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Key Battles of World War One

with James Early and Scott Rank

Key Battles of World War One Episodes
Introducing James Early's New Podcast "Key Battles of American History"
February 26, 2021 - 21 min
Did you enjoy this series? Then you'll love James Early's new show "Key Battles of American History." Check it out on the podcast player of your choice or go to keybattlesofamericanhistory.com. Listen here to a snippet of his episode where he and a guest discuss the World War One movie "All Quiet on the Western Front."
24: The Eternal Legacy of the First World War
December 31, 2020 - 56 min
World War One was the most consequential social event in centuries. 10 million soldiers died, creating 3 million widows and 10 million orphans. Many Europeans felt disillusionment and even anger about the war. They questioned earlier notions of honor, duty, and bravery. Europe lost its economic centrality. New York replaced London as the financial capital of the world., and the US and the USSR emerged as proto-superpowers. But positive changes happened. The notion of what roles women could take on changed. Women proved themselves capable of doing much of what men came. Four empires were gone. Many new smaller nations were created from the Empires’ former territories.
23: The Sad Afterlives of WW1's Leaders: The Humbling (and Exiling) of Generals, Emperors, and Sultans
December 30, 2020 - 51 min
From 1914-1918, the leaders of World War One were generals who commanded millions of men, emperors who inherited dynasties with centuries of accumulated wealth, and Sultans who claimed a direct line of connection to the Prophet Muhammed. After the war, many of them lost all their money and power and were forced into lonely exile. British Chief of Staff Henry Wilson left the army after the war and became a Member of Parliament.  He was murdered on his doorstep by the Irish Republican Army in 1922. Kaiser Wilhelm II went into exile in the Netherlands and died in 1941 at the age of 82.  When he died he was putting pins in a map to mark the progress of the German army. Enver Pasha fled to Germany after the war.  Then he fled to Moscow and then Turkmenistan, where he took command of anti-Soviet rebels and was killed in the fighting in 1922.
22: The 1919 Paris Peace Conference Laid The First Bricks of the Road to World War Two
December 29, 2020 - 45 min
The Paris Peace Conference opened on January 18, 1919. Its task was the writing of five separate peace treaties with the defeated separate powers: Germany, Turkey, Bulgaria, Austria, and Hungary (now separate nations). The defeated Central Powers were not allowed to participate in the negotiations. The terms would be dictated to them. Russia was also not allowed to come. The world had been remade. Clemenceau, Lloyd George, and Wilson faced a daunting task. Even as they and all the other delegates sat down to their deliberations, borders and governments were being decided in tumult, anarchy, and armed conflict. Most of the crowned heads of Europe had been deposed. The Czar and his family had been murdered. The Kaiser was in exile in the Netherlands. Bavarian king Ludwig III had given way to a socialist revolt. Austria and Hungary had declared themselves republics, making Charles I an emperor without an empire (he would eventually go into exile in Switzerland, and later Madeira). The states of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland were reemerging from the past. Communist red flags popped up, however briefly, at points in the heart of Europe. German mercenary armies, the Freikorps, fought Bolsheviks in Germany, saving the secular, socialist Weimar Republic—and even tried to annex the Baltic States, in secular emulation of the Teutonic Knights.
21: WW1 Ends with Armistice -- The Moment of Silence That Sounded Like the Voice of God
December 28, 2020 - 51 min
After Germany's' failed spring offensive, realized the only way to win was to push into France before the United States fully deployed its resources. The French and British were barely hanging on in 1918. By 1918, French reserves of military-aged recruits were literally a state secret; there were so few of them still alive. The British, barely maintaining 62 divisions on the Western Front, planned, in the course of 1918 – had the Americans not appeared – to reduce their divisions to thirty or fewer and essentially to abandon the ground war in Europe. But with the Americans, it renewed the fighting chances for the Allies. They decisively overtook the Germans at the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in September. In November, Kaiser Wilhelm, visiting Spa, was advised that he had no real control over much of the army. While there, he received a telegram from Berlin that read “All troops deserted. Completely out of hand.” Wilhelm decided to go to the Netherlands. There, he abdicated on November 9. The war officially came to an end on November 11, where all troops kept a moment of silence.

It was a religious experience. Here's what novelist Kurt Vonnegut says about it: "I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind."
20: The 1918 Battle of Meggido Shattered the Ottoman Empire and Created the Modern Middle East
December 27, 2020 - 38 min
The Battle of Megiddo was the climactic battle of the Sinai and Palestine campaign of the First World War, with Germans and Ottomans on one side, and British and French forces on the other (with Arab nationalists led by T.E. Lawrence). The actions immediately after it were a disaster for the Ottomans. They now had permanently lost control over their Middle Eastern possessions. Historian Edward Erickson writes “The battle…ranks with Ludendorff's Black Days of the German Army in the effect that it had on the consciousness of the Turkish General Staff. It was now apparent to all but the most diehard nationalists that the Turks were finished in the war. In spite of the great victories in Armenia and in Azerbaijan, Turkey was now in an indefensible condition, which could not be remedied with the resources on hand. It was also apparent that the disintegration of the Bulgarian Army at Salonika and the dissolution of the Austro–Hungarian Army spelled disaster and defeat for the Central Powers. From now until the Armistice, the focus of the Turkish strategy would be to retain as much Ottoman territory as possible.”
19: The Empire Strikes Back -- Germany's Final Push to Win WW1 in Spring 1918
December 26, 2020 - 43 min
Many thought that Germany was capable of winning World War One until the very end. Unlike World War 2, in which the Allies believed that victory was inevitable as early as 1943, this was not the case with the Great War. It is also easy to assume that German defeat was inevitable at the hands of an Allied coalition richer in manpower, weapons and money. Yet Germany nearly captured Paris in 1914, crushed Serbia and Romania, bled the French Army until it mutinied, drove Russia out of the war, and then came oh-so-close to victory on the Western Front in 1918. One should not underestimate the power of Imperial Germany. Until the armistice was signed in a French railway carriage on November 11, 1918, Germany's enemies didn't.
18: Tank Warfare--How Military Tech Took a Quantum Leap at the Battle of Cambrai (1917)
December 25, 2020 - 21 min
The British developed the tank in response to the trench warfare of World War I. In 1914, a British army colonel named Ernest Swinton and William Hankey, secretary of the Committee for Imperial Defense, championed the idea of an armored vehicle with conveyor-belt-like tracks over its wheels that could break through enemy lines and traverse difficult territory. The men appealed to British navy minister Winston Churchill, who believed in the concept of a “land boat” and organized a Landships Committee to begin developing a prototype. It all came together at the Battle of Cambrai in 1917. The British saw it as their greatest victory. Church bells tolled throughout great Britain, the first time this had happened in the entire war.
17: The Yanks Are Coming -- America Enters World War One
December 24, 2020 - 50 min
Most Americans are indifferent about the nation's involvement in World War One (under half say the U.S. had a responsibility to fight in the war; one-in-five say it didn't). Many figure it entered the conflict too late to claim much credit, or intervention was discreditable. Some say the U.S. had no compelling national interest to enter the Great War; worse, U.S. intervention allowed Britain and France to force on Germany an unjust, punitive peace that made the rise of Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers Party inevitable. But others argue that America's involvement saved Europe from a militaristic dictatorship that would have resulted in a worse 20th century. We look at all these aspects of America's involvement in the war in this episode.
16: The Slog of War -- the Passchendaele Campaign of 1917
December 23, 2020 - 37 min
The best way to describe the Third Ypres (Passchendaele) Campaign of 1917. It’s ‘slog.’ When you think about a drudging act that seems to accomplish nothing, this battle is it. Mud. Mud to your waist. Everything sinks down several feet into mud. Tanks, Cars, guns, horses, everything stuck in mud. Images of a battlefield landscape with pockmarked holes and mist rising from the plains with shattered trees is characterized by the third battle of Ypres.

The battle took place on the Western Front from July to November 1917 over control of ridges near the Belgian city of Ypres in West Flanders.

Private R.A. Colwell described the scene in 1918 as follows: "There was not a sign of life of any sort. Not a tree, save for a few dead stumps which looked strange in the moonlight. Not a bird, not even a rat or a blade of grass. Nature was as dead as those Canadians whose bodies remained where they had fallen the previous autumn. Death was written large everywhere.”
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