On 11 November 1917, one year before the First World War’s formal end, Erich Ludendorff, Germany’s most important military strategist, looked optimistically into the future. Russia had effectively been knocked out of the war, allowing Berlin to move several divisions to the Western Front, where the German High Command sought to secure a decisive victory over Britain and France before the United States – at war with Germany since April that year – could land large numbers of soldiers in France. Italy, meanwhile, had suffered a severe blow at the Battle of Caporetto, where Austro-Hungarian forces, supported by German units, devastated the Italian defenders. ‘The situation in Russia and Italy will likely make it possible to strike a blow in the western theatre of war in the new year. The balance of forces will be approximately equal. Around thirty-five divisions and one thousand heavy artillery pieces can be made available for an offensive … Our overall situation demands that we strike as early as possible, ideally in late February or early March, before the Americans throw powerful forces into the balance.’
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