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How Important Were Alliances In Determining The Outcome Of The First World War?

Focus – did alliances decide who won and lost by 1918?

Date : 11/01/2016

Paul

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Uploaded by : Paul
Uploaded on : 11/01/2016
Subject : History

How important were alliances in determining the outcome of the First World War?

Focus – did alliances decide who won and lost by 1918?

Both the Triple Entante of Britain, France and Russia and the Triple Alliance of Germany Austro-Hungary (and Italy) have problems. Russia is always the weaker player for the Entante and needs major support to keep it in the war. The German high command correctly foresaw that Russia would collapse in a protracted war. The Russians can fight against the Austro- Hungarians with some degree of success but not against Germany. Huge amounts of material might were delivered to Russia to support her but her armies disintegrate. The revolution of February 1917 and the formation of the Russian provisional government does little to help. The Provisional Government is under huge pressure to stay in the war from Britain and France and tries to renew the war (the Kornilov offensive) The Russian people and the soldiers want peace but the Provisional Government needs the support of Britain and France. For the Russians this is a lose-lose situation, it was not inevitable that Lenin and the Bolsheviks would succeed in the October revolution, it was highly likely that the Provisional Government would however fail in the situation it was in.

The Triple Alliance has its own problems. Austro-Hungary is not just a dual monarchy it is a confused swirl of ethnic groups held together by not very much. Germany has to give considerable support to the Austro-Hungarians to keep them going. Equally Italy does not declare war in 1914 and when she does she comes in on the side of Britain and France in 1916. The involvement of the Ottoman Empire is an equally mixed blessing as another decaying empire of different ethnic groups. Britain and France attempt to force the Dardanelles in 1915 to open up a supply route to Russia via the Black Sea, this fails but the war in the Middle East is not decisive.

Germany’s use of submarines and unrestricted warfare at sea (plus the sinking of the liner Lusitania in 1915 as a slow burning fuse) finally brings the USA in on the side of Britain and France in April 1917. The Germans realise that once the economic power of the USA is mobilised that they will be defeated, however the collapse of Russia gives them one last stab at victory in the spring of 1918. The failure of the Kaiser’s spring offensive means Germany cannot win but one must recognise the importance of the economic blockade of Germany. Starvation at home played a major role in German defeat in 1918. The arrival of large numbers of American soldiers in the last few months guaranteed defeat for Germany but other factors were probably more important.

Assessment - The end of the war sees a major realignment of power in Europe as old empires collapse. The Ottoman Empire, long the ‘sick man of Europe’ collapses and Turkey emerges as a modern nation. The Austro-Hungarian Empire dissolves, Austria and Hungary become separate nations, new ‘successor’ nations such as Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia emerge but in both cases they were based around more than one ethnic group, Poland emerges as a nation and not just a people. So while alliances might not have decided the outcome of the war on their own the consequences of alliances sees a new Europe emerge and with it a new set of problems that will within a generation bring another world war.

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