A History of the Great War, 1914-1918

By C. R. M. F. Cruttwell | Go to book overview

XXX PREPARATION AND COUNTER-PREPARATION FOR THE GREAT ATTACK IN THE WEST

I

ON November 11th, 1917, at Mons (a time and place surely chosen by the ironic Spirit of Hardy Dynasts), Ludendorff, in consultation with his chief staff officers, decided in principle upon an attack in France for the ensuing spring.

This decision was, as the Quartermaster-General well knew, not merely a strategical one; it would determine not merely the issue of the campaign but of the war. For this reason Ludendorff has been reproached as the arch- gambler who staked the fate of his country upon one desperate throw. The responsibility is indeed his, and can be shared only in a subordinate degree by the so-called political rulers of Germany. Whereas in England and France, and even in Austria, the civilians had gradually curbed the soldiers with a stricter bridle, Ludendorff's tremendous, tireless, insatiable personality had completely cast into the shade not merely the Kaiser but the 'transient and embarrassed' succession of Chancellors. The ripe experience and the high character of Hertling, the aged Bavarian, who had now followed Michaelis, could not compensate for his lack of vigour. Germans bitterly contrasted his laboured orations, decked out with quotations from Saints Paul and Augustine, with the marvellous popular appeal of Lloyd George's eloquence and the laconic fire of Clemenceau. He merely accepted the blunt proposals dictatorially presented to his Government by Ludendorff.

Yet if the latter was a gambler, he considered every alternative and weighed every chance before making his throw.

The decisive offensive, in which he later told the Reichstag he was prepared to lose a million men, was, as he held, forced upon him by every consideration diplomatic, poli

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