The Impact of WW1 on Germany


Reactions to the Outbreak of War

Huge demonstrations (crowds of 100,000) against war on the 28th and 29th July in Berlin. However, the government presents the conflict as a defensive campaign against Slav aggression, and thus the general consensus falls on the side of national duty, seeing a moral responsibility. 

The political divisions of the pre-war era are over, with the Kaiser announcing: 'I know no parties any more, only Germans.' The Reichstag passes an Enabling Act, the Burgfrieden, which delegates all of its legislative powers to the Bundesrat who rule the Home Front by emergency legislation. The Reichstag has the power to review but they do not change a single law during the whole duration of the war.

The War Ministry takes over the bureaucratic function of running the war. Corporations under the control of the War Materials department are set up to ensure the supply of raw  materials for the war effort. The War Committee for German Industry advises the bureaucrats on industrial policy. Most enterprises stay in private hands for efficiency. Bureaucracy is strong. 

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War 1914

On the night of 4th August 1914, the Germans unleash the Schlieffen Plan. Throughout August, German armies make strong progress, defeating fierce resistance (British Expeditionary Force) to make the passage through Belgium. The advance slows due to lack of supplies.

In the east, Hindenburg and Ludendorff's armies win two great battles at Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes. The Generals become folk heroes.

At the end of September, the German armies were halted within shelling distance of Paris at the first Battle of the Marne. They withdrew to the River Aisne and dug in. For the rest of the year, both armies attempted to outglank the other in a 'race to the sea'. Stalemate resulted. Hundreds of miles of trenches and around 650,000 casulaties on both fronts at the end of 1914. Germany's best opportunity for victory had passed.

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War 1915

In 1915, Erich von Falkenhayn becomes new Chief Commander of the General Staff. He is meant to devise an alternative strategy with the Supreme Command of the Army (OHL) following the failure of the Schlieffen Plan. Solution was to win a decisive victory on either front, but there is debate as to which to focus on. 

Against Falkenhayn's instincts, decision was made to attack in the East. A successful campaign in Galicia in Poland throws the Russian army back over 250 miles. Massive Russian losses but not enough to knock them out of the war. 

On the Western Front, the Allies had suffered losses attacking the German defensive positions for little gain. The campaign against Germany's Turkish allies in Gallopoli had been a failure. Falkenhayn was now more sure than ever that the key to German victory lay on the Western Front. He wished to knock out the British using an aggressive submarine campaign. This was despite the fact that the sinking of passenger ship Lusitania drew America closer to joining the war. German armies were stretched. 

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Shortage of raw materials and consumer basics. On 4th February 1915, the German government announced a submarine blockade of GB. Royal Navy responds, seizing all goods presumed to be heading for Germany. This has a considerable effect on the Home Front. Germany was not self-sufficient in food. In 1914 it imported around 25% of what it consumed. Military took priority over transport so supplies to the cities were hit. State assumes control for the regulation and distribution of food. 

January 1915, Imperial Grain Corporation set up by the Bundesrat to administer the rationing and distribution of grain. Followed by creation of over 40 ICs who competed with federal, state and regional govs to administer the food supply. 

To bring coherence, the state set up the War Food Office in 1916. The chaos of the bureaucratic jungle meant that decisions were often counter-productive. Early 1915 sees killing og 9 million pigs as they were consumers of grain. Consequences were less pork and less fertiliser, having a damaging effect on food production. 

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Mobilisation in 1914 drained the countryside of up to a third of its labour force. By the end of 1914, half the agricultural workforce had been called up. This had an immediate impact on grain production.

The conservative German society meant that the state did not consider using women in the armed forces and they were not conscripted into work. Women did work however, comprising a third of the industrial workforce. 40% Krupp (munitions) employees were women. Many had already been in employment in areas such as domestic service. War brought opportunity for better paid positions. 

In January 1915, rationing of bread and other items was introduced. This led to 'Ersatz' (substitute) goods such as coffee made from tree bark or meatless sausages. Those in the countryside suffered less as they had immediate access to food. The black market provided some relief as did foraging ('Hamsterfahrt'). There was a shortage of fats as glycerine was essential for explosives. The ration equalled just 7% of pre-war consumption. 

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Extent of Opposition

The key to the minimal opposition was the attitude of the SPD and trade union leaders in August 1914. They ended their party's isolation by supporting the war effort. 

Not all socialists were in favour though. In August 1914, 14 of the 100 SPD in the Reichstag argued against the war. At the end of 1914, one SPD deputy, Karl Liebknecht, voted against war credits. At the end of 1915, 20 deputies did the same. They were lone voices.

A handful of radicals believed that the only way to peace was through revolutiom. These people, including Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, spent most of the war in prison. Small numbers of pacifists formed the German Peace League, but they had little impact. 

Against the naysayers were the party and trade union leadership as well as the Deputy Commanding Generals, police, press, and public opinion. 

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The Year of Attrition

1916 was a defining year of the war. Falkenhayn believed that the war could only be won through attrition and endurance: Ermittlung. 

In February, the Germans launched an assault on Verdun with the aim of wearing the French armies down to surrender. The killing field of Verdun saw 700,000 casulties from both sides for no gain. 

In May 1916, a naval clash at Jutland against GB. The Germans sunk more vessels but disengaged and retreated to port. The crippling Royal Navy blockade continued. 

To distract German attention from Verdun, the Allies open an offensive on the Somme in July 1916 with equally murderous results.

In Galicia in the East, the Russians launch an intially successful attack. Germans are forced to send reserves to their Austrian allies, managing to halt then reverse the Russian attack known as the Brusilov Offensive. 

German armies became even more stretched in August 1916 when the Romanians entered the war on the side of the Allies. German war casualties now totalled 1.5 million. 

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Hindenburg and Ludendorff

Appointment of Hindenburg as Head of the Oberste Heeresleitung (OHL, Supreme Army Command) and Ludendorff as General Quartermaster (Chief of Staff) marked the beginning of a quasi military dictatorship. Ludendorff was now the most powerful man in Germany. He still had to consult the Kaiser. The bureaucracy ran the war effort and the Reichstag held budgetary control. 

From August 1916 the two men ran the strategy of the war. Their views were very contrasting to Chancellor B-H. They rejected any idea of a negotiated peace. They believed that Russia should be knocked out of the war and subjected to a harsh peace settlement. They also aimed to reward the German people for their sacrifice after the war by taking control of vast annexations of land. 

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The Hindenburg Programme

The beginning of total war - the mobilisation of all resources for the war effort, to compensate for the lack of raw materials by introducing greater efficiencies and drive. All non-essential industries were to be shut down. 

A new War Minister, Hermann von Stein, is appointed to take control of economic mobilisation. The Supreme War Office is created under General Groener to oversee this process. The Auxiliary labour Law is approved by the Reichstag in 1916. This law is to mobilise all available male labour for the war effort. 

It was a significant turning point as it made it compulsory for all German males over 17 and under 60 to work for the war effort if required. As a gesture to the trade unions, the right to collective bargaining was granted. Arbitration boards set up to mediate disputes in companies with over 50 employees. 

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The Supreme War Office failed to resolve the bureaucratic chaos. Groener found it difficult to shut down supposedly non-essential businesses due to vested interests of many.

The Auxiliary Labour Law failed to mobilise large numbers of extra men as these people did not exist.

The Hindenburg programme placed an even greater strain on the already stretched supply of raw materials, but did increase the production of munitions. 

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Shortages 1916-1918

Worsened by the cold winter of 1916-17. Coal production 1917 is only 90% of that in 1813, despite increased demand. Freezing of Germany's rivers and railways made transportation problems worse. Shortage of animal fats and coals mean a shortage of soap. Clothing was in short supply. To save on fuel, local authorities dim street lights and cut back on trams. Weather had catastrophic effects on the potato harvest - potatoes were being relied on heavily due to the diminished wheat harvest following labour shortage. It was also an important source of food for livestock. The damp spring of 1917 led to another potato blight. Despite improvement in the crop in the next two years, there is considerable hunger. 

Urban working class suffers most. Potato shortage has a knock-on effect on dairy production and animal fats which fall by a third in 1917. Germans turn to the turnip as an Ersatz potato, leading to the period to be known as the 'Turnip Winter'. Soup kitchens are established to provide meals. 6,000,000 meals handed out in Hamburg in April alone. Rising levels of malnutrition. If peasants did not like the grain price, they would hoard it. Queuing became a defining experience of the war, nicknamed the Polonaise. 

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Social Consequences

Peasantry and rural producers are alienated by government regulations. Despite 1 million prisoners of war working on the land, there is a lack of labour. State prices are low and do not take into account production costs. There is resentment of the Junkers who retain tax privileges until 1916 and city war profiteers who seemed to have made their fortunes from the war.

The urban working class resent state and bureaucratic controls. They also resent the black market, where between 20-35% food was sold. They blame the middle classes, speculators and the Jews. 

The middle classes enter into an insecure world without servants and savings which are declining in worth. The lower middle class (Mittelstand) such as teachers and officials suffer more as the gap closes between those who are salaried and those who are not. 

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War 1917

It was widely believed that the only way to defeat Britain would be unrestricted submarine warfare. B-H and other objected to this as they believed it would lead to American involvement. In April, the German navy sank 875,000 tons of Allied shipping, but the adoption of the convoy system by the British meant another such success would not be repeated. As predicted, the USA declared war on Germany that same month. This sparked the process of political polarisation in Germany - as a democratic nation, the USA was not a natural enemy for many. 

In March, German troops on the Western front form two long lines of defense known as the Hindenburg and Siegfried Lines. Military commanders begin to train elite troops for movement rather than static warfare. All year the Alllies attempt in vain to break these lines. Costly offensives include Arras (GB) and Ypres (GB), and Chemin des Dames (French). 16 Corps of the French army mutinied in May-June. The disintegration of the Russian army - due to another failed Galicia campaign and the Bolshevik revolution - coupled with a crushing defeat of the Italians at Caporetto in October, argues well for Ludendorff's plan for success in 1918. 

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Opposition was growing on the Home Front due to the huge losses. In May and June 1916, workers demand 'Freedom, Bread and Peace' in Berlin. Karl Liebknecht is arrested at a rally for criticising the war and many workers strike in sympathy. The long working hours fuel resentment. 

The Russian Revolution in March provides inspiration for the discontented, with American entry into the war revitalising opposition and the demand for change. Reduction in the bread ration prompts large-scale strikes in April 1917. In Berlin alone, over 300,000 workers demonstrate. Some form workers councils, like those in Russia. The trade union leaders object to this as do SPD members in Reichstag. They are supported by a minority of socialists who are thrown out of the SPD in March for refusing to vote in favour of war credits. They form their own breakaway party, the Independent Socialists (USPD). In 1918, the party had 100,000 members across Germany who sought an immediate end to the war, social reform, a repeal of the Auxiliary Service Law, and no more war loans. The split was a clear sign of growing polarisation. 

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July Crisis

Leaders of the majority SPD continue to support the war tentatively. The entry of the USA and the Russian revolution made it harder for them to convince their members that the war was just. The Kaiser was persuaded by B-H to give hope of reform, and made his Easter Offer on 7th April 1917. He promised vaguely to end Prussia's three-class voting system and reform the Bundesrat when war was over. Many Reichstag members felt it was time to negotiate a 'peace without victory' rather than wait for a 'victorious peace'. B-H did not share this view and was in an impossible position. He had lost the confidence of the Reichstag and the military command. He resigned, replaced by Ludendorff nominee, George Michaelis. 

On 19th July, Catholic deputy Matthias Erzberger persuades a majority to vote in favour of a 'Peace Resolution' without annexation of land. It suceeds 212 votes to 116.

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Fault lines were becoming even clearer. In August 1917, Pope Benedict XV issues a peace note, urging the warring countries to consider a seven-point peace plan. The idea was ignored by Ludendorff.

Also in August, Richard von Kühlmann became German Foreign Secretary. He hoped for a negotiated peace without annexation but with extension of German influence in the East. His moderation was disliked by Hindenburg and Ludendorff who helped engineer his dismissal in July 1918.

In September, a pressure group called the German Fatherland Party promoted the cause of a victorious peace. It had 1 million members supported by Ludendorff, Tirpitz and other military figures.

A rival pressure group, the Peace League for Freedom and Fatherland promoted a more moderate peace.

In October, Michaelis was sacked as the Reichstag passed a resolution supporting reform of the Prussian voting system. He was replaced by Count Hertling of the Centre Party. Conservatives made it clear that they were not prepared to accede to parliamentary reform.

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War and Peace 1918

In January 1918, huge strikes gripped Berlin and other industrial centres. Munitions factories stopped work. Strikes were inspired by the USPD. The strikers wanted an end to the war, more food, and democratic rates.

The political initiative quickly swung back to the military though with a settlement following victory in the east. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, signed by the Russian government in March handed over the regions of Poland, Lithuania, Finland, the Baltic provinces, part of the Caucusus and the Ukraine to Germany. Thus, Germany had seized three quarters of Russia's coal and iron, near enough all of its oil and cotton, and a third of its population. All parties in the Reichstag except the USPD voted in favour of the Treaty. 

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The Ludendorff Offensive

The treaty allowed the transfer of half a million troops from the Eastern to the Western Front in anticipation of the great offensive. The aim was to force the remaining Allies to withdraw from the war. Wishful thinking given that the Allies still had superiority in men and materials, having yet to tap into the USA's resources.

On the 21st March, the Germans launched their attack, pushing Allied troops back considerable distances. By July they had advances 80 miles and were exhausted, having suffered 500,000 casualties. The Allies counter-attacked and in September, the Germans had been thrown back to the Hindenburg Line, morale severly dented. Ludendorff described the 8th August as 'the blackest day of the German army', following the push-back at Amiens by the British. 

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The Impact of Defeat 1

The surrender of Bulgaria in late September shook Ludendorff. On the 29th he demanded armistice talks with the Allies. By late 1918 Germany and her allies were exhausted. Prince Max of Baden is chosen as Chancellor on the 4th October, forming a coalition government of the Centre and Progressives parties and the SPD. The Kaiser was now prepared to give constitutional change, allowing the Reichstag to consider foreign and military affairs, ensure that the Cabinet gov was to be recognised by the constitution and reform the Prussian voting. 

Prince Max begins negotiations with the Allies. Ludendorff resigns on the 27th October, succeeded by Groener. Prospect of defeat sparks mutinies in ports of Wilhelmshaven on the 29th and Kiel on 2nd November. This soon spreads. Workers soviets are set up in towns and ports such as Rostock, Bremen, Hamburg and Lübeck. In Munich, a revolt on 8th November, led by Kurt Eisner leads to the proclamation of a democratic and socialist republic in Bavaria. 

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The Impact of Defeat 2

The Allies demand the Kaiser's abdication. He flees to Holland on the 10th and Prince max announces his abdication. SPD withdraw their support from Max's gov, Friedrich Ebert (SPD) replaces him. Gov consists only of SPD and USPD. At Compiegne, German armistice forced to agree to stiff ceasfire terms. They must withdraw east of the Rhine. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and the Treaty of Bucharest are renounced, German troops must withdraw from Russia, Romania, Austria-Hungary and Turkey. Germany must surrender 150 submarines and a number of large naval bessels. On 11th November, German delegates meet with Allied reps and sign the armistice. The war is over.

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