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1914-18: Horrors of the ‘war to end all wars’

Published on 13/03/2008

   PARIS, March 13, 2008 - Lazar Ponticelli, one of the last livingveterans of World War I died on Wednesday in France at age 110.   Key facts about one of the most murderous conflicts of world history, whichlasted from 1914 to 1918:     - Main belligerents:   Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Turkish-led Ottoman Empire on one side;France, Britain, Russia and the United States (from 1917) on the other.Because most of the participating nations had empires, troops from all overthe world took part.     - Precipitating event:   The assassination of Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz-Ferdinand by a Serbnationalist on June 28, 1914 in the Balkan city of Sarajevo.     - Main theatres:   Northern France, Belgium, eastern Europe, Turkey, the Middle East and theBalkans, northern Italy, plus the world's oceans.     - Technology:   Mechanised warfare was advanced enough to cause massive casualties. But thelack of mobility and good communications kept opposing troops pinned down intrenches or mounting futile attacks on prepared positions, where they sufferedhorrific casualties.   The weapons used included poison gas, heavy artillery, early designs oftanks and bomb-carrying aircraft, while German submarines wreaked havoc at sea.   During some of the major battles, the deaths per day numbered in the tensof thousands.     - Casualties: Around 10 million military dead, and 20 million injured.   Estimated fatalities for the major belligerents: Germany 1.9 million,Russia 1.7 million, France 1.4 million, the Austro-Hungarian empire onemillion, Britain 760,000, Italy 650,000, Ottoman Empire (Turkey) 336,000,United States 115,000.   Many colonial troops serving with the main European countries also died.     - Consequences:   The Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires were broken up, while a revolutionbrought communism to power in Russia (1917).   The humiliation of Germany after the conflict helped sow the seeds ofNazism, leading to a second world war in 1939.   The United States clearly emerged as the number-one world power.   Socially, the devastation and loss created a level of trauma among thepopulations of the main belligerent countries that had never been seen before.     - Great illusions:   When they set out to war in September 1914, many of the participatingtroops on both sides were light-hearted, convinced it would all be over intime for Christmas.   The US president at the time, Woodrow Wilson, described the conflict bothas "the war to end all wars" and "a war to make the world safe for democracy."