The World on Edge: 7 Major Battles That Changed The Outcome of World War I
The World on Edge: 7 Major Battles That Changed The Outcome of World War I

The World on Edge: 7 Major Battles That Changed The Outcome of World War I

Kurt Christopher - July 2, 2017

The World on Edge: 7 Major Battles That Changed The Outcome of World War I
British soldiers on duck boards at Passchendale. dailymail.co.uk

The Battle of Passchendale

Despite the Russian successes in 1916, by early 1917 Russian would find itself in the throws of a full-blown revolution that would sweep the Tsar from power and replace him with a new Soviet regime by the end of the year. German unrestricted submarine warfare was threatening to choke off supplies to the British home islands, and in France mutinous murmurs within the army were only silenced by promises that they would not have to conduct an attack for six months.

Faced with the prospect of a million new German troops freed up from the eastern front, and the danger of internal collapse in the west, in July 1917 the British would launch the last great set-piece battle of the war at Passchendale in Belgium in the hopes of ending the war immediately. Though the British did gain some ground early in the battle, the offensive ground to a halt when weather conditions turned.

The month of August saw the worst rains in thirty years. Situated as it is in the Low Countries, the water table at Passchendale was in places only a few feet below the surface, and it became saturated by the rains. The earth, churned by artillery, turned to a literal quagmire in which soldiers who stepped off duck boards laid over the ground could simply be swallowed up by the mud. The British commander, Douglas Haig, persisted all the same.

As the battle dragged on into the fall, the British gained support from Canadian forces, who renewed the offensive in October. The Canadians would manage to do in ten days what the British had failed to accomplish in three months, taking the ridges overlooking Passchendale. German general Ludendorf would later write that the defeat of Germany began at Passchendale, but they had not yet given up and a year of bloody fighting still remained.

The World on Edge: 7 Major Battles That Changed The Outcome of World War I
Surrendered Germans at Amien carrying Canadian wounded. warmuseum.ca

The Kaiserschlacht

By 1918 all of the Great Powers of Europe were exhausted by four years of war. However, a fresh power outside of Europe had recently committed itself to join the fight as well: the United States. Provoked by German unrestricted submarine warfare and the discovery of a German plot to induce a Mexican attack on the United States, President Woodrow Wilson asked congress to declare war on Germany in April 1917. It would take some time, though, for the United States to mobilize and deploy significant forces to Europe.

In March of 1918 the Germans, drawing upon troops freed up from the eastern front following the Russian revolution, would attempt to break the French and British before the Americans could arrive. This attack, the Kaiserschlacht or Emperor’s Battle, was made up of four separate offensive. Three were to serve as diversions, while the fourth offensive, code-named Michael, was to drive through the British at the Somme and make for the sea to cut them off.

Early on Michael saw stunning success, advancing at a rate not seen since the beginning of the war. The Germans came to within seventy-five miles of Paris, close enough to begin shelling the city with their sixteen inch guns. The advance had been too rapid, though, as the Germans outran their supply lines. As Michael was running out of steam American troops began to arrive on the battlefield, tipping the balance and halting the Kaiserschlacht for good.

By August, with nearly two million fresh American troops had arrived on the continent, the Allies would counterattack against the Germans. This so-called Hundred Days Offensive hurled the Germans back, undoing all of their gains from the spring and pressing towards Germany. Recognizing that Germany could no longer win the war, Hindenburg and Ludendorf told the Kaiser to maneuver for a favorable peace. When the Kaiser called for the German Navy to take to sea to strike a blow to the British that might improve their bargaining position the sailor mutinied. The mutiny expanded, and turned to a revolution that would sweep the German Kaiser from power and replace him with a new government that sued for peace. The war was over.

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