Were Allies of WWI called "Allies" at the time (in English), or is that a term we started applying later? Did they just refer to themselves as the (Triple) Entente?


Yes, at the start of the war. No, by the end.

It's an interesting question because the "Allies" were the "Entente Cordiale" of the UK and France and later the "Triple Entente" when Russia joined. They were formed to counter the "Triple Alliance" of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy.

At the start of the war, yes, using the term "Allies" would be an anachronism. They were "the Entente". But by the end of the war, the coalition fighting the Central Powers were referred to as "the Allied Powers" in part because the Triple Alliance collapsed (Italy remained neutral and then declared war on Austria-Hungary) and there were just so many nations fighting the Central Powers most of whom were not members of the Entente.

The Great War YouTube channel, which I highly recommend, covers this a bit in an Out of the Trenches episode The Trench Coat - Entente or Allies?

The term "alliance" was very deeply embedded into the 19th century. Nowadays it's been replaced by the word "collation". There was the Dual Alliance, the Franco-Russian Alliance, there was even an Austro-Serbian Alliance.

At the time of The Great War allies fought allies, you're right, but in hindsight, mostly from a popular standpoint, it was easier to distinguish the two sides. Since the Triple Alliance broke up and the Triple Entente drew in more and more and more countries to their cause it was easier to simplify the term.

One example is that the United States was not technically an "ally" but rather an "associated power" who declared war on Germany for violating their neutrality. They wished to avoid "foreign entanglements" and so did not want to get involved in a European alliance.

The countries fighting the Central Powers are referred to in treaties as "The Allied Powers" or "The Allied and Associated Powers". For example there are...

  • 1
    Cool, thank you much! I do remember reading on the WP Allies_of_World_War_I page that the Treaty of Sèvres 'defined the Principal Allied Powers', I just still wasn't sure about the term. I'm going to watch that video and subscribe to that YT channel.
    – RML
    Nov 13 '16 at 1:24

I would say that it was a retronym. Before the war, it was Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy against the Triple Entente of Britain, France and Russia. Italy deserted the Triple Alliance at the beginning of the war, and later joined the Entente, which made it four against two. It would have been four against four if you only count two more later joiners, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire on the German side, which became the "Central Powers."

But a bunch of smaller nations, Belgium, Luxembourg, Serbia, Montenegro, Romania, Greece, Japan, and ultimately the United States, aligned with the Entente, when they were attacked by, or went to war with one or more of the Central Powers.

Because it was a case of four against "everyone else," the "everyone else" became known as the "Allies." (The U.S. became an "Associated Power" rather than a full Ally, because it declared war on only Germany and Austria-Hungary, remaining technically neutral against Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire.)

  • The countries of the British Empire in 1914 did not have independent foreign policies, and when Britain declared war they too were automatically at war. However, by the time you get to 1939it was a different matter and the white settler countries had by that time acquired "dominion status", and were independent of Britain. Nonetheless when Britain declared war on Germany in September 1939, each of Canada, Australia and New Zealand all declared war the same day - and South Africa fairly shortly thereafter.
    – WS2
    May 6 '20 at 22:16
  • @WS2" OK removed the reference to the "Commonwealth countries. Thanks for your help.
    – Tom Au
    May 7 '20 at 0:18
  • A brief search on the British Newspaper archive shows that the term "The Allies" was already in fairly widespread use from August / September 1914. May 7 '20 at 0:25

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