Germany and the Central Powers in the World War, 1914- 1918

By Walther Hubatsch; Oswald P. Backus | Go to book overview
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10. War and Politics in 1917

Military situation at the beginning of 1917. The German people reacted to the Entente's rejection of the peace offer of the Central Powers with the slogan "Now more than ever." But it was evident that it was becoming increasingly difficult to hold out, and the difficulty was not restricted to the home country. Despite supplies of new weapons, the efficiency of the army decreased steadily. The materiel battles had exhausted the infantry, and since the new divisions were organized, the "exhausted" units could not get sufficient reserves. The air force, however, after the heavy losses of summer, 1916, had become much more efficient, since the army airplanes, air ships and anti-aircraft defense had been reorganized under one commander. Now the air force had more than 2,000 aircraft. Discussion of attack plans for 1917, either on the Italian front or at Tarnopol or Riga, led to no decision. The 3rd Supreme Command, like its predecessors, never left a doubt that the western theater of operations had first priority. Thus, Hindenburg and Ludendorff themselves later confirmed that Falkenhayn's attitude was correct. But as early as February, 1917, the Supreme Command was forced to stick to defensive measures on all fronts because of the expected mass attacks and the unsatisfactory state of ammunition supplies. The blockade showed its effects on the operational decisions. The army was no longer capable of decisive action; it could not longer influence the course of events.

Unrestricted submarine war. In view of this situation, which Hindenburg had clearly delineated, the Admiralty's plan to resume unrestricted submarine warfare seemed to be the last and only means of forcing the adversary into a more conciliatory attitude. After the strong impression the statement of the Entente's war aims had made on Germany, the chancellor thought he could not resist the call for unrestricted submarine warfare. A war council at Pless decided on January 9, 1917, to resume that type of warfare on February 1, 1917, in order to make England receptive to peace before the new harvest. A shortage of submarines had contributed to the failure of attempts at unrestricted submarine warfare in the spring of 1915, but now there were 105 submarines ready for war against merchant shipping.

At the end of December, 1916, the German Admiralty had drafted a memorandum stating that Britain could be forced to sue for peace

-89-

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