Germany - The Tides of Power
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All Rights Reserved. Cancel Submit. By November , however, the British had made such improvements in the tanks' construction that these vehicles could now make a difference. The new British tanks, with their heavy armor and Caterpillar treads, could cross difficult terrain and launch a powerful attack.
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Better still, they did not need to have the way cleared by artillery barrage. Tanks and infantry advanced together. Over three hundred tanks smashed through the German barbed wire and crossed German trenches. The infantry followed close behind. Many Germans panicked at the sight of the gigantic metal monsters coming toward them and threw down their guns and ran. The British quickly gained ground, and for a time it looked like they would clear the field of Germans.
Only a shortage of reinforcements kept the British from claiming more ground. The Battle of Cambrai proved the war-worthiness of the tank and showed that attacks could be effective without artillery support. No sooner had the British called off their attack, however, than the Germans won a small victory using new techniques of their own. Borrowing from tactics developed on the Eastern Front and in fighting in Italy, the Germans launched a speedy surprise attack on the same ground the British had just gained. Grouped in small squadrons and unsupported by artillery shelling, the Germans quickly pushed the British back.
Within a few days they had returned the front line roughly to the position it had been before the tank attack. Though neither the British tank attack nor the German surprise attack was decisive, both events indicated the shape of battles to come. As came to a close, leaders on both sides recognized that the year to come might well bring the end of the war. How the war would end, however, was very much in doubt. For more than three years, Allied forces and soldiers representing the Central Powers had fought to a standstill on the Western Front.
Despite their best efforts, neither side was capable of inflicting enough damage on the other to force a collapse. But leaders awaited a shift of power that might tip the delicate balance. For Germany, the waiting game had the air of desperation. Simply put, Germany could not afford to wage war for too much longer. It had called forth nearly all of its manpower and resources to wage war, and now the nation was quite literally starving to death. An Allied blockade kept supplies from reaching Germany, and the nation's farms were no longer capable of meeting the demand for food.
If Germany was to win the war, it needed to win the war soon. With this in mind, generals on the Western Front awaited the arrival of reinforcements from the east, where Russia had been defeated. These reinforcements would provide the manpower for one final offensive, which was to be launched in the spring, before the American troops that were streaming into France could be prepared for fighting. German military leader Ludendorff, who masterminded what has become known as the "spring offensive," hoped that the Germans could use these reinforcements to finally bring the Allies to their knees.
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France and Britain played a waiting game of their own: They waited for the Americans. When the United States entered the war on April 6, , France and Britain looked forward to using American manpower to help win the war. But the American troops were slow in coming, and their leader, General John Pershing — , refused to allow his men. Still, by March there were , Americans in France, and their mere presence was a source of moral support for the Allies. Ludendorff knew of the arrival of the Americans, and he knew that if he would have victory, he must have it in the spring.
As he had before, Ludendorff decided to attack at the point where the British and French forces met, near the Somme River. The major German attack would concentrate on routing the British and driving them northward; a secondary assault would split the British and French lines and seal the French to the south, where they could no longer come to the rescue of the British. The German spring offensive began on March 21, In the usual way, first came the artillery barrage, next the poison gas, and finally the charge of the infantry.
With their careful planning, the Germans' charge was highly effective. They broke through the British and French lines, driving the Allies to the rear. It was the most wide-open battle the Western Front had seen in years. The German push through the French line to the south was so successful that Ludendorff decided to keep driving forward, hoping to take the French town of Amiens. This German charge threw the Allies into disarray. The Allied leaders met to decide how to resist the attack. Fearing that the Germans might succeed in splitting the French and British forces, the Allies agreed to coordinate their efforts under the command of French general Ferdinand Foch — Working together, the British and French defenses stiffened and finally stopped the German attack on April 4.
The Germans could not have carried the battle much further anyway, because they did not have the capacity to ship men and supplies much further forward. For the Allies, much had been lost: The Germans had driven them back nearly forty miles, taking territory that Germany had not held since the early days of the war. Cheered by the success, Ludendorff attacked again, hoping to destroy the British will to fight.
This attack, known as the Battle of Lys, came just south of the familiar battlefield of Ypres. Fourteen German divisions smashed into the British line and soon overwhelmed the British as well as a Portuguese division that had been sent into battle. The Germans released over two thousand tons of poison gas, including mustard gas , phosgene, and diphenylchlorarsine, according to Martin Gilbert, "incapacitating 8, men, of whom many were blinded, and killing thirty.
The safety of our homes and the freedom of mankind alike depend upon the conduct of each one of us at this critical moment. Though the Battle of Lys went well for the Germans— they succeeded in pushing the British back several miles—it did not go well enough. The British defenses stiffened and held their ground, and the Germans lost thirty thousand casualties to the Allies' twenty thousand. Even worse, perhaps, was the effect that the battle had on the Germans' morale. German soldiers fresh from the Eastern Front had been told that they would walk right over the British; instead, they were met with firm resistance and suffered heavy casualties.
Furthermore, writes Stokesbury, "When [German soldiers] got into British rear areas, [they] were astounded and appalled by the wealth of [military supplies], rations, clothes, and general sense of well-being that they found. Ludendorff was claiming small victories, but he was not winning the war. In fact, he had lost nearly , casualties in his three victories so far, with increasing numbers of the casualties consisting of troops that either deserted or gave themselves up to Allied forces. Convinced that he still might break through if he kept on trying, Ludendorff planned two final assaults, the fourth and fifth attacks of the Germans' spring offensive.
The fourth attack was to begin on June 9 on a front nearly twenty miles long, stretching from Montdidier to Noyon. But French troops had learned of the assault from German deserters and surprised the German soldiers by beginning their shelling just before the Germans could begin theirs. Though confused by this setback, the German attack still managed to gain several miles of ground before stalling against the combined might of the French and American defenses.
Changing Tides of War on the Western Front
With casualties mounting, the attack was called off within a matter of days. The fifth and final German offensive action was doomed from the outset. The French had learned many of the details of the attack from the steady stream of German deserters crossing over to the west. The deserters revealed that the Germans planned an artillery attack near the city of Reims, to be followed by an infantry advance. Once again, the French artillery barrage began first, and the French mounted an effective counterattack that came just after the Germans' first attack wave faltered.
All over the Allied line, French, British, American, and Italian troops fought with great determination. Surrounded on three sides, one American division still managed to hold its position; one of its regiments earned the nickname "the Rock of the Marne. By July 22 they were in full retreat and were giving up ground that they had recently captured. The German assault had ended. Hearing of these setbacks, German chancellor Georg von Hertling wrote, according to Gilbert, "On the 18th even the most optimistic among us knew that all was lost.
The history of the world was played out in three days. German troops retreating from battle met their reinforcements—still coming forward— with scorn, wondering how these men could continue to support what was clearly a lost cause. Even Ludendorff and Hindenburg, the architects of Germany's years-long war effort, were despondent. According to Stokesbury, Ludendorff went to see Hindenburg and asked him what Germany ought to do now. German leaders wanted to be sure they argued from a position of power in any peace negotiations.
To do so, they would have to hold their ground on the Western Front and convince the Allies that Germany was an equal in power and not a defeated nation. Ludendorff's words, quoted by Gilbert, summarized Germany's position: "We cannot win this war any more, but we must not lose it.
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On the day the final German offensive faltered, July 18, , the Allies began what was to be the final stage of the. French general Ferdinand Foch was in charge of this final Allied offensive, and he commanded not only the experienced armies of French and British soldiers but also the fresh American forces led by General Pershing. The Allies had agreed to coordinate their efforts under French command, though Americans were still commanded by American officers in battle.
Near the Marne, French, British, Italian, and American troops worked together in the slow process of driving the Germans backward into submission.