David Crane

The price of victory

In the patriotic mythology of British arms 1759 may be the one true annus mirabilis, the ‘year of victories’, the year of Minden, Quebec and Quiberon Bay, but has there ever been a year comparable to 1918? In that year 20,000 British soldiers surrendered on a single day, 31 March, and yet within six months Britain and her allies had recaptured all the territory lost since 1914, destroyed Austrian and Bulgarian resistance in Italy and Macedonia, encircled a Turkish army in Palestine, mastered the submarine menace at sea, and fought the German army to the brink of disintegration and the German empire to the point of revolt.

In the patriotic mythology of British arms 1759 may be the one true annus mirabilis, the ‘year of victories’, the year of Minden, Quebec and Quiberon Bay, but has there ever been a year comparable to 1918? In that year 20,000 British soldiers surrendered on a single day, 31 March, and yet within six months Britain and her allies had recaptured all the territory lost since 1914, destroyed Austrian and Bulgarian resistance in Italy and Macedonia, encircled a Turkish army in Palestine, mastered the submarine menace at sea, and fought the German army to the brink of disintegration and the German empire to the point of revolt.

In the patriotic mythology of British arms 1759 may be the one true annus mirabilis, the ‘year of victories’, the year of Minden, Quebec and Quiberon Bay, but has there ever been a year comparable to 1918? In that year 20,000 British soldiers surrendered on a single day, 31 March, and yet within six months Britain and her allies had recaptured all the territory lost since 1914, destroyed Austrian and Bulgarian resistance in Italy and Macedonia, encircled a Turkish army in Palestine, mastered the submarine menace at sea, and fought the German army to the brink of disintegration and the German empire to the point of revolt.

The allies had won the tactical battle on land and the strategic battle at sea, they had won the economic, technological, man- power and logistical battles, and the most extraordinary thing of all is that virtually no one could have predicted any of it. From the day that the Americans joined the war allied survival was probably assured. But to anyone at the end of 1917 looking at the disparate and conflicting aspirations and war aims of the belligerents, at the frustrating slow drip of American reinforcements — more than balanced by the collapse of Russia on the eastern front — or the growing legacy of sacrifice that made a negotiated peace ever less reachable, there must have seemed no reason why the war should ever end.

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