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Which of the five great powers of Europe was the strongest in 1914?

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In Europe in 1914, there were five great powers. They were Britain, Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary and France. Some were stronger in times of conflict than others, and many historians feel differently about the powers. This essay will use data to prove conclusively, an opinion held by many historians of which were the strongest and which were the weakest.

Russia and Austria-Hungary were the two weakest powers in Europe in 1914. Austria-Hungary had a small army and a tiny navy of only 67 ships. This left them unprotected and vulnerable in wartime. Having a fairly low population, and absolutely no colonies, they had precious little defense and no backup. Russia had a large population, over three times the population of Britain in fact, but Russia was an immense country, and the population was spread out. They had an average army size, but being so far out on the edge of Europe, it would be hard to assemble and move an army.

The main weakness of both Austria-Hungary and Russia was that neither had any colonies at all. This gave them a huge disadvantage, for several reasons. Firstly, if things went bad for them in war and they needed more soldiers, they could not bring them from anywhere but their own countries. Secondly, they had no tactical advantages that could be gained from having colonies, such as having backup in hostile areas from nearby friendly colonies. Also, people fighting in Europe from foreign colonies were less likely to flee from battle because they would have had no-where to do. Perhaps the main advantage of colonies though is the trade they produce. Apart from being able to obtain goods not available in your own country, countries controlling colonies can make huge amounts of money from the trade.

In addition to the lack of colonies, both powers, especially Russia, had low industrial strength, with Russia only having a steel output of less than 4 million tonnes a year. That is under 3 times less than the production in Germany. The low outputs of steel and coal limited the amount of weapons and defenses that could be produced.

Most historians believe that the mid strength power in Europe 1914 was France. The evidence behind this is that they had a better army than three of the other powers, and a larger navy than Austria-Hungary and Russia. They also had colonies, which gave them greater numbers and defense than those without. The main weakness of France was the industry. Although they did better than Russia, they were worse than Germany, Britain and even Austria-Hungary for steel and coal production. With seven million tonnes less coal output per year than Russia, and well under half the steel output of Britain, France was at a large disadvantage.

The popular opinion, which we have proved by elimination, is that Germany and Britain were the two strongest powers in times of warfare in 1914 in Europe. They were fairly even in force, although each had better and worse points. Firstly, Britain had a huge and powerful navy of 388 ships. This was partly because they were an island, but also because of the amount of colonies they had to be able to protect. This brings us on to the other main asset that Britain had. They had superiority in the amount, size and population of their 56 colonies. They had a combined population of 430,800,000! This far excelled the populace of Germany’s combined population and colonies, which was only 80 million. In these two features, Britain was clearly the strongest. However, Britain also had it’s weaknesses. The main one was the size of Britain’s standing army, being six times smaller than Germany’s! Also, Britain had already reached the climax of their industrial strength and were going downhill, whereas Germany still had a long way to go at the peak of industrial strength.

Germany was strong in most respects, but their main advantage was the huge army of 4,200,000 soldiers they had. One of the reasons for this huge army is that Germany was in the heart of the five great powers in Europe, and had Austria-Hungary to one side, France and Britain to another, and the whole of Russia on its eastern border! Germany had the benefit of some colonies, but no where near the supremacy of numbers that Britain boasted. Germany’s second main bonus was the industrial strength, where statistics show they just beat Britain. Also, because Germany had only just reached the peak of their industrial capacity, they weren’t faced with an approaching fall.

With the evidence above, it is firmly concluded that Germany had the greatest power in times of war in Europe 1914.

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