The Western Front
France had been planning an invasion of Germany after France's humiliating defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. In the words of French General Philippe Pertain "The people of France shall not be satisfied until Germany tastes what we have been fed for decades: defeat." The French merely needed the opportunity to invade, and when Serbia invaded Austria France saw their opportunity and ordered the mobilisation of their forces. Germany ordered a lukewarm response however was not prepared for France's bitterness, which had been deceptively played down by French Foreign Minister Theophile Delcassé.
Shortly after the Serbian Invasion France launched its own by ferrying thousands of troops across the Rhine and into Germany. The French Invasion Army consisted of the French First, Seventh, Ninth, and Twelfth Army along with the newly christened Army of the Rhine. There was a total of around 800,000 men invading Germany, along with 500,000 in reserve to reinforce the line. The French Plan was to sweep into Germany before their full military could be mobilized and capture large portions of German territory and finally siege Berlin. The French Seventh and Ninth Armies were dispatched to advance into the heart of Germany and Berlin. The French First Army under General Jean Deveraux was sent North to protect Petain's flank while the French Twelfth Army was sent into Southern Germany to protect Petain's right flank.
The French quickly seized the town of Saarburken where General Pertain easily overtook the town and established a base of operations. The French Twelfth Army experienced good fortune as well when they outsmarted the German Army of the Rhineland and captured the town of Stuttgart without a single shot being fired. The subsequent assault on the city (Battle of Stuttgart) by the Army of the Rhineland resulted in massive German casualties. However in the north General Deveraux experienced difficulty after encountering fierce resistance from the German First and Third army. Deveraux made a critical error when instead of seizing the town of Dusseldorf and force another bloody Battle of Stuttgart he engaged the German Army on the outskirts of the town, in which the German IX Corps managed to seize the town and wreak havoc with cannons on the French positions while the main Germany Army engaged Deveraux. By the end of the day the French troops had been decimated and were forced to retreat back into France. The Germans by now had mobilized their military, sending the German Fourth and Fifth Army South to engage the French Twelfth Army and managed to encircle and defeat them at the Battle of Danube. General Pertain however defeated the elite German Eighth Army and pressed forward towards Berlin. However at the Battle of the Weser the French were routed by the superior German Ninth, Second and Seventh Army. Pertain retreated to Munich where he was soon trapped by the German armies. Upon hearing this General Hershey Lafayette led the reserve Fourth Army to save Pertain however the Germans soon also encircled Lafayette's Army as well. After several failed breakout attempts Lafayette surrendered his troops along with Petain's to the Germans, more than 100,000 troops altogether. With the sudden setbacks the French ordered a full withdrawal. The Germans pursued eagerly and launched their own invasion however soon found themselves in intense trench warfare.
The foreign powers had largely chosen to remain neutral in France's offensive however with France becoming invaded Britain decided to intervene on France's behalf. Britain committed significant forces as well, from about 60,000 men to nearly two milllion by 1918. These were mainly committed to stopping the German advance into Britain. The United States declared themselves neutral, stating "The United States is too proud to fight." However the U.S. forced Germany to stop its unrestricted naval warfare.
During 1917 the Western Front generally settled down into trench warfare as the Germans pressed into France. The French, instead of facing the German armed forces in battle instead dug a series of trenches across France where they prepared to throw back German offensives. This proved effective after the Battle of the Marne, in which the Germans, unprepared to attack trenches, led suicidal charges only to be mowed down by French machine guns. The German Army in response dug their own trenches in France to establish a foothold, and by mid 1917 the amount of Central Trenches matched those dug by the Entente.
Italy had been a member of the Central Powers and had sent about 800,000 men to invade France. The French Army and the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) rushed down about 600,000 men to counter the invasion and soon checked the Italian push at the Battle of Lyon in which the Allied Powers held the high ground and repelled wave after wave of Italian attackers. The Italians however made good progress and managed to defeat the BEF at the Battle of the Rhone. Soon after the front settled into trench warfare similar to the European front.
The Three Offensives
With German success in East Europe and the Italian diverting troops from the German Front, German General Ludendorff met with General Orlando and Austria-Hungarian General Conrad von Hotzendorf. They planned for a series of offensives, which became known as the Three Offensives. One would be launched by Germany into Northern France, one into Southern Europe by the Italians and one would drive down the middle of France to split it in two by the Austrian-Hungarians and Romanians.
The German Spring Offensive was met with resounding success. Using the new Infiltration Tactics (nicknamed Hutier Tactics) they managed to penetrate the Allied trenches and advance into France. They made an unprecedented advance of 60 miles into France before they were stopped by counterattacks and their stretched supply lines. However, Allied troops in the north could not be reinforced due to the simeltaneous Italian Offensive and Conrad's Drive to the Sea. German troops began to march towards Paris as the German First Army maneuvered towards the sea to cut off the British Expeditionary Force. After the defeat at the Second Battle of the Marne the French Armed Forces merely ceased to exist as most of the leadership fled and tens of thousands of troops deserted. The British Expeditionary Force attempted to halt the German advance however the First Army launched a two pronged attack against it, which resulted in the systematic encirclement and destruction of the BEF. The Germans marched into Paris on October 9th, 1918.
The Italian Campaign was meant to distract troops from the Spring Offensive and to defeat the French and British armies in Southern France. General Orland devised the The Decoy Plan. The Decoy Plan was to launch a feint artillery barrage and infantry charge at the center of a line, then while they were engaged launch a massive artillery barrage on the flanks, which are poorly guarded due to the enemy's belief that the center was being engaged. The massive barrage was followed up by a massed infantry charge. This would usually break the flanks and cause the entire line to be taken. What confused allied leaders however was that Orlando would often reverse this plan, and attack the flanks first then the center. The Italians pressed as far as Dijon, defeating several French and British divisions along the way.
Conrad's Drive to the Sea
The Austrian Campaign, or Conrad's Drive to the Sea as it became popularly known, was a campaign to split France in half and thus divide its defense forces. Conrad von Hotzendorf also planned to effectively dismantle French infrastructure and destroy French will to continue fighting. This campaign was seen as the most controversial as it involved burning of villages, confiscation of goods, and inflicting billions of dollars of damage onto the French. The Drive to the Sea began with the Battle of the Border, in which the remnants of the Army of the Rhine fought the Austrian-Hungarian Seventh, Third and Fifteenth Army. Although French resistance was high eventually the Austrians overran the French positions and effectively dismantled the Army of the Rhine. Although more troops were rushed to counter the Austria-Hungarian advance no more than 40,000 troops could be called to combat the advance at one time. The Austrian-Hungarians marched through France, taking crops, horses, cotton, and other materials they needed at the time. They also destroyed infrastructure, such as tearing up roads, dismantling railroads, tearing down telegram-lines, and burning down houses. The overall misery and damage of the Drive lowered the moral of the French to new lows and mutinies became rampant. After about two months Conrad was successful in splitting France in two and reached the sea on November 12th, 1918.
The United States' forces had been divided in two by Conrad's march. About one million troops lay in Northern France while two million were in Southern. General Pershing created a plan to knock out the Austrian lines and unite the U.S. troops. However the attacks on trenches simply resulted in massive casualties. General Pershing himself was killed in the Battle of the Center after an artillery shell struck his observation post. With the leadership gone the U.S. troops soon began to receive conflicting orders from lower officers, and chaos set in as the U.S. troops blundered about. In an infamous instance of American confusion two American divisions opened fire on each other after mistakenly receiving whereabouts of Romanian troops in the area. The Americans finally signed an armistice with the Central Powers following the disastrous Battle of the Center and the Battle of Hills. The U.S. began to withdraw soldiers following these defeats with their tails between their legs.
The aftermath of the Western Front was disastrous for all nations involved. France's infrastructure had been torn apart by German, Italian and Austrian-Hungarian attacks and Germany had several million dollars of damage inflicted on it by early French attacks. About 20 million people died on the Western Front, either from battle or from diseases that went rampant in poorly sanitized trenches. This left a generation of widowers and maimed soldiers, blinded from poison gases or wounded. The toppling of the French government had left it in chaos, only to be brought under control by German and Italian troops throughout the nation. The loss of life on this front was a main reason for the Central Powers' appeasement attitude towards Emperor Jeac Bonaparte, the repercussions of which are still being felt today.