The wound Hitler received was serious enough to cause him to be sent back to Germany for treatment. Along with hundreds of other wounded he was loaded onto a transport train heading east. As the train crossed the frontier into Germany, Hitler felt that every soldier "was happy that Destiny allowed him once more to see what he had to protect so earnestly with his life."* It had been two years since Hitler had seen the Fatherland and he was overcome by emotion. He avoided eye contact with his fellow wounded so his teary eyes would not be noticed.*
Hitler was taken off the train at a military hospital at Beelitz, 25 miles southwest of Berlin. After two years of living in the mud and filth of the trenches, he was given a "white bed" which he "hardly dared to lie down on properly." It was like a "new world," Hitler would later write, and it took him time to reaccustom himself to such "marvels."* His leg wound was serious indeed and would keep him in the hospital for nearly two months.
Hitler believed that the comradeship, sense of togetherness, and unity which existed at the front, also existed at home. He soon found however, that the almost unanimous enthusiasm of the early years of the war had melted away. He was angered to find some "wretched scoundrels" who bragged about their ability to avoid combat and who portrayed front line soldiers as fools. Hitler had seen "brave" soldiers die by the thousands and consequently had nothing but contempt for such "spineless cowards," as he called them. He was further upset to find that the "unprincipled agitators" were not repudiated but were either listened to, agreed with, or at most, ignored.*
His leg healed over the next seven weeks and during the last days of his hospital stay he got permission to visit Berlin for a few days. There he found, among the general population, misery, hunger, and discontent.
For much of its recent history, Germany had depended on imports to feed its population. The British and their partners had agreed prior to the war that non-contraband goods, like food and medical supplies, would flow freely even in times of war. Like all the belligerents now however, they chose to ignore "international law" when it served their purpose. Soon after the start of hostilities, the British announced a "new international law." They set up a blockade which prevented all sea-born imports into Germany. They were determined to starve the German people into submission. Through a system of quotas they also controlled imports into Germany's neutral neighbors so as to prevent them from selling to Germany. The Germans, for example, took to buying large amounts of fish from the Norwegians. The British, by rationing coal and tin to Norway, forced the Norwegians to stop trading with Germany. The whole system was vigorously enforced by keeping neutral ships from German ports and examining the cargoes of all ships heading for Germany's neutral neighbors. The policy was fruitlessly protested by all "neutrals," including the United States, who demanded "freedom of the Seas."*
Although the German navy attempted to break the blockade, their endeavors proved fruitless. Besides being hopelessly outnumbered in ships, a German naval code book was obtained early in the war by the British who were thus able to decipher every German coded wireless message.* The German navy proved no match against the British. After a few initial conflicts, and one major naval engagement in early 1916, the Germans abandoned any hope of facing the British in open naval conflict. The noose around Germany began to tighten.
Turkey had sided with the Germans in the early months of the war and a railroad, from Berlin-to-Bagdad, was established after Serbia was overrun. The Germans however, never drew any supplies of value from Turkey and the Turkish handling of the "Armenian Question" (deporting 600,000 Armenians and murdering another 600,000 would caused the United States to refer to the incident as "one of the most shamelessly brutal race massacres of all time") would later come back to haunt Germany.
Because of Britain's control of the seas, most of German's colonies were also overrun or starved into submission and they supplied no support to Germany. Italy, formally allied with Germany, unexpectedly joined Britain, France and Russia in 1915 and the four became commonly known as the Allies. Although Italy's entry into the war was counterbalanced somewhat when Bulgaria sided with the Germans, by 1916 Germany and her allies were surrounded by enemies and experiencing severe food shortages.
By the time Hitler visited Berlin. bread and potatoes were scarce and meat was almost unattainable by anyone but the rich. Turnips, once used primarily for animal feed was becoming the principal staple of the working class. Nearly 100,000 German civilian deaths were already attributed to the blockade and things were getting worse. Many among the working classes became disgruntled because the wealthy could get what they needed on the black market. "Food riots" had already taken place in Berlin, Munich and thirty other major cities in Germany alone.
Hitler was released from the hospital on the first of December and reported to his replacement battalion in Munich two days later. Hitler found that conditions among the people of Munich were worst than in Berlin. "Anger, grumbling, and cursing met me on all sides." Hitler would later write, "...I hardly recognized the town again."* Hitler was also aghast to find that the general mood among the new recruits in his replacement battalion was deplorable. Besides the grumbling against the food shortages, the new recruits had no more enthusiasm for the war than those at the hospital in Beelitz. As Hitler would later write: "To be a slacker passed almost as a sign of higher wisdom, while loyal steadfastness was considered a symptom of inner weakness and narrow-mindedness."*
Hitler believed that conditions in the barracks were made worse by the "clumsy manner in which the soldiers from the front were treated [by the Army]."* Wounded or returning soldiers were under the command of training officers who had never been in battle and Hitler felt it was impossible for them to "establish good relations with the old soldiers." As Hitler saw it: "The returning soldiers could not help but show certain peculiarities which were explicable by their service at the front, but which were and remained entirely incomprehensible to the leaders of the reserve units."*
The only good news that Hitler heard came from the East. Russia appeared exhausted by the war. Because of the Russian army's lack of artillery, machine guns, and its extensive front, trench warfare did not apply. Early in 1915 the German army, supported by Austrian troops in the south, started a drive along an 800 mile wide front from the Baltic south to the borders of Rumania. By December they had driven the Russians back nearly three hundred miles at one point. In one battle alone over 250,000 Russian soldiers were either killed, wounded, deserted or were taken prisoner. The Germans moved through "Russian Poland" and pressed on into Lithuania and White Russia occupying an area larger than France. By the beginning of winter, the Germans took more than three-quarters of a million prisoners and Russia sustained another 2 million in dead and wounded. Only the Russian winter finally halted the German advance.
In early 1916 the Russians made an attempt to retake what the Germans had garnered and lost five men to every German lost while barely budging the German line. Fighting against the Austro-Hungarian troops in the south, however, the Russian achieved unbelievable results again. The multinational army of the Austrian Monarchy, which had long since seen the best of its officer corps and most loyal units decimated and destroyed, collapsed along the whole of its 200 mile front. After a three month battle, Austria's army was driven back a hundred miles at one point and suffered the loss of 700,000 men, over half of whom were "captured" by the Russians because of mass desertions. The Rumanian government, sensing the defeat of Austria. and tempted by the promises of huge blocks of land at the expense of its neighbors, declared war on Austria in August. With the addition of a new adversary on its borders, and with the unrest of the minorities within its borders, Austria was from that time on of little worth to Germany as a war ally.
Seven German divisions were sent south and the German generals took nearly complete control of what was left of the Austrian army. The Russian's were stopped in their tracks and suffered over one million casualties as the Germans began to advance. Most of Rumania was overrun by the time Hitler returned to the Munich barracks. With one million German troops stationed along its borders, Russia, though a formidable threat, was from that time on incapable of a sustained major offensive.
Hitler, like most Germans, attributed the huge gains made in Russia to Lieutenant General Paul von Hindenburg. After the initial Russian advances into Germany in 1914 (which left the German High Command on the Eastern Front nearly hysterical), von Hindenburg was called in to turn the tide. Hindenburg, who came from an old military family, was a man of sixty-seven and on the retirement list, having served in two previous wars. He was brought back because of his calm temperament which could be relied on to hold steady no matter what happened. After one of von Hindenburg's huge victories in Russia, Hitler would close a letter to the Popps with: "long live our great German Field-Marshall."*
Much of von Hindenburg's success was due to his chief of staff, Major General Erich Ludendorff who, in the near future, would become a personal acquaintance of Hitler's. Ludendorff came from an impoverished landowning family and at a very early age he was sent off to a military school. He later joined the Prussian Army and climbed speedily up the ranks. To have advanced so far with no von in his name, spoke for his abilities as a soldier. He was a prominent strategist with a quick mind. He could grasp a military situation almost instantly and respond to it in innovative ways. At the very beginning of the war Ludendorff became a national figure while commanding on the Western Front in Belgium. After a massive assault on the fortress of Liege, it appeared that the Belgian forces were making a withdrawal. Ludendorff, who had taken command of a brigade of infantry after its commander had been killed, believed that the main fort, the Citadel, had fallen. He drove up to the front gate in his staff car and got out. He found that the Citadel had not fallen and was still occupied by enemy forces. Ludendorff, nevertheless, "pounded on the gates" and when they opened, he demanded that the fortress surrender to him. It did. His single-handed feat made him a hero throughout Germany. His and Hindenburg's huge successes on the Russian front only heightened their legend.
After the German failure at Verdun and the heavy losses on the Somme, the German Emperor William II appointed Hindenburg chief of staff of the whole German army with Ludendorff as his first quartermaster general. Although, the very reason for a united Germany rested on the shoulders of William, heir of the House of Hohenzollern, his leadership over the military High Command grew less and less as the war went on. With Germany stalled on the western front, discontent simmering at home, and the possibility of victory slipping away, Germany reverted to an ancient custom. Von Hindenburg and Ludendorff established a supreme war command which they headed in the name of the Kaiser. As with the other belligerent nations, the "generals" were soon dictating policy.
Because of the food shortages, the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian army, and the terrible casualties on the battlefield, Ludendorff and Hindenburg viewed Germany's position as precarious. Hoping to draw tens of thousands of Polish troops to Germany's side, they issued a proclamation in November calling for an independent Poland. The Poles had little faith in the German proclamation and only 1,400 enlisted in the German army. Since the Russians had dominated over a large portion of Poland, and wanted more, the only outcome was to stiffen Russian resolve. With war weariness infecting both the German army and the general population, Ludendorff lost confidence in Germany's ability to achieve victory on the battlefield.*
Since there had been a German proposal for a "negotiated peace" a few months before (which the French turned down because Germany would not "recognize herself as vanquished),* Ludendorff and Hindenburg hoped their huge victories against Russia and Romania would bring the Allies to the peace table.
A week after Hitler returned to the Munich barracks, the German Chancellor (chief minister of state), announced to the world in the German Reichstag (congress) that "Germany and her allies offer to negotiate for peace."* It came as a relief to many Germans. Those who had applauded so enthusiastically for war 28 months before now applauded just as zealously for peace.
A "peace note" was issued informing the Pope and all neutral powers concerned that Germany desired "to avoid further bloodshed and make an end to the atrocities of war."* The note, asking "for a conference of the warring powers for the purpose of securing peace," was to be transmitted to the Allies. Six days later President Wilson of the US, who had been trying for over a year to seek a peaceful solution to the European struggle also issued a peace note and agreed to mediate between the belligerents in hopes of securing "peace without victory." Although the Germans agreed to "a meeting of delegates to discuss terms," Wilson's attempts were deeply resented by the Allies.*
Even though the German note listed no demands whatever,* "discussion of a compromise peace was automatically ruled off the agenda" by France, Britain, Russia and Italy,* and they "rejected the offer of negotiations out of hand."* In Russia, the Duma was "unanimously in favor of refusing .... to enter into any peace negotiations with Germany." France declared that "it is impossible to take [the] request for peace seriously." In Rome, Germany was accused of "boastfulness and the lack of sincerity."* In England, the new head of Government, Lloyd George, called the German proposal, "a trap baited with fine words,"* and "asserted that Great Britain, with its new cabinet, was not making peace, but war."*
If the Allies had waited for the Germans to list their demands, they may have found everlasting and world wide justification for their refusal since the German initial expectations were ludicrous. The reason, however, for the hasty and abrupt refusal was that the Allies were determined to win the war by military force. With the German Army so deep in French, Russian and Rumanian territory, the Allies could not impose their own terms, which was nearly the complete destruction of Germany.
The Allied generals and political leaders were now more confident of victory then ever. They saw the German offer of peace as a sure sign of weakness. The Allied Generals began predicting victory in the "next few months" or "sometime in 1917."* They began making plans for another "great offensive."
The failure of the peace proposals "to arouse any response" in the Allied countries induced Hindenburg and Ludendorff to press for an "unrestricted submarine campaign" against Britain.* Since the British navy was attempting to starve Germany into submission, Hindenburg and Ludendorff hoped to starve Britain out of the war. Beliving the submarines would soften Allied resolve, Hindenburg and Ludendorff also discontinued offensive action on the French battlefield for 1917 (because the toll in life was always more in attacking than in defending).
Hindenburg and Ludendorff's power would continue to grow until it was almost unlimited and they were effectually heading a military and political dictatorship in hopes of rallying the Germans to victory. "Constitutional procedures and civilian influences were shunted aside and virtually ignored."* Nearly everything in Germany was subordinated to the needs of the war. All unessential consumer production was converted to war production. Labor was directed to munitions factories. Committees supervised the growing of food. Government sponsored collections were conducted to eliminate shortages. The momentary euphoria for peace died away. In its place appeared a stern determination.
Although Hitler might have sat out the remainder of the war in safety, in January (shortly after the peace proposal was rejected) he wrote his commander that he was fit for service and stated that he longed "to return to my old regiment and old comrades."* Around the end of February he received word that his request was granted and he could rejoin his regiment which was again stationed near Ypres.
At the beginning of March, Hitler was back at the front. His comrades were delighted to see him and Little Fox ran around in circles while jumping up and down. "It was crazy how fond I was of the beast,"* Hitler would later remark. The company cook prepared a special meal in Hitler's honor* and for dessert there was one of his favorites: jam and cake.
Shortly after Hitler returned, his regiment received orders to march to the coast for special training at the naval base at Ostend. Hitler would later comment that his Regiment arrived at the base in deplorable condition and looked like a “Russian regiment, after a. five-hundred mile retreat.” The sailors stationed there, on the other hand, looked smart, efficient and even magnificent. “It made one ashamed to be seen in their company,” Hitler would later state. “We had to cut up our greatcoats in order to make puttees, and we looked like a bunch of tatterdemalion ballet-dancers! They, on the other hand, looked frightfully smart in their belts and gaiters; and we were not sorry when we escaped to the decent obscurity of our trenches once more."*
During Hitler's absence, Hindenburg and Ludendorff began a huge withdrawal along a seventy mile front from Arras south to the Aisne River. In some areas they withdrew up to 25 miles. The "retreat," as the Allies called it, was meant to straighten out the German line so it could be defended with fewer divisions. In the thousand square miles of territory the Germans left behind, nearly everything not already destroyed by the fighting was intentionally destroyed. Mines were flooded, houses demolished, orchards chopped down, farm land flooded and wells poisoned. Every movable article that could be of use to the Germans was systematically packed up and carted away. One Allied witness thought that it signified "the abyss in ideals that exists between the two races."*
The German army took up new positions behind an elaborate network of trenches and tunnels connected by light railways. Although the new defensive position would became popularly known to the Allies as the Hindenburg Line, the Germans called it the Siegfried Zone after the great hero of Germanic and Wagnerian mythology.
Hitler undoubtedly considered the name of the new position a good choice, but he considered the withdrawal foolish. As he would later state: "The soldier has a boundless affection for the ground on which he has shed his blood."* The withdrawal demoralized the troops and Hitler began giving lengthy speeches to "croakers" or "Calamity Janes," as he called them, who talked of defeat. Hitler believed the Allies were only concerned with "distributing other people's property"* and felt the Germans had to fight on to victory.
Although Hitler raged against the Allies, he blamed most of the defeatist talk and organized discontent at home on the Marxists.* The new replacements coming up consisted of a number of Social Democrats and Hitler lectured them on the evils of their ways. "It was like in the Reichstag,"* Mend would later remark when Hitler took the floor .
Over a year before, a small minority of anti-war Marxists had met in Switzerland and called upon the working classes everywhere to end the war without annexations or indemnities. Although they had no immediate affect on most socialists in the belligerent countries,* their influence grew among the more radical elements. When the war was going well for Germany they went along with the leadership or abstained from voting. When things took a turn for the worse they spoke out openly of their displeasure. Certain members of the Social Democrats in the German congress, who had expected a quick victory, voted against war credits in early 1916. After the failed peace proposals, Hitler considered such acts treasonous and felt that such men should be "put behind bars, brought to trial, and thus taken off the nation's neck."* He lamented about the evils of the Marxists who he believed were hurting the war effort. There were soldiers who listened and found substance in Hitler's views and he even turned a few Social Democrats over to his beliefs.*
A month before Hitler's 28th birthday, his regiment headed for Arras in expectation of another British and French offensive. On its arrival, the List Regiment was held in reserve behind the lines and Hitler had leisure time to do some painting. On April 4, the front along a 20 mile sector north and south of Arras erupted into fire and thunder of exploding shells. As the British shelling continued over the next two days, the men of the List Regiment knew that it was the expected preliminary bombardment. It would be only a matter of time before they were rushed where needed when the Allies launched their new "great offensive."
Hitler's job as messenger had evolved into a somewhat safer profession, in some respects, since the early years of the war. As Hitler would later comment:
Hitler's regiment now had a commanding officer who put a stop to such practices and there were other changes which cut down on the loss of messengers. Because of the high death rate among runners during battle, and the slowness in getting messages to the far flung rear in times of emergency, a system of colored rockets and flares had been developed to signal observers in the rear of the general situation on the front in times of heavy bombardments. The runners however, were still required to deliver messages containing more detailed information no matter what the situation. Even far behind the lines there was a constant possibility of death. There were the occasional barrages from long range naval and land guns, and there was always the threat of gas. Nightly, British flyers dropped "tons of bombs" behind the German lines,* and during the day there were constant air attacks by enemy flyers who pounced on anything moving. To give the messengers a better chance of dodging bullets, shells and bombs, Hitler and his fellow runners had turned in their rifles for side arms.
Since the Germans knew a British attack in force was coming, it was important they conceal their activities. Some of the most desperate air-battles of the war took place when hundreds of planes fought for mastery of the air space over Arras.* In one day's fighting alone over fifty planes on either side were observed being shot down.
Protecting the air space over Hitler's sector was a squadron led by one of Germany's greatest aces--Baron Manfred von Richthofen. Because of the squadron's brightly colored (especially red) airplanes it was known to the Allies as the "Flying Circus," and Richthofen was known as the "Red Baron." Hitler would later state:
Hitler was learning the importance of air superiority and spoke highly of German pilots. He also spoke admiringly of the courage of Allied air men. He approved of full military honors for dead enemy pilots who fell into Germany territory and attended the funerals of British flyers.* He was also bothered that German propaganda portrayed the French and English flyers and soldiers as contemptible and cowardly foes who ran away at the first sign of danger. He knew they stood and fought till overwhelmed* and he had great respect for his adversaries.
As the British preliminary bombardment continued into its third day, word arrived that the United States had declared war on Germany. Although Hitler saw the "American Union" as a "sibling" coming to the aid of its "former parent," the choice had not been an easy one for most Americans. With dogmatic patience and the right amount of propaganda, however, those who favored the Allied cause silenced all their opponents. President Wilson was forced to declare war, but he questioned the morality of the Allies and never completely tied America to them. The United States would remain only an Associated Power throughout the war.
Although America's entry into the war succeeded in supplying the Allies with moral support, there was no immediate affect on the battlefields. Although America had a large navy, she had virtually no army. Millions of men had to be drafted and trained. She had few tanks, planes, field guns, or even rifles. Although huge loans were extended to the Allies, what munitions factories there were had to stop delivery to Europe so as to equip American forces. America would not be ready for war for a year. Her entry into the conflict was but a promissory note for the future.
Two days after America's declaration of war, Easter Sunday was celebrated on the battle fronts of Europe. In little villages behind the lines, bells in churches rang and priests recited words of faith. German soldiers did what they could to brighten their spirits and Hitler used his artistic talents to paint eggs "and placed them in the garden of the regimental commander, spelling out: 'Happy Easter 1917.'"* There was little to be happy about though, for to the west the British preliminary bombardment thundered into its fourth day.
Using heavy guns of all calibers, the British continued to pound the German front lines along the whole Arras sector. The bombardment was as fierce as that of the Somme. Huge spurts of blood-red fame hurled tons of earth, masonry and debris into the air. As one correspondent would write: "All the sky was on fire with it."
The British, along with the French who were preparing to launch their own massive offensive 70 miles south, were convinced that they could achieve a huge "pincer movement." The British, after hopefully breaking through the German lines, were to head south while the French, who also expected to break the German lines, would head north. Their hope was to link up, cut off hundreds of thousands of Germans, break into the open plains to the east and force the Germans out of France. They were confident of victory again and were sure the Germans would then seek an armistice on their terms.
After five continuous days of bombardment, the British shells lifted off the German front line. British soldiers stormed across No Man's Land along a twenty mile front north and south of Arras. With news of America's entry into the war the spirit of the British troops was high and hundreds of thousands went forward almost in a lively step. Before the day was over, Canadian troops stood on the top of Vimy Ridge to the north of Arras, a position the Germans had held for two and a half years against all comers. In the next few days British troops advanced up to four miles along a 10 mile front. As always the resistance stiffened as German reserves, including Hitler's Regiment, were shifted where needed. British losses skyrocketed as they continued their advance at a snail's pace. Toward the end of April the British paused momentarily to lay down another heavy bombardment. Hitler's regiment was in the thick of it.*
On May 1, 1917, in glorious spring sunshine, the British bombardment lifted and the second phase of the battle of Arras was on. The attack was most intense along a twelve mile front still centered on Arras. Above the flashing turmoil of bursting shells, mines and machine gun fire, German rockets shot up, discharging red, white, green and orange bursts informing those in the rear that the attack had begun and asking for support or a protecting barrage.*
By using mass formations of men, the British overran the forward German defensives and surged forward. Although the "Prussian and Bavarian troops" in the area were outnumbered two to one they fought desperately and launched countless counterattacks trying to recapture the ground lost. On May the 15th they attacked in mass formations in hopes of pushing the British back. British artillery opened up on the ground they attempted to cross and turned the area into a "mushroom-farm" as bulbs of shell smoke sprouted up thickly over the entire area.* The German regiments sent into the fray were decimated but they recaptured much of the ground they had lost. For miles around nothing was left standing. Hitler would later describe the area as just a mound of earth pitted with shell holes.
Over the next five days the battle sporadically drew to a close as the supply of material and men were consumed. Although the British were able to hold on to a few square miles of completely destroyed territory, the only achievement of the battle of Arras was "a fresh butcher's bill: 150,000 British casualties, 100,000 German."* Hitler survived the battle unscathed and, the day after the heavy fighting ended, was shifted a few miles north to Artois.
British propaganda portrayed the offensive at Arras as a "great gain," claiming that only 30,000 British soldiers had been killed and 70,000 wounded. The French in the south, however, received one of the bloodiest repulses of the war which even the best propaganda could not conceal.
Using 1,200,000 troops, 7000 heavy guns and 200 tanks, the French had launched their attack on the Aisne River along a 40 mile front between Soissons and Reims. Like the British, their main objective was also a ridge of heights; this one was known as the Chemin des Dames. Like the British they also started off in a lively step, but the Germans had expected the attack and were well prepared. They had strengthened their defensive positions and also moved into position hundreds of fighter and spotter planes which were equipped with short-wave radio. Within a few hours of the French attack, the German pilots drove all of the French spotter planes out of the sky and the French artillery was forced to fire "blind." The Germans pilots on the other hand, kept their artillery informed of every French move, and German artillery gunners racked the advancing French troops and tanks. Many of the tanks were knocked out while still on approach to the battlefield and troop divisions were unmercifully pelted with high explosives and gas of all types. The French also stumbled into a trap as the Germans skillfully withdrew in certain places causing the French to move forward into areas where they were exposed to fire on three sides. French losses numbered 180,000 men in the first ten days.*
After three weeks of fighting, and with little to show for their losses, even the commonest French soldier knew that the attack had failed, but their officers ordered them on. The French soldiers knew they were being herded into a bloodbath. One regiment passed their commanders bleating like sheep on the way to slaughter.* The suicidal attacks continued for another two weeks. The French army was reaching its breaking point.
The general condition of the common soldiers during W.W.I was deplorable. Armies were such that the gulf between officers and common soldiers was as wide as the gulf that existed between the upper and lower classes in civilian life. Of the men fighting in W.W.I the soldiers serving the French Republic were in some respects worse off than anyone. Among the leaders of the French, the common soldier barely qualified as a human being. The political philosophy held by the elite of the French "republic" was that it was a citizen's "privilege to serve" his country. After all, the soldier was fighting to defend "liberty and freedom." The French ruling strata, however, felt no obligation to the common soldier, or his family, while he did the fighting. Even outside the trenches, common humanity for the soldier barely existed and his misery was barely disturbed. There were few rest areas or leave facilities where he could rekindle his humanity. He was forgotten by his superiors unless he failed to report back on the date specified. If a soldier was lucky enough to get a long enough leave that he could return home, he often found his visit consumed by the time required to get there. Once there he often found his family destitute since the French leaders made nearly no provisions for his family while he was away fighting. Although the republic paid him, what he received failed to cover the cost of a day's bread.* Once back at the front he was herded around from one filthy holding pen to another till it was time to return to the slaughter in the trenches. Many French soldiers saw themselves as nothing but "gun meat" or "cannon fodder."
Spurred on by some newspapers which called for peace negotiations as the Germans had suggested, thousands of French soldiers simply lay down their guns and started walking home. Mutiny followed and rapidly spread behind the lines. By the end of May, French troops and officers of the lower ranks turned on their commanding officers and took control of four towns behind the lines. Nearly three quarters of a million men were involved in the mutiny. Though they refused to go on any more suicidal attacks, the French soldiers in the front lines continued to hold their positions. The Germans, consequently, never learnt of what was going on and never took advantage of the revolt. The mutinies nonetheless, were officially blamed on paid "German agitators and newspapers" supported by German funds. When the revolt was finally crushed by loyal French forces, over a hundred thousand French troops were court-martialed, over 20,000 were found "guilty" and "many" were shot--though only "55" were "officially shot." By mid-June the front between Arras and the Aisne lay quiet.
When the opposing armies counted up their losses, "not less than 600,000 casualties measured the cost of the battles of Arras and the Aisne."* These great losses, like those on the Somme, convinced many that the Allies had embarked on a new scheme--attrition.*
Since no sensible military strategy appeared to be able to break the deadlock, the French and British leaders believed they could wear their opponents out by constant attacks. Even though the Germans, in their defensive positions, were experiencing losses of only two men to every three Allied losses, the Allied leaders believed attrition would work. The British, French, Russians and Italians alone could put 35,000,000 men in the field, while Germany and all her partners could scrounge up only about half that. The Allied leaders thus believed that, in the long run, they could "bleed the Germans white." In reality all that attrition was accomplishing was "an obliterating of the able-bodied manhood of Western Europe."*
Hitler remained stationed in the area of Artois until the last part of June. His regiment was then given orders to head north where another British attack was expected. "Marching along the roads was a misery for us poor old infantrymen," Hitler would later say, "again and again we were driven off the road by bloody gunners, and again and again we had to dive into the swamps to save our skins!"*