In July 1917…after 3 years at war… Germany was winning the war. On the Western Front, German territorial gains were being held and the French and British home fronts were weakening. The French also had to deal with a demoralized army with large numbers of soldiers going so far as to mutiny. The possibility of a French collapse was real and weakened British forces were no match for the Germans on their own.
On the Eastern Front, the Russian Empire lost huge amounts of territory and their home front was already collapsing. Germany and Austria were also suffering, but they had the upper hand militarily and could survive longer than their enemies.
The images posted here represent the strength and confidence of the German Empire in the first 3 years of war….in particular this German poster from July 1917, posing the question…. “Who is the Victor?” ….The poster answers by showing the dramatic territorial gains made by Germany et al versus the miniscule and diminishing gains of Britain et al. The answer to “Who is the victor?” is obviously the German side in every year from 1914 to July 1917, the date of this poster.
Impressive German victories were won on the Eastern front, where battle lines were much more fluid and spread over a huge area from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Three years of German victories in the east, combined with communist uprisings in Russian cities, led to Russia’s home front collapsing in February 1917 and to a complete German victory in October.
The result was that Germany no longer had to split its forces in a dangerous two front war and could concentrate almost fully on the Western Front. I say almost because 1 million German soldiers had to stay in the east to administer the newly acquired states of Russian Latvia, Russian Lithuania and Russian Poland.
However, skipping forward one year to mid 1918, the German army now was confronting a new enemy, the United States, along with its gradually increasing supply of fresh troops and unlimited assets. Also, the German home front was now contending with increasing socialist and communist unrest, including a mutiny of idle sailors in the Navy.
This increasing unrest forced the Kaiser to abdicate, making General Hindenburg even more powerful than he had been as the de facto leader of Germany. He could have continued the war to wait for Britain and France to collapse first, but the introduction of fresh new troops and money from America was propping up France and Britain and therefore would postpone the collapse of their home fronts. He increasingly felt that continuing the war would only increase chaos and starvation at home.
Taking this into account and because of President Wilson’s 14 Points statement of reasonable peace terms, Germany agreed to a cease fire in November 1918. The text of the Fourteen Points had been widely distributed in Germany as propaganda prior to the end of the war, and was well known by the Germans.
Unfortunately, Wilson’s 14 Points were ignored by France and Britain. Most of Wilson’s 14 Points were scuttled and the differences between Wilson’s document and the final Treaty of Versailles fueled great anger in Germany. They were lured into an Armistice under false pretenses and were falsely accused of starting the world war. There was also general outrage over huge reparations demanded and the large scale theft of German territory and colonies and industrial assets.
Although America’s support of Britain and France ended the war, Wilson’s failure to assert himself allowed for British/French overreach and led directly to the rise of a strong nationalist leader in Germany.
Part 2 of the “war to end all wars” would begin in 1939.