German Spring Offensive succeeds-how does President Wilson react?

If the Germans are depending on supply by rail, then the further they advance, the more difficult their supply would get, because I assume that during a WW1 battle/advance not much would stay intact. So on the gained ground there's no more working railwaysytem. You kinda say that yourself in your quote.
Not necessarily.

As Zabecki writes, it all depended upon the rail density of the area that they advanced into. The territory that they gained during their Michael and Georgette advances were high in rail, which enabled their advances to be sustained. The subsequent territory gained, however, were low, which precluded the sustainment of protracted offensive operations long-term similarly to Michael and Georgette.
I cite as an example von Papen's plan to invade Canada from the USA in 1914 using 600,000 German-American and Irish-Americans recruited from among the US populace, who would go disguised as cowboys.

German Staff plans and reality isn't always a 100% correlation.
von Papen had virtually no power in the OHL of 1918. For all of Ludendorff's wishful thinking at this point in the war, even he didn't think that von Papen's plans to incite Canadian and American Germans/Irish into insurrection as cowboys or bombing Washington DC with gas blimps was a productive idea at all.
 
On the German side of the no-mans-land, the loss of lives had also been staggering as well.
Publicly offering to give up occupied territories of Belgium and France before, during or after an attack that had been sold to the attacking troops as the war-winning offensive would have been a huge gamble. It would amount to essentially admitting that every German soldier killed at the Western Front had essentially died in vain.
OTOH, when the Entente refused - as they surely would - the German leaders could tell their men "See. We offered the English what they say they are fighting for, and they refused. As we have said all along, their real aim is to destroy Germany. We must win or perish."

Incidentally, Istr reading (possibly in a biography of Ludendorff) that General Hoffman urged a German announcement that "we do ot desire a single square yard of Belgian territory" since Britain would fight on forever rather than let Germany keep it.
 
Last edited:
That was answered very early on with the question: What could he do?

In March 1918 Wilson/US had no ace card up their sleeve. They had declared war and were waiting for their Army to reach combat capability, and even then the AEF would be far from the dominant force on the Western Front. If the the BEF is forced to retreat, partly to the sea to be evacuated and partly overland back towards the Somme and the French fall back as a result of this and German offensives on their front in March-June 1918 the AEF lacks the combat power to do anything about it. Because of this France could sue for peace and there's nothing Wilson could do about it because the AEF simply isn't powerful enough.
Militarily there is not much the US can do in the short term. But it can support France financially and also help Britain relocate its forces in France. Plus further help against U-boats.

Then it becomes a race between the gathering Allied forces and German ability to sustain their Allies and its own armies.

We might see Plan 1919 in operation albeit from a less favourable base. With Germany unable to respond effectively once Austria-Hungary collapses. And thus seeks an Armistice as OTL

The other possibility is that Germany actually has the sense to offer a White Peace that looks acceptable to Wilson and the US. In tbe West at least. Although how that would square with Brest-Litovsk is an interesting conundrum.

Which outcome do you think is more probable? Could the German leadership in the flush of what seem a crushing victory offer a favourable Peace settlement to the US?
 
True on him using some untapped sources. That is in fact his strongest point.

Zabecki writes like a German staff officer. That is not surprising. His own career was as an operations and staff officer and his academic career since then has been focused on German Army staff work.

If you look through almost any German Staff plan for a WW1 offensive (or really almost any staff plan for any army) you will notice that the objectives set are more often than not not reached. The staff officers job is to set a direction and objectives so that the planning can proceed. In most cases the actual assaults did not match up to the objectives set. German Staff officers in this period are perhaps particularly known for grand objectives but you see it in all armies planning (just look at the Flanders offensive).

Equally, Staff officers are rarely able to look at the planning documents of their enemy. Which parallels Zabecki who’s sources on the mindset and planning of the British tends to come from the Official History (which is good but questionable on officers mindset) and Tim Travers (who has an axe to grind and often cherry picks his information to grind it).

Zabecki’s thesis is interesting, his basic premise (that Amiens and Hazebrouck are the best operational goals and expanding operations should have been avoided if possible to focus on the main objective) is, I think, quite valid, his credentials are solid. That does not mean he is definitely correct. Every thesis is presented as a new perspective on history, not the definitive edition on how it was.

The alternative plan laid out by Zabecki is given in the form of an operational plan, not an alternate timeline. It has the same assumptions and the same (possibly required for initial operational planning) ignorance of the enemy response. And in any operation, the enemy gets a vote. It is assumed that further planning will adjust as the situation on the ground changes.
He only writes like a German because you happen to perceive it in this way. Just because a historian superficially focuses on one side of the war does not mean that they necessarily support that side: see Robert Citino's work on WW2 if you are that unsure-he is perhaps the greatest critic of the traditional German way of war that I have ever read about.

Contrary to what you are saying here, Zabecki writes that more often than not, the German WW1 Offensive Staff Plans had virtually no set objectives at all-you are clearly missing the German offensive mindset here, which was to draw the enemy into a "decisive battle" at any time and at any place and annihlate their field formations through manuever.

Zabecki does in fact look at the operational planning of the British Army from direct, contemporary accounts at the time, which he later comes to characterize as being deficient and confused against the initial German onslaught of Michael and Georgette.
 

raharris1973

Gone Fishin'
Donor
Monthly Donor
AFAIK, the main AEF entry at that point was St. Nazaire
Yes, on the Atlantic, Bay of Biscay segment, *not* the English Channel
In March 1918 Wilson/US had no ace card up their sleeve. They had declared war and were waiting for their Army to reach combat capability, and even then the AEF would be far from the dominant force on the Western Front. If the the BEF is forced to retreat, partly to the sea to be evacuated and partly overland back towards the Somme and the French fall back as a result of this and German offensives on their front in March-June 1918 the AEF lacks the combat power to do anything about it. Because of this France could sue for peace and there's nothing Wilson could do about it because the AEF simply isn't powerful enough.
A reminder that Clemenceau/Foch would have been more vital deciders on the Entente side than Wilson/Pershing.
Now the Americans could still be influencers. That they were incoming and that some of their people on the ground could be thrown into the breach faster could influence French thinking and decisions.
Incidentally, Istr reading (possibly in a biography of Ludendorff) that General Hoffman urged a German announcement that "we do ot desire a single square yard of Belgian territory" since Britain would fight on forever rather than let Germany keep it.
Yes, so Hoffman saw such a declaration as a bet worth taking, that it would threaten British morale without posing worse risks for the morale of German troops. Maybe his bet would have been correct if put to the test. Or maybe not. Maybe even the scaling back of ambition would have started a breach of faith in trust and victory on the German side as Karelian suggested. I could read a timeline with things going either way and accept it as plausible.
 
Yes, on the Atlantic, Bay of Biscay segment, *not* the English Channel

A reminder that Clemenceau/Foch would have been more vital deciders on the Entente side than Wilson/Pershing.
Now the Americans could still be influencers. That they were incoming and that some of their people on the ground could be thrown into the breach faster could influence French thinking and decisions.

Yes, so Hoffman saw such a declaration as a bet worth taking, that it would threaten British morale without posing worse risks for the morale of German troops. Maybe his bet would have been correct if put to the test. Or maybe not. Maybe even the scaling back of ambition would have started a breach of faith in trust and victory on the German side as Karelian suggested. I could read a timeline with things going either way and accept it as plausible.
A proclamation of white peace in the west would be better after Michael and George in the wake of a victory for best impact on both sides.
 
Militarily there is not much the US can do in the short term. But it can support France financially and also help Britain relocate its forces in France. Plus further help against U-boats.

Then it becomes a race between the gathering Allied forces and German ability to sustain their Allies and its own armies.

We might see Plan 1919 in operation albeit from a less favourable base. With Germany unable to respond effectively once Austria-Hungary collapses. And thus seeks an Armistice as OTL

The other possibility is that Germany actually has the sense to offer a White Peace that looks acceptable to Wilson and the US. In tbe West at least. Although how that would square with Brest-Litovsk is an interesting conundrum.

Which outcome do you think is more probable? Could the German leadership in the flush of what seem a crushing victory offer a favourable Peace settlement to the US?
Honestly, a plan 1919 attack is most likely, French moral was never in as much danger as the mutany is often laid out, and foch knows he only has to hold out agenst a over extended german army for a year before he has 5,000,000 Yankees to though into the grinder wich Germany has no answer for. Now if America wasn't there then yes France would give up sense there is no longer anyway to win the war, but with America, no way.

Besides, if at any point Germany had a competent diplomatic corps sense Bismark died it wouldn't be in this mess, this is the same country that did the Zimmerman Telegram then completely owned up to it. They are not going to give a white peace deal after the biggest victory in the western front sense 1914.
 
Besides, if at any point Germany had a competent diplomatic corps sense Bismark died it wouldn't be in this mess, this is the same country that did the Zimmerman Telegram then completely owned up to it. They are not going to give a white peace deal after the biggest victory in the western front sense 1914.

This. Post-Bismark, German diplomatic moves seem designed to piss off as many people as possible without any concomitant benefit.
 
Yes, so Hoffman saw such a declaration as a bet worth taking, that it would threaten British morale without posing worse risks for the morale of German troops. Maybe his bet would have been correct if put to the test. Or maybe not. Maybe even the scaling back of ambition would have started a breach of faith in trust and victory on the German side as Karelian suggested. I could read a timeline with things going either way and accept it as plausible.

So would I.

I am coming to feel that discussions on this subject (perhaps also on the importance of the US intervention) focus too much on purely material factors, and underrate the importance of what was going on in ordinary soldiers' minds -a factor which by 1918 was becoming too important to ignore. After all, as previously noted, even *Haig* had noticed it. Indeed, I suspect that I myself may have been guilty of this in past years, so I'm nor knocking anyone in particular.
 
Last edited:
Young back to the original question, I don’t think Wilson’s reaction is the important thing, but the general American reaction. If WWI end with a de facto White Peace in the West and maybe the change of a few colonies. I think Democrats will be in a even worse electional situation than in OTL, the Isolationists will have a field day. But more important USA get all the negative effects of the war, but without the beneficial (training, improving logistic and getting the Germans to pay some of the British and French debt).
 
Honestly, a plan 1919 attack is most likely, French moral was never in as much danger as the mutany is often laid out, and foch knows he only has to hold out agenst a over extended german army for a year before he has 5,000,000 Yankees to though into the grinder wich Germany has no answer for. Now if America wasn't there then yes France would give up sense there is no longer anyway to win the war, but with America, no way.

Besides, if at any point Germany had a competent diplomatic corps sense Bismark died it wouldn't be in this mess, this is the same country that did the Zimmerman Telegram then completely owned up to it. They are not going to give a white peace deal after the biggest victory in the western front sense 1914.
Only for as long as the British and the Americans are still on the continent.

If not, then French morale is extremely dependent on the battlefield situation at the time.
 
Only for as long as the British and the Americans are still on the continent.

If not, then French morale is extremely dependent on the battlefield situation at the time.
Well the Americans will be on the continent in ever increasing numbers. And part of the British army will still be there and the rest can return.
 
Well the Americans will be on the continent in ever increasing numbers. And part of the British army will still be there and the rest can return.
It's the perception that matters, not the reality.

If the British are seemingly running from the continent and the Americans haven't even arrived yet, French morale is likely to be heavily fickle depending on the battlefield situation at the time.
 
It's the perception that matters, not the reality.

If the British are seemingly running from the continent and the Americans haven't even arrived yet, French morale is likely to be heavily fickle depending on the battlefield situation at the time.
Especially if Paris supply line via the seine is cut, and possibly under artillery fire.
It will still be months before either the bef or the aef can actually carry out offensives so relief will feel impossible for quite some time
 
Especially if Paris supply line via the seine is cut, and possibly under artillery fire.
It will still be months before either the bef or the aef can actually carry out offensives so relief will feel impossible for quite some time
Wonder how Foch will react when Ludendorff begins advancing towards the River Seine and Paris.

This might very well prove to be "THE event" in which French morale is ultimately tested during the war. Whether they break or hold, who knows at this point?
 
Wonder how Foch will react when Ludendorff begins advancing towards the River Seine and Paris.

This might very well prove to be "THE event" in which French morale is ultimately tested during the war. Whether they break or hold, who knows at this point?
It would interesting to wargame the original scenario. But i suspect German manpower will be exhausted even by a successful operation. And be incapable of holding the captured territory let alone launch further offensives.
 
It would interesting to wargame the original scenario. But i suspect German manpower will be exhausted even by a successful operation. And be incapable of holding the captured territory let alone launch further offensives.
As Zabecki has pointed out in his thesis, had Operations Michael and George been aimed exclusively at Amiens and Hazebrouck, the Germans would have suffered significantly less casualties than their historical efforts in order to advance everywhere at once during the two operations.

The key for Ludendorff after the BEF has been driven out of the Continent is to focus his attacks on the Seine region and Paris at all costs from the Somme and the Aisne, ignoring the low-hanging fruit of elsewhere on the Western Front. Concentrating his limited efforts there could potentially have kept the pressure up on the French, who would at this stage still have been focused on plugging up the frontlines in these sectors after the BEF is withdrawn from the front in order to re-fit after their devastating defeats.
 
One thing I don't think people take into account here is that not only is Paris pretty much the single most important center for military production for both the Fremch and American militaries on the western front, but it received 70% of its coal from Bethune, a place which would now be under German occupation. In other words, all of a sudden, French production falls to 30%! Not only does that mean that the Entente will be effectively unable to conduct military operations as each bullet and shell becomes effectively irreplacable, but it will also lead to the firings of a great number of French workers. It must also be remembered that the French pacifist movement is quite strong at the time and the French are even more bled dry than the Germans.

With the British forced off the mainland, the Americans useless and efforts to relieve the situation hampered by German submarines running amok from the channel ports, and it's quite likely that the french just collapse. Do take into account that by the time the Germans surrendered OTL there was still no fighting on their soil, but their allies were collapsing and there was massive internal unrest, the same situation the French would find themselves in (except the "allies collapsing", for them it would be more "allies rendered useless"). While I can't see anything like the Treaty of Verseilles being forced on the French (again, their allies have just been incapacitated and still have the means to carry on the struggle, if with greatly reduced capability) I can see them accepting a less harsh treaty out of sheer necessity. "For the Victor the Spoils" and "A Day in July" may serve as examples how such a treaty may be conducted, i.e. some colonial horsetrading and the Germans enforcing some claims on the west, while taking care to not be too greedy, as doing so would piss off the Americans and British too much and prevent a peace with the entire Entente being formed.
 

raharris1973

Gone Fishin'
Donor
Monthly Donor
One thing I don't think people take into account here is that not only is Paris pretty much the single most important center for military production for both the Fremch and American militaries on the western front, but it received 70% of its coal from Bethune, a place which would now be under German occupation. In other words, all of a sudden, French production falls to 30%! Not only does that mean that the Entente will be effectively unable to conduct military operations as each bullet and shell becomes effectively irreplacable, but it will also lead to the firings of a great number of French workers. It must also be remembered that the French pacifist movement is quite strong at the time and the French are even more bled dry than the Germans.

With the British forced off the mainland, the Americans useless and efforts to relieve the situation hampered by German submarines running amok from the channel ports, and it's quite likely that the french just collapse. Do take into account that by the time the Germans surrendered OTL there was still no fighting on their soil, but their allies were collapsing and there was massive internal unrest, the same situation the French would find themselves in (except the "allies collapsing", for them it would be more "allies rendered useless"). While I can't see anything like the Treaty of Verseilles being forced on the French (again, their allies have just been incapacitated and still have the means to carry on the struggle, if with greatly reduced capability) I can see them accepting a less harsh treaty out of sheer necessity. "For the Victor the Spoils" and "A Day in July" may serve as examples how such a treaty may be conducted, i.e. some colonial horsetrading and the Germans enforcing some claims on the west, while taking care to not be too greedy, as doing so would piss off the Americans and British too much and prevent a peace with the entire Entente being formed.
But what are the odds the Germans will offer anything less than the Septemberprogramm if they see the situation the same way as you do?

Also, do the the French pacifists have a United program of what they’re willing to accept, an immediate demand for unilateral French government policy, and a viable political path, or violent path, to power?

newly unemployed workers from Bethune will be unhappy, but will the still employed workers in the functioning parts of the French economy be in a mood for a general strike to sue for terms?
 
He only writes like a German because you happen to perceive it in this way.
I am going to assume that you mean he does not write that way, I just perceive that he does, and not that my perception actually changes the way he writes.

But, to quote the man himself:

"I have conducted this analysis from the point of view of the Germans"

Just because a historian superficially focuses on one side of the war does not mean that they necessarily support that side: see Robert Citino's work on WW2 if you are that unsure-he is perhaps the greatest critic of the traditional German way of war that I have ever read about.
I never said he did support that side, nor is my assessment that he writes like a German Staff Officer a criticism. Zabecki's academic work has almost all focused on the German Army and on staff work, most commonly on staff work in the German Army. And his thesis is actually a critique of German operational understanding in WW1. To quote his Research Objectives:
"It is not the primary objective of this study to suggest ways in which the Germans could have won World War I ,or at least could have achieved battlefield victory in 1918. Rather the primary objective is to use German offensive operations and planning in 1918 as a laboratory to examine and analyze the Operational Level of War"

This is a useful study, and an interesting one. But it is not, nor is it intended to be, a singular account of what could or should have happened in Spring 1918. It deliberately comes at the question from the German side and applies modern operational theory to the decisions taken by the Germans in 1918. Zabecki suggests alternatives that his analysis suggests would have been more effective operational targets. It does not look deeply into the plans or possible responses of the Allies, only what response they undertook to OTL's offensives, nor does it uncritically assume that its proposed objectives are guaranteed to have been reached, only that they are the better targets. It provides suggestions for follow-on objectives if the first objectives are met but it is assumed that the actual operation and timetable would be continually evaluated and adjusted based on the facts on the ground at the time.

To quote Moltke (from Zabecki) "No operations plan will ever extend with any sort of certainty beyond the first encounter with the hostile main force"

Contrary to what you are saying here, Zabecki writes that more often than not, the German WW1 Offensive Staff Plans had virtually no set objectives at all-you are clearly missing the German offensive mindset here, which was to draw the enemy into a "decisive battle" at any time and at any place and annihlate their field formations through manuever.
I am aware. However, the view on the German use and devotion to the concept of decisive battle even prior to WW1 is far from monolithic. The War itself was a profoundly challenging situation and all sides worked to adjust and adapt their ideals to the situation. So a straight assumption that the Spring Offensives were aimed at the destruction of manpower alone is, IMO, not adequately supported by the evidence.

Zabecki's summary of the German operational orders often mentions objectives, and names them. Amiens is named quite often, but Zabecki generally dismisses this (IMO possibly too quickly) as being unclear since it does not list it clearly enough for his tastes or (when dealing with Ludendorff's writings private and public) as post-facto justification. This last dismissal seems strange to me, as Zabecki's thesis never seems to establish that Amiens was accepted post war as the necessary objective, so why would Ludendorff seek to falsify his interest in it to justify himself?

Zabecki does in fact look at the operational planning of the British Army from direct, contemporary accounts at the time, which he later comes to characterize as being deficient and confused against the initial German onslaught of Michael and Georgette.
To again quote Zabecki's Research Objectives:
"I have conducted this analysis from the point of view of the Germans. I have, of course, considered and described the responses of the Western Allies - The British, French and Americans - but I have not analyzed their plans nor critiqued their actions" (Bolding mine).


To give a final quote:

"In attempting to reconstruct the German decision-making and planning process, I have applied many of the tools and techniques of the military intelligence officer - a specialty in which I have some practical experience. Both the military historian and the military intelligence officer face similar challenges, and in many cases use similar analytical tools. ... The ultimate objective for both is to produce the best possible analysis from the best information available. This process can be as much an art as a science." (Bolding mine)

Zabecki's thesis is a study of operational art using the German plans as a basis for investigation. It is not an alternative history manuscript. His alternatives are predicated on what he views of the best use of the resources available at the time. They do not, as a military historian might, delve into the probably responses of the Allied Armies using deep analysis of the British or French position, but rather, as a Military intelligence officer would, uses limited information on the enemies positions and strength to devise an operational plan that best uses "his own" armies tactical position to achieve their strategic goals. And insofar as that goes, I believe he has crafted an operational plan with a greater chance of strategic success than that which was pursued IOTL. However, It is a mistake to read his alternatives as a defined roadmap to German victory. My objection is, and has always been, that though the operational plan is superior to OTL, had it been implemented, it still would not have been able to achieve its objectives, due to the distance involved, the resistance of the British and French Armies, and the logistical pressure of operating so far from their own rail lines, the same factors that eventually ended the German Offensives IOTL.

To give an illustrating example, in the Second World War during the Battle of Britain the Luftwaffe shifted focus from the RAF's fighter bases to city bombing. Operational studies can, and indeed have, shown that continuing attack against the fighter bases would have been the better operational approach to meet the Luftwaffe's (and Germany's) strategic objectives. And their are tantalizing clues of them being "this close" to winning the battle for southern England with squadrons being shifted north and plans for more to be moved. Thus you occasionally have Axis timelines where this pressure is maintained which leads to a operation Sealion. However, assessments of the Battle from the British side show that even if the RAF had shifted squadrons north (which is not a certainty) they likely would have been able to move them south again to combat an attempted invasion, and the material situation throughout the battle was shifting in Britain's favour, with ultimate German victory in the campaign highly unlikley.

I believe that this POD is a similar situation. That aiming at Amiens and Hazebrouk was a better operational objective than a less focused assault is a better operational plan for a Military Intelligence officer to suggest is, I think, correct. Whether an improved operational plan is likely to succeed requires, from a military historians perspective, an equal analysis of the enemies situation. Having spent some time in such analysis' I believe that this improved German plan is still very unlikely to succeed.
 
Top