HSC Modern History Part 1: Core Study – Source Study – World War I 1914-1918

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War on the Western Front


The reasons for the stalemate on the Western Front

Origins of the Schlieffen Plan

  • General von Schlieffen (German chief of staff) in 1906
    • Response to the developing Anglo-Russian Alliance which strengthened fears of a war on two fronts
  • Expectations of the plan:
    • France would expect to be attacked from the east (Alsace- Lorraine region), hence being unprepared for an invasion from the north, she also believed she would defeat France in 6 weeks and therefore Russia would have just mobilised.
    • Russia was believed to be the more difficult enemy.
    • Britain was not considered likely to participate.
  • The plan depended on timing, speed and surprise – using railways.

World War 1 general von schieffen's plan

Modifications/ Why the Plan failed

  • Von Moltke and General Ludendorff deviated from the original plan by ordering additional troops to Russia and the Alsace-Lorraine area
    • Weakened impact of the German armies in France
    • Created communication difficulties between the armies that remained.
  • When war broke out, the French implemented plan 17 and advanced into Alsace and Lorraine.
  • The plan called for 5 German armies to advance through Belgium and Luxembourg to attack from the north. The 1st German army was to move as far west as possible before moving east to encircle Paris. However, General von Kluck, leader of the first army, concerned by the distance between army 1 and the other German armies, sent his soldiers to the east instead of the west of Paris.
    • This left the army vulnerable to French troops retreating from eastern France and the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).
  • Belgian troops provided stronger resistance than expected, delaying Germans at Liege for nearly a week.
  • The British troops arrived much sooner than expected and surprised the Germans with the speed and accuracy of their rifle fire at the Battle of Mons.
  • From 4 September 1914, the British and French troops fought the Germans in the Battle of Marne. Exhausted by the August heat, malnourished (food supplies could not keep up with rapid advancement) and long walking distances, the Germans retreated from the River Marne in mid-September.
  • Britain and France went on the offensive, trying to outflank German forces in a race to secure territory on the way to the English Channel – Race to the Sea –supplies.
  • German’s began to build trenches, relinquishing their involvement in a war of movement which they might still have won due to depleted French and British forces.
  • Trench warfare created a pattern of action and reaction which spread from Belgium across Northern France to the Swisse border.
  • By late 1914, the war on the Western Front had developed into a stalemate.

Original Plan:

Original Schlieffen plan

Modified Plan:

Schlieffen Plan WW1 modified

Continuation of the Stalemate

The allied and central powers all attempted to break the stalemate in 1915:

  1. The French in Champagne
  2. The British at Neuve Chapelle
  3. The Germans at Ypres
  4. The British at Loos

In 1916, the Germans attempted to destroy the French at the Battle of Verdun and the British responded at the Battle of Somme. These battles focused on attrition (wearing down) rather than on achieving a breakthrough and resuming a war of movement.

The stalemate continued until 1918 because:

  • The mechanisms of trench warfare (barbed wire, artillery) are more suited to a war of attrition than to offence.
  • Cavalry charges of the past were impractical
  • The reconnaissance of enemy positions was poor.
  • Opposing armies had equivalent access to reinforcements and supplies through railway networks.
  • Neither side developed either a method or a weapon of warfare that would force the resumption of a war of movement.

Summary of the Stalemate and its Continuation

  • Failure of the Schlieffen Plan
  • Nature of Trench Warfare
  • Weapons had lack of effectiveness
  • War of attrition
  • Strategies had lack of innovation and effectiveness
  • Equivalent access to reinforcements and supplies

The nature of trench warfare and life in the trenches dealing with experiences of Allied and German soldiers

The Trench System

  • There were 3 parallel lines of trenches:
    1. The frontline for attack and defence
    2. The support line to which frontline soldiers could retreat during bombardment.
    3. The reserve line where troops waited for their leaders call to battle.

World War 1 trenches

  • Communication trenches, dug at right angles, linked the three lines of trenches.
  • 60-90m between the front line and the support trenches and 300 – 500m between support and reserve trenches.
  • No man’s land = approx. 100-300m.
  • Trenches formed a zig-zag or square toothed line à defensive measure
  • Salient: ‘bulged’ forward into enemy territory, highly dangerous as opponents could attack from 3 directions
  • Trenches ran from the English Channel to the Swiss border = approx. 780km

       Features of a trench


Methods of Trench Warfare

For most of the war, commanders continued to rely on:

  • Massive artillery bombardments of enemy positions
  • Use of infantry to defend existing entrenched positions
  • Infantry advances ‘over the top’ armed mainly with rifles, bayonets and grenades, against their entrenched opponents.
    • Massive casualties and failed to achieve a significant breakthrough.

Experience of going ‘Over the Top’

  • Barrage of artillery fire to weaken the defences of the enemy’s front line trenches
  • Soldiers wait until just before sunrise for the order to advance (visibility)
  • 10 minutes before the scheduled attack time:
  • Officers clarify goals, convey final orders, check equipment and offer encouragement (British troops received rum ration)
  • Soldiers fix bayonets to their rifles
  • Officer signals men to go ‘over the top’ of the trench and out into ‘no man’s land’
  • Soldiers begin to move forward as their enemies race to set up their machine guns
  • Some are killed or wounded as a result of enemy fire
  • No man’s land is full of smoke, shell holes, and the sound of artillery fire
  • Visibility is poor as soldiers try to remain with their group and avoid isolation
  • Soldiers continue towards original objective amid the general chaos and confusion
  • Some are killed or wounded as a result of enemy fire
  • Attack succeeds in achieving its aim/ enemy succeeds in defending its territory /attack is abandoned because of changed conditions
  • Soldiers return to trenches
  • Roll call to see who is missing
  • Wounded taken to obtain medical care
  • Soldiers wait until dark to retrieve bodies or additional wounded from no man’s land

Experiences in the Trenches

Trench Rotations:

  • In a month men could spend approx. 4 days in the frontline, 12 days in support or reserve trenches and 14 days ‘in the rear’ performing other duties or on leave.


  • Serious issue – rain and mud- walls of the trenches would often be moulded by the rain

Hygiene and Sanitation:

  • Trench foot and trench fever
  • Sanitation = one of the biggest causes of death


  • Dysentery
  • Trench foot: Fungal infection
  • Trench fever: Caused by lice
  • Gas Gangrene: From the soils full of manure.


  • Millions of rats infested the trenches- they fed off decomposing bodies- some grew as big as cats


  • Bred in the seams of clothing
  • When possible men showered in huge vats of hot water.
  • A cause of trench fever


  • 300, 000 people were employed to cook and supply food.
  • Eventually, if a soldier was not in the front line, he did not receive any meet for more than 9-30 days.


  • Personal activities: reading and writing

Overview of strategies and tactics to break the stalemate including key battles: Verdun, Passchendaele and The Somme

Battle of Verdun: The attempt to ‘bleed the French white’

  • 21st February to 18th December 1916 à longest battle of the war
  • Engineered in response to the goal of the German Commander, General Falkenhayn, to ‘bleed the French white’.


Goals and Tactics
  • Fortified French garrison at Verdun, 200km north-east of Paris à little military value but source of French national pride ∴ huge blow to French morale and ability to continue fighting.
  • Verdun’s location, on a French salient into German lines à German advantage of being able to approach Verdun from three sides.
The nature of fighting
  • In February 1916 the Verdun garrison contained only 30 000 French soldiers.
  • When Crown Prince Wilhelm, commander of the fifth army, directed the German attack there on the 21st February, he had as many as one million
  • By the end of the 3rd day of fighting, the French had retreated to within 8km of Verdun
  • In response to General Joffre’s orders, General Henri-Pilippe Petain assumed command of Verdun on the 24th February. He reversed the policy of withdrawal and ordered reinforcements to come from all over the Western front.
  • Ultimately, 78% of French infantry regiments served at Verdun, which became known as the ‘mincing machine‘ of the French army.
  • By the end of February 1916, French troops had halted the German advance- although they had lost the Fort Douaumont on the 25th of February.
  • Despite major German offensives in April and May, the French continued to hold out against them.
  • The Verdun motto Ils ne passeront pas (they shall not pass) became an inspirational catchcry in propaganda campaigns designed to boost French morale. à Good source analysis point
  • In May 1916, The Germans introduced diphosgene gas,  a new weapon of chemical warfare
  • After a three month siege, Germany gained control over Fort Vaux on June 7th and over the next month, continued to try and break through the French lines
  • Despite their successes, The French were near breaking point and greatly needed the hoped-for diversion of the German troops to the Somme
  • From July 16th onwards, Germany faced more difficulties at Verdun
    • Resulted from the need to send 15 German divisions to counter a Russian offensive on the Eastern front and additional troops to counter the British led offensive at the Somme
  • Gerneral Mangin (French commander of the Third Army) recaptured Fort Douaumont and Fort Vaux and, by mid December 1916 had recaptured most of the land the Germans had captured in the previous 10 months
  • The battle ended on December 18th 1916 with neither side having many military gains and both having sustained a very high cost in casualties
  • French casualties totalled 378,000 (32% Died)
  • German Casualties 337,00 (29% Died)

Battle of the Somme: The Issue of Leadership

  • July – November 1916:
  • British led attempt to break through the German defences in the quest of a decisive victory.
  • The offensive spread along a 40 kilometre front from both sides of the River Somme north of Paris.
  • The Somme was known for huge casualties and controversy surrounding the role of General Sir Douglas Haig (the commander in chief of the BEF)
Goals and Tactics
  • The French Commander-in-Chief Joseph Joffre (nickname ‘Papa’) had initially planned an attack in the Somme area as a French offensive, however, the demands on the French at Verdun meant the English took over the planning and manning of the battle.
  • One of the main aims of the campaign was to create a reason to force the Germans to withdraw troops from Verdun
  • The tactics were a mixture of frontal assaults aimed at achieving a breakthrough and attrition
Nature and Consequences of Fighting
  • German aerial reconnaissance noted the beginnings of Allied preparations on 7th April 1916. These were not taken seriously, due to the Germans’ poor opinion of British fighting ability.
  • By the 2nd of June, German reconnaissance advised the need for additional troops at the Somme to reinforce the troops already there. These troops were well positioned; they had located their trenches on high ground and built their concrete line dugouts up to 9m below ground level.
  • On the 24th of June 1916, prior to sending troops over the top, allied troops began what was to be a 5 day massive artillery bombardment of German barbed wire and dugouts.
    • Due to bad weather the bombardment went across a 7 day period.
    • British troops also exploded 10 mines that they had installed under German trenches.
    • Artillery bombardment failed to cut the wire and ruined chances of breaking the stalemate
  • At 7:30am on the 1st of July, the British and French infantry went over the top for the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
    • Many soldiers were carrying packs from 32-40kgs.
    • General Haig ordered the soldiers to advance at a walking pace in wave formations along a 40km front towards the supposedly damaged German trenches
    • A British mine exploded 10 minutes early and alerted the Germans that the attack was due to start.
    • Artillery bombardment failed to achieve its goal and German trenches were not damaged.
    • Battlefield communications were poor and it was hours before leaders learned of the scale of the disaster they had unleashed.
    • The 1st of July came to be known as the worst day in the history of British led forces.
    • Nearly 20 000 allied troops died on the first day and 40 000 were wounded.
  • Haig insisted that the campaign continued and sanctioned the use of new tactics including, in August 1916, that of creeping barrage (the use of a wall of artillery fire immediately in front of the advancing infantry.)
    • Weakness à had to be precisely timed to coordinate and did not allow for flexibility in response to changing circumstances.
    • Soldiers needed to advance at a pace of 50m a minute.
    • Soldiers who moved too fast might become victim to their own army’s artillery fire.
    • At the Somme the infantry couldn’t keep pace with the artillery and so gave time for Germans to resume their positions and be ready for its arrival.
The introduction of the tank
  • In August and September 1916, the battle became largely one of attrition, although the British introduction of a new weapon of warfare – the tank – on 15th September did maintain hopes of progress.
  • Tanks could pass over barbed wire and withstand machine gun fire but, at this early stage in their development, they were too slow and unreliable to make any significant difference to the outcome of the campaign.
  • Fewer than two thirds of the 49 tanks available that day reached the start point; of these, only two thirds actually went into action; and, once in action, many became bogged in the mud of no man’s land.

In late November 1916, with the onset of winter weather conditions, including heavy snowfalls, General Haig decided to call a halt to the Somme campaign. By this time, one million Allied and German soldiers were dead and the Allies had gained, at most, only 12km’s of territory.  

Battle of Passchendaele: The War of Mud

Goal and tactics
  • In 1917 allied troops attempted to break through German line in Belgium and gain control of the important German railway junction at Roulures. If successful the plan was then to move on to capture the German naval bases at Ostend and Zeebrugge. This followed concern about the ongoing threats to allied shipping from German U-boats and torpedo boats.
  • Engaging the Germans at Passchendaele would also help to draw pressure off the French army on the Nivelle Offensive- General Nivelles massive French attack that began on the 16th of April, 1917 and ended on the 9th of May. No territory was gained in this battle, there were 187 000 casualties and French troops here showed that they were no longer willing to support their leaders and there significant desertions and problems of mutinies and general disobedience.
  • General Haig commanded the campaign and believed the scheme provided an opportunity to defeat Germany. He believed that the German army after losses of 350 000 men in April and May, was suffering from low morale and on the verge of collapse.
  • While he believed a breakthrough using the leap frog tactic was possible, many leaders condoned the operation and only gave permission for a continuation of attrition tactics.
    • Leap Frog: the tactic of moving by stages from one objective to another with new troops moving forward to take on each successive stage.
Nature and consequences
  • To gain their objective, the Allies had to gain the village of Passchendaele near Ypres region.
  • German artillery gunners held the high ground above the Ypres salient.
  • A preliminary attack began on the 7th June, 1917 with massive and carefully planes artillery bombardment.
  • The Allies gained a foothold and control of territory from which they planned to launch a main offensive on the 31st of July.
  • On the 18th of July, the Allies resumed artillery shelling of German defences in advance of the 31st of July attack.
  • This alerted the Germans to a likelihood of an attack because they had the advantage of higher ground and therefore a wide view of their attackers’ movement.
  • Allied casulaties reached 32 000 on the first day.
  • The land around Passchendaele was reclaimed swamp which after heavy artillery bombardment became waist high liquid mud. August rain made the problem worse. Deep shell craters filled with water and joined to form lakes of slimy water.
  • Aerial reconnaissance was impossible (because of rain and conditions), soldiers had to transport shells via mules, walking on duck boards. In these conditions, many shells and tanks would not work.
  • Over a 14 week period Allied troops made 10 attempts to break through to Passchendaele.
  • By late August no territory had been gained despite a huge number of casualties.
  • In September 1917, General Plumer implemented the new tactic of bite and hold. This tactic required soldiers to use speed and surprise to occupy a small section of the enemy’s front line and then defeat counter attacks.
  • By mid-October, casualties had reach 100 000 and allied forces were exhausted.
  • The Germans had reinforced their troops from the Eastern Front and were now also using mustard gas.
  • Fighting continued until the 6th of November 1917 when the Canadians took Passchendaele.
  • By early November they had lost 80% of 2 divisions.
  • The battle of Passchendaele was the last major attract of attrition tactics in WW1. It came to symbolise the futility of much of the fighting on the western front.
  • Allied casualties over 300 000 and German: 260 000


Weapons Description Impact
  • Main weapon used by infantry men and snipers
  • Easy to transport
  • Suited to targets up to 1400m away but gunners accuracy declined at distances > 600m
Machine Gun
  • Could be regulated to fire up to 500-600 rounds/minute.
  • The British used them offensively, the Germans defensively.
  • Very effective against an infantry attack – fired 8 bullets/second.
  • Weight limited their portability
  • Often jammed
  • On average 1 machine gun = 80 rifles.
  • Most effective as a defensive weapon.
  • Both attack and defence.
  • During the war the number of heavy guns supplied to the BEF increased by 2000%


  • Artillery accounted for about 66% of deaths on the western front.
  • Preceded a major attack therefore giving the enemy a warning.
  • Failed to destroy barbed wire, and enemy trenches, severely damaged no-man’s land, impairing the attackers own advance.
  • Psychological: Men went made from the noise and tension of a barrage.
 Mortar Stokes Mortar

  • Invented in early 1915
  • Originally shells weighed about 9kg and had a range of about 900m.
  • Could fire 22shells/m


  • Larger and much feared.
  • Delivered a 100kg shell over 1000m.
  • Left a crater the size of half a house
  • Portable
  • 75 million grenades were used on the Western Front.
  • German’s used 68 000 tonnes by 1918
  • French used 36 000 tonnes by 1918
  • British used 25 000 tonnes by 1918.
  • Chlorine, Phosgene and Mustard gas.
  • Psychological fear: Of blindness and a slow death.
  • (By 1916) Gas shells helped although improved accuracy.
  • By July 1915 all combatants were able to issue effective gas masks.
  • Little impact on the attempt to break the stalemate
  • Used to dig tunnels under no man’s land and place high explosives underneath enemy trenches.
  • These ‘mines’ were exploded just before an attack
  • They gave a good start to an offensive however only produced a temporary advantage that did not by itself lead to a breakthrough.
  • June 1916: Mark I used for the first time in September on the Somme. Travelled at less than 8km/h. Lightly armoured
  • 1917: new better-armoured Mark IV tank was used with limited success at the Battle of Messines.
  • November 1917: Mark IV tanks proved decisive at Cambrai but advantage was lost because cavalry was not able to exploit the breakthrough
  • Gave the British a technological advantage.
  • By late 1918, the tank had become a factor in helping the allies break through the Western Front.
  • On 4 July 1918 the fortified village of Hamel was captured using recently arrived Mark V tanks in a coordinated operation in a coordinated operation which exploited the available technology of artillery, airplane and massed tanks to provide the best possible protection for infantry to move forward, to consolidate and to hold the area gained.
  • This coordinated attack became the blueprint for the successful Allied assaults which caused Germany to seek peace terms in late 1918.


General Description
General Alfred con Schlieffenschlieffen
  • Chief of the German General staff, 1891-1905.
  • His was plan was the basis of German strategy used in 1914
  • The plan was modified by his successor, Moltke
Colonel-General von Moltkemoltke
  • Chief of the German general staff, 1905-1914.
  • During the invasion of France: His failure to control the actions of the right wing armies, his loss of nerve under pressure and the German reverse at the First Battle of the Marne led to his replacement by Falkenhayen, which was made public on 3 November 1914.
General Paul von Hindenburghindenburg
  • He was recalled from retirement in 1914 at the age of 66.
  • He commanded the 8th army on the Eastern Front, 1914-16.
  • He succeeded Falkenhayen in August 1916 as chief of the general staff.
  • His achievements were: He ended the war of attrition at Verdun, he withdrew troops to the defensive Hindenburg line, with Ludendorff, he launched the offensive of March 1918, but the failure of the offensive led to retreat and the armistice.
  • He was elected President of Germany in 1926.
General Erich von Falkenhaynfalkenhayn
  • Chief of the German general staff, September 1914-29th of August 1916.
  • He believed that the war would be won on the Western Front.
  • He was prepared to use poison gas.
  • When he failed to achieve a breakthrough on the stalemate, he was removed and given command of the 9th Army against Romania.
General Erich von Ludendorffludendorff
  • Quartermaster- general of the Second Army, 1914
  • He played a decisive role in the battle of Liege.
  • He became Hindenburg’s chief of staff
  • He was a key figure in the militarisation of the German economy.
  • He demanded unrestricted submarine warfare.
  • He counter-attacked immediately following allied assaults.
General Joseph Joffrejoffre
  • Chief of the French general staff from 1911.
  • Commander in Chief 1914-16
  • He believed in the superiority of offense.
  • His calm leadership helped halt the Germans at the Marne.
  • He failed to find a solution to the trench warfare deadlock.
  • He was replaced by Nivelle after the battle of Verdun
General Nivellenivelle
  • He distinguished himself at Marne- brought artillery swiftly into action against the Germans short range.
  • Counter-attacks against the Germans at Verdun increased his popularity
  • He succeeded Joffre as commander-in-chief in December 1916.
  • He was replaced by Petain on 15 May 1917


General Petainpetain
  • Conducted a skillful defence of Verdun.
  • He was promoted to commander-in-chief of the French army in May 1917.
  • He restored morale after mutinies following failure of the Nivelle Offensive.
  • He instituted a policy of ‘defence in depth’ which helped slow the German offensive in 1918.
  • During early 1918 he proposed to withdraw from the south in the face of the German offensive.
  • He was replaced by the more aggressive Foch in March 1918.
General Ferdinand Fochfoch
  • He provided energetic and optimistic leadership in the face of the German offensive of 1918.
  • He was dedicated to the idea of ‘the offensive’.
  • He had a flexible approach to dealing with trench deadlock.
  • On 26th March 1918 he was made responsible for coordinating Allied armies on the Western Front, partly at the urging of Haig.
  • On 3rd April 1918 he was given control of the strategic direction of Allied military operations, but other Allied commanders-in-chief retained tactical control of their own armies.
  • On 4th April 1918 he was given the title of General-in-chief of the Allied armies in France.
  • He made a significant contribution to the final Allied victory.
General Sir Douglas Haighaig
  • Commander-in-chief of the BEF from December 1915
  • He was promoted to the rank of field marshal in December 1916
  • His period of command is still the focus of controversy:
  • He has been criticised for the battles of attrition at the Somme in 1916 and at Arras, Ypres and Passchendaele in 1917.
  • He showed tenacity in the face of the German offensive of March-April 1918 and between August and November defeated the main German armies in a succession of victories.

Summary of Battles

Battle of Verdun
  • Unsuccessful artillery barrage
  • Use of diphosgene gas
  • No territorial gain made
  • French favoured
The Battle of the Somme
  • Artillery barrage
  • Germans reinforced trenches
  • Chlorine/ mustard gas
  • Creeping barrages
  • Extended lines and slow pace (very unsuccessful)
  • German steel helmets
  • Tank was unsuccessful at this stage
  • Artillery barrage
  • Leap frog (was somewhat successful)
  • Bite and hold
  • Infiltration (small scale attacks in groups, rather than the whole

The changing attitude of Allied and German soldiers over time

August 1914: Enthusiasm at war’s outbreak

  • Young men marched willingly towards war in 1914.
  • Many believed themselves and their nation to be superior to their enemies and that ‘might’ and ‘right’ were on their sides.
  • For some, the motivation to become involved arose from peer pressure, a sense of adventure, the need to gain employment and/or the desire to escape family problems.
  • Only a minority opposed to war à included socialists, conscientious objectors and religious values questioned the justification of killing or wounding other human beings.

1914: The Christmas Truce

  • Over 4 and half months later, the experiences of warfare seemed to have modified these nationalistic, pro-war attitudes and created a shared sense of empathy among soldiers.
  • They sought refuge from the horrors and discomfort of the trenches and longed to experience the comfort, goodwill and camaraderie traditionally associated with the Christmas season.
  • In the third week in December 1914, military personnel from opposing sides on the western front began negotiations for a Christmas ceasefire that would last up to five days. Many leaders, however, feared that meeting and mixing with the enemy could make it hard to maintain discipline.

1915: Still there and growing disillusioned

  • By 1915, experienced soliders and newly arrived volunteers could no longer automatically associate participation in war with ideas of ‘glory’ and national ‘greatness’.
  • They forced to deal with the harsh realities of trench warfare and doing what they could find humor in difficult situations.

1916: ‘Lions led by donkeys?’

  • Attempts to achieve a breakthrough in 1916 called onto question the skills of the commanders. In the post-war decade, English speakers began to refer to the relationship between soldiers and their commanding officers as ‘lions led by donkeys’.
  • The battles of 1916 were a turning point in relation to soldier’s attitudes. From questioning leadership many tuned to questioning why they were there and who indeed the real enemy was; the generals of their own army or the soldiers themselves from opposing armies?

1917: Mud and mutiny

  • The failure and high costs of the 1917 Nivelle offensive had a devastating and lasting impact on the morale of the French army. French morale was at an all-time low. Troops mutinied, refusing to continue suicidal frontal attacks.
  • The military failure and loss of life of the Nivelle Offensive also increased hostility towards autocratic and inflexible discipline exerted within the French military. Nearly 500 French soldiers received the death penalty after being tried for offences related to their failure to obey military orders.
  • The French military eventually responded to these crises by sacking Nivelle. It also improved food supplies and provided longer leave entitlements.
  • However the French military could no longer rely on its infantry to perform in battle and had to abandon thoughts of further offensives for some time.
  • The beginning of the war, military law allowed the death sentence for offences including: sleeping or being drunk on guard duty; self-inflicted injury, disobeying orders, assaulting an office, mutiny and communication with the enemy.
  • The British army imposed the death penalty on 304 soldiers between 1914 and 1918. Mostly for offences committed on the western front.
  • Soldiers themselves were often sympathetic towards the plight of those condemned to death both because their youth and because they were victims of shell shock. Soldiers participated in firing squads recorded their own reluctance to a carry out such duties and the fact that is was often left to an officer to ‘finish off’ the execution because the shots had either missed the prisoner to failed to kill him.

1918: Victory and defeat

  • War weariness affected soldiers of all armies in 1918. It resulted from:
    • The long period of time that nations had been engaged in war
    • The apparent futility of many tactics used
    • Increased difficulties in maintaining supplies to the battlefront as the home front of various nations were are or near collapse
  • French commanders could no longer rely on troops to go ‘over the top’ an order. Increasingly. Soldiers engaged in mutinous behavior or chose to desert.
  • Officials responded desperately by meeting harsher punishments and threating violence towards those who refused to obey orders.
  • By 1918, the German home front was no longer either able or willing to support the war effort.
  • Soldier morale was hard to maintain in an atmosphere where many had come to question what they were fighting for and why their leaders had not made peace.
  • Soldiers home on leave joined anti-war- protests in cities all over the nation.
  • By late 1918, it was clear that Germany was facing defeat and that the nation was on the brink or a revolution.

‘A land fit for heroes?’

  • In the aftermath of the war, soldiers felt angry at the slowness of attempts to repatriate them.
  • Once home, they often found it difficult to adjust to everyday life, and many efforts were not sufficiently recognized or rewarded. Sharing wartime experiences had created a sense of fellowship among one another, has isolated some from the societies and loved ones from which they had come.
  • Governments failed to live up to soldiers’ expectation that they created what the British termed a ‘land fit for heroes’. Defeated nations soon to be burdended by the economic demands of peace treaties and reconstruction, struggled to address the peacetime needs of those whose sacrifices resulted in defeat.
  • In Germany, this became a factor that assisted the growth of right-wing parties like the Nazi Party under the leadership of Adolph Hitler.
  • The victors struggled to address working class ex-soldiers’ expectations that their governments provide them with improved quality of life and opportunities. The Bolshevik Revolution inspired many working class ex soldiers’ to become more politically active in the post-war years.
    • Bolshevik Revolution: Russian revolution of 1917, which brought to power a government proclaiming to recreate society for the benefit of its workers.

The home fronts in Britain and Germany

Total war and its social and economic impact on civilians in Britain and Germany

Britain and Total War

Government Controls
  • Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) was introduced and passed in parliament on 8th of August 1914
    • Gave British Government power to intervene in daily life of people
    • Imprison without trial, cut social activities (flying kites and feeding bread to animals) and introduce daylight savings for longer working hours
    • Gave the government permission to buy goods at rock-bottom price and to requisition all forms of transport ranging from ships to cars to horses
  • British Prime Minister Lloyd George improved health ensure fitness for extended working hours and strong army
  • They had controls over food as their living standards eventually collapsed from the German submarine campaign in 1916 resulted in poor harvest and made food restrictions necessary
  • December 1916: Lord Devonport, the new food controller, wanted voluntary restrictions of intake of food by the people. He asked to limit their consumptions to: 115 grams of sugar a week, 1.8kg of bread and 1.1 kilograms of meat.
  • April 1917: wheat stocks had fallen to ten days’ worth of supplies
  • 1918: Devonport’s successor Lord Rhondda introduced more stringent controls. Rationing was introduced in February for several products
  • Spring 1915: British Government realised it was desperately short of artillery shells
  • At this time Britain was producing 700 shells a day compare to Germany’s 250 000 a day
  • David Lloyd George was the one to push for total war organisation
  • May 1915: Lloyd became minister of munitions succeeded Kitchener and in July passed the Munitions of War Act
  • Between August 1914 and June 1915 the army was sent 110 artillery pieces; between July 1915 and 1916 it received 5006
  • Grenade production increased from 68 000 to 27 million
  • Lloyd aimed to bring bosses and trade union leaders together to maximise production, he wanted to prevent strikes and limit the strict rules unions placed on working practices
  • He also sought to break down complex tasks to simpler ones – a process called dilution – this would allowed less skilled workers such as women to work
    • Dilution was resisted and was feared to a long-term fall in wages but Lloyd promised dilution would only last for the duration of the war
  • Men could be fined and imprisoned for lateness, absenteeism and striking
  • Working hours were increased, leisure activities outside of work were curtailed
  • Lloyd became Prime Minister in 1916 -1922
Item 1914 1915 1916 1917 1918
Guns 91 3390 4314 5137 8039
Tanks 150 1110 1359
Aircraft 200 1900 6100 14700 32000
Machine Guns 300 6100 33500 79700 120990

Germany and Total War

  • Germany appeared to be the nation most prepared for war with a massive manufacturing sector and reserves of iron and coal.
  • After Britain imposed a crippling blockade, Germany faced acute shortages of essential war products.
  • At the time of the armistice in November 1918, no German territory contained enemy forces.
German war organization
  • Germans believed that the war had been forced upon them and had to be fought for the good of Greater Germany.
  • The driving force behind early German war organization was Walter Rathenau, head of the electrical company AEG.
  • He persuaded the War Ministry to set up a War Raw Materials Department- KRA. He became the director
  • KRA also controlled labour– Germany used forced labour from occupied countries to meet its labour shortages.
  • Shortages were met by using the resources of occupied countries or by producing substitute or ersatz goods.
Civilians and Supplies
  • By 1916, basic goods were in very short supply, agricultural production was down, food prices doubles and the cost of living rose dramatically.
  • Further government intervention to control prices and supply only exacerbated the problems and divided the nation.
  • Germany was struck by mass famine and starvation à alarming number of schoolchildren was reported to be suffering diseases related to poor nutrition and living conditions, such as tuberculosis and anemia.
  • The official rations for German civilians provided only half the average daily calorie requirements.
  • In working class districts “butter riots” erupted in Berlin in August 1916 when the patience of women waiting for their rations broke.
  • By 1916, public outraged at the suffering and continued deprivation led to months of civil unrest.
  • The number of deaths recorded due to starvation:
    • 1915 88 000
    • 1917 260 000
    • 1918 294 000
  • Inflation and starvation in the cities brought Germany to a crisis of national morale.
  • Sharp increase in strikes and demonstrations during 1916 and 1918 indicated the depth of political discontent.
  • Around 100 000 German workers were on strike every month.
  • Germany became politically divided between those who advocated a continuation of the war effort and those demanding peace.
Department of Raw Materials
  • Purpose was to commandeer raw materials and allocate them to manufacturers working on government contracts.
  • Built on large cartels that were already a feature of German Industrial life.
  • September 1914, the major industrial firms joined to form the War Committee for German Industry.
  • Replacements for gunpowder ingredients, synthetic rubber and the use of oil as a replacement for coal in machinery.
The British Blockade
  • Imposed on Germany from the beginning of war and severely hurt the German economy.
  • Germany depended on International trade
  • Over 50% of raw materials and 33% of its food need were imported.
  • The blockade took away 80% of Germany’s export market
  • In 1916, the War Ministry set up the central purchasing company, to purchase goods in neutral countries.
  • Germany turned to motorized transportation: petrol and rubber quickly ran out in 1914
  • In 1915 monthly need of 15 000 rubber tires and 25 000 pneumatic tubes could no longer be met
  • 1917 wooden tires were prescribed
  • Transport system and coal distribution also failed, leaving the civilians in cities stranded without heating or cooking facilities.
Other Government Agencies
  • 1915 Imperial Grain Office: The government took control of the grain and milling business, controlled supplies and set up a system of rationing.
  • 1916 War Food Office
  • Hindenburg introduced the Patriotic Auxiliary Service Law (1916) = gave the government power to call up all men aged 17-60 for labour service.
  • October 1916 the Weapons and Munitions Procurement Agency was set up and took control of the country’s coal, iron and steel.

By 1918 there were 258 laws that imposed restrictions on everything

Financing the War
  • 1915 the war was costing 3 billion Reichsmarks a month
  • The government was only receiving 16% of the above figure from taxation
  • 31st of July 1914 the Reichsbank suspended the policy of exchanging paper currency for gold
  • In 1918, the revenue of the German government was 762 million Reichsmarks, while government spending exceeded 41 billion Reichsmarks.
The effectiveness of Germany’s organization for total war
  • German soldiers were well supplied for the duration of the conflict.
  • There was no munitions crisis in Germany
  • Trade union allied with military leaders to militarize the country’s economic life
  • Germany’s ‘war economy’ became an exemplar of economic planning for the whole of the postwar World.
  • In September 1918, the loss of morale on the German home front was complete and the German war effort was defeated
  • Providing for the returning soldiers strained the limited resources that were available to the public.
  • Food riots escalated into calls for political revolution across Germany.
  • In Berlin, the Kaiser abdicated, elections were called to form a new German parliament

Other Miscellaneous Total War Notes

  • Nationalism swept through the British community when the government declared war on Germany
  • Total war meant that the war had to be fought on many fronts
  • The inclusion of the British home front in the war effort had far-reaching implications
  • During the nineteenth century, the lives of ordinary British civilians were largely unaffected by the nations involvement in foreign wars
  • The ‘Great War’ changed that
  • Civilians became targets of military operations
  • National security was challenged along with the social, political and economic life of the nation
  • Zeppelin raids on London in April 1915 pulled Britons  from all walks of life
  • The civilians of Britain became the ‘soldiers’ of the home front

Recruitment, conscription, censorship and propaganda in Britain and Germany

August 1914:

  1. British Army= 20 divisions
  2. French Army= 74 divisions
  3. German Army= 94 divisions


Recruitment and Conscription
  • Germany had a large trained army reserve when war broke out
    • 94 divisions
    • With millions in the reserves
  • Conscription wasn’t a controversial issue in Germany as reverse training had been a matter of slandered policy
  • Every German male of 17-45 was liable for military service
  • In the early days Germany did not need to resort to conscription to fill its armed forces, enormous enthusiasm swept Germany at the announcement of war
  • Difference between German and British was that Germans did not have to promote recruitment
  • Early German propaganda took a severely anti-British tone
  • The German people were encouraged to hate the English
  • When Germans met each other they were expected to utter the greeting “God punish England”
  • German propaganda worked to justify the actions of the German government. The line followed was to argue that Germanys invasion of Belgium and France, according to the Schlieffen plan, was a defensive response to the aggression it was facing from Britain, France and Russia.
  • German soldiers were thus presented as heroes, defending the Father Land from invasion and destruction. They were shedding the blood of heroes, dying the death of heroes for the sake of the Father land.
 The effectiveness of German Propaganda
  • One of the reasons why German propaganda was never as effective as that of the allies was the failure of the German authorities to properly organize it.
    • There was no German ministry of propaganda
    • Instead, the military had its own service called German War News.
  • British propaganda was able to connect with the ordinary citizens who had been asked to go without at home or risk their lives in France. German propaganda on the other hand, tendered to use elicit figures such as intellectuals and military authorities to transmit the message. Thus the tone of the German propaganda did not always connect with the ordinary German worker or non-Prussian.
  • What the German authorities lacked in propaganda skills, they made up for it in censorship. When the German people discovered the scale of German losses in 1918 there was genuine shock.
  • It was not only information’s from the front that was tightly controlled the authorities also tried to ban any discussion of peace movements in the press.
  • The German people were never told about the peace demonstrations in berlin in December 1915.
  • The government did not want its people to hear about the Stockholm peace conference of 1917 nor the Papal Peace Note of the same year.


Recruitment 1914 & early 1915
  • Recruitment committees were established around the country.
  • It was assumed that voluntary signing up would ensure an enlistment rate of 100 000 per month.
  • By mid-November 1914: 700 000 men had joined; By January 1915: 34 million had joined.
The fall of conscription rates
  • As losses on the front mounted, enlistment declined.
  • July 1915: Height requirement was reduced from 168-157, age bracket widened: from 19-30 to 19-40.
  • Failure to enlist was then seen as cowardly and a lack of patriotism.
  • Sports clubs and professional football associations were used effectively to promote recruitment.
  • Despite efforts it was becoming clear that the voluntary system was failing and compulsory enlistment would be needed.
  • Derby Scheme: Used national register, all men aged 18-41 were asked to enlist when called upon, except for those in reserved occupations such as: munitions, coalmining, the railways, those married and in farming careers.
  • The Derby Scheme was a failure and closed in December 1915.
  • First Military Service Act of 1916 called upon all single men and childless widowers aged 18-40.- men in essential services, clergymen, Irishmen and those medically unfit were excluded.
  • May 1916: Second Military Service Act made all men liable regardless of marital status.
Conscientious objectors
  • Men that stated that for reasons of: conscience, such as strong religious belief or moral revulsion at the taking of human life, would not submit to being conscripted.
  • “Conchies” were best known by the public as slackers or cowards, and at worst traitors who deserved to be treated severely.
  • Most conchies were allowed some exemption but if their claim was turned down and they failed to report for duty they would be court martialled and imprisoned.
  • In prison they were badly treated.
  • Some conscientious objectors were willing to take on non- combatant roles within the army, such as stretch bearers.
  • Absolutists: Those who refused to have anything to do with the war. These people received particularly harsh treatment- tied to posts in no man’s land if they still refused to submit to army control.

At the start of the war the main aim of propaganda was to:

  1. Promote patriotic support for the war.
  2. Encourage men to enlist.

From 1916 the tone of propaganda changed:

  1. Greater emphasis was placed on the need to maintain national sacrifice and unity on the home front.
  2. Billboard posters were a potent form of propaganda.
  3. Film was another medium for propaganda: with the aim of convincing the home front that troops were being treated well.

Organisation of propaganda

  • The official government branch responsible for propaganda: Secret War Propaganda Bureau.
  • February 1917: This function was passed on to the Department of information.
  • June 1917: A National War Aims Committee was created with the aim to produce propaganda that would overcome potential war-weariness that the government feared might developed as the war dragged on.
  • February 1918: The Ministry of Information became responsible for propaganda.


  • Newspapers: Were essential for disseminating the news and spreading propaganda.
  • Photographs were often used in propaganda campaigns: shots could often be posed- e.g. battle front scenes were set up to present a positive view of the front line.

The Church and Propaganda

  • Established Churches such as the Church of England supported the war effort.
  • Selfless self-sacrifice was seen as a sure way to salvation.

The variety of attitudes to the war and how they changed over time in Britain and Germany


Early response to the war
  • The British Cabinet met to discuss foreign affairs in July 1914
  • Hundreds of thousands of men rushed to the enlistment offices to swear oaths of loyalty to king and country
  • Support for the war was almost universal – only opposition came from committed socialists and a few determined pacifists (those who were opposed to violence)
  • This mass support was partly due to the British people’s belief in the justice of their cause – propaganda had done its work convincing the British of the innocence of poor Belgium and the need to protect it from the barbarism of the German military machine
  • Euphoria was felt at the outbreak of war and was combined with the belief it would all be over by Christmas and a total ignorance of the true nature of modern warfare, meaning the opponents of war stood little chance of airing their views
  • Labor Party leader Ramsay MacDonald professed that this war was ‘the most popular war Britain had ever fought’
  • The outbreak of war in British unleashed anti-German sentiment which continued to run high throughout the war
  • Anti-German campaigner culminated in the smashing and looting of British businesses believed to be owned by Germans
  • May 1915 saw the sinking of British liner Lusitania, prompting  anti-German riots in the streets of London
  • Germans and Austrians who had lived in Britain for years were classified as ‘enemy aliens’ and then deported, interned (held and prohibited from leaving a certain prescribed areas) or restricted in their movements around the country
The appearance of opposition
  • Real doubts about and opposition to the war did not appear until the slaughter of 1916 and 1917 – both men in the trenches and the home front population begun to express their frustrations
  • Generals were seen to be uncompassionate, making orders from their distant chateaux far behind the lines
  • Growing war-weariness developed on the home front as casualty lists in the newspapers lengthened, shortages increased, and ever greater demands were placed on the workforce
  • The war was brought to home to the ordinary citizen with Zeppelin raids and attacks on eastern coastal cities
  • The Battle of the Somme was especially poignant in marking British change of attitude towards the war
The nature of British opposition to the war
  • Opposition to the war in Britain never reached the level it did in Russia and Germany, despite casualties and home front hardships
  • British armies only experienced small scale mutinies, which were little more than brawls that were dissipated quickly, with men soon back on the front line
  • Paradoxically, it seemed that Britain’s democratic regime was better suited to dealing with discontent and war-weariness than its more authoritarian counterparts
The growth of opposition to the war
  • Early opposition to the war came from groups such as the Herald League and the Workers Socialist Foundation which espoused the doctrine of the international brotherhood of man, arguing that British workers had no business killing German workers but that both working classes should unite against their capitalist enemies
  • One of the loudest anti-war voices came from the Union of Democratic Control (UDC), which was more concerned with the world after the war, seeking an end to secret diplomacy and aiming to prevent another war breaking out, demanding a just and fair peace
  • The government also faced opposition from the No Conscription Fellowship (NCF), supported by religious dissenters such as the Quakers and feminists such as Sylvia Pankhurst
  • Britain had 16 100 conscientious objectors, who were given little sympathy by the mass of the British people and seen as cowards and slackers
  • The majority opposed pacifism and did not seek any moderation in British war aims
  • Prime Minister Lloyd George’s government allowed conchies to be dealt with mildly, with over 80% allowed some exemption from the forces and the rest station to carry out non-combatant roles
  • Nevertheless, 71 did die in prison, often after mistreatment and torture
Lloyd George’s handling of dissent
  • Strikes were a major symptom of possible growing opposition to the war
  • In 1917 there were 688 strikes involving 860 000 workers
  • Lloyd George realised that the strike movement was not the result of opposition to the war itself but rather a protest against the pressures war engendered such as changing work practices, dilution (reduction in the value of shareholding) and inflation
  • Lloyd George dealt with the situation by attempting to make the workers the partners of the government
  • He introduced measured to help the workers and to satisfy women’s aspirations
  • Wages were increased and women were promised the vote
 Why did Britain experience so little anti-war dissent?
  • Economic strain felt in Britain was far less than experienced by other countries – this was largely the result of the ability of the navy to maintain an adequate supply of food supplies to the home front
  • Under Lloyd George’s leadership the government paid far greater attention to the needs of those working on the home front than was the case in Germany – as a result the government received more cooperation from organised labour
  • British propaganda was very effective in maintaining genuine support for the justice of the allied cause


Early response to the war
  • German reaction to the outbreak of war mirrored that of the rest of Europe – there was massive and widespread enthusiasm for what was expected to be a short and exciting adventure
  • In 1914, opposition to the war inside German was limited and mute – partly due to the fact that most people supported the war but also due to the authoritarian nature of the government, which kept a tight lid on dissent
  • From the start of the war, the middle-class German Peace Society opposed the war, however this group suffered repression and quickly disappeared
  • The were some religious and intellectual opposition but opponents of the war soon ended up in prison
  • Under the 1916 Auxiliary Services Law, the state and employers now gave the workers official recognition, which meant they would recognise unions
The growth of opposition
  • The feeling of war-weariness was both quicker to develop and far stronger in Germany than in Britain
  • The failure of the Schlieffen Plan brought about a loss of confidence in Germany’s war plan from the outset
  • German authorities paid little attention to the worker’s welfare – they lacked a Lloyd George figure who understood the necessity of creating a genuine partnership between the state and the union
  • Growing discontent was reflected in the German press despite the government’s attempts at censorship – papers carried reports of anti-war demonstrations and called for a negotiated peace
  • Largest-scale opposition did not crystallise until the second half of 1918 – the German people were willing to put up with a great deal as long as there was a chance of victory
The strike movement
  • Germany experienced far more and far larger strikes during the war than did Britain
  • In April 1917, 300 000 workers were on strike and becoming violent
  • In 1917 there were 562 strikes involving 668 000 workers
  • January 1918 saw 1 million workers on strike
  • The authorities responded by imposing martial law (military government, involving suspension of ordinary law) and giving the ring-leaders front line duties
  • Women were seen to be the catalysts of strike action as men were quieter and more restrained – they did not have to continue to provide for a family under the war circumstances in which food was scarce and quality poor
Wartime politics and dissent
  • The government split itself into a Centre Party and the Independent German Social Democratic Party (USPD) – the radical ring had been expelled from the party because of their opposition to the war
  • A Peace Resolution was proposed by the Reichstag (main legislature of the German state) which was passed by 212 votes to 126 after many began to agree that a German victory was no longer possible
  • By late 1917, German political life had become hopelessly polarised, with the SPD, USPD and German Communist Party (the Spartacists) on the left, and the Fatherland Front on the right
  • Germany had experienced the highest casualty rate of the war and experienced starvation on the home front
  • By 1918 Germany had effectively become a military dictatorship under the control of Ludendorff and Hindenburg
  • By September 1918 it was clear to Ludendorff and the rest of the military leaders that the war was lost
  • By the end of October, German had asked for an armistice, the Kaiser had become a constitutional monarch and Ludendorff had been dismissed
  • Ludendorff had hoped that handing over power to the democratic politicians would avoid a full-scale social revolution occurring as it had in Russia
  • All over Germany, workers’ and soldiers’ councils appeared, based on the model of the revolutionary soviets that has grown inside Russia during 1917
  • On the 9th of November the Kaiser was forced to abdicate, and he fled to Holland – a republic was declared
  • On the 10th of November a Council of People’s Commissioners was established, made up of three SPD and three USPD members – clearly a revolutionary socialist government
  • On the 11th of November, Germany signed the armistice ending the war – war and defeat had destroyed the imperial regime of Kaiser Wilhelm II
  • Germany had entered the war as the newly unified economic powerhouse of Europe, and ended it exhausted and impoverished

The impact of the war on women’s lives and experiences in Britain

  • At first the government was not keen to mobilise women and they had to satisfy themselves with what were considered more appropriate pursuits of nursing and voluntary work.
  • In addition women became active in many other areas of economic life including transport, agriculture and clerical work.
  • World War I also saw the creation of women’s auxiliary organisations within the armed services.
  • Women’s wages and conditions did improve during the war but they were still generations away from achieving equality with male workers.
  • Inequalities were a reason for the increase in female trade union militancy. Some women did receive the vote at the end of the war but it is highly debatable whether or not this was as a result of their efforts during the war.
Women and the Munitions Industry
  • In July 1914 there were 22 million women in the workforce
  • By January 1918 this number had increased to 8 million.
  • By July 1918 80% of all British munitions were being produced by the munitionettes
  • Conditions in the munitions factories were tough, particularly for those women who had left jobs in domestic service and were entering a factory for the first time. Shifts were twelve hours long and at first there was no time off on a Sunday.
  • The work was very dangerous and during the war, over 200 munitionettes were killed.
  • Despite the dangers and the harsh working conditions, there was no shortage of women willing to take their place in the munitions factories. The pay was two and three times what could be earned in domestic service.
Women Outside of the Munitions Factories
  • Because of the authorities’ reluctance to let women serve or their belief that women were not capable of contributing, at first the female contribution to the war came in the form of voluntary work.
  • Many middle and upper class women provided comforts for men on leave such as free buffets at railway stations, tea parties in private homes and car trips.
  • Nursing was seen as the most acceptable form of war work for middle and upper class women. However, at first female requests to volunteer for nursing assignments were not accepted by the government.
    • When Mrs St Claire Stobart offered the services of the Women’s Convoy Corps to the Red Cross, she was rejected.
    • Similarly, Dr Elise Inglis’ Scottish Women’s Hospital Units were also denied the chance to serve overseas.
  • By 1918 the Women’s Land Army numbered over 16 000. The Land Army was not a popular choice of work for women. Farmers often resented having female workers. The pay was low and the accommodation poor.
Women in the Armed Services
  • During the war, women’s branches of the armed services were created. This enabled women to take on non-combatant jobs, which freed up men for the front.
  • Women in the WAAC (Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps) took on a variety of roles that included working as clerks, telephonists, waitress’s cooks and drivers. However, they were not given full military status. Women were enrolled in the WAAC, not enlisted. They were not given ranks but were called officials.
  • Women also became part of the police force during the war. They were involved in crowd control, dealing with ‘inappropriate behaviour in pubs and parks’, and assisting during air raids.
    • The Ministry of Munitions used women police to ensure that the munitionettes were obeying factory regulations.
Women and the Trade Unions
  • Trade union representatives were not keen on the idea of women entering the workforce.
  • They were also ambivalent about the issue of pay. Unions took it for granted that women should be paid less than men and fought attempts at equal pay.
  • However, the existence of lower female pay made women more attractive to employers seeking to reduce costs.
  • Unions further took for granted the notion that once the war was over women would leave their jobs and return home where they belonged, which was the prevailing view of society at the time.
  • However, some women did unionise and did go on strike for better pay.
  • Mary Macarthur, the British union leader, fought for better pay for the munitionettes. By 1918 there were 383 trade unions that contained female members; there were 36 unions for women only.

The war had stimulated women’s consciousness of their value.

The War and Female Suffrage
  • As soon as war was declared, the main suffragette movements suspended their campaign for the vote and threw themselves into the war effort.
  • Emmeline Pankhurst and other key figures in the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), encouraged men to enlist and demanded harsh treatment of conscientious objectors. Lloyd George supported Mrs Pankhurst in her efforts to encourage women into the munitions factories.
  • As a result of the vital role women played in the war, some argue that the government rewarded them by granting the vote to women in the Representation of the People Act of 1918.
  • From 1916, Britain had a coalition government and so female suffrage was no longer a party issue.
  • However, the act of parliament that gave women the vote in 1918 was a very conservative measure. Women over the age of thirty who were householders (local government electors) or the wives of householders were given the vote. Thus, the women who were enfranchised were generally middle class, married and not young. Yet the majority of female war workers, especially in the vital munitions factories, had been working class, single and young. Thus the vote was hardly a reward for female war service.
The Social Impact of the War on Women
  • The war certainly improved the position of women in society. They had gained greater self-respect and their contribution to the war effort was lauded by people from Lloyd George down. The press also played up female patriotism.
  • The war had freed many middle class women from the restraints of the home. For these women the war had a major impact. Middle-class women were far more literate than working class women and thus after the war it was their accounts of wartime experiences that tended to get into print.
  • The war certainly did leave many women with a restless feeling. They wanted to continue enjoying the better pay and the greater freedom they had known during the war. The loosening of attitudes in the 1920’s reflects this.
  • The traditional view of the impact of the war on British women argues that the war was a time of great opportunity and freedom for women. It took them out of the confines of domesticity, made higher pay possible and finally the government was convinced to give them the vote. Women became recognised as an essential part of the nation’s economy.
  • After the war, women were encouraged to return home or to traditional female jobs. In 1921 female employment rates were no higher than they had been in The Restoration of Pre-War Practices Act actually tried to take jobs from working class women. The Sex Discrimination Removals Act did make it easier for women to work in the professions but this benefitted only middle-class women.

Turning Points

Impacts of the entry of the USA and of the Russian withdrawal

1917 Marked two turning points

  • In April United states broke its policy of isolationism and entered the war on the side of the Allies
  • In November, Russia’s Bolshevik party, staged a successful revolution and fulfilled its promise to withdraw Russia from the war

Twofold Impact: entry of USA strengthened allied forces however the withdrawal of Russia severely weakened their war effort.

Impact of the Russian Withdrawal

  • At the outbreak of the war Russia had the largest army, but the nation was played with serious internal problems.
  • The Russian army was poorly equipped; the immense difficulty in supplying and maintaining the army placed a great strain on Russia total war effort, this strain led to rebellion.
  • Tsar Nicholas II had taken personal charge of the war. However, equipment was poor, desertion was high and food shortages were increasing. This led to the abdication of the Tsar on the 2nd march 1917
  • By May 1915 Germany had taken command of the Eastern front, and Russia had lost 2 million troops.
  • By February 1917 the demoralized Russian army had 8 million casualties and 1 million desertions.
  • In October he was replaced by the Bolsheviks who came into power under Lenin. The leader Lenin called for a separate peace and signed an armistice in December 1917.
  • When the Russian government withdrew in 1917, they signed Brest-Litovsk. This treaty was a national humiliation; it lost 34% of population, 89% coal mines, 32% of agriculture. The treaty was formally signed on the 3rd of March 1918 and at this time Germany was in control of almost half of Russia to the east of Moscow.
  • The Russian collapse enabled Germany to shift its military divisions (1 million men) and resources to the eastern to the western front. Russian Allies were enraged by her withdrawal and labelled it as an act of treachery.
  • At the end of 1917 the military situation looked bleak for allied forces. The allies predicted that they would face a reinvigorated German military attack
  • The central powers were closer to victory in the west than they had been since the battle of the Marne in September 1914.

The Impact of the American Expeditionary Force

  • The Allies were delighted at the American entry into the conflict; because they believed it assured victory.
  • General John Pershing led the forces in cooperation with the Allies, but they fought under their own flag under American leadership
  • The US had not spent years preparing for the war and so had few modern weapons
  • President Wilson’s declaration of war committed American supplies, extended loans, supply of naval power, and half a million American conscripts
  • However, America was not a military force on the Western Front until 1918, so their contribution to fighting was limited (although important)

It was America’s potential power that became vital in the Allied war effort

  • The German forces under Ludendorff knew that they now had to win or negotiate a peace before American support increased to a point where Germany would be outnumbered on the Western Front
  • A significant impact of the American forces entering the war was increased morale amongst Allied troops

 Ludendorff’s Spring Offensive

  • Ludendorff knew he had to act quickly to breakthrough before the weight of American power could swing against Germany – he also wished to placed Germany in a better position for peace talks – had to make immediate use of the advantages Russian withdrawal gave
  • The ‘Michael Plan’ was accepted – envisaged an attack on the poorly defended junction of the British and French armies at St Quentin and Arras – would force a French retreat to Paris and a British retreat to the Channel ports, giving USA no choice but to retire from the war
  • Ludendorff trained and deployed an elite group of shock troops (storm troopers)
  • Used light trench mortars, flamethrowers and light machine guns in rapid surprise attacks
  • Night concentrations, poison gas and rolling barrages would be used to eliminate front-line British trenches
  • First offensive succeeding in making Britain lose all ground they had won in the Somme
  • 5 offensives were launched between March and July 1918 – they did break Allied lines but hesitated for too long and wasted resources in trying to consolidate these breakthroughs – military success paradoxically exposed armies to greater defeat
  • Haig issued his famous ‘Order of the Day’ during the second offensive, in which he proclaimed the necessity of forces holding positions at any cost
  • German forces had few replacements with revolution growing on the home front, while American troops could now be called upon by the Allies
  • Haig and Pétain could not agree on a suitable response – it was only the near collapse of Allied lines that forced them to accept a unified command
  • Led to appointment of Ferdinand Foch as Supreme Allied Commander

Allied Victory

Events leading to the Armistice, 1918

Technology and Tactics

  • In 1917 and 1918 the technology of tanks provided troops with the opportunity to fight with greater flexibility.
  • The principle of holding ground and defending the front line was no longer critical to ultimate victory.
  • At the end of 1916 German tacticians adopted a new approach to the battlefield, but they lacked the man power and the resources to make the most of their innovations.
  • Improved tanks could now advance across trenches and break the static warfare of attrition.
  • At the last stages of the war, airplanes were used to gather vital intelligence information, drop supplies and bomb enemy formations and communications.
  • Superior varieties of shells were devised, carried shrapnel, gas and explosives. Artillery also had greater accuracy.

Home Front

The allied home front had also proved its worth in 1918. After the initial retreat of the spring offensive, with the loss of life and armament, the allied home front responded with new tanks, mortars, shells and guns. By July 1918 the British provided troops with more guns than they had before the spring offensive and battalions were well fed, well supplied and reinforced with tanks.

Collapse of the German Morale

  • Morale crumbled in Germany with home front shortages and years of hardship and realisation of defeat on the western front.
  • After the initial success of operation Michael turned to defeat, the collapse of German morale accelerated further.
  • War weariness and sustained Allied propaganda hit the exhausted German troops.
  • Discipline broke down, desertions increased and hungry soldiers scavenged to supply themselves.
  • The tactics during the spring offensive had cost half a million German lives, and in an attempt to replenish ranks, German boys were recruited.
  • In July, Ludendorff was almost forced to postpone a planned attack on the Western Front because so many of his troops had rapidly fallen ill and died from the Spanish influenza. Germany had had enough of war.

The Allied counter-offensive

  • June 1918, the allied counter offensive began at Belleau Wood
    • This attack held significance as American troops were in the fight.
    • The savage fight at Belleau Wood cost nearly 12 000 lives; with over 3000 being American troops.
  • The new tactics of war were then demonstrated at the Battle of Hamel on 4 July
    • Within two hours, the village of Hamel was captured and over 1000 German prisoners taken.
    • The attack commenced with a surprise bombardment by 600 guns, followed by 60 Mark V tanks that were combined with specially trained infantry.
    • Their location beyond the attack zone provided defence against a German countermove.
    • The lessons learnt and tactics tried at the battle of Hamel became a model for the larger scale allied counterattack that would follow.

Battle of Amiens – very influential

  • On the 8th of August 1918, Germany suffered its ‘black day’ when the allied assault on Amiens finally shattered German resistance.
  • The Battle of Amiens began as a spectacular massed tank operation that was the largest of its kind during WW1.
  • The entire tank fleet of 552 vehicles moved secretly into place.
  • The tank engine noise was drowned out by the sound of 800 aircraft over head.
  • Field guns shielded the Allied infantry, the heavy artillery blasted enemy lines with high explosives and the German forces were outnumbered two to one.
  • The battle began at 20 am. By mid-afternoon, the main fighting was over and the allies had advanced 13 km, capturing 12000 prisoners and over 400 guns.
  • By the end of the third day of the offensive, the allies had taken 24 000 German prisoners and there was a mass surrender.
  • Germany still controlled large areas of French and Belgium territory, useful for striking a bargain at future peace talks.  Allied firepower of 1918 meant that enemy trenches could be taken without terrible loss of life.
  • In 1918 the British gunners of Amiens already knew the location of 95% of the German batteries aimed at them.
  • This technology and the tactics that came from it, was the basis of the allied ‘freeing offensive’ that began in August 1918.

The final offensive

  • The allies gave Germany no rest after its ‘black day’.
  • The supreme allied commander, General Ferdinand Foch, determined to rupture the last German line of defence, gave orders for the allied final offensive to be launched on the 3rd September
  • The allies gained valuable strategic positions from which they could commence their final and decisive breakthrough.
  • Key breakthrough, planned for the 26 September, with the American army driving into Argonne.
  • Within 24 hours of the opening Argonne offensive, the allies had taken 23 000 German prisoners.
  • On 28th September, the British, French and Belgium forces attacked in Flanders and finally, on 29 September, the British fourth and French first armies advanced on the Somme.
  • Collectively this offensive was the largest and most decisive of the entire WWI.
  • The British Fourth Army broke through the powerful Hindenburg line by the end of the first day. à With the fall of the Hindenburg line, Germany was defeated.

The defeat of the central powers

Germany’s allies were collapsing in Greece and Bulgaria as the will of the central powers disintegrated, Ludendorff and Hindenburg advised Kaiser Wilhelm II to arrange a German armistice with President Wilson as facilitator. According to historian Dennis Winter “The war ended as abruptly as it begun”

  • 29th September– Allied forces invade Bulgaria à Bulgaria sued for peace, given armisticeTurkey lost Damascus and Aleppo Allies destroyed army of Ottoman Empire
  • 21st October-Czechoslovaks declared independence  à one week later Yugoslavs à first step into Austria- Hungary separation
  • 27th October– Erich Ludendorff resigned and the German government attempted to reform the constitution in the hope that a more democratic parliamentary regime may obtain more favourable peace terms.
  • 30th October– Turkey capitulated Austria sued for armistice
  • November– mutiny broke out in Germany
  • 9th of November– revolution in berlin à end to the Hollenzollern dynasty with the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm IIà new German republican  government declared (was to end war before allied troops could advance into Germany)
  • 11th November– 5.30am = Allied powers finalised negotiations for an armistice with Germanys newly created civilian government
  1. 11 o’clock = radio broadcasts announced to stop fighting
  2. The allied powers lost more than 5 million soldiers
  3. Central powers lost 3.5 million
  4. The number of civilians killed were almost as terrible as the military statistics

Reasons for the Allied victory and German collapse

  1. The Allied command structure allowed more efficient organisation of resources and the ability to direct a highly coordinated and well prepared counter offense. Ferdinand Foch, as Allied commander, encouraged flexibility, provided unity of purpose and planning. In 1918, the Allied forces showed greater skill and leadership in the coordination of infantry, armour, artillery and aircraft operations. Ludendorff, by contrast, looked for scapegoats (people to blame) and appeared indecisive in the closing months of the war.
  2. Allied factories provided adequate weaponry and more sophisticated technology necessary for breaking the deadlock and maintaining the counter attack. Machine guns provided mobile fire, Tanks protection of troops and aircrafts bombed and strafed behind enemy lines.
  3. Allied nations achieved greater industrial and agricultural output and drew on the vast resources of the British and French empires.
  4. British enjoyed navel supremacy and the allies established a naval blockade that prevented German access to its resources. Germany’s U-boat warfare failed to break the naval blockade.
  5. American alliance provided troop reinforcements at the critical time for the Allies. They provided financial support and strengthened the Allied resources. Germany’s Allies were a burden. Bulgaria, Austria-Hungary and Turkey were not able to break through on any front between 1914 and 1917.

The roles and differing goals of Clemenceau, Lloyd George and Wilson in creating the Treaty of Versailles

  • The aims of the three statesmen soon dominated the conference: Great Britain’s Prime Minister David Lloyd George, Premier George Clemenceau of France and President Woodrow Wilson from the U.S.A.
  • Throughout the process of drafting the Treaty of Versailles, relations between Clemenceau, George and Wilson came close to breaking point.

Woodrow Wilson

  • Depicted as a naive humanitarian- promoting that the treaty offered an opportunity for considered and reasonable peace. Wilson regarded the European leaders as vindictive and self-interested and they regarded him as not a good diplomat.
  • He was naïve in his idealism, but his main aim was ‘make the world safe for democracy’. Was able to get some of his Fourteen Points into the treaty including the League of Nations but failed to gain acceptance in the USA.

Lloyd George

  • Not in favor of imposing a harsh peace upon Germany, but he had just won an election where he had publicly committed to ‘make Germany pay’.
  • Lloyd George feared the Allies had pushed Germany too far. He argued that the terms of the treaty were too severe and would jeopardise the future peace and stability of Europe. The representatives of the German government signed the treaty with great protest.
  • Lloyd George (the PM of coalition gvt 1916-22, previous liberal minister of munitions) was concerned to gain five specific concessions, he wanted:
    • The destruction of the German fleet
    • The destruction of the German colonial empire
    • An increase in British colonial possessions esp. in the Middle East for oil
    • The reestablishment of European trade disrupted by war
    • The prevention of any country, including France, from dominating Europe
    • Therefore he did not support French demands for virtual destruction of Germany as French territorial demands would sow the seeds for future conflicts and desire for revenge


  • Throughout negotiations, Clemenceau (the Premier of France who began his career in 1870) insisted that Germany remained a potential threat and severe measures were justified to ensure German disbarment and the future security of France.
  • Clemenceau held Germany responsible for devastating his country and killing 1.4 million French soldiers.
  • He resented American attempts to dictate terms for Britain and France’s settlement with Germany à Wilson’s nation had not suffered as France had.
  • Clemenceau demanded revenge and reparations.


  • The ‘Big Three’ who dominated the work of the peace conference lacked common goals and unity of purpose.
  • In a climate of distrust, it was not possible to shape a settlement that would have the chance to “end all wars”.
  • Despite the division, the Treaty of Versailles did make provision for the setting up of the League of Nations. The European press, politicians and public supported Wilson’s idea. In April, 1919, the peace settlement delegates unanimously accepted the principles underlying the League.
  • The League was then assigned the responsibility of administrating many of the peace treaty provisions.
  • May 7, 1919, the German delegation received the terms of the treaty. Germany had expected peace based on President Wilsons 14 points but was forced instead into signing a treaty it regarded as diktat-regarded as a punishment on Germany.

Germany signed the treaty of Versailles on the 28th June 1919. 5 years to the day since the assassination of Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo.

  Wilson Lloyd George Clemenceau
  • Good internationalist vision.
  • Limited appreciation of the complexity of European disputes and boarder issues
  • Regarded the European leaders at vindictive and self-interested.
  • Naïve in his idealism but his main aim was “make the world safe for democracy”
  • Shared some of Wilson’s farsighted concerns, but also influenced by his purpose to appease the home front.
  • Regarded Wilson as not a good diplomat.
  • Fierce French patriot
  • Sought revenge for WW1 and Prussian invasion of 1871.
  • Regarded Wilson as not a good diplomat.
War Influence
  • ‘Winning’ the war for the Allies gave Wilson enormous influence
  • US was enriched
  • 114,095 lives lost
  • 762,213 lives lost
  • War pensions were an enormous cost.
  • War ruined British economy
  • 1,358,000 lives lost.
  • War pensions were an enormous cost
  • The War had destroyed factories, farmland and forests.
Home Front Influence
  • Republicans were winning recent Congressional elections – no strong support.
  • Isolationism undermined his own internationalism
  • End of 1918, Lloyd George won the election.
  • PM of the Coalition government
  • He was previously the Minister of Munitions
  • ‘Make Germany Pay’
  • Premier of France
  • He began his career in 1870 (lived through the Franco-Prussian War and WW1)
  • France had suffered more than Britain and there was even stronger pressure to punish and weaken Germany.
  • US not under threat
  • Agreed to return of Alsace and Lorraine
  • Opposed to a separate Rhineland, which was ethnically German
  • Wilson offered France a security guarantee –> not ratified by the US congress.
  • Felt the League of Nations would safeguard all nations against aggression.
  • Lloyd George was concerned to gain 5 specific concessions
  • He wanted the destruction of the German fleet, the destruction of German colonial power, he wanted an increase in British colonial possessions – especially in the middle east for oil, he wanted the re-establishment of European trade disrupted by the War and he wanted prevention of any country including France from dominating Europe.
  • He did not support French demands for virtual destruction of Germany, French territorial demands would sew the seeds for future conflict if allowed.
  • Once the German Navy was destroyed the British had little to fear from Germany.
  • With a higher population, birth rate and economic potential, Germany was a long-term threat to France.
  • Clemenceau sought to weaken Germany by setting up the Rhineland border region as a separate state.
  • Blocked in this goal, he was forced to accept: The demilitarisation and Allied occupation of the Rhineland. A US and British guarantee of French borders.
  • When the latter was not ratified by the US Congress, France was largely left to defend itself.
Nationalism and Internationalism
  • It was also difficult to impartially apply notions like ‘a just peace’ or ‘self-determination’ (a country is independent)  in drawing up borders.
  • Gave way to Britain and France on many matters.
  • Insisted on the established of the League of Nations
  • Was able to get some of his 14 Points into the treaties – including the League of Nations, but failed to gain acceptance in the USA.
  • In carving up Germany and Turkey’s former colonies between them, Britain and France were largely following their own nationalist interest.
  • Britain had some interest in the League of Nations, but was unwilling or unable to back it with the resources that the US could have applied.
  • New borders in Europe were seen as a way of weakening Germany, creating new French allies or building a buffer zone between communist Russia and the rest of Europe.
  • There was limited interest in the League of Nations unless it could be used to guarantee French security.
  • Germany should pay reparations according to its ‘capacity to pay’.
  • Sought reparations from Germany, partly in order to pay US war loans
  • Demanded reparations to cover war damage, pensions and debt.
  • Reparations were also designed to

Treaty of Versailles

Germany and the Treaty of Versailles

Naval and Military terms for Germany
  • No submarines or air force.
  • All 14 submarine cables surrendered
  • Rhineland to be demilitarised
  • Limit of 6 battleships, 6 light cruisers, 12 destroyers and 12 torpedo boats
  • All of strictly limited tonnage
  • Maximum of 1500 officers and warrant officers
  • All members of armed forces volunteers
  • Fortifications and harbour works at Heliograd to be demolished
  • Kiel canal to have some status under international law as the Suez and Panama canal
  • Volunteer army of 100 000 with 12 year contracts
  • No raw materials to be made or traded
Economic Terms and Reparations
  • Clause 231 blamed only Germany for the war and this justified the Allies seeking compensation
  • Germany had to pay for all civilian damage, 132 milliard by May 1921 – an amount they could never afford to pay
  • The first payment was set at a US 5 billion dollars and the final amount was not set
  • German economic rights in china, morocco and Egypt were forfeited
  • Railway stock and large amounts of shipping were confiscated and ordered to build 1 million tonnes of shipping for the allies
  • Germany was to hand over her Saar coalfields to France for 15 years
  • Huge quantities of raw materials were to be given to the Allies.
  • Germany did not have the capacity to pay the sum demanded, it had no chance of borrowing from o/seas and on top of this, Germany economy was ravaged from the effects of the war
Territorial Terms
  • Clemenceau wanted Alsace and Lorraine, thus they were returned to France
  • Anschluss was forbidden and this agreement with Austria and Germany was broken to take away German’s ally
  • Sudeten land and 3 million Germans from the old Austro-Hungarian empire were given to the new state of Czechoslovakia a territory which was necessary for Germany’s defence
  • Large parts of Prussia were handed over to Poland- this included 23% of German coal, 80% of zinc and majority of iron. –> loss of German resources
  • The German Rhineland was to be occupied for 15 years by the Allies
  • Some German territory given to Belgium

Treaty of Versailles Evaluation

  • Too harsh
  • Didn’t create a feeling of peace, security, serenity
  • The treaty of Versailles failed to create a stable and permanent peace in Europe.
  • It did not eradicate the problems that had led to the outbreak of WWI
  • The treaty intimidated Germany without sufficiently weakening its power and therefore, in this sense, the treaty was not harsh enough in that it was not able to repress the future political upheaval that led to the rise of Hitler
  • Although the reparations were excessively high, they were not paid, they were unrealistic and only served to cause further resentment among the Germans.
  • It was not fair to label Germany as solely responsible for the war as this was a radical distortion of the origins of war which involved not only Germany but all major powers
  • The allies did not base the Treaty of Versailles entirely on Wilson’s 14 Points, which made Germany complain
  • A fairer treaty would almost certainly have been devised if the peacemakers had waited for hostilities to quieten à the treaty was too close to the events!

The League of Nations

  • Woodrow Wilson’s idea of a new World Order, was the basis of the peace keeping organisation known as the League of Nations, the preface to the United Nations.
  • This General Association embodied some of Wilson’s Fourteen Points
  • He hoped that this international framework would allow nations to settle their differences peacefully, it was to be the epitome of internationalism
  • The ultimate irony of the league’s story was that Germany wasn’t invited and the USA didn’t join.
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