So that the reader may better understand the problems of our fourth year, I give a brief preliminary account of the background against which the C.R.B. had to operate.
With the United States' declaration of war in April, 1917, we had been compelled to withdraw our American staff from Belgium and Northern France and substitute Spanish and Dutch representatives. The C.R.B., however, continued to shoulder the major job of relief by delivering supplies up to the Belgian frontier. We maintained our offices in Brussels under Director Fernand Baetens, and we depended on the vigorous energies of our Spanish and Dutch Ambassadors and Ministers to protect us in our troubles with the Germans.
I have related in the narrative of the third year the measures which I had taken as Food Administrator to set up complete priority for the C.R.B. in exports of American food and the pressures which we had brought on neutrals to charter us their ships. By the end of the third year, these measures had improved the dreadful situation in Belgium and Northern France.
We entered the fourth year with high hopes that the suffering of the Belgians and Northern French would soon end. In November and December, 1917, we furnished them with their minimum monthly needs. But the shift in the tides of war was to plunge us into great difficulties again.
On the war front, Allied strategy did not initially contemplate the use of large American armies but was based on the Allies' holding the Western Front while they starved the Central Empires and their economy by blockade. But the German defeat of Russia in early 1918 enabled them to move to the Western Front. Their attacks extended from March to July. Their breakthroughs were ultimately checked