FIRST WORLD WAR SUMMARY
The Schleiffen Plan & its failure
The stalemate of Trench warfare on the Western Front (The Somme 1916, Verdun 1916,
(fighting on other fronts was more fluied).
Unsuccessful attempts to break the stalemate at Gallipoli (1915) (UK & France) and
unrestricted submarine warfare 1917(Germany), which provoked USA into the war; the
war becomes one of attrition.
Germany scored a nominal victory at Jutland in 1916, but never again risked a fleet
action. The Royal Navy’s long-term blockade continued. Germany did however defeat
Russia, whose new Communist government accepted the harsh terms of the Treaty of
Brest Litovsk (March 1918)
German offensives of Spring/Summer 1918 fail; Germany was exhausted & had run out
of ideas. The last 3 months consisted of coordinated allied advances that led to Germany
requesting an armistice.
WHY DID GERMANY LOSE?
The failure of the Schleiffen Plan meant Germany had to fight a war on two fronts.
Although Germany was the world’s strongest military & economic power she had to
sustain her weaker allies who were all defeated in the autumn of 1918.
Attritional warfare ground down Germany faster than it did the allies, especially as the
USA joined the allies in 1917 because of Germany’s unrestricted U boat campaign.
Although the Battle of the Somme became known in Britain as a campaign that cost
hundreds of thousands of lives 7 gained little ground, the German army received heavy
damage and was permanently weakened.
The Royal Navy’s blockade combined with poor German harvests led to widespread
malnutrition from the winter of 1916/17 onwards.
Unlike the allies the Germans failed to coordinate the military, political & economic
aspects of the war. The German people lost faith in the Kaiser and the German generals
ran out of ideas.
The allies coordinated their attacks in the summer & autumn of 1918, successfully
combining infantry, artillery, tanks & aircraft together. They also had a supreme
commander (Foch) who had the confidence of all the allies.
Unlike Britain & France, Germany could not draw on the vast manpower & supply
resources of overseas empires.
Not only had Germany her own war to fight but she had to support her less effective
allies, this put a drain on their already diminishing resources.
Nevertheless defeat came as a shock to many Germans: they still occupied foreign
territory in November 1918. The German generals (who had been running the
government) denied responsibility for defeat, they and others, blamed treachery. Thus
the “stab in the back” myth was born.
This is not to say that the allies were not in danger of losing at various times: Britain
came within 6 weeks of starvation; Russia was defeated; there were mutinies in the
French armies in 1917 and the Germans nearly broke the British line in March 1918.