Today in German History: March 21

March 21st, 1871

On March 21st of 1871, Otto von Bismarck was made Chancellor of the German Empire. Bismarck, Prussian noble and prominent conservative, was instrumental in German unification. His orchestration of the Schleswig-Holstein War with Denmark and then the Seven Weeks’ War made Prussia the primary power in Germany. Soon after, he goaded France into declaring war on Prussia and so precipitated France’s disastrous defeat in the resulting Franco-Prussian War. Bismarck’s creation of the North German Confederation and his other efforts to increase interaction and cooperation between the German States provided the background that allowed for the surge of nationalism that resulted from victory in the Franco-Prussian War to push the German States to unify into the German Empire. As Chancellor, Bismarck would direct the foreign and domestic policy of Germany for the next two and a half decades. Notable domestic actions include the institution of the Kulturkampf, his effort to suppress Catholics and eradicate socialists. He also created the first modern welfare state in an effort to keep the workers from turning to socialist politics. In foreign policy, he chaired the Berlin Conference to organize the colonization of Africa and prevent wars between colonial powers. His efforts to ally with Austria, his old enemy, were successful. However, he failed to maintain the German Alliance with Russia. Bismarck’s successors failed to maintain the balance he created and ultimately turned the majority of the Great Powers against Germany.

March 21st, 1918

On March 21st of 1918, the army of the German Empire launched its last major offensive of the First World War. The Spring Offensive against the French and British armies in Northern France successfully broke through the Allied lines but stopped short of taking Paris and ultimately failed to end the war. Innovative tactics including the use of “storm troopers” to break through Allied lines allowed Germany to undo all of the Allied gains made since the First Battle of the Marne. However, the German Army was unable to break the Allied armies or keep its offensive forces supplied. Soon after the offensive stalled, US troops arrived in sufficient numbers to decisively tilt the balance of power on the Western Front in the favor of the Allies and that along with German food shortages, financial collapse, and domestic unrest forced it to capitulate and sign an armistice on November 11.

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