Western and Eastern fronts of World War I
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Closing stages of World War I
- [Voiceover] As we exit 1917 and enter into 1918, we're getting into the final stages of World War I. And let's just give ourselves a little bit of review, a little bit of background, a little bit of context. The war started off as a two-front war for the Central Powers. You have the Western Front, you have the Western Front right over here, and you had the huge, you had the huge Eastern Front right over here. By 1917, the major conflict on the Eastern Front, especially with Russia, which was the major power there, had come to an end. You had a February Revolution in Russia. The czar had to abdicate the throne. You had a provisional government. Then in November of 1917, the Bolsheviks have a coup, they take over. They have no interest in prosecuting World War I, because they have their own civil war to worry about, so they sign an armistice with the Central Powers, by the end of 1917. And then we get into 1918, just let me write all this down, so by the time we get into 1918, they're ready to sign a treaty in March, in March, the Russians sign the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Litovsk, which cedes over all of this territory to the Germans and takes the Russians out of World War I. So I'm not gonna, I've gone into detail in other videos, but a huge amount of territory, and I'm gonna do it very informally right over here. I'll give a rough sense of where that territory was. And the treaty itself, its main significance, 'cause the treaty didn't last, as you might already know, the Central Powers lost World War I, so that treaty was later nullified. But the key importance of that treaty, is one, it took Russia out of the war, it allowed the Central Powers, especially Germany, to focus on the Western Front. But the other element of it is, by giving so much territory to the Germans, the Germans couldn't just leave that territory as is. If they wanted any claims to it, they had to devote some of their troops to occupy, or at least attempt to occupy some of it. So even though it was a huge opportunity, and the Germans were able to, after the treaty, or even before the treaty, after the armistice, they were able to start bringing many more of the Eastern-Front troops over to the Western Front. They didn't bring over as many as they could have, because they left some to attempt to occupy some of the territory that had been gained on the Eastern Front. But if you view things from a German perspective, at this point, March 1918, you're gonna be feeling pretty good. You are holding your own in a two-front war now, and at one point you thought Russia was the major threat there. That threat is gone, you can now focus on a one-front war, maybe you should be able to kind of put the decisive blow against the allies now. And that is how the Germans felt. But they were worried about a couple of things. They were worried about the British industrial capacity, and the Allied industrial capacity, that was stronger than the Central Powers, and so the British could produce more tanks and more guns and more weapons, so it was a race against that, and there was also a race against significant American entry. Remember, April 1917, Woodrow Wilson gives a speech to Congress, they declare war on the Central Powers, and so the Germans wanna get this thing over with before the Americans have a chance to send in significant number of fresh troops. So in March 1918, not only do you have the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, you also have the beginning of Germany's attempt to deal that decisive blow to the Allies, and it's known as the Spring Offensive. So you have the Spring, the Spring Offensive. And the goal of the Spring Offensive was to essentially try to end the war for the Germans. And the goal was to separate the British from the French forces. The British, for the most part, were in control of the line right over here, north of the Salm River, while the French were in control south of it. So the Spring Offensive, especially the first phases of the Spring Offensive, in March 1918, focused on this area, right over here. And at first it was actually very successful. They were able to make huge territorial gains, drive through the lines, drive the Allied Powers back. Now, the problem was is that it wasn't a real big strategic gain. The Germans were just hoping it would be such a demoralizer, that it would throw at least, maybe the French out of the war, and then maybe they could take care of the British or whatever else, but that didn't happen, and all of a sudden they found themselves with these huge territorial gains, in very short amount of time, they had to supply themselves, and they didn't really quite, and they had spread their troops thin, and so it frankly just let the opportunity arise for the Allies, in August, to lead a counteroffensive. And this counteroffensive by the Allies, is referred to as the 100 Days Offensive. It began in August, went roughly into November, so 100 Days, 100 Days Offensive, during which the Allies, between August and November, were able to push the Germans, not only back beyond what they had captured during the Spring Offensive, but all the way well back of the front that was kind of the stalemate line for most of World War I. And it was during this 100 Days Offensive, that to most objective observers, it was clear that the Allies would win this war. And it was clear to several of the Central Powers, or those Allied with the Central Powers. As we go into September, as we go into September of 1918, Bulgaria drops itself out of the war, just to remind ourselves where, what we're talking about. So you have Bulgaria right over here. It, Bulgaria, right over here. It signs an armistice with the Allies, so, let me just, you have armistice, I'll use a little peace symbol for armistice, that's a, armistice is just the fighting has stopped, you still, in theory, could be at a state of war, so maybe I shouldn't do the peace symbol, I'll just write armistice. Armistice, Armistice, with Bulgaria. And this is really starting to tighten the noose around the remaining Central Powers, because this allowed the Allies to gain control of Serbia and of Greece, which essentially tied, removed the last source of food for Austria, Hungary and the German Empire. There was already a blockade, the kind of the harsh, British blockade that we've already talked about, up in the North Sea, and so their last source of food was from the south, but now with Bulgaria signing an armistice, and ceding over territory, now the strangle hold was really, was really, really coming into effect. Now, by October, and remember, at this point it was reasonably clear, and even by this point, even clear to the German people that the war is pretty much done for, and they're just waiting for their leaders to make it official. So several of the leaders of the German Navy wanted to do this last-ditch, what could easily be considered suicidal, offensive against the British Navy, and as they're planning it and the sailors catch wind of it, they mutiny, they revolt. They say hey, look, the war is over. We're not gonna die in a futile attempt to just kind of, for pride or whatever else, and so you have a naval mutiny begins. Naval mutiny, and eventually this spreads to the mainland and leads to revolts and revolutions, so revolution in Germany, in Germany. And this culminates in November, in November, November 9th, famous date in history, November 9th, 1918. You essentially, Kaiser Wilhelm II, right over here, let me make sure you see his picture, this is him right over here, Kaiser Wilhelm II, is forced to abdicate, give up his throne. He flees to the Netherlands, and on November 9th, 1918, Germany is declared a republic. So Germany no longer has a king or emperor in charge. Germany becomes a republic. And a little bit before this, November 3rd, the writing was already clear to the Austrians, in fact, they even, in 1917, attempted to make some peace overtures, thinking that they were pretty much done for, but by November 3rd, 1918, the Austrians also signed an armistice, armistice, armistice, with the Austrians, with the Austrians, and with the Kaiser Wilhelm II fleeing to the Netherlands, Germany becoming a republic, this sets up the armistice, finally, with Germany on November 11th, and this is one of the most famous dates in history, known for a long time in the US as Armistice Day, and so it was November 11th, 1918, and it was actually 11am, 11am, so you might remember the famous, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, war, or World War I, or the fighting in World War I, was over with the Allies victorious, and the Central Powers losing it, and the terms of what would happen for those that lost and those that won would be dictated by the Treaty of Versailles. The Treaty of Versailles in 1919. The terms of which were finally finalized about six months later. So this is June, you have the treaty, Treaty of, Treaty of, Treaty of Versailles. Which, incidentally, this is like one of those little footnotes in history, the Americans did not actually ratify it, mainly because it had the League of Nations in it, which was this project of Woodrow Wilson, but the American people and the American Congress was not a fan of this whole trans-national government, League of Nations thing, so the United States did not ratify the Treaty of Versailles but in effect, on Armistice Day, November 11th, 11am, the war was over, Treaty of Versailles dictated the terms, many would argue, overly-harsh terms, of the Treaty of Versailles, and we're done with World War I.