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Key players in World War I: the politicians

Read more about the key political figures during World War I era.

world Updated: Feb 07, 2014 15:52 IST

Here are pen profiles of the key political figures in World War I:


David Lloyd George (1853-1945): A pacifist finance minister, George rallied behind the war effort first as minister of munitions in 1915, becoming war minister then prime minister the following year. He is credited with creating the civil infrastructure to support the war, and for unifying the Allied military command in 1917. He was a key figure at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919.

Horatio Herbert Kitchener (1850-1916): Became British war minister in 1914. Known as an effective organiser, Kitchener managed to quickly raise a massive volunteer army, building the force from 170,000 to 1.3 million by 1915. He was killed a year later when the ship he was on struck a mine off the coast of Scotland.

Winston Churchill (1874-1965): At the forefront of British politics for 50 years, and a resolute and much admired leader during and after World War II, Churchill was made First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911.

In late 1914 he realised that no breakthrough was in the offing on the Western Front, and tried to advance against Turkish troops in the Dardanelles in February 1915. The Gallipoli Campaign ended in disaster and he was forced to resign.

Churchill served for a time on the Western Front before returning to Britain where he was minister of munitions, then war secretary between 1917 and 1922.


Raymond Poincare (1860-1934): A conservative French prime minister and president noted for strong anti-German positions, he advocated moving further into Germany before signing the Armistice. Said to be cold and unimaginative, he came from the Lorraine region claimed by both France and Germany. His 1914 call for a "Sacred Union" of political figures struck a deep chord, and he was a highly respected figure after the war.

Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929): One of those who did not answer the call for a "Sacred Union" in support of the war, Clemenceau was much disliked by Poincare, who was nonetheless forced to appoint him prime minister in 1917. Nicknamed "The Tiger", Clemenceau had strong popular backing owing in part to his front-line visits. He was one of the main architects of the Versaillles Treaty in 1919.


Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859-1941): Last king of Prussia and German emperor who led his country to war in 1914. The grandson of Britain's Queen Victoria, Wilhelm ascended to the German throne in 1888 and forced the resignation of chancellor Otto von Bismarck.

With support from conservative factions, Wilhelm put Germany on an expansionist, colonialist path. He broke traditional alliances with Russia and drew closer to Austria-Hungary and Italy. He was obliged to abdicate on November 9, 1918, and went into exile in The Netherlands.


Franz Joseph (1830-1916): The emperor of Austria and king of Hungary, he launched hostilities in World War I by declaring war on Serbia on July 28, 1914, a month after the assassination of his nephew and heir Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. A member of the Habsburg family and widower of the famous Empress Sisi, he was the senior European sovereign in 1914. He ascended to the Austrian throne after the 1848 revolution and ruled as an absolute monarch before being forced to adopt a more liberal policy. He died during the war, in November 1916.

Charles I (1887-1922): The last of the Habsburg emperors, Charles I became heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian empire on June 28, 1914, following the assassination of his uncle Franz Ferdinand. He was made emperor in November 1916 and crowned apostolic king of Hungary a month later.

He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2004 for his commitment to peace, but this caused controversy in Austria, where Charles I is remembered for authorising the use of mustard gas during World War I.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand (1863-1914), heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne whose assassination is considered the spark that ignited World War I. He was a Slavophile who favoured a federation to replace the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was murdered with his wife Sophie in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, by a Serbian nationalist.

United States

Thomas Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924): US president who negotiated the Versailles Treaty ending World War I based on his "Fourteen Points" and creating the League of Nations. He was however unable to get the US Senate to ratify membership. Wilson initially tried to keep the United States out of the war but changed his mind when a German U-boat campaign sank US ships crossing the Atlantic. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1920.


Tsar Nicholas II of Russia (1868-1918): The last Russian tsar, he approved Russia's entry into World War I in August 1914. The Imperial Army's severe casualties -- some 3.3 million -- are often cited as a leading cause of the fall of the Romanov dynasty.

Earlier Nicholas II led his country into a disastrous 1904-05 war with Japan. As the first Russian revolution erupted, the tsar was forced to abdicate in March 1917 and he and his family were executed by Bolsheviks on July 17, 1918.

Leon Trotsky (1879-1940): A founder of the Russian revolution, he declared his opposition to global conflict in 1914. After the October Revolution, he became the de facto foreign minister and sought to stop the war without signing a peace treaty. Trotsky hoped the revolution would spread to Germany, but advances by German troops forced him to adopt Lenin's position and sign the Brest-Litovsk treaty in March 1918. Trotsky then reorganised the Red Army.

Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924): Born Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov. A Russian revolutionary who lived mostly abroad during the war, before returning home in February 1917.

He convinced fellow Bolsheviks to revolt in October 1917, and became head of the Council of People's Commissars, mercilessly crushing any opposition. He was the driving force in Russia for the Brest-Litovsk Treaty.


Peter I of Serbia (1844-1921): Joined the Foreign Legion in 1870 under the name of Pierre Kara. He ascended to the throne in 1903, but chose to retire due to ill health in June 1914. Peter I passed royal prerogatives to his son, Crown Prince Alexander, who directed Serbian military operations during World War I.

Gavrilo Princip (1894-1918): The assassin of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, the event that sparked World War I. He was a Serbian nationalist student from Bosnia-Herzegovina, which at the time was under Austro-Hungarian domination.

Considered a hero in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and later in the Yugoslavia of former strongman Tito, Princip died of tuberculosis in prison in April 1918.


Albert I of Belgium (1875-1934): Belgian king who succeeded his uncle Leopold II in 1909. Albert took an active role in the war alongside France, Britain and Russia on both the military and diplomatic fronts, earning the nickname "The Knight King". A keen mountaineer, Albert died in a climbing accident.


Mustapha Kemal (1881-1938): Also known as Ataturk, he was considered the father of modern Turkey. Victor of the Gallipoli campaign in 1915, he led a nationalist movement that fiercely opposed the Treaty of Sevres signed in August 1920 between the Allies and the Ottoman Empire. He then commanded an army that reconquered Armenia and Kurdistan and drove the Greeks out of Asia Minor.

Enver Pacha (1881-1922): A leader of the 1908 Young Turk Revolution, he became a member of the military triumvirate and war minister in 1913, and the architect of the Ottoman-German alliance forged soon after the outbreak of the war. In April 1915 he authorised the deportation of Ottoman Armenians, and he is considered a key figure behind the Armenian and Assyrian genocides. He fled to Germany at the end of the war and was sentenced to death in absentia. He tried to return to Turkey in 1920 but was prevented by Kemal