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On June 28 1914, Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist. As heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, his death sparked a standoff with Serbia which quickly grew, as European nations took sides. The Central Powers, made up of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey, quickly took the offensive against the Allied Powers, composed primarily of France, Britain, Russia, Italy, and (from 1917 on) the United States.
On the western front, Germany quickly invaded neutral Belgium and moved on to France. At the First Battle of the Marne in September of 1914, the French were finally able to halt the German offensive and solidify their lines. The conflict quickly broke down into a war of attrition, with both sides launching infantry assaults from lines of trenches, backed by machine guns and modern artillery. Neither side gained significant ground, despite staggering casualties. In 1916, tens of thousands were killed during the Battles of Verdun and the Somme in northern France.
On the eastern front, Russian forces advanced aggressively into East Prussia and Germany in 1914, only to be stopped at the Battle of Tannenberg and driven back into Russia the following year. After several failed attempts to break through German defensive lines, Russian failures and accompanying casualties eventually precipitated the Russian Revolution of 1917, in which the Bolsheviks claimed power and created the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.). The new government entered into the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany the following year, ceding significant territory to the Central Powers and taking Russia out of the conflict.
Other conflicts occurred across Europe and northern Africa, as well. British and French forces attempted unsuccessfully to drive Turks out of the Dardanelles during the Gallipoli Campaign of 1915. That same year, Serbia fell to Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian forces. During the Battles of the Isonzo, Italian and Austrian forces engaged in a series of costly and painfully inconsequential battles. Hundreds of thousands were lost in these conflicts, with no real ground gained for either side. Elsewhere, the Allies had more success. In 1917, Britain overcame Turkish forces in the Mesopotamian Campaign to capture Baghdad, and took Jerusalem during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign. Russia succeeded in driving the Turks out of the Caucasus. The Arab Revolt, begun by Arab nationalists at the Battle of Mecca, also contributed to the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
The United States took an isolationist approach to the war for several years, but this changed in 1917. Early in the war, the British had instituted a naval blockade of Germany, effectively cutting off military and civilian supplies to strangle the enemy offensive. Germany responded by commencing unrestricted attacks on Atlantic shipping. After German submarines began attacks on neutral shipping, the United States finally joined the conflict. As fresh American troops reinforced the exhausted Allied forces, the Allies began a steady march across France and Belgium recovering territory.
In the face of a renewed and powerful Allied force, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire surrendered in the fall of 1918. Germany entered into a November ceasefire. The Treaty of Versailles was finally signed on June 28, 1919, officially ending the conflict often remembered as the War to End All Wars.
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