Central-European tribes began to inherit the Western Roman Empire about 500CE, but by the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1815) the geographical core of this Holy Roman Empire had been reduced to a federation of German principalities surrounded by nation-states.
Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck forged this federation into the Second Reich which shocked the world when it seized Paris in the six-month Franco-Prussian War (1870-71).
Surrounded by the French, British, Russian and Ottoman-Turk Empires, the Central Powers of reunified Germany and neighbour Austria-Hungary became closely allied from 1879, but Bismarck had instituted a German monarchy whose militaristic heir Wilhelm II gave him his marching orders in March 1890.
International adventures and European incidents led to 1894’s Dual Entente, where France and Russia both agreed to go to war if either was attacked by the Central Powers, guaranteeing a war against two empires on two fronts.
The 1904 British-French Entente Cordiale expanded to include Russia in 1907’s Triple Entente — dozens of colonies and dominions committed along with the nations themselves.
Balkan states on the Asian-European Border were reorganising, and Russia’s support for Serbian independence from Austria-Hungary was a sideshow during this period of manoeuvring Empires. Casting around for allies, by 1914 the ailing Ottoman-Turk Empire had settled on Germany.
On June 28, 1914, 20-year-old Gavrillo Princip exited a Sarajevo lunch-bar to find the motorcade of Archduke Franz Ferdinand parked outside. The Bosnian-Serb nationalist dropped his sandwich, drew his pistol and murdered the heirs to the Austro-Hungarian throne.
Austria-Hungary declared war against Serbia that day yet their inability to mobilise provided for a month-long international crisis. The Russian Empire warned Austria-Hungary not to attack, and began official military mobilisation when Serbia was invaded on July 28.
Offering Austria-Hungary ‘‘blank cheque’’ support, Germany demanded Russian demobilisation, received no response and declared war on Russia on August 1, 1914.
But German land strategy moved first against France, declaring war on August 3 and sending armies through Belgium to surround Paris. Britain declared war on Germany on August 4.
The New Zealand government was informed of the outbreak of war just before 1pm on August 5 and at 3pm Governor Lord Liverpool announced the news from the steps of Parliament to a large and enthusiastic crowd.
On October 29, two recently purchased ships of the Turkish navy, still crewed by German sailors and commanded by their German admiral, carried out the Black Sea Raid, a surprise attack against Russian ports. Russia declared war on the Ottoman-Turkish Empire on November 1, Britain and France followed suit on November 5.