Why did Germany and her allies lose the First World War?

 
Last Wager
In the spring of 1918, the German command took its last gamble. According to their calculations, time was of the essence:
   i) Victory in the East meant that German troops could be massed on the Western Front.
   ii) The breakthrough needed to be achieved before American troops arrived in numbers sufficient to tip 
the balance.
   iii) As with the Schlieffen Plan, Verdun, and unrestricted submarine warfare, the German Empire gambled again, but this time put all its bets on this last throw of the dice.

Eastern Triumph: The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk

   i) After their ceasefire in December 1917, the Bolsheviks and the Germans met to negotiate a peace treaty but had irreconcilable aims. Both sides argued about the meaning of self-determination for the peoples of Eastern Europe, although it was a concept about which neither side cared.  In reality, the Germans sought control of huge expanses of territory, whereas the Bolsheviks aimed to turn negotiations into a platform for a global propaganda event.
   ii) Appealing to world public opinion, the Bolsheviks publicised the secret treaties of the Allies found in the Russian foreign ministry.  Trotsky was brilliant in stalling for time. When negotiations reached a deadlock, Trotsky announced a new tactic of “neither peace nor war” and 
simply left. The German army responded by attacking, meeting almost no resistance. The armies came within a hundred miles of Petrograd. Because the revolution was in peril, Lenin narrowly convinced his comrades to sign the treaty.
   iii) On March 3, 1918, they signed the harsh Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which stripped vast territories from 
the former Russian Empire. By some estimates, Russia lost a third of its territory, a quarter of its population, and three-quarters of its coal and iron. Russia ceded control of Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine, Finland, and the Baltic provinces.
Despite these reverses and impending civil war within Russia, Lenin breathlessly awaited news of the outbreak of international revolution.

Germans exulted at this victory. The wildest hopes of annexationists had been realized. Many felt that half the war had been won. I tried to mention in class (for use in the section on Hitler's aims) that changed perceptions of Eastern Europe and fantasies of a German colonial empire there would later be taken up and radicalised by the Nazis.
BUT the harshness of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk produced liabilities, hence my argument that supposed success produced disaster:
    i) The Allies’ resolve was strengthened by this brutal performance.
   ii) The one million German soldiers, who had to hold down the occupied territories in the East, might otherwise have been used in the spring offensive in the West.
   iii) The Treaty of Bucharest of May 7, 1918, with defeated Romania was also harsh and required the vanquished to provide food resources and oil to the Central Powers.

Spring Offensive

This last German offensive of spring 1918 also was called “The Kaiser’s Battle” and “Operation Michael.” It was a conscious wager because, if it failed, there would be no reserves left.
 With the transfer of some German troops from the East, the Germans achieved a 10 percent superiority over Western forces.

The attack began March 21, 1918.
    i) Over the course of the next four months of attacks and storm troop tactics, the Germans pushed Allied lines back 40 miles.
   ii) In this crisis, the French general, Ferdinand Foch, was at last given unified command of Allied forces.
   iii) German attacks finally petered out. The material abundance of supplies in captured Allied trenches discouraged German soldiers.
   iv) The Germans were halted 56 miles from Paris.
   v) To spread panic, Paris was bombarded by long-range German guns, including the Big Bertha (yes, and the so-called 'Paris Gun'). Around 250 Parisians were killed by the shelling.
   vi) The gamble had failed.

Beginning of the German Collapse
   i) Decisive reverses came for the Germans.
   ii) An Allied counterattack at Amiens in August broke their lines. The use of tanks overwhelmed discouraged German troops.
   iii) This breakdown in morale came to be called the “Black Day,” as soldiers lost the will to fight. I think it's interesting it's also the date of Nagasaki, another ‘black day.'
   iv) As German armies retreated, the Allies took the initiative and retained it for the rest of the war.
   v) The U.S. army went into action independently for the first time and overran the salient at St. Mihiel.
   vi) Simultaneously, Allied troops launched an attack from their long inactive camp in Salonika in August 1918.
   vii) In September 1918, a massive Allied offensive was launched at St. Mihiel in the Meuse-Argonne sector and on the Saint-Quentin–Cambrai sector.
   viii) By the middle of the month, the Germans had retreated back to the Hindenburg Line, whence they had launched their spring offensive.
Despite these successes, the Allies assumed that the war would continue into 1919.

Breakdown of the Central Powers
On September 29, 1918, Ludendorff informed the Kaiser that the war had been lost and that only an armistice could save them now. A desperate attempt at revolution from above was undertaken but came too late to satisfy the Allies or even attract much notice. Prince Max von Baden became chancellor and started internal reforms.
The German government appealed to Wilson for peace on the basis of his Fourteen Points on October 
4, 1918, but the American President responded by demanding internal change first.

Germany’s allies fell away.
   i) On September 29, 1918, Bulgarian representatives signed an armistice in Salonika. Bulgaria was the first of the Central Powers to leave the war.
   ii) Turkey followed in October.
   iii) Allied troops began to move up through the Balkans from Salonika.
Austria-Hungary was next on the list.
On the Italian front, from October 24–November 2, the Austro-Hungarian army began to dissolve. In trying to go home, many were captured by Italian forces at Vittorio Veneto. On November 3, 1918, Austria-Hungary signed an armistice with the Allies but was already disintegrating.

Fall of Germany
Revolution broke out in Germany, provoked by futile gestures at the war’s end.
On November 3, 1918, news of orders for a naval “deathride” against the Allies touched off mutinies in the base at Kiel and spread to other port cities.
On November 7, revolt broke out here in Munich.
Ludendorff was fired and escaped abroad in disguise. The scientist Fritz Haber, fearing trial by the Allies, also escaped.
Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated when told that the German army no longer stood behind him and went into exile in Holland (fortunately for him, they ignored the Netherlands when carrying out the Schlieffen Plan).
Turmoil reigned in the capital, Berlin. On November 9, a German democratic republic was declared.
On November 8, a German armistice delegation met with the Allied commander, General Foch, and heard the terms.
On November 11, 1918, at 11 A.M., the armistice signed at Compiègne in France came into effect. The guns fell silent on the Western Front.


Essential Reading:    Hew Strachan, The First World War, pp. 267300.  (You can also watch the documentary based on it)

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Outline
I.       Following Brest-Litovsk, the Germans transferred the bulk of their eastern army to the west for an all-out assault on the Allied lines. This would be Kaiserschlacht, the “kaiser’s battle.”  The three months that it took to work out the peace had enabled the Allies to get fresh American troops under General John Pershing  to the front. In fact, the German plan, devised by General Erich Ludendorff was to aim right for those troops, stationed in the Argonne Forest. The campaign began with an artillery barrage in late March 1918.
1.      The German troops broke through the Allied lines and came within 50 miles of Paris.
2.      The American forces before Paris stiffened and held.
3.      By late May, the German offensive had stalled. The Allied counteroffensive began on 18 July 1918. The exhausted Germans soon fell back, giving up 8 miles on 8 August, a day that would be known as Schwarztag (Schwartzer Tag), the “Black Day.” By late September 1918, German losses were a million men in six months.
1.      Morale was low; desertion was mounting.
2.      At home, the population suffered food shortages.
3.      Communists, demanding an end to the war, attracted large crowds.
4.      Nationalist groups in the Austro-Hungarian Empire rose up and began to form armies of their own.
5.      When ordered on one last suicidal sortie, the Imperial German Navy mutinied.
 By early November, the command structure of the German and Austrian Empires began to fall apart.
1.      On 7 November, revolts broke out in Bavaria (We'll discuss this at length later).
2.      On 9 November, Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated and fled to the Netherlands. 3. Two days later, Kaiser Karl, the last Austro-Hungarian emperor, gave up his constitutional powers. German and Austrian provisional governments immediately sued the Allies for an armistice.  The armistice was agreed to begin at 11 AM on 11 November 1918.
The Great War had involved 34 nations at its height. Eleven million soldiers had died. Four great empires fell: Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire. Europeans lost faith in authority and even, perhaps, in God. Great War clearly changed the balance of power. The United States was now a world power of the first rank. The Soviet Union clearly had the potential to be one, as well.
3.      Out of the old empires, numerous independent nation-states, many of them democracies, would be created, including Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and from 1922, a semi-independent Ireland.
4.      After 1918, Germany and Austria would also be democracies.
D.     Many of these changes were enacted or confirmed at the peace conference that assembled at Versailles in 1919.
IV. The Versailles Conference was convened not only to put Europe back together but also to find a way to prevent future wars.
A.     Despite—or perhaps because of—the terrible experience of the war, the Versailles conference convened amid great optimism.
1.      There was a widespread conviction that the Allied leaders had a plan to make war a thing of the past: President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points.
2.      Wilson had drawn up the Fourteen Points in January 1918 to bring Germany to the negotiating table and establish a basis for a permanent peace.
3.      The Fourteen Points was a rational and moderate attempt to reduce or eliminate many of the tensions that had led to the war initially, in part by not blaming one side or the other for the conflict.
a.      The 1st point was open covenants of peace; that is, there were to be no more secret treaties, à la Bismarck and Napoleon III.
 b.     The 2nd point was freedom of the seas, no more unrestricted warfare or even blockades.
c.      The 3rd point was that there would be no tariff barriers among nations.
d.      The 4th point was disarmament “to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety,” and the 5th called for the impartial arbitration of colonial disputes.
e.      The 6th through 13th points addressed individual issues in Europe, including self-determination for Russia and Belgium, the withdrawal of German troops from France, and so on.
f.       Finally, the 14th point was the proposal of the formation of a general association of nations.
4.      Georges Clemenceau, president of France, and, to a lesser extent, David Lloyd-George, prime minister of Great Britain, were not interested in rational or moderate treatment of Germany.
 a.     The French still harboured bitter and humiliating memories from their defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871.
b.      A good third of France had been occupied and turned into wasteland by the imperial German army.
c.      Britain had nearly been starved out by German U-boats.
d.      Both politicians promised their respective peoples a harsh peace.
5.      In the end, Wilson, the idealist, was outmaneuvered by Clemenceau and Lloyd George, the realists.
 6.     Germany was not invited to be part of the negotiations at Versailles. Germany diplomats would be summoned only to accept or reject the final document. Germany later charged that the Treaty of Versailles was a diktat—a “dictated peace.”
B.    
1.      Germany lost significant amounts of territory, in part to give neighbors a buffer.
a.      Alsace-Lorraine reverted to France.
b.      The Rhineland, including the Saar Valley, heart of the German coal industry, was to be demilitarized for 15 years, and the French were allowed to exploit its coal deposits.
c.      Much of East Prussia went to help form Poland, though Danzig (Gdansk) remained in German hands—a sore point for both sides.
d.      In effect, Germany lost 13 percent of its population, 15 percent of its coal, 50 percent of its iron ore, and 20 percent of its iron and steel industry.
e.      Its overseas possessions were distributed to Britain, Japan, and the United States.
2.      Later treaties broke up the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, awarded territory to Poland and Italy, and confirmed the independent existence of Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia (lumping together Czechs and Slovaks), and Yugoslavia (Serbs, Croats, and Bosnian Muslims).
3.         Bulgaria lost territory on the Aegean.
4.         The Ottoman Empire lost all its overseas possessions.
a.      Lawrence of Arabia had promised self-determination to Arabs in Palestine, Iraq, and Syria who rebelled against the Ottoman Empire.
b.      But Versailles made Iraq and Palestine protectorates of Great Britain and Syria a protectorate of France.
5.      The territorial settlement of Versailles and associated treaties only partly fulfilled the goals set for it by the Fourteen Points.
a.      Old, defeated empires were broken up.
b.      Victorious empires (Britain, France) were strengthened.
c.      Some peoples (Poles, Baltic peoples) achieved statehood.
d.      Other peoples were lumped together in uneasy states: Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia.
6.      The old principle of balance of power outweighed the newer one of national self-determination.
7.      Germany and the Soviet Union had to be counterbalanced, even if that meant lumping together Czechs
and Slovaks, Serbs, Croats, and Bosnian Muslims.
8.      Imperialism remained very much alive.
The military settlement was mainly intended to “de-fang” Germany, rather than to disarm the whole world.
1.      The Rhineland was to be occupied by Allied troops for 15 years.
2.      The German army was to be reduced to 100,000 men.
3.      Germany was forbidden to have an air force.
4.      The German navy was forbidden to have U-boats.
The economic provisions of Versailles were likewise intended to stifle German militarism but also to punish and avenge.
1.      Germany’s coal was to be shipped to France.
2.      Germany’s merchant ships, foreign assets, and patents were awarded to the Allies.
3.      Germany was to pay an indemnity of $5 billion and reparations of $32 billion to the Allies, by which the Allies hoped to pay off their war debt.
The War Guilt Clause, Article 231 of the Versailles Treaty, was the ultimate humiliation; it blamed Germany for “causing all the loss and damage...of the war imposed upon them [the Allies] by the aggression of Germany and her Allies.”
1.      The assignment of national blame for war was something new in diplomacy.
2.      In fact, although Germany clearly bore a heavy responsibility, all the great powers had some share in starting the war.
3.      The War Guilt Clause would only exacerbate German resentment of the diktat of Versailles.
Versailles was, at best, an incomplete solution to the problems that had led to the Great War.
1.      It largely ignored what had happened in Russia, establishing a policy among Western governments of simply shunning the new communist regime.
2.      It only partly solved the problem of nationalism and did not address colonialism.
3.      The economic provisions of the treaty were unworkable. The League of Nations was the one real glimmer of hope to emerge from the Versailles Conference. It was chartered in 1919 “to promote international cooperation and to achieve international peace and security.” It had four specific functions: international disarmament, arbitration of international disputes, economic sanctions against aggression, and treaty revision.
But it suffered from two fundamental flaws.
1.      The charter contained no provision for the use of military force against recalcitrant aggressor nations.
2.      Three major powers were not members: Russia was not invited to join; Germany was excluded; and the United States chose not to join.
a.      Wilson campaigned hard to convince Congress to ratify the Versailles Treaty and the league charter.
b.      But Republican senators and congressmen opposed further involvement in European affairs.
The league first convened in Geneva on November 5, 1920.
1.         The first matter on the agenda was international disarmament.
a.      In naval disarmament conferences held in 1921 and 1936, the British, Americans, and Japanese agreed to a ratio of 5:5:3 in capital ships.
b.      The naval conferences also agreed on a moratorium on building new ships until 1931, but they did not address submarines or aircraft.
c.      A 1932 conference on military disarmament could not identify a reasonable formula for determining a country’s land force needs.
a.      This was accomplished with some success when the countries were small and relatively powerless, but larger and more powerful countries tended to simply ignore the international community.
b.      The only recourse for the league was economic sanctions, which were applied unevenly and failed to solve international disagreements.
3.      Finally, the League of Nations offered the possibility of treaty revision, which was used to ease the German situation somewhat in the 1920s and 1930s.
E.      The League of Nations and the Treaty of Versailles have been viewed as failures, but the treaty enabled the reconstruction of Europe.
1.      Further, the League of Nations brought about naval disarmament, attacked international traffic in narcotics and prostitution, assisted war refugees, and addressed health and labor conditions.
2.      The league also brought Germany and the Soviet Union back into the brotherhood of nations and set a precedent for global cooperation.
3.      Both the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations, however, would be overwhelmed by the economic, social, and political tensions of the 1920s and 1930s.

Questions to Consider:
1.      How should Germany have been dealt with after World War I?
2.         Why did the United States opt out of the Lea

2004—Paper III      Why did Germany and her allies lose the First World War?




From IBO Examination November 2008 —Paper III
Why did the Central Powers lose the First World War?

MARKSCHEME: Candidates could include the following factors: the failure of the Schlieffen Plan which led to a two front war, the use of unrestricted submarine warfare, the entry of the USA, the military weaknesses of Germany’s allies, poor military tactics such as the failure of the March 1918 offensive, internal dissension at home due to hunger and inflation, Allied control of the sea and the leadership qualities of Allied statesmen. The question is not just about Germany so candidates should include the importance of the role of Germany’s allies. [0 to 7 marks] for unsubstantiated generalizations, inadequate general answers or vague, inaccurate and irrelevant comments. [8 to 10 marks] for narrative or descriptive accounts of the First World War, unbalanced answers or implicit or undeveloped arguments. [11 to 13 marks] for narrative framework with explicit focus on the question. Arguments with limited examples and analysis. [14 to 16 marks] for analytical, well focused, relevant, developed and balanced answers focusing on why the Central Powers lost: some may not address all aspects of the question. [17+ marks] for fully analytical and relevant answers with detail, insight, perceptive comments and perhaps different interpretations, which address all aspects of the question.

EXAMPLE ONE:

On the 3rd of March, 1918, Germany and Russia signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsky that effectively confirmed Russia’s defeat and the end of the eastern front. This treaty brought about great change to the course of the First World War. Germany no longer was fighting a war on two fronts and was thus able to transfer millions of troops to the still contested western front, along with heavy artillery and other weaponry, as reinforcements. This enabled the German high command to launch a huge, concentrated offensive on France in the search of breaking the deadlock that had been held since 1914. This offensive, the Spring Offensive, was perhaps the most effective German offensive of the First World War, as it was able to drive further into France than Germany had previously been able to during the entirety of the war; close enough for the Germans to shell Paris. Then, suddenly, coinciding with the arrival of help from America, the allied forces, under the command of General Foch, were able to halt the advance of the German army and even turn the tides against it, pushing it back into Germany to the extent, where, on the 11th of November, Germany was forced into signing an armistice that would sow the seeds for the now infamous Treaty of Versailles. How were the Allied forces able to defeat the Germans when they themselves were on the brink of collapse? Why did the German Blitzkrieg style offensive, which had previously been so effective, suddenly fail? To answer thus, a number of factors need to be considered.

Perhaps one of the most notable causes of the failure of Germany’s Spring Offensive was the strategic incompetence of the commanders of the German army: Hindenburg and Ludendorff. Ludendorff’s central strategy was very simple: concentrate his newly amassed forces and artillery on the weakest parts of the British line, break through and through the power of will drive to Paris and defeat the Allied before the Americans could attack. This form of Blitzkrieg was not a knew concept on the western battlefront, indeed the Schlieffen Plan itself was based on the concept of Blitzkrieg. This similarity causes historian Trevor Wilson to label the Spring Offensive as little more than “a Schlieffen Plan Mark 2.” Wilson remarks that although the concentrated force of the German Army initially overwhelmed the British forces, the longer the Germans battled, the slower their progress became, before eventually their advance ground to a halt. Wilson believes this is due to a number of reasons. First, the German infantry soon outpaced the slow moving artillery in their haste to advance into France. Once beyond the protection of the big guns, the British troops were able to pick off the German troops, causing the Germans casualties that they could not replace. While the German army was slowly decimated, thousands of American troops arrived as reinforcements to the allied nations each week. This meant that as the Spring Offensive became longer, the German army slowly lost more and more troops while the allied nations became more and more powerful in terms of man power, eventually desperately outnumbering the Germans. A second consequence of Ludendorff’s tactics was that soon the German troops were extended a long way into France, meaning that they began to outpace their supply lines. Pretty soon, the British were able to encircle the Germans by reassigning troops from Ypres and thus encircle the German forces and attack their supply lines. This had dire consequences, as by restricting the line of supply, the British were able to stop the Germans receiving the additional bullets, hardware and man-power that they required to compensate for the casualties that their army was suffering and thus continue their momentum into France. As Colonel Henderson famously said: “The line of supply may be said to be as vital to the existence of an army as the heart to the life of a human being.” By cutting off the lines of supply, Britain was able to slowly strangle the German army, depriving it of the resources it needed and thus causing their advance to lose its momentum. A final argument that Trevor Wilson makes concerning why the Germans failed was the lack of direction showed by the German commanders. Wilson describes how Ludendorff, when his initial advance fails, first attacks northwards towards Flanders, then southwards against the fight, each time with the same result: initial success followed by a loss of momentum and an eventual failure. Wilson claims that this is primarily due to Ludendorff relying on this tried and tested Blitzkrieg method that relied more on the quick moving infantry than the slower but more devastating guns. This he describes as lunacy, as the German infantry was being decimated and there were no replacements for the casualties suffered. Thus it can be seen that Ludendorff’s rather obvious strategies and unwillingness to change his strategy allowed the allies to exploit some major strategic flaws of the German offense and consequently stop it in its tracks. There are some flaws to this argument, however. Wilson fails to account for the fact that the British and French were suffering huge casualties as well. Furthermore, the Allied counterattack used very similar tactics to what had been used previously, but it was successful. Also it was unclear what other tactics Ludendorff could have used, considering the War fatigue that was present during 1918. Nevertheless, it is obvious that the flawed strategies used by Ludendorff during the Spring Offensive allowed the allies to, eventually, stop it and counter attack.

A second major cause of the failure of the Spring Offensive of 1918 was the low morale of the German troops. Many of the reinforcements that arrived on the western front at the beginning of the Spring Offensive had been transferred from the eastern front. This meant that many had believed or hoped that the war for them was over, only for them to be required to continue fighting. This caused many of the soldiers to lose the will to fight, as they were unwilling to throw their lives away, having already survived fighting on a completely different, but equally brutal front. Furthermore, as the Germans advanced through France they discovered evidence of how the Allied soldiers were enduring significantly better conditions than the Germans. This was due to the support of the Americans supplying the Allied troops with resources that Germany was not able to get as easily from its own fading industry, trade and disintegrating allies. As a result, when progressing through France, the German soldiers were further demoralised by the fact that the Allied troops, despite being routed, were being treated better than the Germans were. This planted the seeds for rebellion as well as further grew the discontent amongst the German troops. Finally, the spreading of new ideals, specifically socialist and communist ones about the troops turned many soldiers against the idea of a continued war. Many of the German soldiers were pictured interacting with former Russian soldiers following the armistice on the eastern front. This allowed the spread of Bolshevik ideals to reach the Germans, who then carried these new beliefs to the western front and spread them there. This had the effect of allowing the soldiers to realize that they continued to fight for a cause which they no longer believed in and thus there will to fight lessened dramatically. As historian Laura Downs argued, the soldiers no longer believed that the government should be allowed to throw the lives of soldiers away to the damage caused by machine guns purely in order to advance a few miles. This change in beliefs and faith in the command structure had the effect of sowing the seeds of rebellion in the German army that were eventually seen during the Kiel Revolt in October, following the defeat of the German Army. As the historian Jay Winter remarks, Ludendorff’s Spring Offensive did not rely on the power of the German army in its quest for success, but instead on the will of the soldiers. However, as has been already seen, the will of the soldiers had by this time greatly lessened since the patriotic days of the Battle of Langmark and thus by relying on this wavering morale when competing against the new found determination of the Allies born from the desperation stemming from the avoidance of total national annihilation, the offensive could be seen as having been doomed from the start, despite initial success. What is unclear is how great of an effect this loss of morale actually had. The French also had revolts in their army and the British soldiers, especially the colonial ones, were also questioning their loyalties, nevertheless they succeeded in beating back the Germans, implying that the loss of morale was universal as a result of general war fatigue and that other factors may also have caused the failure of Germany’s spring offensive.

Perhaps the foremost reason why Germany lost the First World War in 1918 was that it fell apart internally due to various reasons. First, as more and more farmers were drafted into either the manufacturing of weapons, less and less worked in the fields to supply the Germans with food. Following the famines during the winters of 1916 and 1917 as well as the British blockade preventing Germany from importing food from abroad, widespread starvation that in total caused 750,000 civilian deaths, quickly disillusioned the German populace from the patriotic ideals that had made them initially support the war in 1914. This meant that they no longer supported the war effort, sowing the seeds for a revolution that would blossom during 1918. Living in Munich, this is particularly notable, as it allowed for the declaration of a communist state of Bavaria for a short period of time. These divisions were not just caused by the damaged agricultural sector. Industry had also failed in Germany as they began to run out of the steel and coal needed for the war effort. This meant that the German government had to use desperate measure to gain the steel that it could not get from elsewhere due to the allied forces blockading German trade routes. Hew Strachan tells of how the army melted down 300 year old church bells to be turned into bullets for the war effort. This shows the desperation of Germany to get resources that it didn’t have and this direct attack on the cultural heritage of the German people did nothing to help garner support for the war effort. Similarly, just as the German people was slowly splitting away from the war in favour of peace, so too was the German government fractured and unstable. The orthodox view is that the Kaiser and his band of Junkers made most of the decisions in the German government and that the general population had little say. Historian Niall Ferguson disagrees with this view, as he argues that most of what the Kaiser did was mere posturing and that in effect, in terms of policy making, he was powerless. Indeed, the Kaiser was, if anything, extremely damaging to Germany, as argued by historian Bernd Huppauf, who argues that the Kaiser’s tendency for strong language and rash remarks and speeches made his construct a fragile one. In the words of Niall Ferguson, he was “an embarrassment.” The fragility of the German government went deeper, however. Heinrich Winkler describes how the Reichstag itself was split between socialists such as Friedrich Ebert who opposed the war and aristocratic patriots who supported the war. This divide caused the German government to be increasingly unstable, eventually leading to the 1918 revolution that would confirm Germany’s defeat. This political instability, combined with the alienation of the masses from the war effort, meant that the German commanders not only experienced a loss of support from its own soldiers, but also from the nation it was fighting for. Combining this with the low supply of necessary resources, t becomes clear that the Germans lost the war because their own nation could no longer afford to support the needs of its army. Although the British and French also were on the brink of bankruptcy and political suicide, the arrival of fresh resources and aid from America helped to stave off disaster. This may help to explain why Britain and France avoided collapse, but Germany didn’t (its allies were of no help).

In conclusion, the Germans lost the war for a number of reasons. Some historians argue that the flawed military strategies used by the German commanders stopped the German advance and eventually forced their army into retreat. Others blame the loss of morale as a seed for rebellion that eventually tore apart the German army from the inside out, thus causing them to lose the war. The most convincing argument however, which is argued by the majority of Historians, is that Germany lost the war because internal strife in Germany meant that the nation, economy and society could no longer support the army’s needs, whereas the allies, who were on the brink of disintegration themselves, survived through American aid and could continue to support their armies and thus causing the German defeat.
 


EXAMPLE TWO:

 Although the poem “The Second Coming”, written in 1919 by W.B. Yeats concentrates on describing the future, after the First World War, many of the thoughts in it can also be applied to the past. Phrases such as “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world” and “the worst are full of passionate intensity” address some of the reasons and opinions on what finally led to the end of the war and why the Central Powers lost. Like Yeats's poem, this essay will be concerned with arguments such as the weaknesses in the alliances between the Central Powers, including Germany’s change and decay from within and the fact that although Germany may have been lucky in many of its gambles, it never had a good strategy and was driven by thirst for power. However this text will also discuss further arguments not raised in “The Second Coming”, such as the U.S.A. joining the First World War and Germany's success in Russia as a source for disaster.


The Americans joining the war was one of the main factors that lead to the Central Powers being defeated. It is clear that they were a principal reason for the German Collapse, because it is when they joined the war in August 1918, fighting under their own flag but on the Allies’ side, that the Germans’ “Operation Michael” first started to falter. By the middle of August the combined armies of Britain, France and America managed to push their lines all the way back to the Hindenburg Line, were Germans had first started of from in spring. The Americans did not only have good leadership and morale, but were adaptable and learnt fast. At first they were at a disadvantage on account of their out-dated tactics and their lack of experience in this completely new field. To begin with, they were fighting as the Europeans had been fighting in 1914, remaining in open terrain and attacking by trying to cover expanses of free ground. Other armies had since then developed new tactics and strategies adapted to trench warfare. The Americans were soon found to be fighting with new tactics as well as British helmets and French tanks. Lastly, the Allies were clearly in a superior position to the Central Powers due to the immense difference in manpower between the two sides. For, in addition to the Germans losing 2 million men in the war the Americans brought 2 million men to the front as they joined the war. From these facts it is evident that the Americans managed to tip the scales of power within Europe by joining the war and help the Allies in overpowering the Central Powers.

The line “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world” in Yeats’ poem evokes another reason for the Central Powers losing the war: the centre of the alliance was not strong enough, could not endure and did not hold together. Germany was let down by its main ally, Austria-Hungary, for while Germany had created a strong and victorious army, that of Austria-Hungary was definitely not strong enough to keep up with the war. The Austro-Hungarian army was divided. On the one hand it was needed at the front, to support Germany but on the other hand at least seven divisions were required within the State to maintain order in the Balkans. An additional source of weakness within the Central Powers was that Germany and its allies often had different aims. For example, Ludendorff was intent on threatening India, Britain’s’ “most sensitive spot”, and therefore commandeered Turkish troops to prepare themselves. However these troops were not in the least interested in such ambitions; they were even willing to turn against Germany if need be, as Halil Pasha a commander in the Caucasus declared, “If necessary I would not hold back from waging war against the Germans”. Other incidents, like the seizure of a Ukrainian grain barge, that was bound for Germany, in Vienna, which lead to Ludendorff nearly calling for Germany to go to war against its “ally”, illustrate the lack of cohesion between the Central Powers. Given this evidence, it is undeniable that there were complications in the alliance between Germany and its allies. At the beginning of the war, Germany’s strength was such that it was able to compensate for its allies weaknesses. However over the course of the war this changed. As Strachan argues by 1918 “Austria-Hungary was truly shackled to Germany, but by the same token Germany itself was now too weak to survive without its ally”.

Returning to “The Second Coming”, Yeats’ claim, “the worst are full of passionate intensity”, reflects the tone of German leaders mind-sets. Although the Germans were often successful in many of their operation and offensives, they were gambling most of the time and driven by thirst for power and annexation. Germany gambled on victory in a two-front war in August 1914 as well as on Austria-Hungary making a reasonable partner for an alliance. The gamble on winning a two-front war was a success in the East, but a tremendous failure regarding the West, due to its predestined logistical deficiencies. Concerning Austria-Hungary, as Niall Ferguson argues, “the gamble […] went wrong”, for Germany had to divert men to the eastern front to bail out its ally more than once. The Germans did not have a strategy, as is confirmed by Ludendorff’s’ erratic and inconsiderate actions throughout the First World War. Strachan points out that for Ludendorff, “If a breakthrough could be effected, then strategy could follow”. One of the many examples for Germany’s lack of strategy is the “Michael Offensive” in 1918. Pushing forwards through the weakest part of French and British lines in the north of France and heading towards Paris, Germany managed to gain an enormous amount of territory within few weeks. It seemed like they were on a straight road to victory. However though Germany had moved forwards so fast, their plan had no hope of victory. The logistics of supplying their army, that was now so far from “mainland” Germany had no chance of working. Besides, it was now very easy for enemy lines to attack them from the sides of their outstretched surge into French territory. Pursuing Yeats’ thought on “passionate intensity”, it is also possible to consider the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which was signed on the 3rd of March 1918, as a reason for the Central Powers to lose the First World War. The fact that Germany’s wildest dreams were realized in defeating Russia was liable to lead to disaster. Evidence for this is that in response to this German victory, the Allies took further steps to strengthen their own forces. In addition to that, parts of the German army were now forced to remain in the East, attending to the newly acquired countries, and could not be put into action at the Western Front, where they were desperately needed. From this it is clear that Germany's Victory against Russia was not their ticket to success, let alone to winning the war.

Having now considered these different arguments that all imply that the Central Powers lost due to various reasons, I think the Central Powers defeat can not be attributed to a single cause. Strachan and Ferguson argue, that the failure lay with German problems concerning strategy and the weakness of the Central Powers alliances. It must however also be acknowledged that factors such as the Allies building up their armies and working in an adaptable and flexible way led to the Central Powers being defeated. In Conclusion I would like to take up Ferguson's position. He claims, “Even when the tide turned in the summer of 1918 it had more to do with errors of German strategy than improvements on the Allied side.”


EXAMPLE THREE:

March 24th, 1918, the Kaiser orders all church bells in Germany to be rung in celebration of the success of Operation Michael, and what seemed like the imminent victory of the Great War. Not even six months later, these same bells, symbols to hundreds of years of undying German morale and culture were melted down in a pitiful attempt for scrapes of ammunition, even though the nation had beat Russia on the Eastern front, ‘freeing’ 1.5 million troops to fight on the West. This will examine why Germany and her allies failed to ring those church bells one final time in a declaration of victory.

One of the major reasons of the Central Power’s defeat was the British Blockade and its damaging effects. It officially began the same day the British joined the war, August 4th 1914, and become progressively worse for nearly 5 years to July 17th 1919; 8 months after the armistice was officially signed. It would later be christened the ‘Starvation Policy,’ by the historian Lord Delvin, in 1975. To understand just how this lead to being one of the foremost causes of Germany’s defeat and why it was called the ‘Starvation Policy’, one has to understand just how dire the situation was. An American correspondent in Berlin during the mass starvations caused by the blockade said, ‘In the case of the youngest women and children the skin was drawn hard to the bones and bloodless. Eyes had fallen deeper into the sockets. From the lips all colour was gone…’ This paints a decent visual of the circumstances, and is acceptable as it was written before America came into the war, however he may have been biased; he may not wanted America to join the war and as a result exaggerated this to show how Germany was suffering and it was ‘unnecessary’ to enter the ever-growing conflict. By the winter of 1916-7, the nation was at its worst and the time is commonly referred to as the ‘Turnip Winter.’ Almost the entire potato crop had run out and severe food rations occurred. By March 1918 Germany was on it’s knees; the general consensus is that 760,000 people starved to death during this period, however some figures reach upwards of 800,000, such as the British historian, Arthur Bryant in his book ‘The conduct of War.’ The economy was under huge stress as well, with an estimated 55% decrease in production, as well as its industry, which relied upon imports to manufacture goods and war items. Germany now relied on digging up pipes and other metals they could find in their own country, as they had no ‘new’ materials being delivered into their borders. This is seen with the amount of tanks the country produced compared to their opponents. Germany produced only about 20, while Britain and her allies produced over 4,000. This lack of industry and raw materials is of great significance as this meant the military leaders had to be cautious of how they used their weapons and resources, making it necessary to make compromises regularly on the fronts, leading to weak defenses in the essential last months of the war. The huge amounts of starvation and the lack of imports were a main cause of the Central Power’s losing the war.

Because of the mass starvation, citizens started to become anxious and opposed to the war, causing extremist parties to flourish in the once proud German state. One of the most important of these was the communist party of the time. They held large demonstrations throughout Germany (namely in Bavaria). The government responded by sending these ‘rebels’ to the front lines to fight in hopes it would punish them and deter future attempts. The leadership made this decision unknowingly of the circumstance it would cause, leading to communist ideals spreading through the army and essentially splitting, not only the military, but also the population at home. This caused the country to become much more frail, as they would have to ‘please’ more than one ‘variety’ of people. Another effect of the blockade was that it laid the foundation for America becoming involved. The inclusion of the American’s on the side of Britain’s empire and France was arguably the final straw in the falling of Germany and her allies. As the situation worsened in Germany due to the Blockade, they decided the only way to combat it was unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic, North Sea, and the English Channel in hopes of deterring and shrinking Britain’s navy. This arguably brought America into the war, specifically the German sinking of the Lusitania. One must recognize however, this was not the only reason of America joining, but at most the final straw for the nation. Other factors such as the ‘Zimmerman Telegram’ and the American loans that were given to the allies, played a large part as well. The inclusion of the United States was devastating for the already weak central powers. America brought 2 million fresh and energetic troops to the western front, while up to that point, that same number of German’s, 2 million had died in the war. Even though the American’s were fairly new to war in Europe, they were a godsend to the allies and were one of the main reasons why Germany lost, as seen with the ‘Hundred Day Offence:’ the last hundred days of the war where the allies lunched a series of offensives that lead to the final defeat of Germany. These series of allied offensives simply would not of been possible without the great number of American troops, however many historians still believe Germany may have lost later due to the growing severity of its domestic problems and lack of nationalism. This could be debunked however, as the new ‘German states’ formed under the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, would provide a great amount of food the following year, dampening the effects of starvation, which are often seen as the root cause of the rise of extremist parties, meaning the introduction of the American’s was a major part of their defeat. One can see how the blockade was the primary reason why Germany lost the war, not only because of starvation and dwindling resources, but also of the rise of extremist parties, the split of the German military and society, and the American’s joining the war effort. Germany, however, should not only be focused on; the role and underestimated weakness of the other Central powers were a leading cause of the failure of the war as well. The opening sentence of the film ‘The Go-Between,’ an adaptation of LP Hartley’s book, is striking: ‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently here.’ This has become a renowned sentence over the years, and is exceptionally fitting when examining the Central Powers, or more particularly Austria-Hungary. Their nation was poly-nationalistic: a melting pot of several different cultures, ideas, and nationalistic ideals from Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Croats, Slovenes, Bosnians, Italians, Ruthenes and Jews living in under one umbrella. The opening sentence is extremely relevant as these different cultures had to change to meet new requirements, dissimilar to their former nations. Even though Germany formed around the same time and was similar in the fact they united many different states, they did not suffer as much as Austria-Hungary in this regard, as Austria-Hungary had exceptionally more diverse cultures and gained this territory by means of aggression. This was always a problem within the relatively young empire, but as time wore on during the Great War, it became greatly detrimental to the war effort and the state of the empire itself. By autumn 1918, the empire was falling apart when Germany needed them most. Although many minorities in Austria-Hungary at the beginning were loyal to the empire, worsening circumstances and misfortunes forced them to reconsider their allegiance. The first of a series of mutinies in the Austrian army was that in 1917 of group of Slovenes. This was followed by other groups and led to the decent of the army and the worsening weakness of the nation. As Bismarck said years before, ‘All treaties between great states cease to be binding when they come in conflict with the struggle for existence.’ By the end of the war, Austria-Hungary’s domestic problems lead it to putting the alliance with Germany on the sidelines. As seen when Austria-Hungary commandeered a ship headed to Bavaria with precious food on board. This escalated already strong tensions between the two countries and made the two ‘allies’ come nerve-rackingly close to war. All of this meant that the nation would not fight nearly as hard as they did during the beginning of the war, while Germany needed them to help them in the last months when the American’s got involved. One must wonder if Austria-Hungary stayed strong, would victor would be very different. Even though America were never ‘allies’ of Britain or France during the war, the now growing ‘Triple Entente’ were very close, a stark contrast to that of the relationships between the Central Powers, a very important reason why they failed to win the first world war. The Ottoman Empire suffered a similar history, but was much weaker as their empire was already starting to fall apart before WW1. This meant they were of little help to the main power, Germany. However, the Ottoman Empire did keep Britain busy and was an important buffer in the Middle East, for a possible offence from the South-East of Europe. Germany’s and her allies did not cooperate very well and were very weak, offering little to the German’s fight, leading to the loss of the war. The Schlieffen Plan was undoubtedly a severe failure for the Central powers and led to the failure of the Great War. Several historians argue that the Schlieffen Plan was infeasible for its time, in particular, B.H. Liddell, and was why it failed. He states that it would have been possible in the next generation when air power could paralyse an army and fast mechanical vehicles could encircle the enemy much quicker than traditional war tactics in the early 1900s. Some historians, such as David Fromkin argue that the Schlieffen Plan had too many changes made by Moltke prior to the war to be successful, however recent close inspection by A. Palmer on recently released documents, show that the plan was flawed from the start, and no sizeable changes were made prior to the war. One of the main flaws of the plan were the unrealistic expectations of speed and the reliance almost exclusively on rapid movement. This is backed by the British historian Sir John Keegan: when summarizing the plan, he states that there was an unreasonable expectation that the Right Wing of the German army could fight through Belgium and the Netherlands arrive to Paris on schedule. This is one of the fundamental reasons of why the plan failed, and as a result the Central Powers lost. Along with this, however, the Russians mobilized much quicker than anticipated, pulling troops away from the Western Front to the Eastern Front, further slowing down the advance in the West and eventually creating a stalemate. This stalemate created a severe lack of resources for Germany and her allies as they had to constantly supply an army with troops that would die quickly and military resources that would be expelled rapidly. Although both sides had negative effects from this, such as lower morale, Germany suffered considerably worse due to its limited resources, while Britain and its allies had almost the entire world to supply them, further depleting Germany’s precious food, raw materials, and infantry resources, making it much easier to lose the war.

When the plan did fail, the leadership of the time, Hindenburg and Ludendorff failed to react until near the end of the war. Even though they desperately wanted to break through the stalemate, they could not create a military tactic that would create a hole in the line. The passage of time of the stalemate only played further to the defeat of Germany, due to its lack of domestic resources and the small industries of its allies. A contrast to the British Empire’s abundance of materials. Even when the American’s joined and broke the stalemate, Ludendorff stated that they did not have a strong strategy, only to go as far into France as they could and as quick as they could. This had severe problems. This lead the army to taking over areas that had little importance and thus made it null to have and an exceptional waste of resources. Also, once the army got so far in, the supply line could not keep up due to the long distances, essentially deserting platoons in the middle of France causing a less organized and supplied military resulting in the loss of the war. These examples clearly show how the leadership of the time were anything but competent. It was not only Ludendorff and Hindenburg however, the other leaders in the Central Power’s are also to blame: i.e. von Kühlmann and Hoffmann of Germany, Czernin of Austria-Hungary, and Mehmed Talat of the Ottoman Empire. All these leaders signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, a treaty that would be labelled as their ‘Greatest achievement, and their greatest failure.’ The main result of the treaty was the land of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Ukraine, Lithuania, and Poland being given to Germany and Austria-Hungary. This was seen as a great success in the eyes of the leaders and the people, however it was short lived. One of the major effects of the treaty was the impact it had on the western allies. Living in Germany, and seeing the Haimhausen war memorial every day, one notices that the loses of the German’s became more and more severe as time went on. At the time, Britain and her allies were losing morale and desperately wanted the war to be over, however this treaty was shock to them. It served as a warning to what would come if the Central Powers won the war. This was seen with the raising exponential rise of deaths of the nations, signalling that Britain and her allies were ready to do anything to avoid losing the war and dealing with the terrifying German’s demands. This made it increasingly difficult to win and fight, something that the German’s believed would have been easy with their ‘freed’ troops, from the East. Even though the decision to take this territory from Russia had a huge impact on the morale, and eventually how hard the western allies fought, it also had effects on it’s military. The Central Power’s that signed the Treaty for all of this land, failed to recognize that they would have to use significant force to keep them at bay, making what should have been about 1.5 million troops moving from the East to the West, much smaller. This was disastrous for the German army; not only did they have to keep its new territory, but also fight and win on the West, spreading its resources even thinner then it should have been if they decided to not take as much land. The leaders of the Central Powers made some very large mistakes that significantly added to their future loss of the war.

There was no one reason why the Central Powers failed to win the war, but a culmination of many varied points. From huge domestic problems, lack of resources, weak allies and alliances, to poor leadership and military strategies. ‘Fight on and fly on to the last drop of blood and the last drop of fuel, to the last beat of the heart.’ (Baron Manfred von Richtofen). Germany and her allies tried their best and fought until they could no more, and for that it is important to give them even a small amount of gratification.

EXAMPLE FOUR:

“Whoever has access to the railways wins the war”. Although AJP Taylor’s statements may no longer hold merit this statement was true about the First World War. This was clearly seen after the battle of Amiens where the German advance during operation Michael was stopped. This was Germany's last gamble and the last hope for the Central powers to win the war. Germany had lost the battle for the factories as the allies had 4000 tanks and they only had 20. They lost the battle for leadership as the allied generals were united under Foch and Ludendorff was crazy and he was supposed to be leading their forces. The Central powers also had no clear aims, they were in disarray, whereas the Allies had a clear aim defeat Germany. This essay will show that the Central powers lost the war because they did not win the battle of the factories, they lost their last gamble operation Michael, they lost the battle of leadership and the Central powers were also in disarray caused them to lose the war.

“We must strike at the earliest moment before the Americans can throw strong forces into the scale. We must beat the British.” Ludendorff in this statement shows the desperate situation that the central powers are in at the moment, and that the Michael offensive was their last hope. Three days after the offensive had been in action the Kaiser ordered al the church bells to be rung in victory, because of how much land the Germans had taken in such a short amount of time. However later in the war these bells that had been there for hundreds of years would be melted down for ammunition for the war. Ludendorff decided that this was the only option that Germany had to possibly win the war; However what the offensive did was spread the German lines very thin, thus if a weak link in the front was attacked then the rest of the front would be cut off and would not receive any supplies. Also the land that the Germans were taking was not of strategic value, the Allies did not put up a very strong defence to the Germans offensive. The end of the German advances came at Amiens, this was a main transportation hub for the Allies. After this the and with the arrival of the 2 million American soldiers the Germans lost ground fast and ultimately lost the gamble that the placed on their victory of operation Michael. In the Beginning of the war the German army was the most elite, best equipped and best trained. To be able to achieve this they needed factories that they had, but by the end of the war Germany had fallen behind in the race for new weapons to turn the tide in the war. The Allies however had continued to build up their factories and invest in new weapons for the war. This is clearly shown in the number of Tanks that each side had. The allies had 4000 tanks and the Germans only had 20. Tanks would be a deciding factor in winning the war as they gave advancing soldiers something to hide behind and they could advance on enemy lines and incite fear. However the tanks in the First World War were quite slow (could only travel 4mph) and when armour-piercing ammo was invented there effectively in battle was diminished. But the psychological affect that it had on the German soldiers to see a large metal behemoth coming towards you incited fear within the German ranks. Without any proper tank threat the Germans could not properly counter this weapon of the British. The fact that the Germans could not counter this was a main reason why they lost the war because of the psychological factor that these metal Goliaths had on the German troops.

When looking at the battle of leadership it was clear that it was only a matter of time that the Central powers would lose the war. The man in charge of the German military command was Ludendorff, and for the allies Ferdinand Foch was in control of the military. Foch had the generals united under him, this means that the allies had a clear leadership structure for how their supreme command was set up. The Central powers had Ludendorff in charge of their armies, a man who was often described as crazy. The allies under the leadership of Foch had one clear aim, “Defeat Germany”. Whereas the central powers did not have a clear aim. After the treaty of Brest-litovsk the Germans annexed 1/3 of the Russian territory, this however made Ludendorff leave over 1 million troops in these territories to subdue the populace. When the allies realized that this is what Germany would to all of them if they would win the war. This gave the Allies one clear goal “ defeat Germany to end the war”. In addition the central powers were in disarray. Austria Hungary in 1918 commandeered a German grain boat that was going through Vienna, this act of desperation shows that the Central powers would turn on themselves and fight each other even while they are still fighting the Allies. After the incident Ludendorff almost declared war on A-H, Germanys only ally. This action shows that the Central powers were willing to go to war with each other for their own needs when they should be allies. The central powers by the end of the war were not allies but they were a mess that would be easily defeated by the Allies because of superior leadership from Foch and the fact that they had an aim and were fighting together and not with one another.

In conclusion the central powers only have themselves to blame for the loss of the Great War. If they would have held together at the end in 1918 they might have been able to repel the advance of the allies. Also the treaty of brest-litovsk was a disaster for the Central powers, because they annexed so much land that they did not need Germany needed to leave over 1 million troops in these lands when these men could have been fighting against the allied offensive. If the central powers had not been oblivious to the fact that tanks would become a decisive factor in warfare and built more of them then they might have been able to defeat the allies but they did not do this, they disregarded the moral shock that this would have on the men and how important tanks would be in battle. They also needed a goal a major target to focus on like the allies with defeating Germany. The Central powers lost the war to their own incompetence, lack of leadership and the fact that they did not build enough tanks. They only have themselves to blame for the loss of the “war to end all war”.


EXAMPLE FIVE


By the end of March, church bells rang throughout Germany in anticipation of victory. Russia had already been decisively beaten and, with 44 divisions moved to the West, Germany, Austro-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria together had for the first time outnumbered the Brits and French. How then, could the central powers be forced to sue for peace within eight months? The answer lies within their alliances; the central powers were divided both internally and externally.  

Austro-Hungary was an empire made up of thirteen countries: many of which demanded self-determination, a concept supported by the enemies. As Hew Stracken argues, this did not only pose a threat to the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s survival in general but also crippled their army. Men who did not even want to live in this country were definitely not ready to die for it. Even the Austrian and Hungarian kingdom disagreed throughout the war, and the Hungarian’s did not import food into Austria. This caused for Austria to do the unspeakable in March 1918, proving that the central powers were not only divided domestically. In this month, Austro-Hungary stopped a Germany ship on the Danube and confiscated their food supplies although their ally Germany at the time was also starving. Needless to say Germany was infuriated. Such quarrel between allies only weakened forces further instead of creating a strong system of support like the one Britain and France had with the advantage of the United States’ fresh batch of resources and extra men. This internal division within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which spread throughout the front as well as their unfaithful behaviour towards their allies added to the burdens that the central powers had to carry compared to the allies, ultimately resulting in the loss of world war one.  

The Ottoman Empire on the other hand faced similar issues to Austro-Hungary as its thirty-two provinces were divided, many of which did not want to be part of the Ottoman Empire apparent in the fact that there was the Young Turk revolution in 1908. Although, the Ottoman Empire had held itself up despite the revolts in 1908, in 1912 they were once again destabilized through Italy’s invasion of Libya. In fact, Christopher Clark argues in his book “The Sleepwalkers” that this specific invasion caused for the collapse of the Sick Man of Europe. The Ottoman Empire’s troops were focused on the Russian front; such that once the treaty of Brest Litovsk was signed between Germany and Russia on the 21st of March 1918 they basically retreated from the war in general. Instead of helping their allies Germany and Austro-Hungary at the Western front once the Eastern front had been defeated, the Ottoman Empire sent their troops to Baku. In June 1918, while the central powers were still fighting Britain, U.S and France the Ottoman Empire was engaged in the Battle of Baku miles away from the Western Front. This lack of support from the Ottoman Empire caused for very little resources for Germany and Austro-Hungary who were still fighting, thus six months after Russia had been defeated and the Ottoman Empire had more or less retreated from the war the central powers were forced to plead for an armistice.  

Last but not least it was the German’s who experienced trouble at home as well as causing trouble amongst their own allies. With the treaty of Brest-Litovsk signed the German morale was through the roof, Kaiser Wilhelm rang bells of victory and the troops were convinced the war was soon to be over. However, due to the 35% of land mass that had been taken away from Russia in the treaty of Brest-Litovsk both troops and government were unhappy. Instead of being sent home, 1.5 million troops had to stay in Russia in order to occupy the land that had been taken from Russia, which had been battered by the war. In addition to this Germany was mostly governed by the SPD at the time, the Socialist Party, who was against taking land from Russia who was a “fellow socialist” country. This caused large controversy amongst Germans back home, as well as a sink in morale. Furthermore, the army and the government started becoming increasingly distant, as the army was busy occupying land whilst the government disagreed with this point in the treaty. This issue crippled Germany and sure enough in November 1918 Hindenburg and Ludendorff appealed for an armistice as they realized that the central powers could not possibly win the war. The Germans had also weakened their ally the Ottoman Empire during this period, as in an attempt to destabilize India. Kaiser Wilhelm had called for Jihad throughout the Middle East and Asia. Considering many of the countries under the rule of the Ottoman Empire were Muslim, this act caused for chaos and rebellion in the Ottoman Empire kicking this collapsing country whilst it was down. Consequently in the summer of 1918 when it became obvious to the Germans that they were going to lose, the Ottoman Empire was busy with its own battles and the maintenance of its Empire and was unable to help the central powers win the war. 

In conclusion the central powers lost the war because they had several domestic issues such as political and national segregation, which spread quickly to the troops at the front as well. And in addition to this weakness they betrayed each other and weakened one another to create benefits for their own countries that ultimately caused everyone’s loss.

From IBO Examination 2004—Paper III Why did Germany lose the War?

March 5th 1918 was a decisive day and should have been the ground stone for German victory. On this day the treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed and through that Germany and her allies had effectively won the war against Russia. Through this Germany gained 80 % of Russia’s industry, 35 % of Russia’s land and 30 % of the population and it seemed to the whole world as if Germany and her allies in the end would succeed and against all odds, win this war. source for such numbers? It even went so far that Kaiser Wilhelm announced a national day of celebration to celebrate the German victory, although the war was not even over. So how was it possible that in the end, after the 100 day offensive launched by the allies on the 8th August 1918, Hermann Müller and the colonial minister Johannes Bell were the ones who, in the name of Germany, had to sign the Treaty of Versailles on the 28th June 1919 and thus had to agree to a horrendous amount of reparations set by the victorious triple entente, when by the end of March 1918 it seemed as if the German victory was imminent?

Although superficially it appeared that Germany was fine and that she was about to win the war, Germany faced considerable domestic problems. The British blockade began on the August 4th 1914, the same day when Britain declared war on Germany, and by March 1918 the German economy was crippled. It had decreased by  55 % and it is estimated that 760 000 civilians starved to death in Germany.  In the winter of 1918, strict rations were placed on men, who were only rationed six ounces of bread per day, one egg every two weeks and milk was virtually nonexistent. This winter was commonly referred to, as the Cabbage and Turnip Winter and it gives a clear example of how deadly effective the British blockade was. Furthermore, the severity of shortage in Germany can be expressed by the fact that church bells. which had been ringing for centuries where taken away from villages and melted down so that weapons and ammunition could be produced. Metal pipes were dug up and melted down for bullets. The whole country was starting to feel the British blockade this thus sapped the moral of surviving, causing huge communist demonstrations to ripple through the country. The government could not tolerate this and started sending all strikers to the war front, as a form of punishment, however, these actions had a catastrophic impact of which no one had though of. The 3000 strikers, that were sent to the war front infested their surrounding men with communist ideas and this was not something one wanted to have, as the men in the front trenches were required to fight and not suddenly start a communist way of thinking. These 3000 men caused huge damage to the army and played their part in why Germany lost. Through this example one can see how the British blockade not only caused enormous shortages of food and raw materials but how the blockade also led to a division in Germany and in the army. By 1918 the blockade was starting to achieve its utmost damage and it played a huge role in the defeat of Germany and her allies.

It is also arguable that Germany lost the war as early as 1879, when she signed the secret alliance with Austria-Hungary. Not only did this tie Germany into fighting a two front war against France and Russia but, as the Austrian-Hungarian empire was so weak and fragile it was more of burden than a help to Germany. There were as many as eleven different nationalities in Austria-Hungary and nationalism played an important role for each one of them. Of these eleven ethnic groups, six were Slavic and they wanted independence from Austria-Hungary; however the government would not allow this and because of this there were frequent disagreements. Government attempts to introduce or improve minority language or culture this drew oppositions from the other nationalities including Germans and this made it very hard for the government to reform. If the government focused to much on one nationality then it provoked all the others and because of that Austria-Hungary was in no way ready to fight a war. No evidence so far that this directly led to German defeat in 1918 This made it vital that Germany send troops and its support to Austria-Hungary, as otherwise it would easily be defeated by the Russian and Italian troops. The need for help was so great that in April 1918 Austria stole the food of a ship that was travelling down the Danube to Germany in order to feed Vienna. When Ludendorff and the Kaiser heard of this they were short before declaring war on their ally Austria-Hungary. To make matters worse the new Kaiser in Austria had started negotiations with the France, which caused the Germans to be furious and the Austrian-Hungarian troops were starting to lose to Italy. Now Germany had to spare more men and send these to aid Austria-Hungary and thus had less troops to fight against France and Britain. From the start, Austria-Hungary only muddled Germany into a greater crisis. They drew them into a two front war, needed their troops and weapons and above all even stole their food supplies. With such a weak ally Germany simply had no chance in winning this war.

At 4:45 in the morning, on the March 21 1918 Ludendorff launched Operation Michael and started bombarding and attacking a 40-mile front. After nearly half a million troops had been successfully transported from the eastern-front to the western-front, Germany for the first time, was superior in numbers and Ludendorff saw his chance in breaking the deadlock. There were 7 500 British casualties from the bombardment alone the storm troopers which followed, ventured deep into enemy lines. In the matter of a few days more land was taken then during the three years of stalemate. However, Ludendorff made decisive mistakes and through this lost the German chance of a victory. Ludendorff had no real plan, his answer to the questions of what his plan consisted of was: “We chop a hole, and the rest follows”. Yet the “rest that follows” had no clear direction. Suddenly Ludendorff wanted to capture Amiens and Compiénge and the German 5th Army continued fighting for each bit of ground. Eventually, Ludendorff noticed that his offensive had departed of its main goals but by then it was too late. The supply lines were already too long and the German army terribly exhausted. Had Operation Michael focused on its original goal, taking Paris, and if the troops and not simply advanced but had actually waited for the rest of the army and established sufficient supply lines then a German victory could have possible been the outcome but as this was not the case all the offensive did was break the deadlock, act a start to the Hundred days and kill 177 739 allied and 239 000 German forces.

When on August 8th 1918, known as the Black Day, the German forces started surrendering this was due to a number of reasons, partially due to own mistakes and partially due to sophisticated tactics of the allied forces, for example creating the British blockade. Although, in March 1918 German victory had seemed imminent to the outside world, Germany had faced severe shortages and bottomless interior problems and out of the perspective of many Germans victory had not appeared definite or even reachable.

At 05:00 AM on the 11th November 1918, the Armistice was signed in a railway carriage near Compiegne, France, marking the end of the First World War – a victory for the allies, Britain and France, and a humiliating and painful defeat for the Central Powers, whom, at the time, consisted of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Bulgaria. The Armistice enforced a cease-fire, and its terms included the Central Powers handing over their fleets, evacuating all occupied territories and annulling all of the peace treaties made during the course of the war. With this and the later agreed Treaty of Versailles of 1919 along with other country specific peace treaties of St. Germain, Sèvres, and Trianon, the Central Powers accepted full responsibility for the war, and fully declared their surrender – Germany and her allies had lost the First World War. Although there are many factors which need to be considered when analysing a momentous event in European - and even World - history, for the purpose of this essay my interpretation of the Central Powers’ loss of the First World War is centred around the argument that it was mainly due to a lack of balance – a theme which relates to many of the causing factors of the end of the Great War, such as the relationships between the countries that made up the Central Powers, the ratio of manpower between the Central Powers and the Allied powers, and, as the country hit hardest by the end of the war, Germany’s inability to balance her economy between her home front and her frontline – an imbalance which was worsened further by the Allied Naval Blockade. Basically, the Central Powers lost the war because of a lack of balance, and, as German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche put it, “the lack of balance (among friends) is a fault that cannot be reprimanded without becoming incurable.” A factor which contributed greatly to the lack of balance that caused the Central Powers to lose the war was the lack of balance that arose between the alliance members themselves. An example of this is the difference in war aims of the countries – in this case, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey. Whereas the Allied Powers, Great Britain, France and Russia, all shared similar war aims which were based on preventing German hegemony (leadership or dominance) and expanding their empires by gaining control of German or Austro-Hungarian territory – in France’s case, they wanted to regain Alsace Lorraine, a territory which was lost to the Germans after the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. The Central Powers, however, were not so united over their war aims – Germany’s war aims were very ambitious and territorial – she wanted to attain Mitteleuropa along with world dominance and to be seen as a symbol of power, whereas her allies, Turkey (or the Ottoman Empire at the time) and Austria-Hungary had their sights set on different things – Turkey wanted a Turkish Union, in which all Turkic speakers were united under one rule, and Austria-Hungary wanted to restabilise their country after years of turmoil, with many clashing nationalities living under one leadership regime. It is clear to see that the allies were not in agreement on what their main war aims were, and it can therefore be interpreted that there was a lack of balance between the three main members of the Central Powers – due to their inconsistent and incoherent war aims they were unable to work collaboratively to achieve one united aim – this weakened their strength as an alliance against the Allied Powers, who clearly
wanted the same things when it came to preventing German expansion, and contributes as a reason to why Germany and her allies, the Central Powers, lost the First World War.
The lack of balance between the Central Powers themselves can also be substantiated when the sizes of their armies are observed – there is a clear lack of balance between Germany’s mobilized forces, which, between 1914 and 1918, consisted of 11 million men. Compared to Turkey’s offering of 2.85 million men, Austria-Hungary’s contribution of 7.8 million men and Bulgaria’s force of 1.2 million men, it is clear to see that there was a lack of balance in the military force in the Central Powers. This effectively means that the other members of the Central Powers were reliant on Germany’s army to guide them towards victory, and, with weak allies, it is understandably clear that the lack of balance of power between the allies was another contribution to the Central Powers’ surrender in 1918. There was even a lack of balance between the various members’ surrenders from the war – due to their wanting of different things and the imbalance of force that they had to offer, the Central Powers crumbled apart – as the famous Irish poet William Yeats wrote, “things fall apart, the centre cannot hold.” This is reflected in the various members of the Central Powers’ withdrawals from the war, which all occurred at different times, reflecting the lack of balance of union between the four major powers – Bulgaria withdrew in September 1918, followed by Turkey in October. Austria- Hungary signed an armistice on November 3rd, 1918, which left Germany to fight for herself, a task that she simply could not do, leading to her withdrawal through the November 11th armistice – the Central Powers had surrendered, and part of the reason as to why this happened was the lack of balance between the four members of the alliance – they wanted different things, and did not have equal military forces. Another contribution to the lack of balance which, in my opinion, caused Germany and her allies to lose the First World War was the imbalance in terms of the manpower between the two armed camps – the Allied Powers and the Central Powers. When the sizes of the two armies are observed, it is clear to see that the balance was set in the favour of the Allied Powers, who, in 1914, consisted of three major world powers – Britain, France and Russia. In the case of Germany, the only ‘world power’ in her alliance, however, it is clear to see why some historians say that her allies “hardly inspired confidence.” Compared to Russia’s 12 million, France’s 8.4 million and Britain’s 8.9 million mobilized troops, the Central Powers were at a severe disadvantage. When Britain’s colonial forces are added into the running total as well, it is no surprise that some historians, such as John Keegan, argue that the Central Powers’ troops set them at a clear drawback to their enemies. Although Russia’s Bolshevik revolution and subsequent withdrawal from the war in 1917 evened out the balance between the two armed camps, the USA’s entry into the war in the same year after the Lusitania attack and the Zimmerman Telegram (both of which Germany can be held responsible for initiating) re-established the imbalance in the favour of the Allies, who gained another major world power adding 4.4 million troops to their war effort. In the terms of world powers fighting in the war, it was now 3 against 1. This made Germany and her Allies’ loss of the war a very likely prospect, and it was all due to an imbalance – in this case,
between the military power of the two armed camps. There was a lack of balance present between the Allies and the Central Powers which set the Central Powers at a clear disadvantage – this imbalance was only ever intensified by the USA’s joining of the war – the Central Powers were clearly outnumbered, which provides another reason as to why the theme of lack of balance is to blame for Germany and her Allies’ loss of the First World War. Adding to the list of factors which caused an imbalance in the First World War and ultimately led to the Central Powers’ loss is the lack of balance that existed in the state of Germany – what used to be a prosperous state was turned into a chaotic one by the war. In Germany, there was a lack of communication between the military forces and the government, causing confusion between what was happening on the front line and what was happening on the home front. Teamed with the lack of communication and co-operation between the members of the Central Powers, Germany was in a very unstable state. This was worsened by the Allied Naval Blockade, which started as early as 1914 and inhibited German access to the seas, her main source of import for foodstuffs and nitrates, which were essential for fertilizing the soil in order to produce home grown crops. The French also blocked off Austria-Hungary’s access to the Adriatic. This highlights the Allied Powers’, superiority over Germany and the Central Powers proving as another reason why they lost the war. In hindsight, the Allied Naval Blockade “crippled” the German economy – German imports were 55% below their pre war levels, and the value of her trade with the USA fell from 68 million in December 1914 to 10 million in January 1915 – in the space of a mere two months, Germany’s economy fell to practically nothing. This, teamed with the obvious lack of resources leading to an average daily calorie intake of 1,100 calories, took a massive toll on the people of Germany as well as the troops fighting for their country. Through the “hunger blockade”, as some historians aptly call it, 800,000 Germans died – this figure excludes the death toll of those who were affected by the Spanish Influenza Epidemic of 1918 on top of their malnutrition. It is clear to see here that the British Blockade deeply affected both the German public and the troops, leading to food riots and calls for the Central Powers to surrender. War weariness was really setting in in the German state, and they just couldn’t go on – as a Marxist historian would say, the war is like a fire – it needs oxygen (in Germany’s case, resources) to keep it going. Unfortunately, due to the Allied Naval Blockade, Germany did not have any access to the resources to maintain the fire that was their war effort – there was a severe lack of balance of resources and economic distribution, which led to her and her allies’ surrender and subsequent loss of the First World War. Although there has been presented a clear argument as to why a general lack of balance was to blame for Germany and her allies’ loss of the war, some historians may argue otherwise. As the American writer Henry Miller once said, “whatever needs to be maintained through force is doomed” – some historians, such as Martin Gilbert, would agree with this, arguing that Germany and the Central Powers were doomed from the start of the war. They would justify this by saying that Germany’s failed initiation of the Schlieffen Plan led to a war on two fronts which she couldn’t possibly fight, and, teaming
this with her weak allies and her small navy, she was doomed from the moment she declared war on the 1st August 1914. This, however, can be disproved by the fact that, even at the start of 1918, “from the German point of view, the prospects for both victory and defeat were delicately balanced” - they still thought they could be victorious. This was mainly due to their success in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk of March 1918 following Russia’s Bolshevik revolution. The loss of a major power made it easier for Germany to reach potential success – as Hew Strachan stated in his book The First World War, “victory on the east meant that German troops could be massed on the western front.” The Germans then subsequently launched their Spring Offensive in 1918, which was also known as ‘The Kaiser’s Battle’. This was their last chance, as the lack of balance mentioned previously was mounting and the Germans needed to advance in order to continue on in their war effort. Although they successfully advanced 60 miles, they were then confronted by the Allies, who tore them apart and pushed them back – their gamble had failed. The Germans had lost their will to fight. They had to surrender. It can therefore be argued that the Germans weren’t doomed from the start of the war as some historians may argue – the lack of balance only came into play during the war, and their main moment of loss was during their Spring Offensive, which was their last gamble after the lack of balance had affected Germany and her allies so detrimentally. It was, therefore, the lack of balance during the war that led to the Central Powers’ loss of the First World War. After crucial analysis of the Central Powers’ loss of the First World War, it can be concluded that, although there are numerous contributing factors, the lack of balance in various areas was to blame for Germany and her allies’ surrender in 1918. The difference in war aims meant that there was a lack of balance when it came to what the Central Powers actually wanted, and, when compared to that fact that the Allied Powers had clear, defined war aims, this set Germany and her allies at a clear disadvantage. The lack of balance was also worsened by the unequal distribution of arms between the two rival camps – the Allied Powers had significantly more troops, a number that was only increased by the USA’s joining of the war. Additionally, the lack of balance of resources which was created by the Allied Naval Blockade induced a severe case of war weariness in the states of Germany and her allies, topping off the fact that the lack of balance was to blame for Germany and her allies’ loss. Contrary to some historians’ beliefs that Germany and her allies were doomed from the start of the war, the lack of balance was only really established during the war when the Allied Powers’ actions through their blockade and superior manpower imposed detrimental consequences upon the Central Powers – in fact, Germany were close to winning the war after the 1917 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. In conclusion, the lack of balance in various areas was to blame for Germany and her allies’ loss of the war and therefore the end of the ‘war to end all wars’, which, in hindsight, some historians called “an armistice for 20 years” before the outbreak of World War Two in 1939.



On 24 March 1918, three days after the launch of Operation Michael, Kaiser Wilhelm ordered every church bell in Germany to ring in celebration of the Operation’s successes on the Western front – a German victory was far from inconceivable. In August 1918, the German war machine’s efforts has stagnated; morale was lower than it had ever been during the conflict; and the German army supplies had become so meagre that those church bells that had celebrated the proximity of a German victory army barely six months previously were being melted down to produce bullets for the front line. By the end of October, Germany’s allies had all capitulated, and Germany followed suit in November. This radical turnaround of fortunes, and the reason why Germany and her allies lost the war, was due to and German successes and a lack of coherence and organisation of the Central Powers’ war effort compared to that of the Allied Powers. The moment each nation lost the war is considered to be their signing of their respective armistice, as these armistices were not contested and each resulted in a peace treaty that clearly defined that respective nation as the vanquished. 

German successes in 1918 on the Eastern front, culminating in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March of that year, led to the significant weakening of her war effort. After the February revolution, Russia continued hostilities for the “defence of the Russian homeland”- Brusilov attempted to repeat his triumph of 1916 with a major offensive on the Galician front to which the Germans successfully counterattacked, resulting in huge Russian defeats. The Russian defeat by the successful German offensive culminated in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which resulted in Russia’s having to pay six billion marks in reparations, as well as its ceasing of Riga, Lithuania, Livonia, Estonia, the Ukraine and some of White Russia to their adversary. Rather than securing a German victory, the German forces’ successes on the Eastern Front resulted in increased vigour on the Allied Powers’ parts to defeat their enemy given their fears for their fate at the hands of the Germans, should they lose and be forced to sign a treaty like Brest-Litovsk, as Churchill states in his memoirs. Furthermore, the German successes in Russia led to an influx of communist propaganda into Germany, increasing support for revolution into the German army and population1. The communist Russian example proved infectious; in January 1918 the German High Command faced major and prolonged strikes in Kiel and Berlin; martial law was then declared in Hamburg and Brandenburg2. By August of that year, communist propaganda had infiltrated the German army to the extent that half of the losses of soldiers in that month were through desertion. Additionally, the harsh terms of Brest-Litovsk led to dissent among socialists in the German government which undermined the government’s cohesion and support for the war. After German humiliation by other delegates, angered at the harsh terms of Brest-Litovsk, at the Socialist Conference in 1917, the Reichstag passed a Peace Resolution, voiced demands for reforms in the electoral system, and for the armed forces to be placed under the Reichstag’s control3. All of these effects of Germany’s success in defeating Russia clearly
led to the weakening support for the war in all levels of German society, resulting in the weakening of her war effort. 

German successes on the battlefield were not limited to those on the Eastern Front, and, like those successes, the ones on the Western Front also led to the weakening of the German war effort as well as the signing of the armistice of 11 November. The initial stage of Operation Michael, launched on 21 March, saw German troops advance as far as forty miles into French territory; while ground was successfully gained, this feat resulted in the weakening of the German advance. Morale decreased as German soldiers saw excellent French and British supply to their troops as they advanced into French territory. The German front line reached the wastelands of the Somme battlefields, over which the infantry could hardly advance, the German progress thus inhibited. Supply lines became hugely overextended, as artillery could not keep up with the pace of the successful infantry advance; German communication was similarly overexerted, making the continuation of the offensive movement nearly impossible. Thus, as a result of the successes in gaining ground, the offensive movement stagnated, and began suffering heavy losses. The German Army was unable to recover from these losses before American reinforcements arrived, and its subsequent defeats during the Allied Hundred Days Offensive resulted in the armistice in November 1918. Clearly, then, German success in battle in 1918 resulted in Operation Michael’s failure, after which the German Army was unable to recover and suffered defeat after defeat at the hands of the Allies, their losses culminating in the armistice of 1918. 

It is often argued, however, that the British blockade of German ports was the reason for its defeat in 1918, because it crippled the German economy, and led to widespread starvation on the home front. By 1915, German imports had fallen by 55% from pre-war levels, and the blockade had cut off fertiliser supplies that were vital to German agriculture. By the winter of 1916, essential foodstuffs had become so scarce that many subsisted on a diet of ersatz products, causing looting and food riots. Official statistics attributed nearly 763,000 wartime deaths in Germany to starvation caused by the Allied blockade4. However, according to revisionist historians, the German capitulation was precipitated on the Western front rather than among the populace on the home front. Political leaders and those that controlled the army had not capitulated before 1918, even though the situation on the home front in 1918 was comparable to that in preceding years, indicating this was not the reason for capitulation in 1918. Furthermore, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk of 1918 involved Russia surrendering territory containing about 90% of Russia’s coal resources, 50% of her heavy industry and 30% of her heavy industry, as well as the Ukraine, which was the “bread basket” of Russia; Germany was thus better equipped in 1918 regarding these products than it had been before, indicating this is not the reason for capitulation. The Treaty of Bucharest of May 1918, whereby Romania yielded up control of her oil production and grain surpluses, completed Germany’s acquisition of a vast, self-sufficient eastern empire that could supply the German populace with more essential produce, suggesting further the blockade did not cause Germany’s signing of the armistice as Germany had now acquired a new region from which it could gain resources. In fact, the mutinies in October 1918, followed by widespread rebellion (workers and soldier’s councils seizing power; Bavaria declaring herself an independent state) that led to Groener - the head of the Oberstekriegsamt - realising that revolution could only be avoided by signing an armistice, were caused by the revelation that their armies were on the brink of collapse to the German people in October 19185. Rather than increasing food shortages leading to these open shows of rebellion, it was the German defeats on the Western front that led to the German populace finally demanding peace from its leaders. 

Whereas Germany’s success in the battlefield led to her losing the war, the lack of coherence and general coordination of Germany’s allies’ war efforts in the last battles before they capitulated compared to those of the Allied Powers, was the reason for their defeats. Through the eyes of Germany, Hew Strachan argued in 2005, Austria-Hungary was a “corpse” to which they were “shackled” throughout the war. By 1918 its army was ill-supplied, hugely impoverished, and increasingly disintegrating into its separate ethnic elements6: its war effort was failing due to the lack of cohesion between ethnic groups in the army. Not only was there no cohesion within the Dual Monarchy’s army, but there was none between the German and Austro-Hungarian forces either: while Germany was fighting with renewed vigour in early 1918, Austria-Hungary had desperately begged the French for peace terms in April 1918 – there was no unified and coordinated strategy between the two countries. Conversely, the Italian army –which was most dangerous to the Monarchy in 1918– was powerfully reinforced by the British and French. On 24 October, these unified Allied forces took the offensive against the Austrians, whose forces disintegrated after 48 hours and signed the armistice on 2 November. Similarly, the Bulgarians capitulated on 30 September 1918 after Serbian and French troops, unified in their strikes, attacked hitherto impregnable Bulgarian positions. Greek and British forces came to their allies’ aid, and Bulgaria, deprived of any support from Austria-Hungary or Germany, surrendered. Turkey signed an armistice on 30 October after the combined effort of Allied forces, under leadership of the British Edmund Allenby, pushed the solitary and aid-starved Ottoman forces back past Constantinople. In the face of unified and coordinated Allied attacks, the lack of support or coordination between the Central Powers’ forces caused their armies to surrender in the autumn of 1918. 

1918 may be christened the year of paradoxes and juxtaposition: while the Central Powers’ forces acted as disjointed units, their united and coordinated Allied counterparts forced their surrender; Germany’s success guaranteed its defeat. The German copper that had, for centuries, voiced anthems of celebrations of love, unity, and God, was now re-forged into shells that killed fathers, brothers, husbands and sons. Perhaps it is fitting that the German church bells had been destroyed: by the end of 1918, and well into the future, Germany and her allies would have few occasions for celebration.


Why did Germany lose the Great War in 1918?

To comprehend why we are being asked this question, one hundred years after the start of the First World War, it is essential to understand that in March of 1918, victory seemed to be at Germany’s doorstep. The Eastern front had been defeated, and Germany was now ready to “reinforce the [Western] front line for a fresh attack.” Kaiser Wilhelm had church bells ring all throughout Germany in anticipation of a Germany triumph that everyone deemed to be arriving soon. How is it then, that in the matter of months, Hindenburg and Ludendorff had Germany signing an Armistice and accepting defeat? The answer to this question is so complex, that still rings in our ears to this day. Sir Hew Strachan (a Scottish military historian well known for his work on the history of the First World War) argues that Germany lost three battles, the battle of manpower (morale), the battle of resources and the battle of leadership. This essay will interpret his argument into a more specific scheme, analyzing the role of the British Blockade, Brest-Litovsk, and allies in the loss of these battles.

Since 1914 the British Blockade held its “iron grip” on German supplies and resources. By 1918 here in Munich alone, 750 000 Germans had starved to death as a result of this blockade, which was intensified by the conscription of agricultural workers that led to the reduction of German harvest in 1917-1918 by half of its former yields. The German public suffered under rations and resource scarcity, whilst the front too was lacking in weaponry and ammunition. Thus, the infamous melting of the church bells was implemented in order to provide further steel, which Carsten (a British-German historian who lived in Germany between 1911-1936) himself labels as a true “cause of despair.” Centuries of marriages, funerals, baptisms and religious celebrations manifested in these symbolic church bells were melted away. Soldiers heard of these dreadful effects of the war on their friends and families back home, heavily diminishing their morale at the front and forcing them to question the value of the war. Furthermore, it encouraged them to report back home with their own problems, promoting pessimism both back in Germany as well as up in the fronts.

The treaty of Brest-Litovsk signed in March of 1918 was meant to be a significant step towards victory for the Germans, after all they now had won the battle in the East and could replenish their Western lines with two million additional soldiers. However, this in itself posed a huge problem. The German soldiers who had fought to success in the East were seriously disappointed to be sent right to the next battlefront instead of home to their families. Furthermore, half of them were forced to stay behind and occupy the vast amount of land Germany had claimed from Russia through the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. This sparked political conflicts within Germany, as Socialists such as Karl Liebknecht concluded that this “was not a war of nationalist defence but had imperialist causes and aims.” Pacifists also agreed with this claim, as well as a large proportion of the German population that did not support such expansion into the East. Lorne Armstrong of the Hambubger Institute of Paedogogic Affairs stresses that even the SPD themselves, who were the biggest party in the Reichstag at the time, were unhappy with the results of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, as it very much promoted the deterioration rather than the support of their so-called “Socialist Brothers”. Whilst such turmoil occurred within Germany in regards to the former Eastern Front, the Western Front also posed a threat to the German military leaders. As Hindenburg himself had stated, during the peace talks of Brest-Litovsk, Lenin and Trotsky had attempted to “sow the seeds of political dissolution into the ranks of [the German] army.” The German soldiers who had fought in the East had heard tales of worker uprisings and Lenin’s socialist promises from their Russian counterparts, which could spread into the Western Fronts once they arrived. Hence, the German generals now above worrying about losing the war, also had to worry about infesting their troops and causing military insurrection.

In terms of Germany’s allies, it could be argued that they had already lost this battle before the war begun. After all, the Ottoman Empire, or as it was labelled at the time “the Sick man of Europe” was collapsing bit by bit ever since the Italian annexation of Libya in 1912. Austro-Hungary was divided and constantly feared their own soldiers to turn against them and turn to fight for the entente powers, as half the Slav and Romanian populations of Europe still lived in their empire. Throughout the war, Austro-Hungary had even gone as far as attempting to conclude a separate peace with the entente powers in late 1917 and stealing a boat full of German grain during the Danube incident. Thus, despite being so-called allies, Austro-Hungary almost provoked Germany to start a war against them in several occasions. Though Bulgaria was a relatively powerful ally, it was much smaller than the other countries (except Serbia) who were fighting, such that “The whole process of disintegration was hurried on by surrender, one by one, of Germany’s key allies” according to Patrick Cavendish (a British journalist who published a book on the First World War). On the other hand, the Entente powers gained an ally in April 1918, giving German morale one last deadly blow. Although the Americans only sent 200 000 troops, with minimal experience, they learned fast. The U.S. also brought with it extensive amounts of resources, such that the ratio of tanks for example, between the US and Germany, was 4000:20. The boost in French and British morale with the arrival of the Americans trumped the German morale, which existed on the basis that the Michael Offensive would allow the Germans to hold out until the Americans arrived. However, the Americans had arrived and the Germans were far from victory, Ludendorff had spread the Western front line so far apart that communication and transport of resources was no longer sustainable whilst General Pershing was able to launch a series of successful offensives against the German troops.

Thus, by 1918 Ludendorff and Hindenburg accepted that Germany had no chance of victory, and signed the armistice with the Entente Powers and America on the 11.11.1918, the last one of the Central Powers to do so. This twist from close victory to strident defeat led to the “stab in the back” theory in the German army, who, like many others to this day, did not understand how the Germans suddenly lost the war. This would lead to the establishment of the Weimar Republic and many more historical events to come. Thus these few months, which resulted in German defeat, act as an important milestone in 20th century history.   

 
Why did Germany and her allies lose the First World War?


On the 24th of March 1918 church bells across all of Germany where ringing, Germans were celebrating and Kaiser Wilhelm declared that day to be a national holiday. Everyone thought that the English had been defeated and the war was won. For the first time in four years people were singing the national anthem with pride and regaining trust in the government for it’s highly successful “Operation Michael”.
With such high spirits in the country, what could have then led to Germany being down to her knees, begging for an armistice short six months later? There are many factors that can be taken into account for Germany’s, and therefore he allies failure, like the Schlieffen Plan, unrestricted submarine warfare and poor military tactics, however this essay will discuss and evaluate the significance of Sir Hew Strachan’s famous theory of the ‘three battles’ lost in those six months: the battle of manpower, the battle of leadership and the battle of resources.

One important aspect to consider when looking for possible causes of Germany’s defeat is the “battle of manpower”. After Russia had taken her armies out of war in 1917, Germany was able to sent hundreds of thousands of soldiers to the Western front and, for the first time, had a great advantage over her contractors; Germany’s army outnumbered all others. The problem that arose, however, was that the Americans were preparing for war against Germany after the Zimmermann Telegraph, which sparked enormous anger in the United States. Large numbers of American soldiers were now on their way to Europe to fight the war independently, but with the same aims as the Allies: to defeat Germany. General Erich Ludendorff announced: “Our general situation requires that we should strike at the earliest moment… before the Americans can throw strong forces into the scale.”[1] With this given statement it is made clear that with fit, refreshed and high-spirited soldiers on their way, German military leaders knew that they wouldn’t stand a chance if they were to face them, which forced them was to initiate gambles in the hope of winning the war before the Americans would arrive. Another example for the disadvantage in German manpower is the organisation of their troops. On March 3, 1918, the Russians signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. The outcome of this, besides very harsh conditions for the Russians, was that Germany had now gained massive territory in the east, including Poland, Finland and the Baltic provinces. Even though this seemed like a glorious gain to German people, what it really meant was that now one million German soldiers had to occupy and defend these territories and thus less soldiers were able to take part in fighting the Allied Powers. Adding onto that, Germany’s ally Austria-Hungary was facing bankruptcy and famine; national debt was 75 billion and hunger was crushing the masses.  Austrians were tired of fighting and in 1917 started secret peace negotiations with France. Ultimately this lead to Austrian soldiers slowly diminishing their efforts along the Italian borders. As for manpower, Austrian troops along the Alps were reported to slowly starve to death. Towards the end of the war, Austria-Hungary became a burden to Germany rather than an ally and so Germany was on it’s own with it’s troops and it’s manpower could in no way outlast the Allies’ manpower.

Another point in Hew Strachan’s thesis for the lost war is the ‘battle of resources’, which describes huge differences between Germany and the Allied powers. On August 8, 1918 the Allied Powers launched the “Hundred Days Offensive”; also known as the Battle of Amiens, which turned out to be a huge setback for Germany and ultimately led to the end of the First World War. The first day of that offensive came to be known as the “Black Day” for German people, as it was then that many soldiers lost their will to fight. Very interesting, when looking at statistics for this offensive is that when it comes to strength and resources, Germany had a huge disadvantage. The Allied powers had 32 different divisions, whereas the Germans only had 10 active and 4 reserved ones; the Allied Powers had 1,104 French and 800 British aircrafts[2], whereas the Germans only had 365; the Allied Powers had 532 tanks[3], whereas the Germans had none. The example of the Battle of Amiens shows how these tremendous differences in resources helped the Allies to succeed and how Germany in no way was prepared enough for such battles. But why did Germany have such disadvantages in resources? Something that played a very important role in this limitation during the war was the Blockade of Germany. As the German empire relied heavily on imports not only to feed their population but also to supply for warfare, the British Empire established a naval blockade right after the beginning of the war in 1914, yet this blockade reached it’s peak in 1918. John Maynard Keynes cited the testimony of an observer who accompanied Herbert Hoover's mission to help the starving as such: “Tiny faces, with large, dull eyes, overshadowed by huge puffed, rickety foreheads, their small arms just skin and bones, and above the crooked legs with their dislocated joints the swollen, pointed stomachs of the hunger edema...”[4] By 1918, not only children, but nearly all German people were starving. Those soldiers, who hadn’t lost their will to fight before, had lost it then. These observations written down by Keynes, make clear how extreme the blockade was affecting the German population and how severe it’s impacts were. Starvation and malnutrition brought diseases like influenza pandemic, which caused great suffering and nearly 763,000 wartime deaths in Germany during the war can be associated with the Allied Blockade, yet there is an argument that says that the blockade and starvation didn’t play as big of a role in Germany’s defeat as believed by many. Revisionists argue that though many people went hungry, few actually starved and that the capitulation in 1918 was precipitated on the Western Front, not among the discontented populace back home.[5]

The third ‘battle’ that Germany lost and that inevitably lead to her defeat is the ‘battle of leadership’. During the time of Germany’s “operation Michael” in March, the Allied Powers realized that they were facing a serious crisis and that their only chance was to change the way they organized themselves. Thus Ferdinand Foch, the French general, was made Allied Généralissime and given unified command over of the Allied forces. This was an important strategic movement because now the Allies were even more unified and organized then before and were thus able to perform highly complicated attacks like the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Larry H. Addington, Professor Emeritus of History at The Citadel, said “to a large extent the final Allied strategy which won the war on land in Western Europe in 1918 was Foch's alone."[6] Without a doubt, Ferdinand Foch played a very important and essential role in European history when it comes to war strategies, but it wasn’t only him who helped the Allies to success. The fact that all different nations and divisions that fought for the Allied Powers accepted a Frenchman to be in complete charge and followed his commands as if it came from their own leader is extraordinary. And it is exactly this cohesiveness and organization the Germans were lacking. Their leadership at that time had many faults. Military leaders were all acting independently and no one knew exactly who was doing what. This lead uncertainty when it came to Germany’s allies as well. Whenever important militaristic strategies needed to be discussed between Austria-Hungary and Germany for example, Austria-Hungary leaders had no way of knowing who to talk to about issues. Leadership was not only a problem in Germany, but also a problem in Austria-Hungary. Austria-Hungary, with 15 different languages spoken, had major communication and leadership issues long before the war started. Revolutionary and nationalistic feelings had been a problem for the empire for a long time and the starvation and killing of soldiers made the situations much worse. Overall it can be said that the Central Powers’ leadership systems, especially Germany’s, were too scattered and underdeveloped to be able to keep up with the Allies’.

With all that has been said above, Germany’s and her allies’ defeat can be very well explained using the ‘three lost battles’. Manpower, resources and leadership are strong and important components to any war and nearly all mistakes that Germany and her allies made during the First World War can be traced back to those three basic principles. If Germany would have had better strategies and tactics regarding their troops, easier access to more and better resources and a much clearer and simpler concept to their leadership, the war might have ended differently, but with the Allies strengths in manpower, resources and leadership, it was impossible for Germany to defeat them.
       [1] Marshall, S.L.A.. “World War I”, 2001, page 343  [2] Hart 2008, page 311  [3] Kearsey, pages 2–3  [4] Blahut, Fred (April 1996). "Hidden Historical Fact: The Allied Attempt to Starve Germany in 1919". The Barnes Review: 11–14.  [5] "The Blockade of Germany." The National Archives | Exhibitions & Learning Online | First World War | Spotlights on History. N.p., n.d. Web.  [6] Larry H. Addington (1994). The Patterns of War Since the Eighteenth Century. Indiana UP. pp. 167–68.