March 1918: The Coming Storm in the West

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By March of 1918 most observers of the bloody stalemate on the Western Front realized that it was likely that 1918 would see a great change.

 

 

 

 

 

On March 3, 1918 Imperial Germany signed a treaty of peace with the Bolshevik government of Russia.  This granted Germany a huge part of European Russia and put to a victorious conclusion for the Central Powers the Great War in the East.  This was fortunate for Germany, because it was clearly coming to the end of its tether.  The Allied blockade was bringing the German civilian population to the brink of starvation.  Its ally, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was completely fought out, unable to even maintain itself against Italy without strong German reinforcements, and its new Emperor was sending out peace feelers to President Wilson. The Ottoman Empire was in the process of losing its war against the Allies in the Middle East.  The German Army was still immensely formidable, but after almost four years of total war, its wiser commanders realized that victory had to come soon or, inevitably, the greater resources of the Allies would grind down the German Army into an increasingly impotent defensive force.

Thus the German high command, rolling the iron dice of war. was ready to launch a great offensive against the British, hoping to drive them from the Continent, defeat France and usher in an era of a German dominated Europe.  The German forces in the West were greatly reinforced by German forces from the no longer existing Eastern Front.  Special units of the German Army, trained in stosstruppen tactics of fire and movement, and avoiding Allied strongpoints, would lead breakthroughs of the Allied trenches, and bring to an end the stasis of the Western Front.

For the Allies, the loss of the Russian Front was terrifying, but they had reasons for optimism. The Allies were in position to perhaps knock out the Ottoman Empire from the war in 1918. The Americans were landing in France in ever greater numbers.  By the middle of 1918 the Americans would have more than a million combat troops ready to enter the line.  The tank had rapidly evolved from a battlefield curiosity into a potentially decisive means to break through the German trench lines.  Complete Allied control of the seas ensured that in the war of material the Allies had an insurmountable advantage against their Central European opponents.  However, the Allies understood that their civilian populations, with the exception of the Americans, were war weary.  The French Army had recovered from a bout of mutinies in 1917, but was still shaky.  The British were nearing the bottom of the barrel when it came to manpower, and found it increasingly difficult to replace infantry losses.

As winter began to end and spring to arrive along the Western Front in 1918, all were aware that decisive events were about to begin.

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