How, after years of stale­mate, did the Al­lies man­age to win the war?

Canada's History - - CONTENTS - — Mark Collin Reid

After years of stale­mate on the Western Front, the Al­lies used a com­bi­na­tion of new tac­tics and tech­nolo­gies to achieve vic­tory.

Given the seem­ingly in­ter­minable slaugh­ter, many peo­ple feared the Great War would last for­ever. Then, sud­denly, in the sum­mer of 1918, the stag­nant war of at­tri­tion on the Western Front be­came one of sud­den and swift ad­vances as the Al­lies pushed Ger­many out of oc­cu­pied lands in Bel­gium and France.

How did the tide turn so quickly? The an­swer lies in a com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors. For most of the war, Ger­many held a ter­ri­to­rial ad­van­tage. The Ger­mans in­vaded Bel­gium and France, dug in, and fought a de­fen­sive war from a po­si­tion of strength, con­tent to let the Al­lies smash count­less waves of sol­diers in fu­tile at­tempts to breach Ger­man lines.

How­ever, after years of fail­ure and the sac­ri­fice of mil­lions of Al­lied sol­diers, Al­lied gen­er­als fi­nally be­gan to em­brace in­no­va­tions in both tech­nol­ogy and tac­tics. For in­stance, air­planes, once ob­jects of ridicule, be­came es­sen­tial. Aerial pho­tog­ra­phy of bat­tle­fields and im­proved wire­less com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween pi­lots and the ar­tillery be­low helped to im­prove the ac­cu­racy of bar­rages. Mean­while, the in­tro­duc­tion in 1917 of tanks made it eas­ier for the Al­lies to punch holes through Ger­man de­fences.

New tech­nolo­gies were mar­ried with new tech­niques of

fight­ing. One ex­am­ple, used to great ef­fect by the Cana­dian di­vi­sions at Vimy Ridge in 1917, was the “creep­ing bar­rage” — a co­or­di­nated at­tack whereby troops closely fol­low a timed cur­tain of ad­vanc­ing ar­tillery shells.

By 1918, the Al­lies also en­joyed a grow­ing man­power ad­van­tage. While the Bri­tish Em­pire could draw on its do­min­ions, in­clud­ing Canada, for more sol­diers, Ger­many’s armies were be­ing slowly ex­hausted. Mean­while, the 1917 en­try of the United States into the war of­fered the po­ten­tial of lit­er­ally mil­lions of fresh new troops, along with abun­dant sup­plies for the war ef­fort.

Fear­ing the loom­ing man­power dis­ad­van­tage, the Ger­mans in the spring of 1918 launched a ma­jor of­fen­sive aimed at knock­ing France out of the war and forc­ing a ne­go­ti­ated peace.

Ul­ti­mately, the plan failed. The Ger­man of­fen­sive ran out of steam at the Sec­ond Bat­tle of the Marne, dash­ing Ger­many’s dreams of a de­ci­sive vic­tory to end the war. By the sum­mer of 1918, the Al­lies, of­ten led by the Cana­di­ans, pushed back the Ger­mans in a se­ries of bat­tles col­lec­tively known as the Hun­dred Days Cam­paign, which even­tu­ally led to the armistice on Novem­ber 11, 1918.

Left: A tank ac­com­pa­nies Cana­dian troops across no man’s land circa July 1917.

Right: A Cana­dian airman prac­tices us­ing a Hythe MK III cam­era gun. The cam­era repli­cated the feel of a Lewis gun and was used to train pi­lots to be­come bet­ter shots.

Left: Cana­dian ar­tillery forces shell the en­emy dur­ing the Bat­tle of Vimy Ridge, April 9 to 12, 1917. Im­prove­ments in ar­tillery tac­tics and tech­nol­ogy were a key fac­tor in the Al­lied vic­tory in 1918.Top: Toronto res­i­dents cel­e­brate the end of the war on Novem­ber 11, 1918.

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