Germany and Britain were engaged in a bitter naval arms race, France had never forgiven Germany for inflicting a crushing defeat on it in 1870–71, and Russia was engaged in sabre-rattling with Austria-Hungary and Turkey over the fate of the Balkans and its southern borders.
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What made matters worse was the fact that these powers had now aligned themselves into two heavily armed camps, with France, Britain and Russia on one side, and Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey on the other.
All it needed was a spark to set the powder keg alight. That duly arrived on 28 June 1914 when Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian nationalist, assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian throne, in Sarajevo. Within a matter of days, Austria-Hungary, with Germany’s backing, had accused Serbia of sponsoring the killing and Russia and France had declared their support for Serbia.
Then, on 4 August, Britain was drawn in when German troops advanced west through Belgium. The war had well and truly begun.