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World War I Trivia

Lesser known facts about the 100-year-old war

Jasodhara Banerjee
Published: Feb 4, 2014 06:07:12 AM IST
Updated: Jan 30, 2014 03:07:50 PM IST
World War I Trivia
Image: Bettmann / Corbis
A German gun company during battle at Darkehmen, Russia

1. The war was triggered by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. However, the political fragility of Europe in the years preceding the war can be judged from the fact that more leaders, politicians and royal family members were murdered in the first 14 years of the 20th century than in the preceding 150 years. 

2. A total of 37 million people are estimated to have died in World War I. Unlike wars in the previous century, where most soldiers died of disease, two-thirds of WWI deaths were in battle. Russia and Germany saw the highest casualties, but, on the whole, the Allied powers lost more soldiers (6 million) than the Central (4 million).

3. WWI is among the deadliest conflicts the world has witnessed. While World War II saw the largest number of casualties (40 to 71 million), other conflicts with mass casualties include the Mongol invasions in Eurasia, two transition wars between dynasties in medieval China, and the Taiping Rebellion, also in China.

4. WWI saw the first extensive use of trench warfare. About 25,000 miles of zig-zagging trenches were dug along the Western Front, from the North Sea to the Swiss frontier with France. German trenches—often with windows and even doorbells—were far superior. About 200,000 men died in the trenches.

5. In January 1918, a flu pandemic (called the Spanish flu because it was, for a time, believed that Spain was worst hit) spread among soldiers, aggravated by trench conditions and malnourishment. One historian even claimed that flu deaths among the Germans and Austro-Hungarians tipped the war in favour of the Allied powers. Worldwide, the flu, which lasted till 1920, is believed to have killed 50-100 million people.

6. On Christmas Day in 1914, an unofficial truce was called in parts along the Western Front. Some British and German troops even played a soccer match on No Man’s land. 

7. Nearly 11,000 people died on the last day of the war, November 11, 1918, despite an armistice signed at 5:30 am that day.

8. More than 1 million Indian Army soldiers served in German East Africa, on the Western Front, in Egypt and in Turkey; more than 74,000 of them died.

(This story appears in the 07 February, 2014 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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