How the Allies Surfed to Victory on a Wave of Oil

French troops are transported by truck to the front, as shown on a bas-relief of the Monument of the Voie Sacrée near Verdun. Photo by J. Pauwels.

Virtually everybody knows that the First World War came to an end when Germany capitulated on November 11, 1918. But very few people are aware that, earlier in that same year, the Reich came tantalizingly close to winning the so-called Great War, but ultimately snatched defeat, so to speak, from the jaws of victory.

In the spring of 1918, the Germans launched a major offensive on the western front. This undertaking, orchestrated by General Ludendorff, actually amounted to a big gamble because, though still very strong militarily, Germany was in very bad shape. Blockaded by the Royal Navy, the country was plagued by shortages of all kinds of products, including crucially important raw materials and food. German civilians and soldiers were undernourished and hungry; they were so disgruntled that it was feared that they might follow the revolutionary example set by their Russian counterparts in 1917. Already in the beginning of the year, Berlin and other big cities were the scenes of demonstrations and riots, as well as strikes. Moreover, Germany’s Austro-Hungarian, Bulgarian, and Ottoman allies had started to display alarming signs of war weariness. And on the western front, the number of Germany’s enemies was mushrooming as more and more American troops were joining their French and British brothers in arms.  It was…

Read more