Tragedy and Hope
A History of the World in Our Time
By Carroll Quigley
Part Five: The First World War: 1914 - 1918
Chapter 11: The Growth of International Tensions, 1871-1914
The unification of Germany in the decade before 1871 ended a balance of power in Europe which had existed for 250 or even 300 years. During this long period, covering almost ten generations, Britain had been relatively secure and of growing power. She had found this power challenged only by the states of western Europe. Such a challenge had come from Spain under Philip II, from France under Louis XIV and under Napoleon, and, in an economic sense, from the Netherlands during much of the seventeenth century. Such a challenge could arise because these states were as rich and almost as unified as Britain herself, but, above all, it could arise because the nations of the West could face seaward and challenge England so long as central Europe was disunited and economically backward.
The unification of Germany by Bismarck destroyed this situation politically, while the rapid economic growth of that country after 1871 modified the situation economically. For a long time Britain did not see this change but rather tended to welcome the rise of Germany because it relieved her, to a great extent, from the pressure of France in the political and colonial fields. This failure to see the changed situation continued until after 1890 because of Bismarck's diplomatic genius, and because of the general failure of non-Germans to appreciate the marvelous organizing ability of the Germans in industrial activities. After 1890 Bismarck's masterful grip on the tiller was replaced by the vacillating hands of Kaiser William II and a succession of puppet chancellors. These incompetents alarmed and alienated Britain by challenging her in commercial, colonial, and especially naval affairs. In commercial matters the British found German salesmen and their agents offering better service, better terms, and lower prices on goods of at least equal quality, and in metric rather than Anglo-Saxon sizes and measurements. In the colonial field after 1884, Germany acquired African colonies which threatened to cut across the continent from east to west and thus checkmate the British ambitions to build a railway from the Cape of Good Hope to Cairo. These colonies included East Africa (Tanganyika), South-West Africa, Cameroons, and Togo. The German threat became greater as a result of German intrigues in the Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique, and above all by the German encouragement of the Boers of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State before their war with Britain in 1899-1902. In the Pacific area Germany acquired by 1902 the Caroline, Marshall, and Marianas Islands, parts of New Guinea and Samoa, and a base of naval and commercial importance at Kiaochau on the Shantung Peninsula of China. In naval affairs Germany presented her greatest threat as a result of the German Naval bills of 1898, 1900, and 1902, which were designed to be an instrument of coercion against Britain. Fourteen German battleships were launched between 1900 and 1905. As a consequence of these activities Britain joined the anti-German coalition by 1907, the Powers of Europe became divided into two antagonistic coalitions, and a series of crises began which led, step by step, to the catastrophe of 1914.
International affairs in the period 1871-1914 can be examined under four headings: (1) the creation of the Triple Alliance, 1871-1890; (2) the creation of the Triple Entente, 1890-1907; (3) the efforts to bridge the gap between the two coalitions, 1890-1914; and (4) the series of international crises, 1905-1914. These are the headings under which we shall examine this subject.
The Creation of the Triple Alliance, 1871-1890
The establishment of a German Empire dominated by the Kingdom of Prussia left Bismarck politically satisfied. He had no desire to annex any additional Germans to the new empire, and the growing ambitions for colonies and a worldwide empire left him cold. As a satisfied diplomat he concentrated on keeping what he had, and realized that France, driven by fear and vengeance, was the chief threat to the situation. His immediate aim, accordingly, was to keep France isolated. This involved the more positive aim to keep Germany in friendly relations with Russia and the Habsburg Empire and to keep Britain friendly by abstaining from colonial or naval adventures. As part of this policy Bismarck made two tripartite agreements with Russia and Austro-Hungary: (a) the Three Emperors' League of 1873 and (b) the Three Emperors' Alliance of 1881. Both of these were disrupted by the rivalry between Austria and Russia in southeastern Europe, especially in Bulgaria. The Three Emperors' League broke down in 1878 at the Congress of Berlin because of Habsburg opposition to Russia's efforts to create a great satellite state in Bulgaria after her victory in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877. The Three Emperors' Alliance of 1881 broke down in the "Bulgarian crisis" of 1885. This crisis arose over the Bulgarian annexation of Eastern Rumelia, a union which was opposed by Russia but favored by Austria, thus reversing the attitude these Powers had displayed at Berlin in 1878.
The rivalry between Russia and Austria in the Balkans made it clear to Bismarck that his efforts to form a diplomatic front of the three great empires were based on weak foundations. Accordingly, he made a second string for his bow. It was this second string which became the Triple Alliance. Forced to choose between Austria and Russia, Bismarck took the former because it was weaker and thus easier to control. He made an Austro-German alliance in 1879, following the disruption of the Three Emperors' League, and in 188: expanded it into a Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria, and Italy. This alliance, originally made for five years, was renewed at intervals until 1915. After the disruption of the Three Emperors' Alliance in 1885, the Triple Alliance became the chief weapon in Germany's diplomatic armory, although Bismarck, in order to keep France isolated, refused to permit Russia to drift completely out of the German sphere, and tried to bind Germany and Russia together by a secret agreement of friendship and neutrality known as the Reinsurance Treaty (1887). This treaty, which ran for three years, was not renewed in 1890 after the new Emperor, William II, had discharged Bismarck. The Kaiser argued that the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia was not compatible with the Triple Alliance with Austria and Italy, since Austria and Russia were so unfriendly. By failing to renew, William left Russia and France both isolated. From this condition they naturally moved together to form the Dual Alliance of 1894. Subsequently, by antagonizing Britain, the German government helped to transform this Dual Alliance into the Triple Entente. Some of the reasons why Germany made these errors will be examined in a subsequent chapter on Germany's internal history.
The Creation of the Tripe Entente, 1890-1907
The diplomatic isolation of Russia and France combined with a number of more positive factors to bring about the Dual Alliance of 1894. Russian antagonism toward Austria in the Balkans and French fear of Germany along the Rhine were increased by Germany's refusal to renew the Reinsurance Treaty and by the early renewal of the Triple Alliance in 1891. Both powers were alarmed by growing signs of Anglo-German friendship at the time of the Heligoland Treaty (1890) and on the occasion of the Kaiser's visit to London in 1891. Finally, Russia needed foreign loans for railroad building and industrial construction, and these could be obtained most readily in Paris. Accordingly, the agreement was closed during the New Year celebrations of 1894 in the form of a military convention. This provided that Russia would attack Germany if France were attacked by Germany or by Italy supported by Germany, while France would attack Germany if Russia were attacked by Germany or by Austria supported by Germany..
This Dual Alliance of France and Russia became the base of a triangle whose other sides were "ententes," that is, friendly agreements between France and Britain (1904) and between Russia and Britain (1907).
To us looking back on it, the Entente Cordiale between France and Britain seems inevitable, yet to contemporaries, as late as 1898, it must have appeared as a most unlikely event. For many years Britain had followed a policy of diplomatic isolation, maintaining a balance of power on the Continent by shifting her own weight to whatever side of Europe's disputes seemed the weaker. Because of her colonial rivalries with France in Africa and southwest Asia and her disputes with Russia in the Near, Middle, and Far East, Britain was generally friendly to the Triple Alliance and estranged from the Dual Alliance as late as 1902. Her difficulties with the Boers in South Africa, the growing strength of Russia in the Near and Far East, and Germany's obvious sympathy with the Boers led Britain to conclude the Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 190 in order to obtain support against Russia in China. About the same time, Britain became convinced of the need and the possibility of an agreement with France. The need arose from Germany's direct threat to Britain's most sensitive spot by Tirpitz's naval-building program of 1898. The possibility of agreement with France emerged in the wake of the most acute Anglo-French crisis of modern times, the Fashoda crisis of 1898. At Fashoda on the Nile, a band of French under Colonel Jean Marchand, who had been crossing the Sahara from west to east, came face to face with a force of British under General Kitchener, who had been moving up the Nile from Egypt in order to subdue the tribes of the Sudan. Each ordered the other to withdraw. Passions rose to fever heat while both sides consulted their capitals for instructions. As a consequence of these instructions the French withdrew. As passions cooled and the dust settled, it became clear to both sides that their interests were reconcilable, since France's primary interest was on the Continent, where she faced Germany, while Britain's primary interest was in the colonial field w here she increasingly found herself facing Germany. France's refusal to engage in a colonial war with Britain while the German Army sat across the Rhine made it clear that France could arrive at a colonial agreement with Britain. This agreement was made in 1904 by putting all their disputes together on the negotiation table and balancing one against another. The French recognized the British occupation of Egypt in return for diplomatic support for their ambitions in Morocco. They gave up ancient rights in Newfoundland in return for new territories in Gabon and along the Niger River in Africa. Their rights in Madagascar were recognized in return for accepting a British "sphere of interests" in Siam. Thus, the ancient Anglo-French enmity was toned down in the face of the rising power of Germany. This Entente Cordiale was deepened in the period 1906-1914 by a series of Anglo-French "military conversations," providing, at first, for unofficial discussions regarding behavior in a quite hypothetical war with Germany but hardening imperceptibly through the years into a morally binding agreement for a British expeditionary force to cover the French left wing in the event of a French war with Germany. These "military conversations" were broadened after 1912 by a naval agreement by which the British undertook to protect France from the North Sea in order to free the French fleet for action against the Italian Navy in the Mediterranean.
The British agreement with Russia in 1907 followed a course not dissimilar to that of the British agreement with France in 1904. British suspicions of Russia had been fed for years by their rivalry in the Near East. By 1904 these suspicions were deepened by a growing Anglo-Russian rivalry in Manchuria and North China, and were brought to a head by Russian construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway (finished in 1905). A violent crisis arose over the Dogger Bank incident of 1904, when the Russian fleet, en route from the Baltic Sea to the Far East, fired on British fishing vessels in the North Sea in the belief that they were Japanese torpedo boats. The subsequent destruction of that Russian fleet by the Japanese and the ensuing victory of Britain's ally in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 made clear to both parties that agreement between them was possible. German naval rivalry with Britain and the curtailment of Russian ambitions in Asia as a result of the defeat by Japan made possible the agreement of 1907. By this agreement Persia was divided into three zones of influence, of which the northern was Russian, the southern was British, and the center was neutral. Afghanistan was recognized as under British influence; Tibet was declared to be under Chinese suzerainty; and Britain expressed her willingness to modify the Straits Agreements in a direction favorable to Russia.
One influence which worked to create and strengthen the Triple Entente was that of the international banking fraternity. These were largely excluded from the German economic development, but had growing links with France and Russia. Prosperous enterprises like the Suez Canal Company, the Rothschild copper enterprise, Rio Tinto, in Spain, and many newer joint activities in Morocco created numerous unobtrusive links which both preceded and strengthened the Triple Entente. The Rothschilds, close friends of Edwards VII and of France, were linked to the French investment bank, Banque de Paris et des Pays Bas. This, in turn, was the chief influence in selling nine billion rubles of Russian bonds in France before 1914. The most influential of London bankers, Sir Ernest Cassel, a great and mysterious person (1852-1921), had come from Germany to England at the age of seventeen, built up an immense fortune, which he gave away with a lavish hand, was closely connected with Egypt, Sweden, New York, Paris, and Latin America, became one of King Edward’s closest personal friends and employer of the greatest wire-puller of the period, the ubiquitous mole, Lord Esher. These generally anti-Prussian influences around King Edward played a significant part in building up the Triple Entente and in strengthening it when Germany foolishly challenged their projects in Morocco in the 1904-1912 period.
Efforts to Bridge the Gap between the Two Coalitions, 1890-1914
At the beginning, and even up to 1913, the two coalitions on the international scene were not rigid or irreconcilably alienated. The links between the members of each group were variable and ambiguous. The Triple Entente was called an entente just because two of its three links were not alliances. The Triple Alliance was by no means solid, especially in respect to Italy, which had joined it originally to obtain support against the Papacy over the Roman question but which soon tried to obtain support for an aggressive Italian policy in the Mediterranean and North Africa. Failure to obtain specific German support in these areas, and continued enmity with Austro-Hungary in the Adriatic, made the Italian link with the Central Powers rather tenuous.
We shall mention at least a dozen efforts to bridge the gap which was slowly forming in the European "concert of the Powers." First in chronological order were the Mediterranean Agreements of 1887. In a series of notes England, Italy, Austria, and Spain agreed to preserve the status quo in the Mediterranean and its adjoining seas or to see it modified only by mutual agreement. These agreements were aimed at the French ambitions in Morocco and the Russian ambitions at the Straits.
A second agreement was the Anglo-German Colonial Treaty of 1890 by which German claims in East Africa, especially Zanzibar, were exchanged for the British title to the island of Heligoland in the Baltic Sea. Subsequently, numerous abortive efforts were made by the Kaiser and others on the German side, and by Joseph Chamberlain and others on the British side, to reach some agreement for a common front in world affairs. This resulted in a few minor agreements, such as one of 1898 regarding a possible disposition of the Portuguese colonies in Africa, one of 1899 dividing Samoa, and one of 1900 to maintain the "Open Door" in China, but efforts to create an alliance or even an entente broke down over the German naval program, German colonial ambitions in Africa (especially Morocco), and German economic penetration of the Near East along the route of the Berlin-to-Baghdad Railway. German jealousy of England's world supremacy, especially the Kaiser's resentment toward his uncle, King Edward VII, was ill concealed.
Somewhat similar negotiations were conducted between Germany and Russia, but with meager results. A Commercial Agreement of 1894 ended a long-drawn tariff war, much to the chagrin of the German landlords who enjoyed the previous exclusion of Russian grain, but efforts to achieve any substantial political agreement failed because of the German alliance with Austria (which faced Russia in the Balkans) and the Russian alliance with France (which faced Germany along the Rhine). These obstacles wrecked the so-called Bjork๖ Treaty, a personal agreement between the Kaiser and Nicholas made during a visit to each other's yachts in 1905, although the Germans were able to secure Russian consent to the Baghdad Railway by granting the Russians a free hand in northern Persia (1910).
Four other lines of negotiation arose out of the French ambitions to obtain Morocco, the Italian desire to get Tripoli, the Austrian ambition to annex Bosnia, and the Russian determination to open the Straits to their warships. All four of these were associated with the declining power of Turkey, and offered opportunities for the European Powers to support one another's ambitions at the expense of the Ottoman Empire. In 1898 Italy signed a commercial treaty with France, and followed this up, two years later, by a political agreement which promised French support for the Italian ambitions in Tripoli in return for Italian support for the French designs in Morocco. The Italians further weakened the Triple Alliance in 1902 by promising France to remain neutral in the event that France was attacked or had to fight "in defense of her honor or of her security."
In a somewhat similar fashion Russia and Austria tried to reconcile the former's desire to obtain an outlet through the Dardanelles into the Aegean with the latter's desire to control Slav nationalism in the Balkans and reach the Aegean at Saloniki. In 1897 they reached an agreement to maintain the status quo in the Balkans or, failing this, to partition the area among the existing Balkan states plus a new state of Albania. In 1903 these two Powers agreed on a program of police and financial reform for the disturbed Turkish province of Macedonia. In 1908 a disagreement over Austrian efforts to construct a railway toward Saloniki was glossed over briefly by an informal agreement between the respective foreign ministers, Aleksandr Izvolski and Lexa von Aehrenthal, to exchange Austrian approval of the right of Russian warships to traverse the Straits for Russian approval of an Austrian annexation of the Turkish provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina. All this tentative goodwill evaporated in the heat of the Bosnian crisis of 1908, as we shall see in a moment.
After 1905 the recurrent international crises and the growing solidarity of the coalitions (except for Italy) made the efforts to bridge the gap between the two coalitions less frequent and less fruitful. However, two episodes are worthy of attention. These are the Haldane Mission of 1912 and the Baghdad Railway agreement of 1914. In the former, British Secretary of State for War Lord Haldane went to Berlin to try to restrain Tirpitz's naval program. Although the German Navy had been built in the hope that it would bring England to the conference table, and without any real intention of using it in a war with England, the Germans were not able to grasp the opportunity when it occurred. The Germans wanted a conditional promise of British neutrality in a continental war as a price for suspension of the new naval bill. Since this might lead to German hegemony on the Continent, Haldane could not agree. He returned to London convinced that the Germany of Goethe and Hegel which he had learned to love in his student days was being swallowed up by the German militarists. The last bridge between London and Berlin seemed down, but in June, 1914, the two countries initialed the agreement by which Britain withdrew her opposition to the Baghdad Railway in return for a German promise to remain north of Basra and recognize Britain's preeminence on the Euphrates and Persian Gulf. This solution to a long-standing problem was lost in the outbreak of war six weeks later.
The International Crisis, 1905 - 1914
The decade from the Entente Cordiale to the outbreak of war witnessed a series of political crises which brought Europe periodically to the brink of war and hastened the growth of armaments, popular hysteria, nationalistic chauvinism, and solidity of alliances to a point where a relatively minor event in 1914 plunged the world into a war of unprecedented range and intensity. There were nine of these crises which must be mentioned here. In chronological order they are:
1905-1906 The First Moroccan Crisis and the Algeciras Conference
1908 The Bosnian Crisis
1911 Agadir and the Second Moroccan Crisis
1912 The First Balkan War
1913 The Second Balkan War
1913 The Albanian Crisis
1913 The Liman von Sanders Affairs
The first Moroccan crisis arose from German opposition to French designs on Morocco. This opposition was voiced by the Kaiser himself in a speech in Tangier, after the French had won Italian, British, and Spanish acquiescence by secret agreements with each of these countries. These agreements were based on French willingness to yield Tripoli to Italy, Egypt to Britain, and the Moroccan coast to Spain. The Germans insisted on an international conference in the hope that their belligerence would disrupt the Triple Entente and isolate France. Instead, when the conference met at Algeciras, near Gilbraltar, in 1906, Germany found herself supported only by Austria. The conference reiterated the integrity of Morocco but set up a state bank and a police force, both dominated by French influence. The crisis reached a very high pitch, but in both France and Germany the leaders of the more belligerent bloc (Th้ophile Delcass้ and Friedrich von Holstein) were removed from office at the critical moment.
The Bosnian crisis of 1908 arose from the Young Turk revolt of the same year. Fearful that the new Ottoman government might be able to strengthen the empire, Austria determined to lose no time in annexing Bosnia and Herzegovina, which had been under Austrian military occupation since the Congress of Berlin (1878). Since the annexation would permanently cut Serbia off from the Adriatic Sea, Aehrenthal, the Austrian foreign minister, consulted with Serbia's protector, Russia. The czar's foreign minister, Izvolski, was agreeable to the Austrian plan if Austria would yield to Izvolski's desire to open the Straits to Russian warships, contrary to the Congress of Berlin. Aehrenthal agreed, subject to Izvolski's success in obtaining the consent of the other Powers. While Izvolski was wending his way from Germany to Rome and Paris in an effort to obtain this consent, Aehrenthal suddenly annexed the two districts, leaving Izvolski without his Straits program (October 6, 1908). It soon became clear that he could not get this program. About the same time, Austria won Turkish consent to its annexation of Bosnia. A war crisis ensued, fanned by the refusal of Serbia to accept the annexation and its readiness to precipitate a general war to prevent it. The danger of such a war was intensified by the eagerness of the military group in Austria, led by Chief of Staff Conrad von H๖tzendorff, to settle the Serb irritation once and for all. A stiff German note to Russia insisting that she abandon her support of Serbia and recognize the annexation cleared the air, for Izvolski yielded and Serbia followed, but it created a very bad psychological situation for the future.
The second Moroccan crisis arose (July, 1911) when the Germans sent a gunboat, the Panther, to Agadir in order to force the French to evacuate Fez, which they had occupied, in violation of the Algeciras agreement, in order to suppress native disorders. The crisis became acute but subsided when the Germans gave up their opposition to French plans in Morocco in return for the cession of French territory in the Congo area (November 4, 1911).
As soon as Italy saw the French success in Morocco, it seized neighboring Tripoli, leading to the Tripolitan war between Italy and Turkey (September 28, 1911). All the Great Powers had agreements with Italy not to oppose her acquisition of Tripoli, but they disapproved of her methods, and were alarmed to varying degrees by her conquest of the Dodecanese Islands in the Aegean and her bombardment of the Dardanelles (April, 1912).
The Balkan States decided to profit from the weakness of Turkey by driving her out of Europe completely. Accordingly, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, and Montenegro attacked Turkey in the First Balkan War and had considerable success (1912). The Triple Alliance opposed the Serbian advance to the Adriatic, and suggested the creation of a new state in Albania to keep Serbia from the sea. A brief war crisis died down when Russia again abandoned the Serbian territorial claims and Austria was able to force Serbia and Montenegro to withdraw from Durazzo and Scutari. By the Treaty of London (1913) Turkey gave up most of her territory in Europe. Serbia, embittered by her failure to obtain the Adriatic coast, attempted to find compensation in Macedonia at the expense of Bulgaria's gains from Turkey. This led to the Second Balkan War, in which Serbia, Greece, Romania, and Turkey attacked Bulgaria. By the ensuing treaties of Bucharest and Constantinople (August-September, 1913), Bulgaria lost most of Macedonia to Serbia and Greece, much of Dobruja to Romania, and parts of Thrace to Turkey. Embittered at the Slavs and their supporters, Bulgaria drifted rapidly toward the Triple Alliance.
Ultimatums from Austria and from Austria and Italy jointly (October, 1913), forced Serbia and Greece to evacuate Albania, and made it possible to organize that country within frontiers agreeable to the Conference of Ambassadors at London. This episode hardly had time to develop into a crisis when it was eclipsed by the Liman von Sanders Affair.
Liman von Sanders was the head of a German military mission invited to the Ottoman Empire to reorganize the Turkish Army, an obvious necessity in view of its record in the Balkan Wars. When it became clear that Liman was to be actual commander of the First Army Corps at Constantinople and practically chief of staff in Turkey, Russia and France protested violently. The crisis subsided in January, 1914, when Liman gave up his command at Constantinople to become inspector-general of the Turkish Army.
The series of crises from April, 1911, to January, 1914, had been almost uninterrupted. The spring of 1914, on the contrary, was a period of relative peace and calm, on the surface at least. But appearances were misleading. Beneath the surface each power was working to consolidate its own strength and its links with its allies in order to ensure that it would have better, or at least no worse, success in the next crisis, which everyone knew was bound to come. And come it did, with shattering suddenness, when the heir to the Habsburg throne, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, was assassinated by Serb extremists in the Bosnian city of Sarajevo on the 28th of June, 1914. There followed a terrible month of fear, indecision, and hysteria before the World War was begun by an Austrian attack on Serbia on July 28, 1914.
Whole volumes have been written on the crisis of July, 1914, and it is hardly to be expected that the story could be told in a few paragraphs. The facts themselves are woven into a tangled skein, which historians have now unraveled; but more important than the facts, and considerably more elusive, are the psychological conditions surrounding these facts. The atmosphere of nervous exhaustion after ten years of crisis; the physical exhaustion from sleepless nights; the alternating moods of patriotic pride and cold fear; the underlying feeling of horror that nineteenth century optimism and progress were leading to such a disaster; the brief moments of impatient rage at the enemy for starting the whole thing; the nervous determination to avoid war if possible, but not to be caught off guard when it came and, if possible, to catch your opponent off guard instead; and, finally, the deep conviction that the whole experience was only a nightmare and that at the last moment some power would stop it—these were the sentiments which surged to and fro in the minds of millions of Europeans in those five long weeks of mounting tension.
A number of forces made the crises of the period before the outbreak of war more dangerous than they would have been a generation or so earlier. Among these we should mention the influence of the mass army, the influence of the alliance system, the influence of democracy, the effort to obtain diplomatic ends by intimidation, the mood of desperation among politicians, and, lastly, the increasing influence of imperialism.
The influence of the mass army will be discussed more extensively in the next chapter. Briefly, the mass army in a period in which communication was generally by telegraph and travel was by rail was an unwieldy thing which could be handled only in a rather rigid and inflexible fashion. As worked out by the Germans, and used with such success in 1866 and in 1870, this fashion required the creation, long before the war began, of detailed plans executed in sequence from an original signal and organized in such a way that every single person had his fixed role like a part in a great and intricate machine. As used by the Germans in early wars, extended by them and copied by others in the period before 1914, each soldier began to move from his home at a given signal. As they advanced, hour by hour, and day by day, these men assembled their equipment and organized into larger and larger groups, at first in platoons, companies, and regiments, then in divisions and armies. As they assembled they were advancing along lines of strategic attack made long before and, as likely as not, the convergence into armies would not be accomplished until the advance had already penetrated deep into enemy territory. As formulated in theory, the final assembly into a complete fighting machine would take place only a brief period before the whole mass hurled itself on an, as yet, only partially assembled enemy force. The great drawback to this plan of mobilization was its inflexibility and its complexity, these two qualities being so preponderant that, once the original signal was given, it was almost impossible to stop the forward thrust of the whole assemblage anywhere short of its decisive impact on the enemy forces in their own country. This meant that an order to mobilize was almost equivalent to a declaration of war; that no country could allow its opponent to give the original signal much before it gave its own signal; and that the decisions of politicians were necessarily subordinate to the decisions of generals.
The alliance system worsened this situation in two ways. On the one hand, it meant that every local dispute was potentially a world wear, because the signal to mobilize given anywhere in Europe would start the machines of war everywhere. On the other hand, it encouraged extremism, because a country with allies would be bolder than a country with no allies, and because allies in the long run did not act to restrain one another, either because they feared that lukewarm support to an ally in his dispute would lead to even cooler support from an ally in one's own dispute later or because a restraining influence in an earlier dispute so weakened an alliance that it was necessary to give unrestrained support in a later dispute in order to save the alliance for the future. There can be little doubt that Russia gave excessive support to Serbia in a bad dispute in 1914 to compensate for the fact that she had let Serbia down in the Albanian disputes of 1913; moreover, Germany gave Austria a larger degree of support in 1914, although lacking sympathy with the issue itself, to compensate for the restraint which Germany had exercised on Austria during the Balkan Wars.
The influence of democracy served to increase the tension of a crisis because elected politicians felt it necessary to pander to the most irrational and crass motivations of the electorate in order to ensure future election, and did this by playing on hatred and fear of powerful neighbors or on such appealing issues as territorial expansion, nationalistic pride, "a place in the sun," "outlets to the sea," and other real or imagined benefits. At the same time, the popular newspaper press, in order to sell papers, played on the same motives and issues, arousing their peoples, driving their own politicians to extremes, and alarming neighboring states to the point where they hurried to adopt similar kinds of action in the name of self-defense. Moreover, democracy made it impossible to examine international disputes on their merits, but instead transformed every petty argument into an affair of honor and national prestige so that no dispute could be examined on its merits or settled as a simple compromise because such a sensible approach would at once be hailed by one's democratic opposition as a loss of face and an unseemly compromise of exalted moral principles.
The success of Bismarck's policy of "blood and iron" tended to justify the use of force and intimidation in international affairs, and to distort the role of diplomacy so that the old type of diplomacy began to disappear. Instead of a discussion between gentlemen to find a workable solution, diplomacy became an effort to show the opposition how strong one was in order to deter him from taking advantage of one's obvious weaknesses. Metternich's old definition, that "a diplomat was a man who never permitted himself the pleasure of a triumph," became lost completely, although it was not until after 1930 that diplomacy became the practice of polishing one's guns in the presence of the enemy.
The mood of desperation among politicians served to make international crises more acute in the period after 1904. This desperation came from most of the factors we have already discussed, especially the pressure of the mass army and the pressure of the newspaper-reading electorate. But it was intensified by a number of other influences. Among these was the belief that war was inevitable. When an important politician, as, for example, Poincar้, decides that war is inevitable, he acts as if it were inevitable, and this makes it inevitable. Another kind of desperation closely related to this is the feeling that war now is preferable to war later, since time is on the side of the enemy. Frenchmen dreaming of the recovery of Alsace and Lorraine, looked at the growing power and population of Germany and felt that war would be better in 1914 than later. Germans, dreaming of "a place in the sun" or fearing an "Entente encirclement," looked at the Russian rearmament program and decided that they would have more hope of victory in 1914 than in 1917 when that rearmament program would be completed. Austria, as a dynastic state, had her own kind of desperation based on the belief that nationalistic agitation by the Slavs doomed her anyway if she did nothing, and that it would be better to die fighting than to disintegrate in peace.
Lastly, the influence of imperialism served to make the crises of 1905-1914 more acute than those of an earlier period. This is a subject which has given rise to much controversy since 1914 and has, in its crudest form, been presented as the theory that war was a result of the machinations of "international bankers" or of the international armaments merchants, or was an inevitable result of the fact that the European capitalist economic system had reached maturity. All these theories will be examined in another place where it will be shown that they are, at worst, untrue, or, at best, incomplete. However, one fact seems to be beyond dispute. This is the fact that international economic competition was, in the period before 1914, requiring increasing political support. British gold and diamond miners in South Africa, German railroad builders in the Near East, French tin miners in the southwest Pacific, American oil prospectors in Mexico, British oil prospectors in the Near East, even Serbian pork merchants in the Habsburg domains sought and expected to get political support from their home governments. It may be that things were always thus. But before 1914 the number of such foreign entrepreneurs was greater than ever, their demands more urgent, their own politicians more attentive, with the result that international relations were exasperated.
It was in an atmosphere such as this that Vienna received news of the assassination of the heir to the Habsburg throne on June 28, 1914. The Austrians were convinced of the complicity of the Serbian government, although they had no real proof. We now know that high officials of the Serbian government knew of the plot and did little to prevent it. This lack of activity was not caused by the fact that Francis Ferdinand was unfriendly to the Slavs within the Habsburg Empire but, on the contrary, by the fact that he was associated with plans to appease these Slavs by concessions toward political autonomy within the Habsburg domains and had even considered a project for changing the Dual Monarchy of Austrian and Hungarian into a Triple Monarchy of Austrian, Hungarian, and Slav. This project was feared by the Serbs because, by preventing the disintegration of Austria-Hungary, it would force postponement of their dreams of making Serbia the "Prussia of the Balkans." The project was also regarded with distaste by the Hungarians, who had no desire for that demotion associated with a shift from being one of two to being one of three joint rulers. Within the Hapsburg Cabinet there was considerable doubt as to what action to take toward Serbia. Hungary was reluctant to go to war for fear that a victory might lead to the annexation of more Serbs, thus accentuating the Slav problem within the empire and making the establishment of a Triple Monarchy more likely. Ultimately, they were reassured by the promise that no more Slavs would be annexed and that Serbia itself would, after its defeat, be compelled to stop its encouragement of Slav nationalist agitation within the empire and could, if necessary, be weakened by transfer of part of its territory to Bulgaria. On this irresponsible basis, Austria, having received a promise of support from Germany, sent a forty-eight-hour ultimatum to Belgrade. This document, delivered on July 23rd, was far-reaching. It bound Serbia to suppress anti-Habsburg publications, societies, and teaching; to remove from Serbian official positions persons to be named later by Austria; to allow Hapsburg officials to cooperate with the Serbs inside Serbia in apprehending and trying those implicated in the Sarajevo plot; and to offer explanations of various anti-Austrian utterances by Serbian officials.
Serbia, confident of Russian support, answered in a reply which was partly favorable, partly evasive, and in one particular at least (use of Austrian judges in Serbian tribunals) negative. Serbia mobilized before making her reply; Austria mobilized against her as soon as it was received, and, on July 28th, declared war. The Russian czar, under severe pressure from his generals, issued, retracted, modified, and reissued an order for general mobilization. Since the German military timetable for a two-front war provided that France must be defeated before Russian mobilization was completed, France and Germany both ordered mobilization on August 1st, and Germany declared war on Russia. As the German armies began to pour westward, Germany declared war on France (August 3rd) and Belgium (August 4th). Britain could not allow France to be defeated, and in addition was morally entangled by the military conversations of 1906-1914 and by the naval agreement of 1912. Moreover, the German challenge on the high seas, in commercial activities throughout the world, and in colonial activities in Africa could not go unanswered. On August 4th Britain declared war on Germany, emphasizing the iniquity of her attack on Belgium, although in the Cabinet meeting of July 28th it had been agreed that such an attack would not legally obligate Britain to go to war. Although this issue was spread among the people, and endless discussions ensued about Britain's obligation to defend Belgian neutrality under the Treaty of 1839, those who made the decision saw clearly that the real reason for war was that Britain could not allow Germany to defeat France.
Chapter 12: Military History, 1914-1918
For the general student of history, the military history of the First World War is not merely the narration of advancing armies, the struggles of men, their deaths, triumphs, or defeats. Rather, it presents an extraordinary discrepancy between the facts of modern warfare and the ideas on military tactics which dominated the minds of men, especially the minds of military men. This discrepancy existed for many years before the war and began to disappear only in the course of 1918. As a result of its existence, the first three years of the war witnessed the largest military casualties in human history. These occurred as a result of the efforts of military men to do things which were quite impossible to do.
The German victories of 1866 and 1870 were the result of theoretical study, chiefly by the General Staff, and exhaustive detailed training resulting from that study. They were emphatically not based on experience, for the army of 1866 had had no actual fighting experience for two generations, and was commanded by a leader, Helmuth von Moltke, who had never commanded a unit so large as a company previously. Moltke's great contribution was to be found in the fact that, by using the railroad and the telegraph, he was able to merge mobilization and attack into a single operation so that the final concentration of his forces took place in the enemy country, practically on the battlefield itself, just before contact with the main enemy forces took place.
This contribution of Moltke's was accepted and expanded by Count von Schlieffen, chief of the Great General Staff from 1891 to 1905. Schlieffen considered it essential to overwhelm the enemy in one great initial onslaught. He assumed that Germany would be outnumbered and economically smothered in any fighting of extended duration, and sought to prevent this by a lightning war of an exclusively offensive character. He assumed that the next war would be a two-front war against France and Russia simultaneously and that the former would have to be annihilated before the latter was completely mobilized. Above all, he was determined to preserve the existing social structure of Germany, especially the superiority of the Junker class; accordingly, he rejected either an enormous mass army, in which the Junker control of the Officers' Corps would be lost by simple lack of numbers, or a long-drawn war of resources and attrition which would require a reorganized German economy.
The German emphasis on attack was shared by the French Army command, hut in a much more extreme and even mystical fashion. Under the influence of Ardant Du Picq and Ferdinand Foch, the French General Staff came to believe that victory depended only on attack and that the success of any attack depended on morale and not on any physical factors. Du Picq went so far as to insist that victory did not depend at all on physical assault or on casualties, because the former never occurs and the latter occurs only during flight after the defeat. According to him, victory was a matter of morale, and went automatically to the side with the higher morale. The sides charge at each other; there is never any shock of attack, because one side breaks and flees before impact; this break is not the result of casualties, because the flight occurs before casualties are suffered and always begins in the rear ranks where no casualties could be suffered; the casualties are suffered in the flight and pursuit after the break. Thus the whole problem of war resolved itself into the problem of how to screw up the morale of one's army to the point where it is willing to fling itself headlong on the enemy. Technical problems of equipment or maneuvers are of little importance.
These ideas of Du Picq were accepted by an influential group in the French Army as the only possible explanation of the French defeat in 1870. This group, led by Foch, propagated throughout the army the doctrine of morale and the offensive เ outrance. Foch became professor at the Ecole Sup้rieure de Guerre in 1894, and his teaching could be summed up in the four words, "Attaquez! Attaquez! Toujours, attaquez! "
This emphasis on the offensive เ outrance by both sides led to a concentration of attention on three factors which were obsolete by 1914. These three were (a) cavalry, (b) the bayonet, and (c) the headlong infantry assault. These were obsolete in 1914 as the result of three technical innovations: (a) rapid-fire guns, especially machine guns; (b) barbed-wire entanglements, and (c) trench warfare. The orthodox military leaders generally paid no attention to the three innovations while concentrating all their attention on the three obsolete factors. Foch, from his studies of the Russo-Japanese War, decided that machine guns and barbed wire were of no importance, and ignored completely the role of trenches. Although cavalry was obsolete for assault by the time of the Crimean War (a fact indicated in Tennyson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade"), and although this was clearly demonstrated to be so in the American Civil War (a fact explicitly recognized in The Army and Navy Journal for October 31, 1868), cavalry and cavalry officers continued to dominate armies and military preparations. During the War of 1914-1918 many commanding officers, like John French, Douglas Haig, and John J. Pershing, were cavalry officers and retained the mentality of such officers. Haig, in his testimony before the Royal Commission on the War in South Africa (1903), testified, "Cavalry will have a larger sphere of action in future wars." Pershing insisted on the necessity to keep large numbers of horses behind the lines, waiting for the "breakthrough" which was to be obtained by bayonet charge. In every army, transportation was one of the weakest points, yet feed for the horses was the largest item transported, being greater than ammunition or other supplies. Although transport across the Atlantic was critically short throughout the war, one-third of all shipping space was in feed for horses. Time for training recruits was also a critical bottleneck, but most armies spent more time on bayonet practice than on anything else. Yet casualties inflicted on the enemy by bayonet were so few that they hardly appear in the statistics dealing with the subject.
The belief of military men that an assault made with high morale could roll through wire, machine guns, and trenches was made even more unrealistic by their insistence that such an offensive unit maintain a straight front. This meant that it was not to be permitted to move further in a soft spot, but was to hold back where advance was easy in order to break down the defensive strong points so that the whole front could precede at approximately the same rate. This was done, they explained, in order to avoid exposed flanks and enemy cross fire on advanced salients.
There was some opposition to these unrealistic theories, especially in the German Army, and there were important civilians in all countries who fought with their own military leaders on these issues. Clemenceau in France, and, above all, Lord Esher and the members of the Committee on Imperial Defence in England should be-mentioned here.
At the outbreak of war in August 1914, both sides began to put into effect their complicated strategic plans made much earlier. On the German side this plan, known as the Schlieffen Plan, was drawn up in 1905 and modified by the younger Helmuth von Moltke (nephew of the Moltke of 1870) after 1906. On the French side the plan was known as Plan XVII, and was drawn up by Joffre in 1912.
The original Schlieffen Plan proposed to hold the Russians, as best as could be done, with ten divisions, and to face France with a stationary left wing of eight divisions and a great wheeling right and center of fifty-three divisions going through Holland and Belgium and coming down on the flank and rear of the French armies by passing west of Paris. Moltke modified this by adding two divisions to the right wing (one from the Russian front and one new) and eight new divisions to the left. He also cut out the passage through Holland, making it necessary for his right wing to pass through the Liege gap, between the Maastricht appendix of Holland and the forested terrain of the Ardennes.
The French Plan XVII proposed to stop an anticipated German attack into eastern France from Lorraine by an assault of two enlarged French armies on its center, thus driving victoriously into southern Germany whose Catholic and separatist peoples were not expected to rally with much enthusiasm to the Protestant, centralist cause of a Prussianized German Empire. While this was taking place, a force of 800,000 Russians was to invade East Prussia, and 150,000 British were to bolster the French left wing near Belgium.
The execution of these plans did not completely fulfill the expectations of their supporters. The French moved 3,781,000 men in 7,000 trains in 16 days (August 2-18), opening their attack on Lorraine on 29 August 14th. By August 20th they were shattered, and by August 25th, after eleven days of combat, had suffered 300,000 casualties. This was almost 25 percent of the number of men engaged, and represented the most rapid wastage of the war.
In the meantime the Germans in 7 days (August 6-12) transported 1,500,000 men across the Rhine at the rate of 550 trains a day. These men formed 70 divisions divided into 7 armies and forming a vast arc from northwest to southeast. Within this arc were 49 French divisions organized in 5 armies and the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.) of 4 divisions. The relationship of these forces, the commanding generals of the respective armies, and their relative strength can be seen from the following list:
Entente Forces (North to South)
Army Commander Divisions
B. E. F. Sir John French 4
V Lanrezac 10
IV De Langle de Cary/
III Ruffey 20
I Dubail 19
German Forces (North to South)
Army Commander Divisions
I von Kluck/
II von Blow/
III von Hausen/ 34
IV Prince Albrecht of Wrttemberg/
V Crown Prince Frederick 21
VI Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria/
VII von Heeringen 15
The German right wing passed Liege, without reducing that great fortress, on the night of August 5-6 under the instructions of General Erich Ludendorff of the General Staff. The Belgian Army, instead of retreating southwestward before the German wave, moved northwestward to cover Antwerp. This put them ultimately on the rear of the advancing German forces. These forces peeled off eight and a half divisions to reduce the Belgian forts and seven divisions to cover the Belgian force before Antwerp. This reduced the strength of the German right wing, which was increasingly exhausted by the rapidity of its own advance. When the German plan became clear on August 18th, Joffre formed a new Sixth Army, largely from garrison troops, under Michel-Joseph Maunoury but really commanded by Joseph Galli้ni, Minitary Governor of Paris. By August 22nd the whole French line west of Verdun was in retreat. Three days later, Moltke, believing victory secure, sent two army corps to Russia from the Second and Third armies. These arrived on the Eastern Front only after the Russian advance into Prussia had been smashed at Tannenberg and around the Masurian Lakes (August 26th-September Isth). In the meantime in the west, Schlieffen's project swept onward toward fiasco. When Lanrezac slowed up Blow's advance on August 28th, Kluck, who was already a day's march ahead of Blow, tried to close the gap between the two by turning southeastward. This brought his line of advance east of Paris rather than est of that city as originally planned. Galli้ni, bringing the Sixth Army from Paris in any vehicles he could commandeer, threw it at Kluck's exposed right flank. Kluck turned again to face Galli้ni, moving northwestward in a brilliant maneuver in order to envelop him within the German arc before resuming his advance southeastward. This operation was accompanied hy considerable success except that it opened a gap thirty miles wide between Kluck and Blow. Opposite this gap was the B.E.F., which was withdrawing southward with even greater speed than the French. On September 5th the French retreat stopped; on the following day they began a general counterattack, ordered by Joffre on the insistence of Galli้ni. Thus began the First Battle of the Marne.
Kluck was meeting with considerable success over the Sixth French Army, although Blow was being badly mauled by Lanrezac, when the B.E.F. began to move into the gap between the First and Second German armies (September 8th). A German staff officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Hentsch, ordered the whole German right to fall back to the Aisne River where a front was formed on September 13th by the arrival of some of the German forces which had been attacking the Belgian forts. The Germans were willing to fall back to the Aisne because they believed the advance could be resumed when they wished to do so. In the next few months the Germans tried to resume their advance, and the French tried to dislodge the Germans from their positions. Neither was able to make any headway against the firepower of the other. A succession of futile efforts to outflank each other's positions merely succeeded in bringing the ends of the front to the English Channel on one extreme and to Switzerland on the other. In spite of millions of casualties, this line, from the sea to the mountains across the fair face of France, remained almost unchanged for over three years.
During these terrible years, the dream of military men was to break through the enemy line by infantry assault, then roll up his flanks and disrupt his rearward communications by pouring cavalry and other reserves through the gap. This was never achieved. The effort to attain it led to one experiment after another. In order these were: (1) bayonet assault, (2) preliminary artillery barrage, (3) use of poison gas, (4) use of the tank, (5) use of infiltration. The last four of these innovations were devised alternately by the Allies and by the Central Powers.
Bayonet assault was a failure by the end of 1914. It merely created mountains of dead and wounded without any real advance, although some officers continued to believe that an assault would be successful if the morale of the attackers could be brought to a sufficiently high pitch to overcome machine-gun fire.
An artillery barrage as a necessary preliminary to infantry assault was used almost from the beginning. It was ineffectual. At first no army had the necessary quantity of munitions. Some armies insisted on ordering shrapnel rather than high-explosive shells for such barrages. This resulted in a violent controversy between Lloyd George and the generals, the former trying to persuade the latter that shrapnel was not effective against defensive forces in ground trenches. In time it should have become clear that high-explosive barrages were not effective either, although they were used in enormous quantities. They failed because: (1) earth and concrete fortifications provided sufficient protection to the defensive forces to allow them to use their own firepower against the infantry assault which followed the barrage; (2) a barrage notified the defense where to expect the following infantry assault, so that reserves could be brought up to strengthen that position; and (3) the doctrine of the continuous front made it impossible to penetrate the enemy positions on a wide-enough front to break through. The efforts to do so, however, resulted in enormous casualties. At Verdun in 1916 the French lost 350,000 and the Germans 300,000. On the Eastern Front the Russian General Aleksei Brusilov lost a million men in an indecisive attack through Galicia (June-August, 1916). On the Somme in the same year the British lost 410,000, the French lost 190,000, and the Germans lost 450,000 for a maximum gain of 7 miles on a front about 25 miles wide (July-November, 1916). The following year the slaughter continued. At Chemin des Dames in April, 1917, the French, under a new commander, Robert Nivelle, fired 11 million shells in a 10-day barrage on a 30-mile front. The attack failed, suffering losses of 118,000 men in a brief period. Many corps mutinied, and large numbers of combatants were shot to enforce discipline. Twenty-three civilian leaders were also executed. Nivelle was replaced by P้tain. Shortly afterward, at Passchendaele (Third Battle of Ypres), Haig used a barrage of 4 1/4 million shells, almost 5 tons for every yard of an 1 r-mile front, but lost 400,000 men in the ensuing assault (August-November, 1917).
The failure of the barrage made it necessary to devise new methods, but military men were reluctant to try any innovations. In April, 1915, the Germans were forced by civilian pressure to use poison gas, as had been suggested by the famous chemist Fritz Haber. Accordingly, without any effort at concealment and with no plans to exploit a breakthrough if it came, they sent a wave of chlorine gas at the place where the French and British lines joined. The junction was wiped out, and a great gap was opened through the line. Although it was not closed for five weeks, nothing was done by the Germans to use it. The first use of gas by the Western Powers (the British) in September, 1915, was no more successful. At the terrible Battle of Passchendaele in July 1917, the Germans introduced mustard gas, a weapon which was copied by the British in July 1918. This was the most effective gas used in the war, but it served to strengthen the defense rather than the offense, and was especially valuable to the Germans in their retreat in the autumn of 1918, serving to slow up the pursuit and making difficult any really decisive blow against them.
The tank as an offensive weapon devised to overcome the defensive strength of machine-gun fire was invented by Ernest Swinton in 1915. Only his personal contacts with the members of the Committee of Imperial Defence succeeded in bringing his idea to some kind of realization. The suggestion was resisted by the generals. When continued resistance proved impossible, the new weapon was misused, orders for more were canceled, and all military supporters of the new weapon were removed from responsible positions and replaced by men who were distrustful or at least ignorant of the tanks. Swinton sent detailed instructions to Headquarters, emphasizing that they must be used for the first time in large numbers, in a surprise assault, without any preliminary artillery barrage, and with close support by infantry reserves. Instead they were used quite incorrectly. While Swinton was still training crews for the first 150 tanks, fifty were taken to France, the commander who had been trained in their use was replaced by an inexperienced man, and a mere eighteen w-ere sent against the Germans. This occurred on September 15, 1916, in the waning stages of the Battle of the Somme. An unfavorable report on their performance was sent from General Headquarters to the War Office in London and, as a result, an order for manufacture of a thousand more was canceled without the knowledge of the Cabinet. This was overruled only by direct orders from Lloyd George. Only on November 20, 1917, were tanks used as Swinton had instructed. On that day 381 tanks supported by six infantry divisions struck the Hindenburg Line before Cambrai and burst through into open country. These forces were exhausted by a five-mile gain, and stopped. The gap in the German line was not utilized, for the only available reserves were two divisions of cavalry which were ineffective. Thus the opportunity was lost. Only in 1918 were massed tank attacks used with any success and in the fashion indicated by Swinton.
The year 1917 was a bad one. The French and British suffered through their great disasters at Chemin des Dames and Passchendaele. Romania entered the war and was almost completely overrun, Bucharest being captured on December 5th. Russia suffered a double revolution, and was obliged to surrender to Germany. The Italian Front was completely shattered by a surprise attack at Caporetto and only by a miracle was it reestablished along the Piave (October-December, 1917). The only bright spots in the year were the British conquests of Palestine and Mesopotamia and the entrance into the war of the United States, but the former was not important and the latter was a promise for the future rather than a help to 1917.
Nowhere, perhaps, is the unrealistic character of the thinking of most high military leaders of World War I revealed more clearly than in the British commander in chief, Field Marshal Sir Douglas (later Earl) Haig, scion of a Scottish distillery family. In June, 1917, in spite of a decision of May 4th by the Inter-Allied Conference at Paris against any British offensive, and at a time when Russia and Serbia had been knocked out of the war, French military morale was shattered after the fiasco of the Nivelle offensive, and American help was almost a year in the future, Haig determined on a major offensive against the Germans to win the war. He ignored all discouraging information from his intelligence, wiped from the record the known figures about German reserves, and deceived the Cabinet, both in respect to the situation and to his own plans. Throughout the discussion the civilian political leaders, who were almost universally despised as ignorant amateurs by the military men, were proved more correct in their judgments and expectations. Haig obtained permission for his Passchendaele offensive only because General (later Field Marshal and Baronet) William Robertson, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, covered up Haig's falsifications about German reserves and because First Sea Lord Admiral John Jellicoe told the Cabinet that unless Haig could capture the- submarine bases on the Belgian coast (an utterly impossible objective) he considered it "improbable that we could go on with the war next year for lack of shipping." On this basis, Haig won approval for a "step by step" offensive "not involving heavy losses." He was so optimistic that he told his generals that "opportunities for the employment of cavalry in masses are likely to offer." The offensive, opened on July 31st, developed into the most horrible struggle of the war, fought week after week in a sea of mud, with casualties mounting to 400,000 men after three months. In October, when the situation had been hopeless for weeks, Haig still insisted that the Germans were at the point of collapse, that their casualties were double the British (they were considerably less than the British), and that the breakdown of the Germans, and the opportunity for the tanks and cavalry to rush through them, might come at any moment.
One of the chief reasons for the failure of these offensives was the doctrine of the continuous front, which led commanders to hold back their offensives where resistance was weak and to throw their reserves against the enemy's strong points. This doctrine was completely reversed by Ludendorff in the spring of 1918 in a new tactic known as "infiltration." By this method advance was to be made around strong points by penetrating as quickly as possible and with maximum strength through weak resistance, leaving the centers of strong resistance surrounded and isolated for later attention. Although Ludendorff did not carry out this plan with sufficient conviction to give it full success, he did achieve amazing results. The great losses by the British and French in 1917, added to the increase in German strength from forces arriving from the defunct Russian and Romanian fronts, made it possible for Ludendorff to strike a series of sledgehammer blows along the Western Front between Douai and Verdun in March and April 1918. Finally, on May 27th, after a brief but overwhelming bombardment, the German flood burst over Chemin des Dames, poured across the Aisne, and moved relentlessly toward Paris. By May 30th it was on the Marne, thirty-seven miles from the capital. There, in the Second Battle of the Marne, were reenacted the events of September 1914. On June 4th the German advance was stopped temporarily by the Second American Division at Chโteau-Thierry. In the next six weeks a series of counterattacks aided by nine American divisions were made on the northern flank of the German penetration. The Germans fell back behind the Vesle River, militarily intact, but so ravaged by influenza that many companies had only thirty men. The crown prince demanded that the war be ended. Before this could be done, on August 8, 1918—"the black day of the German Army," as Ludendorff called it—the British broke the German line at Amiens by a sudden assault with 456 tanks supported by 13 infantry and 3 cavalry divisions. When the Germans rushed up 18 reserve divisions to support the six which were attacked, the Allied Powers repeated their assault at Saint-Quentin (August 31st) and in Flanders (September 2nd). A German Crown Council, meeting at Spa, decided that victory was no longer possible, but neither civil government nor army leaders would assume the responsibility for opening negotiations for peace. The story of these negotiations will be examined in a moment, as the last of a long series of diplomatic conversations which continued throughout the war.
Looking back on the military history of the First World War, it is clear that the whole war was a siege operation against Germany. Once the original German onslaught was stopped on the Marne, victory for Germany became impossible because she could not resume her advance. On the other hand, the Entente Powers could not eject the German spearhead from French soil, although they sacrificed millions of men and billions of dollars in the effort to do so. Any effort to break in on Germany from some other front was regarded as futile, and was made difficult by the continuing German pressure in France. Accordingly, although sporadic attacks were made on the Italian Front, in the Arab areas of the Ottoman Empire, on the Dardanelles directly in 1915, against Bulgaria through Saloniki in 1915- 1918, and along the whole Russian Front, both sides continued to regard northeastern France as the vital area. And in that area, clearly no decision could be reached.
To weaken Germany the Entente Powers began a blockade of the Central Powers, controlling the sea directly, in spite of the indecisive German naval challenge at Jutland in 1916, and limiting the imports of neutrals near Germany, like the Netherlands. To resist this blockade, Germany used a four-pronged instrument. On the home front every effort was made to control economic life so that all goods would be used in the most effective fashion possible and so that food, leather, and other necessities would be distributed fairly to all. The success of this struggle on the home front was due to the ability of two German Jews. Haber, the chemist, devised a method for extracting nitrogen from the air, and thus obtained an adequate supply of the most necessary constituent of all fertilizers and all explosives. Before 1914 the chief source of nitrogen had been in the guano deposits of Chile, and, but for Haber, the British blockade would have compelled a German defeat in 1915 from lack of nitrates. Walter Rathenau, director of the German Electric Company and of some five dozen other enterprises, organized the German economic system in a mobilization which made it possible for Germany to fight on with slowly dwindling resources.
On the military side Germany made a threefold reply to the British blockade. It tried to open the blockade by defeating its enemies to the south and east (Russia, Romania, and Italy). In 1917 this effort was largely successful, but it was too late. Simultaneously, Germany tried to wear down her Western foes by a policy of attrition in the trenches and to force Britain out of the war by a retaliatory submarine blockade directed at British shipping. The submarine attack, as a new method of naval warfare, was applied with hesitation and ineffectiveness until 1917. Then it was applied with such ruthless efficiency that almost a million tons of shipping was sunk in the month of April 1917, and Britain was driven within three weeks of exhaustion of her food supply. This danger of a British defeat, dressed in the propaganda clothing of moral outrage at the iniquity of submarine attacks, brought the United States into the war on the side of the Entente in that critical month of April, 1917. In the meantime the Germany policy of military attrition on the Western Front worked well until 1918. By January of that year Germany had been losing men at about half her rate of replacement and at about half the rate at which she was inflicting losses on the Entente Powers. Thus the period 1914-1918 saw a race between the economic attrition of Germany by the blockade and the personal attrition of the Entente by military action. This race was never settled on its merits because three new factors entered the picture in 1917. These were the German counter-blockade by submarines on Britain, the increase in German manpower in the West resulting from her victory in the East, and the arrival on the Western Front of new American forces. The first two of these factors were overbalanced in the period March-September, 1918, by the third. By August of 1918 Germany had given her best, and it had not been adequate. The blockade and the rising tide of American manpower gave the German leaders the choice of surrender or complete economic and social upheaval. Without exception, led by the Junker military commanders, they chose surrender.