August 21, 2011

Reflections on the Great War

On November 11, 1918 Germany surrendered, ending The Great War. It would not be known as WWI until after WW!! ended, for obvious reasons. Have you ever considered Germany's military position at the signing of the armistice?

Germany had won the war at the Eastern Front. On the Western Front, Germany still occupied northern France and Belgium. There was no fighting in Germany, the war remained primarily in France.

The Germans had moved with a major offensive early in 1918 and were repulsed, with the aid of the newly arrived American Doughboys. But for the most part, the lines on the Western Front were the same as they had been in 1916!  As late as August of 1918, it looked as if the Germans were still winning.  In September they were no longer on the offensive, but they were far from defeated. The war had not moved to German soil, The nation's industrial capacity had not been disrupted in any way. The means of making war were intact.

One could argue the leadership could see the writing on the wall, that Germany had spent its last efforts in the 1918 failed offensive. The flood of American men and materiel would tip the balance to the Allies. One could argue the nation was war weary, the costs of the war on the German citizenry was too much.  Deprivations had already contributed to the booting of the Kaiser. There were severe food shortages. The industrial might of the nation was geared for war, not consumer goods. The losses in men and animals were staggering. There was not a village or family in Germany untouched by the terrible toll of the War in France. But the same could be said for England and especially France as well.

As American we tend to greatly over-emphasize our efforts in the Great War. I can think there is little doubt the influx of the American troops changed the tide of the German 1918 offensive, but the overall contribution was small compared to the British and French. The Germans came remarkably close to taking Paris in 1918, and the fall of Paris likely would have had such an impact on French moral they might have capitulated.

I think the German High Command knew they could not win and rather than bleed another million men and expose the German Homeland to the destruction of war, called it quits, akin to a heavy weight throwing in the towel in the 15th round. But no one, even with the hindsight of history, can claim the Germans were defeated in the fall of 1918.


mts1 said...

The German surrender, at the time, was probably the one sensible thing to come of the war; as you mention it, German command saw the futility of throwing it all for a victory. Hey, we have our untouched country, let's cut bait and recover as best we can - we need those men in the fields planting crops, not another year in the trenches.

The problem is, for the victors, they lost so many millions of men that for them to simply call it quits and leave Germany alone at the border would be to have won little for the sacrifice. We hear it in this country that once you spilled blood on the field of battle, to stick it out so you don't dishonor the sacrifice of those who died and were injured; they cannot be allowed to have died in vain. Remember how dissatisfied it felt when we stopped Desert Storm without storming Baghdad and taking Saddam?

And so hence you got the onerous Treaty of Versailles. Could the British and French diplomats go home to Parliament and the National Assembly with a simple "all's over?" But then Germany had a legit beef to say wtf when they deposed the Kaiser, took ownership of a war that had a dozen fathers, became a republic like Britain and France, then still got beaten to a pulp in reparations as if they did go ape and tear everything up and go for broke.

When newly unified Germany (this occurred in the Palace of Versailles of all places) defeated France in the Franco Prussian War, they got reparations, occupied France until these payments were made, then took ethnically German Alsace Lorraine, which was a thorn in France's side until they were able to get them back after WW I. France kept its empire, and the Germans trained in boxcars of food to relieve starving Paris the moment armistice was declared. And Germany made a point to get the heck out of Dodge and back over the border once all was settled and made no claim on French GDP outside of their 70m Francs.

Germany lost all of its non-European possessions, its non-German national holdings, was saddled with reparations they finally paid off in 2010, disarmed, and pretty much castrated. No wonder once they got back into France in 1940, a star goal of theirs was to blow up the boxcar where the armistice was agreed.

Joe said...

...after they made the French surrender in the same boxcar!

Somewhere in the archives is an unread post about the Franco-Prussian War and how it lead to WWI and the aftermath of WWI led to WWII.

None of my post is brilliant scholarship on my part, but stuff I find interesting. There can be no doubt the French insistance of the very harsh penalties led to the rise of Hitler. By the late 1920's everyone, especially the Brits, admitted the terms of the Treaty of Versailles were too harsh, but the French would not relent.

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