Following the German victory in the Franco-Prussian War, the other European countries also attempted to develop efficient armed forces. The Austrian and Russian army systems were inferior imitations of the German and French, respectively. Britain's small regular army was well trained, but British war strategy focused on the Royal Navy, the largest sea force in the world.

The War at Sea

The build-up of the German fleet unsettled the British, who would be starved into submission in a few months if an enemy were to prevent British merchant ships from delivering food. So, as Germany's naval fleet grew, so did Britain's. Royal Navy first sea lord Admiral Sir John Fisher created the Royal Navy of 1914 introducing the Dreadnought battleship, with its ten huge guns in 1905. The world's navies concentrated on big ships with big guns like the British model. Britain, however, maintained naval supremacy. The German navy could not match the numerical strength of the British fleet, however German ships were more modern and in some ways tougher, more powerful, and more manoeuvrable than Britain's. When World War I broke out, the Royal Navy controlled the seas with 28 dreadnoughts and battle cruisers to Germany's 18.

The expanded and modernised German High Seas Fleet was based primarily at Wilhelmshaven on the North Sea and at Kiel on the Baltic. At the outset of war the main British fleet, the Grand Fleet, was based principally on Scapa Flow, in the Orkney Islands north of Scotland. The German High Seas Fleet, consisting of 13 dreadnoughts, was based on the North Sea ports of Germany.

German Submarine Warfare

German U boat

In order to prevent food, munitions, and other supplies from reaching Great Britain, Germany in 1915 declared the waters surrounding Great Britain and Ireland a war zone in which German submarines would sink all enemy vessels without the visit or search stipulated by international law. To avoid the possibility that neutral vessels might be sunk by mistake, or that neutrals might be killed, Germany warned neutral ships not to enter the zone.

The War in the Air

German Luftwaffe in 1917

World War I stimulated the production and military use of aircraft, including the airplane and airship, or dirigible balloon, and the tethered balloon. The first German airplane raid on Paris took place on August 30, 1914; and the first German air raid on England was on Dover on 21 December 1914. During 1915 and 1916 the German type of dirigible known as the Zeppelin raided eastern England and London 60 times. The first German airplane raid on London took place on 28 November 1916, and such raids were frequent during the remainder of the war. The Germans had superiority in the air on the western front from about October 1915 to July 1916, when the supremacy passed to the British. Allied supremacy gradually increased and with the entrance of the U.S. into the war became overwhelming.

Lions led by donkeys.