Preview – The First World War

British and French troops march 1918

The last months of the Great War were as destructive as the years of entrenched stalemate had been. Germany’s spring offensive, the grand plan to defeat the British army and force the French to sue for peace had been repulsed and a half a million men (allied and German) lay dead.

With social unrest in Germany and Austria/Hungary on the brink of collapse, the political appetite for peace increased. However, though armistice meant a cessation of war, the Allies were determined to extract on paper, at least, Germany’s unconditional surrender.

The Treaty of Versailles included a clause on ‘War Guilt’ and Germany was made to shoulder the blame for the conflict and dealt crippling penalties: the Allies forced her to disarm, surrender territory, and pay reparations to countries that had formed the Triple Entente.

Illustrating the power of nationalism and political spin, the Great War was, at the time, seen in positive terms – for defence against aggression and for glory. Only in later years would the loss of 20 million lives be seen for the senseless waste it was.

And while the end of the conflict curbed militarism, for a while, the conditions of Versailles ensured the Great War was not the war to end all wars.

The final part of this 10-part series is based on the book by Hew Strachan, Professor of the History of War at Oxford.

The First World War – Monday 11.00pm on BBC 4, and is available now on the BBC iPlayer.