World war 1 – the end

The sinking of the Lucitania, the Germany’s treatment of independent Belgium, American financial interests, the failure of Germany to stick to u-boat agreements and a telegram that Germany had sent to the Mexican government inviting them to engage in fighting with America (if America joined the war) were all factors that had swayed American public opinion. That change in public opinion enabled American President Wilson and Congress to vote to join the action in 1917. They did so not as an allied power but as an “associate” power. It was a way of saying they were independent.

Unlike other countries the largest world financial centre of London sought to maintain the “gold” standard, maintaining parity between British Pound and American dollar. It could most easily obtain credit from Wall street and distribute it to its allies in Russia, Italy, Serbia, Greece, Portugal and Belgium who like France and Germany had gone “off gold”. France and Russia had substantial gold reserves and used them to fund the war. Whilst French banks were also able, but less easily, able to get credit from America, Germany and its allies could not do so and attempts to get such credit via neutral countries were blocked. Germany relied heavily on money from its former state banks and sold capital assets in New York. Money and Trade played a huge part in war and American financial interests needed an Allied win.

In Russia, February 1917 Tsar Nicholas had resigned and in October of that year a revolution had put its Bolshevik leader Lenin in charge. Lenin wanted out of the war and in March of 2018 sent his second in command Trotsky to negotiate a peace deal with Germany. German demands were that Russia give up Finland, Poland and the Baltic States plus 1/3 of her agriculture and ¾ of her industry. Trotsky would not agree so Germany resumed hostilities against a Russian army depleted by numerous desertions. Russia had little choice but to agree to the German terms.

Germany were now no longer fighting on the Eastern Front and so had one million more troops available. Their plan was to have them join troops on the Western Front and train them for a new style of tactic intent on breaking the trench stalemate. They planned to do this before the arrival on the scene of high numbers of American troops and believed they now had the upper hand.

The new German tactic was led by a German General Ludendorf. It was known as the “Spring Offensive” and seen in action in the Somme offensive that started 21st March and lasted until 4th April. A five hour artillery barrage was followed by an advance through the morning fog of storm troopers with light machine guns, flame throwers and hand grenades who were looking for weak points in the Allied lines. These storm troopers were then followed by waves of regular German troops.

Under such pressure a 50 mile stretch of the allied line buckled forcing them to retreat and causing great political concern. The British General Haig sent all his men a “backs to the wall message” and it worked preventing the Germans from getting closer to Paris. The allies, in a move to better coordinate activities also placed a French General Foch in overall command of the French, British, American and Italian troops.

The Germans continued their “spring offensive” with a drive that lasted much of April in the Flanders region. Them on the 27th of May came a successful Aisne offensive that lasted until June 4. Some further smaller German gains were then made in the Somme and Aisne river areas between 8th and 12th of June. In the Aisne area and at Belleau wood the offensive was held up by American Marines, who showed to the surprise of many that they were up for it. Finally the Germans made their last offensive between 15th and 17th of July in what became known as the second battle of the Marne. Here, early German successes, captured land, prisoners and guns, but then ran out of steam and with no support from their rear were forced to retreat.

The convoy system had seriously diminished u-boat attacks on British supplies and
the British Naval blockade meant German ships did not venture out of port. British people and troops were being adequately fed whilst by contrast the people in German cities were starving and their troops were hungry. Such was the hunger of German troops that when they got into a British trench they would stop their fighting so as to eat the food they found there. German Shops and Factories were running on empty.

In August the Allies broke through German lines at Amiens, near the Somme, forcing the starving and weakened Germans back to a position they had held a year earlier. The German “spring offensive” was at an end and the “hundred days” of Allied advances had begun.

Allied planes now ruled the skies and allied ships now controlled the seas. The allies also had tanks that the Germans had not thought important. They had first been used in November of 1917 and in 1918 they carried machine guns and light artillery and could ford streams, climb hills and clear paths through wire. Allied troops were well supplied with food, guns and ammunition.

In September of 2018 American troops captured German trenches at Verdun enabling a combined force of British, French and American troops to strike at the Hindenburg Line, a line of trenches established by Germany in the winter of 1916/17. After 4 days of savage fighting the Hindenburg Line was torn apart. German soldiers were in retreat and British troops and those from British colonies were on the advance.

German commanders finally accepted the war was lost and in the October of 2018 the Kaiser Wilhelm 2nd sent officials to negotiate for peace. He thought he could retain all his territories, power and position but the Allies refused to discuss terms with him. He no longer had the respect of German troops and sailors who were now refusing to obey commands and so he abdicated taking a train to neutral Holland.

The Turks similarly gave in and defeat of the Austria – Hungary Empire quickly followed.  An armistice agreed that at 11.00 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 the war would end.  

In January of 1919 representatives of 32 allied Nations met just outside of Paris in Versailles led by the French, British and Italian Prime Ministers Clemenceau, Lloyd George and Orlando and the American president Wilson. Known as the big 4 they were to have the most but not even say in the talks, that came be known as the Paris or Versailles peace talks and intent on drawing up treaties. Russia’s Bolshevik government was not invited nor were any of the Central Powers so they had no say but they had to sign the treaties even though they thought them highly unfair.

Wilson had the idea of a League of Nations to prevent further wars. The idea was adopted but America never joined it because of Senate opposition. There had been many promises and agreements made during the time of the war. Some were kept and some were discarded. So the final treaties were not to everyone’s liking and some like the Chinese refused to sign them.

Harsh restrictions and huge money reparations were placed on Germany. They were not allowed to join the League of Nations, she was to have no air force, no submarines, 6 battleships maximum, 100,000 troops maximum, no German troops were to enter the Rhineland and she was not to unite with Austria.
The coalfields of the Saar were to be managed by the French for 15 years, Alcase and Lorraine were to be French again, east German rich farmlands were given to Poland, the city of Danzig now the Polish Gdansk became a free city under League of Nations control and all German colonies would become British or French.
Germany was to accept that she was solely responsible for the war and its losses and damages and would have to pay reparations to many countries. Those reparations later were set at 132 billion gold marks.

Some of the allies considered the treatment of Germany harsh and they certainly played their part in bringing one Adolph Hitler to power and in bringing on the second world war of 1939 – 1945.  

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