The main players in the First World War

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One hundred years after the end of the First World War, here is a look at the key figures:

Tsar Nicholas II of Russia

At the outbreak of the war in 1914, the Emperor of Russia, Nicholas II, sided with Britain and France against Austria-Hungary and Germany. His strict rule made him an unpopular leader in Russia, but early military victories in the war boosted his popularity.

In 1917, Nicholas lost support of the army and these tensions led to the communist Russian Revolution in the same year. He was ousted from power and then executed alongside his wife and five children on July 17 1918.

Kaiser Wilhelm II, Emperor of Germany

Wilhelm II supported Austria’s invasion of Serbia in 1914, but allegedly wanted to scale back Germany’s military plans following Britain’s decision to enter the war.

His German forces were keen to continue warfare and began to exclude him from military decisions.

Wilhelm was forced to abdicate following the end of the war in 1918, making him the last Kaiser of Germany. He went into exile in the Netherlands.

Kaiser Wilhelm II awarding decorations to soldiers.
Kaiser Wilhelm II awarding decorations to soldiers (PA)

Herbert Henry Asquith was appointed Prime Minister of Britain in 1908. He was leader of the Liberal Party and introduced significant welfare reforms including pensions and unemployment insurance. 

When the First World War began, his decisions were initially popular, but the government faced a crisis over munitions shortages.

Following military failures and the introduction of conscription, he was forced to resign in 1916 and was replaced by the Secretary of State for War, Lloyd George.

Lord Kitchener, British Secretary of State for War

Prior to Lloyd George’s appointment, Lord Kitchener was appointed Secretary of State for War when fighting broke out in 1914.

He anticipated that the war could last longer than expected and launched an enlistment campaign, which included posters with pictures of him and the famous “Your country needs you” slogan.

This campaign led to him becoming a popular figure with the public, but his support for the failed Gallipoli Campaign ruined his reputation. Sent on a mission to Russia in June 1916, Lord Kitchener’s ship was sunk by a German mine and he drowned.

Lord Kitchener and the Lord Mayor of London on the day of the recruitment speech at the Guildhall.
Lord Kitchener and the Lord Mayor of London on the day of the recruitment speech at the Guildhall (PA)

Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig became Commander in Chief of British troops on the Western Front in late 1915.

His plans for the Battle of the Somme in 1916, which led to a high number of British casualties, made him one of the most controversial figures of the First World War.

In 1918, he launched an offensive against the Germans which claimed thousands of Allied lives but broke German lines and led to victory.

US President Woodrow Wilson

In 1917, German submarines sank several American ships, which led to the involvement of the United States.

President Woodrow Wilson had previously sought to be neutral, but, following the German offensive, the US joined the conflict on the side of the Allies.

Following the armistice, President Wilson was instrumental in the creation of a new League of Nations, which was established in 1920.

American President Woodrow Wilson and his cabinet.
American President Woodrow Wilson and his Cabinet (PA)

Archduke Franz Ferdinand became heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne in 1896, following the death of his father Karl Ludwig.

This meant that Franz was the closest link to his uncle, the reigning Emperor Franz Josef I Franz’s marriage to Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, was unpopular with Austria’s ruling elite as she was considered a “commoner”. Franz and his wife were assassinated on a trip to Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital.

Franz Josef I, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary

Franz Josef was popular within his empire, having been in power since 1848.

He was on holiday in Bad Ischl, Austria, when he learned that his nephew, Franz Ferdinand, had been assassinated.

Although he was involved with the breakout of warfare, Emperor Josef had little involvement in events resulting from the First World War and died from pneumonia aged 86 on November 21 1916.

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