World War I

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

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A completely accurate representation of Britain's role.
Never again.
Epitaph on a French War Memorial

Once upon a time, in 1918, a war between the richest and most powerful nations on earth ended. It was the biggest, most expensive, most bloody, most disruptive, most damaging and most traumatising war the world had ever seen. It left millions dead, maimed, shell-shocked, dispossessed, impoverished, starving and bitter. Victory brought relief more than it did elation or sorrow, and in the aftermath the world's great powers resolved to form a better world from the ashes of the old. This was a war that crushed attitudes, destroyed lives, brought down empires and in its conclusion sowed the seeds of further conflict and suffering. The extent to which it did all these things made the First World War a war the likes of which the world had never seen.... but the world was yet to see the last of this magnitude of conflict.

Formerly known as "The Great War", or as "The War to End All Wars", or "The World War", or "The First World War" until the sequel broke out (at which point it became "The First World War"). Ironically, the Napoleonic Wars had previously been known as The Great War until this one broke out. This was quite possibly the most unpopular conflict in the history of civilization in hindsight, and even at the time it wasn't exactly everybody's favorite. It perhaps comes a close second in the Franco-Anglosphere for the Indo-Chinese conflicts. Even the final resolution of the war has been come to be dubbed "the peace to end all peaces."

Generally seen in Anglospheric popular culture in one of two settings:

The Western Front: British Tommies live in the hellish trenches, where it's always raining and the muddy ground is covered in craters. There's always an artillery bombardment going on. Mud, barbed wire, and rotting human flesh is everywhere. Periodically, the out-of-touch, over-optimistic Upper Class Twit generals decide to mount another attack and the poor Tommies go "over the top" into a hail of enemy machine-gun fire and everyone gets killed (often staged similarly to a Bolivian Army Ending except there's no doubt about the tragic outcome really). Usually, one of the working-class Tommies will admit not to know why the war even started, to incredulity on the part of the officers -- until they try and explain, when it all sounds simply too lame to be true.

The Tommies are a mixture of salt-of-the-earth working-class rankers (enlisted men) and NCOs and upper-class officers. Officers are either absurdly naive Upper Class Twit types, straight from the playing-fields of Eton, looking forward to Giving the Hun a Damn Good Licking, or decent, intellectual types who write poetry and ruminate on the meaning of sacrifice and duty, but provide a brave face for the men.

Only the darkest of comedies are set here, although there's plenty of scope for tragedy. A very few films substitute American "Doughboys" for the Tommies, though actually the Americans avoided trench warfare as a matter of policy (they already saw how bloody it was during their own Civil War), and were fortunate to arrive en masse just as things had started moving again.

The Knights of the Sky: The war on the ground is a depressing morass of mud, barbed wire and certain death -- but chivalry and bravery still count for something in the air. Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines take to the skies in flimsy biplanes to duel with the Germans. Most of these pilots are chivalrous, except for that one evil bastard in the black plane and that Britisher who repeatedly guns down his already-defeated enemy on the ground.

The British fliers are all officers, and usually fit into one of the two Trench Warfare officer types above, though there's more room for a Biggles-style dashing hero here. Indeed, Biggles first appeared as a Royal Flying Corps pilot in France.

In fact...

While both of these settings have a lot of truth behind them, they don't tell the whole story. In particular, watching any of the small number of American and British World War One movies out there could convince you that it was a solely Anglo-German affair, with the Americans turning up to lend a hand later on. In particular, many writers (and viewers/readers) confuse 1914 with 1940 and forget that the French kept fighting throughout. French soldiers outnumbered the British substantially on the Western Front and even taught inexperienced American soldiers how to fight and equipped them. By the end of the war and despite the heaviest death toll on the Western Front, the French army had become the most powerful army in the world, but it didn't last a decade as soon as pacifism became a major value in French policy.

Many works glamorize the first fighter pilots as the "Knights of the Sky", and there is some truth to this, but they also had such a high casualty rate that their airplanes were commonly nicknamed "flying coffins" - the average life expectancy of new pilots was about one week. They had none of the safety systems or redundancies of later warplanes, and were very fragile. A handful of veteran pilots on each side gained enough experience to score dozens of kills, but these were exceptional. Ironically, many infantrymen stuck in the trenches still envied the pilots, because even though they had a high casualty rate, they at least got to sleep in a clean bed at night in their hangar, not stuck in the hellish mud of the trenches.

Even after the smarter generals -- and there were several -- realised they didn't have the technology to break through the other side's defences, the politicians insisted on more futile charges. Eventually, the tank was invented, and new strategies devised. The Allied battle plans for 1919 were apparently very close to blitzkrieg, but the war ended first. The Western Allied General Staffs then were wracked by infighting over claiming credit for which service arm actually won the war -- largely ignoring the fact that all of them working together is what in fact decided the conflict -- and as a result dropped much of what they'd learned about combined arms warfare, aircraft, and tanks down the back of the filing cabinet... not their best moment.

As the name suggests, it was a World War -- fighting on the Eastern Front between Germany/Austria and Russia/Serbia was far more fluid than in the west, with great swathes of land gained and lost with every offensive and cavalry galloping freely around. The Austro-Hungarians and Italians -- with some (respectively) German and Western Allied support -- slugged it out over the Alpine passes in some of the worst fighting of the war in the history of warfare, and fought no fewer than eleven battles over the same river (the Soča/Isonzo) before the Austro-Hungarians finally broke through only to be stopped by North of Venice and forced back to the old battlelines on one MORE battle until the Austro-Hungarian lines were finally broken and Vienna was forced to come to terms. When certain mountain fortresses were recognized as invincible (a realization that usually took the lives of thousands), whole mountains were mined from the inside and blown skywards together with their strongholds and garrisons. With fighting in Africa, naval engagements off the Falklands and Chile, commerce raiding in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, a Japanese siege of Germany's concessions in China and the Pacific, an Australian attack on Germany's colonies in New Guinea, a battle on the Mexico-Arizona border as well as sabotage in North America, the war took place on all continents except Antarctica and Australia -- and the ANZACs (Aussies and Kiwis) showed up with the Canadians as part of The British Empire.

The short version of just what started the war is this: a centuries-long buildup of interlocking treaties (many of which required that Nation A automatically join in defense of Nation B, which required that Nation C join in, etc), betrayals, and long-simmering ethnic and national feuds (Germans and French hated one another, Austrians and Serbs hated one another, and on and on) put Europe in a position where the slightest spark would set off a global conflict that had become more or less inevitable. Everybody was expecting a war at some point, it's just August 1914's crisis wasn't expected to be the trigger.

The spark came in the form of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (yes, he later had a band named after him), heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. The assassins were Serbian nationalists who had received backing from the Serbian Yugoslavist terror group "Unification Or Death," better known as the "Black Hand." You see, Franz Ferdinand had big plans to make Austria-Hungary into a far more democratic state. He was even planning to give political power to Serbian leaders. The ascendency of Franz Ferdinand to the throne might have placated the Serbian population of his country. A placated Serbian population and a stable Austria-Hungary would have been detrimental to the Serbian unification movement, therefore, Franz Ferdinand had to be eliminated. Austria then decided to teach Serbia a harsh lesson. Russia supported their fellow Slavs in Serbia, and Imperial Germany supported Austria.

[As an aside, after the assassination Austria made roughly a dozen separate demands of Serbia as a precondition to avoiding war, any one of which it would be humiliating for Serbia to concede to. Serbia conceded to all but ONE of them, that one being essentially ceding independent sovereignty to Austria. Strangely, Serbia was one of the last countries to be invaded during the course of the war.]

Now there is a great misconception that the treaties of military alliance immediately set off WWI from this point on, but treaties are just ink on paper. None of the powers decided to go war based primarily on their previously established alliances.

Austria by all means at this point wanted to go to war, but feared retaliation by Serbia's Russian allies. They believed, however, that they could be secure against Russian attack if Germany had their back. Germany was and had been for some time the greatest military power on earth. It had the best discipline, the best weapons, the best officers, and the second best fleet in the world. All they lacked was powerful allies. Instead, Germany was surrounded by powerful enemies with only a few weak allies.

Thus, the Austrians sent word asking if the German Kaiser would back their plan of invading Serbia. The Kaiser, in a moment of monumental oversight, did not take the letter seriously, believing the Austrians would never be stupid enough to provoke the Russians. He promised his full support for whatever the Austrians saw fit to do.

The Austrians carried out their first invasion of Serbia and were unlucky (or stupid) enough to face the Serbian army outside of its own weapons range. The Austrians were quickly disposed of. War between Austria and Serbia, however, did not immediately equal World War One. What it did do was convince Russia that Germany had something planned. They figured rightly that Austria would not act without Germany's backing, but they mistook this as the possible first step in a larger plan for initiating a war of conquest. Just to be safe, Russia began to mobilize its reserves. It would be six months before they would be ready for war.

This is the point at which the Great War becomes inevitable. Germany has long anticipated war against Russia and France. It had feared and readied itself for this moment. They could mobilize their reserves in just two weeks. As stated, they had the best army in the world, but they could not fight a war on two fronts. If it came to that, they would be doomed. Their only chance at victory was to quickly eliminate France before the Russians could mobilize, then turn their army against Russia. For this to work, Germany had to act quickly, at the first sign of trouble. If the Russians mobilized their reserves, Germany couldn't afford to wait and see. The orders went out as soon as they received the news.

[As another aside, the Kaiser actually tried to abort the invasion of France, but due to the above-mentioned military plans on auto-pilot, his minister of war told him that he couldn't simply reverse all the trains. If he did, (he could have, indeed, the man in charge of organizing the trains published a book after the war showing precisely how it could have been done) the war might have stayed as a local Germany/Austria-Hungary vs. Serbia/Russia war... assuming the French would be in the mood to not attack Germany of course, which, to the Germans at least, didn't look very likely.]

Germany's plan, as stated, was to quickly take out France before Russia could mobilize and then turn to face the Russians, something known as the Schlieffen Plan. To take out France quickly enough (avoiding French frontier defenses on their mutual border), Germany had to go through Belgium -- a neutral country. Germany planned to just walk through Belgium, promising that they'd leave the Belgians alone. But those Belgians weren't having any of that, so they resisted. While terribly outgunned, at the very least tying up resources in Belgium did manage to slow Germany down a bit. The invasion (followed by frequently exaggerated but sometimes dismally true tales of atrocities) brought Britain into the war because Britain had guaranteed Belgian neutrality. While France had intended to invade Belgium itself if German forces were allowed transit through it, Albert's refusal of access to the Germans shelved that plan (see Crowning Moment of Awesome below).

[As an aside, Britain technically did not have to enter the war because of German encroachment on Belgian territory nor was this their primary concern. Britain had a massive global empire with colonies spread out all over the world. For the protection and administration of these colonies, they were dependent upon the good will of France and Russia, both of which owned territories neighboring their own. Besides this, the British economy was largely dependent on trade with the continent. Because of their bad relations with Germany and the economics of a united Europe, it was very much in their best interests that the continent remain divided in a balance of power. Lastly, Britain was in competition with Germany at this time for control of global trade. The two countries were locked in a naval arms race competing for the same markets. There was no room for them to be allies.]

The Western Allies, thanks to determined Belgian resistance, the fighting retreat of the British Expeditionary Force from Mons, and Foch's counter-attack at the Marne stopped the German advance before they could reach Paris. The result was a race to the sea (or rather, mutual attempts at outflanking which perforce ended there) and entrenchment of lines.

America, while Britain's ally, stayed out of the war at this point for a number of reasons including but not limited to: a strong isolationist fervor among the American populace, a worry over a possible repeat of the casualty numbers from their Civil War, a hesitancy over the loyalty of German immigrants, and a perceived lack of relevance (i.e, "What does it matter to us if Europe shoots itself up?") Despite this surface neutrality, however, America secretly shipped munitions and other supplies to Britain and the other Allies almost from day one. This didn't slip past Germany, which partially started unrestricted submarine warfare for this reason--the Lusitania's sinking, which so enraged Americans, was mainly done to take out the piles of munitions it was carrying to Europe. To anyone who cared to look, it was clear what side the U.S. was rooting for.

Romania entered the war on the Allied side in 1916 hoping to gain the largely ethnic Romanian territory of Transylvania[1], and promptly got defeated thanks to poor training, horrible planning and (historically completely understandable) distrust towards Russia; the Japanese came in on the Allied side because of treaty obligations with Britain in late 1914, (and not because they wanted the German colonies in the Pacific, as many American scholars have falsely declared,) and made a good showing in every theater in which they were involved, especially in the Far Eastern and Mediterranean theaters. Tiny Serbia held off three Austro-Hungarian armies before getting pwned by the Germans and the Bulgarians. British, German, French, and Belgian armies chased each other all over Africa. Brazil joined the Allies and her navy went sub-hunting in the Atlantic. The British Empire was still going, so men from Ireland, Canada, Newfoundland (then a separate Dominion), South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, India and elsewhere all fought in France, not to mention the millions of Senegalese, Algerians, Moroccans and so on in the French army. The British drove the Turks out of Arabia and the Holy Land and decided it would be a great idea to split it up into countries like Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, and Lebanon. That worked out slightly better than Gallipoli, a textbook example of a military fiasco and A Simple Plan going horribly wrong, which was planned by Winston Churchill and very nearly ended his career.

Russia did very badly; their soldiers fought as bravely as any others, but the supply situation was absolutely horrendous from the outset, their "steamroller" tactics were ineffective and by 1917 they had been pushed back hundreds of miles and had lost all of Poland and Lithuania to the Germans (though in fairness they had some competent chaps like Brusilov, who in 1916 had gone back on the offensive and broken the back of the Austro-Hungarian army). Perhaps worse, the Russian economy collapsed; nearly all Russian pre-war overseas trade went through either the Baltic (controlled by Germany) or through the Dardanelles (controlled by the Ottoman Empire - opening a route to bring badly needed supplies to Russia was the most pressing reason for Gallipoli). The casualties, the shortages and the inflation of the war led to the overthrow of the Tsar. When the new government didn't end the war, the Bolsheviks took over and promptly did so- for a while.

The British even had a mini-conflict all of their own in Ireland, where the Easter Rising took place. Ironically, the war had seemed to Britain like a golden opportunity to submerge Irish tensions (which were getting close to bursting over the issue of Home Rule)... but, like just about every other war aim, things went badly wrong.

The longest-running theatre of the war was in Africa, as the British and French tried to cut off Germany from its colonies. Most fell easily and quickly, but the story was different in German East Africa (now Burundi, Rwanda, and most of Tanzania). German commander Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck managed to tie down 300,000 Allied troops with a far smaller force of mostly African soldiers. He fought through the whole war and only surrendered in late November 1918, after being informed by the British (while he was making plans for another offensive) that Germany herself had already surrendered.

A recent revisionist theory (or rather a once popular but long forgotten one) is (re-)emerging that the most decisive theatre was not on land at all but at sea. Pre-war British theory was based on the idea of the naval blockade, essentially that Britain could use its most powerful weapon (the largest navy in the world) to strangle Germany. Germany depended heavily on overseas trade, indeed she possessed the second largest merchant fleet in the world in 1914, and without vital materials, she could not go on. As it happened the British underestimated the German capacity to find alternative sources of material, but the basic idea was sound: food (a third of which had been imported before 1914) could be grown in Germany, but this was only a partial solution -- and a short term one as Germany began to run out of even these essentials and the country starved. German chemists invented ersatz bread, ersatz coffee, ersatz beverages, and many other ersatzes, but this wasn't a solution that made people happy. It has been argued that this (rather than any specific military defeat) is what broke the German will to continue the war. At the very least it led to the reckless gamble of unrestricted submarine warfare, which brought the US into the war.

The most famous naval battle of the war, the Battle of Jutland in May 1916, was a Pyrrhic Victory for Germany - their fleet was badly damaged and spent the rest of the war in home waters. Still, Britain suffered heavier losses in terms of ships and men, including two of their Glass Cannon Battlecruisers. This was arguably Germany's strategy - they knew Britain depended on a two-power standard (having as many ships as the next two greatest combined) so they thought they just needed enough to threaten any individual nation's balance of power, and so Britain wouldn't enter the war or engage in battle if the German fleet was merely large enough to ruin that. Interestingly the German revolution began with disaffected sailors of the High Seas Fleet, rather than the soldiers who saw much more action and heavier losses.

Eventually, the German tactics of allowing their submarines to sink any ship they wanted, whoever it belonged to -- along with a botched plot to convince Mexico to invade the US[2] -- annoyed the Americans so much that they got involved too (though volunteers had been joining the British, French, and Italian forces throughout). The Germans had one more big push in the Spring of 1918 to try and win before the Yanks arrived in numbers -- they broke through the lines into the open country beyond and it looked for a while as if they might actually do it. But in the end they ran out of steam and the French, newly-arrived Americans, British, Canadians and ANZACs (in order of size) pushed them right back across the lines and won the war. Just.

Pushing 1918 into the winner's circle for the title of Worst Year Ever (*cough*1945*cough*) was an influenza pandemic. The Spanish Flu (which actually originated in Fort Riley, Kansas) struck that fall, killing between fifty and a hundred million people (2.5-5% of the then global population) compared to the war's ten or fifteen million, but has largely been forgotten by history and fiction. The war actually helped its spread (troop transportation), and four years of malnutrition and stress probably hadn't strengthened anyone's immune system, but today it's thought that that flu strain was killed by inciting a cytokine storm (basically, your immune system goes berserk). Certainly, the 1918 flu was unusual in that it mostly killed healthy adults, as opposed to the more usual flu victims: the sick, the very young, and the very old. Also very unusual in that almost none of the stories or films set in the period even mention it--even contemporary fiction. Rilla of Ingleside, by L. M. Montgomery, chronicles the entire war without touching on it at all.

Four empires were toppled (Russian, German, Austrian-Hungarian and Ottoman) and the winners took the opportunity in the Treaty of Versailles to redraw the map of Europe along what were supposed to be ethnic lines but in fact just stored up more problems for the future (Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Danzig, to name the biggest). The treaty terms were really harsh on the Germans (including the Austrians, who voted to join Germany and were told to stuff it... until 1938, anyway) and the Hungarians (who lost two-thirds of their country) storing up lots of resentment that would come back to haunt the Allies later - though some modern historians now believe they were actually not hard enough and served the worst of both worlds in angering Germany but not substantially weakening her. Additionally, it's been argued that - if the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk negotiated by the Germans and the new Bolshevik government in Russia was any indicator - whatever treaty the victorious Germans might have come up with could have been even harsher.

Russia became the first Communist country late in this war, although that was only because of wartime starvation itself. Similarly, the Treaty of Versailles completely ignored the pleas from imperial colonies like French Indochina or disadvantaged countries like China to reform the European policies in said countries; this lead to anger and mistrust throughout the 20s and 30s that contributed to said countries later becoming Communist.

Interestingly, two of the most iconic German symbols of the war -- the spiked "Pickelhaube" helmet and the bright red Fokker Triplane -- were relatively short-lived. The Pickelhaube looked cool (sort of) but was useless for keeping the wearer's head safe so was quickly replaced by the end of 1915 by the Stahlhelm, "coal-scuttle" helmet, whose improved version became the symbol of the German forces in World War II. The Triplane was never that successful and quickly withdrawn after April 1917. The only red ones were flown by the Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen, and his younger brother Lothar -- the iconic image simply stuck.

The war also ushered in modern espionage, to say nothing of modern spy fiction (although it had already had a leg up from Erskine Childer's The Riddle of the Sands, which was actually semi-predicting the war at the beginning of the 20th century).

There were many future writers in the trenches: notably, JRR Tolkien and AA Milne served in the British infantry, while Ernest Hemingway and Walt Disney volunteered to serve as Red Cross ambulance drivers; on the other side, philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein served in the Austrian artillery. One who did not survive his service was William Hope Hodgson, author of The Night Land who was killed by a shell in 1918; the accomplished Dead Baby Comedy writer Saki was also killed, shot by a German sniper after yelling at another soldier to put out his cigarette (he was discovered because of his yell). The famous German painter and founding member of "The Blue Rider", Franz Marc, was killed by a grenade at Verdun. And sadly, there was at least one young, promising scientist in the trenches: the physicist Henry Moseley, who discovered the principle underlying atomic number, establishing the periodic law, was killed at Gallipoli, just as his career was getting off the ground. The French lost Andre Durkheim, a promising young linguist and the son and protegee of the notable sociologist Emile Durkheim. Sent to the Belgian front in late 1915 Andre Durkheim was declared missing in January and declared dead in April of 1916. The elder Durkheim never quite recovered from the loss of his son, dying himself in 1917. The loss of many of his other protegees and friends in the trenches didn't exactly help. Fighting on the German side was another physicist, Karl Schwarzschild, who was the first to use Albert Einstein's new General Theory of Relativity to predict black holes. He died on the Russian front.

Another semi-important character who fought in the trenches, some obscure painter named Adolf something, would eventually set off the sequel.

Tropes of WWI
  • Ace Pilot: The very origin of the trope and its name, and the chronological home of...
    • The Red Baron: Manfred von Richthofen, the best-known flying ace in history. He was the highest-scoring pilot of the war, with 80 kills, although his score was beaten by quite a few people in World War Two. His reputation at the time and among both sides has turned him into something of an archetype for the Ace Pilot, however.
    • Billy Bishop: a Canadian flying ace. Do not insult him in front of Canadians.
  • Appropriated Title: The conflict was originally referred as The Great War or The War to End All Wars by its contemporaries and historians. It only got the name World War One after the sequel came out.
    • The name was actually already being used by, or just after, its end — the more forward-looking military historians recognizing that the war had left far too many scores unsettled for there not to be a rematch.

Ferdinand Foch: This is not a peace. It is an armistice for twenty years.

  • Armored Coffins: Plane crews did not have parachutes. Some officers considered that the crew should not be allowed to leave the plane, as that would be cowardice. It was thought at the time that if a pilot had a parachute, he would jump from the plane when hit rather than trying to save the aircraft.
    • Some German planes/pilots were equipped with parachutes towards the end of the war (Hermann Goering was saved by one.) Also, balloon observers and zeppelin crews on both sides had parachutes.
  • Badass Beard: The French soldiers' nickname was "les Poilus" (the hairy ones). Guess why.
  • BFG: Big Bertha is the most famous example of the howitzer cannons employed by both sides.
  • Body Horror: Soldiers who survived the worst imaginable injuries often had to exist in a state of A Fate Worse Than Death for the rest of their lives... If you were injured and disfigured young? Too bad for you...
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: Rear line troops often got quite outdated equipment with black powder firearms seeing regular use.
    • Mortars, invented in the 16th Century and otherwise discarded for some time after the 18th, saw a major renaissance in this war.
  • Didn't See That Coming: The Germans were caught by surprise by the French using tear gas on their soldiers, and the Allies were even more surprised when the Germans deployed poison gas. Also, tanks was an absolute and terrifying surprise.
    • The MAS (short for motobarca armata SVAN, SVAN being the original manufacturer), the torpedo boats of the Italian Navy, were essentially speedboats with a torpedo strapped on either side and discounted as nothing more than a nuisance. The Austro-Hungarian Navy literally failed to see two of them having a chance encounter with their flagship, sink it, and run away, and thought the Szent Istvan had been sunk by submarines until the Italian propaganda started boasting.
    • Driven to Suicide: As a result of the above and the below-mentioned Crapsack World.
    • Modern plastic surgery owes its beginnings to this. The results were primitive [dead link] by today's standards, but they were far better than nothing. In particular, big advancements were made in prosthetic eyes.
  • Book Ends: The treaty that ended the war and the German Empire was signed in Versailles, the same place where the German Empire was unified and proclaimed after the Franco-Prussian War.
  • Cassandra Truth: Charles I of the Austro-Hungarian Empire protested against Imperial Germany's plan to allow certain dissidents hiding in Switzerland safe passage into Russia in the hopes of driving them out of the war, with the Germans ultimately dismissing the warning. Said dissidents also happened to include Vladimir Lenin, their return having drastic consequences.
  • Colonel Kilgore: A disturbingly large number of veterans threw themselves back into fighting almost as soon as the war ended - the Freikorps might be the most famous. Still, even in nominally victorious Britain at least 10,000 ex-British soldiers volunteered to fight the IRA (itself with more than a few ex-soldiers in its ranks) in Ireland. Although, considering what some of those soldiers did in Ireland...
  • Crying Wolf: A lot of people did not take reports of German rearmament or the World War Two Holocaust seriously because the last generation was jaded from exaggerated propaganda about the brutality of the enemy in this war.
    • The Holocaust started well after World War II began. Also, in addition to a jaded populace, the British government knew that war with Germany would be, at best, a Pyrrhic Victory (They did lose their superpower status at the end of World War II, so their fears were justified).
  • Dawn of an Era: A rather dark example, as the war and its aftermath, would decisively shape the modern world as we know it today.
  • Disaster Dominoes: How that war was triggered. And arguably what the war's end eventually triggers.
  • Earth Is a Battlefield: Although it's mostly known for fighting in France, Belgium and Russia, there were battles all over the place. Technically, as they were Empires, the governments involved covered the entire earth, but the fighting was heavily concentrated on small fronts.
  • The Empire: Several of them, and some of those empires ceased to exist because of this war. This leads to...
  • End of an Age: By the time the war was over, the Russian, German, Ottoman, and Austro-Hungarian Empires had collapsed, their colonies and territories either carved up by the victors or declaring themselves independent nations. Britain was the only European empire still standing, and it soon found its overseas territories clamoring for home rule. The time when the world would be ruled by a handful of ancient monarchies came to an end, to be replaced by international cooperation among a diverse collection of independent republics. At least, that's what the revolutionaries hoped would happen. Things didn't exactly pan out that way.
  • Feuding Families: Since virtually all the European monarchies were by now related, the whole war was technically this. Kaiser Wilhelm and Tsar Nicholas II, second cousins, called one another "Willy" and "Nicky" before things went too far downhill for diplomacy. Both were first cousins of King George V, then-current monarch of England, as was Nicholas' wife Alexandra, whose grandmother was Queen Victoria.
    • To drive this home, this picture shows Queen Victoria at Coburg inn 1894 with her some of her extended family. In that picture, you have two future British Kings, as well as the last Kaiser (of Germany) and the last Czarina (of Russia), and those are just children and grandchildren.
  • Flanderization: World War I more often than not tends to be associated with trench warfare and other harrowing scenes from the Western Front, sidelining the other aspects of the conflict.
  • Foreshadowing:

"War will come over some damn thing in the Balkans." - Germany's Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, about two decades before the war
"The crash will come twenty years after I am gone." - Bismarck, 18 years before the end of the German Empire
"The lights are going out all over Europe: we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime." - Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Minister, as the war began
"This is no peace, it is an armistice for twenty years." - French Marshal Ferdinand Foch, on the Treaty of Versailles.

    • Continuing on the Foch quote; US general Pershing hated the idea of an Armistice because he believed that unless they obtained an unconditional surrender the German people would come to believe that they were defeated for reasons other than military. He was right.
    • A cartoon from the time of the Versailles treaty shows Lloyd-George saying to his fellow leaders: "Listen. Do you hear a child crying?" Said child is unseen in a corner weeping over a torn copy of the treaty. Virtually any boy born in England or France in 1918-1919 would have been conscripted in 1939.
  • Friend or Foe: Everywhere, especially with artillery and between the Austro-Hungarians, who were divided by language.
  • Gambit Pileup: The entire war was a textbook example of this; in some cases, the gears had been turning since the seventeenth century.
  • General Failure: On virtually every side and a large part of why the war was as horrible and bloody as it was. Generals, and most senior officers, of the time, often had their position from politics rather than competence, having never seen combat in their career, dreamed of glorious victories with lost men as statistics, and often hated other countries that were on the same side all while refusing to embrace modern tactics.
  • Go-Karting with Bowser: On Christmas, 1914, forces in certain areas took a break from the war to go into No Man's Land and play soccer/football with each other and generally fraternize with the enemy. It was not universal, and ended up being stopped by the higher-ups on both sides, but stands out as a bit of heartwarmingness in one of the bleakest periods of the Twentieth Century.
  • Gray and Gray Morality: Unlike the sequel, the good-versus-evil battle was far less obvious; as almost all the countries initially involved were motivated by a combination of greed, racism, and nationalistic fervor. While the Central Powers did things like impose extremely nasty measures in the areas they occupied and violated several agreements regarding the rules of war that they were party to, as well as giving the Bolsheviks the leg up they needed to seize power, and the use of genocide to "Germanify" or "Turkify" several regions under their control, all of which ironically probably led to their defeat. The Allies were better, but they still were willing to launch air attacks against civilian targets (though not on the scale of the sequel), and blockade Germany and its allies even AFTER the war on the justification that the war was not over until Berlin signed the peace treaty and recalled its holdouts in some of the still-occupied regions, used poison gas, smuggled war materials in neutrally-flagged ships, and (in the case of the Russian government) indulged in anti-Semitic paranoia. Nobody descended to QUITE the level Those Wacky Nazis did, but the failure to prosecute war criminals after the war doubtless didn't discourage them.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: Immediately after the war ended, many people were so disgusted by the scale of death and destruction that they declared that they had finally seen the worst humanity was capable of. They were wrong.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Very rare in today's media, but in the immediate aftermath Hindenburg (who didn't do much) and Ludendorff (who lost) both made out that they were True German Heroes who had been betrayed by defeatists at home.
    • Woodrow Wilson, the President of the US and overseer of the Treaty of Versailles, was a fairly good-hearted man who genuinely tried to avert another such conflict and seriously attempted to make things better for countries... provided their populations were white. His racism and his purposeful creation of an imperfect schooling system (intended to create primarily staff for factories) are generally glossed over.
    • Sir Douglas Haig, in one of his wiser moments, realized that the only way it could end well as if the same Imperial Germany which had started the war signed the armistice to end it; this proved not to be the case, and the job (and the blame) fell on the civilians.
  • Hey, It's That Guy!: Many people who later became famous in a variety of fields were anonymous soldiers in World War I - whether it be political leaders like Adolf Hitler or writers like JRR Tolkien and Ernest Hemingway. A common, poignant Alternate History speculation centers around considering, given how many gifted people came out of the trenches, how many more would that generation have produced if so many of their comrades hadn't died there. It may also work the other way, given how so many of these notables were spurred onto their future actions in one way or another by their experiences in the trenches and how they may have lacked similar impetus without the war.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: German Emperor Wilhelm II, in most portrayals from Allied countries.
    • By extension, Germany as a whole, and to a lesser extent Austria and Russia, seem to get this treatment. For example, referring to Germany's policy of creating dependent nations from the peoples of what had been the Russian empire as "Lebensraum".
    • The Japanese got hit with this as well, mostly thanks to American views on the subject, and the perception at the time by some Royal Navy Officers, most notably Admiral John Jellicoe, the commander of the British Grand Fleet, that the Japanese weren't contributing that much to the war effort, despite heavy involvement in secondary theaters (Tsingtao, anyone?) and in tasks like escorting troopships and convoys headed for Europe. The whole bit about just being in it for the German Pacific colonies is a pretty hefty exaggeration, but not entirely a fabrication. They did also end up with pretty hefty rewards for relatively limited pain (about 415 dead and 907 wounded.)
  • Hollywood Tactics: Heavily exaggerated by, ironically enough, Hollywood, but some pretty stupid things were done.
    • Sadly enough, this was justified. Technology had far outstripped an understanding of tactics by then. The last big wars were fought against Napoleon, using formations and muzzle-loading muskets - or at the very least, artillery that was short-ranged and slow to load. Of the nations fighting this one, only one had had any prior experience with the levels of Dakka flying around: the late-coming Yanks, from The American Civil War. (And even then we would have been out of our depths with the aircraft and tanks.)
      • It's hardly true that the American Civil War was the most recent or relevant war by WWI. Later and more relevant military experience came from the British during the Boer War (1899-1902), and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). Both wars involved much of the same technology that lead to the stalemate in the Great War-barbed wire and long-ranged, rapid-fire infantry weapons that could drive artillery from the field. The first made defenses incredibly difficult for infantry to breach, while the second ensured that artillery fire was indirect and therefore imprecise, mandating the long bombardments as seen at the Somme. In the Boer War, the British found that their forces could be pinned down by very small numbers of Boers armed with modern rifles and that shock attacks were essentially useless (see especially the early days of the war). By the end of the war, the British were using barbed wire to parcel in the remaining Boers, denying mobility. The Russo-Japanese War involved several engagements that closely resembled WWI-style trench warfare, especially the Battle of Mukden. Both sides were well entrenched, with barbed wire, machine guns, and trenches. The minor gains and ~165 000 casualties were certainly similar to a WWI battle. Both wars (and the American Civil War) were well observed by the major powers of WWI, and it's pretty clear that everyone knew what they were getting into. It took until ~1917, however, for them to figure out what to do about it.
    • The 1870 Franco-Prussian War was the main reason for France to declare war to Germany in 1914. Some of the tactics (and clothing, with red "shoot-me" pants) were still in use in the French army more than forty years later, much to disastrous effects, which lead to trenches warfare and blue outfits.
  • Home by Christmas: The countries involved were confident that their soldiers would come home victoriously within months, a popular belief too; the soldiers on their way to the front were cheerfully saluted and joined by the citizens for a few miles. The scenario of an industrialized meat grinder war of attrition had not been experienced in Europe yet.
  • Idiot Plot: The Idiot Ball gets passed back and forth between everyone. France and Britain went to war with Germany, which produced 90% of their high explosives, without the ready ability to manufacture elsewhere. The Belgians claimed their forts were still holding out weeks after the Germans had captured them, the Allies believed that Victorian tactics could work, and finally the Germans for trying to get Mexico to invade the US and alienate most of the world.
    • Fridge Logic was introduced by the Mexican General Staff, which was forwarded the Zimmerman Note for analysis by President Carranza. They concluded that Germany was trying to incite Mexico to attack the United States with no risk or sacrifice to Germany. Assurances of German financial support were meaningless, as the only country capable of selling Mexico enough arms to defeat the United States was the United States itself! And Germany's own wartime demands (to say nothing of the British blockade) ensured that the Germans could not provide Mexico with additional troops, weapons, or technical support. The Mexican army also concluded that the occupation would not be worth the trouble even if Mexico did manage to win and that provoking the United States would alienate the rest of Latin America (or possibly bring them into the war on the side of the Allies). Carranza, subsequently, told the Germans what they could do with their note.
    • Nothing beats the Italian general staff, though. When somebody sticks to the same Napoleonic Era war plan even after their army has been beaten attempting to cross that one river for the 11th time, you have to wonder what the hell they were smoking.
      • Less the Italian General Staff (who were all things considering- about as competent as anybody else and probably the equals or superiors of their Austro-Hungarian opponents) and more Luigi Cadorna, who came within a few steps of turning Italy into a military dictatorship under his command and who practically ran the war for the first two years of Italy's involvement. How bad was he? To this day the term Cadorna is still used as slang for something crappy BY THE ITALIANS. Unsurprisingly, the front turned around almost immediately when Cadorna was finally removed from power and replaced with Diaz in spite of Diaz inheriting the exact situation Cadorna had had with the additional negative effect of the enemy's smashing victory and Caporetto a month or so earlier.
    • Also the way war broke out was because of the various war plans. If Russia thought there would be any trouble with Austria they would mobilize against Austria and Germany, and if Germany thought Russia was mobilizing they would immediately invade France and Belgium. Guess what happened.
  • Improvised Weapon: Early on in the war, the British were able to defeat the Germans using mass rifle fire. However, as trench warfare developed, much of the fighting occurred in close quarters when raiding trenches, for which the long bolt action rifles, with bayonets fixed, were utterly impractical. Soldiers took to using shovels, knives, brass knuckles, clubs, and maces as mêlée weapons. As the British had discontinued the use of grenades several decades earlier, soldiers had to improvise those as well until the Mills Bomb was issued.
  • It Got Worse: After the war ended, the world was devastated by the Spanish Flu -- spread by the returning soldiers who had more or less created ideal pandemic conditions by staying in wet trenches with corpses everywhere -- which killed up to 100 million people (by comparison, four years of War killed perhaps 16 million people)
  • Knight Templar Parent: Franz Joseph.
    • If this is in reference to Archduke Franz Ferdinand, then it should be pointed out that Franz Joseph didn't particularly like him. The declaration of war against Serbia was to take a hard line against violent nationalism, not revenge.
  • Last of His Kind: Most of the last surviving veterans of the war have died in the past 15 years. As of 2011, nobody who saw active combat remains (the last, Claude Choules (British-born Australian, served in the RN and RAN) died May 5th, 2011). The last known survivor was Florence Green (British, last female veteran, died 7 Feb 2012). The last Canadian, Polish, Ukrainian and Austro-Hungarian veterans died only recently, only one to four years ago. Also, the last American veteran, Frank Buckles, died on February 27th, 2011.
  • Memetic Badass: Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, commander of German forces in East Africa, intentionally built up a crazy reputation among both his enemies and his own troops through such acts as personally reconnoitering a battlefield on his bicycle. When he lost his glass eye and one of his Askaris (African troops) found it, returned it, and asked why he had dropped it, he replied "I left it there, to make sure that you would do your duty." By the end of the campaign, his enemies believed he was carrying his men on his back and going barefoot to conserve boots. After the war, he managed to get England to pay the retirement funds of his African troops. Let me repeat that: he managed to get England to pay for the retirement of the people who had shot at their soldiers.
    • He was also a Father to His Men, insisting that his black troops be treated the same as his white troops. When Lettow-Vorbeck returned to East Africa in 1953, his surviving askaris assembled and serenaded him with their marching song.
    • Lettow-Vorbeck was offered the ambassadorship to Great Britain by Hitler but, distrusting the Nazi party, told Hitler what he could do with the proposal. According to one interview:

"I understand that von Lettow told Hitler to go fuck himself."
"That's right, but I don't think he put it that politely."

    • Also, Canadian troops are the origin of the term Stormtrooper. The German forces called them that because whenever you saw Canadians in the line, you knew there was going to be an attack in the morning. It eventually reached the point where the command could draw German troops away from an area by supplying them with misinformation on the locations of Canadian units. There was also a nasty rumor that Canadians were immune to gas attacks and the cold. Only the latter is true.
  • Misblamed: The Spanish Flu actually originated in Kansas. Since Spain was the only neutral country around, the Spanish press was the only one that gave more importance to the disease than to the war, and people came to believe it had originated in Spain.
  • Modern Major-General: Far too many officers on every side tried to use nineteenth-century tactics against twentieth-century weapons for the first few years of the war. It was not a success.
  • Mordor: What the most frequented frontlines looked like after years and years of bombardment and endless battles, notably on the Western Front. The battlefield near Paschendale looked particularly dreary in 1917 - a hellish, completely blasted-to-bits muddy wasteland.
    • Tolkien even hinted at, years later, that the frontlines in Belgium and France (where he served as an army medic) gave him a lot of inspiration for Mordor. So, oddly, they sort of count as a Trope Codifier.
      • In particular, the Dead Marshes crossed by Frodo, Sam, and Gollum in The Two Towers were directly inspired by things Tolkien saw during the war: a wretched swamp filled with the corpses of soldiers.
  • More Dakka: Probably set a record for extreme concentrations of firepower. As just one example, the Battle of the Somme saw the British fire 12,000 tons of artillery ordnance at the German lines. The Germans, largely sheltered in excellent German engineering bunkers, emerged to intercept the following infantry attack - and inflict 60,000 British casualties in one day with machine guns. Nineteen thousand people were shot to death in one day and that was just the start of the battle; it went on for five months and ultimately caused well over one million casualties.
    • A detachment of the British Machine Gun Corps with 12 Vickers machine guns worked their way through a million rounds in 12 hours at High Wood.
    • The mines at the Messines ridge were packed with 600 tons of explosives, creating the largest artificial explosion ever, unsurpassed until Trinity, in a blast that was heard over 100 miles away, killing 10,000 people in a matter of seconds at the start of the offensive.
      • The Halifax Explosion occurred in Canada, when a ship carrying munitions to the war caught fire, killing 2000, injuring over 9000, and flattening the town. It's considered the largest accidental explosion. Meaning, the largest purposeful conventional explosion, and the largest accidental explosion are both due to this war.
    • After all was totted up, it's reckoned that one ton of explosives was spent killing each of the war's casualties.
    • There is also the Paris Gun, an enormous cannon built by the Germans that could fire shells eighty miles, so far and high that Coriolis Force affected the shots.
  • Mundane Utility: One of the first militaries uses for aircraft, a technology that man has sought desperately since its infancy millions of years ago and has only now just acquired, was to look at the enemy from a very high place. Technically beaten to by the use of balloons in the American Civil War, but those could barely reach fraction of the height a plan could and were of much more limited utlity.
  • Multinational Team: Applies to most belligerent empires/states:
    • British Empire and Commonwealth armies were assembled from a quarter of the globe. A flotilla of Japanese destroyers even served with the British Mediterranean fleet.
    • France used troops from across its Empire (mostly from Senegal) and the famous Foreign Legion.
    • The Austro-Hungarian Empire included not only Austria and Hungary but many other central European and Balkan regions, nations and city-states as well.
    • The Ottoman Empire included modern Turkey and all of the middle east from present-day Iraq to Egypt (although Egypt split off almost as soon as the war began--being semi-independent since the early 19th century and occupied by Britain since the 1880s).
    • Russian Empire formed the first Latvian Riflemen brigades during this war. That came to bite them in the ass when the Riflemen supported Bolsheviks, giving the Reds a good number of battle-hardened troops resenting the Empire.
  • Neutral No Longer: Several examples. The British Empire after the invasion of neutral Belgium and the United States when Germany enacted unrestricted submarine warfare.
  • Never My Fault: The Ottoman Empire's reaction to its crippling loss to the Russians after trying to invade in the dead of winter. Instead of blaming bad judgment on their part, they turned on the minorities within their empire for allegedly 'helping' the Russians.
    • It is certain that a good number of the Armenians and Pontic Greeks on the campaign were spies for the Russians (though they were ironically outnumbered by the number of spies amongst the ethnic Turks the Russians had been cultivating since the 1870s) in part because of the Young Turk's savage reprisals against their entire communities for the actions of a handful of radicals. It is also certain that they did next to nothing in contributing to the Turkish defeat compared to the pure idiocy of Enver Pasha.
      • Ironically if the Ottoman army had invested more in helping the Germans fight rather than using much of their firearms and soldiers executing a Final Solution on their own citizens they may have stood more of a chance of winning. But, since they'd been massacring their Christian population on and off since the 1890s, they likely just saw their defeat by Russia as a good excuse to spread paranoia about all of them being traitors and finish them all off, regardless of how many actually were rooting for the other side. But one can hardly blame, for instance, the Armenians of the city of Van for holding out for the Russian army to liberate them while being put under siege because they wouldn't let the Ottoman army march them into the Syrian desert to die.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The Treaty of Versailles. Especially the debate in the United States over its ratification. Anti-Treaty Republicans wanted to compromise, especially in regard to President Woodrow Wilson's idea for the League of Nations. Having spurned the Republicans at Versailles, Wilson found a firestorm of opposition waiting for him at home and attempted to launch a nationwide campaign to rally support for the League. He overexerted himself campaigning and suffered a debilitating stroke that left the nation devoid of any real executive power at a critical juncture. The US failed to join the League as a result, upon hearing of its final defeat on the Senate floor, in one of his brief moments of coherence, Wilson is said to have commented "they have shamed us in the eyes of the world". The US failed to give its own critical involvement to the League of Nations, leaving it a weak and toothless organization that would largely prove impotent when faced with aggressive and ambitious dictators willing to flaunt international law
    • There's also a far-reaching incident that happened with Wilson while he was eating at a restaurant. A Vietnamese waiter came up to him and wanted to talk to him about French Indochina and the possibility of its independence from France. Wilson brushed him off. The waiter's name? Ho Chi Minh.
    • The first recorded cases of Spanish flu were among soldiers in Kansas. This makes it likely that American soldiers sent to the front lines were the ones who unknowingly carried it over to Europe, Typhoid Mary style.
    • Good job stopping the Germans at The Marne, France. Now you'll be stuck for the next 3 years in horrible trench warfare.
    • Nice job helping Lenin get back to Russia, allowing a Communist takeover which would beat you in World War Two and dooming the world to half a century of Cold War, Germany.
    • Nice job training German soldiers in secret after the war, Russia.
  • Obvious Beta: World War I was a testing ground for many military technologies that would see much greater use in later wars:
    • Tanks were born in this conflict, at least in the earliest form that can be associated with the modern use of the term. The tactics for their use would only become usable in WW2.
    • Aircraft carriers got their first use in this war, albeit in a very limited role. Actual profound usage in combat would be in WW2.
    • Airplanes had most of their basic tactics honed and refined in this war, with later wars expanding on them greatly.
    • Mass deployment of poison gas was pioneered in this war. While discouraged in later wars due to the horrific effects they had as applied to all sides in WWI, further refinements and enhancements to their use and protection from the same would develop based on their debut in WWI.
  • Only Sane Man: Charles I of Austria-Hungary, who became Emperor right in the middle of a war he didn't want to fight. He proposed a "peace without recriminations" in which all parties would simply lay down their weapons and go home to rebuild their shattered countries. The Allies simply scoffed at the proposal, the Germans were furious about Charles' plan to "abandon" them. Charles was then deposed at the end of the war. He tried to regain the Hungarian throne, but the Allies would never have allowed it, and the sitting ruler of Hungary didn't want trouble from them, even though it meant breaking his former oaths of loyalty to Charles. In the end, Charles died in poverty, exiled to the Portuguese island of Madeira. For everything he had done, he was Beatified by Pope John Paul II, and he will probably be Canonised a saint before long.

Anatole France: Emperor Karl is the only decent man to come out of the war in a leadership position, yet he was a saint and no one listened to him. He sincerely wanted peace, and therefore was despised by the whole world. It was a wonderful chance that was lost.

    • Benedict XV, too. He repeatedly said that the war was "the suicide of civilized Europe", even from the beginning, and proposed peace treaties similar to Blessed Karl's every year of the war. Nobody listened to him, either.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: In September 1914 the British auxiliary cruiser Carmania, disguised as the German liner Cap Trafalgar, encountered the German auxiliary cruiser Cap Trafalgar, which was disguised as the British liner Carmania. Oops.
  • Patriotic Fervour: Everyone. At least, at the start. It became a big factor at the end, too, with national independence movements springing up all over the place. One example over-looked by historians in the latter 20th Century but now starting to be studied more because of recent events is now starting to be looked at a little more closely, what is being referred to is the series of the uprising against the collapsing Ottoman Empire known as the Arab Revolt which saw the almost-independence of most of the Middle-East before the Allied Powers swept in and started mandating and redrawing the map of the middle east with very far-reaching consequences.
    • With Anti-German sentiment running high in the US, many things were re-named to disassociate them from German origins: Sauerkraut -> "Liberty Cabbage", Dachshunds -> "Liberty Hounds", German Measles -> "Liberty Measles", Frankfurters -> "Hot Dogs"
    • Not just a US thing. In Britain German Shepherds-> Alsatians, House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha -> House of Windsor, the Battenbergs -> Mountbatten. It's said that when the Kaiser heard that the English royal family had changed their name to "Windsor," he immediately proclaimed that he would retaliate by renaming Shakespeare's play to The Merry Wives of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.
    • Berlin, Ontario->Kitchener.
    • Averted in Berlin, New Hampshire. They kept the name perhaps because the local pronunciation accented the first syllable (BER-lin as opposed to ber-LIN).
    • Even in Russia, Sankt Petersburg > Petrograd (> Leningrad, post-Russian Civil War).
    • In France, too: A little town named Allemagne (Germany) was renamed Fleury-sur-Orne.
    • It didn't apply just to places or items, many immigrants were forced to change their names to more "American" sounding ones.
      • "Schmidt" became "Smith", "Schneider" became "Snider" (why not "Taylor"? That's what it means, after all), "Huber" became "Hoover"...
  • Pretext for War: The Assassination of Franz Ferdinand. Despite the mediator's attempts to stop the war.
  • Rightful King Returns: Defied at the end of the war. The Allied powers and "Little Entente" made a point to ensure that the Habsburgs never regained power.
  • Red Scare: The Trope codifier, as it saw the Bolsheviks came to power in Russia with the help of the Germans despite Austro-Hungarian objections, who proceeded to break away from the Allies and try to confiscate various Allied military supplies still in Russia, which eventually ballooned into all out civil war, a Western intervention, and several foreign invasions that left a great deal of animosity between the Soviets and most of the rest of the World and sharp internal divisions and suspicion of the domestic Left throughout the West.
  • Redshirt Army: Everyone.
  • Red Shirt Reporter: A very enthusiastic war reporter, Benito Mussolini.
  • Retired Badass: General Hindenburg was forced out of retirement to be one of the few generals of the early war who had seen combat. While a lot of his contemporary fame came from more from Russian mass incompetence than his own ability, he was still one of the chillingly few competent generals of the war.
  • Russian Guy Suffers Most: They had the largest death toll, followed by France and Austria-Hungary.
    • Debateable: Germany suffered the largest confirmed death toll at around 2 million. Russian figures may have been higher, but no one is sure. If you include the immediately subsequent Russian civil war, then this trope is played straight.
      • Problem with Russia is how you figure 'Russian' death tolls as it was a multinational empire at the war's start and a different multinational dictatorship at the end. Do you count Polish, Ukrainian, Lithuanian etc. deaths as Russian or not? It impacts the overall numbers.
    • Less debatable is the Russian military equipment being pretty sub-par. Malnourished and ill-equipped troops were the norm in that empire.
  • Schizo-Tech: The introduction of poison gas, tanks, and surveillance aircraft (as well as one of the first campaigns of aerial assault led by Lt. Commander Peter Strasser) mixed with distinctly old-world attitudes and aesthetics.
  • Seductive Spy: The folklore that arose around former Trope Namer Mata Hari essentially codified the trope during this war.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Practically every common footsoldier (though not only them). The war itself was the actual originator of the term "shell shock".
  • Shotguns Are Just Better: So much so that the Germans decided that anybody captured with one would be executed on the spot.
  • Shot At Dawn: Not as common as people think. Most of the British soldiers killed were actually shot for things like murder and many sentences were commuted.
    • Other armies such as the Italian army were a different story, however. Around 6% of the ranks were tried by Court Martial and shot.
  • A Simple Plan: The Schlieffen Plan. Many say it could never actually have worked whatever happened, but even despite one thing going wrong after another, the Germans did get uncomfortably close to Paris. By extension, the initial "Charge-Bangabang-Tea+ Crumpets-VICTORY!" war plans of the Entente.
    • To summarize, the Schlieffen Plan was Germany's grand strategy for fighting a two-front war with both France and Russia. The idea was to deploy ~90% of the German army against France, with projections of defeating them utterly within six to eight weeks, and then redeploy the whole shebang by rail to deal with the Russians. Against France, Germany was divided into two separate flanks: The left flank would be used as Schmuck Bait to lure the French forces into the Rhineland and parts of Germany proper, while the stronger right flank would wrap around through Belgium and the Netherlands and envelop the French from the flanks, leaving the bulk of the French army surrounded and a strong German force a hop, skip, and jump away from Paris. Unfortunately for the Germans, after Schlieffen's retirement, he was replaced by Field Marshal von Moltke, who had issues with violating Dutch neutrality and with allowing France to occupy even a sliver of Germany, despite the strategic reasons for doing so. He altered the plan so as not to enter the Netherlands and redeployed over 250,000 men from the right flank to reinforce the left and the eastern front, wanting to beat the French in a stand-up fight with a minimum of detours through Belgium. Without those extra men, the German advance through Belgium and into France bogged down, leaving Germany to fight a war against France, a Belgian resistance force, the British expeditionary unit, and eventually Russia, exactly the situation the Schlieffen Plan was designed to prevent.
      • Schlieffen's plan was so precise that it even dictated the railroad timetables involved in moving troops in German, Belgium, and France. The 6-8 weeks figure comes from an intense study of the Russian railway system.
    • The original plan that eventually led to Gallipoli was based on the (not entirely unreasonable) idea that the Ottoman Empire was so shaky that a force of battleships shelling Constantinople would knock the Turks out of the war. For a variety of reasons things didn't work out, but some military historians consider that the naval campaign at least had some merit.
      • Gallipoli--the Dardanelles operation, that is--failed because of terrible leadership from the generals on the scene. The idea was sound.
  • Stuffed Into the Fridge: the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires definitely shared this fate at the war's end. In terms of individual lives, as many as 65 million cases, depending upon whether you include things like the Spanish Flu, the famine and civil war in Russia, the Armenian genocide, and other incidents directly or proximately caused by the war.
  • Tank Goodness: The first in history.
  • Tear Jerker: Many heart-warming poems and gut-wrenching stories were written, but perhaps the greatest tearjerker of the entire conflict is the reality of millions of men, no matter their nationality, going into battle perfectly aware they were going to die. To make it even more tragic, the war itself resulted in little more than setting up an even worse world war.
  • Unskilled but Strong: Many new technologies of the war didn't have developed tactics beyond straight-forward attacking until late war, but were still amazingly effective with unsubtle, direct use. Tank tactics in particular were underdeveloped, but that did little to stop their effectiveness.
  • Ur Example: Some historians credit the Seven Years' War from 1756 to 1763 as the real first World War, because of its global nature. World War I may then just be the Trope Codifier.
  • War Is Hell: This war was so horrible that everyone involved decided to never engage in war again.
  • Warrior Poet: Many many poets and writers served in the war. Siegfried Sassoon, JRR Tolkien, and John McCrae are only a few examples. The most famous war poet was Wilfred Owen, who died one week before the armistice.
    • Gabriele D'Annunzio is the most infamous due his tendency to pull insane acts and survive (including flying all the way from Italy to Vienna in a bomber and dropping leaflets just to prove they could).
  • The War to End All Wars: An example where it didn't work at all. Also, the Trope Namer.
  • We Have Reserves: The war, unfortunately, was made of this trope.
  • Western Terrorists: Gavrilo Princip
  • Worthy Opponent: The Red Baron and Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck were highly respected by their enemies. On the other side, many famous Entente heroes were this way.
    • Also Karl von Müller and the crew of the German commerce raider SMS Emden, sank 16 Allied merchant ships without taking a life. When she was finally sunk and her crew taken prisoner even the heavily anti-German British press saluted their courage and gallantry.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Lots of this, in many forms. Particularly once the Russian Civil War began, there was some romanticization of the War as a "global revolution." The 19th Century was very much the age of revolutions, with many nationalist and (small-r) republican movements springing up around the world. Colonial empires were slowly being dismantled from within, territories breaking away, becoming independent nations, and spreading democracy. From that perspective, the Great War was seen as the death throes of Imperialism, where the empires that dominated the world would fade away and be replaced by a more equitable, more modern form of government. Yeah...not exactly...
    • Charles I of Austria-Hungary can arguably be described as the right person at the worst possible time. As all his efforts to save the Habsburg domains and end the war ultimately proved to be either for naught or too little, too late.
  • You Fail Economics Forever: Germany's strategy for paying for the war, instead of increasing wartime taxes and other such things that the other countries did? Just print money. This left the Germans with a useless form of currency, with the life savings of a retired citizen barely enough to cover a table. People were using marks as fuel for their fires or wallpaper because there was nothing else they could do with them.
  • Young Future Famous People: Due to conscription, you generally couldn't throw a brick in the trenches without hitting someone who would grow up to be an important writer/actor/scientist/future political leader etc. (Most notably Adolf Hitler). This has led some to speculate on just how much the 20th century would have been enriched considering how many potential future famous people were killed in the war.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: Many cases. Most notably, the war's triggering event- if not its outright cause due to the powder keg nature of diplomacy at the time- was the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife by Gavrilo Princip of the Anarchist/Nationalist (go figure) group Young Bosnia, which was a front for Unification Or Death AKA the Black Hand, and who is still viewed as a hero by large segments of the population of the former Yugoslavia. Also, see the nationalist undergrounds within the Turkish and Russian Empires and the Bolsheviks.
  • Zerg Rush - A commonly used strategy, usually leading to a resounding victory - for the defenders.

Media set in this time period:

Anime and Manga

Comic Books

  • The most famous comic book example is DC's Enemy Ace, about the trials of an elite German flying ace who is profoundly haunted by the constant death around him of which he is a master dealer of in the unforgiving sky.
  • Charlie's War is a classic British comic with socialist overtones, that does not flinch from the horrors of battle.
  • One of the past incarnations of the goddess Promethea was an angelic figuring helping the soldiers fighting in the trenches of World War I.
  • Jacques Tardi is reknown for depicting War Is Hell in several graphic novels. The most famous being It was the War in the Trenches. His tendancies link the war to Strawman Political and Corrupt Corporate Executive. The usual French point of view about the conflict.
  • MARVEL hero the Phantom Eagle was an American pilot who fought against the Germans. He had to disguise his identity in order to protect his German-born parents (they had returned to Germany at the beginning of the War) from reprisals.
  • MARVEL hero Union Jack fought on the Western front against the Germans.
  • MARVEL hero John Steele (America's first super-soldier, complete with steel-hard skin and super_strength)fought on the Western front.
  • Freedom'sFive was a MARVEL team of heroes who fought for the allies: Union Jack (U.K.), Phantom Eagle (America), Sir Steel and the Silver Squire (U.K.), and the Crimson Cavalier (France).
  • MARVEL villain Baron Blood was an English traitor who fought for the Kaiser.
  • Nick Fury's father, Jack Fury, served as a pilot in the war.


  • The Big Parade. 1925 silent; wonderful story about a callow rich boy who joins the Army, falls in love with a French girl, then sees the hell of combat...
  • The Red Baron (known as Von Richthofen and Brown outside the US)
  • Black and White In Color is a French movie set somewhere in West Africa, on the border between a French colony and a German colony. When the French get news that they're at war with Germany, then they (well, the Africans under their control) go to war. It ends with the English arriving to announce that the Germans' superiors have already surrendered.
  • The A&E cable network made a movie about "The Lost Battalion", a US Army unit that during an attack was cut-off behind German lines. Fighting off attack after attack and in spite on mounting casualties and dwindling supplies they rejected every surrender demand that was made. They were rescued and returned back to US lines.
  • The African Queen.
    • And The Book It's Based on Mimi and Toutou's Big Adventure. The Tangiyaka campaign was just messed up.
      • Mimi and Toutou came well after that film, which was based on CS Forester's novel of the same name. The true story has been told in many places.
  • The 2008 German movie The Red Baron.
  • The Australian film Gallipoli
    • And another Australian one, Anzacs
  • The Lighthorsemen is an Australian film about a stunningly effective (and Truth in Television) mounted charge by Australian horsemen against entrenched Turkish infantry supported by artillery and machine guns, in Palestine.
    • Explained in-film as a result of the Turkish expectation that the Australians (who were mounted infantry, NOT cavalry) would dismount and advance on foot since they lacked sabres, and had set the sights on their rifles and MG's to the range corresponding to the dismount point. When they charge in on horseback instead, the Turks are so surprised and frightened that they simply blaze away and forget to re-set their sights to account for the decreasing range.
      • Much of the footage from the movie was used again by the director Simon Wincer in an episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles he directed about the same historical incident but with young Indy inserted in as an Allied spy. The episode also featured then-unknown actors Daniel Craig and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
  • The 2002 British Surreal Horror film Deathwatch, starring Andy Serkis and Jamie Bell, features a squad of Tommies getting lost in a German entrenchment. They are tormented by uncertainty of their whereabouts, mounting distrust of their lone German prisoner and each other, and increasingly supernatural phenomena. They are slowly picked off one by one. And the ending features a What Do You Mean Its Not Symbolic Mind Screw.
  • Flyboys is a 2006 film about the Lafayette Escadrille, a French fighter squadron composed entirely of American volunteers.
  • Lawrence of Arabia dealt with the Arab Revolt and Middle Eastern theatre.
  • A very touching 2005 French movie, Joyeux Noel ("Merry Christmas"), is about French and British soldiers briefly fraternizing with German soldiers on Christmas of 1914.
  • The 1941 Gary Cooper film Sergeant York was based on the true story of Sgt Alvin York, a pacifist farmhand who became a hero for an incident in 1918 where he single-handedly killed and captured over a hundred German soldiers.
  • Shout At The Devil A 1968 novel and 1976 film about a private war between English poachers and a German colonial official in East Africa.
  • The French film A Very Long Engagement is about Audrey Tatou's character's search for her fiancé who was lost and presumed dead in no man's land during the Battle of the Somme. We see WW 1 told through some pretty graphic flashbacks of the other men he was stationed with.
  • Zeppelin ! 1970 Michael York film about a German plot to steal the British crown jewels using the eponymous zeppelin and featuring flying sequences using accurate reproductions of actual WWI aircraft.
  • Legends of the Fall had Brad Pitt, Aidan Quinn and ET's best friend go off to Europe to fight on the Western Front.
  • The Eagle and the Hawk - depressingly realistic B&W movie in which the hero becomes increasingly and profoundly disillusioned by the number of young pilots dying under his command, finally snapping when the enemy ace he kills turns out to be no more than a fuzzy-cheeked youth. Driven beyond the brink, he kills himself. His best friend takes his body up in a two-seater and, using the rear gun, peppers the wings and the hero's head with bullets to make it appear as though he died in combat and thereby save his reputation.
  • Paths of Glory with Kirk Douglas. Directed in the late 50s by a then young Stanley Kubrick. An example of Shot At Dawn. And possibly one of the best war dramas ever filmed...
  • The 1965 film The Blue Max is the story of a German infantryman, Lt. Bruno Stachel, who transfers to the German Air Service towards the end of the war. His ruthless kill-or-be-killed attitude clashes with the squadron's old fashioned notions of chivalry. Most well known for its excellent aerial stunts and flying scenes.
  • 1970s British drama Aces High, a very down-to-earth and touching portrayal of the lives (and deaths) of a regular squadron of fighter pilots.
  • The two film adaptations of All Quiet on the Western Front. The Academy Award-winning 1930s version directed by Lewis Milestone is more famous than the 1970s TV movie.
    • The older version is considered one of the greatest and most important movies on WWI created, as per the Library of Congress. Also listed as the 7th Most Epic Film (well, 7th in the "Epic" genre of films, whatever that means) in the American Film Institute's list of the Top Ten of the 10 Classic American Film Genres. It's also probably the Trope Maker / Trope Codifier of the modern war movie.
  • 1940s war movie The Fighting 69th starring James Cagney.
  • The Time Travel plot of Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys has several short scenes set on the Western front, and the war is also referenced by the Present Day Past characters in the movie because one of the time travellers apparently got stuck there and was acting suspiciously for that era.
  • There's a little known 2004 independent film about American soldiers on the western front in 1918, called Company K. It's based on a semi-autobiographic novel by William March, one of the American veterans of the war.
  • Oh! What A Lovely War.
  • A Bear Named Winnie, chronicling the life of the original Winnipeg/Winnie the black bear, the bear that eventually inspired A. A. Milne to create Winnie the Pooh.
  • Passchendaele, written, directed, and starring Canadian Paul Gross, based on his grandfather's war diary.
  • Goodbye, Mr. Chips It starts when Mr. Chipping("Chips") is a young teacher in 1870 and through his fifty year career. During WWI and he reads aloud "Roll of Honour", the names of those killed in battle which include many of Chip's former students and fellow teachers. One of them is an old friend of Chips, a German who fought on his country's side.
  • The officer's ward in 2001, about the "gueules cassées" ("broken faces" in French: war invalids and horribly defigured men).
  • Capitaine Conan by François Tavernier, about the French corps in the Balkans.
  • Grand Illusion
  • Wings, the first silent movie to win the Oscar for Best Picture, was centered on World War I flyboys.
  • War Horse


  • The poem My Boy Jack (1915), about the death of Rudyard Kipling's only son in the war.
  • John Buchan's Richard Hannay stories, seminal spy thrillers that were both written and set in WWI. The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915) has been adapted multiple times, although the Alfred Hitchcock version is a very loose adaptation, set in the 1930s. Buchan portrays Wilhelm II fairly sympathetically.
  • The Sherlock Holmes story, His Last Bow (1917), takes place in England during the run up to the war, with Holmes attempting to deal with German spy network in England. He succeeds.
  • My Reminiscences of East Africa (1920) is General Paul Von Lettow-Vorbek's diary from his service in East Africa at this time.
  • The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) was actually written in 1916 and set during the war. Lieteunant Arthur Hastings returns from the War due to an injury, while herculePoirot is a war refugee.
  • As mentioned in the above, the L.M. Montgomery book Rilla of Ingleside (1921) chronicles the eponymous character's experiences throughout the entire war, in quite a bit of detail that could only come from first-hand experience. Given that level of detail, it's supremely odd she made no mention at all of the 1918 influenza pandemic, not even in passing. It devastated Canada as thoroughly as it did the rest of the world, having a profound effect on many of the events she relates, yet the word 'flu' or 'influenza' is never once mentioned.
  • Quite a lot of HP Lovecraft stories feature WWI in the background somewhere (eg. Herbert West, Reanimator-1922) - not surprising given that he did a lot of his writing in the 1920s.
  • The Good Soldier Švejk (1923), a classic (and hilarious) satirical novel by Czech writer Jaroslav Hašek. Some say Švejk is an Author Avatar version of him, but with some cunning Obfuscating Stupidity (possibly) added to the mix.
    • This has some truth in it, only the Author Avatar was a different character entirely. Hašek never tried to hide the fact that the novel was largely autobiographical. His avatar, however, was not Švejk, but his friend, a bumbling former journalist, volunteer Marek.
  • In The Master Mind of Mars (1928) by Edgar Rice Burroughs's, Ulysses Paxton starts out fighting in this War.
  • All Quiet on the Western Front (1929) by German writer Erich Maria Remarque, another WWI staple of the western literary canon. The story follows a young German soldier from his idealistic enlistment through the horrors of war as his compatriots die one by one. Ironically, the story was written in German, by a German war veteran, depicting the German side of the war, but it has become the most popular depiction of the war for English speaking audiences.
  • The early (and best) Biggles stories are set in the War, though the character debuted in 1932.
  • The first part of the novel Journey to the End of the Night (1932), by the famous French author Céline, takes place during World War One. The main character, who sees the war as a lot of frightening and senseless violence, does his best to avoid risking his life. After being wounded, he manages not to be sent back to the western front until the war is over.
  • The novel - and later film - Johnny Got His Gun (1938) by Dalton Trumbo: A horrifying story of a young American soldier, who has his arms, legs and face blown off, leaving him blind, deaf, dumb and immobile, a living torso in a hospital bed, with no way of communicating until he figures out how to tap the Morse code with the back of his head.
    • Related, Metallica's song One retells the same story. The band bought the rights for the movie to use it in the video for that song.
  • Pale Horse, Pale Rider (1939), a collection of three short stories by Katherine Anne Potter, is apparently the only major work on the Spanish flu epidemic.
  • The Razor's Edge (1944) by William Somerset Maugham features Larry Darrell, a World War I pilot who is wounded and traumatized in the War. He spends the rest of the novel searching for ways to adjust to the post-war life.
  • A Killing For The Hawks by Frederick E. Smith. A 1966 novel about a RFC squadron that flew Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5as.
  • Charlotte Sometimes (1969), second in Penelope Farmer's Aviary Hall series, features a young girl who switches between living in Britain at the end of the war, and in boarding school in 1963. The book does, in fact, mention the flu - it is revealed to have killed an unseen but nonetheless crucial character.
  • The novel Goshawk Squadron (1971) by Derek Robinson deconstructs the popular view of World War One air combat which, rather than dueling "Knights of the Air", actually involved undertrained pilots diving out of the sun and machine-gunning their opponent in the back before he had a chance to defend himself. War Story(1987) and Hornet's Sting (1999) by the same author have a similar setting.
  • The novel Strange Meeting (1971) by Susan Hill, title taken from a Wilfred Owen poem, is about the friendship between two British officers on the front line.
  • The short story Schwarzchild Radius (1987) by Connie Willis features an extended metaphor of WWI as a black hole.
  • British author Pat Barker has written three award-winning novels that form her World War I trilogy, The Regeneration Trilogy (1991-1995): Regeneration, The Eye in the Door, and The Ghost Road. The novels are chock full of history and real-life characters, including the poets Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, and Robert Graves. The first novel was turned into a movie, released in 1997 and known as Regeneration in the UK and Behind the Lines in the US.
  • Birdsong (1993) by Sebastian Faulks, widely considered one of the great WWI novels. It describes the horrors of trench warfare, through the eyes of troubled young officer Stephen Wraysford and of his men.
  • The Bloody Red Baron (1995), part of the Anno Dracula series by Kim Newman, takes this war and introduces vampires. Specifically, Dracula leading the German war effort.
  • Harry Turtledove's Great War Alternate History trilogy (1998-2000, part of his larger Timeline-191 series) pits the United States of America, Germany and Austria-Hungary against Britain, France, and the Confederate States of America. Among other differences, the October Revolution fails, and Russia is still a monarchy after the war. For that matter, so are Germany, Austria, and Mexico.
    • In recent years, Turtledove has also penned a Young Adult Alternate History series called Crosstime Traffic. Its second novel, Curious Notions (2004), is set in the late 21. century of a world where the Central Powers managed to succesfully pull off the the Schlieffen Plan and eventually won World War I.
  • Though it doesn't take place during the war, in The Dresden Files (2000-) it turns out that World War One was actually arranged by a very, very powerful necromancer by the name of Kemmler who apparently spent two centuries quietly setting everything up. Kemmler was implied to be a very Big Bad, who took several attempts to kill before it finally stuck - and that took the combined forces of the White Council to pull off.
  • The Eighth Doctor Adventures novel "Casualties of War"(2000) is set in England during the closing months of the war.
  • Phoenix and Ashes (2004), one of the 'Elemental Masters' books by Mercedes Lackey (this one a Cinderella retelling), centers on the stepdaughter of a war profiteer and a Shell-Shocked pilot sent home to recover.
  • Kate Cary's unofficial sequel to Dracula, Bloodline (2006), starts off in Northern France during the war. The main characters, John Shaw, Quincey Harker, and Mary Seward, are a lieutenant, captain, and nurse, respectively, for the British.
  • The Blindness of the Heart (Die Mittagsfrau, 2007) by Julia Franck spans both world wars; Martha and Helene's father loses his leg and eventually dies from the complications in the war, and it affects their lives in all manner of other ways.
  • The French half of Divisadero (2007), a novel by Michael Ondaatje.
  • Leviathan (2009) by Scott Westerfeld is a Young Adult Alternate History adventure novel set in WW 1, where the armies of the Entente Powers are aided by their Biopunk creations (like flying sky whales) and where the Central Powers fight with Steampunk Humongous Mecha. And it's awesome.
  • Ken Follett's Doorstopper novel Fall of Giants (2010) tells the story of the war (and other important events, like the Russian Revolution) through the eyes of several different individuals: British, Russians, Germans, Americans, some being aristocrats, others being working class people.
  • Lord Dunsany wrote Tales of War based on his experiences in the trenches, focusing on the desolation of the Western Front mixed with a stiff measure of anti-Kaiser propagandizing.
  • Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms is a classic fictional depiction of the war.
  • Robert E. Howard's Francis X. Gordon (aka El Borak), an American gunslinger in the Middle East, saw action against the Turks during the War.
  • In TARZAN THE TERRIBLE, Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan went up against the Germans in Africa.
  • Although set after the war, F. Scott Fitzgerald's TENDER IS THE NIGHT features a memorable scene where the characters visit a cemetery on the Somme and discuss the meaning of the war.
  • William Faulkner wrote stories depicting American pilots fighting on the Western Front.

Live Action TV

  • Fighting in the Great War made Young Indiana Jones the jaded and cynical man that he came to be by the 1930's.
    • A series of arcs in the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles T.V. series is set during The Great War and Indy even attends the signing of the Treaty Of Versailles with appearances by T.E. Lawrence, Adolf Hitler and the future Chairman Mao!
  • Blackadder Goes Forth: A rare comedy set here, although it was far darker than earlier series. Well-known for an extremely touching and sad finale.
  • Season four of Upstairs, Downstairs. If Blackadder's Lt. George is the comedy version of what happens when an Upper Class Twit turns Tommie, James Bellamy is the drama version. It is not easy for him.
  • An episode of Fantasy Island featured Don Adams (in complete Maxwell Smart mode) as a bumbling school teacher who wants to visit WWI and ends up fighting the Red Baron.
  • A large portion of the immediate Backstory to Carnivale is set in the trenches, and it's heavily implied that the machinations of the two Avatara were major factors in causing this and other conflicts.
  • While most of the episode is set a year before, the Doctor Who episode "The Family of Blood" (based on the Virgin New Adventures novel Human Nature) features two of the students from the episode's school fighting and surviving in the trenches of the war.
  • The Torchwood episode "To the Last Man" has a World War I veteran snatched away by Torchwood in order to fix two timelines colliding with one another. At the end of the episode after returning to the war, he gets shot for cowardice and shell-shock in the war.
  • Colonel Potter on Mash fought in World War One after lying about his age at 16 in order to get in the Army.
  • On Boardwalk Empire, both Jimmy Darmody and Richard Harrow fought in the war, and are both not coping well, which leads to their involvement in organized crime. Harrow in particular suffered horrific injuries.
  • The second season of Downton Abbey is set during the war.
  • Birdsong An adaptation of the book by Sebastian Faulks.
  • Part of Downton Abbey is set in the backdrop of the war, along with the various social upheavals this causes.



  • Swedish band Sabaton has several songs that deal with the horrors of the Great War, some of the best known being The Price Of A Mile and Cliffs of Gallipoli.
  • 1916 by Motorhead is a ballad from the perspective of a soldier fighting in it.
  • The Zombies' song "Butcher's Tale (Western Front, 1914)" gives gruesome detail to the trench warfare, commenting on both shell shock and the strange dichotomy between "God and Country." "And the preacher in his pulpit / Sermons 'Go and fight, do what is right!' / But he don't have to hear these guns / And I bet he sleeps at night."
  • The War by Running Wild is based on World War One.
  • Metallica's song One, as already mentioned in the Film section.
  • Paschendale, a song about the horrors of the Third Battle of Ypres by Iron Maiden.
  • This video to "A Small Victory" by Faith No More.
  • And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda by Eric Bogle is about a young Australian soldier who is maimed at the Battle of Gallipoli.
    • In another song by Bogle, "No Man's Land" (also called "The Green Fields of France" and made more famous by the Dropkick Murphys) the narrator is reflecting on the grave of a young man who died in France during World War I.
  • "Snoopy vs. The Red Baron" and the sequel "Snoopy's Christmas"
  • The Soldier's Sweetheart by Jimmie Rodgers
  • Christmas In The Trenches, a song by John Mc Cutcheon, based on the true stories of truces between different groups of opposing entrenched forces on the Western Front on Christmas Day 1914, with the soldiers singing carols, exchanging gifts, and playing soccer in No Man's Land. (This would also inspire the film Joyeux Noel, above.) (Though later years would see similar truces, due to high command on both sides being upset when they heard it, they were not nearly so widespread as before.)
  • Along with their invoked usage of Music to Invade Poland To that centers on World War Two, the Industrial Metal band Hanzel und Gretyl has done World War I-themed German songs as well such as "KaiserReich".

Newspaper Comics

  • Snoopy's "World War I Flying Ace" fantasies from the Peanuts cartoons.

Tabletop Games


  • The originator of many of the tropes seen in World War One fiction is the stage play Journey's End, written a few years after the war by a British officer. It's actually a lot funnier than most of its imitators.
  • Queensland tourist attraction Australian Outback Adventure (a dinner-and-a-show kind of deal), originally just a mish-mash of different stereotypes and Australian bush lore, has started recently performing a show called "Heroes of the Light Horse", based on the aforementioned battle in Palestine.

Video Games

Special note : One weird thing about the representation of WWI in games is that... well, there aren't many WWI titles in general, which is particularly strange when compared with the more numerous representations in other media. Some gamers and game critics blame this on the somewhat more static nature of the war or the ignorance of developers and most gamers, who often assume that "WWI = only muddy and unmoving Western Front". Though First Person Shooters in a WWI setting wouldn't probably prove popular, there still is room for things like Stealth Based Games. But even these are conspicuously absent...

Web Comics

  • The Word Weary features a Dungeons and Dragons campaign that takes place during the Russian Revolution of 1917. The premise of the game comes from Germany's efforts to take Russia out of the war by financing Vladimir Lenin's activities during his time in exile in Zurich and his entrance back into Russia. The main characters play mercenaries hired by Germany charged with keeping Lenin safe.

Web Original

Western Animation

  1. The Allies are now believed to have just promised this to get Romania into war without intending to fulfill it; it took a lot of activism by Queen Marie and the Romanian delegation at Versailles to get the Allies to recognize Transylvania as Romanian territory
  2. a.k.a. the Zimmerman Telegram. History students may redeem this factoid for two (2) points extra credit on any WWI exam. Extra Special Bonus points for the Cuba Memorandum (German decision to attack American power in the Americas, signed in 1898) Manufacturer's coupon; no expiration date.