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Allied and Central (Axis) Powers

In the First World War, it can be a bit tricky to work out who was fighting who, and who was on whose side. Why did Germany declare war on Russia because a Serbian killed an Austrian man?

Central Powers WW1

It seems a bit complicated at first when we look at it that way. Actually, there were lots of pacts, friendships and alliances that meant one country would defend another country if war was declared.

So, before we know what caused the First World War, we should look at these pacts and how they started. Reading this will help you to understand who was on whose side and why.

Who were the Allies, and who were the Central Powers?

Map of Allied Powers WW1

The Central Powers

In 1871, Germany made an alliance with Austria-Hungary (which was one single country then). When Italy joined in 1882, it became the Triple Alliance.

They all agreed to protect each other if they were attacked by Russia and to remain neutral in case they were attacked by any other country.

Remaining neutral is when you don’t take sides (it just meant that Germany promised not to side with any other powers apart from Austria-Hungary and Italy).

Austria-Hungary map
Austria-Hungary map

The German Empire (the Second Reich) and Austro-Hungarian Empire were two important powers in Central and Eastern Europe at the time.

These countries and ruling powers were worried about Russia attacking them from the East. They felt safer in a pact together because they figured that Russia would not attack two Empires at the same time.

italy boot

Italy joined because it needed protection from other great powers too.   

This pact gets a little bit complicated where Italy is concerned because Italy then secretly told France they would not help Germany if Germany invaded them!

Britain, France and Russia also formed a pact.

WW1 military deaths

The Triple Entente

The name of the pact between Britain, France and Russia, made before WW1, was the Triple Entente.

In Russia, the royals spoke French at the time, so the French and Russians may have specially picked the name for their pact with Britain.

Entente means “friendship, understanding or agreement” in French. From this, can you figure out what the Triple Entente was?

Triple Entente diagram

Because France and Russia were a bit worried about Germany and Austria-Hungary joining together, they too made some agreements of their own in 1892.

Britain stayed out of it at that point. France and Britain had been enemies for long time. They had been to war before this, many times (and were at war for 100 years once!).

Despite all this history, Britain signed an agreement with their old enemies, France in 1904. France already had an agreement with Russia called the Franco-Russian Entente of 1894.

In 1907, the Triple Entente was formed between Britain, France and Russia.

Triple Entente map

The causes of World War One

The alliance systems, or Ententes, were the reason that countries all got involved in the fighting of World War One. When the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot in Serbia, Austro-Hungary declared war on Serbia.

Because Russia were prepared to defend their old Serbian allies and go to war with Austro-Hungary (who were on Germany’s side), France, Britain and Russia went to war with the Central Powers because they had agreed to in the Triple Entente.

Related: Causes of World War 1

World War I

Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand

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