Germany was finally defeated in 1918 after four years of war. I will now examine each of the four factors that contributed to Germany’s defeat, to see if all of the above points did contribute to the Germany’s defeat, and to see how far I agree with the above statement. I will also see whether the four reasons alone are sufficient enough to explain why the stalemate was broken, or whether there are other important reasons.
The main factor of new technology used in WW1 was the tank. When the tanks were first made and brought into action, they were highly unreliable (broke down often), slow, and didn’t achieve much success. This could be seen when they were first used at the Battle of the Somme, 1916. However they allowed infantry to cross no man’s land without being caught by machine gun fire, they crossed barbed wire and trenches. By 1917 at Cambrai the potential of the tank was seen. After one year the tanks had been improved and were now more manoeuvrable and crossed all terrains easier. Artillery was still the same, but how it was being used was much more effective. Rather than artillery bombardment there was now periodic “crashes” and the infantry would attack when the Germans least expected it. High explosive shells were also used to attack trenches. These proved to be more practical since they destroyed the trenches, driving the defenders deep into their dug outs, therefore there would be no-one to man their defences on the day of the attack. New technology did help to defeat Germany but a lot of new technology was unreliable and this factor alone could not win the war.
America was neutral before 1917, and supplied munitions and loans, to Britain, France and Germany before they entered the war. The reasons that America entered the war was firstly because of Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare, which sunk any ships that weren’t allied with Germany, including ships belonging to America. America also entered because of the Zimmerman Telegram, which stated that if Mexico allied with Germany, the Germans would help Mexico to recapture Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. The British decoded the telegram and sent it to America. America declared war with Germany on 1st April 1917. American troops had not fought in the war yet and had a high commitment, but were still inexperienced. This is shown in their attack on the Hindenburg line, when the US 108th Infantry Regiment neglected mopping up operation, allowing German machine gunners to fire on American stretcher bearers. America’s entry gave a huge psychological blow to Germany, by giving the Allies a boost in morale and damaging German morale. They also had more than enough manpower and resources to fight Germany for much longer. America’s entry may have pushed the German’s to make unsure decisions (the Kaiser’s Battle) before the Americans arrived, this may have lost them the war. I think that America’s entry into the war was very significant in defeating Germany, because although the American’s entered the war at a late stage the war may have ended because America entered it.
The German policy of unrestricted submarine warfare had backfired disastrously. Not only did it bring America into the war but it also failed to cripple Britain. The war at sea was again on the allied side. Although the German’s had try to stop Britain’s supplies using unrestricted submarine warfare, the British navy did something even more effective to cut off Germany’s supplies, by setting up a naval blockade on Germany’s ports. This prevented vital supplies such as food, oil, and weapons. This caused a major food crisis on the German home front. This lessened German morale and created division in German society (the rich were still living well, while the ordinary people of Germany were starving), this meant the German war effort was weakening. The war cannot be won without the support of the civilian population who produce the raw materials for the country. The discontent among the people spreads to those in the German navy. When the sailors were told that there would be one last campaign for glory, knowing that this campaign would be like suicide, they loused their ships boilers and refused to fight. The rest of the German navy soon followed and mutinied. When news of this reached Berlin, it seemed that a German revolution was imminent unless the war came to an end. Therefore the war at sea was a very important factor in the defeat of Germany, since it attacked Germany from within.
The main event on the Western front was the German offensive in 1918 to attack the Allies before the arrival of the Americans had an impact. In this offensive the German’s were to break through the Allied lines before their manpower and economic resources became too low for them to fight any longer, making this the decisive phase of the war. But even before this offensive Germany’s manpower was already at a serious low, this is because at previous battle such as, Verdun (1916), Somme (1916), and Passchendaele (1917), the German’s had suffered serious losses, and did not have as many experienced soldiers as the Allies. This offensive started off very well and the German’s drove the Allies far back, and Paris was once again put under threat. But the allies were too strong. They were united by one supreme commander, French general, Foch. The casualties the Germans undertook were immense. The Germans had 250 000 casualties, including most of the stormtroops (elite assault troops). Although the German’s had captured a lot of land (40 miles deep), it was a salient (open to 3 sides of attack). This meant that it was going to be vulnerable and difficult to defend, especially because they had never placed any defences. Ever since the offensive failed to reach Paris, German morale was severely damaged. Even more so the Germans knew that while they were suffering with barely any resources (food, weapons, etc), the Allies had plenty. Gary Sheffield (a modern historian) wrote that,
“to see with their own eyes the abundance of British supplies did nothing to maintain morale. There is much to be said for this view but armies do not really defeat themselves”
The sacrifice that the Germans made was too great that it accelerated Germany’s defeat. But 8th August was the “Black Day” of the German army. This was the day that was crucial in showing the German’s that victory for them would be impossible. Before the March offensive there was a unity of purpose with the Kaiser, the army and the home front, because everyone wanted to win the war. But by August 8th, there are really bad problems with German morale. Every time the British were attacking, German’s surrendered, indicating that German morale was very low. General Ludendorff wrote,
“I come to another point…the morale of the army. It is very important….The [41st] Division absolutely refused to fight on the 8th August; that was the black day in the history of Germany”
The counter offensive was the final factor towards the defeat of Germany.
The reasons for Germany’s defeat are all interconnect. No one cause was, or could be decisive. New technology, America’s entry into the war, the war at sea and the events on the Western front (March-Nov 1918), were all the causes of victory, but the events on the Western front (March-Nov 1918) was the most important. This is because all of the other three main factors contributed to it. But even though one factor may be the most important the combination of factors led to the defeat of Germany.