Western Front

For three years, the Allied forces and German for had dug themselves into trenches all along the Western Front. This was a new type of warfare, on that neither side was accustomed to. Obviously, such a radical change in the way wars were fought brought about mangy other changes which changed war forever such as tanks, gas and aeroplanes. When the Schlieffen plan was implemented, the Germans were not prepared to cope with the unexpected ability to muster troops and the bravery the Allies showed.

The Schlieffen plan was somewhat of a disaster, and resulted in both sides being entrenched in costly and devastating battles all across the Western Front, in which hundreds of thousands of soldiers died simply to gain a few miles of land. However, this did affect the end of the war, and the way subsequent wars were fought. There were gradual changes all the 1915, 1916 and 1917; the introduction of tanks was at first a complete disaster with their unreliability making them virtually useless in the trench warfare.

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However, because the technology was steadily improved as time went on, they were effective enough in 1918 to be decisive in the Allies winning the war. The trench warfare also steadily introduced new tactics to the battlefield; at first the Allies were convinced that cavalry would be their elite force that would win the war for them. It soon became apparent that this was not the case and so the Allies had to turn to alternative brand new tactics such as the creeping barrage and gas.

These were introduced in 1916 because old tactics such as cavalry were outdated and useless in these new situations. Both sides desperately wanted to break the deadlock and so were always trying to use new innovations to do this. Gas is a prime example of this, and was used for the very first time at Ypres in 1916. It also shows just how new and experimental these technologies were; the Germans did not use more gas or capitalise on the advantage gained from the use of it because they were scared of it, i. e. the wind changing and it being blown back in their direction.

Suddenly in 1917, changes appeared thick and fast. Firstly, and arguably most importantly, Russia pulled out of the war. This was due to political and social unrest the country (the Russian Revolution). This was sheer tactical genius by the Germans, as they had earlier that year allowed Lenin, a Communist, back into Russia after he had been exiled for political subversion. It was Lenin who orchestrated the Russian Revolution, and unwittingly gave the Germans a huge advantage. This meant that the Germans had to fight a war on only one Front.

They could transfer one million troops to the Western Front in a relatively short amount of time (in only a few months). This meant that the Allies were significantly outnumbered and under pressure. However, the Germans were under even greater pressure because of the entry of the USA. The Germans had, using their U-Boats, brought about a halt to all imports into Britain, in an attempt to starve the British out. The German submarines had orders to destroy any Allied ship or ship trading with Britain they came across.

This was very effective in causing a significant dip in morale in Britain, but it brought about a decisive change. The Americans had become incredibly rich through the exportation of their massive natural resources. They realised that a lot of the nation wealth lay in the ability to export to Britain and Western Europe but that they couldn’t do this because of the effectiveness of the German U-Boats. So they realised that they had to protect their investments. This was the longer-term cause.

Shorter-term causes or trigger was the ability of the U-boats to arbitrarily attack and vessel they suspected of trading with the Allies. During the attacks, thousands of Americans were killed. Also, the Germans had stepped up the activity of their agents in America, and were in fact planning to use the Mexicans to invade America, which they knew would occupy American troops and slow down their inevitable arrival. The USA realised that if it did not enter the war, it would soon be dragged in anyway. So in April 1917 the USA announced it was entering the war on the side of the Allies.

This was not the German’s only problem though. There was severe social unrest at home, with the naval blockade of Germany’s ports they were also unable to import the food and goods the people wanted. The people were hungry and were disenchanted with the government, and were calling for an end to the war. This, coupled with the entry of the Americans, made the Germans realise that although they had a numerical advantage, they had to capitalise on that advantage before the Americans could effectively enter and negate their advantage.

They also knew however, that it would take the Americans several months to transport a sizeable force across the Atlantic, especially with U-boat activity at its peak. Their only course of action was to launch a massive all-out offensive in an attempt to take Paris and with it, France, before the Americans could arrive, and the Germans instead would be outnumbered. These changes took place in the space of a few short months. Although in normal terms this is a long period of time, it was relatively short compared to the three years of stalemate.

And so the Ludendorff offensive was implemented. This offensive was very effective at first, with the Germans reaching a position only 40 miles from Paris, and even being able to shell the capital. However, many problems stood in their way. Firstly, although it had been very effective, and the Germans had taken 250,000 prisoners, this meant that the prisoners had to be guarded, transported, and generally take care of, which took up valuable resources and men. Secondly, the Germans had lost 500,000 men, and very few troops had been left in reserve.

Also, a flu epidemic badly affected the Germans, much worse than the Allies. By June 700,000 well-trained healthy American soldier had arrived in France and the Germans were now woefully unequipped to deal with a force of such a size. In addition to this, German morale was very low, due not only to the heavy losses the German army had seen, but also because of the entry of America into the war, and the severe food shortages and the flu epidemic. The Allies now knew they had the upper hand. The Germans were out-manned, out-gunned and exhausted.

At home the Kaiser fled to Holland, and there were many mutinies in the German army. There was talk of Revolution in Germany. The Allies took advantage of all of these effects. The Allied Counter-offensive was devastating. The Allies deployed huge numbers of tanks and with the technology vastly improved, bored a massive hole in the German lines. Then the Supreme Allied Commander, Marshall Foch, ordered an Allied offensive along the entirety of the German lines, and the results brought about the end of the war on the 11/11/18.

In 1917, there was indeed considerable change on the Western Front. So considerable was this change that it affected the course of the to such and extent that it brought about the end of it. However, these changes were not the result of single actions or single people. These changes were the result of years of stalemate, of two years of U-boat campaigns, of growing civil, political and social unrest in Russia, and of the growing technological arsenals that both sides were beginning to wield.

In fact, the technological advances should not be downplayed as to their role in changing to course of the war. The Great War was the first war to truly affect all aspects of life. The first war where two armies didn’t meet on a big field and charge each other every week for a year. No one knew how to cope with this type of warfare, so they had to find ways to deal with new threats; the Germans introduced gas, the Allies introduced gas masks; the Allies introduced the creeping barrage, the Germans built reinforced trenches.

There were constant technological advantages throughout the war. However, I don’t mean to imply that the relatively rapid changes were expected or predicted by either side. Quite the contrary in fact; the Allied commanders were planning their 1919 campaign in 1917. Or perhaps someone in the German or Allied command realised that the way they were fighting the war was just losing them hundreds of thousands of men. Unlikely I think.