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1918, the end of the war

1918, the end of the war

Final German offensives

1917 saw both the United States join the war on 6th April and, in November of the same year, the collapse of the former Russian Empire.

At the start of 1918, Hinderburg and Ludendorff were taken off the eastern front and a peace treaty, the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, was signed with the new Russian regime in March. The German Empire believed that victory was still within their grasp, but they needed to take it quickly before the Americans provided a real boost for the allies. Ludendorff wanted to launch a major attack on the western front, where almost all of his forces were now in action.

His advisors suggested a new attack either side of the Verdun salient, among other things, but Ludendorff rejected this idea and the Flanders options was also ruled out.

On the first day of spring, 21st March 1918, the German divisions launched an attack on the St. Quentin sector in Picardy and later, on 27th May, on the Chemin des Dames. On 15th July 1918 the German’s launched a new attack on Champagne. This wave of attacks enabled them to gain ground but the allies did not crumble and this second Battle of the Marne on 18th July saw the launch of a Franco-British counter attack in Villers-Cotterêts which proved particularly costly to Germany, which was stopped in its tracks. The campaign had definitively switched sides. The morale of the German soldiers was down and the ‘best army in the world’ was starting to doubt itself. On 8th August 1918, the ‘day of mourning for the German army’ in the words of Ludendorff, a major allied offensive claimed victory in Picardie.

 American involvement 

The Americans were now in an orderly formation and the armoured vehicles had been released from the Renault factories.

This poster, published in 1919, shows an American soldier overlooking the town of St. Mihiel

On 12th September 1918, the American First Army, led by General Pershing, took control of the St. Mihiel salient with the help of the 2nd French Colonial Corps and 15,000 Germans were taken prisoner.

On 22nd September, Pershing set up his headquarters in Souilly, before the French and the Americans came together to fight side-by-side in Argonne, in the Verdun sector, on 26th September. Varennes and Montfaucon were recaptured and 9,000 Germans were taken prisoner. On 10th October Argonne was completely liberated, whilst over on the right bank of the Meuse, the 17th French Corps and two American divisions were heading towards Damvillers. The Germans resisted in the Hauts de Meuse but the Americans crossed the river close to Stenay. The Germans pulled back, never to set foot in Verdun.

 

The Armistice

On 11th November the Germans signed the Armistice in Rethondes, aware of the fact that continuing to fight could only result in an even more painful defeat for them. At 11:00am, the First World War came to an end. 50 countries from all five continents had played a part in it, 60 million men had fought, 10 million men had died, 10 million more had been seriously injured and four empires had crumbled.

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