The Kaiser’s War (1916-1920) was a twentieth century war between the Entente Powers of Britain, France, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Japan and the Allies of Germany, Russia and Italy. It is credited with beginning the end of a multipolar world dominated by the traditional western European colonial empires and a tripolar, ideologically conflicting world, a process that would be finished by the Great War twenty years afterwards. The Kaiser’s War saw the collapse of the centuries old dynasties in Russia, Turkey and Austria and the rise of Germany as the hegemon of continental Europe.
The war is directly a consequence of rivalry in the Balkans between the empires of Russia, Austria-Hungary and Turkey. After its victory over the Japanese in 1904, the Russian Empire experienced a sort of “national euphoria,” glorifying the strength of the Tsar and his people. Russia actively supported pan-Slavism, a movement in the Balkan territories to create a united Slavic state. This aim was at cross purposes with the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, which both saw the Balkans as their own sphere of influence. These two empires, while not friends by any regard, made several secret agreements to curb Russian influence in the area. This powder keg later exploded when the Grand Duchess Anastasia was fatally stabbed by a Muslim fanatic during a visit in Serbia in November of 1915. The Russians accused the Ottoman Empire of sending agents against its royal family, sending the two nations into war.
The war between the Russians and the Turks soon set off the alliance system of Europe. Austria-Hungary, fearing that the Russians would overwhelm the Turks and become sole hegemons of the Balkans and having several agreements to intervene on the Ottomans’ side in case of war, declared war on Russia on January of 1916. France, Austria’s ally against the Prussian-led German Empire which had humiliated both during its formation, feared a German invasion and so struck against the Germans three months later. Italy, seeing its neighbors distracted and egged on by the Germans, banked on its irredentist claims and declared war on both France and Austria. Britain and Japan were the last to join the fray, joining in November and December of 1916, respectively, the former joining because of unrestricted submarine warfare.
By 1917, both sides were evenly matched. The Russians made early gains in the Caucuses and Central Asia but were stopped cold when British forces reinforced Ottoman lines and began an invasion of Kazakhstan from India. The French and Germans raced toward the sea when the French offensive through Alsace stalemated against a German wall. Germans and Austrians skirmished in Silesia while Italy grabbed ethnically Italian provinces from Austria and advanced toward Trieste. The Japanese launched their offensives into the Russian far east, eventually taking Port Arthur by June. A troubling development began to occur in the western European front: trench warfare. The Entente and the opposing German forces on that front were too evenly matched for any appreciable gains to be made. Thousands of lives were lost for mere feet in advance. Limited trench warfare did develop elsewhere, especially Russian Korea, but fighting in the eastern European front and Central Asia was highly mobile.
By 1918, trench warfare dominated the west. In response to this, the Entente and Allies developed the stahlkast to break the dominance of the volley gun. Vozdputniks played a limited role, bombing artillery emplacements and even fighting against one another in the air. Germany drove Austria out of Silesia and began a push into Bohemia and Vienna, while the Italians desperately tried to capture Trieste.
The war began to take its toll on the warring powers, especially Russia. The Russians were making very little gains by 1918, with British Indian and Turkish troops pushing into Central Asia and the Japanese capturing Vladivostok by June. Being surrounded by enemies, trade with outside of Eurasia was extremely limited (her German ally faced the same issue). Bad harvests, rationing and inflation fanned the flames of revolution, which had almost happened during the earlier war of Japan had it not been for the last-minute victory. When British forces attempted a daring amphibious landing near St. Petersburg, the masses began to lose their faith in victory. Although the British were eventually defeated (causing domestic problems for them as well), revolutionary and anti-war groups began to crop up. When the Tsar attempted to put these revolts down, some disgruntled soldiers refused and instead joined the protests. The authority of the Russian state began to break down. Seeing him as the root of unpopularity, reactionary generals pressured the Tsar to step down, but the Tsar refused. When the Tsar attempted to have the generals arrested, they launched a coup and put the Tsar under house arrest. This did little to please revolutionary groups, who now began to openly revolt against the military government. The military was forced out of most major cities by the rebels, forcing Russia out of the war. After rebels captured St. Petersburg, they executed the Tsar and executed him and his family. Fearing the victory of communism, Germany and the United States sent troops in to help the Russian government. The Entente considered doing so as well, but they wanted to keep Russia out of the war so all but Japan decided against it. The Russian revolution had begun, and it wouldn’t end until 1925 with the foundation of the Soviet Union.
With Russia out of the war, the Entente began diverting troops to fight Germany and Italy. The Allies proved resistant, however, and even made progress against Austria. By September of 1919 the Germans stood outside Vienna, the Italians captured Trieste and ethnic revolt consumed the domain of the Habsburgs. Austria, facing defeat, surrendered a month later. In the west, German stahlkasts proved superior to the Entente copies and the Germans achieved breakthrough early in 1920, beginning a slow slog toward Paris. The Ottomans, lacking a Russian foe and not wanting to lose territory by being in a losing alliance, asked for a white peace in exchange for aiding the Russians against the communists. With the Allies able to do little against the Ottomans, they agreed. By March, the German drive to Paris was blocked, and increasing civil unrest in France and Germany and communist gains in Russia forced both countries to consider a white peace and unity against the communist threat. The war finally ended on July of 1920, with Germany becoming the unofficial hegemon of central Europe and both France and Britain keeping their territories and sending troops into Russia.