Account for the allied victory in the Great War of 1914-1918

The allied victory in the Great War was almost inevitable when all circumstances are taken into account. The Prussian army which was the basis of the German war effort was by far the superior of most countries in Europe but it is delusional for it to have the ability to overpower their combined force especially when taking into account the strength of the Anglo-American relationship and the extent of the British empire. The allied forces ground the Germans to a near halt and gradually yet systematically drained them of the ability to fight. Although they showed signs of strain where never realistically going to lose.

The Naval Blockade established after the naval battle of Jutland in 1916 was one of the pivotal points in the war. The battle was originally claimed as a success for both sides but in time it proved to be of far more significance to the Allied war efforts as although the battle itself saw larger losses for the British navy they were not defeated and their numbers and superiority forced a German retreat giving the Allies a crucial strategic victory. The Allies were now in control of the English Channel and the North Sea which they soon fortified with a large mining scheme. Control over these waters was crucial as it meant not only had Britain secured the safe passage of goods and men to and from the continent it was also able to halt all enemy supplies from the north, damaging both their economy and their war effort.

“At the beginning of the war the royal navy, the biggest and most modern fleet in the world, sealed off the North Sea and cut Germany off from raw materials and other vital supplies. This would have a slow but decisive effect on German agriculture, industrial production and eventually civil society itself.”1 P & D Snow

The Naval Blockade slowly crippled Germany, Its naval forces after its establishment were largely confined to port and the damage done to its trade routes meant that it was essentially a form of siege. Germany was not sustainably self sufficient at the time and could not maintain a war effort on its production alone so it became an inevitability that if they did not win the war then they would eventually be forced to surrender.

Throughout the war the allies were forced to adapt to advance or to ensure their survival. This led to the development of new technology and tactics to deal with occurring situations. Whilst German submarine warfare policy was at its most destructive it was essentially destroying British trade and food supplies through the sabotage of merchant ships.

“by April (1917) the British government was forced to face the prospect of starvation, with only 6 weeks supply of grain in the country. The government ceased to publish the figures of shipping sunk, and began to question whether it would be possible to continue the war at all after November 1917. The situation was saved largely by the development of new navel tactics for the organization of merchant ships in convoy”2 Joll

This ability adapt, and more importantly the countries available resources so that it could do so, meant that Britain maintained itself as a key player in the war and although the tactics of merchant convoy were adopted reluctantly it was essential to ensuring that they, unlike Germany, could continually feed the nation. Advances on the battlefield also proved a significant tool in winning the war, in particular the tank.

“This stunning British success (Amiens) came with minimal casualties. The tanks were a war winner, and although there were still relatively few, the British could have launched at least one and probably two more attacks utilizing the tank forces as the linchpin.”3 Williamson A. Murray

Although these were not widely used this may have been largely due to their inclusion towards the end of the conflict but importantly they represented the upper hand over the Germans who only used 20 tanks for the duration of the war, in comparison to the 2350 of Britain. Showing English technological advance as a factor towards allied victory

Fighting a war on two fronts worsened the German situation stretching their forces. With the Russian in east and British and French in west it was doubly difficult to administrate and compose an assault on the Allies. This situation worsened for Germany when Italy signed the London pact in April 1915, as although the Italians were comparatively poor competition for them it forced them to open a Southern front further stretching their forces meaning that to a large extent a stalemate occurred with Germany being effectively contained by the allied forces. This was proved by the compromise of the dual fronts.

“The Germans had more to celebrate. Russia had been knocked out of the struggle, and there were rumours of a planned attack in the West that would win the war.” 4 P & D Snow

It wasn’t until the Russians collapsed on the Eastern front that German victory seemed a possibility and even this was for fortuitous reason. The Russian revolution or 1917 brought in the Bolshevik rulers who removed Russia from the war, rather than a victory on the part of the German. Nevertheless the necessity of protecting both fronts had demoralised and greatly weakened the war effort. The freedom offered after Russia’s withdrawal though meant that they could now launch a serious western offensive; The Ludendorff offensives.

American involvement towards the end of the war was of immeasurable benefit and was contestably the most important reason for allied victory in WW1. Originally being of passive assistance to the allies, through the supply of resources, the US had refused to get involved. Arguments with Germany over their unrestricted submarine warfare policy and the suspected sabotage of American munitions supplies had began to sway US military isolationism but it was the publishing of the decoded Zimmerman telegram which prompted official American involvement in the war. The US then committed to being an ‘associate power’ working alongside, but not with, the allies.

The US entry into the war forced the German High Command into a desperate position, whereby they were forced to attempt the risky spring offensive of 1918. Adam White5

The spring offensive would have been a success for Germany, who reached Marne 40 miles outside Paris, if it weren’t for the knowledge that as soon as the American troops arrived the tide of the war would drastically turn, which allowed allied commanders to be cautious.

“National Panic occurred in France as the government again prepared to decamp to Bordeaux. P�tain, (French military commander) however, refused to panic. Within a day of the start of the battle he had sixteen divisions moving towards the Marne. He made it clear to subordinates and politicians that Anglo-French forces had only to hold for a few more months before the flood of Americans arrived and, indeed, the United States now begun to provide substantial aid to their hard-pressed allies.” Williamson A. Murray6

This highlights the significance of the US support, at this stage it meant that the battle exhausted allied nations no longer had to seek to advance on the German lines they simply needed to hold theirs until the reinforcements arrived to take the strain. This provided a massive moral boost to the allies and equally a huge blow to the German forces that at this point began to realise victory was an untenable goal. This was a decisive moment in the war as it wasn’t only the man power that was offered by the US but also they provided masses of food and other resources which towards the wars conclusion effectively fuelled the other allied forces efforts.

The war was taking its toll on both sides, with only the Germans possessing the ability to prematurely end the war via surrender, which for the allies would mean accepting German occupation. Gradually cracks began to show and by 1917 for Austria the social strain and the breakdown of bureaucracy caused by war was too great leading them to seek resolution.

“Emporor Karl and his advisors, believing that it would not be possible for the monarchy to hold out through another year of war, decided early in 1917 to explore the possibilities of a separate peace…He approached the French government”7 Joll 218

This attempt at peace failed as it always likely would as the allies wouldn’t accept the offer made and the Germans would never have accepted their withdrawal so “Austria was bound to the German war machine whether the Austrian Emperor liked it or not.” 220. This was a sign that fractures were appearing, the will to fight had disappeared from a key player in the enemy forces. This surely signalled the beginning of the end it was only a matter of time before the Germans cracked too; politically the country had become unstable and the socialists were attempting to take advantage of the poor social climate to gain support citing a revolution. Strikes within Germany were frequent throughout the war, the biggest of which was arguably the Berlin strike of 1917. 226 This was a signal that rather than being focused on the winning of the war, which at this point seemed fairly likely, the German people were more riled about the compromise it had caused within their lives. Germany was loosing its impetus to continue and this may have eventually what forced them to the negotiation table.

On November 11th 1918 the leaders of the new Weimar republic signed an armistice calling German surrender and the end of the war. Although the decline in public opinion towards the war may have contributor to an earlier conclusion of the war it was not one of the key issues behind the allied victory in 1918. The Naval blockade had the effect of turning the German war effort into a finite source, they could not continue forever due to the strain it was putting on their economy and the fact that the lack of food was affecting not only the soldiers but the people at home. It was the issue however that the original power behind the German war effort was so great that it was placing a similar strain on the allied forces and it is likely that without firstly the seemingly infinite resources of the US and then later the relief offered by its massive military assistance that the allies would have been facing an equally perilous future with the continuation of conflict.