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Old December 14th, 2012, 06:48 AM   #11
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Question seems to be if the prospect of the AEF arriving in force really made that much difference to the German decision to take the offensive in 1918.

The basic problem is that by 1918 the Germans could really only win if they pulled off a successful major offensive. When is the time to do so? In the spring...

Would the Germans be better of waiting until later in the year, if the Yanks weren't expected? Can't really see how?

Would it be preferable for the Germans to adopt an entirely defensive approach, and entirely forego the 1918 Spring Offensive? Probably, but then it would mean admitting to themselves that at best they would be able to achieve a negotiated peace with the Entente, and not an outright victory. And this they were loathe to do. In fact, they were loath to do so even with the prospect of the Americans looning on the horizon. I can't see any reason why the German leadership at the time, without the Americans involved in the equation, would be any less inclined to try to defeat the Entente outright in the spring of 1918? Probably just as much, if not more so.

And the basic German problem is that the war by the later stages had very clearly become identified as a war of materiel, and the French and the British were winning it hands down. Waiting until 1918 for the Germans would have meant either attacking an adversary even more materially superior than ever, or simply sitting pat in their defensive positions and waiting for the Anglo-French joint effort, once they felt satisfied their material advantage was great enough. It's entirely possible it would have been harder for the Entente, and another defensive major battle for Germany, gaining time and perhaps a bit better negotiation position, but that would be about it.

It's kind of better remembered that Pétain in 1917 proposed the French "should wait for the Americans", and while he did say that, what he actually said was that French should wait for "the tanks and the Americans". The former would have come around even without the latter, but tends to get a bit overlooked at times, since it's less complimentary about the AEF, and lends itself less to an interpretation of how in particular the French options were supposedly nil, indirectly indicating that somehow the US won WWI...

In reality, as long as the UK kept up the blockade of Germany, and the US didn't close the tap on the loans for the war-effort, it's quite hard to see how Germany would have come out significantly better in the fighting of 1918, or 19?
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Old December 14th, 2012, 07:31 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by Belisarius View Post
Meuse-Argonne was hardly a killing "blow dealt by the AEF" which was one of five army groups involved, it was more of a diversion. Had the war continued into 1919 the AEF would have doubtless played a more leading role.
Mosier suggests in The Myth of the Great War that the American contribution to the offensive was the most critical, that they were assigned the most well-defended sector of the line, and that their achievements are more impressive as a result (although the French gained ground at a faster rate).

I will reserve final judgment until I read a good history of the campaign, but the claim seems to be motivated more by nationalistic pride than sound historical reasoning. Perhaps the American contribution to this particular offensive was critical, but they were not facing the storm-troopers of 1916. That force had been reduced by attrition, by several years of grueling combat. The French and English payed a terrible price, and without those sacrifices, the AEF, no matter how great its accomplishments, would have had a lot more difficulty in the Meuse-Argonne offensive.

Actually, there probably would not have been such an offensive, if the French had completely broke at Verdun, or if so many Germans had not been killed at the Somme, even if the English payed such a disproportionate price in terms of casualties. I think that the title of Haig's report on the Somme shows that, at least on some level, he understands what was going on: "The Opening of the Wearing-Out Battle."

By 1918, the Germans truly were worn out. Mosier makes a big deal out of the casualty and fatality numbers. It is true: the Allies seemed to suffer worse in every battle. Even at Verdun, where the casualty ratio was much closer to parity than at the Somme, the French suffered higher casualties. That an attacking force was able to inflict higher casualties on their fortified opponent is impressive, and demonstrates the competency and effectiveness of German arms. But no matter how effective the attack, it still cost the Germans a terrible toll. That, combined with their losses at the Somme, truly did wear them down, I think.

It is more difficult to identify the critical battles in a modern war of attrition, versus an old fashioned war of maneuver. In Vietnam, the critical battle was Tet. And yet, American troops were not completely withdrawn until '73, and the South was not finally conquered until '75. Actually, if we look at the entire war as one whole event, with a French phase and then an American phase, the critical battle was in 1954. And yet there were 20 more years of grueling combat to follow after that. But still, the victory at Dien Bien Phu inspired a sense of unshakable confidence that turned to out be more than a match for the materially superior Americans.

On the other hand, even if the British artillery tactics were inferior to the those of the French, even if the barrages launched in preparation for the July 1st attack were wasteful, even if this was poorly coordinated with the infantry, it still killed a lot of Germans. And even if that barrage was less focused and efficient than the German artillery preparation for their attack on the Vedun sector, the Germans still lost many valuable troops in those attacks. The Allies were completely dependent on the financial and material contributions of the US. Where else were the British going to get the millions of shells that they fired at the Somme (no matter how incompetently they were utilized)?

If not for our material contributions, the Allies would have never held out as long as they did. There would have been a negotiated peace, I think, long before 1918. Hence, there would have been no Meuse-Argonne offensive. Even with our help in armaments and finances, the Allies could not master the Germans on the battlefield. Without the US, the Allies would have lost.

But, without the previous sacrifices of the Allies, the Americans would not have been able to achieve what they did on the battlefield. There would have been no job to finish; the Allies would have already caved by then.

The BEF suffered terrible casualties at the Somme. They gained very little ground, and their enemy made them pay for every inch of it. But they did pay, along with the French, and they wore the Germans down as a result. The cost was high, and with better tactics they may have secured their purchase at lower cost. But, if they had not offered these battlefield sacrifices, the Germans may have won the war before the US even had the chance to come in and avert disaster. It doesn't matter how many shells we supply our ally with, if they cannot use them effectively in coordinated infantry attacks against the enemy. Could Haig have used them more effectively? Without doubt. Did his use of them help win the war ultimately? Also without doubt.
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Old December 14th, 2012, 03:51 PM   #13

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Not only Frenchmen and Britishmen were killed in 1916, almost 1 million of Germans perished as well.
It was a sort of turning point, since it determined the end of whatever German chance of acquiring numerical superiority on both front, it destroyed German chances of attack again and literally put to death whatever chances of conducting multiple offensive.
Americans were an enormours moral boost, they simply gave the final coup to Germans in that term.
Americans, on the other hand, were recruits, not battle hardened as Allies or endowed with products of their industry either (guns and airplanes were given by French).
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Old December 14th, 2012, 06:57 PM   #14
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Germany was part of an alliance, and while the German army was unbeaten coming into 1918 and only really broke through their own offensive action, their allies had been exhausted wand would have collapsed and been forced to sue for peace, Bulgaria, Turkey, Austria Hungary were all going to go down. In a scenario without large scale US intervention on the ground, the collapse of it's alliance partners would have meant in 1919 the Germans would have been facing much larger resources, much longer borders. The eastern gains were pretty vulnerable, Romania reentering the war, Allied intervention through the strait, the Chaos of Russia. Even without large scale US forces arriving in France, any scenario saying without this US help Germany could have happily waited on the defense has to take into account the factors outside the western front. With the collapse of their Alliance partners 1919 would have been pretty bad for Germany even without the US.
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Old December 14th, 2012, 07:24 PM   #15

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Germany was part of an alliance, and while the German army was unbeaten coming into 1918...
Not true.

The German army lost the Battle of the Marne in 1914.

The German army lost the Battle of Verdun in 1916.

One could even say that the German Army lost the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

The German army lost at Arras and Messines Ridge in 1917.

And there were countless other minor battles that the Germans also lost on the Western Front.

The German Army had lost battles. The point where you could argue on the decisiveness of these defeats, but not whether or not the Germans had lost a battle.

To say they were undefeated going into 1918 would suggest that Germany had not lost a battle, and if so, you'd then be at a loss to explain why Germany hadn't overrun all of France in the first year of the war.
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Old December 14th, 2012, 08:13 PM   #16

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One other Central Powers significant defeat came to mind after seeing Sam Nary's last post:

To the extent of any German advisors' role in planning of the early 1915 Caucasus campaign by the Ottomans, German leadership (though not the army per se) owned responsibility for an important defeat. Had this campaign even have ended in a draw it is difficult to see how Russia could have done the damage to Austria-Hungary's army which was accomplished in Brusilov's offense in Spring of '16.
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Old December 14th, 2012, 08:15 PM   #17
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Sorry misuse of words, was not clear with my Meaning. I didnt mean it had not been defeated in any particular battle, rather than it remained as powerful force capable of offensive action. It wasnt "beaten" as in been defeated as an effective fighting force.

The German 1918 Offensives really were very costly for the German army, and really sapped it's strength and effectiveness as a fighting force, after the Offensives it was more or less a beaten Army while hundred days offensives were not without effort and blood, the success rested as much on the reduced strength and morale of the German Army as the sucessfl evolution of tactics on the Allied side.
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Old December 15th, 2012, 02:48 AM   #18

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The German spring offensive finally spluttered out on July 17th and within three weeks the German army was in retreat. Ludendorff called the 8th August `the black day of the German army.` For four years they had held together, holding fast at the Somme and Passendale, now their best troops were dead, rations had been cut and the spectre of defeat loomed large. A reinvigorated enemy was upon them, backed by countless thousands of American recruits. Whatever chance of victory the spring had brought was gone and would never come again and the Germans knew it.
It was not so much gallantry or the effectiveness of the AEF that won the war but their mere presence. Meuse - Argonne was one of several allied attacks. But in German minds it was backed by tens of thousabds of reserves. During the winter of 1917 the Germans had been bouyed by the prospect of one more blow to knock the French and English out the war before the Americans were ready. At Meuse - Argonne the Germans saw that the Amereicans were there in force and all to ready for the fray. It was a bitter blow and one from which they would never recover.
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Old December 15th, 2012, 07:20 AM   #19

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Quote:
Originally Posted by pugsville View Post
Germany was part of an alliance, and while the German army was unbeaten coming into 1918 and only really broke through their own offensive action, their allies had been exhausted wand would have collapsed and been forced to sue for peace, Bulgaria, Turkey, Austria Hungary were all going to go down. In a scenario without large scale US intervention on the ground, the collapse of it's alliance partners would have meant in 1919 the Germans would have been facing much larger resources, much longer borders. The eastern gains were pretty vulnerable, Romania reentering the war, Allied intervention through the strait, the Chaos of Russia. Even without large scale US forces arriving in France, any scenario saying without this US help Germany could have happily waited on the defense has to take into account the factors outside the western front. With the collapse of their Alliance partners 1919 would have been pretty bad for Germany even without the US.
Don't you think that the Central Powers achieved a victory in Eastern Europe, getting Russia and its vast resources out of the war, and Romania as well, was sucess. The biggest problem was that Germany's allies were not motivated to continue the war.
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Old December 15th, 2012, 07:54 AM   #20
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One could even say that the German Army lost the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
I will say that. Perhaps it is wrong to say that the allies won this campaign, but the Germans certainly lost it.

Now, the allies payed a terrible price in order to inflict these casualties on the enemy. If they had operated with the rational planning and efficient execution of the Germans in the Verdun offensive, they could have inflicted these casualties without wearing out their own troops so severely. But that is asking the British army to be German.

It is even asking too much to expect them to be more like the French. The French at this point in the war indeed had generals with a sound understanding of industrial warfare, like Fayolle. The attacks in the French sector of the Somme were more competently planned and executed as a result.

But considering the long history of enmity between the French and English, it is impressive that they cooperated as well as they did. English disdain may have prejudiced them overly, and hence they refused to submit to guidance from the more experienced French generals. But even the French command itself was slow to accept the authority of Pétain and Fayolle, and hence they caused unnecessary attrition to their own troops, through the disastrous experiment with Nivelle, and so on. If the French themselves were so reluctant to embrace the tactics of Pétain, why blame Haig so much? All things considered, he worked quite well with the French, I think.

On the other hand, having just started Robin and Prior's account of Passchendaele, I am less inclined to be so charitable to Haig. What's up with the seven week gap between the first assault and the second phase of the offensive? He asked Plumer to draw up plans, and Plumer projects a 2 to 3 day gap between the first assault on the Messines ridge, followed by assaults on more distant objectives. That is as fast as the guns can realistically be moved up within effective striking distance of the next objective - in fact, Plumer's projected timetable itself is highly optimistic, considering the technological limitations at the time.

But this plan displeased Haig for its lack of ambition, it seems. Here we are in 1917, and Haig appears to have learned nothing from the Somme. He still does not understand that artillery must be dragged into the battlefield by horse, and then the parts must be tediously assembled (if we are talking about a big gun), and that perhaps while suffering under counter-battery barrages from the enemy. A time consuming process, indeed! Haig seems to have no appreciation for these facts.

The opening 4-day barrage on Messines was very effective. Artillery was much better organized in conjunction with infantry movements than at the Somme. But, that is thanks to the efforts of commanders lower than Haig, who it seems did the best they could to capture the objectives envisioned by the high command. The artillery doctrine had improved, but Haig had not. He still dreamed of a breakthrough into "open country," and in their efforts to realize these fantasies, the British massacred troops unnecessarily.

When Plumer advocated a 3-day pause in the offensive, Haig had him shuffled to a less authoritative position. He eventually settled on Gough to manage the campaign, even though Plumer was more familiar with the battlefield. In fact, Gough was tied up in other operations that delayed his arrival at Ypres. However, the BEF had planted 2 dozen mines under the Messines position, and they were understandably anxious to set them off (the subsequent explosion was heard in London). So, the Messine operation didn't start until June 7, and the second phase was delayed for 7 weeks. The only reason for the delay seems to be that Gough needed this extra time to establish his new, inexperienced command.

It seems that Haig fixed on Gough specifically because he was new and experienced. That made him easier to control. New to this level of command, he would have to rely more on his superiors for guidance. Less experienced, he could not offer a realistic objection to Haig's ambitious fantasies.

Haig seems very willing to let these petty disputes cloud his judgment. Philpott's apologies were convincing, at first. I was more willing to forgive Haig's mistakes at the Somme, until I starting reading about his decisions at Passchendaelle. Now I am leaning back toward my initial evaluation.
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