WORLD WAR ONE: 1918

1918. After three and a half years of war, the Allies are in crisis. Russia has been rocked by Revolution, and its new Bolshevik government has signed an armistice with the Central Powers. Thousands of German troops will be freed up to fight on the Western Front, where the carnage of trench warfare has already claimed more than a million lives. 

But Germany is also desperate. Britain's long naval blockade has led to shortages and social unrest at home... While America's entry into the war brings fresh manpower and vast resources to the Allied cause. Germany faces inevitable defeat, unless it can win a quick victory on the Western Front.

8 January - US President Wilson announces his 'Fourteen Points'. They outline his vision for a post-war world, including an end to secret treaties, a reduction in the size of armed forces, self-determination for the people of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and an international organisation to settle future disputes. But most European leaders dismiss his ideas as wishful thinking.

The German and Russian delegations meet at Brest-Litovsk to conclude a treaty that will end the fighting on the Eastern Front. 

The German and Russian delegations meet at Brest-Litovsk to conclude a treaty that will end the fighting on the Eastern Front. 

3 March - At Brest-Litovsk, Bolshevik Russia signs a peace treaty with the Central Powers. Russia gives up vast amounts of territory in exchange for peace. Half a million German troops can now be redeployed from the East to the Western Front, where German General Erich Ludendorff plans an all-out, last-ditch offensive to win the war.

21 March - Ludendorff's Spring Offensive catches the Allies off-guard. German stormtroopers, using new infiltration tactics, help to overwhelm the British 5th Army, which is soon in full retreat.

26 March - The German advance threatens to split the British and French armies, with disastrous consequences. So French General Ferdinand Foch is appointed Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, to coordinate strategy.

5 April - Outside Amiens, British and Australian troops improvise a defence, and finally halt the German advance.

9 April - The German offensive switches to the north, targeting the Channel ports. But the British inflict heavy losses on the Germans, and prevent a breakthrough.

The funeral of Manfred von Richthofen, Germany's most successful fighter ace of World War One, who was buried by the Allies with full military honours. 

The funeral of Manfred von Richthofen, Germany's most successful fighter ace of World War One, who was buried by the Allies with full military honours. 

Above the trenches, the first air war continues to escalate. Each side now has more than 3,000 aircraft in service on the Western Front. But by 1918 the Allies have won air superiority, thanks to greater resources.

On 21st April, Germany's most famous pilot, Manfred von Richthofen, the 'Red Baron', is shot down and killed near Amiens. With 80 victories, he's the war's highest-scoring ace, and is buried by the Allies with full military honours.

18 May - Britain's new 'Independent Bombing Force', launches a daylight raid against Cologne. It marks the beginning of Britain's own strategic bombing campaign.

27 May - On the ground, Ludendorff's offensive switches south, targeting the French. German troops advance 30 miles, but are halted at the River Marne, just as fresh American divisions enter the line.

28 May - The US 1st Division is the first to see combat, at the Battle of Cantigny. Three days later the US 2nd Division wins victory at the Battle of Belleau Wood. By now there are nearly a million American soldiers in France, with 10,000 more arriving every day.

9 June - The fourth phase of the German Offensive leads to a 9 mile advance, but is finally halted by a French counterattack.

15 June - In Italy, Austria-Hungary launches an attack at Asiago and the Piave River, to support Ludendorff's offensive in France. But it's repulsed with heavy losses, and morale amongst the Austro-Hungarian army collapses.

23 June - British and French troops land at Murmansk in northern Russia. It's the beginning of Allied intervention in Russia's Civil War, on the side of so-called 'White', or anti-Bolshevik, forces.

15 July - On the Western Front, the Germans' final attack is defeated in the Second Battle of the Marne. Ludendorff's Offensive has cost the Germans more than 600,000 casualties, and has failed to make a decisive breakthrough. Germany's final gamble has failed.

8 August - The Allies now go on the attack. At the Battle of Amiens, British, Australian, Canadian and French troops, supported by tanks and aircraft, advance 7 miles in a single day. General Ludendorff calls 8th August 'the Black Day of the German army'.  German troops are exhausted, hungry and demoralised, and begin to surrender in their thousands. The Battle of Amiens begins the Allies' 'Hundred Days Offensive': trench warfare is over; the Germans are in full retreat.

15 September - In the Balkans, a new Allied offensive at Dobro Pole breaks through Bulgarian positions. The overstretched Bulgarian army collapses, and two weeks later Bulgaria signs an armistice.

German prisoners-of-war, Western Front, 1918.

German prisoners-of-war, Western Front, 1918.

19 September - In the Middle East, British-led forces defeat the Turks at the Battle of Megiddo, taking 25,000 prisoners. Allied troops soon occupy Damascus and Aleppo.

26 September - On the Western Front, Marshal Foch orders a general attack. British, French and American armies reach the Hindenburg Line, a line of reinforced German defences, and break through.

4 October - Ludendorff informs the Kaiser that the military situation is hopeless, and that Germany must seek an armistice. Germany sends a request to US President Woodrow Wilson, who, in return, demands German withdrawal from all occupied territory, and the Kaiser's abdication.

24 October - On the Italian Front, the Allies deliver the final blow to Austria-Hungary at the Battle of Vittorio Veneto. The Austro-Hungarian army disintegrates, and 300,000 prisoners are taken.

30 October - With the Central Powers facing collapse, the Ottoman Empire signs an armistice with the Allies at Mudros.

3 November - Austria-Hungary signs an armistice with the Allies at Villa Giusti.

4 November - At Kiel, the German High Seas Fleet is ordered to make a suicidal attack on the British navy, but instead, it mutinies. Revolution spreads through Germany. The Kaiser abdicates and a German republic is proclaimed.

11 November - A German delegation signs an armistice with the Allies, inside Marshal Foch's railway carriage at Compiègne. It comes into force at 11am, but fighting continues until the last moment. American private Henry Gunther is killed charging a German machinegun at 10.59. He is thought to be the last soldier killed during World War One.

14 November - Three days later, in East Africa, German General Von Lettow-Vorbeck surrenders his army on the Chambezi River. For four years he has tied down huge numbers of Allied troops, remaining undefeated, while cut-off from home. He is still considered one of history's greatest guerrilla leaders.

18 January 1919 - The Paris Peace Conference opens at the Palace of Versailles, just outside the French capital. Delegates accept a proposal to create a 'League of Nations', to settle future international disputes. 

4 June - The Versailles Treaty is signed. |t imposes harsh terms on Germany: its military is restricted in size, it must pay war reparations to the Allies, it loses territory to its neighbours, and its colonies are seized by the victors. Germany must also accept responsibility for the war in a 'war guilt' clause – a source of lasting resentment in Germany. 

Marshal Foch with members of the Allied delegation outside the railway carriage where the armistice with Germany was signed. 

Marshal Foch with members of the Allied delegation outside the railway carriage where the armistice with Germany was signed. 

The boundaries of Europe are redrawn: Poland re-emerges after a hundred years of foreign rule. While Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and an enlarged Romania emerge from the ashes of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

The Ottoman Empire is dismantled. New states, most under European control, are created in the Middle East. Here, as in Europe, the seeds of future conflict are sown. While in the Far East, former German possessions in China are handed to Japan, to China's outrage.

World War One claimed the lives of nine and a half million soldiers, 1 in 8 of those who fought. 21 million more were wounded. 7 million civilians also lost their lives. Huge areas of Europe were left devastated. Old empires vanished; new states were born; lives across the world were transformed. The world was never the same again.

©Toby Groom 2016

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