Powers Of Europe During 1914 History Essay

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In 1914 war was just a disaster waiting to happen, all over Europe tensions were raising with each country looking for the smallest excuse to start one of the greatest wars in history; World War I. On the 28th of June 1914 Austria found its excuse; the heir to the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir apparent of the Austrian throne, was assassinated in Sarajevo by a Gavrilo Princip; a member of 'the Black Hand' which was a secret Nationalist Serbian group that was devoted to uniting all of the territories with significant Serb populations not ruled by Serbia. This was not the only cause for the First World War however; it was only the match that lit up the unstable barrel of gun powder that was known as Europe during the time. Lots of countries wanted to go to war, but there is just one question; which country was most prepared or would benefit the most from the war? There are a few main factors that should be considered when deciding; economy, military and internal conditions.


During the start of the 19th century Great Britain was the kingpin of economic development. This was mainly because of its overseas colonies. 1815 to 1914 was referred to as Great Britain's "Imperial Century". During that time 10 million square miles and close to 400 million people were made part of the British Empire in which it had access to loads of extra resources. But while Britain's economy had jumped during the industrial revolution, its growth had started to slow. This can be shown through its coal production. In 1914 Great Britain's coal output was 292 million tons from 250 million tons in 1900, only a 42 million ton increase. This growth compared to Germany, it had a 156 million ton increase in production. As these statistics show, while Britain was growing it wasn't growing as fast as it was during the Industrial Revolution and could soon be overtaken by any potential competitor. Despite this, London was still the world's financial and entrepreneurial center for international payments and Britain still remained a very large creditor nation, lending funds to other countries.

The German economy in 1914 was growing at a phenomenal pace and should be considered as one of the greatest economic powers of the world at the time. During the earlier years of Imperial Germany's existence its economy had lagged far behind its competitors (Great Britain, France and Belgium) due to the fact that it was a new country and had to unify all of its affairs from the countries that were created from it, as a result the social structure was not at all suitable for economic or entrepreneurial development. But by the beginning of the 20th century Germany had become one of the world leaders in industrialization second only to Great Britain (which was in a slow decline after the industrial revolution). An example of this would be Germany's steel production. In 1914 it had produced an estimated 14 million tons compared to Great Britain which only produced 8 million tons. The prosperity of Germany's economy was also reflected in the way its population had "exploded" during the late 1890s yet when absorbed into the labor market living standards went on without any drastic decline. By 1914 the country's NDP (Net Domestic Product) was over 20 billion reichsmarks. This statistic can be disputed though. According to Knut Borchardt, "the poor state of the statistical material undermines the reliability of many of the detailed figures" (Borchardt, 1954)

After Austria-Hungary became a dual monarchy its economy had changed in many ways. It had started to replace its medieval institutions with more modern structures. The technological changes during that time also accelerated the urbanization and industrialization of the country. As a result of the improvements of Austria-Hungary's economy, the GNP grew an estimated 1.76% per year during the time period for 1870-1913. This growth compared very favorably with the other super powers of the time such as Britain (1%), France (1.06%) and Germany (1.51%). But in its early years the economy in general economy still could not compare with the others due to its late start in its sustained modernization. But by the end of the 19th century these differences slowly began to even themselves out. By 1900 Austria-Hungary had a strong food industry and agriculture in the east while the western areas excelled in various manufacturing industries. By 1914 Austria-Hungary had become the 3rd largest economic and industrial country in Europe after Great Britain and Germany.

During 1914 Russia's economy was not in such great shape. It had an abundance of resources but most were "locked in" by the vast size of the country and the extreme climate that they were located in. It would seem that Russia may have been a "dying man" but historians unanimously agree that its economy did grow. By 1900 it had taken France's 4th place position in iron production and 5th in steel production. Railway mileage had increased by 87% between 1892 and 1903 and its oil extraction had even tripled between 1892 and 1903. All of this industrialization though, required lots of capital to start up and maintain. This though was capital that Russia did not have at its disposal. As a result, Russia's industry ended up being predominately owned by foreigners. A few examples of this would be Russia's steel and mining industry; 69% and 85% respectively were owned by foreigners. An interesting fact about other ownership of Russia's industries is that the knowledge capital that was utilized in Russia's industrialization were either foreigners or Russian minorities like Jews, Poles or Старообрядцы (Old Believers). Despite all of these improvements on Russia's economy there were very few people in the middle class and most were living in close to medieval-like poverty while the nobility were extremely wealthy. This created a giant imbalance in the workforce which in turn drastically lowered industrial efficiency. These were the main hurdles for Russia to become a major economic superpower and also resulted in unrest within the country.

Throughout the first half of the 19th century France was the world's wealthiest nation. During the time when agriculture was the main occupation of the majority of Europe it had the most abundant resources. It also held the 2nd place in the world's industrial production after Great Britain. But in 1914 the economy was not like it was 50 years ago. France ranked behind the other main superpowers like Great Britain, Germany Austria-Hungary and Russia in population and was struggling with Russia in terms of industrial production as it had already fallen behind in production. An example would be coal output. France lagged behind both Germany and Great Britain with only a 40 million ton output compared to 277 million and 292 million tons respectively and is only able to have competition with Russia which had 36.2 million tons of coal output. Though the general patterns of growth in France had a resemblance to the other Western European nations, the peaks in its periods of prosperity were lower and the troughs in its periods of depression were deeper.

Military Might

During the beginning of the 20th century, Great Britain had the largest empire in the world which covered over 11 million square miles of territory most of which was claimed between 1750 and 1850. By the late 19th century Great Britain also acquired colonies in Africa and in 1914 King George V ruled over 430 million people. To protect such a large empire the navy would have to be fairly large as well. Britain had the world's largest and most powerful navy; The Royal Navy. This included 18 dreadnoughts, 29 pre-dreadnought battleships, 195 assorted cruisers and 146 destroyers. The Royal Navy was the largest navy in the world at the time. In August of 1914 Britain had around 250 thousand soldiers in active service with the remaining 450 thousand in reserve. About 120 thousand soldiers in active duty were in the British Expeditionary Force and the rest of the army was stationed abroad in all of its colonies except for the "white countries/dominions" of Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Britain already had an undersized army but the fact that they were spread out all over the world meant that fighting capacity in the event of war would be limited.

Even before 1914 Germany was credited with having the most efficient army in the world. Unlike Britain it employed universal mass conscription for all of the men. The German Army (Deutsches Heer) were first put into short term military service and after that was finished they were put into long term reserve should they be needed in the event of a war. By 1914 the German Army in its entirety had 4.2 million soldiers. By 1914 the Imperial German Navy (Kaiserliche Marine) had become the strongest navy in the world second only to the Royal Navy. It was equipped with 17 dreadnoughts, 20 pre-dreadnought battleships, 204 assorted cruisers and destroyers and 40 submarines to make a total of 281 ships. This statistic is very comparable with the Royal Navy and it appears as if the German Navy may be close to the Royal Navy in terms of power but the fact that the Royal Navy has more ships means that it has more firepower at its disposal. As a result Germany places second in terms of naval firepower but the size of its army more than puts Great Britain's army to shame.

In the beginning of 1914 Russia, even with a population of 159 million people, had a relatively small army with only 1.2 million soldiers. Even with the small amount of soldiers effective deployment was restricted by the poor state of roads and some railways in Russia. Russia also had a very small navy. This was probably due to most of Russia's ports freezing over during the winter resulting in the Russian navy becoming useless in a winter war. The Russian navy consisted of 4 pre-dreadnought battleships, 10 cruisers, 21 destroyers, 50 torpedo boats, 11 submarines and 50 other assorted warships. Russia's military might is clearly not a match against the other powers, but the sheer amount in population could be beneficial to the build of the Russian army.

France's army had a size of 37 million soldiers at the start of 1914. It had 47 divisions split into 21 regiments with cavalry and artillery units. While there may have been a few divisions in France's colonies, the bulk of the army was stationed inside France along the eastern border as part of attack plan (plan 17). Between 1910 and 1914, spending on the French Navy had doubled. New warships were ordered in which they also included 14 pre-dreadnought battleships. The French had 19 pre-dreadnought battleships, 32 cuisers, 86 destroyers and over 100 torpedo boats. While formidable in the number of ships France had, most were only small torpedo boats. While they were small and fast they didn't do very much serious damage to larger ships and could easily be sunk.

In the Austro-Hungarian empire both Austria and Hungary had their own armies. In 1914 Austria had 40 thousand soldiers and Hungary had 30 thousand. There were also recruits drawn from all over the country to join the Royal Army of Austria-Hungary which had strength of 350 thousand men. All of these armies' recruits were obtained though conscription. The statistics of Austria-Hungary's army can be disputed though, according to Johm Simkin, this is the correct statistic for the army's strength but according to other historians like Pendergast, the correct number of soldiers in service at the time was 800 thousand soldiers. Whichever statistic is used the numbers still show that Austria-Hungary had a relatively small army compared to the other countries. The Austro-Hungarian Navy was also very small. In 1914 it only had 67 ships in which it only had 16 pre-dreadnought battleships to show off its naval might.

Internal Conditions

The condition of Great Britain in 1914 was not as good as one may have thought. All over Britain the unemployment rate was rising. Workers formed trade unions and started to organize strikes. Riots and demonstrations were also becoming more and more commonly occurring. But one of the biggest problems Britain faced was the Irish issue. Ireland was part of Great Britain and was governed from London but the majority of Irish people wanted Ireland to be free. The main conflict was between the Protestants and Home Rulers. Ireland was on the brink of civil war in 1914 and Great Britain started to get more unstable by the second.

Germany's condition was better off than most of the other European countries. At the peak in Germany's growth the unemployment rate was as low as 2%. But this didn't mean that people enjoyed their work. While they had higher wages than before their working conditions were bad and the food was more expensive. Many workers were unhappy with this and formed a trade union as a result. They started to organize strikes to improve their conditions. Despite this working conditions didn't improve. This lead most of the workers to become Socialist and by 1914 one third of the German population supported the socialist party which was actively working on starting a revolution.

Russia was not in any good shape in 1914. In 1914 85% of the population were still peasants and lived in poverty while the Nobility was very wealthy. Working conditions were dreadful; they were even comparable to medieval times. Workers got low wages and their homes were sometimes crowded and unsanitary. Almost every person was ready to rebel against Tsar Rule.

Since Austria-Hungary was a union of two different countries there were many different nationalities, customs and languages. While the two main ethnic groups were Germans and Hungarians there were also Bosnians, Croats, Czechs, Poles, Romanians, Slovaks, Slovenes and Serbians with a total of 15 different languages spoken. This made trying to govern the country very difficult. When the government tried to introduce one common language for the country the people were outraged. In Bohemia riots started when the government announced that the German language would be the day to day language used by the Czechs instead of the Czech language. There was also the issue of the Serb population wanting independence from Austria-Hungary which made the country even more unstable.

The French Empire was one of the strongest countries in terms of industry, industry and to some extent military. But during a slow decline the French had lost a war to the Germans and not only had they lost their pride but they also lost the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine to Germany. Even through the economic decline in France the people still held a grudge against Germany and some even blamed Germany for their country's economic decline. But this hate can also be seen as a good thing as well. It kept the people unified in their one idea; to have revenge against the Germans.


In 1914 there were 5 superpowers that had dominated Europe. They were Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia and Austria-Hungary. They were split up into two alliances. The Triple Alliance was consisted of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy. The triple Entente was consisted of Great Britain, France and Russia. While each country had their own strengths and weaknesses, some countries fared better than others. Based on evidence collected by research, Germany seems to be the most powerful superpower out of the five. With the best army, industry and 2nd most powerful navy and a rapidly growing economy, Germany would have been most prepared for a war with its industries being able to produce more weapons faster due to the extremely high resource output rates. But the economy would also benefit from the war. As stated before there were low wages and expensive food and bad working conditions. A war would mean that there would be more jobs for people to fill and the war would rally the people and give them a reason to fight and strive for. Germany seems to be the best pick due to its military might and also due to the way the economy would improve if a war should occur.