In 1918, the Germans attack… and fall apart

The end of the fierce battles occurred on november 11th 1918. Much earlier than planned. Germany is defeated, France partially destroyed. The world has been changed forever. 

Jean-Yves Le Naour, doctor in history, a specialist on WWI was recently interviewed in our local paper Ouest-France on November 10th/11th 2018. Here is a transcript of what he said.

Ouvrage: 1914-1918, l’intégrale. Auteur Jean-Yves Le Naour. Edition Perrin.

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O.F: On january the firs 1918, nobody imagines on the Entente Powers side ( France, The U.K, Italy and the States) the war is going to end in 10 months and a half?

J.Y.L.N: For the Allies of WWI, victory is thought to take place within one to two years’ time ( 1919/1920). They are waiting for the Americans to add numeric superiority, the programmes of tank and plane constructions which will give France and the U.K the leadership on the battle fields… Germany, for its part, is sure to win the war by massively attacking in spring 1918.

O.F: Thanks to the troops removed from the Russian Front after the Peace signed with the Soviets? 

J.Y.L.N:  For General Ludendorff, Commander in chief of the German army, the aim is to win before the Allies get too strong. . He launches attacks in Picardie on March 21st, releasing tremendous, colossal forces at the joint of the French and British Front, just where there is no unity in military command, the British tending to retreat to the north to protect the Channel ports ( Boulogne, Calais)  and the French to retreat towards the south to protect Paris. The German attack is successful at the beginning: the enemy pushes 50km inland, which has never been seen since 1914! However, the Germans don’t manage to break through, French reinforcements getting  in whereas the German troops, decimated and starving, end up trampling.

O.F: Is it thanks to the Americans? 

J.Y.L.N: They only play an important part in June 1918. Before, The French and the British alone are under fire. The American soldiers are been trained …and their chief doesn’t want to plug the gaping  holes of the Allied Front but imagines himself as the over all winner in 1919.

O.F: So, why the German defeat? 

J.Y.L.N: Because the country is falling into pieces: not enough iron for the bombing shells, not enough bread to feed the population, not enough men to replace those killed on  the battle fields, not enough labour force, not enough money … Germany is on its knees.

O.F: Does november 11th mean the end of the fighting in Europe?

J.Y.L.N: The slaughter and dogfight  continue  in Eastern and Southern Europe. The Civil War rages in Russia. The Soviets are also at war with Poland, who, hardly resurrected, wants to extend its border via cannon shots towards Ukraine. Italy and Yugoslavia fight over the town of Fiume in the Adriatic … without mentioning the Greco-Turk war which will last until 1922.

O.F: What is the outcome of that war?

J.Y.L.N: The killing of 10 million people in Europe, including 1,5 million of French people. It is a tremendous cataclysm in which, Europe, the world centre before 1914, has never completely recovered ever since. Indebted, its economy riddled by inflation, Europe gives up its leadership in favor of the USA. Two messianic postures have appeared: Wilsonianism and Leninism. The American President Wilson defending the idea of the League of Nations which should, for ever, avoid war and, Lenin, leader of Soviet Russia, for his part, pushes for the International Communist Revolution. We enter then the age of ideologies. From total warfare totalitarianism is spreading. 1919 is both the year of the creation of the Italian Facist of Combat by Mussolini and the German Workers’ Party, precursor of the Nazi party. 

O.F: On the signature of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, do the victors impose their views?

J.Y.L.N: Victors always dictate their peace to vanquished nations. But this peace is the result of a difficult compromise because, among Allies, no one wants the same thing. The French distrust Germany. The American talk of The League Of Nations, of moral principles. The British don’t want to weaken Germany too much in order to not reinforce France too much … After some intense debate, this peace doesn’t satisfy anybody, either the victors or the vanquished. 

O.F: Has Germany been really “tormented” in that treaty?

It is a legend German nationalists have succeeded to have the world swallowed. Germany lost its territories inhabited by Danes and Polish, it has lost Alsace-Lorraine, French to its heart. Some arrangements are surely questionable: to give access to the sea to Poland, Danzig ( now Gdansk) which is a German is handed over. But the countryside around the town was inhabited by Poles. The war damages asked to Germany weren’t unsustainable as  alleged. France paid more ( in relation to its GDP) to Germany after the 1871 defeat! France is the country which gets out with the most damages: war has taken place on its soil, towns have to be rebuilt ( Arras, Verdun, Reims …), villages have been erased, 3,5 millions of hectares in different war fronts to rehabilitate, it is indebted to the hilt. Germany, protected from massive destructions, remains the first European industrial power. In 1924, it has recovered its 1914 level. France will wait until 1928…

O.F: Women have proved their had their place in society, in the fields, in the factories… Yet they don’t get the right to vote. Why?

There is in France a combination of opponents: on the right wing of the political chessboard, traditionalists , afraid of women’s emancipation, proclaim a family has a chief and that chief is a man and ifever women has the right to vote it will bring marital rows, etc… On the left wing of the political arena, among the Radicals, the idea is if women, more in the religious practice,  were given the right to vote they will turn on the church side. All arguments are used, even the most absurd and ludicrous to bar women’s suffrage. In fact, men,  whatever political side they are on, are afraid of losing their power which they assimilate to their sex.