All about World War I- Impact on India

By Sudheer Kumar K|Updated : December 7th, 2020

World War-I: World History (UPSC IAS GS Main Paper- I). In this article, you will learn about the causes and consequences of World War -I and its impact on India.

World War I

  1. Background
  2. Causes
  3. Consequences
  4. Impact on India
  5. Conclusion


1. Background

  • World War I, aka “Great War”, occurred between July 1914 and November 11, 1918.
  • It was fought between Allied Powers led by Britain, France and Russia and Central Powers led by Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey.
    • Industrialisation, Colonialism and Imperialism created intense rivalry among the European nations over their possessions of colonies in Asia and Africa.
    • This competition became more severe by the end of the 19th century when colonies were no longer available in Asia and Africa.
  • Compromise was not possible due to mutual distrust and hostilities and in 1914 a war began in Europe which soon engulfed the entire world.
  • The War caused unprecedented damage in the history of the world. 

2. Causes

While there was a chain of events that directly led to the fighting, the actual root causes are much deeper. The most popular reasons that are cited as the root causes of World War I are imperialism, militarism, alliances and nationalism.


  • Imperialism is the building up of an empire by seizing territory overseas.
  • By the end of the 19th century, most of Asia and Africa (‘the Scramble for Africa’) had already been colonised by the European imperialists and possibilities of further expansion were not there, but through the dispossession of other imperial power.
  • In the imperial race, Germany became the main competitor of England.
  • In the last quarter of the 19th century, Germany had made tremendous economic and industrial progress and left England and France far behind in industrial production. Germany needed colonies as much as Britain to fulfil its economic needs.
    • Like Germany, Italy after her unification wanted Tripoli in North Africa which was under the Ottoman Empire
    • France wanted to add Morocco to its conquest in Africa. Morocco Crises (1905-6) led to hostility between Germany and Britain. And the seizure of Alsace and Lorraine provinces from France by Germany.
    • Russia had its ambitions in Iran
    • After Victory over Russia in 1905, Japan had her ambitions in the Far East
    • Austria had her ambitions in the Ottoman Empire. Hostilities between Austria-Hungary and Serbia led to Balkan wars.


  • With the advent 20th century, an arms race had begun. By 1914, Germany had the greatest increase in the military build-up. Great Britain and Germany both greatly increased their navies in this time period.
  • Germany believed sea power was the key to the successful build-up of a great empire and built the largest warship ‘Imperator’ and the Kiel English coast Canal connecting the North Sea and Baltic Sea endangering the line.
  • Further, in Germany and Russia particularly, the military establishment began to have a greater influence on public policy. This increase in militarism helped push the countries involved in the war.

Alliances and Mutual Defence Agreements

Over time, countries throughout Europe made mutual defense agreements that would pull them into battle. These treaties meant that if one country was attacked, allied countries were bound to defend them. Before World War I actually broke out, the following alliances existed:

  • The Triple Alliance (1882), Germany with Austria-Hungary and Italy.
  • The Triple Entente (1907), which was made up of Britain, France, and Russia

This system of Alliances led to the formation of two armed camps in Europe.

Pan Slav Movement

  • After the disintegration of Ottoman (Turkey) Empire in the early 20th century, the Balkan region (consists of Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro and many other smaller states) was coveted by the Europeans powers including Austria and Russia.
  • But all the Slavs in the region started a National Movement called the Pan Slav movement.
  • Their main demand was to unite all the Slavs in one state under Serbia, which had the largest Slav population in this movement.
  • This was supported by Russia, whereas Austria opposed Serbia and their National Movement.

Assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand

Against this background, Archduke Francis Ferdinand the heir to the Austrian throne went to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, on a state visit. He was assassinated by a Serbian youth on 28 June 1914. This became the immediate cause of the war.

Austria held Serbia responsible for the assassination of their prince and declared war on Serbia:

  • Russia got involved to defend Serbia.
  • Germany seeing Russia mobilizing declared war on Russia.
  • France was then drawn in against Germany and Austria-Hungary. Germany attacked France through Belgium pulling Britain into war.
  • Then Japan entered the war.
  • Later, Italy and the United States would enter on the side of the allies.

Consequences of the WW-I

  • The Central powers led by Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria were defeated.
  • The German’s Schlieffen Plan had failed, removing all hope of a quick German victory; it was bound to be a strain for them, facing war on two fronts.
  • The Kaiser Wilhelm II was compelled to abdicate and a republic was declared. The new government signed an armistice on 11 November 1918, bringing an end to World War I.


World War I had brought various political ramifications led to an end to four monarchies:

  • Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany
  • Emperor Charles of Austria
  • Czar Nicholas II of Russia
  • Sultan of the Ottoman Empire

The war had changed the political map of entire Europe:

  • New countries were created out of old empires.
  • Austria- Hungary was carved up into a number of independent states.
  • Russia and Germany gave land to Poland.
  • Countries in the Middle East were put under the control of Great Britain and France.
  • What was left of Ottoman Empire became Turkey.


  • The total expenditure was estimated at a staggering figure of 180 billion dollars.
  • The economy of most of the countries was shattered resulting in social tension, unemployment and poverty.
  • Countries had to raise taxes and borrow money from their citizens.
  • They also printed money in order to buy weapons and other things they needed for war. This led to inflation post war.
  • World war was believed to be one of the reasons for Great Depression in US.


  • World War I was one of the most disastrous and frightening events the world had witnessed. The conflict caused a decline in Europe’s prestige in the eyes of the rest of the world.
  • Over 17 million people were killed including over 74,000 Indian soldiers. This led to significant changes in demography- skewed sex ratio.
  • With so many men away in the armed forces, women had to take their places in factories and in other jobs which had previously been carried out by men. Once war ended, many countries gave women more rights including the right to vote. 

Paris Peace Conference

The victorious powers met at Paris to decide peace after the war. The Allies signed different treaties with the defeated powers. The most important of them were:

  • Treaty of Versailles signed with Germany
    • It imposed a harsh peace settlement on Germany
    • The War Guilt clause fixed the blame for the outbreak of the war solely on Germany
    • Germany was forced to pay a staggering £2000 million reparation
  • Treaty of St. Germain with Austria
  • Treaty of Serves with Turkey

Treaty of Versailles

It imposed a harsh peace settlement on Germany

  • Germany had to lose territory in Europe:
    • Alsace-Lorraine to France
    • Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were taken away from Germany and set up as independent states.
    • Union between Germany and Austria was forbidden
    • Germany’s African colonies were taken away
  • German armaments were strictly limited to a maximum of 100,000 troops and no conscription (compulsory military service), no tanks, armoured cars, military aircraft or submarines, and only six battleships.
  • The War Guilt clause fixed the blame for the outbreak of the war solely on Germany.
  • Germany was forced to pay a staggering £2000 million reparation.
  • It included a covenant establishing the League of Nations.

League of Nations

As advocated by Woodrow Wilson in his famous Fourteen Points, for international Peace through ‘collective security’.

The League of Nations was established at the end of World War I as an international peacekeeping organization.

  • But unfortunately, the League failed to prevent war and conflict for which it was set up.
  • When Italy attacked Ethiopia in 1935 and Japan attacked Manchuria in 1936, the League could do nothing.

Indian Contribution and Impact of the War on India

The First World War (1914–18) was a momentous event in world history. It also left a deep impact on India under British rule.

It was estimated that a staggering Rs 457 crore (£ 305 million) contributed to First World War in the form of war loans, gifts and military supplies etc.

Indian Expeditionary Forces (IEF):

  • After war was declared in 1914, the British government in India. The British government expeditiously mobilized over 1.3 million Indian troops to support the war effort. Indian Expeditionary Forces (IEF) was classified into IEF-A, IEF-B, IEF-C, IEF-D, IEF-E, IEF-F and IEF-G.
  • They were sent to serve France and Belgium, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Gallipoli, Palestine and Sinai.
  • The scale of Indian involvement outside their respective countries and continents was impressive. As much as 1,38,608 Indians in all had helped French and other compatriots blunt Germany’s Schlieffen Plan.
  • The IEF sustained heavy casualties (more than 74000 died and many injured) due to war and the harsh climate.
  • Yet textbooks consistently fail to mention the significant contribution of Indian troops and resources during the war.

5. Conclusion

World War I was known as the “war to end all wars” because of the great slaughter and destruction it caused. Unfortunately, the peace treaty that officially ended the conflict—the Treaty of Versailles of 1919—forced punitive terms on Germany that destabilized Europe and laid the groundwork for World War II


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