Germany's Last Gamble The First World War


Germany's Last Gamble

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Spring 1918.

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Revolution had taken Russia out of the war,

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releasing half a million German soldiers from the east.

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Briefly, Germany outnumbered the Allies on the Western Front.

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Here was her chance to win the First World War.

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We must strike at the earliest moment

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before the Americans can throw strong forces into the scales.

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We must beat the British.

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Behind German lines, great armies rolled into position for the Michael Offensive,

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named after Germany's patron saint.

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All the roads were crowded with columns on the march,

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pressing forward, with countless guns and endless transport.

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The German and the Allied air forces were closely matched,

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but Germany had the legendary ace Baron Manfred von Richthofen.

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A special train carried his famous fighter squadron.

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Brightly painted aircraft and daring antics

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earned the nickname "The Red Baron's Flying Circus".

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These pilots were Germany's heroes,

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among them the future Nazi leader of the Luftwaffe, Hermann Goering.

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The Red Baron's dog Moritz with his own flying gear.

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Von Richthofen had already downed 66 enemy planes.

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He looked to the Michael Offensive to swell his tally.

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The Allies knew the Germans were about to hit them -

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they just didn't know where.

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The French reinforced the Chemin des Dames ridge.

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The British strengthened the line guarding the Channel ports.

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But the Germans had their sights on the gap between,

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concentrating on a 12-mile sector

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where they knew the British were weak.

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Here, the British 5th Army's trench system was shallow and incomplete.

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General Sir Hubert Gough had few reserves.

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Germany's supreme commanders had chosen well.

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Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff carried Germany's hopes.

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Worshipped as demigods for past triumphs,

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they complemented one another's characters.

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Hindenburg the rock, steady and unflappable.

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Ludendorff the brains, but erratic, nervous.

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The plan was a short, intense bombardment to stun the British,

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then a shock attack by storm troopers.

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Evolved since 1915,

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these were elite, mobile soldiers with grenades and flame-throwers,

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trained to seek out soft spots

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and penetrate deep and fast into enemy lines.

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Ludendorff fixed the offensive for dawn on 21st March 1918.

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The Germans hit the British with a million shells in just five hours.

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Just before the bombardment ended,

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battalion commander Major Scherer sang

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"Deutschland, Deutschland, uber alles".

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We all joined in.

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It was the first time I had heard our men singing the national anthem since the autumn of 1914.

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9.40 is zero hour.

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One division after the other breaks through in a gigantic leap

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through the smashed wire entanglement,

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across no-man's-land, into the first enemy trench!

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Our bayonets are stuck in their bodies.

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The morning fog was thick with poison gas.

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Some British never saw them coming.

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We heard the sentry shout that the Germans were here.

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We made a grab for our arms.

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A party of Germans called on us to surrender.

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We had no choice. There were hundreds to one.

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Seeing that the case was hopeless, we were taken against our will.

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Lieutenant Stewart was one of 21,000 British captured that day.

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Panic spread as senior officers,

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used to years of static trench warfare,

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lost control in the havoc.

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As soon as communications with brigades ceased to exist,

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divisional headquarters in many cases became paralysed.

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They had become so wedded to a set piece type of warfare

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that they were unable to function.

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General Gough ordered what was left of the 5th Army to withdraw.

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We could hear large numbers of Boches on the roads in front.

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The tramp, tramp, tramp made one imagine

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the whole German army was advancing against my company.

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This was the biggest breakthrough

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in over three years of trench warfare on the Western Front.

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What our enemies never achieved, not even after month-long battles,

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we managed in two days! How happy the Kaiser must be!

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Finally, the initiative is back with us! It's a wonderful feeling!

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Demoralised British troops retreated over the Somme battlefield of 1916,

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giving up ground for which so much blood had been shed.

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It is pathetic to think that the old places where we were 2 years ago

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are now in the hands of the Hun,

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as, also, are the graves of many people we know.

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Edward's sister, Vera Brittain, was a nurse at Etaples,

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now flooded with casualties.

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"There's only a handful of us, Sister,

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"and thousands of them!" was the perpetual cry

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whether the patient came from Bapaume, Peronne or St Quentin.

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Day after day, while civilian refugees fled in panic into Etaples,

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some fresh enemy conquest was incredulously whispered.

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Peronne, Bapaume, Beaumont Hamel were gone.

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The huge German advance put Paris

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within range of the biggest gun in the world.

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This morning, the bombardment of Paris began,

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with the 3 new Krupp cannons.

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The target is 120 kilometres away

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and from launch the shell takes 3½ minutes.

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The first French prisoners I speak to ask me anxiously

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whether it's true that Paris has actually been shelled.

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Travelling will be all the rage in Paris.

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Allied newsreels portrayed life in the city continuing as normal.

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But, away from the cameras, civilians hurriedly packed their bags.

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183 of the giant shells fell on Paris.

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The battle's going well. The enemy is in retreat,

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though fighting courageously and with heavy losses.

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A brilliant offensive -

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great loot, over 3,000 prisoners, 60 artillery and 200 machine guns!

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I receive a telegram from Crown Prince Wilhelm

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honouring me and my army.

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This evening, His Majesty the Kaiser returned from Avesnes

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bursting with news of our successes.

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As the train pulled in, he shouted,

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"The battle is won. The English have been utterly defeated."

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The Kaiser declared 24th March 1918 a national holiday.

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He awarded Hindenburg and Ludendorff the highest military honours.

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Days later, Ludendorff's troops were still advancing.

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Some of the British started to think the unthinkable.

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I shall never forget the crushing tension of those extreme days.

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Nothing had quite equalled them before -

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not the Somme, not Arras, not Passchendaele -

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for into our minds had crept for the first time

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the secret, incredible fear that we might lose the war.

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But German success in the Michael Offensive masked deep problems at home.

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The biggest threat to Germany and her allies

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had increasingly come not from their enemies but their civilians.

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The crucial link between fighting and home fronts became decisive in 1918.

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The Central Powers ran a desperate race between victory on the battlefield and collapse at home.

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There are signs of the increasing scarcity of metal.

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In a small town near here, a sad ceremony took place.

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The church bell, which had rung the people from cradle to grave for 300 years,

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was requisitioned.

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The inhabitants performed a funeral service for it.

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The bell was covered with wreaths and flowers

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and handed over to the military authorities

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under tears and protestations.

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Lead pipes were ripped up from the streets and melted down into bullets.

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The war gnawed at the vitals of Germany and Austria-Hungary.

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People's hearts turned against it.

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They wanted change - peace and democracy.

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After a while, joy at the victory announcements abated.

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People stopped believing them.

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They weren't sure any more what the truth was.

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I saw that the war had become old and, like an old person, was no longer wanted.

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Surely peace must come soon.

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Something dangerous was building up in people,

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something that smelled like rebellion.

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Dangerous ideas were coming in from Russia -

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anti-war, revolutionary -

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carried by German troops being moved from Eastern to Western Front for the great offensive.

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At railway stations and on leave,

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these ideas took root amid the pessimism of the home front.

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Dominik Richert was one of the soldiers ordered from East to West.

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We were off to the front.

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Again, the pleasant prospect of a heroic death for the beloved Fatherland.

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We went through East Prussia, West Prussia, Brandenburg.

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Train after train, crammed full of soldiers and war supplies,

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rolled over from Russia to the West.

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Farm workers were in the fields. We waved.

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Almost all of them made the sign of having your throat cut.

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Since 1917, letters from home to Germany's soldiers

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carried an increasingly defeatist message.

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Beloved Fritz, hard work never seems to lessen.

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We would all do it ever so willingly if this cursed war would end.

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Tomorrow, it will be two years since our beloved brother was killed

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and what a number has fallen in those years.

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In this small area, we can count 33

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and yet there is no end.

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The Central Powers' censorship of letters revealed

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the extent to which dangerous pacifist ideas infiltrated society.

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An understandable yearning for one's home, family, job

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can be detrimental to the soldiers' resolution.

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The heavier these burdens weigh on the army's spirit,

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the more it needs to rely on a strong foundation of belief.

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Ludendorff used propaganda to boost the nation's morale.

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By now, his authority had spread into all aspects of life, military and civilian.

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In July 1917, he launched a "Patriotic Instruction Programme"

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to restore the army's faith in nation and cause.

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One of the propagandists was Major Walther Nicolai.

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A German victory is necessary and possible,

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the only means of reaching a peace appropriate to its sacrifices.

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We must eradicate all doubt in a German victory.

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Film became a key propaganda tool.

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A massive new studio, UFA, secretly funded by the military,

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made films to encourage the war effort.

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Neptune, king of the seas, learns that the feast his mermaids bring

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has floated down from British ships sunk by U-boats.

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He goes to Berlin to urge the public to keep buying war bonds.

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Propaganda also taught the importance of security and secrecy.

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In this film, a soldier's careless talk on the telephone to his wife

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is intercepted by the British.

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Ludendorff enlisted German women to spy on their fellow citizens

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and root out defeatism.

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Politician Hans Peter Hanssen described in his diary

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the covert mission of the Women's Home Army.

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Women are given special instruction in espionage.

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They are to pay attention to conversations everywhere,

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to post themselves in front of food shops to prevent complaints.

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If they hear people making improper utterances,

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they are to demand their identity

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and turn them over to the state attorney.

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In these repressive times, politics grew more extreme.

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In July 1917, the German parliament, the Reichstag, passed a resolution

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calling for a negotiated peace with the Allies.

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But Hindenburg and Ludendorff welcomed the formation

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of the Fatherland Party to reunite the nation.

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Financed by industry and the army, and backed by the right,

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it launched savage propaganda attacks against all anti-war factions.

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But the party only fuelled Germany's slide into dissent and division.

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Outward distinctions of class and rank must be avoided.

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Many who grew rich through war are detested.

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Finer distinctions are not always made.

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Anyone with a fur mantle or well-made boots is suspected of being a war profiteer.

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Hindenburg and Ludendorff ran Germany as a military dictatorship.

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They had marginalised the Kaiser.

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The Kaiser is more and more the shadow of a king.

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People talk openly of his abdication as a possibility very much desired.

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In January 1918, frustration, war weariness and hunger

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drove 400,000 people onto the streets of Germany.

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Enough with the murder at the front! Down with war!

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We don't want to starve any longer!

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This war will only end when Kaiser Wilhelm has to queue for potatoes!

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We are croaking with hunger!

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There was a heavy battle between strikers and police at Moabit.

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A policeman was shot.

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The strike is spreading.

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In north Berlin, streetcars were overturned and used as barricades.

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Kurt Eisner, a radical socialist leader, addressed the crowd.

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Comrades! The battle has begun!

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For three and a half years, you have swallowed shameful lies

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and become accomplices to terrible slaughter.

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If you give in now, the oppression will start again.

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You will be sent to die in the name of the economic and military interests of a few.

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If you stand firm now, we will be victorious!

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The German army responded by arresting 150 strike leaders and putting them on trial.

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We are now entirely at the mercy of the military courts of justice.

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Anyone who strikes is being sent off to the front at once.

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In the darkest days of serfdom,

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men could not have been more in a state of slavery

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than we are in these days of militarism.

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Over 3,000 strikers were sent to the front.

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It was a foolhardy decision,

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only likely to spread radical and pacifist ideas into the army.

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The company was ordered to attend the cavalry captain's burial

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in the military graveyard

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where thousands of poor victims of European militarism lay buried.

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Of course, there was a speech.

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The main words featured were Fatherland, hero's death, honour etc

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In reality, that's all lies and deceit.

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The only people who die purely for the Fatherland are basic soldiers.

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The higher ranks are paid, so die for the money.

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By March 1918, Germany's ally Austria-Hungary faced bankruptcy and famine.

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Joseph Redlich, a member of the Austrian parliament, was in despair.

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The financial worries are crushing.

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All in all, the national debt is 75 billion!

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And all around the country, hunger is crushing the masses!

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Has such hunger ever been experienced

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by 100 million people and more?

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Emperor Franz Josef had died in 1916.

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His successor, Kaiser Karl, liberalised Austria

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and had a French wife Zita who disliked Germany.

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In 1917, he opened secret peace negotiations with France.

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The Germans felt betrayed.

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Then Austria wavered in the one area Germany relied on her to hold firm -

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the Italian Front.

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In November 1917, Austria-Hungary had beaten Italy at the battle of Caporetto,

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capturing rich farmland and thousands of prisoners.

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But the troops soon slaughtered the animals and emptied the granaries.

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By February 1918, warnings reached Vienna

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that Austro-Hungarian troops in the Alps and on the Venetian plains were near starvation.

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Troops are no longer moved by incessant empty phrases

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that the hinterland is starving or that one must hold out.

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They must be adequately supplied to be able to live and fight.

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I beg again for vigorous measures

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to overcome the present food crisis as quickly as possible.

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But Vienna couldn't feed herself, let alone supply an army.

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In April 1918, Austrian General Landwehr,

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in charge of food distribution, took matters into his own hands.

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Grain barges from Romania passed through the city,

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down the Danube to Germany.

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Landwehr ordered his men to hijack one.

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Now Vienna had no bread. Something had to be done.

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The confiscation of the German grain barge was the only way out.

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This was simply street robbery,

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albeit an official one dictated by need.

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It was a violent action I had to take to save Vienna from starvation.

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Ludendorff was so enraged he considered declaring war on Austria.

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Trouble was brewing with Germany's other main ally, Ottoman Turkey.

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Germany needed Turkey

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to hold the line against the British advance into the Middle East.

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But after 600 years, the Ottoman Empire was crumbling

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and the British Empire was licking its lips.

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In March 1917, the British captured Baghdad.

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In December, they entered Jerusalem.

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Losing both cities was a severe blow to Ottoman authority in the Middle East.

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The words "Jerusalem has fallen" spread like news of a death in the family.

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Jerusalem was in the hands of the English.

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How heroically the last Turks fought.

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We did not leave Jerusalem like the sons of Israel,

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we left it like Turks.

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Through the Mount of Olives, the evening shadows deepen and widen

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like a grave sucking in the whole of the Ottoman Empire.

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We now had to prepare our tears for Beirut, Damascus and Aleppo.

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Now we thought only of Anatolia and Istanbul.

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Goodbye to the Empire

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and all its dreams and fancies!

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The British Army had it all.

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They had build roads. Even pipes to distribute water to the troops.

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We did not have any clean drinking water.

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A flask full of clean water was sold for a gold coin on the Turkish side.

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In Turkey, as with her allies,

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the situation on the home front was so desperate,

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it threatened her capacity to wage war.

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Turkey hadn't known peace for seven years.

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The First World War was just the latest and most terrible in a string of conflicts.

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Most able-bodied men were in the army, or wounded, or dead.

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The land was impoverished, the people near breaking point.

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An old farmer with his granddaughter

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came to see me. Her father had died in Gallipoli. The mother had, too.

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He begged me, "Take this child and save her from starvation and death."

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I took the child.

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Back in Istanbul, I discovered that almost all of my officer friends

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had taken in children like that, from the villages of Anatolia.

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General Mustafa Kemal, Turkey's future leader,

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warned this was a recipe for national disaster.

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There are no bonds between the government and people.

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What we call the people is composed of women, disabled men and children.

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For all, the government is the power

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which insistently drives them to hunger and death.

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Every new step taken by the government

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increases the general hatred the people feel for it.

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But far from relaxing the pressure on the Turkish people,

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their war leader Enver Pasha had even bigger demands to make.

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While Britain swallowed up the old Ottoman Empire in the south,

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Enver looked east,

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dreaming of a new Turkish Empire extending into central Asia.

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Our destiny forces us to move from the south to the east

0:30:110:30:17

where our blood, roots, language and, most important, our future lie.

0:30:170:30:23

Ludendorff also had plans,

0:30:230:30:25

which ignored the parlous state of the Turkish army.

0:30:250:30:29

By May 1918, he had a crazy idea for Enver to strike at the heart of the British Empire.

0:30:310:30:37

Even if we are victorious in France, it is still uncertain

0:30:380:30:43

we can force the English to a peace acceptable to us

0:30:430:30:46

if we are not able to threaten their most sensitive spot, India.

0:30:460:30:51

But Enver stuck to his own agenda,

0:30:560:30:59

including sending his newly formed Army of Islam

0:30:590:31:03

to capture the oil-rich city of Baku.

0:31:030:31:07

Britain and Germany had Baku in their sights.

0:31:070:31:10

The scramble for central Asia was on.

0:31:100:31:13

The speed and energy of the Turkish advance took Europe by surprise.

0:31:130:31:18

They hadn't thought that Turkey was able to carry out such deeds.

0:31:180:31:22

Ludendorff was furious to find, yet again, an ally

0:31:240:31:27

trying to steal resources from Germany.

0:31:270:31:30

Unless the Turkish advance on Baku is halted at once,

0:31:300:31:34

and the troops are withdrawn to their original positions,

0:31:340:31:38

I shall have propose to His Majesty the Kaiser

0:31:380:31:41

the recall of German officers in the Turkish high command.

0:31:410:31:45

While they were bickering, Britain sneaked into Baku first.

0:31:470:31:51

Turkey's commanders, like Vecihi Bey, grew bitter

0:31:560:32:00

at the cost of alliance with Germany.

0:32:000:32:03

We thought we were sacrificing ourselves

0:32:030:32:06

for the common good of Germans and Turks.

0:32:060:32:10

Oh, this shining silvered plan!

0:32:100:32:13

We have sacrificed millions of our sons for a dream.

0:32:130:32:17

A woman is asking everyone she sees,

0:32:200:32:22

"Have you seen my Ahmed?" Which one?

0:32:220:32:25

Which of the hundred thousand Ahmeds?

0:32:250:32:28

"He went this way," she said.

0:32:280:32:32

That way? To the Suez Canal?

0:32:320:32:35

Sarikamis or Baghdad?

0:32:350:32:38

Was your Ahmed swallowed by ice, sand or bitten by scorpions?

0:32:380:32:43

No, none of us has seen your Ahmed.

0:32:430:32:47

But he has seen hell.

0:32:470:32:49

If we could only explain to a mother what we gained from it,

0:32:490:32:54

news to make her proud.

0:32:540:32:57

But we lost Ahmed in a gamble.

0:32:570:33:00

Regardless of the Central Powers' mounting problems,

0:33:050:33:08

Ludendorff's push on the Western Front was storming ahead.

0:33:080:33:11

We are going like hell, on and on, day and night.

0:33:180:33:21

Our baggage is somewhere in the rear

0:33:210:33:24

and nobody expects to see it again.

0:33:240:33:26

We're glad if ration carts and field kitchens get to us at night.

0:33:280:33:32

Now we go forward,

0:33:320:33:34

past craters and trenches,

0:33:340:33:37

captured gun positions,

0:33:370:33:39

ration dumps and clothing depots.

0:33:390:33:42

Our cars now run on the best English rubber tyres.

0:33:430:33:46

We smoke none but English cigarettes

0:33:460:33:48

and plaster our boots with lovely English boot polish.

0:33:480:33:51

All unheard-of things which belonged to a fairy land a long time ago.

0:33:510:33:55

The British 5th Army fell back in disorder before the Germans.

0:34:020:34:05

Von Hutier's 18th Army had advanced the furthest.

0:34:070:34:11

They encountered slight resistance

0:34:110:34:14

because the areas they reached were of lesser strategic importance to the Allies.

0:34:140:34:18

Instead of reining von Hutier in and turning his army against Allied strongholds,

0:34:240:34:29

Ludendorff rewarded him with medals and reinforcements.

0:34:290:34:34

Crown Prince Rupprecht, commanding four armies, foresaw trouble.

0:34:340:34:38

German high command has changed direction,

0:34:400:34:44

making decisions according to the size of territorial gain

0:34:440:34:48

rather than according to operational goals.

0:34:480:34:53

The problem was Ludendorff.

0:34:530:34:55

He had an eye for detailed battlefield tactics

0:34:550:34:58

but was blind to the big strategic picture.

0:34:580:35:02

His armies' spectacular advance had no vital objective.

0:35:030:35:08

Woe betide a staff officer who dared ask what the operation was meant to achieve.

0:35:080:35:14

I object to the word "operation".

0:35:140:35:18

We will punch a hole into their line.

0:35:180:35:21

For the rest, we shall see.

0:35:210:35:23

Rudolf Binding, at the cutting edge of the 2nd Army, realised

0:35:250:35:29

the speed of the German advance across this undefended ground was a problem in itself.

0:35:290:35:34

One cannot go on victoriously without ammunition or reinforcements

0:35:360:35:41

Behind us lies the wilderness.

0:35:410:35:44

What annoys and upsets us again and again

0:35:460:35:49

are exaggerations of the newspapers

0:35:490:35:51

and the telegrams to crowned heads about the "decisive victory".

0:35:510:35:56

The German advance, which looked so good on paper,

0:36:010:36:05

had dangerously outstripped its supply lines.

0:36:050:36:07

Some units were so far ahead, no-one was sure where they were.

0:36:070:36:12

Germans had neither horses to pull supply carts, nor enough fodder.

0:36:120:36:16

The sun dries the poor earth to dust.

0:36:180:36:21

I don't know what we will live off. Already we have no oats.

0:36:210:36:26

If we have a bad harvest, we can send horses to the sausage factory.

0:36:260:36:30

The deeper the Germans penetrated Allied lines,

0:36:340:36:37

the more their own deprivations were forced home to them.

0:36:370:36:41

Like a vision from the Promised Land,

0:36:430:36:46

we are already in the English rest areas,

0:36:460:36:48

a land flowing with milk and honey.

0:36:480:36:51

Our men can hardly be distinguished from English soldiers.

0:36:510:36:54

Every one wear at least a leather jerkin,

0:36:540:36:56

a waterproof either short or long.

0:36:560:36:59

There is no doubt the army is looting with some zest.

0:36:590:37:02

On 23rd March, Ludendorff suddenly dreamed up a real objective -

0:37:090:37:14

the city of Amiens.

0:37:140:37:16

Amiens, hub of the Allied railway system,

0:37:200:37:23

was a key junction between northern France and Paris.

0:37:230:37:27

Amiens' loss would be a calamity for the Allies,

0:37:290:37:33

as French General Ferdinand Foch realised.

0:37:330:37:35

We must fight in front of Amiens. We must fight where we are now.

0:37:360:37:41

As we have not been able to stop the Germans on the Somme,

0:37:410:37:45

we must now not retire a single inch.

0:37:450:37:49

The German 2nd Army set out for Amiens,

0:37:490:37:53

but slowed and halted on the way.

0:37:530:37:55

Rudolf Binding was sent to investigate.

0:37:550:37:59

Today, the advance of our infantry stopped near Albert.

0:37:590:38:03

Nobody understood why.

0:38:030:38:05

Strange figures like soldiers were making their way back out of town,

0:38:080:38:12

men with a bottle of wine under their arm, another in their hand.

0:38:120:38:17

The advance was held up and there was no means of getting it going again for hours.

0:38:170:38:21

The German troops had found French towns full of food and drink,

0:38:240:38:29

in quantities and qualities they hadn't seen for years.

0:38:290:38:33

Whole divisions had entirely gorged themselves on food and liquor

0:38:370:38:41

and failed to press the vital attack.

0:38:410:38:43

The 2nd Army had lost precious time and momentum.

0:38:480:38:52

Here, outside Amiens on 4th April,

0:38:520:38:55

a combined Australian and British force stopped the Germans.

0:38:550:39:00

Ludendorff called off the Michael Offensive.

0:39:050:39:08

His lack of a strategic plan and the failure to supply his troops

0:39:080:39:13

had squandered a priceless opportunity.

0:39:130:39:15

His officers were now seriously concerned.

0:39:150:39:18

Ludendorff has totally lost his nerve.

0:39:230:39:26

How will this war end?

0:39:290:39:32

England is still unbeaten.

0:39:320:39:34

The physical exhaustion of the infantry was so great

0:39:380:39:41

that finally the men could hardly fire their rifles.

0:39:410:39:45

They let themselves be slowly wiped out, almost without caring.

0:39:450:39:49

Then Germany's greatest hero, Baron von Richthofen, was shot down

0:39:540:39:59

behind British lines, on 21st April, shortly after his 80th kill.

0:39:590:40:04

The Allies buried him with full military honours.

0:40:080:40:11

A British plane then flew over his headquarters,

0:40:110:40:15

dropping a photograph of von Richthofen's grave.

0:40:150:40:18

The Baron's was the most public German death

0:40:310:40:35

but he was one of over 230,000 casualties in just one month.

0:40:350:40:39

Germany was running out of men,

0:40:450:40:48

having failed to capitalise on Russia's withdrawal from the war.

0:40:480:40:52

Germany had left 1.5 million troops on the Eastern Front,

0:40:560:41:00

using vital resources - food and transport.

0:41:000:41:05

Germany's leaders were out of their depth,

0:41:050:41:07

fighting what Ludendorff would later call a "total war",

0:41:070:41:11

but with administrative structures,

0:41:110:41:13

and thinking, of a small 19th-century state.

0:41:130:41:17

Now Ludendorff's nightmare unfolded.

0:41:170:41:20

Germany had failed to achieve decisive victory

0:41:220:41:26

before the Americans poured into France.

0:41:260:41:29

A quarter of a million by March 1918.

0:41:290:41:31

But General Pershing gave the Germans breathing space,

0:41:360:41:39

refusing to allow American troops to serve under British or French command

0:41:390:41:44

America declared war independently of the Allies.

0:41:450:41:50

She must face it as soon as possible with a powerful army.

0:41:500:41:54

The morale of our soldiers depends upon fighting under our own flag.

0:41:540:41:59

Pershing, obstinate and stupid,

0:42:110:42:14

desiring a "great, self-contained American army".

0:42:140:42:17

Ridiculous!

0:42:170:42:19

A radical reorganisation of the Allied command structure changed the situation.

0:42:210:42:28

During the bleakest moments of the Michael Offensive,

0:42:280:42:32

General Foch was appointed the Western Front's Allied supreme commander.

0:42:320:42:37

If Petain and Haig could take orders from him, so could Pershing.

0:42:370:42:41

But the Americans went their own way over how to fight.

0:42:460:42:50

Captain Christison gave a training lecture

0:42:500:42:54

to newly arrived American troops.

0:42:540:42:56

I held forth, adding personal experiences.

0:42:560:43:00

When I ended, an old colonel, dressed like a sheriff, said,

0:43:000:43:05

"I'd like yous all to accord the Scottish major a vote of thanks for his very interesting lecture."

0:43:050:43:11

He shook his finger and went on,

0:43:110:43:13

"But, remember, the British have tried these tactics for four years

0:43:130:43:19

"and they ain't done much damn good!"

0:43:190:43:21

The Americans were raring to fight.

0:43:240:43:27

We all seemed to go crazy,

0:43:330:43:34

for we gave a yell like a bunch of wild Indians

0:43:340:43:37

and started down the hill, running and cursing

0:43:370:43:39

in the face of the machine gunfire.

0:43:390:43:42

Men were falling on every side

0:43:420:43:44

but we kept going, yelling and firing as we went.

0:43:440:43:48

We threw hand grenades as if they were baseballs.

0:43:520:43:55

A boy next to me threw a hand grenade and hit a tree.

0:43:550:43:59

It bounced back and exploded.

0:43:590:44:01

We saw it in time to hit the trench bottom and keep from getting killed.

0:44:010:44:05

By refusing to learn from the Allies,

0:44:170:44:20

the Americans fought in 1918 the way the Allies had done in 1914 -

0:44:200:44:24

charging across open ground, without adequate artillery support.

0:44:240:44:28

German Intelligence noted their inexperience from interrogation of prisoners.

0:44:310:44:36

Attacks were carried out with dash and recklessness.

0:44:370:44:41

Regarding military matters, however,

0:44:410:44:43

they show not the slightest interest.

0:44:430:44:46

For example, most of them have never seen a map.

0:44:460:44:49

They cannot describe villages and roads through which they marched.

0:44:490:44:53

The Americans had a lot to learn,

0:44:580:45:00

but their presence gave the Allies a huge morale boost.

0:45:000:45:04

They looked larger than ordinary men.

0:45:040:45:07

Their tall, straight figures were in vivid contrast

0:45:070:45:09

to our undersized armies of pale recruits.

0:45:090:45:12

I pressed forward to watch the US physically entering the war.

0:45:130:45:17

So godlike,

0:45:190:45:21

so magnificent,

0:45:210:45:23

so splendidly unimpaired in comparison with

0:45:230:45:25

the tired, nerve-racked men of the British Army.

0:45:250:45:28

So these were our deliverers at last.

0:45:300:45:33

And, with the knowledge that we were not, after all, defeated,

0:45:330:45:37

I found myself beginning to cry.

0:45:370:45:40

The failure of the Michael Offensive further depressed German morale at home.

0:45:470:45:52

Pacifism and defeatism seeped through to the soldiers in the German rear.

0:45:520:45:56

Military transports, block station windows and trains

0:46:000:46:05

have been smashed by stone-throwing.

0:46:050:46:07

Troops on top of wagons cut through telephone cables and signals.

0:46:070:46:12

In other trains, brakes were tampered with,

0:46:120:46:15

making it impossible to stop in time for signals and in stations.

0:46:150:46:19

Also, wagons have been uncoupled.

0:46:190:46:22

Colonel von Thaer became so worried about the state of the German army

0:46:250:46:30

that he voiced his concerns to Hindenburg.

0:46:300:46:33

His soothing voice said "My dear Thaer,

0:46:340:46:38

"while it may be the case that things recently have not gone well for you,

0:46:380:46:42

"remember, you are talking about a front of 12 miles."

0:46:420:46:46

I daily receive reports from the entire front.

0:46:460:46:50

Morale is splendid.

0:46:500:46:52

According to our reports, enemy morale is rather poor.

0:46:520:46:56

But morale in Hindenburg's own headquarters was sliding

0:46:580:47:02

and the root cause was Ludendorff.

0:47:020:47:04

By July 1918, his nerves were shot.

0:47:050:47:09

He'd only had three days off in four years.

0:47:090:47:13

His beloved stepson had been killed in the Michael Offensive.

0:47:130:47:18

He became morbidly attached to the boy's body,

0:47:180:47:21

refusing to send it back to his wife in Berlin.

0:47:210:47:25

If I didn't send you Pieckchen, then that was pure selfishness.

0:47:250:47:31

I wanted to keep him.

0:47:310:47:33

I go to him often.

0:47:330:47:35

It's a lovely feeling to have him here.

0:47:350:47:39

Ludendorff's inner circle feared for his mental health.

0:47:390:47:43

There is a serious question

0:47:430:47:45

about Ludendorff's nervousness and his incoherence.

0:47:450:47:48

He is working himself to death.

0:47:480:47:51

The situation is really serious.

0:47:510:47:54

It looks as if he has lost all hope.

0:47:540:47:57

Throughout June, the Germans grew weaker and the Allies stronger.

0:48:010:48:06

On 15th July,

0:48:070:48:09

Ludendorff launched the last German offensive of the First World War.

0:48:090:48:13

I have lived through the most disheartening day of the whole war.

0:48:150:48:20

The French lured us across rusty snakes of barbed wire.

0:48:200:48:25

We only managed to advance about 3 kilometres. Everything went wrong.

0:48:250:48:31

Then the French struck back at the Marne.

0:48:340:48:37

Their counteroffensive battered the exhausted German army.

0:48:460:48:50

It looks as though we are being thrown against

0:48:530:48:55

the largest enemy counteroffensive of all time.

0:48:550:48:58

And it was supposed to be our offensive!

0:48:580:49:01

We could never have dreamed that this would happen - ever.

0:49:010:49:05

Germany had suffered nearly a million casualties

0:49:130:49:16

since the glory days of March.

0:49:160:49:18

Her great gamble had failed, and the tables were turning against her.

0:49:180:49:23

In the next episode of The First World War...

0:49:330:49:36

The strange, sudden ending of the war,

0:49:360:49:38

the bitter legacy of Versailles

0:49:380:49:40

and the search for meaning in the terrible losses.

0:49:400:49:43

In March 1918, Germany launched a massive offensive on the Western Front - her bid to win the war before the Americans arrived. The master was General Erich Ludendorff - a genius, but unstable. Within days the British Fifth Army was in retreat, Paris was under shell-fire and some Allies feared defeat. But Germany's allies, Ottoman Turkey and Austria-Hungary, were starving and demoralised and the war-weary German Home Front was infected with dangerous socialist ideas. Then Ludendorff's great offensive ran out of steam, having stormed ahead without strategic aims or supplies. German soldiers slowed, exhausted and hungry. And then the Americans started pouring in.


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