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The Impact Of The First World War Notes

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1. The Burgfried and 1914

2. The social and economic strains of total war - finance and economic mobilisation

3. Growing opposition: peace resolutions and strikes

4. Germany and her army in 1918

5. The political changes of 1918: the revolution from above and the revolution from below


Burgfrieden = "fortress peace" or "castle peace". It is a German term used for the political truce which the Social Democratic Party of Germany and the other political parties agreed to during World War I. The trade unions refrained from striking, the SPD in the Reichstag fell into line and voted for war credits, and the parties agreed not to criticize the government and its war. Burgfrieden is essentially the concept of national unity based on shared suffering in the name of survival. Reasons for the Burgfrieden politics:
 The Social Democrats believed it was their patriotic duty to support the government in war
 They were afraid of government repression should they protest against the war; they feared living under an autocratic Russian Tsar more than the German constitutional monarchy and its Kaiser
 They hoped to achieve political reforms after the war, including the abrogation of the inequitable three-class voting system, by cooperating with the government. The Kaiser addressed the nation on 4 August and summarised the feeling of national unity by announcing "I know no parties anymore, only Germans". The failure to secure a quick victory and the onset of military stalemate by Christmas 1914 certainly did much to undermine the enthusiastic spirit of August 1914. However, critical views remained few in number during the first half of the war. The people were lulled into a false sense of security by the power of the military censors and government propaganda. It was only during 1916, with the losses at Verdun and on the Somme, that doubts began to be expressed about the way the war was going. The Burgfriede had lasted well over the first two years during which time the government had faced no real opposition from the public or the Reichstag.


Total War spared neither the military nor the civilian population. This forced Germany to use the power of the state as a means of mobilising its economic potential. In a total war, there is less differentiation between combatants and civilians than in other conflicts, and sometimes no such differentiation at all, as nearly every human resource, civilians and soldiers alike, can be considered to be part of the war effort. SOCIAL IMPACTS OF TOTAL WAR Germany's war dead totalled 1.8 million; 16%
of those conscripted

ECONOMIC IMPACTS OF TOTAL WAR Shortages of fuel and materials worsened = cold winter 1916-17 - 'Turnip Winter'. This was the hardest winter of the war years, with transport disorganized and food supplies terribly inadequate.

Millions more suffered permanent disabilities, both physical and mental

Freezing of Germany's rivers - transportation hard

Some soldiers serving in the trenches were drawn into left-wing politics in the hope of creating a socialist society after the war

Urban working class suffered most - no access to cheap food

The number of civilian deaths from starvation and hypothermia increased from 121,000 in 1916 to 293,000 in 1918

Production was continuously in decline and because insufficient food was made available at the regulated prices, a black market flourished.

The number of infant deaths increased by over 50% during the course of the war years

Only 16% of the cost of the war was met from taxation; the rest of the cost was met from funding such as war bonds and the printing of more money. Such a massive expansion of the amount of money in circulation not only started inflation within Germany, but also reduced the value of the mark internationally

The flu epidemic. In 1918 Europe was hit by the 'Spanish flu' which killed between 20 and 40 million people - a figure higher than the casualties of the First World War. Resistance to the diseases was also lowered by the decline in living conditions.

Both the Hindenburg Programme (which aimed to increase arms production massively by placing contracts directly with heavy industry) and the Auxiliary Service Law (which was supposed to achieve 'the mobilisation of the entire civilian population for war service') fell short of their objectives and problems of labour and production continued to hinder the German war effort

During the war the percentage of women in the workforce had risen to 37%.

National debt rose from 5,000 million marks to 154 000 million

Peasants and rural labourers were alienated by government regulations and they held resentment towards the Junkers who kept their

It would have taken 100% of Germanys budget just to repay the interest on the loans let alone pay the loans off 2

tax privileges Urban working class resented the black market and blamed the middle-classes and Jews The Middle-class were angry that there was savings decreased in value TOTAL WAR LIMITED AS there were various key interest groups. Autocratic Germany failed to achieve the same degree of mobilisation as in democratic Britain where war-time consensus and collectivism proved to be more productive in the long run.

3. GROWING OPPOSITION: PEACE RESOLUTIONS AND STRIKES Start of war  Kaiser's estimate of the solidarity of the German people was highly valid. Burgfrieden was established - political divisions of the pre-war era were over. 1914-1916 - extent of opposition to war was minimal. The attitude of the SPD and trade union leaders in August 1914 was central to this minimal opposition. In supporting the war they ended the party's isolation + mistrust that had been so apparent in the pre-war years Any groups opposing the war at this point were unable to gain any momentum as the main political parties were still supporting the course of the war. First two years - effects were generally those of inconvenience rather than real hardship. By winter of 1916-17 the declining living standards, as well as the bleak military situation, began to affect the everyday lives of ordinary Germans. This caused opposition to grow, and the Kaiser's estimate of solidarity began to weaken. Growing opposition to the war in part stemmed from the huge losses suffered.
- 1914-1918  13.2 million men mobilised to serve. 6.2 million casualties - 2.05 million killed and 4.15 million injured.
- People began to question the sacrifice.
- Russian Revolution in Petrograd in March 1917 provided an inspiration for the discontented and those opposed to the war. HOWEVER…Last two years of the war serve as a contradiction to the Kaiser's estimate of the solidarity of the German people.


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