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The March Offensive, 1918: Part I

John Terraine describes how, late in the First World War, the German Supreme Command launched a massive attack upon the Allied lines in France which very nearly succeeded.

At five o’clock in the afternoon of March 3rd, 1918, a treaty of peace was signed. The contracting parties were, on the one hand, the Empires of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey; on the other, the Bolshevik Government of Russia, which had come to power in October 1917 on the slogan: ‘Down with the war!’ Now, at Brest-Litovsk, the Bolsheviks brought that war to an end.

By the terms of the treaty their delegation signed, Russia lost 34% of her population, 32 % of her agricultural land, 54% of her industry, 89% of her coal mines. This was a German peace. The newspaper Nord-deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung wrote the following day: ‘The significance of the treaty with Russia lies in the fact that the German Government has worked only for a peace of understanding and conciliation.’

The Bolshevik delegate Sokolnikov, on the other hand, called it ‘a peace which Russia, grinding its teeth, is forced to accept’. One thing it was, beyond doubt: a clear indication of what Germany’s other enemies might expect, if she won another victory.

And this, it appeared, was something that Germany, after nearly four years of war, might now accomplish. It would be now or never. Germany’s allies were at the end of their tether, only upheld by the strength of Germany herself. Austria-Hungary and Turkey were in the worst plight. ‘We had to take into consideration,’ wrote General Ludendorff in My War Memories, ‘that Austria-Hungary might actually arrive at the end of her military power... Turkey was faithful to the alliance, but at the end of her strength...’

The Bulgarian Chief of Staff informed him that Bulgaria was ‘secure’—but active operations had practically ceased on the Bulgarian front. ‘That he could, of course, never ask for enough German stores and German troops was inherent in his office. With every word he expressed the hope of a German victory in the West.’

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