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Did The Allies Win Or The Germans Lose On The Western Front In Autumn 1918

3388 words - 14 pages

Did the Allies win the war on the Western Front in the Autumn of 1918 – or did the Germans lose it?

On the eleventh of November 1918, “at 5:12,”[1] the head of the German armistice delegation, Mathias Erzberger agreed to sign the armistice agreement, which was due to go into effect almost six hours later, on the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month. Conversely at the point of Erzberger’s signature, the Germans had troops as far north as Finland and were virtual masters of eastern Europe, with troops as far east as Georgia and more significantly, with a army of millions still on the western front. Accordingly taking such aspects into consideration this essay ...view middle of the document...

However due to German expansionist policy and general unrest, their plans to move, “45 divisions to the western front between November 1917 and March 1918 were revised downward to 33 divisions.”[2] This in turn hampered the preparations and effectiveness of Ludendorff’s planned great offensives of spring 1918, alternatively known as Kaiserschlacht. The first of which, started on the 21st March, code-named ‘Michael’. Ludendorff’s attack was lead by his elite German storm-troopers, which had proven so successful in Russia and at Caporetto. The attack concentrated on Hubert Gough’s Fifth Army, which due to the lack of a defense in-depth, found its self unable to deal with the new German tactics and as soon as the line was breached, the whole army and the adjacent British Third army, through fear of being flanked, were forced into headlong retreat. Accordingly the first phase of Ludendorff’s spring offences had “moved the lines more than fifty miles in two weeks”[3] and due to the comparative sluggish stalemate that had preceded on the western front, this unprecedented rapid advance, shocked allied commanders, leading one British officer to say…

“…Oh my God! It will be another Sedan.”[4]

More over Ludendorff followed his initial gains with four more offensives. All five are shown on the map below, with the relatively massive German gains clearly depicted.


However these gains came at a cost, despite inflicting heavy loses on the allies, the first two attacks alone had resulted in Germany suffering “257,176 casualties in April, on top of the 235,544 they had suffered in March.” [6] Consequently such a war of attrition could not be maintained by Germany for long and indeed Ludendorff’s reserves had dwindled to old and ever younger inexperienced conscripts. This was coupled by higher desertion rates and the irreplaceable lose of most of his experienced elite troops. Conversely on the other side of ‘no-mans land,’ the allies as aforementioned found themselves shocked by the ferocity and success of the German attacks. The urgency of the situation is neatly encapsulated in Field Marshall Haig’s ‘Backs to the Wall’ speech.

“There is no course open to use than to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause we must fight on to the end.”[7]

However due to the troubled situation the allies found themselves in, after Ludendorff’s first offensive, the allies appointed the feisty and optimistic Marshal Foch, to become the, ‘Supreme Allied Commander’. Also the deployment to the front, of American troops had increased dramatically in response to the German offensive. In all Ludendorff’s spring offensive had achieved massive comparative gains, but in turn left the German forces over stretched for the forthcoming autumn. More consequential was the fact that it had failed to...

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