** World War I home front country pages








World War I Home Fronts: Country Pages


Figure 1.--Here two English children cheer on British soldiers as they head off to the front. Put your cursor on the children to see the soldiers mrching past. The mass conscription of soldiers and the length of the War meant that the home front became a very important factor in war effort. The Russian home front ws the first to crack, but the German home front eventually cracked as well.

Countries varied as to the resources available and how efficently countries used their resources. Britain was a major uindustrial power. Unlike the other major combatants, Britain did not have a large standing army or a military draft. Thus it would be some time before its weight could be felt on the battlefield in a major way. Britain had a major weakness in that it was dependant on international trade. This was true both for foodstuffs, but raw material for industry as well. Britain's critical sea lanes would be attacked by the Germans, especially by the U-boats. France for much of the War provided the bulk of the force blocking the Germans in the West. For France there was less difference between the front lines and the home front. France had the agricultural sector needed to feed the country. The home front remained solid during the War, but the huge casualties almost cracked the French Army. Russia was the most defficent country in utilizing its resources which led to the Russian Revolution (October 1917) and Russia's withdrawl from the War. Surprisingly Germany while mobilizing its industrial strength efficently, failed to do the same with its agriculture. Partly as a result, it was the German home front which eventually cracked. America was the world's most important industrial and agricultural nation. Whle America was at first neutral, the home front played a critical role in he War. American public opinion was strongly for staying out of the War. German policies from the beginning, especially the invasion of neutral Belgium, turned American public opinion against Germany. Other German war policies, especially unrestricted submarine warfare, meant that went President Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war. Pacifistic opinion rapidly gave way to a patriotic euforia and enthusiastic public support for the war effort. In all the blgernt countrues, the war brought about sweeping social change.

America

America was the world's most important industrial and agricultural nation. Wjle America was at first neutral, the home front played a critical role in he War. American public opinion was strongly for staying out of the War. German policies from the beginning, especially the invasion of neutral Belgium, turned American public opinion against Germany. Other German war policies, especially unrestricted submarine warfare, meant that went President Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war. Pacifistic opinion rapidly gave way to a patriotic euforia and enthusiastic public support for the war effort. In all the blgernt countrues, the war brought about sweeping social change.

Austria-Hungary

We notice some children being evacuated from areas near the front lines early in the War. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was one of the large mult-ethnic empires that governed much of Europe. The ediface of these empires seemed permanent at the beginnng of the century. There were many ethnic groups within the Empire that felt constrained by the Empire, but authorities were making concessiins. It was in this atmosphere that World War I was set off at Saraevo in Bosnia (July 1914). Imperial authorities failed to adequately deal with the home front, especially the food shortages that developed when the large-scale mobilization of workers. Food was a serious problem throughout the War and this continued into the pot-War wea. After the War thousands of Vienna children were sent out of the country. Rickets and tunerculosis was a major problem for the children. As in other countries, American food aid which arrived in Austria after the War saved countless people, especially children. The home front in Austria-Hungary is a complicated subjects because there were so many ethnic groups with national aspirations. The disaffection of the various minorities making up the Empire was another major factor. They could have never achieved independence if the strain of war had not weakened the imperil ediface. The home front in Austria-Hungry collapsed at the end of the War. Certainly the huge casualties, primarily experienced on the Eastern Front fighting with Russia was a factor. The desintegration of the Empire's Army led to the division into separate ethnically based states.

Britain

Britain was an industrial nation that relied on the sea lanes to import food for its large urban population. The success of the U-boat as a commerce raider forced the British to introduce a rationing system. Food becane increasingly scarce, especially meat. People laregly relied on potatos. The Germans were convinced that Briton's need to import food made it vulnerable to a naval blockade by Germany's U-boats. Even without unrestricted sunmarine warfare. the Germans U-boats took a substantial toll on British shipping. The World War I U-boat, however, was not a true submarine, but a surface bot that could submerge. Restrictions on its operations substantially reduced its effectiveness. Thus the Germans decided to reintroduce unrestricted submarine warfare (March 1917), even though it meant that America would probably come into the War on the Allied side. This proved to be dreadful miscalculation. The Ministry of Food finally introduced rationing. The rationing system and, after the U-boat threat was largely defeated, food from America meant that Britons did not go hungary. Briton also benefited from a bountiful 1917 wheat harbest. At the end of the War, food consumption in Brition was close to pre-War levels.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria at first declared strict neutrality when World War brokee out. King (Tsar) Ferdinand and the pro-German Vasil Radoslavov government decided to see how Bulgaria could benefit most from the War. They encouraged the Allies (Triple Entente) and Central powers to bid for Bulgaria'support, especially territory. Here the Central Powers could offer the most, including Serbian, Greek, and, eventually Romanian territory. (These countries had fought the Second Balkan War for territory (1912-13). The Bulgarians when the the war seemed to swing in Germany�s favor, committed to the Central Powers and declared war on Serbia (October 1/14). There was no national consensus. Some political figures criticised the Government. Agrarian leader Stamboliyski threatened the King called on soldiers to resist mobilization. The Government arrested him and sentenced him to life imprisonment. The Government failed to accuratelly assess the cost of the War. The country conscripted virtually the entire male population of military age, a total of 900,000 men. This was about 40 percent of the male population. The Army experienced 300,000 casualties, including 100,000 killed. This was the most serious mortality rate of any combatant nation on a compasrable percapita basis. This was higher than Romania and Sebia which were over run. The conscription and high losses caused a labor shortage which combibed with poor weather substanbtially reduced food production. The grain harvest declined by 50 percent. Other shortages, especially food developed. Inflation sky rocketed. There were �women�s riots� for food (early 1917) and continued until the War ended. Casualties at the front and the deteriorating conditions at home under cut both civilian order and military discipline. Alexander Malinov replaced pro-German Radoslavov (June 1918). Malinov was the respected leader of the parliamentary opposition. Many hoped he would end the War, but Malinov refused to oppose King Ferdinasnd's insistence on continuing the War. The Allies with the rescued Serbian Army opened a new front in northern Greece. After hard fighting they broke the Bulgarian lines at Dobropole. The Bulgarian Army having suffered horific losses desintegrated. Many soldiers deserted their units and returned home. Others marched on Sofia, destermined to punish those responsible for the War, both the King and political party leaders. The King in desperation turned to Stamboliyski who spent the War languashing in prison. He released Stamboliyski from prison after a pledge to help restore order order the rebel troops. Stamboliyski once out of prison, joined the uprising. At the village of Radomir, where the rebel soldiers were camped, he proclaimed a republic. The resulting Agrarian-led assault on Sofia, however, failed. They were thrown back by German and Macedonian units loyal to the King. The course of the War and the Allied advance on Sofia, however, could not be reversed. The Bulgarian government asked the Allies for an armistice, which was signed (September 29). King Ferdinand abdicated in favour of his son Boris III and lfled the country (October 2).

Canada

While Canada like the other Dominions were automatically drawn into the War when Britain declared war on Germany (August 1914). Canadians like most Europeans were at first enthusiastic. Few had a realistic idea of modern war. The country mobilized to support the war effort and their soldiers at the front. The Red Cross played an important role. Britain declared war, but the Canadian Government through its Parliament controlled the level of participation. There were differences of opinions about the War. Most English speaking Canadians believed that Britain was right and that Germany and Austria-Hungary were tyranies waging an aggressive war. The most enthusiastic were those with the closest ties with Britain. This was especially true of recent immigrants with family in Britain. The least enthusiastic were French Canadians. Although France was the country most threatened, few French Canadians had family ties to France. Most saw it as a British war and wanted no part in it. Many English speaking Canadians volunteered. Few French-Canadiand did so. As the War comtinued, the need for man power at the front increased and conscription became a major political issue. French Canadians in particular were opposed to subscription. Canada's vast agricultural production made an important contribution to the Allied war effort.

France

France for much of the War provided the bulk of the force blocking the Germans in the West. For France there was less difference between the front lines and the home front. The War on the Western Front was fought in Belgium and northern France. It was close enough that the Germans were able to shell Paris. France had a very large africultural sector which left the country self sufficent in food production, unlike Britain and Germny. Thus France had the agricultural production needed to feed the country. We have not yet been able to find information about rationing in France. American novelist Edith Wharton visited France working with the French Red Cross. She helped raise funds in America to support the Red Cross. Thee were small anti-war groups in both Britain and France. The French home front remained solid during the War. Unlike Germany, I don't know of demostrations and rioting on the French hone front. The huge casualties, however, almost cracked the French Army at the Front. Mutinies broke out in the French army (1917). The men had many complaints, some quite valid. One of the issues was home front leaves. Defeatism was rife among those on the left, who had shown pacifist tendencies before the War. Radical prime minister, Georges Clemenceau, supressed the mutinies using both a combination of repression and patriotic appeals. In the end the Army held, but it was no longer capable of offensive operations. The war winning offensive that broke the Germans in 1918 was carried out by the British and new American Army. Women in some of the beligerant countries were the right to vote towards the end of the war or after Armistice (Russia--1917, Germany--1918, Britain--1918/28, and the United States--1919). France was not one of the countries. French women did not get the right to vote until the end of World War II (1945).

Germany

Surprisingly Germany while mobilizing its industrial strength efficently, failed to do the same with its agriculture. Partly as a result, it was the German home front which eventually cracked. The diversion of manpower and resources for the war effort afected the civilian economy. This was also the case in all combatent countries. The situation in Germany, however, was aggrevated by several factors. The preminent factor was the Allied naval blockade. The British and French had access to suppliers in America (American only entered the War in 1917) and ther neutral countries. The Germans did not. This had a major impact on the German economy as raw material and food shortages grew as the War dragged on. Surprisingly given the shortages caused by the Allied naval blockade, the Germans did not use their available resources efficently. Not only could the Germans no longer import food, but conscription of farm laborers had serious reduced agricultural production. This was combined with the failure to implement a rationing system. The Germans also did mobilize women for war work as did the British and Americans. By 1917 there was wide-spread hunger in Germany. Even potatos were in short supply. Many people were barely surviving on the less nutritious turnip. A German reader reports, "My great aunt (she is 92) told me, that for the people year 1917 was the worst: there was nothing to eat!"

Ireland

Anti-English sentiment was a long simmering factor in Irish politics, especially after the tragic policies adopted by the British Government during the Poltato Famine (1840s). At the time World War I broke out, the British Government was considering Home Rule for Ireland. The War was virwed differently in the Protestant north than in the Catholic south. The Irish Revolutionary Army (IRA) launched the Easter Rebellion in Dublin (1916). This was the beginning of the Irish independence.

Italy

We do not yet know much about the Italian home front in World War I. Nor do we know much about public attitudes before and during the War. We do know that popular disatisfaction about Italy's war gains fueled the rise of Fascism. Also Italy, unlike many other beligerant countries did not move to efraranchise women after the War. Here the rise of Fascism was a factor.

Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire was one of the large multi-ethnic empires that dominated much of Europe in the 19th century. Throught the 19th century, the Empire's European holding steadily declined. Even so at the onset of World war I, Turks wre still a minority in the Empire, but Turkish nationalism was growing, as was the desire to replace the Empire with a Turkish state based on ethnic Turks. Many countries ecperienced profound political change after the War. In Turkey in came before the War. The inability of the Sultan to reverse Ottoman losses in the Balkans and Caucauses and the losses in wars with the Balkan States and Italy (1911-13) undermined the Empiore and strengrthen the Young Turks. The result was major political change, Turkey's entry into World War I, and the Armenian Genocide. We do not yet have much information on civilian living conditions in the Ottoman Empire during the War, but believe that deteriorated bady because of declines in boh food production and the economy in general. The war for the most part was fought in the non-Turkish Arab regions of the Empire (Arabia, Palestine, and Mesoptamia). The Allied Galipoli offensive was contained the Russians only entered the eastern fringe of Anatolia. The Empire's Anatolian heartland was untouched even when the Allies after the Bulgarians capitulated, occupied Istanbul (Constaninole) (1918). The conscription of Turlish opeasants from the Anatolian hearland heavy war losses meant that a significant labor shortage developed in Anatolia. The War literaly destoyed the Ottoman economy which had a liberal, multi-ethnic character and layed the foudation for a Turkified economy.

Poland

Poland did not exist as an independent country during World war I. It had been partitioned between Austria, Prussia, and Russia in the 18th century. Most of Poland was taken by Russia. Poland was a major battlefield of the War in 1914 and 15, but by 1916 was mostly in German hands. We note a beach resort scene in 1916.

Russia

Russia was the most deficent country in utilizing its resources. Russia's industry was still developing, but rapidly growing when the War broke out. It proved incapable of properly arming the Russian soldier. Even more poorly managed was agricultural production. Large-scale conscription led to a substantial decline in agricultural production. This led to food riots which were a a major factor in the the Russian Revolution and the fall of the Tsar (February 1917). This combined with the huge losses at the Front eventually led to the Communist Revolution (October 1917) and Russia's withdrawl from the War.

Serbia

Serbia resisted the initial Austro-Hungarian offensive (1914). The country was, however, occupied after a combined Austruan, Bulgarian, German offensive (1915). The Serbian Army retreated to the Adriatic coast and was evacuated by the Allies. Tragically many boys who accompanied them died as aesult of the winter retreat over mountaneous routes. We do not know a great deal about the Central Powers occupation. Relief suplies were collected for Serbian civilans in America and other countries. We are unsure just how they werectranported to Serbia, but America was neutral until 1917. Part of the country was occupied by the Bulgarian military. An uprising was crushed with thousands of casualties (1917).






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Created: 7:36 PM 3/25/2005
Last updated: 7:35 PM 7/10/2017