Information

Central Powers face rebellion on the home front


As the First World War draws to a close, angry rebels in both Germany and Austria-Hungary revolt on November 3, 1918, raising the red banner of the revolutionary socialist Communist Party and threatening to follow the Russian example in bringing down their imperialist governments.

By the last week of October 1918, three of the Central Powers—Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire—were in talks with the Allies about reaching an armistice, while the fourth, Bulgaria, had concluded one in September. On October 28, 1,000 sailors in the German navy were arrested after refusing to follow orders from their commanders to launch a last-ditch attack against the British in the North Sea. After immobilizing the German fleet, the resistance soon spread to the German city of Kiel, where on November 3 some 3,000 sailors and workers raised the red flag of communism. The governor of Kiel, Admiral Wilhelm Souchon, called on naval officers loyal to the government to suppress the revolt; eight rebels were killed, but the general resistance continued.

Meanwhile, revolution was breaking out in Vienna as well as in Budapest, where the former Hungarian prime minister, Count Istvan Tisza, was assassinated on October 31 by members of the communist-led Red Guard. With its empire in shambles, the Austro-Hungarian government secured an armistice with the Allied powers on November 3, ending its participation in World War I. That same day in Moscow, at a mass rally in support of the Austrian rebels, the communist leader Vladimir Lenin declared triumphantly: “The time is near when the first day of the world revolution will be celebrated everywhere.”

Watch World War I documentaries on HISTORY Vault


War and Revolution in Russia 1914 - 1921

Russia signalled her withdrawal from World War One soon after the October Revolution of 1917, and the country turned in on itself with a bloody civil war between the Bolsheviks and the conservative White Guard. Jonathan Smele charts this turbulent episode in the forging of post-tsarist Russia.


'Titanic' sinks with the loss of 1,503 lives

The White Star liner 'Titanic' was the largest vessel in the world at the time of her launch. Her builders and owners claimed that she was 'practically unsinkable', but on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York she collided with an iceberg and sank within hours, with the loss of 1,503 lives. 'Titanic' could carry over 3,500 people, but was equipped with only enough lifeboats to save 1,178, a fact that contributed to the massive loss of life.


WWI Centennial: Central Powers In Collapse

The surprise attack by the British Army on August 8, 1918, rued by German chief strategist Erich Ludendorff as “the black day of the Germany Army,” inaugurated a relentless series of blows by Allied armies, including a wide British advance from Flanders to the Somme as well as the American liberation of the St. Mihiel salient to the east. At first Ludendorff still clung to the hope that Germany might use occupied territory in Belgium and northern France as a bargaining chip for a negotiated peace—until a series of climactic events between September 26 and October 1, 1918 left no doubt that Germany and the other Central Powers were now truly in the midst of final, catastrophic collapse.

BREAKTHROUGH ON THE WESTERN FRONT

After months of preparation, on September 26, 1918 Allied commander-in-chief Ferdinand Foch unleashed the biggest coordinated strategic offensive of the war—and human history to that date—on the Western Front, sending Allied troops into action all along the line from the North Sea coast to Verdun, in many places against the heavily fortified Hindenburg Line. All told, the final offensive on the Western Front pitted Allied armies with a total strength of around 5 million men—including 1.7 million French, 1.5 million British, 1.2 million American, and 150,000 Belgian soldiers, although not all these forces were deployed at once—against about half that number of German defenders.

In the north, Foch had formed a new Flanders Army Group commanded by King Albert of Belgium, composed of the Belgian Army, the French Sixth Army, and the British Second Army, which would attack on both sides of Ypres. To the south, the rest of the British Expeditionary Force would launch an all-out push stretching from Lille to the Somme. To the southeast, the French Army would follow up the victories of July and August with an attack from the Somme to Champagne, and the American First Army would launch the eastern end offensive with its biggest action of the war so far, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

Erik Sass

The carefully staged offensive would unfold in several phases, with the Americans attacking first in the Meuse-Argonne region on September 26, followed by the British First and Third Armies attacking together towards Cambrai, scene of the short-lived Allied victory in November 1917, on September 27. Next, the Flanders Army Group would pounce on September 28, and finally, the British Fourth Army and French First Army would attack along the Somme on September 29. All these actions would see infantry assaults closely coordinated with artillery, air power, and tanks, showcasing the “combined arms” tactics that came to dominate 20th century warfare.

As usual, the Allies tried to enforce strict secrecy about the timing and location of the offensive, meaning hundreds of thousands of troops had to endure night marches to conceal their movements from enemy airplanes. William Bell, a British officer in charge of scavenging war materiel, wrote in his diary on September 26:

“It was a long time before I got accustomed to the noise of the traffic last night for the sound of steady tramping of men, of the erratic purring of the motor-lorries, and of the clatter of the horses and mules, continued far into the night. And the traffic was still pouring northward in a never-ending torrent when I first became conscious this morning.”

AMERICANS LAUNCH MEUSE-ARGONNE OFFENSIVE

The general offensive kicked off with the Franco-American assault in the Meuse-Argonne on September 26, 1918, which helped tie down German reserves, setting the stage for the British, Belgian, and French attacks further west. Although the Meuse-Argonne Offensive was a decisive victory for the Allies, it came at a very heavy cost in American blood, with 26,277 U.S. soldiers killed by the end of the battle on November 11. That makes it the bloodiest campaign U.S. history, prompting some contemporary observers and historians to criticize the American Expeditionary Force commander, John “Black Jack” Pershing, for being reckless with American lives in order to prove American fighting mettle to the Allies.

In fact, the Americans suffered from a number of handicaps. Because the Allies had agreed to prioritize transportation of American combat troops across the Atlantic, Pershing lacked the large staff needed to coordinate the movement of large numbers of troops, guns, and supplies. Unfortunately, Foch’s plan for the general offensive required the American First Army, numbering around 600,000 men, to move from the newly liberated St. Mihiel salient 60 miles west for the Argonne attack in just one week, resulting in widespread confusion and delays (once again, Pershing had agreed to rush the offensive to placate the Allies).

As always, conditions were miserable as well as dangerous, with unending rain and mud the commonest complaints of American soldiers during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. John Miller, an army dentist and medical officer wrote home:

“In all this time you live outdoors in all kinds of weather, and sometimes you get so damned wet and cold and miserable you wonder if anyone ever was warm enough to be comfortable and had enough to eat. You never build a fire because in the daytime the Germans would see the smoke and at night they’d see the light. And then Fritz comes over about every night in his bombing machines and drops bombs around in among your pup tents. You should hear those things land! When they strike a building there is just a cloud of dust and when that clears away there is just a big hole in the ground where the building was.”

The Americans enjoyed the advantage of thousands of trucks and other motor vehicles, but these presented issues of their own, including massive fuel consumption and inevitable breakdowns. Heber Blankenhorn, an American propaganda officer, described the huge nighttime movements in preparation for the attack, as well as large numbers of mechanical casualties, on September 24:

“By day the roads are pretty vacant and my car roared along unhampered. But by night there begins a tremendous flow of iron along the arteries of this front. Guns and shell trucks, tractors, horses dragging metal things, and the men bearing iron arms fill the roads and “proceed up.” By day the road is clear again, the only evidence of its night travail being wheels, broken gear, and every little while entire smashed trucks shoved into the ditch—casualties of the night.”

The Americans faced other problems, some of their own making. Pershing had just used his best divisions in the St. Mihiel Offensive, meaning the forces available for the Argonne offensive were inexperienced or tired. American divisions, roughly twice the size of European divisions, maneuvered awkwardly both behind the lines and in battle, with supply of food and fuel presenting special difficulties. The Americans also relied heavily on new communications technology, including telephones, telegraph, and wireless radio—by the end of the war the AEF’s network had grown to more than 100,000 miles of telephone and telegraph wire—but this proved vulnerable to enemy fire. U.S. forces were still mastering the art of battlefield signaling with flares, heliographs, and other traditional means. As a result, American units often became mixed up on the battlefield (click for archival footage of U.S. forces in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive).

On the plus side, however, the Americans were relatively well supplied with artillery and ammunition, including 700 tanks, by the French and British, thanks to Foch and the French commander Philippe Petain. With this huge numerical and material superiority, Pershing was confident his doughboys and devil dogs, armed with American fighting spirit, could break through the enemy’s strong sequential lines of defense, albeit with heavy casualties.

“IT CANNOT BE DESCRIBED, IT CAN ONLY BE FELT”

The battle opened at 2:30 a.m. on September 26, 1918 with another record-breaking barrage: 2417 guns fired 4 million shells over the course of the battle. One American soldier remembered the opening bombardment:

“We had two hours to wait. It was cold and damp, and I hugged the ground to keep from shivering. We were tired to the bone, but we could not sleep. Indeed, who wanted to sleep in such a scene as that. It cannot be described, it can only be felt. The big guns behind us were booming and lighting up the sky with their flashes, and the Boche was answering back, and we could hear the great missiles of death singing out over our heads in a multitude of monotones. Just before dawn the lesser guns opened up like the barking of many dogs, and then the whole world was filled as if with the noise of great machinery grinding out death.”

As Lieutenant Francis “Bud” Bradford remembered, “by 2 a.m. we were ready. A half hour’s tense wait. At 2:30 the barrage cut loose. For three hours a solid sheet of flame lit up all behind us. O God, O God, the poor devils on the other end.”

At 5:55 a.m. the first wave of men from nine American divisions went over the top, and made swift progress against scant opposition at first, as the Germans had wisely abandoned their frontline trenches. Resistance began to stiffen after the first several miles, however, including “strong points” consisting of heavily fortified machine gun nests in concrete emplacements. Subsequent waves of Americans followed. Bradford remembered their turn:

“At 8:30 we went over, a link in the grand attack. Another battalion was in the lead. About 10 the first morning, prisoners commenced to come in. They were an inspiring sight, to say the least. Shells were breaking through us, and every now and then machine guns flattened us to the ground, but we kept on without losses until the evening of the first day. We were lying in what had once been a town when five Boche planes swooped over us and dropped bombs into the company, killing two men and wounding a third.”

U.S. Marine Corps, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

After a rapid initial advance, however, disorganization and lack of experience began to take a toll, as American units became hopelessly jumbled. One officer lamented, “The failure of liaison and all mechanical means of communication cost the lives of many brave men in the front lines in the course of the battle.” He recalled:

“Whole battalions, led by commanders with a poor sense of direction, wandered from their proper line of advance, sometimes to bring up in another division’s sector or to find themselves moving southward. Battalions lost their companies and platoons escaped from their companies … Many platoons went their own way the entire forenoon without having seen another American unit or without having any sort of idea where they were. The constant effort to seek contact with the flanks of adjacent units became a more engrossing occupation even than dealing with the enemy.”

The consequences were deadly, according to the same observer, who witnessed an entire battalion mowed down while advancing against enemy trenches that were still intact:

“From every direction, German machine-gun fire assaulted them. Many of them crumbled at once. The second wave—which included me—lay waiting to follow them, horrified by their dying screams … The next few minutes were among the worst of the war for me as we lay helpless to aid, listening to our friends being torn to pieces by gunfire.”

U.S. Army Signal Corps, National Archives and Records Administration, U.S. Army Reserve // Public Domain

Unfortunately, during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the Americans’ eagerness to prove themselves resulted in mistakes that cost the lives of Allied troops as well (above, American troops from the 77 th Division resting on October 15, 1918 during the continuing offensive). W.H. Downing, an Australian soldier, angrily recalled their surprise at discovering that the Americans preceding them had actually advanced too far ahead, leaving the Germans to reoccupy trenches again behind them:

“Two of its companies, finding no one at the place where they expected to ‘leap-frog’ the Americans, went on, thinking the latter to be a little farther ahead … They had walked into a trap. The Germans had waited until they were inside, and had closed the exits. But they found that entrapping Australians was like shutting their hand on a thistle. Nevertheless, by the time our men had cut their way out, they had lost two-thirds of their number, and this was before their part in the battle had begun. At length, pushing through the desultory fire, we entered Bellicourt. It was full of Americans. What had occurred was now apparent. Following the custom of most troops with more spirit than experience, they had gone as far as their feet would take them, and in their impetuous haste had neglected either to throw bombs down the dugouts or to capture their occupants. Consequently, the enemy came out of the earth and cut them off.”

Despite these setbacks the Americans made steady progress, paying for every yard they advanced with blood. Bradford recalled hard, uneven fighting in the days to come:

“For two days we chased the Germans across five miles of devastated territory, through rain and mud and hunger. Now we moved steadily forward, now we were held up, now we were exploring enemy works, now digging in against counterattack. The evening of the second day the battle lagged. Our artillery could not keep pace with us. The resistance was stiffening.”

At the same time, Americans were fighting in spots all along the Western Front, with U.S. divisions fighting alongside European comrades in the French Army and British Expeditionary Force as the Allied attack unfolded along hundreds of miles of no man’s land, piercing the legendary Hindenburg Line in multiple places (more archival footage of American forces in action here). Everywhere the devastation of war left an indelible impression on Americans, many still relatively new to the conflict’s horrors. In the west, Kenneth Gow, an American soldier, recalled advancing behind the retreating Germans near the Somme battlefield in a letter home:

“The country is wrecked. Once beautiful cities are just heaps of brick and debris, not a living thing to be seen, even the trees all shot off, leaving nothing but stumps, which look like ghosts in the moonlight. The graveyards are turned upside down by terrific shell-fire. The ground is covered with all the signs of a great battle—smashed guns of every calibre, wrecked tanks, dead horses, and here and there a dead Boche overlooked by the burying parties.”

To the north, Guy Bowerman Jr., an American volunteer ambulance driver, described the spectacular scene of battle surrounding Ypres in the pre-dawn hours of the combined multinational assault by Belgian, French, British (and American troops on September 28, 1918:

“The country is perfectly flat and as we were stopped in the center of a semi-circle of trenches we could see clearly what was perhaps the most awe-inspiring and splendid spectacle which we shall ever be privileged to see. “Arrives” and “departs” red, white, and green star shells shooting at all angles across the blue-gray horizon a munition dump burning with a huge dull red glow which was reflected in a patch of high-hung pinkish dawn clouds, and all these [kaleidoscopic] colors blazing forth among a terrible, soul-shivering roar as the thousand guns sent their shells screeching towards the lines where they fell with a terrifying sickening ‘crump’ burning a bright hole in the night, and added their smoke to the haze which made the rising sun blood red. We were rudely awakened from our trance (for such sights as these have rare hypnotic power) by a shell which came screaming towards us and as we threw ourselves flat exploded nearby sending a shower of dirt and small stones upon us.”

“The terrain is without doubt the most desolate, God-forsaken portion of this Earth. A veritable no man’s land 15 miles wide filled with shell holes, water, blackened tree stumps, and demolished concrete blockhouses. Across this waste there is but one path—a sickening pretense of a road which winds its shell-holed, muddy, splashy way past caved-in trenches, water-filled gun emplacements, and huge mine holes which resemble volcanic lakes.”

As shocking as the experience of battle was for American troops, the Allied onslaught was even more demoralizing for German soldiers and civilians, leaving no doubt that Germany was staring defeat in the face. However, social coercion and the threat of punishment would keep the machinery of war going for a few more weeks. Evelyn, Princess Blücher, an Englishwoman married to a German aristocrat, wrote in her diary during a visit to Munich on September 29, 1918:

“Today I noticed an especially scared look on the faces of those around me, and on my inquiring what had happened they told me that the Allied troops have made another combined offensive and have managed in places to break through the Hindenburg line … And yet, with ruin starting at them on all sides, there are still people here who continue to protest that everything stands well, and that anyone who spreads a report to the contrary will be punished with five years’ imprisonment with hard labor.”

BULGARIA ASKS FOR PEACE

The massive, coordinated Allied offensive on the Western Front was just one of several crippling blows against the Central Powers during the pivotal days of late September and early October. In a surprising development, one of the most crushing defeats came in the long-neglected Balkan front, in the Macedonian mountains north of the Greek city of Salonika, where a combined Allied attack resulted in the collapse of the threadbare Bulgarian Army and Bulgaria suing for peace terms.

Erik Sass

Following the disastrous fire that destroyed most of Salonika in August 1917, the Allies repaired port facilities and supply lines while French commander Franchet d’Espèrey carefully conserved his manpower, benefiting from Greece’s entry into the war on the Allied side. By September 1918 d’Espèrey’s multinational Army of the Orient included six French divisions, six Serbian divisions, four British divisions, nine Greek divisions, and one Italian division. The beleaguered Bulgarians, who had never really recovered from the disastrous Second Balkan War, were further depleted by demands from Germany and Austria-Hungary to carry out garrison duty in conquered enemy territories like Serbia, Albania, and Romania.

Beginning on September 15, 1918, 700,000 Allied troops mounted a concerted offensive in Macedonia ranging from Monastir to the Vardar River Valley, followed by a combined British, Serbian, and Greek attack that captured Lake Doiran on September 17 and 18. A last-minute plan by German and Bulgarian commanders to stage a withdrawal and surprise counterattack against the Allies quickly unraveled, as the withdrawing Bulgarian and German forces refused to stop retreating and fight, turning the feint into a rout.

On September 24, 1918 the Bulgarians officially asked for an armistice, followed by another request on September 26. But they were rebuffed by d’Espèrey, who was determined to liberate Serbian land by arms and hold Bulgarian territory as insurance for good behavior. Finally, d’Espèrey signed an armistice declaration on September 29, as Allied forces led by French cavalry occupied Uskub (today Skopje, the capital of Macedonia) close on the heels of the retreating Bulgarians and Germans. One French cavalry officer recalled the chaotic scenes in the multiethnic, multilingual city:

“There were clouds, however, which did not follow the rising fog. They were smoke clouds caused by fires burning in the city’s Turkish district, in the Greek district, in the Serbian, and even in the Bulgarian district … Cypresses, set ablaze by the flames from nearby houses, were burning like giant torches. Ammunition dumps were exploding, shooting up huge red and black flames. The railroad station was aflame too. As expected, our attack fully surprised the enemy, whose troops were retreating in disorder and kept shooting in a haphazard manner from the northern and western ridges.”

Despite the violence and destruction, the city’s Serbian inhabitants were glad to see the Allied liberators:

“The city’s leader met us at the entrance, behind a white flag and accompanied by French and Italian soldiers. The latter had escaped from Bulgarian prisoner camps, and had been hidden and fed by the local population. Both the Serbian notables and the soldiers were shouting enthusiastically. The population’s emotion was deeply moving the women kept kissing our hands while crying with joy.”

Bulgaria’s imminent surrender struck a dire blow to the Central Powers’ strategic position. The small Balkan kingdom had long been the only geographic corridor connecting Germany and Austria-Hungary in Central Europe with the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East. With Bulgaria out of the game, it would become much more difficult for Germany to continue supplying the Turks with war materiel—just as the Allies finally threatened to penetrate the Turkish homeland in Anatolia.

ARABS LIBERATE DAMASCUS

The British and Arab victory at Megiddo, when British cavalry from the Egyptian Expeditionary Force and camel-mounted warriors from the rebel Arab Army encircled and destroyed the remaining Turkish armies in Palestine, left the way open to Damascus, the legendary capital of medieval Muslim caliphates. The British, recent conquerors of Baghdad, Gaza, and Jerusalem, hoped to add another ancient entrepot to their list of conquests—but for political reasons they allowed irregular forces loyal to the Arab Army commander Prince Feisal and his advisor, the pro-Arab British intelligence officer T.E. Lawrence, the honor of liberating the city.

With the remnants of Turkish forces in Palestine beating a hasty retreat north, Arab rebels in the city raised the flag of the “independent Syria” as British cavalry entered Damascus on October 1, 1918, putting the Allies within striking distance of the Turkish homeland in Anatolia. The fall of the fabled city was yet another heavy symbolic blow to the Central Powers, making it clear that the Ottoman Empire, too, was on its last legs (though perhaps not as badly off as Austria-Hungary, already in the advanced stages of disintegration).

There was no government in the liberated city, which also still held around 15,000 Turkish and German soldiers who had deserted, or were too wounded or ill to move and were left behind in the retreat, making the city a dangerous, chaotic place. Lawrence described the spectacular scenes that greeted him as he approached the newly liberated city on October 1, 1918:

“As the Germans left Damascus they fired at the dumps and ammunition stores, so that every few minutes we were jangled by explosions, whose first shock set the sky white with flame. At each such roar the Earth seemed to shake we would lift our eyes to the north and see the pale sky prick out suddenly in sheaves of yellow points, as the shells thrown to terrific heights from each bursting magazine, in their turn burst like clustered rockets. I turned to Stirling and muttered ‘Damascus is burning,’ sick to think of the great town in ashes as the price of freedom.”

Fortunately, the damage inflicted by the retreating Turks and Germans on the historic city was far less than they feared:

“When dawn came we drove to the head of the ridge, which stood over the oasis of the city, afraid to look north for the ruins we expected. But, instead of ruins, the silent gardens stood blurred green with river mist, in whose setting shimmered the city, beautiful as ever, like a pearl in the morning sun … A galloping horseman checked at our head-cloths in the car, with a merry salutation, holding out a bunch of yellow grapes. ‘Good news! Damascus salutes you.’”


Central Powers

The Allies described the wartime military alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire as the 'Central Powers'. The name referred to the geographical location of the two original members of the alliance, Germany and Austria-Hungary, in central Europe. The Ottoman Empire joined the alliance in November 1914 and the last member of the quartet, the Kingdom of Bulgaria, entered the war on the side of the Central Powers in October 1915.

As well as providing the alliance with its name, the geographical position of the German and Austro-Hungarian empires also gave the Central Powers at least one very important strategic advantage over the Allies they were fighting. It was much easier for the Germans and Austro-Hungarians to move troops, equipment and supplies from one battle front to another because they could do much of this on their domestic railway networks.

For example, the Germans could move 10 infantry divisions from the Eastern Front to the Western Front via a relatively straightforward journey across Germany. It was no more difficult for the Austro-Hungarians to move five infantry divisions from the Eastern Front to the Italian Front, or to the Salonika Front in the Balkans.

Compare this situation with the difficulties faced by the Allies in moving men, equipment and supplies from one battle front to another. This usually involved long circuitous routes across or around multiple countries, each with different rail networks and logistical procedures. It was also likely to require transport by sea, which posed its own set of risks, notably from German and Austrian submarines. So while it could take two or three weeks to transport a British Army unit and its equipment from the United Kingdom to the Salonika Front, the Austro-Hungarians, and the Germans if need be, could move reinforcements there in less than a week.

The military term for this strategic advantage of the Central Powers is 'operating on interior lines'. It was used to most dramatic effect in early 1918, when the rapid transfer of large numbers of German divisions from the Eastern Front to the Western Front enabled the great German spring offensive in the west.


The Central Powers win the First World War

Depends on when you consider the point of victory and divergence.

1914: Germany would probably have gained more French territory, though it would be likely that a similar outcome to the Franco-Prussian war would have happened. Britain would have a bloody nose, but would likely be the overall global victor, as her finances would have been secured and the empire would not be rocked. All the major empires would probably remain intact, though Austria-Hungary would likely face significant ethnic tension, and the Russian crisis merely delayed by five to ten years.

1915/16: Unless the German High Seas fleet smashed the Royal Navy, you would be looking at increased political instability across Europe. A bleeding white of the French at Verdun may well have led to a total collapse of the French military and even the French state, leading to possibly a socialist or communist France. Britain would be financially drained, militarily weakened, and globally taken down a peg, though still in a far stronger position than IRL. The Americans would probably be the biggest losers financially, as their financial backing of the Allies sank a ton of money into the war effort. Russia, Austria, and Turkey would all face ethnic and pent up political problems come the end of the war.

All the above assume that a victory of the central powers in less than two years does not result in the treaty of Brest-Litosk or Ottoman capture of Egypt.

1917/18 (no American direct military involvement): Britain ends the war in hock to the tune of billions, militarily broken, and hamstrung in Ireland. America looses a significant among of capital, almost breaking the American banking system. There would be a run on the banks, a flight of general capital, and depending on the amount of reparations demanded by the victorious powers an inability by Britain, France, or Russia to repay those debts. Hyper inflation, a break down in colonial power/prestige, and probable socialist/communist unrest in all countries bar German.

Russia, Austria, the Ottoman Empire, and France would all be wracked by significant ethnic and social unrest, to the point that all of them fragment either politically or structurally. America would retreat further into isolationism, with no war money coming in to fuel the roaring 20's. The biggest winners of the war would be German and Japan, as the Japanese would have the political freedom to manoeuvre in the Pacific without intrinsic outside scrutiny.

If the German High Seas fleet had smashed the Royal Navy and assumed hegemony over the North Sea, you could well have seen a reverse blockade on the UK without the need to involve the U-Boats. This would have lead to serious shortages in Britain, fuelling both social unrest and amping up the flu epidemic that swept across the world in 1918/19/20.

1917/18/19/20: (American military involvement): Probably as above, but with the war dragging on two or more years longer than it did IRL. If America lost the war militarily it may have seen a complete collapse of Wilsonian ideals, even beyond that which happened in the 1920's. The flu epidemic would have been amplified may times over, and you may have seen a winnowing of the young generations fighting on the Western Front far beyond that which occurred IRL.

Politically I think all nations fighting a protracted Great War would have suffered structural breakdowns, though paradoxically the longer the war dragged on, the more likely it would be that paternalistic military figures would come to the fore to ensure a victory for their side, much like what happened in German in 1917/18.

The map you posted would be unlikely, as while it may work well in theory, in practice any European war that lasted for longer than a year would have broken Austria, Russia, the Ottomans, and even France. IRL America came out on top because she financed the allies war efforts, and entered the war to protect that investment. In a Central Powers victorious scenario a lengthen war would ultimately cost the USA the most, as their gamble on the winning side would be wrong.

Would this map prevent a second round of combat 20 years later? Probably not. The revanchism entrenched in French society after the 1871 Franco-Prussian war would have been heightened to new levels, possibly opening up the door to a Fascist France is the economic situation proved weak enough, most likely similar to Mussolini and Franco than Hitler. Russia may well have come out of the war a liberal or centre right constitutional nation had the Germans not sent back the Lenin, and an early defeat may well have opened up the door to the Tsar bringing in reforms. Austria was always going to struggle to keep her empire intact, and even in victory the likelihood is that by 1920 the Empire would most likely become a confederation of independent states ruled by the Hapsburgs in a model similar to the Austria-Hungary settlement of the 1860's under Metternik. The Ottomans may have gained Egypt in a protracted war, but even if the Western front was lost, the British would still able to bushwhack the Turks in the near East, so I would argue unless something catastrophic happened to the British army, the Ottomans would still collapse like they did IRL.

1914: The Schlieffen Plan works, Paris falls within two months, and a swift central powers victory stems the horrors of the Great War, yet stokes decades of French Revanchism.

1915: One of the German big pushes achieves a breakthrough, and ends the war as per the above. This is the last point were the Edwardian world could be salvaged mostly intact.

1916: 1)Verdun succeeds, the French army mutinies en mass, and France is forced to sue for peace.

2) The battle of Jutland is a overwhelming decisive victory for the Germans, smashing the Royal Navy, and effectively ending the blockade.

1917: The U-Boats starve Britain into a negotiated peace. 1918: The early 1918 offensives achieve their objectives, and Germany is able to get a negotiated peace.

1919+: Depends on if Russia is knocked out of the war, but if so Germany is able to use Russian resources to restock, retool, and resupply.


Between Peace and War

War had erupted, with Austria-Hungary and Germany on one side and Russia and France on the other. German war plans, drawn up long before the conflict, called for quickly defeating France with a rapid attack so that it could then turn its full attention to fighting Russia. The quickest way to attack France was to march through Belgium, even though it was a neutral country that Britain had vowed to defend. The invasion of Belgium by German troops, which caused substantial destruction and many civilian casualties, prompted Britain to join the war on the side of Russia and France. Full-scale European war was now under way. Countries allied with Germany and Austria were known as the Central powers. Those who supported Serbia, Russia, France, and Britain were called the Allies. On August 23, 1915, Japan joined the Allies. That same year, the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) joined the Central powers, while Italy (which had previously supported Germany) now backed the Allies.

As world leaders were choosing sides, a few individuals and groups in almost every nation had been trying desperately to stop the momentum toward war. On July 28, 1914, the German Social Democratic Party, then the largest political party in the world, held a huge public meeting that ended with cries of “Down with war! Long live world peace and the brotherhood of the working class!” Over the next few days, there were more rallies for peace. Then the news came that Germany had declared war. Almost instantly, the demonstrations came to a halt, and party leaders issued the following statement:

We are face to face with destiny. The consequences of imperialistic policies, which ushered in an era of competitive war preparation and which roused the antagonistic elements of various peoples, are crashing over Europe like a tidal wave. The responsibility for this disaster lies with the supporters of these policies we are not responsible. Social Democracy has done everything in its power to fight this disastrous development and has worked to the very last minute to uphold peace by organizing powerful demonstrations in all countries, especially in close cooperation with our French comrades. Our efforts have been in vain.

Now we face the inexorable fact of war. The horror of hostile invasion threatens us. Today it is not for us to decide for or against war rather we must decide which means are necessary for the defense of our country. Now we must think of the millions of our fellow countrymen who are drawn into this disaster through no fault of their own. It is they who will suffer the most from the horrors of war. Our most heart-felt wishes go out to all these, irrespective of party, who have been called to arms. We also remember the mothers who must give up their sons, the women and children robbed of their providers. For them, fear for their loved ones is combined with the threat of hunger. And this army of women and children will soon be joined by tens of thousands of wounded and crippled soldiers. To help all of them, to improve their fate, to erase their inestimable suffering—we consider this our urgent duty. 1

Now thousands of Germans gathered in the streets not to protest the war but to show their support for it. Ernst Toller, a young German socialist, was studying abroad when war was declared. He immediately headed back to Germany on the last train to leave France before the borders closed. He later recalled that when the train made its first stop in Germany, he and other passengers received photos of the kaiser inscribed with the words “I recognize no parties only Germany.” Toller marveled, “The Kaiser recognized no parties there it was in black and white all factions were to be united everybody spoke one language everybody defended one mother: Germany.” 2

As a Jew, Toller had experienced discrimination as a socialist, he was against war and yet he enlisted in the army as soon as he crossed the border into Germany. He wasn’t alone more than 100,000 Jews fought in the German army during World War I. In fact, Jews were represented in every army involved in the conflict. The same was true of other religious minorities.

As subjects of the British Empire, thousands of men from Ireland, Canada, India, and Australia joined the Allied armies. Even though Britain was in the midst of a crisis over Irish demands for “home rule”—the right to self-government—thousands of Irishmen enlisted in the British army. When asked in 1916 why he had volunteered, Captain Bellenden S. Hutcheson, a young Canadian physician, replied:

In the first place, I was in great sympathy with the Allied cause, secondly I am chiefly of English descent my great grandfather served under Lord Nelson and lost an eye in the battle of Trafalgar and my paternal grandfather came to the U.S. from England in the 1840s and was Captain and adjutant on a New York regiment during the Civil War. The third factor was the desire for surgical experience and adventure which I felt war service would afford. 3

Only a few men refused to fight. They declared themselves conscientious objectors—people who refuse to serve in or aid the military for religious or moral reasons. A British man who called himself “Artifex” expressed his views of their stand in a letter that appeared in the Manchester Guardian: “I think that to be a real conscientious objector a man must be, consciously or unconsciously, an extreme individualist with little sense of the solidarity of mankind and of our membership one of another.” 4 Philosopher Bertrand Russell sent a letter to the Guardian in response:

There are no doubt many kinds of reasons which lead men to become conscientious objectors, but I am convinced that the chief reason, and the most valid, is precisely that sense of “the solidarity of mankind,” of “our membership with one another,” which “Artifex” denies to us. It seems to me that when he wrote of “mankind” he was thinking only of the Allies. But the Germans too, are included among “mankind.” The conscientious objector does not believe that violence can cure violence or that militarism can exorcise the spirit of militarism. He persists in feeling “solidarity” with those who are called “enemies,” and he believes that if that feeling were more widespread among us it would do more than armies and navies can ever do to prevent the growth of aggressive Imperialism, not only among ourselves but also among potential enemies. 5

In other letters, Russell continued to defend his position even as he described himself as “tortured by patriotism.” “Love of England,” he wrote in one letter, “is very nearly the strongest emotion I possess, and in appearing to set it aside at such a moment, I was making a very difficult renunciation.” 6 In another letter, he wrote, “The greatest difficulty was the purely psychological one of resisting mass suggestion, of which the force becomes terrific when the whole nation is in a state of collective excitement.” 7

Almost everywhere, conscientious objectors were imprisoned for refusing to fight. Russell was no exception.


The Brutal Realities of World War I

This reading is available in several formats. Choose the version you wish to read using the dropdown below.

In August 1914, both sides expected a quick victory. Neither leaders nor civilians from warring nations were prepared for the length and brutality of the war, which took the lives of millions by its end in 1918. The loss of life was greater than in any previous war in history, in part because militaries were using new technologies, including tanks, airplanes, submarines, machine guns, modern artillery, flamethrowers, and poison gas.

The map below shows the farthest advances of Axis and Allied forces on the fronts to the west, east, and south of Germany and Austria-Hungary. Most of the war's major battles took place between those lines of farthest advance on each front. Germany’s initial goal was to knock the French out of the war by occupying Belgium and then quickly march into France and capture Paris, its capital. German troops could then concentrate on the war in the east. That plan failed, and by the end of 1914, the two sides were at a stalemate. Before long, they faced each other across a 175-mile-long line of trenches that ran from the English Channel to the Swiss border. These trenches came to symbolize a new kind of warfare. A young officer named Harold Macmillan (who later became prime minister of Britain) explained in a letter home:

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about the modern battlefield is the desolation and emptiness of it all. . . . Nothing is to be seen of war or soldiers—only the split and shattered trees and the burst of an occasional shell reveal anything of the truth. One can look for miles and see no human being. But in those miles of country lurk (like moles or rats, it seems) thousands, even hundreds of thousands of men, planning against each other perpetually some new device of death. Never showing themselves, they launch at each other bullet, bomb, aerial torpedo, and shell. And somewhere too . . . are the little cylinders of gas, waiting only for the moment to spit forth their nauseous and destroying fumes. And yet the landscape shows nothing of all this—nothing but a few shattered trees and 3 or 4 thin lines of earth and sandbags these and the ruins of towns and villages are the only signs of war anywhere.

The glamour of red coats—the martial tunes of fife and drum—aide-de-camps scurrying hither and thither on splendid chargers—lances glittering and swords flashing—how different the old wars must have been. The thrill of battle comes now only once or twice in a [year]. We need not so much the gallantry of our fathers we need (and in our Army at any rate I think you will find it) that indomitable and patient determination which has saved England over and over again. 1

World War I was fought between the Central powers and the Allied powers simultaneously on several fronts in western Europe, eastern Europe, and the Middle East. See full-sized image for analysis.

The area between the opposing armies’ trenches was known as “No Man's Land” for good reason. Fifty years after the war, Richard Tobin, who served with Britain’s Royal Naval Division, recalled how he and his fellow soldiers entered No Man’s Land as they tried to break through the enemy’s line. “As soon as you got over the top,” he told an interviewer, “fear has left you and it is terror. You don’t look, you see. You don’t hear, you listen. Your nose is filled with fumes and death. You taste the top of your mouth. . . . You’re hunted back to the jungle. The veneer of civilization has dropped away.” 2

Unlike the war on Germany’s western front, the war on the eastern front was a war of rapid movement. Armies repeatedly crisscrossed the same territories. Civilians were frequently caught in the crossfire, and millions were evacuated from their homes and expelled from territories as armies approached. On both sides of the conflict, many came to believe that what they were experiencing was not war but “mass slaughter.” A private in the British army explained, “If you go forward, you’ll likely be shot, if you go back you’ll be court-martialed and shot, so what the hell do you do? What can you do? You just go forward.” 3

The carnage was incomprehensible to everyone, as millions of soldiers and civilians alike died. Historian Martin Gilbert details the loss of life:

More than nine million soldiers, sailors and airmen were killed in the First World War. A further five million civilians are estimated to have perished under occupation, bombardment, hunger and disease. The mass murder of Armenians in 1915 [see reading, Genocide Under the Cover of War], and the [Spanish] influenza epidemic that began while the war was still being fought, were two of its destructive by-products. The flight of Serbs from Serbia at the end of 1915 was another cruel episode in which civilians perished in large numbers so too was the Allied naval blockade of Germany, as a result of which more than three-quarters of a million German civilians died. 4

The chart below provides estimates of the number of soldiers killed, wounded, and reported missing during World War I. Exact numbers are often disputed and are nearly impossible to determine for a variety of reasons. Different countries used different methods to count their dead and injured, and some methods were more reliable than others. Records of some countries were destroyed during the war and its aftermath. Also, some countries may have changed the number of casualties in their official records for political reasons. The numbers of civilians from each country killed during the war are even more difficult to estimate. The numbers in the chart reflect the estimates made by most historians today (see reading, Negotiating Peace in Chapter 3).


Guided History

The First World War was set in motion with the assassination of one man, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, following a period of political tension within Europe. Many European countries did not expect to be committed to a highly truculent war from 1914-1918. As the war raged on towards its record setting 5,380,000 casualties, morale on the home front in both the Central Powers and the Allies sank. Great Britain, France, Russia, Germany, and Austria-Hungary turned to various forms of propaganda as a tool to popularize support for involvement in World War I. Propaganda played a significant factor in keeping armies from withering away due to lack of recruits and support. In turn, national propaganda moved empires and spurred on nations to take a lead role in World War I. The time frame of such propaganda promoting World War I involvement is specifically limited to the war era of 1914-1918.

Three main sections compose this research guide General Overview of World War I, Propaganda in the Allied Forces, and Propaganda in the Central Powers. The first section contains general overviews of World War I to establish a general knowledge and historical context. I have included sources that focus on military strategy for basic understanding of the physical war along with home front sources that provide a better understanding of war era dynamics at home. Within the two propaganda specific sections I focused on five countries total in order to compile cohesive and productive sources. Propaganda in the Allied Forces contains sources from each country France, Great Britain, and Russia in various forms for an over all view of what citizens would encounter on a daily basis. Propaganda in the Central Powers contains sources from each country as well Germany and Austria-Hungary to pursue a less common view point studied in World War I.

World War I studies limited to the militarily victorious Allies’ point of view are dominant in the United States today. However, without taking into account both points of view biased studies form. This research guide is purposed to serve as a starting point for a well rounded inquiry into the propaganda used to propel World War I.

Allied forces propaganda poster. Publicized in Great Britain to boost home front morale and strengthen alliances.

General Overview of World War I

Researching World War I: a Handbook

This research guide analyzes all aspects of World War I, from training new recruits to home front rationing, in great detail. Each chapter covers one country socially, economically and politically using a plethora of scholarly facts. Higham and Showalter repeatedly compare and contrast World War I with other wars around the globe, such as the Russo-Japanese War, to analyze military strategy and domestic morale. In addition to presenting factual overviews put into historical context, Higham and Showalter provide the reader with an abundance of supplemental sources that offer the opportunity to further research a specific topic in depth.

Higham, Robin, and Dennis E. Showalter, eds. Researching World War I: A Handbook. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2003.

A History of the Great War

Lt. Col. John Buchan’s four volume series explores the history of World War I, The Great War, from a militaristic point of view. Buchan possessed access to classified information as the Director of the Department of Information for the British government while developing these volumes. Volume two contains maps of battles true to the World War I era that add to this source’s value. Although Buchan put together A History of the Great War based on the Great Britain’s view point he offers his information without the dilution of time.

Buchan, John. A History of the Great War in Four Volumes. Vol. 2, A History of the Great War. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1922.

World War I- Britannica Academic Edition

The Britannica Online Encyclopedia offers a bias-free scholarly source for information on World War I . This site also contains links to specific subjects within World War I including maps of battles, informational videos on political boarders, posters used as propaganda, and interactive activities to further explore the subject.

The First World War Documentary

Produced as a free documentary, this source examines the political unrest in the origins of World War I. It analyzes pre-war political tension around the Austrian Empire and Serbia as necessary, and continues through to the formation of the Allies and the Central Powers military alliances. Although this video discusses theories, it remains neutral and unbiased.

Personal Perspectives: World War I

Personal Perspectives offers a general insight of World War I by threading together groups of experiences. This resource covers a vast range of views pulling from British Indian soldiers, allied medical personnel, and women on the home front. Timothy C. Dowling successfully puts individual views, tinted with bias, into perspective. He confronts the hardest aspect to comprehend about a war, the effect it had in an individual’s personal life.

Dowling, Timothy C. Personal Perspectives: World War I. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2005.

Daily Life During World War I

This source evaluates World War I through personal experiences in a collective format. Heyman exploits the views of military members as well as families left behind to face supply demands, covering both spheres of World War I. Due to the elephantine scope of the war this book narrows it’s scope to the western front. Despite only addressing the popular western front, Heyman does not limit himself to trench warfare and includes the experiences of navy personnel involved in submarine warfare and air force pilots in combat in the sky. Daily Life During World War I presents a thorough chronology of events and an abundance of further readings on various subjects.

Heyman, Neil F. Daily Life During World War I. Westport:Greenwood Press, 2002.

The Last Great War: British Society and the First World War

Adrian Gregory’s The Last Great War: British Society and the First World War is an investigation of the course of the war for Great Britain’s civilian population. This source does not cover all aspects of the war. In fact, it backs away from most of the political concerns of the era. Rather than a purely factual textbook, it is both a general synthesis examining some of the cultural attitudes and experiences of civilians during the war and a captivating analytical study of some of the war’s more controversial social, religious, and economic debates. Although Gregory apologizes for not detailing the concerns of uniformed men directly and neglecting “military history, strictly defined,” The Last Great War effectively analyzes World War I on the home front.

Gregory, Adrian. The Last Great War: British Society and the First World War. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Propaganda in the Allied forces- France, Great Britain and Russia

More Songs by the Fighting Men

This source, published in 1917, is a collection of poems produced from World War I soldiers Sapper De Banzie, Sub-Lieut. Bewsher, Sergt. Brooks, Lieut. Carstairs, Corpl. Challenger, Pte. Chilman, Lieut. Choyce, second Lieut. Clements, M.C. second Lieut. Cook, second Lieut. Cooper, Sergt. Coulson, Pte. Cox, and Capt. Crombie among others. The British government publicized poetry from military personnel as a form of support for soldiers throughout the war. This collection of poetry ranges in subject from love interests at home to serene scenes of nature juxtaposing barren battle fields.

MacDonald, Erskine, ed. More Songs by the Fighting Men. London: Erskine MacDonald Ltd., 1917.


Central Powers face rebellion on the home front - HISTORY

While a German victory in World War Two has been discussed many many times in both academic circles and in alternate history fiction, a German victory in World War One have been relatively ignored. This is a shame as the early 20th century is a fascinating period of shifting ideologies.

The first part as with any alternate history is the how. There were two periods during the war where the Central Powers could have potentially forced the Entente to the peace table. The first of these was soon after the start of the war. The German army had remarkable success in its first push through Belgium into northern France. By September 1914 a month of the start of the war, the Germans reached within thirty miles of Paris. The advance stalled there as Germany attempted to branch out and surround Paris, but it is possible that a continued attack could have taken the French capital and knocked them out of the war.

However, the more interesting scenario is a German victory later in the war after the war had expanded in scope and the German goals in the war were fully established. This scenario surrounds the Spring Offensives of 1918, but likely requires some divergences prior to it. The main one would be the United States remaining neutral, which Woodrow Wilson pledged in his reelection campaign in 1916 but broke after the sinking of US merchant ships and the interception of the Zimmerman Telegram. The Russians were already knocked out pf the war, and the historical offensives came within 75 miles of Paris. If Germany had been able to take Paris and with no American forces on the ground, Britain and France likely would have accepted an end to the grueling conflict.

Now, if the Entente were defeated, what conditions would the Central Powers have imposed? Definite conditions would be upholding of the buffer States in Poland, the Baltic States, and Ukraine that were created from the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Russia, the return of parts of the Caucasus to the Ottoman Empire, and the cession of many African colonies including the Congo and Rhodesia to Germany. The Central Powers would also probably demand the division of Serbia between Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria and some reparations from France or the United Kingdom. The Ottomans would also likely get Libya back from Italy since it is only six years since they lost it, while Egypt would become independent from British rule with German advisors. In Asia, Germany might receive French Indochina if France was soundly defeated. There were also aspirations for Afghanistan to join the Central Powers and for an independent India. However, the likelihood of these happening is suspect, at least in the short term. An expansionist Afghanistan and Indian rebellion could happen further down the road, but how and when in uncertain.

With the concessions set, we can now look at the immediate effects. The primary concern for Germany would be the Russian Civil War and keeping their east European buffer States in line. Although Germany did help the Bolsheviks by helping Lenin return from exile in 1917, they would not ultimately want a Communist state right next door. There would be at least some German and Austrian intervention in the civil war on the side of the Whites along with an American contingent in Siberia. However, just as is our history, it would not be very successful. Germany’s economy would be booming with no reparations and deindustrialization, but they would be preoccupied with their buffer states to send a significant force. So Poland, Ukraine, etc. will probably be economic puppets of Germany, but the Reds will likely still come to power in Russia.

What happens to Austria and the Ottomans are more tricky. Both are on the victorious side, but now have to contend with ethnic instability and nationalist movements that had been present since the mid-19th century. There is certainly going to be unrest in newly annexed Serbia as well as rebellions in Bosnia and possibly Hungary. One path that could result from this is the creation of a third kingdom within Austria-Hungary for the Slavs. This was considered before the war but the assassination of Franz Ferdinand ended any consideration of the proposal. It could placate the Serbs and Croats, but it could also speed up Slavic pan-nationalism and lead to the collapse of the empire.

With the Ottomans, they will face many uprisings including the Arabs which had been fomented by the British during the war, the Kurds, the Armenians, and possibly Egypt if they get expansionist or if Egypt is ceded to the Ottomans in the peace negotiations. For the Sick Man of Europe, the victory in the war would have been a boost, but would only be postponing the empire’s downfall.

It is difficult to definitively speculate on how the world would develop beyond these short few years. There are just too many possible outcomes for each country with the rise of so many different ideologies. France would continue a succession of weak governments that plagued the third republic and could fall to an extreme ideology, but if so it could be any of Communism, some right wing fascist analogue, or even a revival of the monarchy is not out of the realm of plausibility.


Watch the video: WW1 - The Home Front (January 2022).