Why didn’t the Allies march on Berlin in 1918?
With the First World War in its fifth year, the Allies had the Germans at their mercy. So why, asks David Stevenson, did they accept an armistice rather than go in for the kill?
Sunday 29 September 1918 was the day the Allies broke through the Hindenburg Line. In February 1917 the Germans on the western front had withdrawn to a series of positions named after characters from Wagner’s operas. They were designed to be as formidable as the military engineers could possibly make them.
The central sector, opposite the British in Picardy, was the Siegfried Stellung or Siegfried position, known to the Allies as the Hindenburg Line. In five great attacks between March and July 1918 the Germans had advanced 50 miles or more westwards from the Line, menacing Paris, the Allies’ lateral railways, and the channel ports. But between July and September they were expelled from these conquests, and between 26 and 29 September the Allies launched four co-ordinated attacks from Flanders to the Argonne. This was the biggest battle of the First World War, and the piercing of the Hindenburg Line marked its climax.