26/10/1918 As Allied leaders discuss armistice terms, the Kaiser sacks Ludendorff

After discussing possible armistice terms with the Western Front commanders yesterday, Foch today reports to Clemenceau and Poincaré, France’s prime minister and president respectively. Foch follows the other generals by suggesting armistice terms that will effectively make it impossible for the Germans to return to war. If they refuse then the Allies should continue fighting until the Germans are obliged to surrender.

Meanwhile in Germany a rift has opened up between the Chancellor, Prince Max, who wants to continue negotiations towards an armistice, and Ludendorff, the army’s Quartermaster-General, who now favours an end to negotiations and military resistance to the outmost. In defiance of Prince Max, Ludendorff has had Hindenburg, the army’s commander, issue a proclamation condemning the armistice negotiations. Now Hindenburg and Ludendorff return to Berlin to meet the Kaiser, where they threaten to resign unless Prince Max is sacked and a more pliant Chancellor appointed; Max meanwhile has also threatened to resign unless Ludendorff is sacked.

By now Ludendorff’s star has fallen and the Kaiser is afraid his own star will fall with it. Instead of sacking Max, the Kaiser sacks Ludendorff, hoping that this will placate both President Wilson and the increasingly restive German people. Hindenburg’s offer of resignation is not accepted; the Kaiser needs him to continue leading Germany’s army in the nation’s hour of need. Ludendorff’s replacement meanwhile will be Groener, whose previous work directing the German war economy should make him more acceptable to the Social Democrats than any other general.

Ludendorff’s removal shocks many in the army, even those who were deeply critical of his leadership. But the way is now clear for Prince Max to pursue more substantive negotiations with Wilson.

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Erich Ludendorff (Wikipedia)

25/10/1918 As the Belgian King returns to Bruges, Allied commanders discuss armistice terms

On the Western Front the weather is worsening, making conditions tougher for the soldiers on both sides. Nevertheless Allied pressure on the Germans continues. With the support of their Allies, Belgian troops have now cleared the Germans from the country’s coast, recovering Zeebrugge and Bruges. Today the Belgian King and Queen pay their first visit to newly liberated Bruges, the centre of which at least appears to be relatively unscathed after four years of German occupation.

Despite Ludendorff‘s recent call for continued resistance, it seems likely that an armistice will soon be concluded with the Germans. Clemenceau has asked Foch for a report on the military terms that will be required, so now he meets with all the Western Front commanders for the first time since July. Despite the recent victories, Haig is relatively cautious, fearing that if too arduous terms are demanded of the Germans then they may decide to fight on into next year. Pétain however is more confident that the enemy can be required to accept terms that would put them at a grave disadvantage should the war be resumed.

Pershing meanwhile is the most bullish. Despite the travails of his army in the Argonne, he commands the only force that is steadily increasing in size and becoming ever more effective as his men adapt to Western Front conditions. He suggests the most extreme armistice demands, not merely German surrender of occupied territory but Allied occupation of the Rhineland and establishment of bridgeheads across the great river. He also suggests German restitution of confiscated rolling stock and their surrender of all U-boats. These conditions would make it impossible for the Germans to treat an armistice as a temporary reprieve and an opportunity to lick their wounds and prepare for more fighting. The armistice would put the German army at such disadvantage that restarting the war would be impossible.

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King Albert and Queen Elisabeth in Bruges (Wikipedia: Battle of Courtrai (1918))

29/9/1918 Deadlock in the Argonne

The US offensive in the Argonne has degenerated into a series of plodding attritional battles. The Americans have made gains, advancing up to 7 miles in places, but they have suffered terrible casualties in doing so (up to 45,000 since the start of the battle three days ago). No one can doubt the bravery of the Americans but to some observers it seems as though they are fighting this battle with the tactics their French and British allies abandoned after the carnage of 1916 and 1917. With the Germans in the Argonne now being reinforced and even staging counterattacks, Pershing swallows his pride and orders a temporary halt to the offensive.

The roads are poor behind the American lines. The logistical demands of keeping the troops supplied while evacuating the wounded and relieving battered frontline units have led to chaotic traffic jams. When Clemenceau, the French prime minister, arrives today to visit the front he is unable to reach it, such is the congestion on the roads. Clemenceau is shocked by the disorder he witnesses, going so far as to mutter to Foch that he might have to petition Wilson to have Pershing replaced. This is perhaps unfair, as Pershing did not choose to fight in this sector and is only doing so at Foch’s insistence, but it illustrates a sense (or prejudice) on the part of the British and French that their American allies are not bringing much to the fighting beyond numbers and dumb muscle-power.

4/1/1918 French pacifist politician Joseph Caillaux arrested #1918Live

In early 1914 Joseph Caillaux of the Radicals had been all set to form a French government in coalition with the Socialists. Caillaux’s bold plan was to push for a rapprochement with Germany that would allow for a reduction in the French army size, thereby releasing funds for progressive social programmes. But then his wife, Henriette Caillaux, shot and killed the editor of Le Figaro. Caillaux stood aside while his wife went on trial and so was not at the helm when the July Crisis plunged Europe into war.

Unlike many others, the war has not dented Caillaux’s pacific sentiment and he continued to speak out for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. He is also rumoured to be engaged in secret negotiations with the Germans. But Clemenceau, France’s new prime minister, is determined to prosecute the war to victory and to silence those calling for an early peace. Clemenceau is also a Radical, but this does not stop him now having Caillaux arrested and charged with treason.

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Advertisement for The Caillaux Case (1918) (Wikipedia: Henriette Caillaux)

16/11/1917 Georges Clemenceau, France’s latest Prime Minister #1917Live

Another political crisis in France has led to the fall of Painlevé‘s government. Now President Poincaré takes the bold step of inviting Georges Clemenceau to form a government. Clemenceau is an old man, 76 years of age, and a leader of the Radical Party, a secular liberal group that has long been the bane of France’s conservative establishment. Clemenceau has also been a strident critic of the way France’s political leaders have been conducting the war. Handing him the premiership gives him an opportunity to put up or shut up.

Clemenceau is determined that the war must be prosecuted to victory and vehemently opposed to any suggestion of a separate peace with the Germans. He plans immediate moves against pacifist agitators within France, including senior politicians such as the Radical leader Joseph Caillaux, whom he suspects of seeking to bring France out of the war.

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Georges Clemenceau (Wikipedia)