W2.02 Why Did the Allies Win?
Hi. Welcome back. Let's talk about why the Allies won World War I. Maybe the first question we need to ask ourselves is: Well gee, is that even an interesting question? If you'd looked at some standard books, you'd just get the impression that as soon as the Americans come into the war, why, it's all over. My argument is that: in early 1918, it was not at all clear that the Allies were going to win the war. So, it actually is an interesting question to examine why they did. I've emphasized all through this course that when you think about these historical events, and you boil them down to why questions, you're often looking at choices. And when you're looking at choices, you're looking about the way people are trying to solve problems. So let's look at some of the solutions people are coming to as they examine their situation in early 1918. Let's kind of review the situation in the war as of early 1918. For Britain and France, 1917 had been an another awful year. Okay, the Americans have come into the war, but American soldiers are just being trained to fight during 1917. Hardly any of them are engaging in any combat in France. In 1917, this is a map, a military map, showing the lines on the Western Front. The Germans are essentially moving into defensive fortifications and letting the Allies just come at them and beat themselves bloody, which they do. These French offensives, depicted right here, fail so disastrously that portions of the French army actually mutinied against their officers, causing profound problems in the French army itself that took months to slowly put back together. Up in the North, the British and their Imperial allies, Canadians, Australians, fighting as hard as they can. They launch an offensive near Arras in which more than 4,000 of their soldiers are hitting the casualty lists every day, day in and day out, for weeks. These lines shown here in red are still mainly lines where the Germans are holding land in Northern and Eastern France. They haven't budged much in more than three years of fighting. In the East, the situation is even better for the Germans. The Russian Revolution led during 1917 to a final collapse of a Russian government that would stay in the war. The Communists take over in late 1917, cutting whatever deal they can to get the war over. That deal is called the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, signed in early 1918. So, at the end of 1917, here was the armistice line. By early 1918, the Germans and their Austro-Hungarian allies are able to expand the area of control far into what had been the Russian Empire. And the Germans and the Austrians have occupied most of the Balkans down to about a line right about here, in the border lands of Greece, where a British and French expeditionary force at Salonika is barely keeping a battlefront alive. The British are driving up against the Turks moving on Jerusalem, but that still seems like a secondary battle field. The Italians are attacking the Austrians in the Italian Alps, but, in 1917, the Italians suffer a disastrous defeat, and the British and French have to throw in more resources just to keep their Italian allies in the war. In other words, it's not at all clear in early 1918 that the war is going great for the Allies. The Allied plans are, look: We're playing this now for the long haul. We're blockading the Germans using our naval forces; we're waiting for American forces to come into the field, use more stuff from American industry. We'll do what we can in 1918, try to ride things out. Maybe we'll be able to launch some war-winning offensives in 1919, fighting on into 1920, and hoping their publics will support them. And public opinion in the Allied countries is also showing the strain: Open divisions are now apparent in political life in Britain and in France, as the war sometimes seems like it will go on forever. The Germans look at this situation and their strategy is dominated by General von Ludendorff. Ludendorff is not a grand strategist. Ludendorff is a tactician; he wants somehow to bring this to a head in the decisive battle. Take all these German troops that have been released by the collapse of resistance on the Russian front, move them to the West and try to win a knockout blow of his own. Concentrate all of his strength to try to win the war in the West in 1918. He's yearning for that decisive battle. But if you pushed hard and looked at the documents and try to figure out, okay if you won the decisive battle, then what? What's Germany's overall strategy for how it ends up bringing the war to a successful conclusion? They don't really have answers to those questions. What then does happen is the German plans do break things open and really for the first time since 1914, the Western Front returns to open warfare. This map shows the results from a series of five offenses that the Germans launched beginning in March of 1918 and going on through July. They do break open some big holes in the Allied lines. The British fall back but as their high command rallies them to Fight, with our backs to the wall, they hold. The Germans are using up their best troops, their best resources. They're exhausted. The offensives run out of steam. They launch more offensives against the French and get almost nothing from it. By July 1918, the Germans feel spent: spent not just in formal military terms but psychologically spent. The way someone who's made what they think is their absolute maximum effort, but then feels so spent that they're more exhausted than if they hadn't made the effort at all. It's very interesting about German grand strategy here. That, instead of standing pat and letting the Allies just continue to beat themselves up against the German lines, waiting for the Allies to reach the point of exhaustion, the German High Command, exhibiting this particular mix of tactical arrogance and strategic political insecurity, wants somehow to redeem everything by winning that decisive battle. Yearning for that great gamble one more time. Just like they had done with their gamble on unrestricted submarine warfare in 1917, another gamble that didn't pay off. So the Germans, having started the year in relatively strong shape, have now weakened themselves militarily and also psychologically by a series of ruinous offensives. And for the first time in the summer of 1918, the Americans are moving into significant combat action. Some Americans pulled into the line here to help blunt the German offensives. And then launching limited offensives of their own in this sector right here, building towards a much larger offensive in an area called the Meuse-Argonne. So as we step back and ask ourselves: Why did the war turn the way it did in 1918? First big answer is: The Germans, from a tactically advantageous position, made some military choices that didn't turn out the way they hoped. But there are two other huge factors that are also coming into play in 1918 on the Allied side. The Allies are able to leverage the entire world to their help. Think back to earlier maps we've looked at where you saw those trading routes, access to raw materials, and ask yourselves: What are the basic sources of support for the Germans and their allies? They do have this enormous area in Central and Eastern Europe and part of Southwest Asia that's under their rule. But the British, the French, and now the United States of America, are able to call upon a much larger access to the world's raw materials and people. The Allies basically control the seas. The German submarine offensives of 1917 and again in 1918 fail, partly because the Allies simply develop a convoy system, in which the government tells all those cargo ships: No you won't be able to just go wherever you'd like, whenever you'd like; you're going to have to bunch together under our protection, so it'll be harder for those small submarines to find you in the middle of the ocean. And if they do find you they'll find that you have some military protection along with you, called convoys. Bottom line is the submarine offensives don't succeed. The British and their American allies controlled the seas and the trade routes with them. The British, and also the French, also have access to all sorts of help from their imperial partners. They draw on a great many soldiers from the White Dominions, like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, fighting in the hundreds of thousands alongside British soldiers in France, in Turkey, in Palestine. But also they're calling on the Indian army, that incredible source of imperial military manpower. Here's a picture of just a few soldiers from one unit of Indian cavalry serving on the British side. And in addition, the British and French are able to reach out to their colonies as sources of labor. In fact, tens of thousands of Chinese and Indochinese laborers find themselves living and working in France, providing support for the Allied armies. Another hidden resource for the Allied side is their increasing ability to leverage scientific advancement. They can just pool a much larger set of resources, finally to catch up with and beat the Germans in the quality of their poison gas. They also develop highly sophisticated intelligence technologies. This is not glamorous stuff about how you steal a piece of paper from the enemy statesman's suitcase. This is much more nitty-gritty stuff. Correlating information about the location of artillery positions. Picking out material from intercepting telegraph or radio signals. And also in the development of aircraft, aircraft used for reconnaissance, for scouting missions. But in general, the allied aircraft in both number and quality in 1918 is catching up and exceeding that of the German side. Airpower is actually becoming a factor in the Allies' favor. So if we step back, we look at the military choices made in 1918, and we see how significant those were. We look at the broader resources that the Allied side is increasingly able to muster from around the world. But another really big factor that comes into play in these late years of the war is the leadership and political resilience of the Allied countries. Think about who the people are leading the Allied powers. They're politicians. But the politicians in charge on the Allied side, men like David Lloyd George, Georges Clemenceau, Woodrow Wilson, like them or dislike them, these are gifted politicians. About as good politicians as you can find anywhere in the world. Extremely able to articulate national objectives and rally people to a cause. Not only are these leaders articulate, they are in some fundamental way representative. They are, after all, products of a more or less democratic process. Look at the leaders on the Allied side and contrast them with counterparts in the Central Powers. Over here on the left, in France, Clemenceau. In Britain, Lloyd George. In the United States, Woodrow Wilson. In Germany, Kaiser Wilhelm. The Kaiser doesn't make speeches in public. In fact, his advisors are afraid to allow the Kaiser to say much in public for fear of what he'll say. In Austria, the aging emperor Franz Joseph has passed away, and in 1918, the Habsburg Emperor is this man, the Emperor Karl. But not a charismatic speechmaker, it's just not the kinds of things emperors do. In Turkey, the Ottoman Empire is headed by figurehead sultan. The real source of power is this man, Enver Pasha, a Turkish nationalist leader and a gifted politician in a way, but again, not someone who's used to rallying the Turkish people on the stump. In a conflict among total states, strained to the absolute limits of what they can do, the resilience of these countries, their ability to adapt under enormous pressure, turns out to be a key measure of who will last out the war. By the late summer and fall of 1918, what surprises people, in fact, is how suddenly the Central Powers, having lost their bid to win the war, just seem to fall apart and crack. Germany, Austria and then the Ottoman Empire: internal revolution, quickly seeking peace. In November 1918, it's all over. What we'll turn to next time, is what happened then.