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HI136 The History of Germany Lecture 6

The First World War

The July Crisis  

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28 June: Archduke Franz Ferdinand assassinated at Sarajevo. 5 July: Kaiser Wilhelm II offers Germany’s unconditional support (the ‘blank cheque’) to Austria-Hungary. 23 July: Austria issues her ultimatum to Serbia. 28 July: Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia. Russia orders ‘partial mobilisation’ of her armed forces. 30 July: Russia orders general mobilisation. Austria orders general mobilisation. 1 August: Germany declares war on Russia. France orders mobilisation. 2 August: Germany issues an ultimatum to Belgium, demanding to be allowed to move troops through Belgian territory. 3 August: Germany declares war on France. Italy proclaims her neutrality. 4 August: German troops cross the Belgian frontier. Britain declares war on Germany.

Interpretations 

Government (Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg): wage a limited war to stabilise alliance system and political system, taking the risk of a major war but not wanting it. Playing with fire. Army (Chief of Staff Helmuth von Moltke): wage a preventive war as early as possible before military strength of Russia and France becomes overwhelming (expected to be the case in 1916) . Right-wing nationalists, conservatives and some industrialists: fear of revolution or victory of Social Democrats in next election. Either revocation of universal male suffrage, suppression of Social Democracy and dictatorial rule or end of old political and social order, universal suffrage for Prussian Landtag, responsibility of government to the Reichstag, perhaps social revolution. Intellectuals, some of the middle class: cultural pessimism, expectation of war, rejuvenation of nation, new exciting time. Victorious war = best way to solve the stalemate, would have a stabilising effect and help foster national unity.

Interpretations  

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War was forced upon Germany – traditional German view All nations were equally responsible, pessimistic view of inevitability of war widespread, fatal automatism of alliance systems – alternative German view Germany and Austria-Hungary were alone responsible – view of Allies German government, military & economic elites were preparing for war at least since 1912 – aim: world power and territorial gains in the east and the west (Fritz Fischer) ‘Fischer Controversy’ Social imperialism – traditional elites feel under pressure to change social and political order to prevent reform – wage war to divert attention from domestic problems, overcome polarisation of German society (Hans-Ulrich Wehler)

Popular enthusiasm and support for Austria (Berlin, 4 August 1914)

August 1, 1914, in Berlin (1914) by Arthur Kampf

“I thank all of you for the love and loyalty that you have shown me these past days. These were serious days, like seldom before. Should it now come to a battle, then there will be no more political parties. I, too, was attacked by the one or the other party. That was in peace. I forgive you now from the depths of my heart. I no longer recognize any parties or any confessions; today we are all German brothers and only German brothers. If our neighbours want it no other way, if our neighbours do not grant us peace, then I hope to God that our good German sword will see us through to victory in these difficult battles.� Wilhelm II (1 August 1914)

Burgfriede 

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A political truce called by the parties in the Reichstag for the duration of hostilities. Even the SPD agreed to this and voted for War Credits. The SPD supported the war because: 

They had been convinced that this was a defensive war against autocratic Russia. Many Socialists were also patriots and were proud of Germany and her achievements. The party leadership hoped to gain political legitimacy through supporting the nation in its hour of need.

The Schlieffen Plan 

Drawn up by General Alfred von Schlieffen (1833-1913), chief of the general staff from 1891 to 1905. Designed to cope with the prospect of a war on two fronts. Its objective was to quickly knock out France, leaving the German army free to face Russia. Several flaws in the plan, which were compounded by unexpected reverses once operations commenced.

Failure of the Schlieffen Plan

The invasion of Belgium made Germany seem like the aggressor and brought Britain into the War. The plan had not been updated to take recent Russian and French military reforms into account.

German troops charging into battle (above) and digging in to defensive positions (below) in the west, 1914

Moltke weakened the thrust through Belgium by diverting troops to Alsace and Lorraine and East Prussia. The Germans faced stiffer resistance than anticipated – in particular they had not expected to have to fight the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). The German advance halted at the First Battle of the Marne (4-10 Sept. 1914) and the Battle of the Aisne (15-18 Sept. 1914). September-December: The ‘race for sea’. By December 1914 the front had stagnated into a 400 mile system of trenches running from the Swiss border to the North Sea.

The War in the East, 1914-15 

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Russia mobilised her troops more quickly than anticipated and invaded East Prussia. General von Prittwitz ordered a retreat to the Vistula on 20 August. Displeased with this timid response, Moltke replaced Prittwitz with Paul von Hindenburg.

Paul von Hindenburg (1847-1934) 

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1847: Born at Poznan in Prussian Poland, the son of an East Prussian landowner. Educated at cadet schools in Wahlstadt and Berlin. Fought at Königgrätz (1866) and in the Franco-Prussian War. 1878: Joined the General Staff. 1905: Promoted to the rank of General. 1911: Retired from active service. 22 August 1914: Brought out of retirement to command the German Eighth Army in East Prussia. Victory at Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes made him a national hero. In many ways the archetypal Prussian Junker.

The War in the East, 1914-15      

Russia mobilised her troops more quickly than anticipated and invaded East Prussia. General von Prittwitz ordered a retreat to the Vistula on 20 August. Displeased with this timid response, Moltke replaced Prittwitz with Paul von Hindenburg. The Russians defeated at the Battle of Tannenburg (26-31 August 1914) and the Battle of the Masurian Lakes (9-14 September 1914). Hindenburg became a public hero, promoted to Field Marshal and placed in command of the whole Eastern Front. Further campaigns in 1915 penetrated deep into Russian territory, driving into Poland and the Baltic States and capturing Warsaw and Vilna. The Schlieffen Plan turned on its head – a war of movement in the east, while the western front stagnated.

The ‘Easterners’: Hindenburg, Ludendorff, Hoffmann and Mackensen by Oskar Bruch

Trench Warfare The Battlefield in the Argonne Forest (1916)

Postcard: Resting in the Trenches, c. 1914

Trench Warfare

German troops attacking, July 1916 (Top Left), posed photograph of a ‘Storm Trooper’ (Bottom Left), German soldier wearing First World War trench armour (Above)

Ernst Jünger 

“In battle, the animal ascends as the secret horror at the soul’s base, shooting high as a consuming flame, an irresistible rapture that intoxicates the masses, a godhead enthroned above the hosts...”

“We’ve been harnessed and chiselled, but we are also such as swing the hammer and guide the chisel, we are at once the smith and the flashing steel.”

In Stahlgewitten (‘Storm of Steel’, 1920)

Erich Maria Remarque

The Home Front  

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The world’s first ‘total war’. Banks and export industries badly disrupted, while the Allied blockade made it difficult for Germany to import food and vital raw materials. Occupation of industrial areas of northern France and Belgium offset this to some extent, But still severe shortages. Necessitates state intervention in the economy.

State Intervention 

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Walter Rathenau (1867-1922), industrialist and founder of the Kreigsrohstoffabteilung

1915: Kreigsrohstoffabteilung (Raw Materials Department, KRA) – ensures the acquisition, storage and distribution of materials vital to the war effort. 1915: Bread rationing introduced. 1916: Zentral-EinkaufsGesellschaft (Central Purchasing Company) – acquisition of goods from neutral countries. 1916: Reichsgetreidstelle (Imperial Gain Office) – controlled food supplies and issued ration cards . Hindenburg Programme (1916) – Intended to concentrate industry on the production of munitions. Auxiliary Service Law (1916): Government could conscript workers and decide where they should work.

War Finance  

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Germany already had a large budget deficit before 1914. Taxation not sufficient to finance the war, and proposals to raise taxes vetoed on political grounds and the fiscal privileges of Junkers continued unabated. Only 16% of the cost of the war met by taxation. War financed by printing money and war loans. This led to massive inflation – by 1918 the mark had lost 75% of its value. Also a fall of real wages (20% in war industry, 40% in other branches).

Food Shortages By the autumn of 1916 food shortages, Inflation and mounting casualties beginning to effect the public mood. 1916-17: The ‘Turnip Winter’ – exceptionally cold weather and a poor potato harvest lead to a severe food and fuel crisis. Between 1916 and 1917 deaths from hypothermia and starvation rose from 121,000 to 293,000. Infant Mortality at 50% by 1918. Above Left: The first mobile kitchen (Gulaschkanone) in Berlin, c. 1916. Below Left: Queuing for food, 1917.

Mobilisation for ‘total war’ Measures: 

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War Raw Materials Office: coordination of industrial products. Food rationing in 1915. War Food Office 1916. Substitutes – clothes with paper fibres. Gaps in the labour force filled by women (emancipation – double burden). Auxiliary Labour Law (1916): Government could conscript workers and decide where they should work. ‘Dictatorship’ of Oberste Heeresleitung (OHL) – Hindenburg and Ludendorff – loss of influence for civil government – strengthening of army influence.

Failures:  

Scarcity of clothing, soap, food. Agricultural production fell, meat consumption only 12% of pre-war level. Malnutrition and starvation – ‘turnip winter’ 1916/17 (consequence: up to 750,000 dead). Polarisation: pro ‘Siegfrieden’ (victorious peace) with far reaching war aims, pro peace without contributions and annexations. Middle Classes: pauperisation, living conditions closer to working class – but many now more nationalist, angst (loss of status) . Working Class: spontaneous strikes in 1916 and 1917.



“Help us to Triumph: Buy War Bonds!� Poster by Fritz Erler (1916)

Poster showing Wilhelm II and his assertion that he had never sought war (1915)

“French and Russian, they matter not, A blow for a blow, a shot for a shot, We fight the battle with bronze and steel, And the time that is coming Peace will seal. You we will hate with a lasting hate, We will never forego our hate, Hate by water and hate by land, Hate of the head and hate of the hand, Hate of the hammer and hate of the crown, Hate of seventy millions choking down. We love as one, we hate as one, We have one foe and one alone-ENGLAND!� Ernst Lissauer, Hassgesang gegan England (1914)


Breaking the Stalemate 

No agreement over how the stalemate in the west should be ended and the war won. Hindenburg & Ludendorff – pushed for an all-out offensive in the east to knock Russia out of the war before turning their attention to the west. Falkenhayn – believed the war could be won in the west and put his faith in an attack on sections of the front held by the French. Influential voices in the Admiralty pushing for the introduction of unrestricted submarine warfare (sinking all shipping entering Allied waters).

Verdun (1916) Offensive against the fortress of Verdun intended to ‘bleed the French white.’ Feb.-June 1916: 315,000 French and 281,000 Germans killed, but the French held on.

The ‘Silent Dictatorship’     

The Kaiser increasingly sidelined in political and military matters. By 1916 Bethmann-Hollweg under pressure from the right and struggling to maintain the political consensus. The increasingly unpopular Falkenhayn dismissed in August 1916. Replaced by Hindenburg as Chief of the General Staff, with Ludendorff as Quartermaster General. They have huge popular support and use this to increasingly control political and economic, as well as military, affairs. Thus, from the summer of 1916 onwards, Germany was ruled by a military dictatorship.


1917   

January: Unrestricted submarine warfare resumed. Growing war-weariness amongst the population. July: Peace resolution passed by the Reichstag.

“The Reichstag strives for a peace of understanding and a lasting reconciliation of peoples. Any violations of territory, and political, economic, and financial persecutions are incompatible with such a peace. . . . However, as long as the enemy governments refuse to agree to such a peace, as long as they threaten Germany and her allies with conquest and domination, so long will the German people stand united and unshaken, and they will fight until their right and that of their allies are made secure.� Matthias Erzberger, speech to the Reichstag, 19 July 1917

1917    

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January: Unrestricted submarine warfare resumed. Growing war-weariness amongst the population. 19 July: Peace resolution passed by the Reichstag. July: Bethmann-Hollweg resigns as Chancellor, replaced by George Michaelis and then Count Hertling. Feb./March: First Russian Revolution. 6 April: The USA declared war on Germany. May-June: Mutinies in the French Army. Oct./Nov.: Second Russian Revolution – Bolsheviks come to power promising to end the war.

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (1918)

Source: G. Layton, From Bismarck to Hitler: Germany, 1890-1933

1918 ď Ž ď Ž

January: 400,000 Berlin workers go on strike. March: Spring Offensive launched.

The Kaiserschlacht (‘Kaiser’s Battle’), March-July 1918 Source: P. J. Haythornthwaite, The World War One Sourcebook

1918    

January: 400,000 Berlin workers go on strike. March: Spring Offensive launched. July: Allied counter-attack → collapse of the western front. September:  

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Peace feelers sent out to the Americans Prince Max von Baden appointed Chancellor

26 October: Reform of the Constitution. 3 November: Naval Mutiny at Kiel. 7 November: German plenipotentiaries cross enemy lines. 9 November: Republic proclaimed in Berlin. 11 November: Armistice signed.



Known dead



Germany France


Seriously wounded

1,000,000 1,600,000

Otherwise wounded

3,950,000 2,183,143

Prisoners or missing

2,500,000 772,522










Great Britain 






























United States 


























Greece Portugal  Japan  Total

Lasting Consequences of the War 

Loss of life = changes to the labour force, lower birth rate etc. Psychological effects:  

‘War Neuroses’ The Dolchstoßlegende (‘Stab in the Back’ Myth)

The Stab in the Back Myth “At this time, the secret intentional mutilation of the fleet and the army began as a continuation of similar occurrences in peacetime. . . . An English general said with justice: ‘The German army was stabbed in the back,’ No guilt applies to the good core of the army. Its achievements are just as admirable as those of those of the officer corps. Where the guilt lies has clearly been demonstrated.” Paul von Hindenburg Election poster for the DNVP (1924)

Lasting Consequences of the War 

Loss of life = changes to the labour force, lower birth rate etc. Psychological effects:  

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‘War Neuroses’ The Dolchstoßlegende (‘Stab in the back’ myth)

Split in the left. Germany a revisionist power. Economy: Inflation and reparations, loss of industrial territory. Bad starting point for first German democracy!

1ste Wereld Oorlog  

Boek over de 1ste Wereld Oorlog in Duitsland