A WW1 history question

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by Micawber, Nov 10, 2009.

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  1. My understanding of WW1 is that it began when Germany, expecting a two front war with Russia and France, decided to take the French out of the game early on
    with a rapid hook a la Schliffen Plan allowing them to concentrate on the Russians.

    Unfortunately this involved invading neutral (and plucky) Belgium which drew us into the conflict and the BEF halted their advance at Mons.

    A line of trenches immediately sprung up (down?) between Switzerland and the Channel setting the scene for an industrial war of attrition which Germany subsequently lost.

    The end finally came in 1918 when the Germans launched a huge push which, when it failed, left them a spent force with no choice other than abject surrender.

    My question is what, by 1917\18 with hostilities in the East having ended, was the actual German war aim?

    If their final push had succeded, which it certainly could have, leaving the Allied forces defeated in the field, what were they planning next? Was it the subjugation of France with an eye on invading the UK - Hitler stylee - followed by world domination or were they just hoping to slope off home undefeated?
  2. "Weltmacht oder Niedergang". Only in this scenario, Weltmacht...

    I suspect that a re-run of 1871 would have been on the cards. France would have been occupied for a while and forced to pay reparations, the British Empire would have been reduced by a few thousand square miles in southern Africa (although I doubt that the Germans would have occupied London). The Germans would have cherry-picked good bits from the French Empire. Maybe Indochina looked promising...

    Some sort of Versailles-type settlement would have formalised the new extensions to the Reich in France and Belgium, while limiting France's armed forces for the next 20 years. The strength of the Royal Navy would also have been curtailed, and we would probably have had to give up a few key bases, such as Port Stanley and Hong Kong. The German Navy would have expanded to fulfill it's responsibilities in the Southern Ocean. America would have retreated back over the ocean, confirmed in its opinion that European entanglements weren't worth the life of a single American.

    Socialist upheaval spreading from the East would have led to some repression in Germany, but a Social Democratic government model would probably have taken hold if the Kaiser had died, or if the Crown Prince had taken more influence. German settlers would have found lots of room in the Eastern Provinces. 'Police actions' agains the Poles and Ukrainians would have kept an fighting edge on the Reichswehr.

    France, in the meantime, would have festered in shame, and started to find ways round the Treaty restrictions, perhaps by training troops, pilots etc. in Britain. Nationalistic governments in France and possibly in Britain would have railed against this upsetting of the pre-ordained world order. A generation later, there would have been another war in Europe, to liberate Wallonia from the jackboot of oppression.
  3. I don't see that Great Britain could have been forced to the table at all, despite the loss of France and a large chunk of the British army. In 1918, part of the reason that the "Michael" offensives had limited success was because 650,000 British troops were held in UK due to the ongoing spat between Lloyd George and Haig.

    Even with the loss of much of the field army, as a maritime superpower UK's strategic position would not have been disastrous: the RN had complete dominance at sea, UK had efficient trade and economic measures in place, the Empire was still garrisoned with barely untouched resources (eg India alone had arsenals and theoretically limitless manpower to mobilise).

    Germany may have had the spoils of occupation of France, but otherwise it was bankrupt and starved. In 1918, despite manpower and treasury losses, UK was only just reaching peak warfighting power.
  4. Thank you for that, just the sort of reply I was hoping for.

    So, a couple of belligerent decades followed by another war with Germany in the late 30 or 40' but without them
    being hampered by a headcase Fuhrer interfering at every level and us with no Yanks to help out.

    Not a pleasant prospect.

    It just struck me that the remembrance cliche is to pay tribute to the hardships
    and casualties suffered in the trenches without really mentioning how
    really vital their victory was.
  5. "part of the reason that the "Michael" offensives had limited success was because 650,000 British troops were held in UK due to the ongoing spat between Lloyd George and Haig."

    Must admit WW I is not one of my more informed subjects.
    My Grandad was a Regular Infantry man prior to 1914, Warwick's, I think and as a child I can still remember his contempt for Cavalry, just shoot the Horse and they walk around like tin cans. Also Jerry, Six on mi Bayonet and another crying cause he couldn't join em. Still I was just a child and he was gone before I could ask adult questions.
    I have just finished reading Andrew Marr's, The Making of Britain, and it was only then that I learned of the 'Difficulties' between Lloyd George and Haig.
    I understand that Earl Haig was held in high regard by his men and Nothing, Before or Since, has been seen that compared with his Funeral procession.( Queen Mum, Diana & Churchill the big events of my time included).
    I did read somewhere, that Germany knew it only had the National, Natural resources for a short war hence their stripping of Occupied Belgium and France in 1914.
    Only when Haig died did Lloyd George put the boot in and he was then supported by the Poets who attracted so much attention for the Chattering Classes.
    That Hitler could and did make the same Two Fronts mistake seems all but unbelievable, especially when Jerry knew the way to take UK out was the U Boat.
  6. Now, wot famous criminal lawyer could be in a position to tell you more about the Black Hand.
  7. 4(T) may well be right about Great Britain not being forced to the negotiating table. Nevertheless, an Armistice which allowed the government to concentrate on defeating Socialist agitators, and a pause to overcome war-weariness, would have been welcomed.

    If Guderian hadn't had the example of the attacks in Autumn 1918 to draw on, would he have written Achtung Panzer? How would Fuller and Liddell-Hart have been received here? Maybe De Gaulle would have been the most influential military thinker of the 30's and 40's.
  8. The problem with the 'Final Push' of 1918 for the Germans was that 4 years of war and blockade had reduced Germany to a shadow of it's former self. Even if they had broken through they did not have the real ability to consolidate any gains. The Navy was just short of absolute mutiny, in many towns the civil population was on the brink of revolution. The army was becoming demorilised, when they over ran British positions they found that by their standards the Brits had luxurious supplies of food and other comforts.

    Victory in the East may have brought them the lebensrtaun of Poland and the Baltics, but Russia was in such a poor state there were no reparations of industrial supplies or food. The RN blockade still held and was unbreakable. Jutland was the battle that defeated Germany, after that there was no hope of breaking the blockade. Their U Boats hurt but in reality were not well enough developed to be more than a nuisance after convoys were introduced.

    The 1918 offensive was only possible by using the supplies and troops released from the East once these were used up there was no more. The reality was they did not have the resources to win, though perhaps they may have won a better, from their point of view peace, though I suspect that the allies would have done just the same as they did starve them into the Treaty of Versailles.
  9. That's a very interesting question - or questions.

    Arguably at the end of 1917 Germany was winning its war. Germany had gone to war to support Austria in its conflict with Serbia and Russia. The Serbs were crushed in 1916, with the Romanians who misguidedly joined the Entente powers. Russia was defeated militarily and its new revolutionary government was about to sign humiliating terms leaving large swathes of Eastern Europe under German Control. Italy had effectively been knocked out at Caporetto.

    After 1914 Germany was occupying 90% of Belgium and 20% of France. Of the Western Allies France had used up her military strength in 1917 and was incapable of an independent offensive. After Passchendaele and Cambrai it looked as if the British were reluctant to commit more men on the offensive. Their only offensive strategy was to wait for the Americans.

    Ludendorf thought the Germans would need to go on the offensive to to win the war before the Americans came in enough strength to make the war unwinnable. Its difficult to separate the fact from propaganda in German War aims post 1916. However, here are some assumptions , had Germany "Won" the war.

    1. Germany might have wanted to annex Belgium and Luxembourg. I have read accounts of signs at the German/Belgian border reading "Neu-deuttchland"

    2. Germany could have retained control over a much larger territory in Eastern Europe, including a big swathe of Byelorussia and the Baltic states. This was occupied by the Germans by march 1918 and was the land Hitler wanted for Germany's lebensraum.

    3. The Germans could have either taken another slice of France or traded French Metropolitan territory for British, French or their own colonies seized by the Allies in the war. (Cameroon, Namibia, Tanzania, Tsingtao)

    There are a couple of other scenarios.

    Suppose the Germans had gone on the defensive in 1918 and re-organised their economy to provide a bit more food for the population. There is a case for arguing that the German deprivation in 1916-18 was self inflicted as the cost of waging war at the level that they were. Germany did not need to starve if it controlled Eastern Europe and could demand raw materials from Soviet Russia.

    Without an active Eastern Front the Germans could have waged a much longer defensive campaign on the Western Front. I wonder how much stomach the Americans would have had for the War if they had been faced with two or three years of Sommes and Passchendaeles? If so maybe WW2 ends in a stalemate like the Korean War. In this case Germany retains Eastern Europe, 90%Belgium and 20% France. Maybe 50 years later we have a parallel with Israel and occupied territories?
  10. By the end of 1917 Germany was winning on the land, but was losing at sea, and that was their fundamental problem, that was why spring 1918 had to happen. They knew that in 1919 the Allies intended launching a steam roller attack with many more men who were better fed and equipped that the German Army. Yes without the 1918 offensive they may have held out till 1919, but could they stave off the revolution from within. The Navy was on the brink of mutiny, the civil population was ripe for a revolution, the Prussian system was in ruins. If they could have got any more from Russia they would have but Russia was itself in massive internal turmoil and barely capable of feeding itself. As for help from their allies, Turkey was imploding as their empirte collapsed and the Austro-Hungarian Empire was equally on the brink of collapse. There is no doubt that at the end of 1917 Germany had a large, well trained, and effective army facing west, unfortunately it did not have the means of feeding or equipping it. The failure of the High Seas Fleet in 1916 was in fact the start of the end. After that any hope of breaking the blockade was lost and with it any real opportunity of winning.