The Central Powers were one of the two warring parties in the First World War . Their opponent was the Entente . The military alliance got its name because of the central European location of the two main allies, the German Empire and Austria-Hungary . The Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria later joined the alliance. Other contemporary names for the alliance were Central Powers or Four Alliance .
Development before the First World War
After the victory over France in the Franco-Prussian War , Chancellor Otto von Bismarck wanted to secure the German Reich in terms of foreign policy. He achieved this goal with the three emperors agreement of October 22, 1873, in which the emperors of the German Empire, Austria-Hungary and Russia pledged to mutually benevolent neutrality at a meeting in Berlin. Although the alliance was primarily intended to serve peacekeeping, it was also of vital importance to keep Russia out of an alliance with France.
On October 7, 1879, the dual alliance between Germany and the multi-ethnic state Austria-Hungary was concluded. It was intended as a protective alliance against the Russian Empire. The tsarist empire suffered a loss of power at the Berlin Congress in 1878, which is why it was viewed as a potential opponent. Furthermore, in order to maintain the balance of power in Europe, Austria-Hungary should remain a great power. It was Bismarck's intention to support the dual monarchy in any case, even if it had been responsible for a war of aggression. In the period that followed, the tone between the German Reich and Russia, whose military leaderships were already working out plans for the event of a possible war, intensified.
A general relaxation between the two states did not come about until June 18, 1887 with the conclusion of the secret reinsurance treaty in which the tsar undertook to remain neutral in the event of a war between France and the German Reich. A year later, Wilhelm II ascended the imperial throne.
Although Russia wanted to extend the reinsurance contract, which was limited to three years, Wilhelm II refused to continue the agreement. As a result, a development occurred that Bismarck had always wanted to prevent: Russia was drawing closer to France .
Wilhelm's policy intensified the rivalry between the major European powers, which led to an increase in the number of conflicts. Especially the defense efforts of the German Empire led other states, against the Empire to ally. Even France and Great Britain solemnly resolved their colonial political conflicts of interest in Africa by concluding the Entente cordiale in 1904. This finally averted the danger of war between the two old opponents. In 1907, Russia expanded their alliance into the Triple Entente .
Bismarck's peacekeeping foreign policy was no longer valid. The German Reich could only maintain an alliance treaty with Italy and Austria-Hungary. However, since Italy had already moved closer to the Western powers through a secret non-aggression treaty with France in 1902 , only the German Empire and the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy formed a solid alliance.
First World War
After the peoples of the Balkan Peninsula had largely freed themselves from Ottoman rule, Russia and Austria-Hungary made their claims in the region. Bosnia-Herzegovina had already been occupied by the Austro-Hungarian army in 1878 . In 1908 it was officially annexed . Serbia , which was allied with Russia, sought an unification of all Slavic peoples , which intensified the conflict with the dual monarchy. The resulting tensions fueled the arms race and ultimately led to the outbreak of the First World War in the summer of 1914. Neither the Central Powers nor the Entente were seriously interested in preventing the war. Both sides believed that the war would be decided by the winter of 1914.
On August 2, 1914, the German Empire and the Ottoman Empire concluded a secret alliance without having previously agreed on common war goals. The next day, Enver Pascha declared his country's "armed neutrality". The Ottomans hoped to achieve their expansion goals , which were directed to the Caucasus and Central Asia . For the time being they remained neutral, especially since the Ottoman army was still insufficiently equipped for war. For the Central Powers, the entry of the Ottoman Empire was of the greatest importance, as it was hoped to be able to prevent sea traffic between Russia and the western allies. On November 2, 1914, Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire. Great Britain declared war on November 5th and France joined on November 6th.
Italy, which had declared itself neutral at the beginning of the war, entered the war on May 23, 1915 on the side of the Allies after it had been granted various territorial claims in the London Treaty . This gave Austria-Hungary a new, extended front (and de facto the German Empire too, because it had to intervene to help on the Alpine front ).
On October 14, 1915, Tsarist Bulgaria entered the war on the side of the Central Powers. It was considered the strongest military power in the Balkans. Both the Central Powers and the Entente had expressed interest in an alliance with the country. The Bulgarian leadership decided to join the Central Powers in order to win back Macedonia from Serbia, which had been lost during the Second Balkan War . However, neither the German Empire nor Austria-Hungary viewed Bulgaria as combatants "on an equal footing".
The Entente was personally and materially superior to the Central Powers; However, the German army and its Austrian allies had the advantage of the “inner line” : shifts of forces between the Eastern Front , Western Front and the secondary fronts to Italy and the Balkans could be achieved relatively quickly. This was favored by the well-developed railway network. When Bulgaria entered the war, the Central Powers controlled a contiguous territory that stretched from the North Sea to the Red Sea . Furthermore, at that time there were still exclaves in Cameroon and East Africa . Attempts to win other states outside of Europe as allies ( Abyssinia , Afghanistan ) were unsuccessful.
The Central Powers were able to achieve some military successes during the war; Serbia was defeated in 1915 and Romania in 1916/17. However, a peace offer made by the Central Powers on December 12, 1916 out of a feeling of strength had no consequences. At the end of 1917, Russia, shaken by the revolution , was eliminated as an opponent on the Eastern Front . The United States' declaration of war on April 6, 1917, shifted the balance of power to the disadvantage of the Central Powers. The war ended with a defeat for the Central Powers, which was sealed with the armistice of November 11, 1918 . Before that, Bulgaria surrendered on September 29, the Ottoman Empire on October 30, and Austria-Hungary on November 3, 1918. At the end of the war there were almost 24 million soldiers from the Central Powers compared to 42.2 million soldiers from the Allies.
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