World War I Timeline: 1914, The War Begins

Franz Ferdinand, archduke of Austria, and his wife Sophie
Franz Ferdinand, archduke of Austria, and his wife Sophie. Henry Guttmann / Getty Images

When war broke out in 1914, there was public and political support from within almost every belligerent nation. The Germans, who faced enemies to their east and west, relied on what was called the Schlieffen Plan, a strategy demanding a swift and decisive invasion of France so all forces could then be sent east to defend against Russia (even though it wasn't so much of a plan as a vague outline that had been fluffed out badly); however, France and Russia planned invasions of their own.

  • June 28: Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary assassinated in Sarajevo by a Serbian activist. The Austrian Emperor and royal family don't hold Franz Ferdinand in high regard but are happy to use it as political capital.
  • July 28: Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia. The fact it has taken a month betrays their cynical decision to use it to finally attack Serbia. Some have argued that, had they attacked sooner, it would have been an isolated war.
  • July 29: Russia, Serbia's ally, orders the mobilization of troops. Doing so all but ensures a larger war will occur.
  • Aug. 1: Germany, an ally of Austria-Hungary, declares war on Russia and demands the neutrality of Russia's ally France; France refuses and mobilizes.
  • Aug. 3: Germany declares war on France. Suddenly, Germany is fighting the two front war they long feared.
  • Aug. 4: Germany invades neutral Belgium, almost as per the Schlieffen Plan to knock-out France; Britain responds by declaring war on Germany. This was not an automatic decision because of Belgium, and might not have happened.
  • August: Britain begins a 'Distant Blockade' of Germany, cutting off vital resources; declarations continue throughout the month, with the British, French and Russian Empires on one side (the Entente Powers, or 'Allies'), and the German and Austro-Hungarian on the other (the Central Powers), until everyone is officially at war with their opponents.
  • Aug. 10 - Sept. 1: Austrian invasion of Russian Poland.
  • Aug. 15: Russia invades East Prussia. Germany hoped Russia would mobilize slowly due to a backward transport system, but they are faster than expected.
  • Aug. 18: The USA declares itself neutral. In practice, it supported the Entente with money and trade.
  • Aug. 18: Russia invades Eastern Galicia, makes fast progress.
  • Aug. 23: Hindenburg and Ludendorff is given command of the German Eastern Front after the previous German commander recommends a fallback.
  • Aug. 23-24: Battle of Mons, where British slow German advance.
  • Aug. 26 - 30: Battle of Tannenberg - Germany shatter the invading Russians and transform the fate of the Eastern Front. This is partly due to Hindenburg and Ludendorff and partly due to someone else's plan.
  • Sept. 4 - 10: First Battle of the Marne halts German invasion of France. The German plan has failed and the war will last years.
  • Sept. 7 - 14: First Battle of the Masurian Lakes - Germany beats Russia again.
  • Sept. 9 - 14: The Great Retreat (1, WF), where German troops retreat back to the river Aisne; the German commander, Moltke, replaced by Falkenhayn.
  • Sept. 2 - Oct. 24: First Battle of Aisne followed by the 'Race to the Sea', where Allied and German troops continually outflank each other to the north-west until they reach the North Sea coastline. (WF)
  • Sept. 15: Cited, probably legendarily, as the day trenches are first dug on the Western Front.
  • Oct. 4: Joint German/Austro-Hungarian invasion of Russia.
  • Oct. 14: First Canadian Troops arrive in Britain.
  • Oct. 18 - Nov. 12: First Battle of Ypres (WF).
  • Nov. 2: Russia declares war on Turkey.
  • Nov. 5: Turkey joins the Central Powers; Britain and France declare war on her.
  • Dec. 1 - 17: Battles of Limanowa, in which Austrian forces save their lines and prevent Russia attacking Vienna.
  • Dec. 21: First German air raid on Britain.
  • Dec. 25: Troops share an unofficial Christmas Truce in the Western Front trenches.

The corrupted Schlieffen plan had failed, leaving the belligerents in a race to outflank each other; by Christmas the stagnated Western Front comprised over 400 miles of trench, barbed wire, and fortifications. There were already 3.5 million casualties. The East was more fluid and home to actual battlefield successes, but nothing decisive and Russia's massive manpower advantage remained. All thoughts of a quick victory had gone: the war was not over by Christmas. The belligerent nations now had to scramble to change into machines capable of fighting a long war.