How did the world go to war in 1914?

By 1914, after a century of relative peace, the competing ambitions of Europe’s leading powers had turned the continent into a tinderbox. History Revealed magazine investigates...

Franz Ferdinand, archduke of Austria, and his wife Sophie riding in an open carriage at Sarajevo shortly before their assassination.   (Photo by Henry Guttmann/Getty Images)

Germany and Britain were engaged in a bitter naval arms race, France had never forgiven Germany for inflicting a crushing defeat on it in 1870–71, and Russia was engaged in sabre-rattling with Austria-Hungary and Turkey over the fate of the Balkans and its southern borders.

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What made matters worse was the fact that these powers had now aligned themselves into two heavily armed camps, with France, Britain and Russia on one side, and Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey on the other.

All it needed was a spark to set the powder keg alight. That duly arrived on 28 June 1914 when Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian nationalist, assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian throne, in Sarajevo. Within a matter of days, Austria-Hungary, with Germany’s backing, had accused Serbia of sponsoring the killing and Russia and France had declared their support for Serbia.

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Then, on 4 August, Britain was drawn in when German troops advanced west through Belgium. The war had well and truly begun.