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10-08-2015, 16:33

The Last Year of the War

For Germany, the withdrawal of the Russians from the war in March 1918 offered renewed hope for a favorable end to the war. The victory over Russia persuaded Erich von Ludendorff (1865–1937), who guided German military operations, and most German leaders to make one final military gamble—a grand offensive in the west to break the military stalemate. The German attack was launched in March and lasted into July, but an Allied counterattack, supported by the arrival of 140,000 fresh American troops, defeated the Germans at the Second Battle of the Marne on July 18. Ludendorff ’s gamble had failed. With the arrival of two million more American troops on the Continent, Allied forces began to advance steadily toward Germany. On September 29, 1918, General Ludendorff informed German leaders that the war was lost and demanded that the government sue for peace at once. When German officials discovered that the Allies were unwilling to make peace with the autocratic imperial government, reforms were instituted to create a liberal government. But these constitutional reforms came too late for the exhausted and angry German people. On November 3, naval units in Kiel mutinied, and within days, councils of workers and soldiers were forming throughout northern Germany and taking over civilian and military administrations. William II, capitulating to public pressure, abdicated on November 9, and the Socialists under Friedrich Ebert (1871–1925) announced the establishment of a republic. Two days later, on November 11, 1918, the new German government agreed to an armistice. The war was over. The final tally of casualties from the war was appalling. Nearly 10 million soldiers were dead, including 5 million of the Allied side and 3.5 million from the Central Powers (as Germany and its allies were known). Civilian deaths were nearly as high. France, which had borne much of the burden of the war, suffered nearly 2 million deaths, almost one-tenth of the entire male population of the country.