GERMANY IN WORLD WAR I
Germany was one of the main combatants in the outbreak and fighting of World War I. In fact, Germany was one of the main Central Powers, alongside Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire. While the war was primarily a European conflict, it ultimately became a global war due to the involvement of countries from around the world. For example, at the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the main European nations had colonies around that world, which they had acquired during the Age of Imperialism. For its part, German soldiers were present in many of the major battles of the Western Front of World War I and fought in the trenches of northern Europe. The war had a profound impact on Germany and led directly to the events of World War II just two decades later.
GERMANY ENTERS WORLD WAR I
World War I erupted during the summer of 1914 in an event that historians refer to as the July Crisis. In short, this crisis was caused by the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which led to the major European powers engaging in a conflict. For example, Germany was pulled into the crisis due to its alliance with Austria-Hungary, which was called the Triple Alliance. Italy was also part of this agreement, but remained neutral at the start of the war and then eventually joined the other side when it joined in 1915. During the war, Germany along with its allies faced off against the Allied Powers, which included: Britain, France, and Russia. Whereas, Germany fought alongside Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire.
Officially, World War I started on July 28th, 1914 when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. In response, Russia mobilized its forces further on July 30th and began to prepare for war with Austria-Hungary. Having heard of the Russian mobilization against Austria-Hungary, Wilhelm II of Germany ordered German mobilization on August 1st. In fact, Germany had promised its ally, Austria-Hungary, a ‘blank check’ in support of the conflict. German troops were readied to invade France, through Belgium with the plan of attack known as the Schlieffen Plan. In fact, Germany formally declared war on August 1st against France, Belgium, and Russia. This caused Britain to enter the fray on August 4th when it declared war against Germany. This was due in part to Germany’s invasion of Belgium, which Britain had promised to protect. However, Britain also wanted to keep its commitments to France as outlined in the their alliance agreement. Finally, Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia on August 6th in retaliation for its support of Serbia. With that, World War I had begun and Europe was divided.
One of the driving factors behind Germany’s entry into the fighting of World War I is its history with its European neighbors. For instance, by 1914, Germany felt fairly surrounded and threatened by the alliance system established between France, Britain and Russia. In particular, Germany had a history of conflict with its direct neighboring country – France. Both nations had a history of war against each other and their rivalry caused them to expand their military forces. For example, the Franco-Prussian War had occurred just decades earlier from 1870 until 1871. More specifically, Prussia (the largest Germanic Kingdom before the unification of Germany) defeated France in the Franco-Prussian War. As part of its defeat, France gave up a section of its land called Alsace-Lorraine, which bordered with Germany. Germany’s control over Alsace-Lorraine was a major source of frustration for France and led to heightened tensions between Germany and France. In fact, France and Germany both had a deep mistrust of each other in the years before World War I.
In the decades before World War I, many European countries began to practice militarism and worked to expand and strengthen their military forces. For example, there was an intense arms race and naval race between several European nations in the buildup to World War I. Specifically, France and Germany were heavily involved in an arms race in which each country doubled their armies between 1870 and 1914. At the outbreak of fighting in 1914, France had approximately 4 million soldiers while Germany had over 4.5 million. This was significant because most other European countries did not have nearly as many soldiers at the ready to fight. At the same time, Germany was also engaged in an intense naval race with Britain before the start of World War I. Each nation raced to build more ships and capabilities, which led to an extreme increase in tensions between them. As such, historians consider the naval race between these two major European nations to be a main cause of World War I.
GERMANY'S ARMY & COMMAND IN WORLD WAR I
At the start of World War I, in 1914, Germany had one of the most powerful armies in Europe. This was due, in part, to the arms race that Germany and France competed in before the start of war. However, Germany was also a militaristic nation by nature and was well known for its military practices and strength in the decades before the start of World War I. In all, Germany had a force of about 4.5 million soldiers in 1914. The use of conscription (mandatory military service) and the calling up of reserve forces allowed Germany to quickly expand its army once the war had begun.
Kaiser Wilhelm II, the German Emperor, was the commander of the German Army throughout World War I. With that said, the field operations of the German Army during the war were handled by the Supreme Army Commander. At the start of World War I, the Supreme Army Commander was Helmuth von Moltke. He served in the position until September of 1914, and was eventually replaced by Erich von Falkenhayn, who served until August of 1916. Finally, Paul von Hindenburg, took over the role in 1916 and held it until after the end of World War I. These commanders each oversaw the major operations of the German Army during the war and organized the German war effort.
Millions of Germans eventually served in the Germany Army as the war progressed. The ever-increasing demand for soldiers was due to Germany’s two-front war that it faced throughout World War I. For instance, Germany fought on both the Western Front and the Eastern Front. By the end of the war, in 1918, the German Army totaled 13.2 million.
GERMANY'S NAVY IN WORLD WAR I
Not only did Germany possess a powerful army in 1914, but they also had a capable navy. In fact, in Europe, Germany was only outpaced by Britain, which had the largest navy in the world at the time. The two nation participated in a naval race in the years before World War I, which included a drive to increase naval technology. One such naval advancement was the ‘dreadnought’. The dreadnought was a class of battleship that existed in the timeframe of World War I. However, the first dreadnought was the HMS Dreadnought from the British Royal Navy. The name is meant to refer to a sense of ‘fearlessness’. It was first launched in 1906, and completely changed the history of naval warfare at the time. Germany responded by developing its own fleet of dreadnought-class ships. In fact, by the start of World War I, the German Navy had 17 dreadnoughts.
Another important factor of the German Navy during World War I was its U-boat Campaign from 1914 until 1918. The term ‘U-boat’ refers to the German submarines that were used in World War I. In general, the U-Boat Campaign by Germany was an attack against the merchant shipping routes of the Allied nations. As the war progressed, Germany attempted to push the war in its favor by limiting the supplies and raw materials that Britain and France received from their colonies. As such, Germany used its U-boats to attack and sink merchant ships as a means of hurting the war effort of these nations. In fact, since Britain was an island nation it required a steady supply of outside resources and shipments. As such, the goal of the British Royal Navy was to maintain these supply lines, while the German Navy attempted to sink transport ships as a means of hurting the British war effort. Historians estimate that as many as 5,000 transport or merchant ships were lost to German U-boat attacks in World War I. The British, and their allies, responded by grouping merchant ships into convoys that were defended by ships from the British Royal Navy.
GERMANY'S MAJOR BATTLES IN WORLD WAR I
German forces participated in some of the most significant battles of World War I, and were most active on the Western Front. In general, the landscape of Europe in World War I was divided into a few different ‘fronts’. For instance, the Western Front was located on the western-half of Europe and included a line of trenches that stretched throughout much of northern France and Belgium. With that said, German forces also participated in some battles along both the Eastern Front and the Italian Front (Alpine Front). However, the primary focus of the German Army was generally on the trenches of the Western Front.
As stated above, German forces participated in many battles of World War I. Some of the most significant events of World War I that Germany participated in included:
As stated above, German forces participated in many battles of World War I. Some of the most significant events of World War I that Germany participated in included:
- Schlieffen Plan
- Battle of Tannenberg
- First Battle of the Marne
- Race to the Sea
- First Battle of Ypres
- Second Battles of Ypres
- Battle of Verdun
- Battle of the Somme
- Third Battle of Ypres
An important aspect of the German war effort in World War I was the Schlieffen Plan. The Schlieffen Plan was the German plan of attack at the beginning of the war and was designed by and named after the former Germany Army Chief of Staff, Alfred von Schlieffen. He had been asked to design a plan of attack to help ensure German victory at the outbreak of war in Europe. Since Germany was facing both France and Russia in World War I, Germany would have to deal with a two-front war and the possibility of its total armed forces being split to fight on both its western and eastern borders. The Schlieffen Plan was Germany’s response to this problem and at its heart, the Schlieffen Plan was designed to prevent Germany from being forced to fight a two-front war. Essentially, the goal was for Germany to knock France out of the war as quickly as possible and then to refocus its attention onto Russia in the east. The Schlieffen Plan was based on the idea that Russia would take much longer to mobilize and therefore not be ready for war until after the first two weeks. As a result, Germany sent almost all of its Army divisions to the Western Front and much less to the Eastern Front. While Germany was primarily concerned with the major battles of the Western Front, the first important battles of World War I that they participated in was the Battle of Tannenberg, which occurred on the Eastern Front.
The Battle of Tannenberg took place from August 26th to August 30th in 1914 and was fought between Germany and Russia. The battle took place in East Prussia on the eastern half of the German Empire. In general, the Battle of Tannenberg was one of the most significant battles of World War I, and an important victory for the German Army. More specifically, the German Eighth Army, which was commanded by Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff, was able to surprise attack and overwhelm the Russia forces that had attempted to invade East Prussia. The Russian forces were divided into two armies – the First Army commanded by Paul von Rennenkampf and the Second Army, which was commanded by Alexander Samsonov. During the Russian attack into East Prussia, Rennenkampf’s army advanced northeast while Samsonov’s army advanced southwest. This was problematic, as the two were unable to communicate effectively. As such, the German command used this to its advantage and on the 26th of August the German Eighth Army began its surprise attack against Samsonov’s forces. During the battle, Samsonov and the Russian Second Army were effectively surrounded and bombarded with German artillery fire. Although Samsonov tried to order a retreat, the German attack proved to be too much for the Russian forces and led to the Battle of Tannenberg being a major defeat for Russia. In fact, of Samsonov’s Second Army, 92,000 were captured, 78,000 were killed and only about 10,000 escaped. Furthermore, Samsonov killed himself after realizing that his army was destroyed. As well, Rennenkampf’s army failed to assist Samsonov’s due to a failure in communication, and were eventually forced out of East Prussia. The Russian failure at the Battle of Tannenberg was so devastating the Russian Army that it did not invade Germany again for the rest of World War I.
As stated above, the primary focus of the German Army, at the start of World War I, was to quickly defeat France as part of the Schlieffen Plan. As such, while the Battle of Tannenberg was a major victory for Germany, its battles on the Western Front were much more strategically important to the overall German war effort. The first important battle that Germany participated in on the Western Front was the First Battle of the Marne.
The First Battle of the Marne occurred from September 6th to the 12th in 1914 and was one the first major conflicts of World War I. The First Battle of the Marne is significant for how French forces were able to stop the advancing German Army before they reached Paris. The battle saw defending French troops stop the German Army from carrying out the Schlieffen Plan and led to trench warfare in Northern France. Eventually, the German forces were stopped at the Marne River just 30 miles from capturing the French capital. It is estimated that the French and the Germans each suffered 250,000 casualties at the First Battle of the Marne. Germany also suffered over 67,000 deaths in the battle. While it is remembered as a victory for the Allied forces, it is also the event that led to the continued stalemate of trench warfare that remained on the Western Front for the rest of the war. For instance, the famous ‘Race to the Sea’ occurred immediately following the First Battle of the Marne.
The ‘Race to the Sea’ occurred throughout September and October of 1914. The German Army was successfully stopped at the First Battle of the Marne in early September and each side raced north in an attempt to flank the other. British and French forces countered the German push north throughout September and October until the two sides reached the North Sea in Belgium on October 19th. What resulted was a line of trenches that extended throughout much of northern Belgium and France. It was along this line of trenches that some of the most significant battles of World War I took place.
The next significant battle for the German forces in World War I was the First Battle of Ypres, which took place from October 19th to November 22nd in 1914. The battle was the result of the end of the Race to the Sea and saw the British, Belgian and French forces engage in battle with the German forces. The battle was deadly on all sides and led to numerous casualties. For instance, it is estimated that Germany suffered as many as 130,000 casualties in the battle. In all the battle was characteristic of the conditions at the time, in that defensive fortifications ensured numerous dead and injured with little or no results. Ypres is a town in western Belgium that saw intense fighting in World War I between the Allied and German forces. In fact, the region became known as the Ypres Salient and was the site of several major conflicts throughout World War I.
The next major conflict for the German Army was in the Second Battle of Ypres, which occurred from April 22nd until May 25th in 1915. At the battle, the British fought alongside French and Belgium forces against the German Army. The Second Battle of Ypres was significant because it is remembered today as the first use of poisonous gas on the Western Front. Germany introduced chlorine gas canisters into the battle on the first day of fighting, when they used the deadly gas against the Allied troops.
The Second Battle of Ypres was also significant because it saw the first time that a former colonies soldier’s defeated a European power within Europe. For example, after the German gas attack on the first day of the battle, Canadian soldiers were the primary defenders of the German flank at Ypres. Canadian soldiers defended the town of St. Julien and withstood the gas attacks by the German soldiers. Regardless, Allied soldiers, despite facing heavy gas attacks and German advances, were mostly able to hold back the German advance and prevent Germany from making inroads into Allied held territory. While the battle is viewed as an Allied victory, it still cost the lives of many people on both sides. Historians estimate that the German casualties from the Second Battle of Ypres totaled over 34,000.
Next was the Battle of Verdun, which was fought from the 21st of February to the 18th of December in 1916 and is remembered as one of the largest battles of World War I on the Western Front. It was fought between France and Germany in a hilly region of north-eastern France near the city of Verdun. The Germans had hoped to capture the region and use the hills of the area as a staging ground for their artillery guns. From the top of the hills, Germany hoped to use their artillery fire to control the entire region, including the city of Verdun.
The region around Verdun had many different forts that France had defended to different degrees. The German plan, which was created by German Chief of Staff Erich von Falkenhayn, was to invade the region and begin to capture some of these French forts. This, Germany believed, would draw France into a major battle in the area and bog down the French forces in trying to defend their forts. Next, the German plan called for them to use their artillery power to bombard the French forces and overwhelm the French defenses in the region so that German soldiers could push through and capture the region and the city of Verdun. The French defense in the region would be overseen by French General Philippe Pétain, who would be seen as a war hero for his role in the Battle of Verdun.
The German assault began on February 21st and involved the German artillery launching artillery shells into the region followed by a German offensive of infantry soldiers. The German soldiers were able to capture several of the forts around Verdun, as the French defenses were weak and unable to stop the German assault. However, French troops began on strengthening the French defenses in and around Verdun and soon the French brought re-enforcements into the region to help defend. Despite coming within 2 miles of the city of Verdun, the German forces were never able to capture the city during the World War I battle. In July of 1916, the Battle of the Somme also began, which caused Germany to divert troops from Verdun to the Somme. This weakened the German offensive at Verdun to primarily an artillery attack and better allowed the French the ability to defend and even recapture many of the forts that they had earlier lost. By the end of the battle, France was able to push the Germans back and Germany had failed to achieve its goal in the region.
The Battle of Verdun is remembered today as the longest single battle in human history. The battle lasted 302 days and caused devastating casualties for both the French and the Germans. The total casualties in the Battle of Verdun were terrible. For instance, historians estimate that France suffered as many as 400,000 casualties and 163,000 deaths. As well, it is estimated that Germany suffered as many as 350,000 casualties and 143,000 deaths.
As stated above, the Battle of the Somme occurred alongside the Battle of Verdun. In fact, the Battle of the Somme took place from July 1st, 1916 to November 18th, 1916 and is remembered as one of the bloodiest battles in human history. It was a devastating battle that took place along the River Somme in northern France. It was fought between Allied Powers (France and Britain) and the Central Power of Germany and was a major conflict on the Western Front. France and Britain both hoped that by starting the Battle of the Somme, they would relieve pressure on French defenders in Verdun during the Battle of Verdun where the French were struggling against the German assault on that region. The Allied strategy at the Battle of the Somme was to draw more German troops away from Verdun and into the Somme in hopes of causing Germany to struggle with managing both large battles at the same time. The battle finally came to an end on November 18th, 1916 when the change in weather and arrival of snow made fighting even more difficult.
In the end, the Battle of the Somme was one of the deadliest battles of World War I. The total casualty count number over 1 million, with the Allied forces having over 600,000 and the German forces having over 400,000. The Battle of the Somme is one of the most notable battles of World War I due to it being such a brutal and devastating conflict.
Another significant German battle of World War I was the Third Battle of Ypres. Also known as the ‘Battle of Passchendaele’, the Third Battle of Ypres was fought between the Allied Powers and Germany from July 31st to November 10th in 1917. The battle took place close to the Belgian city of Ypres and was a major battle on the Western Front. The goal of the battle was for Allied forces (including: British, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, South Africa, Indian, French and Belgium) to push German forces out of the area. The Germans had a strong hold of a ridge that overlooked the city of Ypres. British commander, General Douglas Haig, wanted to carry out an attack of the area in the hopes of pushing back German forces and capturing coastal ports north of the region. In fact, part of the importance of capturing these northern coastal towns, was to prevent Germany from launching its submarines that were part of the U-boat Campaign.
The British attacked the Germans at Ypres on July 31st, but struggled to make any meaningful gains and both sides suffered massive losses. The continuous fire from both sides and the horrible conditions slowed the pace of battle and caused the battle to create stalemate-like conditions.
Eventually, the British would call in the support of Canadian forces, which after many weeks of fighting were finally able to capture the ridge at Ypres from the Germans. The Allies captured the ridge in November of 1917 and the Third Battles of Ypres was over. In total, the Allies and Germans both suffered terrible losses. Historians disagree on the exact number, but it is generally agreed that the British likely suffered around 250,000 casualties, while the Germans suffered between 200,000 and 400,000 casualties.
Following the events of the Third Battle of Ypres, the Germany Army was pushed back during the Hundred Days Offensive, which was a major push by Allied forces, near the end of World War I, against the German forces in northern France. It took place from August 8th to November 11th in 1918. The Allied victories of the Hundred Days Offensive eventually led to the end of World War I, when Germany agreed to the November 11th armistice.
GERMAN HOME FRONT IN WORLD WAR I
World War I had a profound impact on the people of the time. Not only did it impact the soldiers on the front-lines but it also affected the men, women and children who lived on the home front of Germany.
The first main impact of World War I on the home front of Germany was the support that people expressed for the German war effort. When the war first began in 1914, most people in German society supported the war effort. This was due, in part, to a growth of nationalism in Germany in the years leading up to the outbreak of the war. As such, people saw it as their patriotic duty to support the war and sign up for service. Furthermore, the common view of the time was that the war would be over relatively quickly due to a swift German victory. For instance, German Kaiser Wilhelm II stated, “You will be home before the leaves fall from the trees” when he addressed the German soldiers in 1914. This highlights the view that the war could be won quickly by the German Army. In reality, the German plan of attacks, called the Schlieffen Plan, failed and led to trench warfare in Belgium and northern France. As the war raged on throughout 1915 and 1916, the general view of the war among Germany citizen began to change. In fact, by 1918, most German supported bringing an end to the war. The negative views towards the war were expanded due to the economic conditions of the time.
The next major impact that World War I caused on the German home front was on the economic life of the people. For instance, due to the ‘total war’ nature of the war, the citizens of Germany were required to ration resources for the soldiers on the front-lines. This was especially true in regards to food and meat production. In fact, as the war progressed Germany struggled to maintain food production, due to the need for supplies on the front. It was the belief of military generals that well fed soldiers would help overcome the enemy and bring about an end to the war. However, Germany also experienced some supply shortages due to a British naval blockade of norther German ports. As such, German citizens on the home front experienced food shortages and government created initiatives to control the production and use of resources to ensure that as many resources were being put towards the war effort as possible. Specifically, the German home front experienced shortages of: meant, bread, cheese, potatoes, rice and sugar. In fact, the period from 1916 until 1917 is referred to as the ‘Turnip Winter’ in Germany due to the lack of food choices for the German citizens. Instead, citizens were left to eat turnips, which were most often used to feed livestock. The need to eat turnips was mostly due to a potato shortage that made life exceptionally difficult for German families. This led to a decrease in support for the war and overall morale among German soldiers and citizens. Furthermore, historians estimate that as many as 474,000 German citizens died as a result of malnutrition. The economic hardships of those on the home front also included long working hours, poor working conditions and overcrowded cities. The overcrowding was a result of migrants from small towns flocking to the German cities in search of work and new opportunities.
In order to promote rationing and other initiatives, the government of the time used propaganda to convince citizens of certain messages. For example, the German government issued propaganda that worked to recruit soldiers for the war, ration certain items and to demonize the enemy. German citizens on the home front were subjected to constant messaging to ensure they supported the war effort and to maintain the push towards victory. For example, the government established official propaganda offices as the war continued into 1916 and 1917 as a means of coordinating the propaganda effort. These propaganda offices created cartoons, short films, leaflets that were distributed throughout Germany.
The next main impact of World War I on the German home front was the changes for the lives and roles of women in German society. As stated above, World War I was an example of a ‘total war’, which involves all aspects of society being used towards the war effort. For example, during World War I many men volunteered for war while agriculture and factories on the home front were all producing to further the cause of war. Since many of the men in Germany were gone to the front lines, World War I saw German women enter the workforce in large numbers for the first time. These women took jobs in factories that produced the weapons of war, in office buildings and other positions.
Finally, all of the hardships faced by the German citizens on the home front and in the trenches led to political upheaval in Germany. As the outbreak of the war, Germany was ruled over by Kaiser Wilhelm II, the German Emperor. He ruled as the German Emperor and King of Prussia from June 15th, 1888 until November 9th, 1918. While he was the emperor of the country, the real power of the country during World War I, was with the military leadership. For example, by 1916, Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg effectively controlled the nation’s war efforts, while Wilhelm II handled only symbolic ceremonies. Regardless, the hardships caused by the war led to a massive loss in morale throughout Germany and caused the spark of revolution.
The German Revolution of 1918 began in October and November of 1918 and lasted until August of 1919. The German Revolution was the result of anger and frustration among the working-class people and soldiers of Germany in the final weeks of World War I. The people of Germany had suffered terribly in the war and were upset by the military failures against the Allied Powers. In fact, the spark of the revolution occurred in October and November of 1918 when German sailors carried out a series of revolts against the commands of the German Navy commanders. For instance, the Kiel Mutiny, which occurred on November 3rd, 1918, was a revolt by sailors of the German High Seas Fleet. The mutiny and revolts shocked Kaiser Wilhelm II and made it clear that he had lost the support of the German people. As a result, On November 9th, Wilhelm II, abdicated his throne. The German monarchy was abolished. Soon after, Social Democrat Philipp Scheidemann proclaimed Germany a Republic. Two days later, on November 11th, Germany signed the armistice and World War I was over. Wilhelm II fled to the Netherlands and Germany established the Weimar Republic.
SIGNIFICANCE OF WORLD WAR I FOR GERMANY
World War I was an incredibly significant event for the country of Germany. First, and foremost, over 13.2 million Germans served during World War I, and represented their country bravely on the battlefields in Europe and the other fronts of the war. As well, approximately 1.8 million Germans died as a result of military action during the war.
Second, the brutal and horrendous nature of the fighting in World War I (especially along the trenches of the Western Front) came to characterize much of the war for people in Germany. For instance, today World War I is remembered as a conflict wherein million fought, were injured and died for little outcomes. Furthermore, the war had a profound impact on the lives of Germans on the home front. For instance, the war created many hardships for Germany and led to several major changes.
As stated above, World War I led to major political changes for country, as it effectively causes the end of the German monarchy and the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II. However, the political impacts of the war were felt for decades after its end in 1918. For example, after the war ended, the Allied nations forces Germany to accept the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. In short, the Treaty of Versailles punished Germany for its role in the war and created a number of provisions that limited Germany. This included economic hardships, as Germany was forced to pay reparations to France for damages caused in the war. Furthermore, the reparations led to hyperinflation in Germany and destabilized the German economy, which had devastating effects on the country throughout the 1920s.
All of these hardships from World War I and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles combined to create the perfect climate for the rise of extreme nationalism in Germany between the First World War and World War II. As a result, historians often consider the fallout from World War I as a major factor in the rise to power of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party.
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