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View series: The first World War, 1914-1918

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The Year 1917

This map is part of a series of 20 animated maps showing the history of The first World War, 1914-1918.

At the beginning of 1917, the general staffs in the two camps reacted differently to the question: "How to win the war?"

With the objective of forcing England’s capitulation through economic strangulation, the German command launched what Marshal Hindenburg called "unrestricted submarine warfare" against commercial ships.

For the Allies, under the influence of the French general staff, the doctrine remained that of a frontal attack to break through the German front.

  • In April, at the Chemin des Dames, General Nivelle sent the infantry in behind a continuous barrage by the artillery. This new form of offensive, however, came up against very solid German defences, and resulted in a massacre in the French ranks for meagre territorial gains.
  • In the course of the summer, British General Haig launched an offensive in Flanders aimed mainly at taking out the German submarine base at Zeebrugge. The Battle of Passchendale caused considerable losses among the English and Canadian troops, without piercing the German front.

The failure of these two strategies led to a grave moral crisis in both camps: the way in which General Nivelle had conducted the war sparked mutinies in the French army, whereas strikes and food riots affected, to different degrees, all the belligerents. Some politicians, wishing to explore avenues towards a peaceful compromise, launched several attempts at negotiation.

Nevertheless, the pro‑war factions ended up dominating the debate, as the strategic situation took a dramatic turn.

  • Loss of shipping to German submarines put an end to America’s neutrality. On 6 April 1917, President Wilson obtained the consent of Congress to enter the war.

At first, this reinforcement was insignificant in terms of numbers, but the Allies now had at their disposal for the future a huge reserve of resources and men.

  • In Russia, popular uprisings, the abdication of the Czar, and political revolutions led to a progressive disintegration of the army, which began to collapse in the summer. When he took power, Lenin demanded an end to the fighting and an armistice was signed on 15 December at Brest Litovsk.