Brill’s Digital Library of World War I

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Mesopotamia

(1,089 words)

Author(s): Neulen, Hans Werner
Mesopotamia The territory between the Euphrates and the Tigris, which now lies in Iraq, belonged to the Ottoman Empire from the 16th century onward. For the British, the occupation of this barren and remote territory, which was only weakly defended by the Turks, held interesting prospects for a variety of reasons: the exploitation of the region’s oilfields offered promising economic perspectives, while the geographical situation of Mesopotamia at the crossroads of a land route connecting India, s…

Brändström, Elsa

(445 words)

Author(s): Hinz, Uta
Brändström, Elsa (March 26, 1888, Saint Petersburg – March 4, 1948, Cambridge MA), Swedish philanthropist and nurse. The daughter of the Swedish ambassador in Saint Petersburg, Brändström continued to be known throughout Europe long after her death; in Germany she enjoyed nearly saintly status as the “Angel of Siberia.” This veneration was bestowed on her for the courage and commitment she had shown in caring for German and Austrian prisoners of war in Russia, and above all for her personal humanitarian work in Russian camps between 1915 and 1920. Living in Saint Petersburg at the o…

Wilhelm, German Crown Prince

(367 words)

Author(s): Schranz, Daniel
Wilhelm, German Crown Prince (May 6, 1882, Potsdam – July 20, 1951, Hechingen), crown prince of the German Reich and of Prussia. Wilhelm was born in 1882 as the first son of the later Kaiser Wilhelm II. He began his military career at the age of 14, interrupting it for a time to study political science in Bonn. In fall 1911 he was named commander of the First Life Guards Hussars Regiment in Danzig (Gdańsk). Though hardly qualified, he assumed command of the Fifth Army when war broke out in August 19…

Russian Revolution

(1,052 words)

Author(s): Kochanek, Hildegard
Russian Revolution Neither the Russian army, nor their economy, nor their political system was equal to the demands of the World War, contributing to the end of the Russian Tsarist Empire. Another major reason was the rapid loss of trust, at all levels of society, which the regime had endured during the war years. As the situation at the military front continued to worsen, an even deeper conflict developed between Tsar Nicholas II and the State Duma. The subsistence crisis engendered by the wartim…

High Voltage Fence

(334 words)

Author(s): Roolf, Christoph
High Voltage Fence In early 1915 the German occupation forces in Belgium began the construction of a 300 km long high voltage fence along the Belgian-Dutch border. Conceived above all for security reasons, the project was a countermeasure against the continuing flight of more than 800,000 Belgians to Holland and Great Britain following the German occupation of their land. Moreover, German occupation forces feared enemy espionage and smuggling activities. The two-meter high barbed-wire fence, charge…

Denmark

(672 words)

Author(s): Bohn, Robert
Denmark Constitutional monarchy, ruler Christian X (ruled 1912–1947). Since the annexation of Schleswig-Holstein (1867) by the Prussian State, and the measures of Germanization in North Schleswig, the mood in Denmark had been decidedly anti-German. The army and navy were mobilized at the outbreak of war, owing to fears that, because of its control of access to routes to the Baltic, the country might become the target of British or German military operations. The Royal Navy, however, exercised res…

Prisoners of War

(3,043 words)

Author(s): Hinz, Uta
Prisoners of War Persons with the status of combatants who fell into enemy hands during the war. Only rough estimates of the total number of prisoners of war can be given for the World War. It is assumed that some 6.6 to 8 million soldiers were taken captive, which represents at least 10% of the approximately 60 million soldiers who were mobilized during the war. By late 1918, according to statistics from the interwar period, 328,000 soldiers had been captured by the British, 350,000 by the French,…

Occupation (West)

(1,527 words)

Author(s): Kramer, Alan
Occupation (West) Occupation is the temporary authority over foreign territory during war. According to international law, a territory is considered occupied when “it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army” ( Hague Convention Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, Article 42). Not to be viewed as occupation are the systems of government in Ireland, Alsace-Lorraine, the non-Russian part of the Tsarist Empire etc., even though their administrations developed techniques of asserting their authority which resemble…

Sweden

(696 words)

Author(s): Bohn, Robert
Sweden Constitutional monarchy, King Gustav V (r. 1907–1950). The foreign and security policy of Swedish governments and the political elites developed between 1914 and 1918 from initially strong support for the German Reich to a gradual turn towards the Entente Powers, particularly Great Britain. Throughout those four years, however, political life was constantly under the shadow of Russia, felt in Sweden to be the traditional enemy. Many Swedes still failed to come to terms with the loss of Fin…

Schlieffen Plan

(985 words)

Author(s): Cornelissen, Christoph
Schlieffen Plan Right up to the outbreak of the war in August 1914, the memorandum submitted by Count Alfred von Schlieffen in the winter of 1905/1906 outlined the basic strategic conception with which the German Reich entered the First World War – albeit in a version that had been modified several times by Helmuth von Moltke (the Younger). Although the significance of the Schlieffen Plan has been radically challenged in recent historical research (Zuber, 2002), the plan’s offensive strategy has r…

Scorched Earth Tactics

(1,283 words)

Author(s): Geyer, Michael
Scorched Earth Tactics Systematically laying waste to enemy territory as a battle tactic, rendering the area militarily useless for a time, sometimes lastingly. Scorched earth as a combat strategy was described by Carl von Clausewitz in his work Vom Kriege, as follows: First, all that the country has to offer will be taken for the benefit of the retreating army, and mostly consumed. Nothing will remain but wasted villages and towns; fields emptied of their crops and then trampled; wells run dry; and contaminated brooks. Thus right from …

Moroccan Crises, First and Second

(692 words)

Author(s): Kröger, Martin | Allain, Jean-Claude
Moroccan Crises, First and Second Two situations of international tension (1905, 1911) that were provoked by the rivalry between the German Reich and France over influence in Morocco. France’s interest in Morocco resulted from the latter’s proximity to Algeria. The aim was to extend French rule to the entire Maghreb. By concluding bilateral agreements with Italy (1902), England (Entente Cordiale), and Spain (1904), as well as by weakening Moroccan rule in the areas bordering on Algeria, France strove to establish itself as the dominant political power in the region. The German Reich…

Nicolai, Georg Friedrich

(446 words)

Author(s): Dülffer, Jost
Nicolai, Georg Friedrich (February 6, 1874, Berlin – October 8, 1964, Santiago de Chile; Georg Lewinstein until 1897), German physician. Nicolai studied medicine, specializing in electrocardiology. Before the war, he was already a respected physician in his private practice, and as the assistant medical director of Charité Hospital. As a war volunteer, in 1914 he became the medical superintendent of the military infirmary at Tempelhof. Nonetheless, from the beginning he spoke out very sharply against the war. He and other intellectuals signed Aufruf an die Europäer (Appeal to th…

Communications Technology

(1,973 words)

Author(s): Kaufmann, Stefan
Communications Technology The purpose of communications technology is to convey information over distance. The Russo-Japanese War of 1904/1905 was to foreshadow developments during the First World War in communications technology, as in many other areas. In his conduct of the Battle of Mukden, the Japanese Marshal Oyama acquired the reputation of being the first modern commander in his use of communications technology as he directed his units from 20 km behind the front line with the aid of telephone lines installed across the entire battlefield, up to the most forward positions. …

Naval Blockade

(1,483 words)

Author(s): Neitzel, Sönke
Naval Blockade During the World War, the Allied naval blockade brought German foreign trade practically to a standstill, especially after 1916. It contributed significantly to the serious subsistence problems in Germany. On the eve of the World War Germany was one of the most important economic powers in the world. Obviously, accomplishing this required extensive trade relationships. This left the German economy highly vulnerable during such a long-lasting war. Indeed, Germany had to import 30% of all processed iron ore. The …

Hoyos, Alexander, Count

(277 words)

Author(s): Kronenbitter, Günther
Hoyos, Alexander, Count (May 13, 1876, Fiume – October 20, 1937, Schwertberg), Austro-Hungarian politician. Hoyos entered the Austro-Hungarian diplomatic service in 1900, and served on many missions overseas. In April 1912 he became chief assistant to the foreign minister Leopold Count Berchtold. After the assassination of heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914, the question arose of sounding out Germany’s attitude to a possible Austro-Hungarian war against Serbia, a war that might pro…

India

(1,806 words)

Author(s): Cornelissen, Christoph
India In August 1914, the Indian subcontinent was the most important pillar of the British Empire. After the start of the First World War India’s importance to the war effort was apparent in the considerable numbers of Indian soldiers employed on the Allied fronts in Europe, Africa, and Asia. By the end of 1918, some 1.5 million Indians had been mobilized for the war. Of these, almost 900,000 belonged to fighting units. More than 60,000 Indian soldiers died in the war and about the same number suffered wounds. It was originally envisaged that only restricted use should be made of I…

Monuments

(2,302 words)

Author(s): Behrenbeck, Sabine
Monuments War memorials do not function solely as monuments to the war-dead, but also to “affirm the identity of the survivors” (Reinhart Koselleck). They construct the past in order to cope with the present. War-memorials thus say more about their architects than about the fallen, and the wars they are supposed to commemorate. In the age of mercenary armies, there were no monuments commemorating the common soldier; this honor was reserved for officers and commanders. In Prussia at the beginning of the 19th century, with the introduction of genera…

Falkland Islands

(756 words)

Author(s): Krüger, Friederike
Falkland Islands An archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean; a British colony since 1843. On December 8, 1914, a battle was fought near the Falkland Islands between the German East Asia Squadron under Vice Admiral Maximilian Graf von Spee and a British battle squadron under Vice Admiral Sir Frederick Doveton Sturdee. After a sea battle lasting approximately five hours, only one light cruiser survived from the German squadron; four German ships sank; of some 2,200 men on the German ships, 1,985 per…

War Poetry

(1,081 words)

Author(s): Hüppauf, Bernd
War Poetry Prophecies of a coming war had been a theme in German poetry since the beginning of the century. Expressionist poets conjured up the war in apocalyptic images that alternated between the fear of its violence and a yearning for its purifying and regenerative power. Feelings of restlessness and dissatisfaction over a long and “foul” peace gave rise to fantasies of war in the sense of a longed-for renewal, often expressed through theological formulations such as J…
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