German WWI Retreat

German WWI Retreat

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I am wondering if there was any standardized signal for a retreat that the Germans used during WWI. I know that flares and sirens were used for various things, but haven't read anything regarding retreats. I need this for a game my friend and I are making.


The German words for retreat or withdraw are zurückziehen or zurückgehen. Therefore, an undisguised code would be, for example, z-r-k. Below is an extract from a WWII army code book showing this code (WWI would be similar):

This signal could be given with a flag hoist, by semaphore or by morse code. Most major trenches had either telephone or telegraph.

Note that in reality many orders, especially a major order like a retreat, were not signalled but were written in paper and delivered by a mobile courier for legal and security reasons. So, the written order would say something like "Unit XZY is to withdraw to position Q43 coordinate GHIxJRK at time 0645. By orders of LtGen So-and-so."

For really serious emergency or time-sensitive signals sometimes they used balloons. So, imagine, by some wild circumstance you decided everybody had run for their life RIGHT NOW. Then, you would flag hoist ZRK or the coded equivalent on the balloon, then give an alarm, which might be 3 shots on a gun or a flare pattern or siren. Everybody looks up, sees the balloon, then runs like hell.

Of course, this would normally never happen. You don't want the enemy to know you are retreating because then they will attack. Normally retreats happen at night and the orders are sent around by whatever way is most quiet and secret. Everybody tries to sneak away before the enemy realizes you are leaving.

Scorched earth

A scorched-earth policy is a military strategy that aims to destroy anything that might be useful to the enemy. Any assets that could be used by the enemy may be targeted, which usually includes obvious weapons, transport vehicles, communication sites, and industrial resources. However, anything useful to the advancing enemy may be targeted, including food stores and agricultural areas, water sources, and even the local people themselves, though the last has been banned under the 1977 Geneva Conventions. [a]

The practice can be carried out by the military in enemy territory or in its own home territory while it is being invaded. It may overlap with, but is not the same as, punitive destruction of the enemy's resources, which is usually done as part of political strategy, rather than operational strategy.

Notable historic examples of scorched-earth tactics include William Tecumseh Sherman's March to the Sea in the American Civil War, Kit Carson's subjugation of the American Navajo Indians, Lord Kitchener's advance against the Boers, and the setting of fire of 605 to 732 oil wells by retreating Iraqi military forces in the Gulf War. Also notable were the Russian army's strategies during the failed Swedish invasion of Russia, the failed Napoleonic invasion of Russia, the initial Soviet retreat commanded by Joseph Stalin during the German Army's invasion during the Second World War, [2] and Nazi Germany's retreat on the Eastern Front.

The concept of scorched earth is sometimes applied figuratively to the business world in which a firm facing a takeover attempts to make itself less valuable by selling off its assets. [3]

Special Operations Outlook 2019 Digital Edition is here!

The Marines’ savage fight for Belleau Wood is depicted in Franc-Earle Schoonover’s Belleau Wood. Art Collection of the National Museum of the Marine Corps

In 1918, World War I was in its fourth year. Imperial Russia had succumbed to the Communist Revolution and capitulated to Imperial Germany. In the West, a race against time was on. The Allies of Great Britain and France were watching with mounting concern as German armies from the Eastern Front began reinforcing those on the Western Front. Their armies, having been bled white and wracked by mutiny after three horrific years of trench warfare, were at the breaking point. The last hope for Allied victory was the United States. It had entered the war in April 1917, and its troops began arriving in France later that year.

The American forces were hastily trained for the demands of total warfare in the European model, and for the most part were equipped with a hodge-podge of weapons supplied by their allies. The question on both sides of the trenches was not if the growing number of American units would fight, but rather how well? Only combat would answer that question. Field Marshal Paul von Hindenberg and Gen. Erich Ludendorff of Germany were determined to shatter Allied resolve and achieve victory with an offensive launched before the full weight of the U.S. Army could be felt.

It had been more than 100 years, at the battles of Bladensburg and New Orleans during the War of 1812, since the Marine Corps had faced an armed foe at the professional level as it did now against the 461st Imperial German Infantry regiment.

On May 27, 1918, specially trained “shock units” led a three-pronged offensive that smashed into the British and French lines. At Aisne, the French lines bent, then broke. In less than two days, the German army was at the Marne River at Chateau Thierry. Once again, the German army had victory within its grasp, and once again, the road to Paris, about 50 miles away, was wide open. In 1914, France, and the Allied cause, was saved by a sudden influx of troops delivered to the front by Parisian taxis – the “Miracle of the Marne.”

Flare, Front Line, Champagne, by Col. John W. Thomason, USMC, depicts Marines in the trenches during the St. Mihiel offensive. Art Collection of the National Museum of the Marine Corps

This time France had no miracles of her own remaining. Allied Commander-in-Chief Gen. Ferdinand Foch turned to Gen. John Pershing, commanding general of the American Expeditionary Force. Previously, Pershing had resisted releasing units piecemeal to reinforce depleted British and French divisions. He stated that when Americans fought, they would do so as a unified army.

But Pershing recognized that the present crisis overrode national considerations and temporarily released his five divisions to Foch’s command. The American 2nd Division, containing the 4th, 5th, and 6th Marine Brigades, was assigned to Gen. Joseph Degoutte’s French 6th Army, located along the Marne Front. Not since the Civil War had American troops been involved in a conflict of such magnitude. And it had been more than 100 years, at the battles of Bladensburg and New Orleans during the War of 1812, since the Marine Corps had faced an armed foe at the professional level as it did now against the 461st Imperial German Infantry regiment.

“Young man, I’m giving you the best brigade in France – if anything goes wrong, I’ll know whom to blame.”

Though Pershing, an Army general, harbored little love for the Marines, he did not allow service parochialism to blind him to the Marines’ capability. Shortly after Ludendorff’s offensive began, when the 4th Marine Brigade’s commander, Brig. Gen. Charles Doyen, had to return to the States due to a terminal illness, Pershing assigned command of the brigade to his chief of staff, Army Brig. Gen. James Harbord, telling him, “Young man, I’m giving you the best brigade in France – if anything goes wrong, I’ll know whom to blame.”

Wendell “Whispering Buck” Neville, pictured as a major general. U.S. Marine Corps photo

It was not without some concern that Harbord assumed his new command. He was replacing a respected and loved commander he was a National Guard cavalry officer, a temporary brigadier general and his two regimental commanders were Col. Albertus Catlin and Col. Wendell “Whispering Buck” Neville, both recipients of the Medal of Honor. He worked hard at his new command and earned the respect of the Marines. Harbord would retire a major general and later write of his experience, “They never failed me. I look back on my service with the Marines Brigade with more pride and satisfaction than on any other equal period in my long Army career.”

One French officer, as he passed through the Marine lines, advised the Americans to join in the retreat. Capt. Lloyd Williams responded, “Retreat, hell! We just got here!” The French officer and the other French troops continued on. Soon the Marines were alone.

The 4th Marine Brigade was ordered to shore up defenses and assume a blocking position north of the important east-west Paris- Metz highway. They dug into position along a line just above the village of Lucy-Le-Bocage. Immediately in front of the Marine line was a large wheat field, and beyond that was a mile square game preserve. The French called it Bois de Belleau. To the Marines and America, it would be immortalized as Belleau Wood.

The Marines had barely gotten into position, digging shallow individual trenches they called “foxholes,” when the German army renewed its offensive on June 2. Demoralized French troops in the forest began falling back. One French officer, as he passed through the Marine lines, advised the Americans to join in the retreat. Capt. Lloyd Williams responded, “Retreat, hell! We just got here!” The French officer and the other French troops continued on. Soon the Marines were alone.

Albertus Catlin, pictured as a brigadier general. U.S. Marine Corps photo

The rest of the day and the following morning were quiet. The heat of the early June sun parched the throats of the Marines as they waited for the enemy to appear. Finally, in the early afternoon, movement was seen at the southern edge of the forest, and the distinct shapes of German soldiers in their feldgrau began to emerge. Long line after long line of soldiers, slightly crouched and weapons low, began trotting through the ripening wheat. Veteran Marines of the Spanish-American War, the Boxer Rebellion in China, and the Veracruz Expedition lay side by side with unblooded men whose memories of the profane injunctions of their drill instructors were still fresh. The Germans confidently advanced. What they did not know was that no longer before them was a demoralized French foe. Instead, they were marching toward a fresh enemy with high morale that took pride in training its men in how to shoot. The Germans also did not realize they were already within range of the Marines’ shoulder arm, the .30-06 Springfield M1903 rifle.

Maj. Gen. John A. Lejeune, shown wearing the shoulder patch of the U.S. Army 2nd Division, which he commanded from July 29, 1918. Library of Congress photo

The accepted combat range of rifles during World War I was a maximum of 250 yards. The Springfield ’03 was rated with an effective range of 600 yards. In the hands of an expert marksman, it could be deadly at ranges well beyond that. The line of gray-clad troops advancing through an open field presented the Marines with a shooting gallery. At 800 yards, the order was given, and sustained fire commenced. German soldiers spun, collapsed, and fell as bullets from the first volley tore into them. The German advance wavered, then astonished survivors fell to the ground seeking cover. Their officers ran through their ranks, shouting for them to get up and continue the advance. The troops rose and were hit with another volley fired at long range. A third attempt to advance was met by a third deadly volley that was also accompanied by machine gun fire. The stunned survivors retreated into the woods to take up defensive positions and plan their next move.

The commander of the German 28th Division facing opposite the American 2nd Division confidently told his men, “We are not fighting for ground – for this ridge or that hill. It will be decided here whether or not the American Army will be equal to our own troops.”

Early in the fighting, some pickets in the 2nd Division had been captured, and the identity of the Germans’ foe was discovered. As the Germans at Belleau Wood licked their wounds, an important message was sent to headquarters. American troops were at the front. The German high command now knew that one goal of the offensive, the premature deployment of American troops, had been accomplished. Ludendorff’s response was swift. “American units appearing on the front should be hit particularly hard,” he ordered.

The commander of the German 28th Division facing opposite the American 2nd Division confidently told his men, “We are not fighting for ground – for this ridge or that hill. It will be decided here whether or not the American Army will be equal to our own troops.” It was a prescient statement. Unfortunately, for him, not in the way he expected.

A Marine carves a notch into the buttstock of his M1903 Springfield rifle in this World War I recruiting poster. Library of Congress photo

After receiving news that the German attack had been blunted at Belleau Wood, Degoutte ordered the 2 nd Division to counterattack the following day, June 6. The attack began with the 1st Battalion, 5 th Marines launching a dawn attack on the German-held Hill 142 on the division’s left flank. German machine guns raked the Marine ranks during the half-mile advance. The Marines succeeded in capturing the hill at about noon. But doing so had cost the battalion 410 casualties. It was a foretaste of what was to come.

By the end of the day, the first line of German defenders was overrun and taken. But the cost of the attack was severe. On that day, the 4th Marine Brigade had suffered 1,087 casualties, making it the bloodiest day in Marine Corps history up to that point.

Meanwhile, two battalions of the 6th Marines and one battalion of the 5th Marines were preparing for the main attack on Belleau Wood. The attack was launched at 5 p.m., and the Marines advanced in a formation and at a fast pace taught by the veteran French officers who had rounded out their training shortly after the Marines arrived in France. It was the same formation that had doomed thousands of French poilus during the disastrous offensives of 1914 and 1915. It achieved the same results on the Marines. As the Marines began crossing the battle-scarred wheat field, it was the German machine gunners’ turn. The lead troops were quickly cut down. Surviving Marines dove for the ground and continued the advance crawling on all fours, pausing and, like pop-up targets, taking aim and quickly firing back before dropping down for cover in the wheat stalks. Even so, the advance slowed dangerously, with the German machine gun fire continuing seemingly unabated. It appeared that the attack would fail just 50 yards before the Marines reached the German lines.

Sgt. Daniel Daly, the double Medal of Honor recipient who rallied Marines during the attack on Belleau Wood. U.S. Marine Corps photo

Reporter Floyd Gibbons was with the Marines during the attack and lay terrified among the dead and wounded in the wheat field. Not far from him was Gunnery Sgt. Daniel Daly, a double Medal of Honor recipient for heroism in the Boxer Rebellion and Haiti. In a report he later filed, Gibbons wrote, “The sergeant swung his bayoneted rifle over his head with a forward sweep, yelling at his men, ‘Come on, you sons-of-bitches, do you want to live forever?’” The Marines with him stood up, and with a roar, charged. By the end of the day, the first line of German defenders was overrun and taken. But the cost of the attack was severe. On that day, the 4th Marine Brigade had suffered 1,087 casualties, making it the bloodiest day in Marine Corps history up to that point. More Marines had fallen on June 6, 1918, than in the entire 143-year history of the Marine Corps.

The Battle for Belleau Wood would continue to almost the end of June and was fought in a series of savage actions. It was during this battle that, according to legend, the 461st Imperial German Infantry gave the Marines the nickname “Teufelhunden” – “Devil Dogs.” Finally, on June 26, Maj. Maurice Shearer of the 5th Marines sent to headquarters the message: “Woods now U.S. Marine Corps entirely.”

A Marine Corps recruiting poster touting the nickname bestowed upon the Corps by the Germans. Library of Congress photo

Convinced that the Marines had saved Paris, the French government renamed the game preserve Bois de la Brigade de Marine. And, more importantly, this action, as well as American success at Cantigny and Château-Thierry, Pershing later wrote, “… gave an indication of what trained American troops would do.” But the German high command was not finished. A final German offensive was launched on July 15. This time, the 2nd Division and its Marines joined the French XX Corps and repulsed the German attack at Soissons, sustaining another 2,000 casualties. When the German offensive was stopped, the initiative shifted to the Allies. They responded with the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

On July 29, 1918, Pershing made Gen. John A. Lejeune commander of the 2nd Division. His first assignment was to reduce the dangerous German salient at St. Mihiel. After four days of fierce fighting by the combined Marine and Army units, the salient was eliminated. The 2nd Division then was assigned offensive operations in support of the French Fourth Army, commanded by Gen. Henri Gourand. But German defenses along the Meuse River succeeded in slowing the French advance until it was stopped before Blanc Mont, or White Mountain, a ridge that dominated the region for miles. The Germans had held Blanc Mont since 1914 and had heavily fortified the ridge. To restart his stalled attack, Gourand wanted Lejeune to break up his division and disperse it into depleted French units. Lejeune’s reaction was quick and hot. Following Pershing’s example, he was not about to have his division broken up, particularly since there was no dire crisis now confronting the Allies. The Marine general told Gourand, “Keep the division intact and let us take [Blanc Mont].”

The fighting ended, exhausted and seriously depleted ranks of the 6th Marines gather outside Belleau Wood before moving on. U.S. Marine Corps History and Museums Division image

Gourand looked at Lejeune skeptically, then nodded his assent. Lejeune’s plan was to assault the German position with lead attacks from both flanks and, when they had closed to pinch out and isolate the center, the rest of his troops would advance and overwhelm the defenders. In what Pershing would later call “a brilliant maneuver against heavy machine gun resistance,” the attack kicked off on Oct. 3 with a short, five-minute artillery barrage of 200 guns. As soon as the cannon fire stopped, the 3rd Infantry Brigade launched its attack on the German right flank. Simultaneously, the 4 th Marine Brigade attacked the German left. This was followed by an advance by the 6th Marines. Supporting the overall attack were French tanks. By noon, the 6 th Marines had seized the crest and were clearing the heights. Additional troops from the 5th Marines moved up to add overwhelming power to the 2nd Division’s punch. On the left flank was a heavily fortified position known as the Essen Hook that was assigned to French units who were temporarily held in reserve. As the battle progressed, the French troops were released to seize the Essen Hook. When the French proved unable to do so, a company of Marines from the 5th Regiment led by Capt. Leroy P. Hunt was ordered to help. Hunt’s company succeeded in throwing out the Germans, and the Marines then handed over the Essen Hook to the French. The Germans returned and quickly overwhelmed the French defenders at Essen Hook, whereupon the 5 th Regiment was forced to drive the Germans out a second time. This time they secured the position for good. When the day was over, Blanc Mont was in the hands of the 2nd Division.

Field Marshal Henri Petain, the hero of Verdun, would add his own accolade, stating that, “The taking of Blanc Mont Ridge is the greatest single achievement in the 1918 campaign.”

Lejeune followed up the capture of Blanc Mont with an advance on the nearby village of St. Etienne on Oct. 4. The 5 th Marines, who were leading the attack, literally ran into the Germans’ counterattack designed to retake Blanc Mont. Unfortunately, the Marines’ advance in the offensive had outpaced the French units beside them, causing them to form a salient that left them exposed to enemy fire from both flanks as well as their front. Despite the murderous fire falling on them, the Marines grimly kept the pressure on. After four days of intense fighting in which the Marines suffered more than 2,500 casualties, including the seemingly indestructible Daly, who was wounded, St. Etienne was liberated and, by Oct. 10, the Germans were in full retreat.

Not long after the battle, the grateful French government awarded the 5th and 6th Marines and the 6th Machine Gun Battalion their third citation of the Croix de Guerre for gallantry. As a result, the members of those outfits were now entitled to wear the scarlet and green fourragère. Field Marshal Henri Petain, the hero of Verdun, would add his own accolade, stating that, “The taking of Blanc Mont Ridge is the greatest single achievement in the 1918 campaign.”

Of the Marine Corps contribution in World War I, Col. Joseph H. Alexander, USMC (Ret.) wrote in his book, A Fellowship of Valor, “Less than 32,000 Marines served in France. More than 12,000 of those given the opportunity to fight in France became casualties 3,284 died. The survivors had given their country and their Corps a legacy of courage, esprit, and ferocity which would remain the standard of combat excellence for the remainder of the violent century.”

World War I: Germany and America

In 1915 a group of Canadian spies broke into U.S. Department of War in Washington to try to find any war plans or evidence of who America would back in the war. The spies were all captured and hung. A week after the incident, America officially joined the German side of the war and declared war on the allies. American troop poured into Canada and quickly were in control of the major cities and provinces. Britain was forced to send over several thousand soldiers and several warships. Britain quickly saw that this would not be enough and was forced to fight a whole new war on a new western front. Germany took advantage of Britain's disadvantage and was able to defeat the British ships in the English Channel. Now, with France and Belgium being choked and bombarded, things looked bad for the allies. Meanwhile, in America, the United States had won the Battle of Toronto and the British land forces were retreating. Also, the British Navy suffered a humiliating defeat in the Battle of the Hudson and the Port of New York. The worlds greatest navy was now in shambles. With Brittan retreating rapidly across the Atlantic, Canada was forced to surrender to America. When the British ships were nearing the British isles, weary from from U-boat attacks on their long trip across the Atlantic, they were hit by a surprise attack by the German Navy. The ships tried to retreat to North Africa, but they were cut off by American submarines. The British Navy had just surrendered their second largest fleet. Now, the German Army was already occupying all of Belgium, had just taken Paris, and was shelling Orleans, the last French stronghold. After a siege of three months, France signed an unconditional surrender to Germany. All British troops in North Africa were pulled back to defend the home land, and the British made a separate peace with the Ottoman Empire, giving them all of their Middle Eastern colonies. Soon, Brittan surrendered to the Central Powers the Western front was won. Now that the war on the Western front was settled, Germany could concentrate their forces on the east, and with the first American troops getting off the boats and storming the beaches of Russia, it looked like an other unconditional surrender to Germany was all but certain. On June the 21 of 1917, Russia surrendered, the war was over.

American Peace Treaty

America and Canada signed the October peace on October 5 of 1916. America was given vast amounts of Canadian land and Canada was restricted from ever having an air force or a navy. Most of Canada's oil and lumber was given to the US. America became the unquestionable superpower of the America's. Her army was huge. Her navy was proven to be the strongest in the world, and a new US Air Core was being developed. American factories would stay opened for years to build up and industrialize the new American North West. America was launched onto the world stage as a super power for the first time, and she loved it.

The red lines show the new American Canadian border, while the black lines show the old border.

America was also given all the British Caribbean territories.

This is the new map of Europe. The southern orange country is Bulgaria.

German Peace and the New Europe

Germany was the ultimate winner. Britain and France were forced to hand over all of their colonies to Germany (not including those given to America). Britain was also forced to give Ireland its independence, a German favor to the Irish saboteurs who greatly helped the war effort by destroying several British warships. France was forced to give up all of its land west of the Seine. France's economy was in shambles because they were forced to pay indemnities to Germany. After printing million of Francs to pay off their debt to Germany, France suffered from massive stagflation. France, like Britain, was forbidden from ever having a navy or an air force. Like France, Russia also was forced to give Germany a multitude of land west. Fearing a Russian counter assault in several years, Germany placed a puppet Communist government in control of Russia, headed by Lenin, A German spy during the war. Germany was now the single world supper power. She had the largest army and air force. The German economy was the largest in the world, and Germany entered a Golden Age where culture and peace flourished under the reign of their benevolent Kaisers.

A Crisis Averted

For several years tension between the U.S. and Japan were rising. The Japanese had invaded Manchuria and were planning a large assault on the rest of China. To counter this, America began building up its bases on the Philippines. America was also backing the new military dictator of Vietnam, General L. H. Mun. L.H. Mun took power in a U.S. backed military coup. He would be a thorn in the sides of the growing Japanese. America sold him arms and plans in return for him allowing America to build several naval and air force bases in Vietnam. As Japan conquered one island at a time, L. H. Mun invaded Cambodia and Laos. Tensions were high. South East Asia was a match box waiting to catch fire and burn. Meanwhile, in the West, a charismatic and bold Italian dictator named Mussolini began to build up the Italian military and was beginning to challenge Germany's supremacy and complete control over Europe. Mussolini was a war reporter for the Socialist News Paper Avanti! and became in love with nationalism as he covered the war. After taking power, Mussolini got to work. He rapidly set out to industrialize Italy and improve its infrastructure. After the homeland was all cleared, Mussolini began expanding Italy's armed forces. He gave Italy a navy that reviled that of Germany's, the world's third largest air force (behind Germany and the U.S.), and a technologically advanced and modern army. Italy began its aggressive foreign policy by challenging the Ottoman's in the Middle East. He laid claim to Palestine and the Jordan Valley, claiming that they were the property of the Papacy, and therefore Italy, now being Vatican City's self claimed protector, had a right and responsibility to claim them. The only thing that stopped a war was that the Central Pact (Germany, America, Austria, Ireland, and Bulgaria) promised to defend the Ottomans if attacked by Italy, and by America sending one of her largest fleets into the Mediterrean. Needless to say, this left a sour taste in Italy's mouth.

Italy, motivated by what she saw as an overly interventionist policy by the Central Pact, decided to reach out to what she saw as a natural ally and a willing partner in war Japan. Japan was engaged in a naval arm's race with the US and wanted the German's out of Singapore and Hong Kong. They both were at odds with the Central Pact Alliance and were the only two nations which had the capabilities to fight its member states. Italy and Japan signed a military alliance on October 28, 1934. This greatly alarmed both the US and Germany. They responded by allowing the Ottoman Empire to join the Central Pact. The world was now ready for war.


  1. ↑ Numbers for personnel according to Kriegsrüstung und Kriegswirtschaft. Vol. 1: Die militärische, wirtschaftliche und finanzielle Rüstung Deutschlands von der Reichsgründung bis zum Ausbruch des Weltkrieges. Reichsarchiv (ed.), Berlin 1930, pp. 211-222, here p. 217. For the list of ships see: Salewski, Michael: Seekrieg, in: Hirschfeld, Gerhard/Krumeich, Gerd/Renz, Irina in cooperation with Pöhlmann, Markus (eds.): Enzyklopädie Erster Weltkrieg, Paderborn 2003, p. 829.
  2. ↑Helmuth von Moltke (1848-1916): August to September 1914 Erich von Falkenhayn (1861-1922): September 1914 to August 1916) Paul von Hindenburg (1847-1934) with Erich Ludendorff (1865-1937) as ‘Quartermaster-General’: August 1916 to October 1918. Wilhelm Groener (1867-1939) replaced Ludendorff on 26 October 1918.
  3. ↑ Cf. Demeter, Karl: Das deutsche Offizierkorps in Gesellschaft und Staat 1650-1945, Frankfurt am Main 1965.
  4. ↑ Stein, Oliver: Die deutsche Heeresrüstungspolitik 1890-1914. Das Militär und der Primat der Politik, Paderborn 2007, pp. 121-134.
  5. ↑ A convincing introduction is offered by Gerhard P. Groß in: Groß, Gerhard P: Mythos und Wirklichkeit. Geschichte des operativen Denkens im deutschen Heer von Moltke bis Heusinger, Paderborn 2012, pp. 61-104.
  6. ↑ For the debate on the German war plan cf. Ehlert, Hans/Epkenhans, Michael/Groß, Gerhard P. (eds.): Der Schlieffenplan. Analysen und Dokumente, Paderborn 2006 (English translation: Ehlert, Hans/Epkenhans, Michael/Groß, Gerhard P. (eds.): The Schlieffen Plan: International Perspectives on the German Strategy for World War I, Lexington 2014.
  7. ↑ David Stevenson has emphasised the openness of the historical situation. Nonetheless, given the strategic resources and the Allies’ political determination, a German success in the West would not have brought victory, but only the prolongation of war into 1919 at most. Cf. Stevenson, David: With Our Backs to the Wall. Victory and Defeat in 1918, London 2011.
  8. ↑ For a discussion of the soldiers’ motivation to fight – and to escape from fighting, see: Watson, Alexander: Enduring the Great War. Combat, Morale and Collapse in the German and British Armies, 1914-1918, Cambridge 2008.
  9. ↑ Stachelbeck, Christian: Deutschlands Heer und Marine im Ersten Weltkrieg, Munich 2013, p. 120.
  10. ↑ Cf. Lupfer, Timothy T.: The Dynamics of Doctrine. The Changes in German Tactical Doctrine during the First World War, Leavenworth 1981.
  11. ↑ Cf. Heeres-Sanitätsinspektion des Reichswehrministeriums (ed.): Sanitätsbericht über das Deutsche Heer im Weltkriege 1914/1918. 3 volumes. Vol. 3, Berlin 1934, p. 72. The statistical report is incomplete it does not list the uncollected last four months of the war.
  12. ↑ The original quotation stems from: Kitchen, Martin: The Silent Dictatorship. The Politics of the German High Command under Hindenburg und Ludendorff, 1916-1918, London 1976.
  13. ↑ Cf. Hobson, Rolf: Imperialism at Sea. Naval Strategic Thought, the Ideology of Sea Power and the Tirpitz Plan 1875-1914, Boston 2002 (German translation 2003).
  14. ↑ Cf. Epkenhans, Michael/Hillmann, Jörg/Nägler, Frank (eds.): Skagerrakschlacht. Vorgeschichte – Ereignis – Verarbeitung, Munich 2011.
  15. ↑ Schröder, Joachim: Die U-Boote des Kaisers. Die Geschichte des deutschen U-Boot-Krieges gegen Großbritannien im Ersten Weltkrieg, Lauf an der Pegnitz 2001, pp. 422, 427, 437.
  16. ↑ Cf. Heeres-Sanitätsinspektion: Sanitätsbericht. Vol. 3, Berlin 1934, pp. 12, 72.
  17. ↑ For a concise discussion on the blockade and for a discussion on the estimated numbers of victims cf. Kramer, Alan: Blockade and Economic Warfare, in: Winter, Jay (ed.): The Cambridge History of the First World. Vol. 2. The State, Cambridge 2014, pp. 460-489, here p. 461. The author argues that the blockade was an Allied rather than a British means of warfare (p. 462). Formally, this might be correct. Nevertheless, the Royal Navy’s role in the planning, providing equipment and upholding the blockade was central, particularly with regard to the important North Sea entries.

Battles of the Meuse-Argonne

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Battles of the Meuse-Argonne, (September 26–November 11, 1918), a series of final confrontations on the Western Front in World War I.

Following the German retreat from the Marne River in July, Gen. Ferdinand Foch and the Allied high command designed a series of convergent and practically simultaneous offensives against the shaken German armies. One was a joint operation in the Meuse valley toward the Mézière and Sedan rail centre. The Americans proceeded west of the Meuse River, the French west of the Argonne Forest. The Americans faced the most difficult natural obstacle, the dense Argonne Forest. Gen. John Pershing’s opening surprise attack advanced 5 miles (8 km) along the Meuse River but only 2 miles (3 km) in the difficult Argonne Forest sector. Attack after attack edged deeper into the Germans’ defensive position. On the 11th day of the American offensive, the Germans recognized that they were outflanked and retreated to avoid capture. Meanwhile, the French advanced steadily across the Aisne lowlands. By October 31 the American forces had advanced 10 miles (16 km), the French had advanced 20 miles (32 km), and the Argonne had been cleared of German troops.

Hard fighting continued in the Meuse-Argonne sector during October. More than a million Americans participated in the battles, but the American Expeditionary Force’s casualties were heavy, and its largely inexperienced formations were becoming increasingly disorganized. On November 10 the Allies reached Sedan and cut the rail line there. The Armistice was declared (November 11) before a final offensive against Germany itself could begin.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Michael Ray, Editor.

“You Have Saved Germany’s Best Army”

At Karaguendo, near the Swedish-Lapland frontier, the German XVIII Corps stood on guard. Their job was to keep the border open for their comrades, holding the line until the whole army was out.

It was a long wait. The operation lasted until late December, some troops spending over three months caught up in the withdrawal.

Rendulic’s preparations paid off. Despite all the circumstances against them, he successfully got his forces out. When he met with Hitler on January 17, 1945, the Fuehrer congratulated him. “You have saved Germany’s best army,” he said. “To be honest, I did not think that such a feat as you have carried out could be accomplished.”

Under Rendulic, it could be done, and it was.

Nigel Cawthorne (2004), Turning the Tide: Decisive Battles of the Second World War
James Lucas (1996), Hitler’s Enforcers: Leaders of the German War Machine 1939-1945
Geoffrey Regan (1991), The Guinness Book of Military Blunders

World War 1 Leaders: The 10 Greatest German Generals of 1914-1918

Following the unification of Germany in 1871, the scene was set for the powers in Central Europe to begin flexing their collective muscles. With imperial aspirations running rampant, events in the Balkans in 1914 rapidly escalated into a full-blown conflict between Germany/Austro-Hungary and the Entente of Britain, France and Russia.

In the ensuing war, Germany could call upon a rich vein of military experience: men who had fought for Prussia and Austria, and who could trace their lineage back through distinguished military backgrounds across the various Germanic states.

There were many notable commanders of German forces during the First World War, many of whom had come from nobility. Among the Dukes, Archdukes, Barons and Counts, the Germans also fielded several members of royal families: Prince Heinrich of Prussia served in the Kaiserliche Marine but was limited during the war to an appointment as Inspector-General of the Navy the 69-year-old Prince Leopold of Bavaria commanded the German Ninth Army on the Eastern Front Crown Prince Rupprecht was considered a fine tactical leader, and his Sixth Army inflicted heavy casualties on the French forces at Lorraine while Crown Prince Wilhelm – son of Kaiser Wilhelm II – led the Fifth Army at Verdun, appointed to the task by Chief of Staff Erich von Falkenhayn.

From the “Blood-Miller of Verdun” to the “Lion of Africa”, we remember some of Germany’s greatest military masterminds.

10. Karl von Bülow (1846-1921)

Stalwart of the Second Army

According to the tradition of his Prussian family, Karl von Bülow entered the military as a young man. By the time the First World War started, he was something of a veteran, having seen action in both the Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian Wars. In 1914, he was given command of the German Second Army that would lead the attack into Belgium in accordance with the Schlieffen Plan. His forces enjoyed great success, capturing the fortress of Namur and later defeating Charles Lanrezac’s Fifth Army at the Battle of Charleroi.

However, von Bülow refused to follow up on these successes at Marne unless supported by Alexander von Kluck’s First Army, which was 50km west and heading for Paris. Von Bülow ordered von Kluck to turn towards him, resulting in the First Army exposing its flanks to Allied attack at the Battle of the Marne. Fearing a French breakthrough, von Bülow ordered a withdrawal and is generally held responsible for the German defeat at Marne. Despite this, he was promoted to Field Marshal, but a heart attack in 1915 prevented him taking further action in the war.

9. Remus von Woyrsch (1847-1920)

German Hero of the Eastern Front

Remus von Woyrsch’s career with the Prussian Army had already ended by 1914, but he was recalled from retirement when the First World War broke out, aged 68. Born of minor nobility, he had served in both the Austro-Prussian and Franco- Prussian Wars, receiving the Iron Cross for his actions in the latter. His experience with infantry resulted in him being placed in command of the Silesian Landwehr Corps on the Eastern Front. Operating alongside the Austro-Hungarian First Army, he served with distinction at the Battle of Rava-Ruska, covering the army’s retreat under Victor Danki, at the cost of 8,000 of his own men. He was duly appointed head of “Army Group Woyrsch” in Silesia, which was followed by successes at the battles of Thorn and Sienno, plus a victory against Alexei Evert’s forces during the Brusilov Offensive of 1916.

After the war, he retired for a second and final time, before dying in 1920.

8. Felix Graf von Bothmer (1852-1937)

Nemesis of the Russians

Born into Bavarian nobility, Count Felix Graf von Bothmer spent 40 years in the military, serving with Bavarian and
Prussian forces, largely on the general staff. He was made Lieutenant-General in 1905 and General of the Infantry in
1910, and with the outbreak of war was appointed commander of the Sixth Bavarian Reserve Division at Ypres. Four months later, he was placed in charge of II Reserve Corps in Galicia (modern-day western Ukraine), before taking
control of the “Sudarmee”, or South Army, in 1915 – a mixture of German, Austrian, Hungarian and Turkish troops on the Eastern Front.

Von Bothmer enjoyed some success against the numerically superior Russians, winning the Battle of Zwinin, and most notably during the Brusilov Offensive of 1916 – a massive assault by the Russian Imperial Army that saw von Bothmer’s line pushed back but unbroken. In 1917, his forces repelled the Kerensky Offensive, routing the demoralised Russians. During his time on the Eastern Front, he was awarded the Pour le Mérite with Oak Leaves and the Grand Cross of the Bavarian Military Order of Max Joseph. However, his final actions were to oversee the retreat of the 19th Army in Lorraine, and the eventual demobilisation of the Bavarian Army.

7. Erich von Falkenhayn (1861-1922)

The Blood-Miller of Verdun

Another native of Prussia, von Falkenhayn was born in Burg Belchau (in the north of modern-day Poland) and, in accordance with the region’s military tradition, duly joined the army. He spent seven years as a military instructor in China during the Boxer Rebellion, before being posted back to various posts in Germany. In 1913, he was promoted to Prussian Minister of War and was one of the key architects of the First World War, following the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand.

As Chief of the General Staff of the German Army, he was responsible for the “Race to the Sea”, where German and Allied troops tried to outflank one another but ended up entrenched along a front extending from Switzerland to the North Sea. In an attempt to “bleed France white”, he organised the nine-month attritional Battle of Verdun.

But he underestimated French resolve and casualties on both sides were colossal, earning him the nickname “the Blood-Miller of Verdun”. With the battle indecisive and the losses huge, von Falkenhayn was replaced as Chief of Staff by Paul von Hindenburg.

6. Reinhard Scheer (1863-1928)

The Man with the Iron Mask

Having served in the German Navy since 1879, Reinhard Scheer – nicknamed “the man with the iron mask” because of his stern looks – was given command of the Second Battle Squadron at the outbreak of the First World War. In 1915, he was moved to the Third Battle Squadron with its newer, more powerful dreadnoughts. A year later, he was promoted to Commander-in-Chief of the High Seas Fleet when Hugo von Pohl was forced to step down due to ill health.

Scheer’s first act was to push for greater U-boat activity against British warships, in an attempt to lure the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet out to engage with the Germans. The two navies finally clashed at the Battle of Jutland, which was seen as a minor tactical victory for the Germans, although it was only Scheer’s strategic manoeuvring that saved the High Seas Fleet from destruction. Neither the Kaiser nor Scheer felt the desire to take on the Grand Fleet in open combat again.

5. Erich Ludendorff (1865-1937)

Once the Most Powerful Man in Germany

Descended from Pomeranian merchants, Erich Ludendorff was a gifted student who graduated from Cadet School at the top of his class. In 1885, he was made Lieutenant of the 57th Infantry Regiment, before joining various other units, and was frequently commended for his service. In 1894, he was appointed to the German General Staff, rising to the rank of Senior Staff Officer.

With the outbreak of war, Ludendorff was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff to the Second Army, where he helped secure a victory over the Belgian forts at Liège, earning himself the Pour le Mérite medal for gallantry. He was then seconded to the Eighth Army on the Eastern Front, where he was instrumental in Paul von Hindenburg’s success against the Russians. In 1916, Ludendorff assumed the title First Generalquartiermeister, and is regarded as being the most powerful man in Germany at that time. However, his planned offensives in the west overstretched the German Army, leading to huge Allied advances.

After the armistice, he wrote several essays on the war and is largely responsible for the “stab in the back” myth that suggests the German military was betrayed by the Kaiser’s poor leadership and undermined by sinister political forces.

4. Albrecht, Duke of Württemberg (1865-1939)

The Noble Warrior

Another member of German nobility, Albrecht von Württemberg was the eldest son of Duke Philipp and his wife, the Archduchess Maria Theresa. At the outbreak of war, Albrecht was in command of the German Fourth Army and saw action in the Battle of the Ardennes, where the French defenders were heavily defeated. However, his forces would be driven back at the Battle of the Marne, which would then result in a stalemate and the entrenching “Race to the Sea”. Albrecht and his men were then transferred to Flanders, where they saw action in the Battle of the Yser and the Second Battle of Ypres. The latter is notable for the first large-scale use of gas on the battlefield

During the army-command reorganisation of 1915, Albrecht was promoted to Field Marshal and given control of a newly formed “Army Group Albrecht”. His force was posted to the southern sector of the Western Front, where he remained until the armistice. Following the cessation of hostilities, the German revolutions meant that he lost his royal inheritance to the Kingdom of Württemberg.

3. Lothar von Arnauld de la Perière (1886-1941)

The Most Successful Submarine Captain Ever

Although he only had a handful of men under his command, our list wouldn’t be complete without the number-one U-boat ace, Lothar von Arnauld de la Perière. Born in Posen (Poznán in modern-day Poland) and a descendant of French nobility, he was educated at the cadet schools of Wahlstatt and Gross-Lichterfelde. Aged 17, he entered the Kaiserliche Marine – the German Imperial Navy – with whom he served on a series of battleships, and also as Torpedo Officer on a light cruiser.

When war broke out, von Arnauld de la Perière was transferred to the Navy’s airship division, and in 1915 he moved to U-boats, where he was given command of U-35. Over the next three years, he made 14 voyages and sank more than 190 ships. After transferring to U-139 in 1918, he sank a further five vessels, bringing his tally to nearly half a million tons. However, he always acted according to the “prize rules”, allowing ships’ crews to board lifeboats and giving them directions to the nearest port before torpedoing the vessel. He received numerous medals, including the Austrian Order of Leopold, the Iron Cross and the Pour le Mérite, and his record number of tonnage makes him the most successful submarine commander of all time.

2. Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck (1890-1964)

The Lion of Africa

The son of a minor Pomeranian noble, Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck attended cadet school in Potsdam and Berlin-Lichterfelde before being commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Imperial Army. He served in China as part of the Allied forces sent to help quell the Boxer Rebellion, and it was here that he got his first taste of guerrilla warfare. In the decade prior to the war, he was posted to German South-West Africa and modern-day Cameroon, before being moved to German East Africa, where he was put in control of Imperial forces plus a dozen companies of native Askari troops.

During the war, von Lettow-Vorbeck harried British colonies in Rhodesia and Kenya in a series of guerrilla raids, often outnumbered by as much as 8:1. His men were often forced to live off the land, resupplying at ammunition dumps, and von Lettow-Vorbeck only surrendered when news of the armistice reached him. He returned home a hero but would end up destitute, supported by a pension paid for by former rivals from Africa and Britain.

1. Paul von Hindenberg (1847-1934)

The Saviour of East Prussia

At the outbreak of WWI, Paul von Hindenburg was retired, having served with the Prussian Army during the Franco- Prussian War, with whom he attained the rank of General. On his recall, aged 66, he was sent to the Eastern Front as commander of East Prussia, and immediately scored a huge victory at the Battle of Tannenberg. Although outnumbered almost 2:1, von Hindenburg’s Eighth Army practically destroyed Russia’s Second Army. This was followed up by the Battle of the Masurian Lakes, which drove the Russians out of German territory with huge losses.

Von Hindenburg was hailed as the “Saviour of East Prussia” and promoted to Field Marshal, then to Army Chief of Staff. During this time, thanks largely to the direction of Erich Ludendorff, he managed to stem the Allied advance in the west, defeat Romania and force Russia out of the war, securing his place as a national hero. Von Hindenburg retired again in 1919, but he remained in office and was elected President of the Weimar Republic in 1925

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The First Battle of the Marne saved not only Paris but prevented the Germans from securing a quick victory. If Paris had fallen it seems unlikely that the French government would have continued to fight. The British may or may not have as in WWII fought on by themselves [12] . The Marne was a victory for the Allies but it was a defensive one and they did not regain much territory or remove the German threat to France and the BEF. The Allies achieved victory because they exploited the overextension of the German army, whose supply lines could not provide them with enough shells and other munitions [13] . Then there was the failure of Von Moltke to control his advancing forces and this led to a critical mistake prior to the battle. The allies also exploited the latest technologies to great effect. Then Joffre provided the allies with the direction and leadership that was needed at a critical time. These factors meant that the allies won the battle although the immediate outcome of the Marne was that it led to four brutal years of trench warfare.

A Comprehensive World War One Timeline

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, and his wife, had decided to inspect Austro-Hungarian troops in Bosnia. The date chosen for the inspection was a national day in Bosnia. The Black Hand supplied a group of students with weapons for an assassination attempt to mark the occasion.

A Serbian nationalist student, Gavrilo Princip, assassinated the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, when their open car stopped at a corner on its way out of the town.

Although Russia was allied with Serbia, Germany did not believe that she would mobilise and offered to support Austria if necessary.

However, Russia did mobilise and, through their alliance with France, called on the French to mobilise.

Despite a French counter-attack that saw the deaths of many Frenchmen on the battlefields at Ardennes, the Germans continued to march into France. They were eventually halted by the allies at the river Marne.

British troops had advanced from the northern coast of France to the Belgian town of Mons. Although they initially held off the Germans, they were soon forced to retreat.

The British lost a huge number of men at the first battle of Ypres.

By Christmas, all hopes that the war would be over had gone and the holiday saw men of both sides digging themselves into the trenches of theWestern Front.

Although British losses were heavier than the German, the battle had alarmed both the Kaiser and the German Admiral Scheer and they decided to keep their fleet consigned to harbour for the remainder of the war.

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