The strategic importance of railways on the eve of WWI

In terms of Strategy it cannot be understated just how important the development of Railways were for the great powers in order to establish authority worldwide prior to WWI. Arguably the best example is the formation of The Berlin-Baghdad railway which symbolised increased German growth resulting in much tension between powers in the near east, so much so that it is often seen as a leading cause of the First World War.

Largely what followed was a reaction from both Britain and Russia, in an attempt to stunt Germany’s progress via the use of tactical railway lines to secure their interests in Central Asia, all the while fending off pressure from each other’s influence in Persia, a conflict already solidified by “The Great Game”.

When looking at the Baghdad railway from a geographical point of view, it isn’t hard to see why such a line could prove powerful to any nation. If Germany could succeed in connecting Berlin to a line which would travel from Constantinople all the way down to Baghdad it would greatly enhance their presence in the (then) Ottoman Empire with the hope of gaining a share in the promising Persian Market.


Prior to the Baghdad Railway’s proposal by Germany in1903, Britain had already been seeking to establish its power in the Near East. Strategic railways were by no means a new concept even in the early 19th century, but admittedly was popularised by the German’s proposal of a line from Berlin to Baghdad.


trans iranian railwayThe proposal of a ‘Trans-Persian’ railway which would extend across Persia’s entirety from the Russian to the Indian frontiers would further enable an established link between Europe and India. The line itself never came to fruition, arguably due to the outbreak of WWI, but can still serve to show the strategic thoughts of both Britain and Russia. Britain garnered the least amount of territory in the southern region of Persia, so even if the railway had been built it would have had limited use.

Another problem was that the suggested ‘Trans-Persian’ railway had inherently German origins much like the Baghdad railway. Despite British wishes, Russia was very adamant that it did not want lines in its Northern zone connected in any way to Germany’s Baghdad railway. Around this time hostility between Britain and Germany was not high enough that they were against working with each other.

Put simply the creation of strategic railways in the early 20th century was of great importance to European powers. Every one wished to dominate as much of the near East as possible, safeguarding themselves should their country come under threat in the future. With the outbreak of World War One in 1914 these extensive railway systems were either never built or were only limited in their potential. If this had not been the case 1918 may have ended very differently.

Aaron Potter

Aaron Potter

Hello I’m Aaron and like most other people you’ll find on this website I love writing about history, so much that I chose to study it in my home city of Bristol. There is only one past but many histories, and it’s in researching these histories which gets me pumped as I discover a possible untold story. When I’m not trudging through archives or writing about the past, you can find me sharing my thoughts about all things gaming related at and critiquing movies and movie news on my weekly podcast