the Germans Might Have Won the Great War by Default
Kyle Schuant. Melbourne, 2002
passage of time often casts a false romantic glow over war.
forget the cruelty and suffering that it brings to the innocent.
war shames the human race and is yet another monument to his ignorance, his
greed, and folly
you will regret this."
of Germany to the general staff on the decision to mobilize
WWI, in 1917-18, all combatants, save for the US, were reaching the end of their
psychological tethers. They'd suffered millions of dead. Britain's military
expenditures had gone up twenty fold from 1913; from 91 million, to 1,800
millions of pounds. This was over half is gross domestic product. Rationing had
been instituted in Britain for the general populace, German air raids occurred
across coastal Britain, the Easter Rising in Ireland in 1917 had been put down
with much bloodshed.
occurred in Russia, Italy was near collapse, the bulk of the French army had
mutinied - a frontline division even boarded trains for Paris, but got shot up
by an Algerian division, and surrendered. Roumania had been conquered by
Germany, Serbia had been overrun by Austria-Hungary, the entire Serbian Army
deporting to Italy. In March 1918, Russia signed a peace treaty with the
Germans, granting the Germans: Poland, Ukraine, Bessarabia, Estonia, Latvia
Finland and Lithuania.
in April 1918 came the German offensive. Rejecting the British approach of using
tanks to break the trench deadlock, the Germans used Sturmtruppen,
small groups of men, with grenades, flamethrowers, and so on. They would
infiltrate the line, breaking through weak points. This brought the Germans to
within 37 miles of Paris. British General Haig made his famous “backs to the
wall,” speech, and the Allies appointed Marshal Foch as General-in-Chief
Allied Armies in France; there had never been a single commander before.
– June 1918; Springtime for Deutschereich
instructs Foreign Minister Pinchon to discreetly ask through the Swedes, for an
Armistice with the Germans.
days, news of this leaks out, and strikes occur across France, particularly in
armaments factories. Mutinies break out on the front, soldiers refusing to “go
over the top” when “when peace is only days away!”
with the added pressure of the French near collapse due to cabinet-induced
defeatism, asks for the armistice and, despite British and USA protests, on May
5th at 5am (on the fifth hour of the fifth day of the fifth month).
The British Army fights on with the Belgians for another three weeks, until the
Germans agree to withdraw from Belgium.
spoke of Britain’s aims in the Luxembourg negotiations:
aim," he said , "is to get an appeasement of the fearful hatreds and
antagonisms which exist in Europe to enable the world to settle down.”
Britain's role should be, "the ally of France and the friend of Germany,”
and to help to mitigate "the frightful rancour,
fear and hatred between the two countries,” for these hatreds
would "most certainly fester and within a generation and bring about a
renewal of the struggle which has only just ended.”
first the negotiations stalled over the questions of German colonies,
Alsace-Lorraine, and Belgium. The British also demand that Germany surrender its
Navy. The Germans decided to offer the French some slice of Alsace-Lorraine, to
withdraw from Belgium, and to give up on overseas colonies. The Kaiser is,
naturally, horrified by all this, but Ludendorff and Hindenburg inform him that
Germany, if it fights on, will be defeated in a year, and lose the eastern
territories, also. Perhaps they’ll even have to pay the British and French war
debts to the Americans for them. With the choice between that, and giving up
Lorraine… Hindenburg and Ludendorff think it’s a good deal. Besides which,
they offer their resignations, should the Kaiser not accept it.
Peace Treaty, negotiated at Luxembourg, June 1918, establishes the post-War
Turks remain at war with the Allies, as does Bulgaria. Civil war between the
Reds and the Whites rages in Russia. Trotsky and Lenin are accused of “selling
out to the Germans!”
September 1918; Summer for Deutschereich
French and the British begin demobilising large parts of their armies. They send
a force to Murmansk and Archangelsk to assist the Whites in the Russian Civil
War, but general war weariness prevents them from sending more than a few
British continue their war against the Turks, and take Damascus in September.
There are advances along the Salonika Front towards Constantinople. The Sultan
is toppled, and the Young Turks, under Kemal Ataturk, seize power. The Turks,
and the Bulgars, sign an Armistice on September 3rd.
war is over.
troops return home to mixed response. Woodrow Wilson proclaims it a victory,
since they defended the French Republic and kept it free, “only our presence
prevented a complete French collapse and surrender.” Others regard it as a
shameful waste, since so many men went so far, and didn’t fight (no Belleau
Wood, June 1918 in OTL).
– December 1918; Autumn of Europe
demobilises much of its armies, but retains many to garrison the Union nations.
The White Russians are given good support from a German base in the Ukraine and
Baltic. The Bolshevik capital is moved from Petrograd to Moscow.
France, the government of Clemenceau falls, and is replaced by that of Marshal
Foch, called on to become Premier of France by President Poincare.
Europe, Spanish Influenza becomes a destructive epidemic, spread by soldiers
returning home (in OTL, this happened mid-1919)
– March 1919; the Black Winter for Europe
war took Frenchmen, Germans and Russians from the land. Largely ignoring food
production to concentrate on armaments, crops have been left to rot in the
fields over the Summer of 1918. It won’t be till March that they can plant
again, and June until they harvest. The French, British and Italians receive
some grain from the Americans, increasing their war debts. The Germans don’t,
and while they release the Tsar’s prisoners of war from the areas they now
rule, to return to the lands and farm them, it won’t be until June that
Germany and Eastern Europe sees some relief.
plus the Spanish Influenza kills several millions over the Winter of
1918-19 (in OTL, Spanish Influenza alone killed twice the people the war
had; 21 million, versus 10 million. Add in a lack of US aid to a defeated
Germany, and the casualties would be far worse). On the plus side, the enormous
reserves of coal and oil, set aside for navies and railway supply cars, are now
no longer needed. After the demobilisation on the Western Front, there is plenty
of fuel for heating.
troops remain in Belgium, and British support ensures that German pressure for
Belgium to join their Greater German Customs Union is rebuffed. The Netherlands,
already by virtue of the war (British blockade and German unrestricted submarine
warfare) more tied to the German economy, makes its own arrangements with both
Germany and Britain.
drawing on his experience as Quartermaster General, is called upon by Kaiser
Wilhelm II to become Minister for Works; to organise Germany’s new empire, for
– June 1919; the Winter Becomes a Prison in the Union
organises labour within the Union nations. All non-Germans are subject to the
Land Army Decree, being directed where to work. Hundreds of thousands are
shipped or railed off to farms, factories; this amounts to forced labour for
Slavs. With Germans still starving, Ludendorff institutes a tiered ration
system, whereby Germans get twice the rations of non-Germans. With discontent
over the huge cost of the war, and its continuing effects, there are strikes,
and demonstrations in the German cities. Communist agitators call for the
abdication of the Kaiser. It’s vital, the Kaiser decides, to ensure there be
no Revolution in Germany. The people should be as well fed as possible.
throughout the Spring, strikes and civil disturbances continue in Germany. In
the eastern Union lands, Bolshevik agents organise strikes, assassinations of
people collaborating with the Germans – a continuation of the “Red
Terror,” now extant in Civil War Russia. “The peasants will be drawn into
the struggle,” Bukharin told Lenin, “when they see, hear and know that their
land, boots and grain are being taken from them.”
White Russians under Kornilov, holding to a more traditional military doctrine,
and using prodigious German help, occupy Petrograd in June 1919. Trotsky flees,
and joins Bukharin in Moscow.
1919 – September 1919
Germany, though the Spanish Influenza continues, there is at last some relief
from starvation. As the crops do not yield as much as hoped, famine continues in
the eastern Union. The general German policy becomes to look after the Baltic
lands first, and Poland and the Ukraine last. This comes from traditional
military considerations of defending cities, rather than croplands.
the closing of so many armaments factories, the demobilising of armies, there is
unemployment in German cities. Due to this, and the unrest it may cause,
Ludendorff extends the Land Army Decree to Germans.
agitation against the new Polish King (a German Prince who speaks not a word of
Polish), leads to the Germans allowing the establishment of a Republic there,
under Pilsudski. They do consider brutally crushing it, but fear this may set a
precedent; it would be incovenient to have to brutally crush the entire Union.
Petrograd as a base, the White Russians hope to receive more support from the
Allies. The Allies, however, are unenthusiastic. Nonetheless, the White Russians
hold their own against the Bolsheviks. (In OTL, about this time the Germans
released the last 500,000 of their Russian prisoners of war. These men were
forced to fight in the Bolshevik armies, actually against British troops in
Murmansk, who were trying to keep the supply lines open to the Whites. Churchill
at the time referred to this as, “This
is one of the capital blunders in the history of the world". )
Berlin, at a protest, some protestors, former soldiers complaining about the
Land Army Decree forcing them to do “unsuitable work far from home,” are
shot. Within days, a general strike grips the country. With protests from the
Reichstag itself, Wilhelm II abdicates in favour of his son, who accepts the
Reichstag’s demand for a constitutional monarchy. However, Kaiser Wilhelm III
insists on retaining the power to appoint Chancellors, the Cabinet, and direct
foreign and military policy. In December, Hindenburg is appointed Chancellor,
Ludendorff remaining Minister for Works.
Wilhelm III was born in 1882, and served as commander of the German 5th
Army on the Western Front, including at Verdun, where he faced General Petain.
In 1916 he had tried to persuade then Chancellor Hollweg to sue for peace, so as
to end what he regarded as a senseless war; this was, perhaps, his reaction to
Verdun, where the German Army – the part he commanded – took some 400,000
casualties. He had also won the victory at the Aisne, which we have seen was key
to convincing General Petain to sue for peace. (All this is correct as in OTL,
except of course, Petain’s Panic!)
so came to Germany what the French like to call a “cohabitation,” where the
head of state and his ministers are from rival political streams; Kaiser Wilhelm
III being positively liberal in comparison with Ludendorff; and Hindenburg the
malleable in between.
of supplies and support, the Bolsheviks are largely defeated by 1923. Beyond the
Union, there is a White Russia, composed of Petrograd, Belorus, Muscovy, and
Siberia. There arise independent republics, rival warlords, in Kazakstan,
Tajikstan, and the like; the Whites aren’t strong enough to put them down. The
Tsar’s family are, of course, all murdered by the Bolsheviks, but a Romanov is
nonetheless found to be titular head in Petrograd. Tsar Nicholas III rules…
not at all. Kornilov is his Prime Minister, and Kornilov is of the opinion that
since Tsarist interference in government and warfare gave the Tsar a revolution,
defeat against Germany, and finally a bullet each for his whole family at
Ekatarinburg, Tsarist interference is a bad idea. Thus, White Russia is a
constitutional monarchy in name, a military dictatorship in practice.
Armenia, an independent republic proclaims itself, and is promptly put down by
the Turks. They institute a genocidal policy.
Greeks and Turks have a war, as in OTL, with the same result: the Greeks have
military gains, but they’re not able to stand, and eventually a population
exchange is worked out, causing much suffering to the half a million Turks, and
million Greeks, who must leave their homes.
a France suffering from a tremendous war debt (in OTL, in 1921, war pensions
took up half the national budget, which is why the French were so anxious to get
their reparations), little economic progress is made, and government after
United States, having come so far for a stoush, only to be sent home before they
could get in the ring, is not well pleased by the experience, and is rather
unforgiving of the Allies in their debt repayments as a consequence.
Italy, a new political party arises, the Fascisti, led by one Benito Mussolini.
He calls for a “stronger Italy!” which will take back the Veneto. His
bully-boys cause trouble all across the country, and in 1923 he threatens to
march on Rome; the King makes him Prime Minister. The Fascisti begin programmes
of grand national works, long-term national service, the building of a grand
fleet, and so on. Since the Serbian Army has never been able to go home, they
remain in Italy, and ally themselves with the Fascisti (whom they see as their
best chance to regain Serbia).
defying critics once again by its longevity, lives on. Emperor Karl I, a
confirmed moderate in all things, recognises that his father was right when he
wished to include Slavs in the Crown. However Karl I is torn by the necessity of
keeping subject the overrun Serb nation, and his wish to liberalise in the rest
of Austria-Hungary. He would withdraw the army from Serbia, but every time he
brings up the subject, there arises the subject of the 200,000 Serbs in Italy,
still armed and ready to fight the Austrians. And so he splits his policy,
beating the Serbian Slavs with one hand, while embracing the other Slavs with
the other. Periodically there are clashes, but never oturight rebellion.
also suffers from post-war debts, but since they’re debts to itself, it can
set its own repayment schedule, lessening the weight it must carry about. The
Greater German Customs Union ensures that Germany receives cheap raw materials
and food, and is able to send manufactured goods back; the GGCU, the Union, is,
in fact, Germany’s colonies. It uses them in the same manner as does Britain
her colonies: receiving cheap raw materials, sending back manufactured goods,
giving the locals some measure of autonomy, but not enough to give them ideas
about true independence. Over ten to fiteen years the harsh Land Army Decree is
watered down. In 1928, after ten years, Ludendorff is dismissed from his post by
the Kaiser, an older, more confident man now.
the Union, conditions slowly improve after the harsh times of 1918-23. Once the
Russian Civil War is over, things really look up. But a large German garrison
France in the late 1920s, among the economic chaos, and feelings of
almost-victory – a feeling more frustrating than actual defeat – there
arises a National Socialist Party, a sort of more racist version of
Mussolini’s. It has wild claims of France being “stabbed in the back,” by
the socialist politicians of the Great War, bizarre ideas that France was just
months from victory when it was “sold out” by the left-wing.
1929, comes the Depression. In Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Bulgaria,
right-wing parties take power, or firm that which they already have. As Germany
and Austria-Hungary become more moderate, and the USA remains staunchly
isolationist, western Europe starts looking darker. Of all the European nations,
Germany and the UK are the least hard hit by the Depression, since they’ve
colonies to generate wealth (or exploit, if you like to see it that way).
Nonetheless, in 1928, upon the repealing of the Land Army Decree laws, a
bunch of fascist hoodlumsin Munich attempt to take over the state government.
The ringleaders are arrested, tried for treason, and shot (In OTL, the Imperial
Government had the death penalty for insurrection and treason; the Weimar
government did not).
comes the 1930s, Europe is divided into two camps: the moderate monarchs, or
constitutional monarchies, in Austria-Hungary, Germany, Britain, Spain and
Imperial Russia, and the fascist republics, or de facto republics, in Italy,
France, Greece and Bulgaria.
Russia, after ten years of recovery, feels itself on its feet enough to publicly
call for the Ukraine, “Little Russia,” and the Baltics to be returned to
Russia. Germany, and its various client Princes, give this call the cold
response it might expect. It’s at this point that Imperial Russia and
France’s relationship begins to warm once more, despite their ideological
1932, comes the Spanish Civil War, fought between the Loyalists, followers of
King Carlos, the Republicans, and the Fascists, led by Generalissimo Franco.
Franco is supported by Italy and France; the King, by Britain and Germany. Of
these, France sends its airforce, and some modern armour, to fight on its
favoured side; Britain and Germany send “volunteer brigades.” It’s the
first demonstration of what modern warfare might look like: brutal. In 1937, the
Spanish Civil War ends, with a narrow Loyalist victory.
this time, the expectation develops in the British General Staff, though not in
their politicians or public, that another European War is approaching.
may consider this scenario far-fetched. For example, there are those who say
Clemenceau “would never sue for peace!” I say, well, it is very easy for us,
gazing into space considering the words we read, to say, “never give up!
It’s only another million casualties, so what?” Also, some argue that Gallic
pride means they would not compromise; I would argue that Gallic pride means
they’d rather not have to be saved by American help. When the Cabinet, the
people, and the army are all crying for peace, can one man hold the straining
fabric of a nation together? In any case, I have Clemenceau against it, the
intiative coming from Poincare.
those who doubt the policies of Ludendorff, or that he’d rise to such power, I
say that Ludendorff and Hindenburg effectively were the German government for
the last two years of the war; Hindenburg being the willing puppet of Ludendorff,
and both arranging for the dismissal of “defeatist” officers – though,
obviously, dismissing the Crown Prince was beyond their powers. Ludendorff’s
political attitudes were shown well by his time in Swedish exile, where he wrote
a book beginning the myth that Germany was “stabbed in the back” by its
left-wing element (though, interestingly, the left didn’t rise up in revolt
until Ludendorff himself had already handed power to the Reichstag, telling them
the war couldn’t be won), and by the fact of his participating in Hitler’s
Munich beer Hall Putsch, and being elected a Nazi Party representative to the
Reichstag in 1924. Hitler did not invent the “stab in the back,” myth, or
German militarism, or racism.
those who doubt that fascist parties could come to power in France, I can only
answer that I believe that not only do men shape their circumstances, but that
circumstances can call forth men who suit them. More humiliating and frustrating
than defeat, is an “almost victory.” A defeat will cause you to reassess
yourself; an almost victory leads you to believe you should have persisted last
time, to blame someone for not carrying it through properly. Men can be broken
and made by what happens to them, as well as to shape it.
except for Petain’s telling the Cabinet that the war cannot be won, all other
quotes are real.
N. Offenstadt, 2000; concerning executions for mutiny in the French Army.
various, 2002; concerning W. Churchill, and a general detailed timeline of the
various, 2002; photos of the Great War
Brtish figures for the expense of the Great War.
much information about the Great War, including interesting bios of many of the
Hosking, A History of the Soviet Union,
Fontana Press, London, 1990
Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great
Powers, Unwin, London, 1988
Thomson, Europe Since Napoleon,