The First World War (2003) s01e09 Episode Script

Part 9

NARRATOR: Spring 1918.
Revolution had taken Russia out of the war, releasing half a million German soldiers from the East.
For a brief moment, Germany outnumbered the Allies on the Western Front.
Here was her chance to win the First World War.
We must strike at the earliest moment, before the Americans can throw strong forces into the scales We must beat the British Behind the German lines, great armies rolled into position for the ''Michael Offensive'', named after Germany's patron saint.
All the roads were crowded with columns on the march eagerly pressing forward with countless guns and endless transport The German and the Allied Air Forces were closely matched, but Germany had the legendary ace, Baron Manfred von Richthofen.
A special train carried his famous fighter squadron .
Their brightly-painted aircraft and daring antics had earned the nickname ''The Red Baron's Flying Circus''.
These pilots were Germany's heroes, among them, the future Nazi leader of the Luftwaffe, Hermann GÃring.
The Red Baron's dog, Moritz, with his own flying gear.
Von Richthofen had already downed 66 enemy planes.
He looked to the Michael Offensive to swell his tally.
The Allies knew the Germans were about to hit them.
They just didn't know where.
The French reinforced the Chemin des Dames ridge, the British strengthened the line guarding the Channel ports, but the Germans had their sights on the gap between, concentrating on a 12-mile sector where they knew the British were weak.
Here, the British Fifth Army's trench system was shallow and incomplete.
General Sir Hubert Gough had few reserves.
Germany's supreme commanders had chosen well.
Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff carried their country's hopes.
Virtually worshipped as demigods for past triumphs, they complemented one another's characters.
Hindenburg, the rock, steady and unflappable.
Ludendorff, the brains, but erratic, nervous.
The plan was a short, intense bombardment to stun the British, then a shock attack by storm troopers.
Evolved since 1915, these were elite, mobile soldiers, armed with grenades and flame-throwers, trained to seek out soft spots and penetrate deep and fast into enemy lines.
(Gunfire) Ludendorff fixed the offensive for dawn on 21 March 1918.
The Germans hit the British with a million shells in just five hours.
Just before the bombardment ended the battalion commander Major Scherer started to sing ''Deutschland Deutschland Uber Alles'' We all joined in It was the first time I had heard our men singing the national anthem since the autumn of 1914 9:40 is zero hour One division after the other breaks through in a gigantic leap through the smashed-wire entanglment across no-man's-land into the first enemy trench Our bayonets are stuck in their bodies The morning fog was thick with poison gas.
Some British never saw them coming.
We heard the sentry shout that the Germans were here and we all made a grab for our arms A party of Germans came behind us and called on us to surrender Well we hadn't anything to say in the matter as there were hundreds to one Seeing that the case was hopeless we were taken very much against our will Lieutenant Stewart was one of 21,000 British captured that day.
Panic spread, as senior officers, used to years of static trench warfare, lost control in the havoc.
As soon as communications with brigades ceased to exit diviional headquarters in many cases became paralysed They'd become so wedded to a set-piece type of warfare that they were unable to function General Gough ordered what was left of the Fifth Army to withdraw.
We could hear large numbers of Boche on the roads in front The tramp tramp tramp made one imagine the whole German Army was advancing against my company This was the biggest breakthrough in over three years of trench warfare on the Western Front.
What our enemies never achieved not even after month long battles we managed within two days How happy and jolly the Kaiser must be Finally the initiative is back with us It's a wonderful feeling Demoralised British troops retreated over the Somme battlefield of 1916, giving up ground for which so much blood had been shed.
It is pathetic to think that the old places where we were two years ago are now in the hands of the Hun as also are the graves of many people we know Edward's sister, Vera Brittain, was a nurse at Etaples, now flooded with casualties.
VERA: ''There's only a handful of us Sister and there seems to be thousands of them'' It was the perpetual cry whether the patient came from Bapaume or Péronne or St Quentin Day after day while civilian refugees fled in panic into Étapls some fresh enemy conquest was incredulously whipered Péronne Bapaume Beaumont-Hamel were gone The huge German advance put Paris within range of the biggest gun in the world.
This morning the bombardment of Paris began with the three new Krupp cannons The target is 120 kilometres away and from launch the shell takes 3 1/2 minutes The first French prioners I speak to ask me anxiously whether it's true that Paris has actually been shelled VON ElNEM: Travelling will be all the rage in Paris Allied newsreels portrayed life in the city continuing as normal.
But away from the cameras, civilians hurriedly packed their bags.
183 of the giant shells fell on Paris.
The battle's going well The enemy is in retreat though fighting courageously and with heavy bloody losses A brilliant offensive with great loot and over 3 000 prioners 60 artillery and 200 machine guns I receive a telegram from Crown Prince Wilhelm honouring me and my army This evening His Majesty The Kaiser returned from Avesnes bursting with news of our successes As the train pulled in he shouted ''The battle is won The English have been utterly defeated'' The Kaiser declared 24 March 1918 a national holiday.
He awarded Hindenburg and Ludendorff the highest military honours.
Days later, Ludendorff's troops were still advancing.
Some of the British started to think the unthinkable.
I shall never forget the crushing tension of those extreme days Nothing had quite equalled them before not the Somme not Arras not Passchendael For into our minds had crept for the first time the secret incredible fear that we might lose the war (Mortar fire) But German success in the Michael Offensive masked deep problems at home.
The biggest threat to Germany and her allies had increasingly come, not from their enemies, but their civilians.
The crucial link between fighting and home fronts became decisive in 1918.
The Central Powers were running a desperate race between victory on the battlefield and collapse at home.
(Sniper fire) There are signs of the increasing scarcity of metal In a small town near here a sad ceremony took place The ancient church bell which had rung the people from cradle to grave for 300 years was requisitioned The inhabitants performed a funeral service for it The bell was covered with wreaths and flowers and handed over to the military authorities under tears and protestations Lead pipes were ripped up from the streets and melted down into bullets.
The war was gnawing at the vitals of Germany and Austria-Hungary and people's hearts were turning against it.
They wanted change, peace and democracy.
After a while joy at the victory announcements abated People stopped believing them They weren't sure any more what the truth was I saw that the war had become old and like an old person was no longer wanted Surely peace must come soon? Something dangerous was building up in people something that smelled like rebellion Dangerous ideas were coming in from Russia antiwar, revolutionary, carried by German troops being moved from Eastern to Western Front for the great offensive.
At railway stations and on leave, these ideas took root amid the pessimism of the home front.
Dominik Richert was one of the soldiers ordered from East to West.
We were off to the front, so, once again, we had the plasant prospect of being allowed a sweet heroic death for the beloved Fatherland We went through East Prussia West Prussia Brandenburg Train after train crammed full of soliers and war supplies rolled over from Russia to the West Farm workers were in the fields We waved Almost all of them made the sign of having your throat cut Since 1917, letters from home to Germany's soldiers carried an increasingly defeatist message.
Beloved Fritz hard work never seems to lessen We would all do it ever so willingly if only this cursed war would end Tomorrow it will be two years since our beloved brother was killed and what a number has fallen in those years In this small area we can count 33 and yet there is no end The Central Powers' censorship of letters revealed the extent to which dangerous pacifist ideas were infiltrating society.
An understandable yearning for one's home family job can be detrimental to the soliers' resolution The heavier these burdens weigh down on the spirit of the army the more the army needs to rely on a strong foundation of belief Ludendorff used propaganda to boost the nation's morale.
By now, his authority had spread into all aspects of life, military and civilian.
In July 1917, he launched a ''patriotic instruction programme'' to restore the army's faith in nation and cause.
One of the propagandists was Major Walther Nicolai.
A German victory is necessary and possible It is the only means of reaching a peace which is appropriate to its sacrifices We must eradicate all doubt in a German victory Film became a key propaganda tool.
A massive new studio, UFA, secretly funded by the military, made films to encourage the war effort.
(Dramatic piano accompaniment) Here, Neptune, king of the seas, learns that the feast his mermaids bring him has floated down from British ships sunk by U-boats.
He goes to Berlin to urge the public to keep buying war bonds.
Propaganda also taught the importance of security and secrecy.
In this film, a soldier's careless talk on the telephone to his wife is intercepted by the British.
Ludendorff enlisted German women to spy on their fellow citizens and root out defeatism.
Politician Hans Peter Hanssen described in his diary the covert mission of the Women's Home Army.
These women are given special Instruction in espionage They are to pay attention to conversations everywhere They are to post themselves in front of food shops to prevent complaints If they hear people making improper utterances they are to demand their identity immediately and turn them over to the state attorney In these repressive times, politics grew more extreme.
In July 1917, the German Parliament, the Reichstag, passed a resolution calling for a negotiated peace with the Allies.
But Hindenburg and Ludendorff welcomed the formation of the Fatherland Party to reunite the nation.
Financed by industry and the army, and backed by the right, it launched savage propaganda attacks against all antiwar factions.
But the party only fuelled Germany's slide into dissent and division.
All outward distinctions of class and rank have to be avoided The many who have grown rich through war are detested Finer ditinctions are not always made and anyone wearing a fur mantle or well made boots is suspected of being a war profiteer Hindenburg and Ludendorff were running Germany as a military dictatorship.
They had marginalised the Kaiser.
PRINCESS BLUCHER: The Kaiser is more and more the shadow of a king and people talk openly of his abdication as a possibility very much desired ln January 1918, frustration, war weariness and hunger drove 400,000 people onto the streets of Germany.
WOMAN : Enough with the murder at the front! Down with the war! We don't want to starve any longer! MAN : This war will only end when Kaiser Wilhelm has to queue up for potatoes! WOMAN : We're all croaking with hunger! There has been a heavy battle between strikers and police at Moabit A policeman has been shot The strike is spreading In North Berlin streetcars were stopped overturned and used as barricades Kurt Eisner, a radical socialist leader addressed the crowd.
Comrades! The battle has begun! For three and a half years you have swallowed shameful lies and become accomplices to the terrible slaughter If you give in now the oppression will start all over again and you will be sent to die in the name of the economic and military interests of a few If you stand firm now we will be victorious! The German Army responded by arresting 150 strike leaders and putting them on trial.
We are now entirely at the mercy of the military courts of justice Anyone who strikes is being sent off to the front at once In the darkest days of serfdom men could not have been more in a state of slavery than we are in these days of militarism Over 3,000 strikers were sent to the front.
It was a foolhardy decision, only likely to spread radical and pacifist ideas into the army.
The company was ordered to attend the burial of the cavalry captain in the military graveyard where thousands of poor victims of European militarism already lay buried Of course there was a speech The main words featured were ''Fatherland'' ''hero's death'' ''honour'' etc In reality that's all lies and deceit The only people who die purely for the Fatherland are the basic soliers The higher ranks are paid so die for the money By March 1918, Germany's ally, Austria-Hungary, faced bankruptcy and famine.
Josef Redlich, a member of the Austrian Parliament, was in despair.
The financial worries are crushing All in all the national debt is 75 billion and all around the country hunger is crushing the masses Has such hunger ever been experienced by a hundred million people and more? Emperor Franz Joseph had died in 1916.
His successor, Kaiser Karl, liberalised Austria and had a French wife Zita, who disliked Germany.
In 1917, he opened secret peace negotiations with France.
The Germans felt betrayed, then Austria started to waver in the one area where Germany was relying on her to hold firm, the Italian Front.
ln November 1917, Austria-Hungary had beaten Italy at the battle of Caporetto, capturing rich farmlands and thousands of prisoners.
But the troops soon slaughtered the animals and emptied the granaries.
By February 1918, warnings reached Vienna that Austro-Hungarian troops in the Alps and on the Venetian plains were near starvation.
The troops are no longer moved by incessant empty phrases that the hinterland is starving or that one must hold out They must be adequately supplied to be able to live and fight I therefore beg again for vigorous measures to overcome the present food crisis as quickly as possible But Vienna couldn't feed herself, let alone supply an army.
In April 1918, Austrian General Landwehr, in charge of food distribution, took matters into his own hands.
Grain barges from Romania passed through the city down the Danube to Germany.
Landwehr ordered his men to hijack one.
Now Vienna had no bread Something had to be done The confication of the German grain barge was the only way out This was simply street robbery albeit an official one dictated by need It was a violent action I had to take if I was to save Vienna from starvation Ludendorff was so enraged, he considered declaring war on Austria.
And trouble was brewing with Germany's other main ally, Ottoman Turkey.
Germany needed Turkey to hold the line against the British advance into the Middle East.
But, after 600 years, the Ottoman Empire was crumbling and the British Empire was licking its lips.
In March 1917, the British captured Baghdad.
In December, they entered Jerusalem.
The loss of both cities was a severe blow to Ottoman authority in the Middle East.
The words ''Jerusalm has fallen'' spread like news of a death in the family Jerusalm was in the hands of the English How heroically the last Turks fought We did not leave Jerusalm like the sons of Israel We left it like Turks Through the Mount of Olives the evening shadows deepen and widen like a grave sucking in the whole of the Ottoman Empire We now had to prepare our tears for Beirut Damascus and Aleppo Now we thought only of Anatolia and Istanbul Goodbye to the Empire and all its dreams and fancies (Camels bray and grunt) The Britih Army had it all.
They had built roads even pipes to ditribute water to the troops We did not have any clean drinking water A flask full of clean water was sold for a gold coin on the Turkih side In Turkey, as with her allies, the situation on the home front was so desperate it threatened her capacity to wage war.
Turkey hadn't known peace for seven years.
The First World War was just the latest, and most terrible, in a string of conflicts.
Most able-bodied men were in the army or wounded or dead.
The land was impoverished, the people near breaking point.
An old farmer with a seven year-old girl his grandchild came to see me The child's father had died in Gallipoli and the mother had died as well He begged me ''For God's sake take this child and save her from starvation and death'' I took the child Back in Istanbul I discovered that almost all of my officer friends had taken in poor children like that from the villages of Anatolia General Mustafa Kemal, Turkey's future leader, warned that this was a recipe for national disaster.
There are no bonds between the Government and the people What we call ''the people'' is now composed of women disabld men and children For all alike the Government is the power which insitently drives them to hunger and death Every new step taken by the Government increases the general hatred the people feel for it But far from relaxing the pressure on the Turkish people, their war leader, Enver Pasha, had even bigger demands to make on them.
While Britain swallowed up the old Ottoman Empire in the south, Enver looked east, dreaming of a new Turkish Empire extending into Central Asia.
Our destiny forces us to move from the south to the east where our blood our roots our language and most importantly our future lie Ludendorff also had plans, which ignored the parlous state of the Turkish Army.
By May 1918, he had a crazy idea, for Enver to strike at the heart of the British Empire.
LUDENDORFF: Even if we are victorious in France it is still in no way certain that we can force the English to a peace acceptable to us if we are not able to threaten their most sensitive spot India But Enver stuck to his own agenda and that included sending his newly-formed Army Of Islam to capture the oil-rich city of Baku.
Britain and Germany also had Baku in their sights.
Now the scramble for Central Asia was on.
The speed and energy of the Turkish advance seems to have taken Europe by surprise They hadn't thought Turkey was able to carry out such deeds Ludendorff was furious to find, yet again, an ally trying to steal resources from Germany.
Unlss the Turkih advance on Baku is halted at once and the troops are withdrawn to their original positions I shall have to propose to His Majesty the Kaiser the recall of the German officers in the Turkish High Command While they were bickering, Britain sneaked into Baku first.
Turkey's commanders, like Vecihi Bey, were growing bitter over the cost of her alliance with Germany.
We thought we were sacrificing ourselves for the common good of the Germans and Turks Oh! This shining silvered plan We've sacrificed millions of our sons for a dream A woman is asking everyone she sees ''Have you seen my Ahmed?'' "Which Ahmed?" "Which of the hundred thousand Ahmeds?" ''He went this way'' she said "That way? To the Suez Canal Sarikami or Baghdad? Was your Ahmed swallowed by ice sand or bitten by scorpions? No none of us has seen your Ahmed But he has seen hell" If we could only explain to a mother what we gained from it, news to make her proud But we lost Ahmed in a gamble (Mortar fire) Regardless of the Central Powers' mounting problems, Ludendorff's push on the Western Front was storming ahead.
We're going like hell on and on day and night Our baggage is somewhere in the rear and nobody expects to see it again We're glad if ration carts and field kitchens can get up to us at night Now we go forward past craters and trenches captured gun positions ration dumps and clothing depots Our cars now run on the best English rubber tyres, we smoke none but English cigarettes and plaster our boots with lovely English boot polish all unheard of things which belong to a fairyland a long time ago The British Fifth Army fell back in disorder before the Germans.
Von Hutier's 1 8th Army had advanced the furthest.
They encountered slight resistance, because the areas they reached were of lesser strategic importance to the Allies.
Instead of reining von Hutier in and turning his army against Allied strongholds, Ludendorff rewarded him with medals and reinforcements.
Crown Prince Rupprecht, commanding four of the German armies, saw big trouble ahead.
German High Command has changed direction It has made its decisions according to the size of its territorial gain rather than according to operational goal The problem was Ludendorff.
He had an eye for detailed battlefield tactics, but was blind to the big strategic picture.
His armies' spectacular advance had no vital objective.
Indeed, woe betide a staff officer who dared ask Ludendorff what the operation was meant to achieve.
LUDENDORFF: I object to the word ''operation'' We will punch a hole into their line For the rest we shall see Rudolf Binding, at the cutting edge of the Second Army, realised that the speed of the German advance across this open, undefended ground was a problem in itself.
One cannot go on victoriously for ever without ammunition or any sort of reinforcements Behind us lies the wilderness The thing which annoys and upsets us again and again are the exaggerations of the newspapers and the telegrams to crowned heads about ''the decisive victory'' The German advance, which looked so good on paper, had dangerously outstripped its supply lines.
Some units were so far ahead, no-one was quite sure where they were and the Germans had neither the horses to pull the supply carts, nor enough fodder.
The sun dries out the poor earth to dust I don 't know what we will live off Already we have no oats If we have a bad harvest then we can send the horses to the sausage factory The deeper the Germans penetrated Allied lines, the more their own deprivations were forced home to them.
Like a vision from the Promised Land we are already in the English rest areas a land flowing with milk and honey Our men can hardly be distinguihed from English soliers Everyone wears at last a leather jerkin a waterproof either short or long There's no doubt the army is looting with some zest On 23 March, Ludendorff suddenly dreamed up a real objective, the city of Amiens.
Amiens was a hub of the Allied railway system, the key junction between Northern France and Paris.
Amiens's loss would be a calamity for the Allies, as French General Ferdinand Foch realised.
We must fight in front of Amiens We must fight where we are now As we have not been able to stop the Germans on the Somme we must now not retire a single inch The German Second Army set out for Amiens, but slowed and halted on the way.
Rudolf Binding was sent to investigate.
Today the advance of our infantry suddenly stopped near Albert Nobody could understand why Strange figures who looked like soldiers were making their way back out of town men carrying a bottle of wine under their arm and another in their hand The advance was held up and there was no means of getting it going again for hours The German troops had found French towns full of food and drink, in quantities and qualities they hadn't seen for years.
Whole divisions had entirely gorged themselves on food and liquor and failed to press the vital attack The Second Army had lost precious time and momentum.
Here, outside Amiens on 4 April, a combined Australian and British force stopped the Germans.
Ludendorff called off the Michael Offensive.
His lack of a strategic plan and the failure to supply his troops had squandered a priceless opportunity.
His officers were now seriously concerned.
VON LEEB: Ludendorff has totally lost his nerve VON EINEM: How will this war end? England is still unbeaten GERMAN OFFICER: The physical exhaustion of the infantry was so great that finally the men could hardly fire their rifles They let themselves be slowly wiped out almost without caring Then Germany's greatest hero, Baron von Richthofen, was shot down behind British lines, on 21 April, shortly after his 80th kill.
The Allies buried him with full military honours.
A British plane then flew over his headquarters, dropping a photograph of von Richthofen's grave.
The Baron's was the most public German death, but he was one of over 230,000 casualties in just one month.
Germany was running out of men, having failed to capitalise on Russia's withdrawal from the war.
Germany had left one and a half million troops on the Eastern Front, soaking up vital resources, food and transport.
Germany's leaders were out of their depth, fighting what Ludendorff would later call ''a total war'', but with the administrative structures and thinking of a small 19th-century state.
Now Ludendorff's nightmare unfolded.
Germany had failed to achieve decisive victory before the Americans poured into France.
A quarter of a million by March 1918.
But General Pershing gave the Germans some breathing space by refusing to allow American troops to serve under British or French command.
America declared war independently of the Allies and she must face it as soon as possible with a powerful army The moral of our soliers depends upon fighting under our own flag Pershing Obstinate and stupid hankering after a ''great self contained American Army'' Ridiculous! What changed the situation was a radical reorganisation of the Allied command structure.
During the bleakest moments of the Michael Offensive, General Ferdinand Foch was appointed Allied Supreme Commander on the Western Front.
If Petain and Haig could take orders from him, so could Pershing.
But the Americans went their own way over how to fight.
Captain Christison gave a training lecture to some of the newly-arrived American troops.
I held forth adding a few personal experiences and lessons When I had ended an old Colonel dressed more like a sheriff said ''Gentlmen l'd like you all to accord the Scottish major a hearty vote of thanks for his very interesting lecture'' Then he shook his finger and went on ''But l'd have you guys remember the Britih have been trying these tactics for nearly four years and they ain't done much damn good!" The Americans were raring to fight.
We all seemed to go crazy for we gave a yell like a bunch of wild Indians and started down the hill running and cursing in the face of the machine-gun fire Men were falling on every side but we kept going yelling and firing as we went (Gunfire) We threw hand grenades as if they had been baseballs A boy next to me threw a hand grenade and hit a tree It bounced back and exploded We saw it just in time to hit the bottom of the trench and keep from getting killed By refusing to learn from the Allies, the Americans fought in 1918 the way the Allies had done in 1914 .
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charging across open ground, without adequate artillery support.
German Intelligence noted their inexperience from interrogation of prisoners.
The attacks were carried out with dash and recklessness Regarding military matters however they show not the slightest interest For example most of them have never seen a map They are not able to describe the villages and roads through which they marched The Americans had a lot to learn, but their presence gave the Allies a huge morale boost.
They looked larger than ordinary men their tall straight figures were in vivid contrast to our undersized armies of pale recruits I pressed forward with the others to watch the United States physically entering the war So godlike so magnificent so splendidly unimpaired in comparion with the tired nerve-racked men of the Britih Army So these were our deliverers at last With the knowldge that we were not after all defeated I found myself beginning to cry The failure of the Michael Offensive further depressed German morale at home.
Pacifism and defeatism now seeped through to the soldiers in the German rear.
Military transports lanterns windows from block stations and trains have been smashed by stone throwing Troops standing on top of the wagons cut through telephone cables and signals In other trains brakes were tampered with making it impossible to stop in time for signals and in stations Also wagons have been uncoupled Colonel Albrecht von Thaer became so worried about the state of the German Army that he voiced his concerns to Hindenburg.
His soothing voice said ''My dear Thaer while it may be the case that things recently have not gone so well for you you must remember that you are talking about a front of 12 miles I daily receive reports from the entire front Moral is splendid while according to our reports enemy moral is rather poor'' But morale in Hindenburg's own headquarters was sliding and the root cause was Ludendorff.
By July 1918, his nerves were shot.
He'd only had three days off in four years.
His beloved stepson had been killed in the Michael Offensive.
Ludendorff became morbidly attached to the boy's body, refusing to send it back to his wife in Berlin.
If I didn't send you Pieckchen then that was pure selfishness I wanted to keep him I go to him often It's a lovely feeling to have him here Ludendorff's inner circle feared for his mental health.
There's a serious question about Ludendorff's nervousness and his incoherence He's working himself to death The situation is really serious It looks as if he's lost all hope Throughout June, the Germans grew weaker and the Allies stronger.
On 15 July, Ludendorff launched the last German offensive of the First World War.
I have lived through the most disheartening day of the whole war The French deliberately lured us across rusty snakes of barbed wire We only managed to advance about three kilometres Everything seemed to go wrong Then the French struck back at the Marne.
Their counteroffensive battered the exhausted German Army.
It looks as though we are being thrown against the largest enemy counteroffensive of all time and it was supposed to be our offensive We could never have dreamt that this would happen ever Germany had suffered nearly a million casualties since the glory days of March.
Her great gamble had failed and the tables were turning against her.
In the next episode of the First World War: the strange, sudden ending of the war, the bitter legacy of Versailles and the search for meaning in the terrible losses.