The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century


The World War of 1914-18 - The Great War, as contemporaries called it -- was the first man-made catastrophe of the 20th century. Historians can easily identify the literal "smoking gun" that set the War in motion: a revolver used by a Serbian nationalist to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand (heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian throne) in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. But scholars are still debating the underlying causes. Was it the desire for greater empire, wealth and territory? A massive arms race? The series of treaties which ensured that once one power went to war, all of Europe would quickly follow? Was it social turmoil and changing artistic sensibilities brought about by the Industrial Revolution? Or was it simply a miscalculation by rulers and generals in power? The answer provided in "The Great War and The Shaping of the 20th Century" is that all of these volatile elements combined to set off a gigantic explosion we now know as World War I.

Episode Description



This chronicle of World War One begins with an investigation into the events of 1914 as Europe edged toward conflict. Improved technology and new political awareness paved the way for the rise of socialism across the Continent, while in Britain the voice of the suffragette movement was growing louder



At the start of World War One it was predicted the fighting would be over in a matter of weeks, owing to technical advances in weaponry. But the reality proved entirely different as soldiers dug into the ground to escape artillery, trenches began to spread for miles and the Western Front developed.


What if... Total War

An insight into the personal experiences of people caught up in World War One, with diaries and letters shedding light on the conflict. One million women left the home to work in Britain's munitions factories, while soldiers' families lived in dread of receiving a telegram or telephone call bearing bad news.



The stories of the battles of Verdun, the Somme and Passchendaele, three of World War One's most bloody encounters, using newsreel footage taken at the scene during a time when film was on the verge of becoming a major influence on the public's perception of warfare



Account of the despair which swept Europe in 1917, as World War One dragged on into its fourth year with no end in sight. While British doctors struggled to find an effective shell-shock treatment for patients, including poet Wilfred Owen, half of the French army mutinied and Russia was gripped by revolution.



Account of the sudden ending of World War One in 1918, tracing the various causes responsible for Germany's ultimate downfall, including a failed offensive, the Americans joining the Allied Forces and crumbling civilian morale. Archive footage reveals the momentous occasion when the guns fell silent on the 11th hour of November 11, and British and German troops shook hands.




War without end