During the latter half of the 19th century, the German economy enjoyed enormous expansion. This rapid growth led German industrialists such as Krupps to demand an overseas Empire, which Kaiser Wilhelm II enthusiastically embraced and began Naval and Empire building. This was viewed with alarm by Great Britain and France.
In the late 19th century, the rivalry between the three industrial powers of Britain, France and Germany for control of markets and cheap resources led to a scramble for colonies in Africa and Asia. This drew these Powers into competition for strategic sea routes and led them to become involved in the Balkans. At this time there were four Empires - the Turkish Ottoman, by now the ‘Sick man of Europe’, Austria- Hungary, Russia and the largest, Great Britain.
In June 1900 Germany announced that its Naval build up would expand over the next 20 years to create one of the largest fleets in the world. In March 1903 Britain announced the building of a new naval base at Firth of Forth on the east coast of Scotland, significantly only 560 miles across the North Sea. In February 1906, Great Britain launched HMS Dreadnought, the most powerful warship in the World.
Russia had been a very poor country. However, from 1890, it was rapidly expanding its industries and wanted to extend its influence in the Balkans, as she felt like a ‘prisoner in the Black Sea’.
The rivalry between the European Nations led to an entangling alliance system. The League of the Three Emperors of 1873, between Austria- Hungary, Russia and Germany split into an alliance between Russia and Austria-Hungary which was subsequently replaced by the Dual Alliance between Germany and Austria.
Tensions had been building between Austria and Serbia and when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by a Serbian student in Bosnia, it was believed that the Serbian Secret Army had assisted with weapons and forged papers. Austria made a series of humiliating demands on Serbia and finally a month later Austria gave Serbia 48 hours to reply.
The ultimatum by Vienna was like a thunderbolt to the Chancelleries of Europe as it had widely been believed that Vienna would seek a settlement by arbitration or negotiation. Austria declared war on Serbia on 28th July 1914. Other European countries began to mobilize troops. Britain strived to avert a War in Europe and made several proposals for mediation which were overtaken by events. The Kaiser, who was at first conciliatory suddenly took offence at what he saw as ‘British insolence’ in making the proposals. On the 4th August Germany invaded Belgium and Britain declared war on Germany.