Why did World War 1 end so quickly after the years of stalemate? There are many ideas as to why World War 1 ended so quickly and I shall investigate them all. It may have been just one particular incident which lead to the allied victory or a cumulation of events. To try and gain a better understanding of how the war ended so quickly lets look back to 1918 the year in which one of the most major incidents of war was taking place, the Lundendorff offensive.
Lundendorff was the head of the German army and he had just masterminded the surrender of Russia.He was now fixed on making a major breakthrough on Germany’s western front against the allies especially since Germany’s army had just been reinforced by a total of about 570,000 men returning from Russia. Lundendorff also had a number of specially trained “shock” divisions who were soldiers of the highest quality “masters of using speed to gain a strategic advantage”. These “shock” divisions were supposed to be the key if the Germans went on to win the 1st World War.Lundendorff’s main attack was to be on the weakest sector of the allies’s front, the 47 miles between Arras and La Fere.
Two of Lundendorff’s armies were to break through the allied trenches and break off right, which was supposed to force the allies back toward the English Channel. Lundendorff was also going to supplement the major attack code-named “Michael” with a number of other minor attacks along the British front. “Michael” was launched on March 21st, 1918, and was assisted by an early morning fog, which hid the advancing German troops from the allied observation posts.
The attack took the allies by surprise but it didn’t turn out exactly the way Lundendorff had expected, despite achieving a complete breakthrough south of the Somme the main attack was hindered by a considerable amount of allied concentration of strength at Arras. The disheartened Lundendorff, for a whole week kept troops pouring onto Arras in a vain attempt to carry out his original plan instead of exploiting the breakthrough achieved south of the Somme by one of the “distraction” attacks despite the fact that they had advanced more than 40 miles westward.Lundendorff finally came to his senses and converted the main effort into a drive toward Amiens. However by this time the allies had recovered from their initial dismay and had built a number of temporary trenches in an attempt to try and cope with the ominous attack. The Germans found this new defence impossible to penetrate and Lundendorff was forced to suspend his Somme offensive. The campaign had been successful in gaining territory but Germany had unfortunately lost a lot of their best soldiers.The last sentence is crucial because although Germany had gained the most land anyone had gained since the Battle of the Marne in 1914 they had lost a vast number of men especially out of their “storm” divisions, which meant that they couldn’t really take advantage of the situation. I believe that this is a major reason as to why World War 1 ended so quickly because Germany were now easy victims for a counter attack all because of a bad tactical choice by Lundendorff.
The Germans had purchased a tactical success at the price of a strategic calamity.Now England and France’s chances of success were dramatically enhanced by the severe loss of Germany’s soldiers and the impending fact that the United States of America had now officially joined the war. They weren’t that keen to join as President Wilson was a crusader for peace and freedom but after a number of U-boat attacks on neutral shipping he justified Americas entry into the war in a speech to Congress.
The speech was greeted by with prolonged applause and many young Americans flocked to join the forces and English, French and American flags bedecked the streets of Americas cities.By March 1918 31,000 semi-trained American troops had reached France safely, no transport ships having been torpedoed despite the fear of their occupants. When the troops reached the allied front they had to undergo more training before being dispatched to the front line.
Once the Americans had been trained enough they were attached to various allied units despite the fact that President Wilson didn’t want his troops to go into battle until they were ready to form their own independent divisions. However Wilson was persuaded by his British Ambassador to let the men fight for whatever division they were in.Wilson allowed this as a temporary measure and I think what the Ambassador’s son wrote “In those few moments the scales had been finally weighted against the enemy” summed up this decision. Another factor to take into account in considering why the war ended so quickly is the loss of Germany’s allies. Although this loss did not put Germany at a military disadvantage, the collapse of what had seemed such a powerful alliance was a humiliating blow for its leaders and people. It can be no coincidence that Lundendorff decided that Germany could not keep going on the very day that Bulgaria decided to seek an armistice (25th September).At about the same time General Allenby advanced against the Turks in Palestine. He was expecting a fierce battle but less than one month after he arrived the Turks decided to sign an armistice of surrender with a British admiral, much to the annoyance of the Germans who considered Turkey to be a loyal ally.
Also during this time the Austria-Hungary Empire was falling apart with the Yugoslavs, Poles, Czechoslovakians and Hungarians all claiming their independence between 6th October and 1st November. On a single day there were 1,451 deserters largely from a Hungarian regiment.It was in these circumstances that Italy (supported by substantial British and French reinforcements ) launched an offensive on 24 October which became known as the Battle of Vittorio Veneto. Whole Austrian divisions deserted to Italy, which rapidly gained most of the land lost at Caporetto in 1917 as well as conquering some long-coverted territory in the Dolomites. When the Austrian Government sought a cease-fire on 3 November Germany stood alone without the aid of any allies.
If you consider all of these facts that were against Germany it seems as though they didn’t stand a chance against the allies.In my view even the most optimistic German would have had to question how his country could possibly defeat England, France and the U. S. A. without the aid of any allies.
Perhaps the events leading up to the end of the war could have effected German morale and this in turn could have also speeded up the allied victory because some Germans soldiers may have not even believed that their country still had a chance of winning. To some degree the personalities of those involved led to a swift ending of the war after years of stalemate.On 29th September Lundendorff lost his nerve and announced to the Kaiser that the war was lost. He feared mistakenly that the allies would break through (when we look back we can see that his lack of judgement at a vital time contributed to the swift ending of the war). On 3rd October he wrote to President Woodrow Wilson hoping that there would be a mild armistice but the 16th October found him rejecting Wilson’s tough conditions and ordering that the war must be continued with “the most utmost determination”.President Wilson asked the generals to draft an armistice and asked the allies to accept the fourteen points drawn up as a basis of future peace. Now rather than before Lundendorff’s initial admission to defeat, the homefront as well as the army began to collapse.
On 26th October, refusing to recognise the true situation, Lundendorff threatened to resign if Armistice negotiations were not broken off. To his amazement the Kaiser accepted his offer. Lundendorff stormed out of the office and went into exile in Sweden. Which may have lowered German morale even more because his gun-hoe tactics were very popular in Germany.By April 1918 troops were starting to reach the end of their tether. Germans fell prey to the temptations of abandoned supplies of British food and alcohol. “Entire divisions totally gorged themselves on food and liquor and failed to press the vital attack forward” stated Colonel Von Thaer. After a successful counter attack near Amiens, Operation Michael was abandoned on 5 April.
It had gained much territory but sacrificed many of Germany’s best soldiers who could only be replaced with men from the hospital or young recruits.When a second surprise attack followed on 9th April (Operation Georgette) in the Yves sector things were looking serious as Germany had gained some of the territory. Haig issued his famous special order: “There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man; there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause we must fight on to the end.
The safety of our homes and the freedom of mankind alike depends upon the conduct of each of us at this critical moment”.Although reactions to these words varied, a braver spirit was provoked, probably giving soldiers that “second wind” to continue. Attitude was all-important to the final outcome of the war. The Americans were known to be light-hearted, cheerful, enthusiastic and dismissive of difficulties ” We’ll soon settle” this was the doughboy attitude. The allied soldiers weary after 4 years in battle were provided with this extra “ammunition” which no doubt was welcome in terms of manpower but maybe slightly less welcome in terms of experience.
In the German offensive on the River Aisne on 26 May an outbreak of Spanish flu affected nearly half a million German soldiers. The defeat of the Germans had been caused by plummeting morale in the face of allied forces who outstripped Germany in men and in all types of military equipment including tanks. Revolution in Germany itself attributed to the swift ending of the war. Orders were given to the navy on 27th October to do battle with Britain. Rather than give up their lives in the honour of their country, sailors at Keil harbour refused to obey officers and abandoned ship to demonstrate in the town.
Citizens joined the soldiers demanding a democratic government and revolution spread as far and wide as Munich. The allied forces had superior stocks of weaponry to the Germans. 4,500 against 3630 German aircraft, 18,500 against 14,000 German guns, 800 against 10 German tanks. In conclusion a combination of factors caused Germany’s defeat. Military reserves, inferiority in men and resources, civilian hardship, political unrest, low morale and trepidation about the economic weight of its enemies robbed a proud nation of its fighting spirit, which certainly speeded up the allied victory.The mindsets of those involved in the war, particularly those involved in positions of power largely contributed to the swift ending of the war. Infact it was Ludendorff insisting on the armistice instead of on peace negotiations which brought down on Germany the defeat he had intended to avoid. Could it have been that Lundendorff’s megalomania contributed to the speedy ending of the war? The Americans would be able to build enough ships, manufacture enough weapons, grow enough food and lend enough money to keep the allies going for years as long as the troops and President Wilson were prepared to carry on fighting.
The efficiency of Germany’s army, railways and factories, the advantage of its central power and the patriotic endurance of its people allowed it to defy massive material odds for four years but in the end its economic disadvantages was decisive. Another obvious factor that must be considered if we are to decide why the war ended so quickly was that at the final stage of the war, a desperate Germany signed the fourteen points treaty proposed by President Wilson than fight to the very end. This was probably a wise decision by the Germans but it did contribute to speeding up the end of the war.