A School History of the Great War - Chapter 12
The War in 1918
Failure of German Peace Offensive. - During the fall of 1917 Germany had started a great discussion of the terms of the peace which should close the war. In general the position taken by German spokesmen was "peace without annexations and without indemnities," as proposed by the Russian Bolsheviki. Such talk was designed to weaken the war spirit of the Allied peoples, and perhaps to make the German people believe that they were fighting a war of self-defense. The time was ripe for a statement of the war aims of Germany's opponents. This statement, later approved in general by Allied statesmen, was made by President Wilson in his address to Congress on January 8, 1918. It is discussed in detail in Chapter XIV. It was not satisfactory to Germany's rulers, for they hoped to secure better terms in a peace of bargains and compromises.
Russia Makes a Separate Peace. - Only in Russia was this German peace offensive a success. In the last chapter we saw how in the latter part of 1917 the Bolsheviki had gained control of the government of Russia and had arranged an armistice with the Central Powers. This meant the stopping of all fighting along the eastern front and the consequent freeing of many thousands of German soldiers to fight in the west.
At Brest-Litovsk, a town in Russian Poland which had been occupied by the troops of the Central Powers, a meeting of delegates was called to arrange the terms of peace. The negotiations at this place lasted from December 23, 1917, to February io, 1918. The Germans had determined to keep large portions of Russian territory. At the conference the German delegates flatly refused to promise to withdraw their troops from the occupied parts of Russia after the peace. By February io hope of any settlement that would satisfy Russia had disappeared and the Bolshevik delegates left Brest-Litovsk. The war, so far as Russia was concerned, was at an end, but no treaty of peace had been signed. The Bolshevik government issued orders for the complete demobilization of the Russian armies on all the battle fronts.
Germany, determined to compel Russia to accept her terms, renewed her military operations on February i8. The result was that Lenine and Trotzky, the Bolshevik leaders, were forced to agree to the conditions which had been laid down by the Central Powers at BrestLitovsk. Nevertheless - the Germans continued their advance, with practically no opposition, to within seventy miles of Petrograd.
The Separation of Ukrainia and Finland- Ukrainia and the southwestern corner of russia, is the home of a Slavic peopkle--- the Little Russian-closely akin to the Russian proper. The people of Finland, in the extreme northwest, are of a distinctly different race. In both these regions there were set up independent governments which resisted the rule of the Bolsheviki. With the aid of Germap troops the power of the Bolsheviki in the new states was s o on destroyed. Through the setting up of these states, particularly Ukrainia, Germany hoped to secure grain supplies, and to control large iron and coal deposits. Dissatisfaction of the people with German control, however, interfered seriously with the realizing of such hopes.
The Peace of Brest-Litovsk. On March 3 peace between Russia and the Central Powers was finally signed at Brest-Litovsk. By the terms of the treaties Russia was compelled (i) to surrender her western provinces of Poland, Lithuania, Livonia, Estonia, and Courland; (2) to recognize the independence of Ukrainia and Finland; (~) to cede to Turkey certain important districts south of the Caucasus Mountains;1 and (~.) to pay a tremendous indemnity. The falsity of the German talk of "no annexations and no indemnities" was now evident. Few more disastrous treaties have ever been forced upon a vanquished nation. It has been estimated that the treaties of Brest-Litovsk took from Russia 4 per cent of her total area, 26 per cent of her population, 37 per cent of her food stuffs production, 26 per cent of her railways, 33 per cent of her manufacturing industries, 75 per cent of her coal, and 73 per cent of her iron.
Roumania Makes Peace. Roumania, deserted by Russia, was forced to make peace in the spring of 1918, by ceding to her enemies the whole of the Dobrudja and also about 3000 square miles of territory on her western frontier. The Central Powers, moreover, were given control of the vast petroleum fields and the rich wheat lands of the defeated nation.
A little later, however, the Russian province of Bessarabia decided to unite itself to Roumania, as most of its people are of the Roumanian race.
The Russian Situation in 1918. In spite of the Brest-Litovsk treaties, the Allies continued to regard Russia as a friendly nation. President Wilson took the lead in this attitude. It was felt that the Russian people were sadly in need of assistance, but just how this should be given was a serious problem.
The question was complicated by €he presence in -Russia of a large army of Czecho-Slovaks (check'o-slo- 7 yaks'). These soldiers were natives of the northwestern Slavic provinces of Austria-Hungary. They had been part of the Austrian army during the victorious Russian campaigns in Galicia and had been taken prisoners. The Czecho-Slovaks had always sympathized with the Allied countries and had fought for Austria unwillingly. Many, indeed, had later fought as part of the Russian army. When Russia left the war they feared that they might be returned to the hated Austrian government. To avoid this their leaders sought and obtained from the Bolshevik government permission to travel eastward through Russia and Siberia to the Pacific. Here they planned to take ship and after a voyage three quarters around the globe take their place in the armies -of the Allies. The long journey began. Then the Bolshevild, probably acting under German orders, recalled the permission they had given. The CzechoSlovaks went on nevertheless, determined to proceed even if they bad to fight their way. They were opposed at different points by Bolshevik troops with the assistance of organized bodies of German and Austrian prisoners, but the Czecho-Slovaks were victorious. In fact, with the aid of anti-Bolshevik Russians they seized control of most of the Siberian railroad, and of parts of eastern Russia.
Allied Intervention in Russia. - At last the Allied nations and the United States decided that it was
time to undertake military intervention in Russia. This was carried out in two places. Bodies of American and Japanese troops were landed on the east coast of Siberia to cooperate with the Czecho-Slovaks. The latter, thus reinforced, changed their plans for leaving Russia and decided to fight for the Allied cause where they were. They were encouraged by the fact that they were recognized by the Allies and by the United States as an independent nation.
Another small Allied army was landed on the north coast of Russia and marched south against the Bolshevlid. Large parts of Russia north and east of Moscow declared themselves free of Bolshevik rule. It was the hope of the Allies that that rule - now marked by pillage, murder, and famine - would shortly be overthrown and that a new Russia would rise and take its place among the democracies of the world.
The Western Front.-Early in 1918, after the failure of the German peace offensive in the west, rumors came from Germany of preparations for a great military drive on the \western front. 'The "iron fist" and the "shining sword" were to break in the doors of those who opposed a German-made peace. There were good reasons for such an attack in the spring of 1918. Germany had withdrawn many troops from the east, where they were no longer needed to check the Russians. Further, although a few American troops had reached -France, it was thought that not many could be sent over before the fall of 1918, and the full weight of America's force could not be exerted before the summer of 1919. It was to Germany's interest to crush France and England before the power of the American nation was thrown into the struggle against her.
Germany's New Plan of Attack. The German military leaders therefore determined to stake everything upon one grand offensive on the western front while their own force was numerically superior to that of the Allies. Their expectation of victory in what they proudly called the "Kaiser's battle," was based not only upon the possession of greater numbers, but also upon the introduction of new methods of fighting which would overcome the old trench warfare. The new methods comprised three principal features.
In the first place, much greater use was made of the element of surprise. Large masses of men were brought up near the front by night marches, and in daytime were hidden from airplane observation by smoke screens, camouflage of various kinds, and by the shelter of woodlands. In this way any portion of the opposing trench line could be subjected to a heavy, unexpected attack.
Secondly, the advance was prepared for by the use of big guns in enormous quantities and in new ways. The number of guns brought into use in this offensive far exceeded that put into the Verdun offensive of 1916, which had been looked upon as the extreme of possible concentration of artillery. The shell fire was now
to be directed not only against the trenches, but also far to the rear of the Allied positions. This would break up roads, railways, and bridges for many miles behind the trenches and prevent the sending of enforcements up to the front. Vast numbers of large shells containing poisonous "mustard" gas were collected. These were to be fired from heavy guns and made to explode far behind the Allied lines. By this means suffocation might be spread among the reserves, among motor drivers, and even among the army mules, and by deranging the transport service make it impossible to concentrate troops to withstand the German advance.
In the third place, "shock" troops composed of ~elected men from all divisions of the army, were to advance after the bombardment, in a series of "waves." When the first wave had reached the limit of its strength and endurance, it was to be followed up by a second mass of fresh troops, and this by a third, and so on until the Allies' defense was completely broken.
By their excess in numbers and by these newly devised methods of warfare the German leaders hoped to accomplish three things: (i) to separate the British army from the French army; (2) to seize the Channel ports and interrupt by submarines and big guns the transportation of men and supplies from England to France; and (~) to capture Paris and compel the French to withdraw from the war. Let us now see how and why the Germans failed to secure any one of these three objectives, and how the Allied forces resumed the offensive in the summer of 1918.
The German Advance. - Five great drives, conducted according to the newly devised methods of warfare were launched by the Germans between March 21 and July r~, 1918. The first, continuing from March 21 to April i, called the battle of Picardy, was directed at the point where the British army joined that of the French near the Somme River. There was at this time no urn-fled command of all the Allied armies, and the blow fell unexpectedly upon the British and won much territory before French assistance could be brought up. Out-numbered three to one, the British fell back at the point of greatest retreat to a distance of thirty miles from their former line. But the extreme tenacity of the British and the arrival of French troops prevented the Germans from capturing the important city of Amiens (ah-myan'), or reaching the main roads to Paris, or separating the British and French armies. Learning a needed lesson from this disaster, the Allied nations agreed to a unified military command, and appointed as commander-in-chief the French General Foch (fosh), 'who had distinguished himself in the first battle of the Maine in r9'4 and else-. where. Before this step had been taken General Pershing. had offered his small army of 200,000 Americans to be used wherever needed by the French and the British.
The second German offensive began on April 9 and was again directed against the British, this time farther ~ to the north, in Flanders, between the cities of Ypres .j~
and Arras. In ten days the Germans advanced to a maximum depth of ten miles on a front of thirty miles. But the British fought most desperately and the German losses were enormous. At last the advance was checked and the Channel ports were saved. "Germany on the march had encountered England at bay" - and bad failed to destroy the heroic British army.
And now came a lull of over a month while the Germans were reorganizing their forces and preparing for a still greater blow. Again the element of surprise was employed. The Allies expected another attack somewhere in the line from Soissons to the sea, and their reserves were so disposed as to meet such an attack. But the third German drive was directed against the stretch from Rheims to Soissons, where a break might open the road to Paris from the east. It began on May 27. For over a week the French were pushed back, fighting valiantly, across land which had not seen the enemy since September, 1914. The greatest depth of the German advance was thirty mile~, that is, to Cbateau-Thierry, within forty-four miles of Pads, where it was stopped by American marines. The enemy had again reached the Maine River and controlled the main roads from Paris to Verdun and to the eastern parts of the Allied line.
The fourth drive started a few days later, on June 9, in a region where an attack was expected. It resulted in heavy losses to the Germans, who succeeded in pushing only six miles toward Paris in the region between Soissons and Montdidier (mawn-dee-dya'). The ad-vantages of a single command had begun to appear.
General Foch could use all the Allied forces where they - were most needed.
The fifth drive opened on July r 5 and spread over a front of one hundred miles east of Soissons. The Allies were fully prepared, and while falling back a little at first, the American and French troops soon won back some of the abandoned territory.
The Turning of the Tide. - A glance at a map Of the' battle front of July iS will show that the Germans driven three blunt wedges into the Allied lines. These positions would prove dangerous to the Germans if ever the Allies were strong enough to assume the offensive. And just now the moment came for Foch to strike a great counter-blow. During the spring and early summer American troops had been speeded across the Atlantic until by the Fourth of July over a million men were in France. On July iS American and French troops attacked the Germans in the narrowest of the wedges, that along the Maine River, and within a' few days compelled the enemy to retreat from this wedge. On August 8 a British army began a surprise attack on the middle wedge, and by the use of large numbers of light, swift tanks succeeded in driving the Germans back for a distance of over ten miles on a wide front.
The offensive bad now passed from the Gilman's to the Allies. Under Foci's repeated attacks the enemy was driven back first at one point and then at another. He had no~ time to prepare a counter-drive; he did not know where the next blow would fall. By the end of September he had given up nearly all his recent conquests, devastating much of the country as he retired. In several places also he was forced still farther back, across the old Hindenburg line. In two days (September 12-13) the Americans and French under General Pershing wiped out an old German salient (St. Mihiel) near Metz, taking 200 square miles of territory and 15,000 prisoners. Altogether, by the end of September, Foch had taken over a quarter of a million prisoners, with 3,669 cannon and 23,000 machine guns.
It is said that the complete defeat of the German _ plans was due primarily to three things: "(i) the dogged steadfastness of the British and the patient heroism of the French soldiers and civilians; (2) the brilliant strategy of General Foci, and the unity of command which _ made this effective; (~) the material and moral encouragement of the American forces, of whom nearly 1,500,000 were in France before the end of August."
The War in Italy, the Balkans, and Syria. - The summer of 1918 witnessed the launching of a great offensive by the Austrians against the Italian armies holding the Piave front. It is probable that the chief purpose of this blow was to draw Allied troops into Italy from the battle front in Belgium and France. The Italians, however, proved themselves amply able to fight their own battle, and the Austrian attempt was' repulsed with tremendous losses.
The autumn of this year saw important happenings on the Balkan front also. This theater of the war had been uneventful for a long time. The battle line ex tended from the Adriatic Sea to the Aegean, and was held by a mixed army of Serbians, Greeks, Italians, British, and French, under the command of General D'Esperey (des-prã'), with headquarters at Salonica I Opposed to these troops were armies of Bulgarians ~ and Austrians, together with a considerable number ot4 Germans. Encouraged by the German defeats in west, which had forced the withdrawal of large numbers ~ of German troops from eastern Europe, the AIIies launched a strong offensive on the Balkan front in the middle of September. Day after day their advance continued, resulting in the capture of many thousands of prisoners and the reoccupation of many miles of Albanian and Serbian territory. The campaign was one of the most successful of the whole war. Within two weeks the Bulgarians asked for an armistice, accepted the terms that were demanded, and on September 30 definitely withdrew from the war. Their surrender broke the lines of communication between the Central Powers and Turkey and at one blow destroyed Teutonic supremacy in the Balkans. An even more important consequence was the moral effect on the general public in Germany, Austria, and Turkey, where it was taken by many as a sign that surrender of the Central Powers could only be a question of time.
Meanwhile, events of almost equal importance were taking place in Palestine and Syria. General Allenby bad taken Jerusalem in December, 1917. In the fall of 1918 new and important advances were made in this region, Arab forces east of the Jordan cooperating with the British armies. By the close of September more than 5o,ooo Turkish soldiers and hundreds of guns had been captured. In October General Allenby's men took the important cities of Damascus and Aleppo, and in Mesopotamia also the British began a new advance. Turkey was already asking for an armistice, and now accepted terms that were virtually a complete surrender (October 3 i).
By this time Austria-Hungary was in the throes of dissolution; independent republics were being set up by the Czechs, the Hungarians, the Jugo-Slavs, and even the German Austrians. These revolutions were hastened by the overwhelming victory of the Italians in the second battle of the Piave. Their attack began October 24 on the mountain front, but soon the Allied forces under General Diaz (dee'ahss) crossed the river and cut through the lines of the fleeing Austrians. In the capture of large numbers of prisoners and guns the Italians took full vengeance for their defeat of the preceding year. So hopeless, indeed, was the situation for the Austrians that they too accepted an armistice that was practically a surrender (November 4).
German Retreat in the West. - After the Germans had been driven back to their old lines in France, there was danger that the contest might settle down to the old form of trench warfare. But the intricate defenses of the Hindenburg line, in some cases extending to a depth of ten miles from the front trenches, did not prove strong enough to withstand the American and Allied advance. Foci attacked the line from each end and also in the center. In the north, by October 20, Belgian and British troops had recaptured all the Belgian coast, with its submarine bases; and the British had taken the important cities of Lens and Lille, the former valuable on account of its coal mines. In the center British and French troops broke through to the important points of Cambrai, St. Quentin
(sän-kahn-tän') ana Laon (lain), while farther east the Americans began an advance along the Meuse River; threatening to attack the German line in the rear.
By this time it seemed likely that a general retirement from Belgium and France had been determined upon by the German leaders. Moreover, the impending defeat of the German armies led to a new peace drive by the German government. On October 6 President Wilson received a note from the German Chancellor asking for an armistice, requesting that the United States take steps for the restoration of peace, and stating that the German government accepted as a basis for peace negotiations the program as laid down in the President's message to Congress of January 8, 1918 (Chapter XIV), and in his subsequent addresses. President Wilson opposed any armistice till after the evacuation of Allied territory, or except as it might be arranged by military advisers on such terms as would make impossible the renewal of hostilities by Germany. He also called attention to the following point in his address of July 4, 1918, - "The destruction of every arbitrary power anywhere that can separately, secretly, and of its single choice disturb the peace of the world, or, if it cannot be presently destroyed, at the least its reduction to virtual impotence"; - stated that the military autocracy still in control of Germany was such a power; and insisted on dealing only with a new or altered German government in which the representatives of the people should be the real rulers.
On November ii, while the German armies in France and Belgium were being defeated by the Allied and American forces, envoys from the German government accepted armistice terms imposed by Marshal Foci that meant virtually the surrender of Germany, and thus brought hostilities to an end.
Germany was now undergoing revolution. Within a few days her emperor, kings, and dukes gave up their thrones, and the people began the formation of a new government.
Suggestions for Study. - i. What is the meaning of camouflage? of smoke screen? What is a convoy? 2. On a map of ~he Western Front locate the five great German drives of 1918, numbering them from one to five. 3. On a physical map of the Balkan peninsula find the only good land route from the Danube to Constantinople, with its branch to Salonica. 4. Collect pic. tures showing American soldiers in camps; going to France; and in France. 5. What wer3 the objects of the 1918 offensive of the Germans? 6. In what way did the American troops help besides increasing the number of soldiers fighting the Germans?
7. What is the present condition of the western provii' ces of Russia? 8. What was the first important battle in which many American troops were engaged? 9. Why was the St. Mihicl salient important: (a) for the Germans to hold; (b) for the Allies and the United States to win? io. Explain the importance of Bulgaria's surrender.
References. - War Cyclopedia (C. P. I.); The Study of the
Great War (C. P. I.); McKinley, Collected Materials for the Study
of the War; The Correspondence between the Bolsheviki and tke
German Government (C. P. I.); National School Service, Vol. I
(C. P. I.).