Fortunes swung throughout 1917 but by its end most advantages had accrued to the Allied side, with Germany having made more errors of judgement than its adversary. Rejecting President Woodrow Wilson’s plea for peace, the Kriegsmarine implemented unrestricted submarine warfare against Britain’s supply life-line, including attacks on American vessels in home waters. Added to growing sympathy with Britain and the still vivid memory of the sinking of RMS Lusitania on May 7th 1915, the USA declared war on Germany, an act which would, sooner or later, decide the outcome of the war.
In the meantime the struggle on the Western Front fluctuated. The C-in-C of the French Forces, Robert Nivelle, the daring hero of Verdun, planned a crippling blow against the enemy established in strength at the River Aisne. This was a disastrous mistake since the German Army was, by then, commanded by the successful partnership of Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff who had advance intelligence of Nivelle’s plans and were fully prepared in defence. The French suffered massive casualties, were repelled and utterly demoralised. Nivelle fled the country as widespread murder of officers, mutinies and desertions began throughout the French army.
Following this defeat the British, through their Canadian element, won a key battle at Vimy Ridge just as General John Pershing was leaving the USA for France. Following his estimate of manpower required, the US Government sent the first of its recruits to be trained in France prior to joining the action fronts. Soon after this the British exploded 19 huge mines , painstakingly installed under the Messines Ridge during the previous year. The ridge disappeared as did an estimated 10,000 defenders. The rolling explosion was heard in Downing Street and Dublin.
The infamous Third Battle of Ypres, better known as Passchendaele, was conducted in mud so deep in places that it swallowed up men, mules and field guns, yet yielded a nominal but temporary victory to the British.
The war might have ended almost a year before it did but for the Bolshevik Revolution in November of that year. The Russian Army, sensing the moment of dramatic change and the opportunities open to the hitherto proletariat, turned its back on the war and headed home, its part in the war over. The effect was to release 44 German divisions to continue the fight on the Western Front.
Preparation for attack at Cambrai
In November the British deployed more than 400 tanks in an attack on the German garrison at Cambrai. It was a surprise raid and initially successful. Ludendorff however launched a counter attack and after two weeks all British gains had, as so often in the past, been recovered. Yet another vile winter was in prospect.
To read more about the history of Great Britain, you can buy my book, There Was a Time, available from various outlets.