Expectations of War

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Reasons for the stalemate on the Western Front

Expectations of War

  • Each nation were convinced that the war would be brief, glorious and over by Christmas

  • Implications of modern, industrialised warfare was not taken into account

Planning for war

  • Military strategy focused on knockout blow based on rapid offensives and decisive battles

    • Mobilisation plans was top priority to all military planners at this point

    • Railway networks were also top priority allowing rapid transportation of troops and supplies

  • Weaponry of the 20th Century focused on agility and range. They were more deadly and accurate than any of weapons used in previous war.

    • i.e.: Bullets became faster and explode upon impact

  • Diplomacy and the alliance systems were made in order to strengthen each other's interest

Failure of the Schlieffen Plan

  • Failed to anticipate supply routes when Germany got through into Belgium and France.

  • Russia mobilised faster than expected so did France thus consistently halting German advances

  • German infantry was tired by long flanking campaign on the poor roads of northern France

  • Modified plan – Failure to maintain a strong right flank to the north. It left insufficient manpower to circle Paris from the west which was the vital part to the Schlieffen Plan – Moltke

  • It was believed Britain would not support Belgium’s neutrality.

Underestimating British Military Strength

  • The Kaiser underestimated the BEF and regarded it as a “disgraceful army”. The BEF was the main reason for German forces halting their encirclement of Paris

  • Britain controlled the High Seas and English Channel with the BRN. So long as they do control those waters, German prospects for victory were poor.

Inadequate numbers in the BEF

  • Britain was the only European power not to take in the significance of a Reserve system.

  • Britain only emphasised on her Navy prior to the war in her programme to militarise. The British army however was a small professional force although lacked in numbers to fight a continental war.

  • British officers were from educated private schools where values were emphasised.

Failure of Offensive Strategy

  • Military plans assumed that the artillery and offensive spirit of infantry battalions could overwhelm defending forces to one of equal size – Napoleonic doctrine – the Battle of Waterloo

  • There was little understanding of the significance of firepower technologies (machine guns, artillery, etc.) for defence fortifications.

The Nature of trench warfare and life in the trenches; dealing with experiences of Allied and German soldiers

Attacking or under attack

  • Soldiers attempted to achieve a ‘breakthrough’ passing ‘no man’s land’

  • Snipers on constant raids and patrols

  • Attacks on German fortifications involved a heavy artillery barrage followed by soldiers going ‘over the top’

    • These soldiers would be met with machine gun fire and high explosive and shrapnel artillery.

    • If you were shot but survived = wounded – if you were not harmed = sick due to surroundings.


  • Rats – lived on human remains and could grow to the size of a cat. They also contaminated the food.

  • Lice bred within the cloths >>> itch. Even when they were washed, lice eggs remained hidden >>> begin again

  • Frogs, slugs and horned beetles crowded the sides of the trenches.

  • Soldiers chose to shave their heads entirely to avoid another widespread of nits

Life in trenches

  • Wet weather undermined trench walls >>> mud and rain >>> trench foot

  • Trench life was mostly boring and miserable. Sometimes there would be several weeks without any fighting.

  • Soldiers spent their time writing letters to home, fixing up trenches and inspect their rifles from time to time.

  • The weight of the backpack was extremely heavy consisting of ammunition, ration, shovels, gun, etc.

  • Winter >>> vulnerable to frost bites while summer >>> lice fleas and flies.

  • Personal hygiene was very difficult to maintain.

  • Human remains left unburied brought diseases

German experiences

Allied experiences

  • Prepared for long war

  • Semi-permanent defensive position gave troops strong protecting and some comfort

  • Concrete or wood construction &well constructed and fortified.

  • Soldiers enjoyed cooked meals due to their extensive trench network system

  • Later food supplies were scarce due to the blockade, so horses were shot down for meat

  • Thought trenches would be useless and temporary

  • Wet, smelly and filthy

  • Believed that continuous infantry assaults would wear out the enemy trench lines.

  • Transport of supplies was poor. Many front line soldiers had to rely on their rations. >>> Mal nourishment

  • Behind the front lines enjoyed food eating beef, breads, eggs, jam biscuits and other luxuries.

Overview of strategies and tactics to break the stalemate

Technological and tactical attempts to break the stalemate

Mustard and acid gas 1915

  • Germans were the first to use this

  • Effective in driving the enemy out of the trenches into the open.

  • Allies soon made a poison gas of their own and thus began the bio-chemical warfare


  • Both sides resorted to digging tunnels under no-man’s land towards enemy lines and placing mines

Storm-trooper assault units

  • A German strategy where artillery fire on enemy trenches would smoke-screen place.

  • Heavy infantry would storm through and attempt to take over using flame-throwers and machine guns.

  • While that happened, regular troops attacked the main strong trench

Naval blockade of Germany

Creeping barrage

  • To artillery barrage and stun enemy lines followed by infantry wave attacks.

Opening up other fronts at Gallipoli, Salonika and Italian Front

Tanks 1916

  • First used and developed by British.

  • Initially, scared the hell of shit out of Germany and had the Allies up in spirit

  • Later, were discovered to be utterly useless on the field until 1918

Australian Tactics

  • 1918, Aussies forces developed a tactic “peaceful penetration”

  • Aim: recapture enemy territory and conserve their numbers

  • Strategy: using artillery, tank and machine gun units, Aussie troops would take over small areas of enemy territory one area at a time. Once the area had been secured, it was occupied by Australian infantry troops while the next area was taken.

Campaigns that failed to break stalemate – war of attrition

    • Battle of the Somme – Jul 1916

      • Offensive bombardment plan "Big Push" by Haig. The plan was to shell the German front lines 7 days straight, create a gap and then send infantry and cavalry.

      • Aim:

        • To relieve forces in Verdun and distract Germans

        • To test out the new British tanks

      • Outcome:

        • Assault against the heavily defended German lines was suicide and infamous for being the biggest slaughters in military history.

        • Tanks did shock the enemy but were discovered to be utterly useless until the new model in 1918

      Battle of Verdun – Feb 1916

      • Falkenhayn (German) announced a major offensive plan against the lines of forts at Verdun.

      • Aim: Verdun was chosen because

        • Threaten German lines of communications

        • Symbol of French honour, demoralise French troops

        • Prevent allies from launching a major offensive on the Somme

        • If succeed, Germans could march to Paris.

      • Outcome:

        • French success but heavy casualties to both sides and accelerated French mutinies.

    • Nivelle Offensive 1917

      • ‘Creeping barrage’ tactics; planned an infantry assault

      • Aim:

        • To overwhelm German lines and retake occupied French territory

      • Outcome:

        • Limited initial success, but Allies were unable to consolidate their control.

        • The offensive failed because only recovering a fraction of what was planned with massive casualties.

        • The territory they captured was too vulnerable for German attack.

        • A wave of French mutinies was one of the major weaknesses exposed by this failure

    • Battle of Passchendaele – Jul 1917

      • Aim:

        • Outflank German defences

        • Distract Germany from noticing French mutinies

        • Destroy nearby German submarine bases

        • To stop Germans gaining the village Passchendaele

      • Outcome:

        • Failed and heavy casualties. It was impossible to move due to the mud terrain.


  • Christmas Truce

    • Solders from both sides were promised before the war, it would be over by Christmas yet there they were still.

    • Close contact between 2 forces took place even before Christmas. German trenches would throw biscuit and jam while the Allies threw bully beef

    • Thereafter, soldiers made an informal truce; giving Christmas greeting to each other on no man’s land.

    • It gave self realization that the enemy was the exactly the same as they were just on the other side.

    • Hatred weakened at this point as they sang, smoked, ate, celebrated and even played sport together.

    • But at the end of the day it was "killed or be killed"


    • Horror & fear of combat drove down morale; discomforts of trench life finally pushed them over the edge.

    • Many mutinied over the poor quality food, inadequate medical services and the lack of leave rather than the failure campaigns
    Changing attitudes of Allied and German soldiers to the war over time

  • Home Front unrest in Britain

    • In Britain, a film showing real footage of the 'Battle of the Somme' scared the hell out of citizens

    • Industrial workers were fed up with increased work hours and production with a war they weren't even winning at.

    • Rivalry between political parties and trade unions rose higher

    Home Front unrest in Germany

    • Germany faced more hardships

    • Sailors were mutinying as well as military morale collapse

    • Standard of living fell as well as supplies due to blockade.

    • Many demanded and demonstrated for peace
    Total war and its social and economic impact on civilians in Britain and Germany

Economic Impact

  • The expectation of ‘a short war’ ‘over by Christmas’ made both sides unprepared for economic demands of supplying an increasingly large army and maintaining civilian supplies in an economy affected by trade blockages.

  • Total war forced each country to mobilise all its resources in:

    • Manpower

    • Food and industry

    • Shipping, transport and communications system

    • Finance



  • Conscription allowed employers to remove workers they deemed troublemakers or useless to their factories.

  • Non-essential industries were cut back

  • Labour shortages inspired modernisation of factories to maintain and increase the rates of production

  • DORA – defence of the Realm Act placed restrictions on civil liberties. Economic reorganisation also became a priority as all production was directed towards the war effort.

  • Ministry of Munitions – given the power to requisition raw materials and establish national factories

  • Restrictions were placed on labour as working hours were increased and a Land Army was created

  • Strikes were banned, new taxes introduced and existing taxes increase

  • Civilians tolerated this in order to win

  • Citizens were expected to surrender things like kettles, pots and candlestick that be melted down and used for the production of war materials.

  • Lack of an overall plan meant that the War Ministry was unable to sustain domestic production for the long war

  • Agricultural interests hoarded food and drove up prices

  • An authoritarian system of government tightened restrictions on civil liberties

  • Censorship was imposed and opposition to the war suppressed

  • War Raw Materials Department controlled raw materials and production

  • Patriotic Auxiliary Service Law – gave the government control of labour allowing it to move men into the war industries.

  • Food production suffered – farmers moved to warfront, Naval blockage

  • Bad seasonal harvest>>>Turnip winter was followed by further privations and starvation in 1918

  • Germany collapsed due to poor planning and mismanagement on the part of the military dictatorship

Social Impact

  • Later, midway through the war, conditions worsen for women and workers and aggravated class divisions in society

  • Working in munitions factories was no way to enhance women’s self-esteem

  • War duties opportunities did not open up for women

  • Initially, the war had positive social changes such as economic and sexual liberation for women

  • Rationing was introduced to both sides

Recruitment, conscription, censorship and propaganda in Britain and Germany

Recruitment and conscription



  • Britain had no conscription prior to war >>> when introduced, men enthusiastically rushed to enlist – colleges and working class majority – [Kitchener’s Army’]

  • Low level of fitness and quality of the British army was a problem later on. As a result 94% of the British dead were working class

  • Conscription later aimed at the bachelors – this failed >>> Military Service Bill – conscripted all single men and all men liable for military service

  • Although they were allowed to plea at a tribunal to not join military service, most cases were refused

  • ‘Daddy what did you do in the great war’

  • German military tradition had a large highly trained and best equipped army in Europe.

  • Conscription was standard policy in pre-war Germany for all men 18-45

  • Germany was known for its strength and cohesiveness – when war broke out conscripts and reserves were all called upon

  • German industry and agriculture consequently suffered.




  • DORA – gave the right to censor mail and news

  • Military leaders did not believe in the public’s right to know

  • Soldiers forbidden to keep diaries

  • Historians, photographers and artists were limited in what they could portray

  • News was often exaggerated and distorted and pushed anti-German propaganda

  • German victories were emphasised

  • Lies were told concerning the outbreak of war, defeats, growing casualties and how terrible the situation was for Germany

  • Lack of central regulation made German censorship less effective than those of Britain

  • Control of the press was low due to failed campaigns and food shortages to troops that left the central government’s focuses elsewhere than maintaining the press

  • As a result civilian morale declined and widespread discontent.




  • Ministry of information was head of major newspaper owners

  • It convinced the population the justice of their cause. It also showed their allies, despite their initial poor contribution, that they were committed to the war

  • Keeping the USA sympathetic enough to halt trade with the Central Powers

  • Leaflet bombing demoralised citizens across Germany

  • Britain more adept at producing effective propaganda

  • Propaganda aimed at German atrocities and use of U-boats to portray German as inhuman, bullies and aggressors.

  • Aimed to boost recruitment and morale, encourage people to contribute to the war effort, and influence anti-German feelings especially in the US

  • There was no effort in producing propaganda to demoralise the enemy

  • Aimed at allied atrocities and portrayed them as suppressing Germany’s greatness; justifying the war, boost morale, promote hatred, encourage contribution.

  • Propaganda largely made by number of private groups and lacked coordination

‘War effort’ which included:

  • Conserve fuel and not go on strike

  • Work diligently and collect scrap metal

  • Volunteer for the army

  • The war was going well and any sacrifices were justified

  • Losses in battle were due to enemy’s use of unfair and underhand tactics.

  • The enemy was evil and ruthless

  • The enemy had committed shocking atrocities

  • The enemy had started the war

The variety of attitudes to the war and how they changed over time in Britain and Germany

Early Enthusiasm

  • All classes welcomed the outbreak of war.

  • Germany created 1.5 million patriotic poems in 1914 alone

  • Crowds participated in parades, songs and parties as a result of patriotic fervour

  • It was believed in Europe that war was needed to bring ‘purification and spiritual cleansing’.

  • Peace was thought to have weakened masculine culture and war would test it.

After the Somme: civilian attitudes to war

  • Society became divided between optimistic support while others began to question it – enormous losses

  • Strike action in Britain and Germany >>> due to high prices of food, housing shortages and restrictions on drinking – demonstrations was viewed as unpatriotic

  • Germany suffered the most due to blockade and many sued for peace but their leaders denied such thought

    • Growing hardship, starvation and disillusion cracked the German home front

    • Opposition became widespread and the naval blockade increased bitterness towards the government

  • Allied victory was one of joy and relief

Society's patriotism

  • Women handed white feathers as a symbol of cowardice to men out of uniform

  • Songs were also made to support military volunteering

  • Clergymen gave speeches on the need for sacrifice and patriotism


The impact of war on women’s lives and experiences in Britain

  • Women filled the gap caused by the absence of men in various industries to ensure that production continued.

    • 7 million women employed in ‘war work’ in various capacities: ambulance drivers, postal workers, bus and tram conductors and dairy workers among others.

  • Women mostly employed in munitions industries and nursing

    • Volunteer Aid Detachments [VADs] – medical assistance on the field

    • Women’s Land Army

    • Royal Air Force

    • Auxiliary Army Corps

    • Royal Navy Service

  • Working class women redefined standards of behaviour and fashion during the war

  • The Suffragettes efforts were brought to an end due to the outbreak of war

  • Women’s votes were granted by the Parliament as a result of their contribution

  • Mothering our solders’ was an activity urged upon

  • Women actively participated in public recruiting campaign – White feather

  • Women were blamed for caused Venereal diseases among the army and were forbidden to have sex with any soldiers. Legislation was even passed to forbidden to the act of sexual intercourse with any member of His Majesty’s Forces.

  • Health issues for women was more focus on infant mortality – it improved and were given wages

  • ‘Normalcy’ was announced in 1918 – refers to females returning to the traditional roles such as house work other domestic work.

Turning points - Impact of the entry of the USA and of the Russian withdrawal

United States of America

  • USA determined to stay neutral was disrupted when:

    • German U-boat campaign sank several American merchant ships - Lusitania

    • Radio message intercepted – Germany and Mexico secret alliance against USA – Zimmermann telegram

    • Allied propaganda concerning alleged German atrocities

    • Unrestricted submarine warfare affected American trade with Britain

    • Publication of the Zimmermann telegram

Impact of US entry

  • The US had no tanks and little modern artillery and very few aircrafts – but a strong navy >>> altered the balance of power in the Atlantic

  • The American Expeditionary Force (AEF) was a major boost in morale to allied soldiers on the Western Front.

    • Reinforcements

    • Unlimited industrial and economic resources

    • German morale and discipline fell since it was a matter of time that Germany army and home front would collapse


  • Lenin and the Bolsheviks took power in November 1917 and there first act was to negotiate peace.

  • Russia was at point of collapsing due to a combination of:

    • Inadequate preparation for modern warfare

    • Sending soldiers into battle without proper equipment, ammunition or clothing – mutiny and demoralised.

    • Food shortages and increased prices – aggressive riots

    • Discontent with Tsar Nicholas II and the PG

  • In the Brest-Litovsk Treaty – Russia lost territories, agricultural and industrial land and 1/3 of its population

  • Germany finally achieved their objective to have a one front war. All Eastern front forces were moved to the West in preparation of the Spring Offensive in a last ditch effort to end the war before American forces arrive en masse.

Ludendorff’s Spring Offensive and the Allied response

Kaiserschlacht – Kaiser’s battle – major 5

  • The spring offensive plan by Ludendorff was a series of new assaults in order to separate the British and French armies by pushing the French forces towards Paris while forcing the British, in the opposite direction.

    • Major 5: Michael, Georgette, Blucher, Gneisenau and Reims-Marneschutz

  • The Allies knew of a German attack coming in spring but were divided as to how they should respond.

    • General Haig thought to send reinforcements to Calais and Boulogne at the cost of the front line being outnumbered by Germans.

    • Even though Haig was warned about the weakness of the British defences, he refused to change his mind.

  • Initially, German rapid offensives captured more territory in this campaign than any other battle in the entire war: 65km gained and 300 000 British casualties in 4 week – allied defeat was possible and Germans were in shell range of Paris.

  • However each operation failed to capitalise on the ground gained due to lack of men and supplies. With no men left in reserve, the tired German armies then faced an Allied counter-offensive.

  • July – Allies succeeded in capturing the village of Le Hamel in 96 minutes by coordinating infantry, Mark V tanks, air support and the tactic of creeping barrage – General Monash

  • Allied Commander in Chief – Foch, push the Germans back from the Marne and Flanders, while Haig launched a massive attack near Amiens on 8 August, totally demoralising German forces.

  • Ludendorff referred to 8 August as ‘the black day of the German Army’. – by then, men and supplies were exhausted.

  • Foch then coordinated attacks from US, French, British, Commonwealth and Belgian forces along the front.

  • Late August, Allied forces reached the Hindenburg Line and broke through on 3 October.

Operation Michael

  • 1st spring offensive – German success and in range of Paris

  • Allied military leaders were shocked by the success – decided to have one military commander in chief

  • Under the new command of Ferdinand Foch, the German advance was driven back. It was mostly due to the German’s having difficulties maintaining supply lines that they retreated.

Operation Georgette

  • 2nd offensive – German success but retreated and morale declined considerably at this point – refused to continue offensives.

  • The Allies then sent British reinforcements in large numbers and again German supply lines failed which pushed German troops back. The morale of the German troops declined considerably.

Operation Blucher

  • 3rd and final offensive – allied counterattacked

  • American troops started coming in waves of 25 000 – 100 000 to the Western Front every month. 275 000 was sent in June alone.

  • The allies counterattack came on 18 June with the Second Battle of the Marne.

  • black day of the Germany Army’ – The French and British forces then launched the Amiens offensive which consisted superior numbers of tanks, aircraft and artillery fire.

  • The British began liberating towns along the Somme known as the “Hundred days Campaign”

Allied Victory

Events leading to the Armistice, 1918



  • Hindenburg Line fell – Ludendorff and the German High Command realise they had lost


  • Ludendorff resigned and advised Reichstag to seek peace.

  • They considered the 14 points to be far better than any peace from France and Britain. However, Wilson and allies would only negotiate if Germany to evacuate all occupied territory and install a new government

    • Strikes, mutinies and threat of revolution demanded Kaiser’s abdication


  • Kaiser abdicated and fled to Holland

  • Strikes, mutinies and growing threat of revolution sky rocketed.

  • War ended and armistice was signed

Reasons for the Allied victory and German collapse

  • Naval blockade starved Germany of vital raw materials and food, contributing to the collapse of the German home front and adversely affecting Germany’s ability to wage war

    • Labour shortages, strikes, mutinies and opposition to the war in Germany

    • Agricultural labourers were called up to join the German army – food shortages

  • Allies were superior economically and militarily and Germany could not continue a 2 front war

    • Allies had infinite supply of manpower and resources

    • War of attrition proved the allies were superior in economic strength

  • USA entry strengthened the Allies and had devastating impact on morale to Germans

  • Germany ran out of reserves to face the Allied counter-attack and casualties were irreplaceable

  • Allied tactics and coordination of new technologies improved – tanks and Ferdinand Foch

  • Failure of the Schlieffen Plan, German offensives and weak German allies

    • Austrian armies were continually reinforced by German soldiers on the Eastern Front

    • The Bulgarian armies were defeated by the British and the Serbs

    • Austria then fell to the Italians at Vittorio-Vento and by October 1918 Turkey surrendered.

    • German offensive failed and opened the way for a massive Allied counter-offensive which pushed German forces back across the Hindenburg line – exhausted and demoralised at this point

The roles and differing goals of Clemenceau, Lloyd George and Wilson in creating the Treaty of Versailles

  • Paris Peace Conference – the Big 3 of the three great powers held back from making strong demands either by a failure to negotiate freely or by a politically insecure position at home

  • Concerns on national boundaries, communist Russia, economies had to be rebuilt and question of reparations had to be decided

  • we shall squeeze the German lemon until the pips squeak’

David Lloyd George – British PM

  • A realist – wanted exact reparations from Germany but reviving German economy

    • British public wanted him to negotiated harsh peace against Germany, thereby limiting his freedom to act

    • Wanted security for France and German fleet removed

    • Agreed with Wilson’s 14 points

Clemenceau – Le Tigre + Father Victory

  • Revenge and compensation – was under pressure to punish and destroy Germany’s strength for security

  • He believed France was still in danger from an undefeated Germany

  • France had witnessed the worst of the fighting on its soil – wanted harsh peace terms.

  • Out of the three, Clemenceau was the most active campaigner and was strongly anti-German. He demanded:

    • Disarmament

    • Guarantees of French security

    • Restoration of Alsace-Lorrain to the French

    • Payment of heavy reparations

    • Creation of a separate buffer state to the west of Rhine

Woodrow Wilson – US president

  • A idealist – ‘just’ peace based on the nations of internationalism, self-determination and a League of Nation

  • He could sign the treaty but it couldn’t become law unless passed by the US senate

    • They did not wanted part in League of Nations – possible dragging into future conflict

  • He has little understanding of European politics and what war meant for Britain and France

  • He failed to emphasise the strength of the USA as the net creditor due to heavy borrowing on the part of the British and the French

Treaty of Versailles consisted

  • German army reduced to 100 000 soldiers

  • Forbidden to manufacture heavy military equipment, chemical weapons, air force

  • German navvy was reduced to coastal patrol ships

  • Alsace and Lorraine were returned to France

  • Rhineland was to be a demilitarised zone

  • Germany lost all its overseas colonies

  • Union between Germany and Austria was forbidden

  • Germany was to accept guilt for the war and pay the reparations for the war

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