Without question, November 11, 1918, became the single most recognized date associated with World War I. On the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour that year, the armistice took effect and the fighting ended. Armistice Day ultimately became Veterans Day in the United States, and is among our most cherished holidays.
A close second among calendar dates in the Great War? — June 28 — and here’s why.
The war in essence began that day in 1914. Though the armistice ended hostilities in November 1918, the war officially didn’t end until Germany signed the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919.
First, June 28, 1914. On that day, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie, rode in a motorcade headed to city hall in Sarajevo, Serbia, when a Serbian nationalist tossed a bomb at their car. Ferdinand hot-potatoed the bomb back out into the street where it exploded, injuring his wife and several others struck by shrapnel.
The assailant was arrested, and the Archduke proceeded to city hall. He confronted the mayor about the local hospitality, asking loudly, “One comes here to visit and (is) received with bombs! Mr. Mayor, what do you say?”
When he finished his speech, the Archduke ordered his driver to take him to the local hospital to check on those wounded by the bomb. His driver got lost along the way, winding up on Franz Josef Street, named for Ferdinand’s father. There, an anarchist named Gavrilo Princip fired shots into the car, killing both Ferdinand and Sophie.
The Austrians responded to the attack by sending troops into Serbia, and that started World War I. Germany, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire sided with the Austrians against England, France, Russian, Italy, Romania, Japan, and the United States in 1919.
The fighting raged for more than four and one-half years, with the Germans using mustard gas and other chemical weapons against the Allied troops, and the Allies retaliating in kind. The U.S. created its own chemical weapons program, officially on June 28, 1918. (International conventions in 1972 and 1993 banned the use of chemical weapons.)
The armistice ended the fighting in November of that year. Allied powers then met in Paris in January 1919 to determine the final treaty ending the war. Germany had no say in the terms. France wanted Germany to pay an extreme price, including roughly $30 billion in reparations for the damages it caused.
Germany balked at first, but caved to the pressure imposed by the Allies, and signed the treaty to formally end the war exactly five years to the day it began.
However, terms of that treaty held unintended consequences. It decimated Germany’s economy and left the opening for Adolph Hitler and his Nazi Party to rise to power a decade later, setting the stage for World War II.