On January 19th, British intelligence intercepted a wireless telegram sent by German ambassador Alfred Zimmermann in the German foreign office to there embassy in Mexico City. The message outlined future plans for an alliance between Germany and Mexico against the United States of America.
The message specifically stated that Germany would provide tactical and military support once Mexico invaded the American Southwest, retrieving her lost territories that had once been a part of Mexico. The British passed the information along to the Americans and then it was leaked and made public causing an outcry throughout the United States.
To enforce there intentions, on Febuarary 1st, Germany publicly announced a return to unrestricted U-boat warfare around the British Isles. Germany’s goal was to knock England out of the war by cutting off all imports thus starving the Island into submission.
After the sinking of seven unarmed American merchant vessels in three days including the grain ship Housatonic (The largest merchant ship in the U.S. Navy). The United States promptly severed diplomatic relations with Germany on February 3rd.
On April 2nd President Woodrow Wilson appeared before the U.S. Congress giving a speech which ended “The world must be made safe for Democracy”. He then asked for a declaration of war against Germany. Four days later Congress approved and formally informed Germany that a state of war now existed between them.
Was the main attack during the Nivelle Offensive. A French and British attempt to inflict a decisive defeat on the German armies in France and end the war. General Robert Nivelle planned the offensive in December 1916, after he replaced Joseph Joffre as Commander in Chief of the French Army.
The objective of the attack on the Aisne was to capture the prominent fifty mile east to west ridge of the Chemin des Dames. Then advance north and capture the city of Laon. Once accomplished the French and British would link up with additional forces attacking from Arras and continue to pursue the retreating German armies through Belgium and to the borders of Germany herself.
The diversionary part of the offensive began on April 9th, when the British attacked at Arras. Seven days later nineteen divisions of the French 5th and 6th Armies under Generals Mazel and Mangin supported by 7,000 Artillery pieces which after firing 4,000,000 shells, launched the main attack.
Defending the high ground along the Chemin des Dames was the German 7th Army under General Von Boehm. The French assault quickly met massed German machine gun and artillery fire which repulsed the French along the entire field of attack. At the end of the first day of battle the French had not reached a single objective at the cost of 40,000 casualties.
On April 17th, the French 4th Army under General Anthoine launched a subsidiary attack east of Reime towards Moronvillers. However General Von Below’s German 1st Army repelled the continuous French assaults throughout the day, inflicting and additional 25,000 casualties.
Despite evidence to the contrary and the constant pleas from his subordinate commanders too abandon the offensive, Nivelle still believed his battle plan to be sound and would ultimately prove successful.
For the next eight days the French attacks would continue. Some minor gains were made by General Mangin west of Soissons, but progress was slow and at a high cost. By April 25th, disillusion amongst the French General Staff had led to General Nivelle’s prompt dismissal and replacement by General Petain.
Petain immediately ordered the attacks scaled back over the next two weeks and finally abandoned on May 9th. For the loss of 187,000 men, The Nivelle offensive had gained a mere six miles of territory. The Germans suffered 120,000 casualties, 20,000 prisoners taken and 150 Artillery guns captured.
The failure of the Aisne Offensive also had a near catastrophic effect on the resolve and morale on the French Army as a whole. From May 27th - June 1st a mutinous atmosphere sweep through the ranks and erupted into open insubordination as soldiers began to refuse orders.
Sixty eight of the one hundred and twelve divisions along the Western Front experienced full blown mutinies and associated disruptions by disgruntled soldiers who became angry over the mass casualties suffered and the continuous unending battles along with the appalling living conditions endured in the muddy rat and lice infested trenches.
Petain also cracked down on the mutiny by ordering mass arrests and firing squad executions of the worst violators promoting insurrection. Of the thousands of court martials, five hundred and fifty mutineers were sentenced to death but only sixty hard liners were executed. During this desperate time for the French Army, these chain of events were keep secret from the nations populace as well as the Germans.
General Petain immediately suspended all offensive operations while he personally visited the troops slowly improving morale with promise’s of no further suicidal attacks, better food, providing more rest for exhausted units and instituting longer home furloughs.
THE KERENSKY OFFENSIVE
During the Nivelle Offensive, a mass protest by Russian civilian’s in ST. Petersburg on March 8th, erupted into violence against the Czar Nicholas II and his handling of the war. Within a days Russian soldiers within the city began to mutiny and disobey orders.
By March 15th, political and military support for the Czar had all but vanished, bringing the three hundred year Romanov Dynasty to an end. Czar Nicholas was forced to abdicate in favor of a new democratically minded provisional government. The western allies were quick to recognize the new government in the hopes Russia would stay in the war and maintain its huge presence on the eastern front.
On April 16th, after twelve years in hiding, political exiles Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin arrived in Petrograd. On May 19th, the provisional government publicly announced it would scale down its participation in the war while secretly informing its allies the new Minister of war, Alexander Kerensky was planning a large offensive slated for July.
On the eve of the offensive, the Russian army was better prepared, armed and supplied than at any other time during the three years of war against the Central Powers. 300,000 men were grouped into three armies. General Ivan Erdelyi commanded the northern 11th Army, 7th Army in the center was under Lieutenant General Sieliwacziow and the southern 8th Army was led by General Lavr Kornilov.
Opposing the Russians were three armies numbering 250,000 men. The German 8th Army along with the Austro Hungarian 3rd and 7th armies under the command of Generals Felix Graf Von Bothmer, Karl Von Nadas and Hermann Von Kovesshaza respectively.
On July 1st, seven hundred artillery pieces heralded the beginning of the offensive. After a six hour bombardment the Russians moved forward along a forty mile front through Galicia with the goal of cutting through then destroying the enemy formations on there way to recapturing the industrial city of Lvov.