To the people at present alive there are few questions more interesting than the identity of the victor. It is something all are anxious to ascertain and each of the Allied nations is anxious—and justly so—that its own part should not be forgotten. In a very real sense the Belgians won the war. But for that first gallant struggle at Liege, but for the delay they interposed in the German program at the very outset, the French would have been overwhelmed, and, as the Germans calculated, the war would have been brought to an end before it could have been begun.
Unquestionably the French army won the war. Not so much by reason of the battle of the Marne or of any particular engagement, but because of what the French army was. The Germans were entirely right: so perfect a machine as their own army must infallibly win against armies hurriedly put together after the war began. The war was saved for the Allies by the French army—an excellent, competent force, all but as well drilled as the Germans, which bore the brunt of the conflict throughout. In the first year the French were compelled to take the entire weight of the German assault, for the British army, great as its assistance was at the first critical moment, was too small to assume the real weight of the battle. The French artillery possessed a gun, the famous 75's, which was superior to anything the Germans had. It was a light field gun, throwing a good sized shell and capable of being fired at an astonishing rate of speed and with extraordinary accuracy. The 75's alone checked the German army in the first invasion of France and won the battle of the Marne.
In a very real sense of the word the French general staff won the war. It was from the outset the brains of the Allied army. Without any disparagement to the gallant British, Italian, and American officers, the great military minds on the Allied side were those of the French. They alone had had years of experience, training, and study; they knew best the field of battle, as well they might; it was their own country; they had thought more carefully about methods of defense and attack. The great generals were, therefore, Joffre, Foch, and Petain, a trio who will stand out in history above all other names on the Allied side. But behind them, making possible the final victory, stand dozens of Frenchmen, whose names are not so well known, but whose cooperation in the French general staff furnished the real nucleus of the organization that won the war.
The territory surrendered by the Germans at the Armistice.
On the other hand, it must not be forgotten that without the work of the British fleet the war would have been lost at the outset. It was essential that Great Britain should manufacture for France. In the first rush of the German invasion the French had lost the greater part of their coal mines, most of their iron mines, and their most important industrial section. With these had been lost thousands of hands who would have performed great services for France. Keeping the British factories at work overtime meant raw materials, merchant vessels must bring them, and the fleet must protect them. The British army had to be transported to France and supplied and maintained there. Germany again must be thoroughly blockaded; if she could have attained access to the markets of the world, the war might have gone on indefinitely or have resulted in an Allied defeat. The British navy coped successfully with the submarine, with mines, and all the other deadly instruments which the Germans thought would of themselves win the war.
Then we must not forget that the loyalty of the British Empire at the very outset of the war was all-important to victory. The Germans had supposed that the British self-governing colonies would desert the moment war broke out, but as one man they rose to the crisis and gave their all for the Empire. Canada indeed contributed, if anything, a larger proportion of men and suffered more from casualties even than France. Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa were close seconds. From all poured to the mother country men and supplies indispensable to the conduct of the war.
The Russians also won the war. If they had not moved in August, 1914, had not sent regiments into the battle with nothing but sticks in their hands and stopped the German advance with great piles of bodies, the Germans might still have overwhelmed the French and British and have won the war in the west at the beginning. It has seemed to most students that the Russian campaign in Poland in August and September, 1914, gave Joffre his opportunity at the battle of the Marne. The Germans were compelled to send enough men east to give the French a chance to fight with a prospect of real success. Again in 1915 and in 1916 the Russians hurled themselves against the Germans in offensives which seemed impossible of success in order to lessen the pressure on the French and British in France. The services of the Russian army to victory must not be forgotten.
Then there will be few to deny that the arrival of the British millions in 1915 and 1916 was a decisive event for victory. Without such extensive and tireless support as the British army gave, the French must have been overwhelmed. The whole German calculation, indeed, had been based not merely on the assumption that the Russians would be slow and incompetent but that the British would be unable to create an army of any real value before the French were exhausted. We cannot conceive of the war without the British army any more than we can think of it without the great British factories, munition works, coal mines, and fleets. The Allied offensives of the first three years were in large measure made possible by the arrival of the British and many of the important movements in the last year of the war were executed by them.
Italy's entry in 1915 was by no means without its contribution to the final result. Had Italy joined the Central Empires and assailed France in the rear of the trench line or had compelled France to send enough soldiers south to meet another foe, the war would have lasted few months indeed. The mere fact that Italy stood neutral in a sense made victory possible. When she entered the war, she completed the blockade of the Central Empires and stopped the smuggling which must otherwise have gone on through Italy as through Holland and Denmark. The Italians again really compelled the Germans and Austrians to keep hundreds of thousands of men in the Alps who might otherwise have been winning battles in France or Poland. The final campaign of the Italians against the Austrians in the fall of 1918 contributed to the rapidity and finality of the downfall of the Central Empires.
The rearrangement of Europe to which the allies pledged themselves.
But without the United States victory would still have been lost. The war could not have been finished without us. The mere knowledge that the Yanks were coming infused in 1917 new courage into the exhausted French and stubborn British. They had begun to fear that although the Germans could not beat them they might not themselves be able to beat the Germans. From the outset in a proper sense the United States had been a participant in the war. From the outset, the Allies could not have gotten on without us. From the first weeks of the war our factories were working overtime making ammunition, clothing, shoes, and a thousand things indispensable to the maintenance of the French and British armies. Our farms were producing wheat, meat, cotton, and sugar, without which the British and French people must have starved. In a very real sense of the word the United States fed the Allied armies. The work of the American Red Cross and of the various other American organizations for the assistance of France was from the outset essential to the continuing of the war. Beyond question the American Relief fed Belgium and northern France while in the hands of the Germans and saved the population from extinction. Few historians will be so shortsighted as many people in the United States to-day who seem to feel that we did nothing of consequence toward the winning of the war until 1917. We were in the war from the outset and without us the war would not have lasted until 1917. Wars to-day are fought by nations and not by governments. Though we were technically neutral as a government, the American nation was working night and day for the Allies from the very beginning. There were here and there some exceptions, men and women, disloyal to the country, who did their best for the Central Empires; but they were an inconspicuous minority.
Then in 1917 the United States entered the war and from that moment the end seemed no longer a question of doubt. The Allies had but to hold out through 1917 and perhaps 191S, and the American millions in 1919 would crush the Germans out of existence. It was as certain as the multiplication table and as sure as the rising of the sun. From that knowledge came a morale and a courage which were great factors in the war in 1917. When the war ended there were some two million American soldiers in France, a vast number of civilians supporting the army, and the entire American fleet was in European waters doing yeoman service against the submarine. American troops fought in nearly all the divisions of the Allied armies in the final offensives from July to November, 1918. An official American army was in the field and carried out with great success and gallantry the capture of the salient at St. Mihiel.
Nevertheless, it must be admitted that the French and British dealt the German his final death blow. Only a portion of the American troops in France took part in the actual fighting and they formed only a relatively minor clement in the entire Allied forces. The coming of the Americans did enable Foch to throw against the Germans without reserve all the trained French and British troops he had. But for the Americans he must have retained large numbers of experienced men as a final reserve in case his battle plan should miscarry. The mere presence of the Americans, despite the fact that they did not fight, was an all-important factor in the final battle. Without us it could not have been fought. The whole scheme would have been too risky to have been attempted. In as true a sense as in any other of these cases, the United States won the war.
Yet it ought to be clear that the winning of the war was a complex operation, involving the assistance and cooperation of several nations, all of which played essential parts in the war as it took place. We cannot omit Belgium at the outset nor America at the end; but for the French and the British the war would have ended before the Americans arrived. The Russians, the Canadians, the Italians, and the Australians all too played their part. If any had to be left out, it would be difficult to know what the result would have been. All were indispensable to the final victory.