Photographic book

Germany in the 1910s


General Erich Ludendorff
General Erich Ludendorff

The outbreak of war aroused in Germany—as in England and France—enthusiastic and naive outbursts of patriotism and dreams of romantic adventure. Devastating death tolls soon brought home the ugly reality of modern warfare to all participants. Patriotic fervor remained strong, however, even in the darkest moments of death and deprivation. Conservative members of the German military refused all efforts at a negotiated peace, extending the bloodiest war in history for a total of four years at a cost of more than 6 million German lives.

The German high command hoped that a quick conquest of France would secure the western front and release forces to fight in the east. Avoiding the fortified French frontier, German armies moved through neutral Belgium, hoping to take Paris by surprise, but the Germans encountered greater resistance in Belgium than expected. Their violation of international law by invading Belgium brought Britain to the aid of France and destroyed all sympathy for Germany and its allies.

German forces nearly reached Paris before they were turned back at the extremely bloody Battle of the Marne in September 1914. The two sides then dug trenches for a ferocious four-year war of attrition. Meanwhile, the Russians attacked on the east, plunging Germany into a two-front war.

The Germans defeated the ill-equipped Russians several times, but they could make no headway on the western front. The Allies—as the countries fighting against Germany were called—blockaded Germany to cut off food and raw materials, causing extensive hardship and rationing of supplies. In 1916 some antiwar socialists broke from the SPD to form the Independent Social Democratic Party, but military leaders, particularly General Erich Ludendorff, dominated the government and prevented any compromise for peace.

Desperate to break the blockade, the Germans declared unrestricted submarine warfare. After several American ships were sunk, the United States entered the war in April 1917. The next year, Russia, in the throes of political revolution, sued for peace, which was concluded by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918. Freed in the east, the German army launched a final, all-out offensive in the west, but the Allies slowly turned the tide.

Recognizing the situation as hopeless, the German high command urged William to let a new civil government sue for peace, particularly since U.S. president Woodrow Wilson insisted on dealing with civilians. William grudgingly appointed Prince Max of Baden chancellor. While Prince Max negotiated with Wilson, fighting continued, sailors mutinied, socialists staged strikes, workers and members of the military formed Communist councils, and revolution broke out in Bavaria. On November 9, 1918, Prince Max announced the abdication of William II and his own resignation as chancellor. Prince Max handed over the government to Friedrich Ebert, leader of the SPD. That same day, Philip Scheidemann, a member of the new government, proclaimed a new republic. Germany agreed to an armistice taking effect on November 11. "Germany" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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