Germany's fateful decision
The Battle of the Somme had barely come to a close (November 1916) when an Allied conference at Chantilly discussed plans for a joint Anglo-French offensive in the spring of 1917.
Convinced that the German Army was seriously weakened by the Somme offensive and that a resumption of pressure in the spring would break the enemy’s lines, a joint campaign was planned.
This would continue along a front from the British lines at Arras, north of the Somme, and through the Champagne district, to be conducted by the French under a new commander in chief, General Nivelle.
German thinking was based on an appreciation of the need to shorten their total front line in the west, recognising the losses they had sustained at Verdun and the Somme. Material supplies of munitions, as well as manpower, was a problem.
Unable to import many essential materials, the German government had to recall 180,000 men from military service for munitions production, and a further 800,000 were exempted from call- up.
The Allies had rejected German peace overtures, determined that Germany had to be defeated militarily and not merely allowed to withdraw.
Fearful of an American entry into the war, Germany took the fateful decision in January to resume unrestricted submarine warfare against any ship approaching the UK and France, hoping to starve Britain of supplies and force her out of the war before American assistance could be forthcoming.
That decision was initially successful in its effect on vital supplies for the British war industries and losses inflicted on the British Merchant Navy, but it was a strategic disaster as the US entered the war in April 1917 in response to losses of its own.
A German tactical withdrawal to a shortened and complex defensive network, called the Hindenburg line by the British, in anticipation of the Allies’ thinking would frustrate their plans and lead to another inconclusive, but costly offensive.
The French army, reeling under severe losses sustained under Nivelle’s command, would suffer mutinies and take little further offensive action for a year.
The first of our talks for 2017, at the Low Lights Tavern on the Fish Quay, North Shields, will be given by project volunteer Peter Coppack, who will consider the war in Italy.
Initially one of the Central Powers alongside Germany and Austria-Hungary, Italy did not enter the war in 1914 and in 1915 sided with the Allies. Thus fighting began in one of the most fiercely contested theatres of the war.
Conducted in the high alpine areas on the Italo-Austrian frontier, the war here would be of a different nature. Italy’s Great War will be considered by Peter at 7.30pm, on Tuesday, January 17. Admission free and all welcome.
New volunteers are welcome to join the project, the commitment of time is at your discretion. To find out more contact [email protected] or call into the workroom.
The project workroom at Linskill Community Centre, North Shields, is open from 10am to 4pm each weekday for enquiries and for anyone to bring information about relatives lost in the war. The Memorial Garden is open during the opening hours of the centre, 8am to 5pm daily.