.


'… both scholarly and deftly drafted, a joy to read. It provides broad as well as deep analysis of just about every conceivable facet of this global catastrophe. It deserves close reading and contemplation.'

Len Shurtleff - World War One Historical Association

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Page 1 of 2

  • Part I - A Narrative History
    pp 13-198
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    The First World War has long been considered a non-event in the history of contemporary Latin America, far from the main theatres of military operations. To the first level of analysis of Latin American neutrality in 1914 were added economic considerations of prime importance for the profitable investing nations, mostly exporters of raw materials and importers of manufactured products, structurally dependent on the outside world. More evident in the southern cone of South America and Brazil than in the rest of Latin America, and fundamentally urban, the mobilisation of the communities of European origin during the Great War remained constant from the end of 1914 to the Armistice in November 1918, even, in some cases, into the 1920s, and played a decisive role in the gradual involvement of the Latin American societies in the conflict.
  • 8 - The Western Front
    pp 204-233
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    This chapter examines the long-term and deeper causes of what is called the primordial catastrophe of the twentieth century. It is also concerned with the moods and mentalities and the bearing that these had on the outbreak of war in 1914. The chapter commences with the origins of the First World War. To grasp the highly dynamic developments that the societies of Europe underwent in the three or four decades before 1914, the impact of industrialisation, demography and urbanisation is considered as major background factors. The chapter also discusses social imperialism, electoral politics, cultural optimism, cultural pessimism and the preventive war in 1914. There are two key documents that date from the spring of 1914 after the international and domestic situation in Germany and Austria-Hungary had deteriorated further in 1913. Finally, the chapter talks about the key to understanding what happened in Europe in July and August 1914.
  • 9 - The Eastern Front
    pp 234-265
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    On 28 July 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. The Serb government declared that the political strategy was not concerned by an event that was internal to Austria-Hungary because the authors of the attack were all Bosniacs and thus Austro-Hungarian subjects. Austria was increasingly weakened by pressures from north and south, and would be incapable of following Germany into a war. The German rulers were convinced that rapid action would prevent the other powers from intervening in the conflict between Serbia and Austria-Hungary. If Russia did not fall in with the wish for localisation and acted militarily in support of Serbia, it would show proof of its war-mongering and pan-Slavist aims. In the end, if a climate of risk of war had developed, it was indeed the army leaders who provoked the outbreak of the war, applying pressure on hesitant or paralysed civilian powers.
  • 10 - The Italian Front
    pp 266-296
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    The year 1915 saw the gradual invention of a new kind of war activity which permanently transformed the actual image of the war. During 1915, the war cultures became enduringly crystallised around a body of mobilising themes, words and images which confirmed the meaning initially attributed to the war itself. The question of control of the seas was of central importance during the course of 1915. The blockade imposed on the Central Powers, and the submarine war designed in response to unlock its grip, were thus determining elements in totalisation of the conflict. The consequences of the blockade, in terms of food supply and the economy on the one hand and of military and diplomatic matters on the other, and, finally, of morale, were indeed considerable. They were to be an enduring burden throughout the rest of the war.
  • 11 - The Ottoman Front
    pp 297-320
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    The French, with some British assistance, tried to blast their way through the Western Front by enormous offensives in the spring and autumn. In 1916 the major powers sought to increase their production of armaments, before they made additional attempts to break this stalemate. Germany was the most successful in this endeavour. Britain entered the war with a munitions-industry designed almost exclusively for the use of the navy. The transformation of Britain into a major military, as against naval, power, was looked on with consternation by the decision-makers in Berlin. This especially troubled the German Commander-in-Chief, Falkenhayn. Falkenhayn always intended to capture Verdun but wrote a post-war justification for the nature of the battle into his paper. The battles in 1916 were some of the largest seen in the melancholy tale of men at war. The British alone at the River Somme threw some 15 million shells at the Germans.
  • 12 - The war at sea
    pp 321-348
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    The year 1917 began an important transition on the battlefield. The battles of Cambrai, Riga and Caporetto represented the start of a shift from the infantry-based age of mass assaults to the mechanical, combined-arms approach that featured infantry working with aviation, artillery and armour in various combinations. This transition showed the fulfilment of the Industrial Revolution and its impacts on war. Nivelle's optimism was infectious among politicians who wanted desperately to believe that he had unlocked the secret to modern warfare. Douglas Haig, the British commander, had received discouraging reports about the French army, including some that suggested that French soldiers were demanding peace and refusing to salute their officers. Haig concluded that his long-desired offensive in Flanders offered the best way to draw the Germans away from the French and give his ally the time it desperately needed.
  • 13 - The air war
    pp 349-375
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    A peace treaty with Soviet Russia was signed in the Belorussian town of Brest-Litovsk on 918, but the treaty only confirmed what everybody had known since autumn 1917: that the central powers had won the war on the Eastern Front. After Germany and Austria-Hungary had lost the war they placed their hopes on the programme outlined by American President Woodrow Wilson. German general Erich Ludendorff shared the imperialist dreams of some of the military, political and economic elite, and wanted to exploit the collapse of the Russian-Empire and the power vacuum it created by expanding borders, promoting colonisation and securing German dominance in Eastern-Europe for the foreseeable future. Bulgaria was the first of the central powers to accept defeat. Ludendorff hoped that a democratic Germany would get better terms but he also wanted the democrats, especially the Social Democrats, to take the responsibility for the defeat.
  • 14 - Strategic command
    pp 376-400
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    The signing of the Treaty of Versailles, on 28 June 1919, in the Hall of Mirrors, represented a kind of apotheosis. It was followed by the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye with Austria, the Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine with Bulgaria, then the Treaty of Trianon with Hungary and the Treaty of Sèvres with Turkey, itself revised in the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923. The emissaries were Hermann Muller and Johannes Bell sign the Treaty of Versailles that would bring the First World War to an end. Several factors explain the violence of the post-war period, namely, the repercussions of the Russian Revolution in 1917 in Russia and other countries, and the frustrations born of defeat. The forced transfer of populations between Greece and Turkey, undertaken under the auspices of the League of Nations in 1923, was the most dramatic consequence of the ethnic violence that broke out inthe immediate post-war period.
  • Part III - World War
    pp 401-556
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    The First World War is a good example of the dialectic of norm, conflict and revision and of the passions and polemics that accompany it. During the war, the habitual charge that the enemy-committed atrocities was translated into charges that could be tried under international law. The norms of warfare in the pre-war period served to judge the escalating violence of the war but also to blame the enemy for the worst transgressions, which occurred in various contexts, war on land, invasions and occupations, the home front, war at sea and war in the air. Land warfare immediately revealed that the protected status of the legitimate combatant, the soldier or sailor who was wounded or taken prisoner, was far from secure. The French accused the Germans of using the Red Cross flag as a ruse in battle and of executing an immense number of wounded soldiers.
  • 15 - The imperial framework
    pp 405-432
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    The Western Front became one of the defining images of the Great War. The problem of Western Front was that to make ground men had to leave the security of their trenches and attack an entrenched enemy across a strip of ground that soon became known with some accuracy as no-man's-land. What makes the Battle of Neuve Chapelle even more exceptional is that it was one of the first trench warfare encounters to take place on the Western Front. Two of the largest battles ever fought, Verdun and the Somme, were fought during 1916. Germany commander General von Falkenhay was the first to undertake an offensive in 1916. The Allied armies had now developed methods that could overcome the Germans whether they lurked behind strong defences or were in the open. The main factor in wearing down the German army was the Ludendorff offensives of 1918.
  • 16 - Africa
    pp 433-458
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    This chapter focuses on three events to demonstrate some larger military developments on the Eastern Front. It also explains why they were turning points of First World-War and how they influenced its duration and outcome. The encounters presented in the chapter are the Battle of Tannenberg, the fall of Przemyśl and the Battle of Gorlice-Tarnów, and the Brusilov offensive. The victory of Tannenberg gave Germany time to organise its defence in the East, and indeed during the rest of the war Russian-forces were unable to defeat German-troops in a major battle. The surrender of Przemyśl could easily have been a Stalingrad of the First World War. The logic of Gorlice-Tarnów offensive was closely connected with the Austrian defeat at Przemyśl. The prominent feature of Brusilov attack hit the Austrian lines on a large-sector of the front, and quickly became a major success.

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