Monday, 28 July 2014


As the 100th anniversary of the formation of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) approaches, understanding why this unique formation was created and deployed to Belgium and France during the First World War necessitates a look at some of the major events that paved the way for war to be initiated in 1914. 

Rise of the German Empire

To better explain how war materialized in 1914, the rise of the German Empire must be briefly touched upon.  The German state that found itself engaged in a bitter struggle from 1914-1918 did not exist prior to 1870.  Instead, numerous Germanic states of various sizes occupied the territory.  The Kingdom of Prussia, the largest and most powerful of these, embarked upon a campaign in 1848 to unify the Germanic states.  Following the defeat of France during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, the German Empire finally came into being.  For the major European powers, this development undermined the balance of power that existed on the European continent.  For France and Russia, they now had to contend with a new, large, and powerful enemy right along their borders.

Decline of the Ottoman Empire

By 1914, the Ottoman Empire was a shadow of its former self.  Since 1829, many of the Empire’s territorial possessions had either been snatched away by the major powers in Europe or were granted independence from Ottoman rule.  France seized Algeria in 1830 and Tunisia in 1881; Great Britain was given Cyprus in 1878 and conquered Egypt in 1882; Italy captured Libya in 1912; and Bosnia was surrendered to the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1878.  Among the states to gain their independence were Greece in 1829, Montenegro, Romania, and Serbia in 1878, Bulgaria in 1908, and Albania and Yemen in 1913.  The granting of independence to Serbia in 1878 and its longstanding relationship with the Russian Empire that had existed since the early 19th century served as one of the major facilitators for the breakout of war in 1914.  
Archduke Franz Ferdinand

Serbian nationalism was able to build in the years following independence and directly led to the creation of several ultra-nationalist organizations in Serbia and Austro-Hungarian-controlled Bosnia.  A member of one of these organizations, Gavrillo Princip, fired the fatal shots that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914.


Commonly seen as one of the major contributing factors to the opening of hostilities in 1914, the alliance system in Europe served to divide the continent militarily into two distinct camps.  The Dual Alliance, signed in 1879, witnessed the German Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire entering into a defensive partnership.  Italy joined with Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1882 to form the so-called Triple Alliance.  Mere days after Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war on Serbia, the Ottoman Empire allied itself with Germany on 2 August 1914.  The Central Powers, as they became known, would remain, for the most part, unified until the end of the war.  Italy departed from the alliance in 1915 in favour of a more advantageous partnership with the Entente.

Military Alliances in 1914

Opposing the Central Powers was an alliance of several countries including France, Russia, Great Britain, and, later, Italy.  In 1892, France and Imperial Russia entered into the Franco-Russian Alliance.  Twelve years later, France and Britain signed the Entente Cordiale.  In 1907, Russia and Great Britain entered into the Anglo-Russian Entente.  As a result of this treaty, the three countries became members of the Triple Entente.  Italy later joined the alliance in 1915 following its departure from the Central Powers.  Russia would remain a member of the Entente until the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and subsequent Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany.

Important Dates
28 June – Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary and his wife assassinated in Sarajevo,        Bosnia by Gavrillo Princip, a member of an ultra-nationalist Serbian group
23 July – Ultimatum given by Austria-Hungary to Serbia
25 July – Serbia rejects ultimatum
28 July – Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia
30 July – Russia mobilizes its forces
1 August – Germany declares war on Russia
2 August – The Ottoman Empire allies itself with Germany
3 August – Germany declares war on France
3 August – Belgium rejects Germany’s ultimatum that German forces be permitted to pass freely the country
4 August – German troops invade Belgium
4 August – Great Britain declares war on Germany.