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By late 1917 Germany had won the war in the East. In March 1918, Russia signed the harsh treaty of Brest-Litovsk, giving Germany huge chunks of its territory. Russia's withdrawal enabled Germany to transfer forces from the East and to mount a supreme effort to capture Paris. But by this time the United States was entering the war, and timing was essential to the German plan: the offensive had to succeed before American troops could reach the Western Front in sizable numbers. Ludendorff, the German leader who directed the operation, was prepared to lose one minion men to win. He poured his efforts onto the British sector. The situation became so desperate that the Allies stopped arguing among themselves and established a unified command under Marshal Ferdinand Foch.
Nevertheless, at its height the German offensive came within 40 miles of Paris. Then in May 1918 American divisions poured in, and the Allies fought back furiously. In July they broke through the new German lines and swept the Central Powers back toward the pre-1914 frontiers.
In the fall of 1918, German allies began to surrender-in September the Bulgarians, in October the Turks. One by one, ethnic minorities within Austria-Hungary began to proclaim independence, and on November 3 the Austrians capitulated. Germans were demoralized, and mutinies broke out in German fleets. There were revolts among civilians in Kiel and Hamburg. In early November the German king or emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm, fled to Holland. Finally, on November 11, 1918, a German delegation appeared at Allied headquarters to request an armistice.
Overall, the war was fought at tremendous cost. Most tragic was the loss in lives. Known dead included 1.8 million German soldiers and more than one million men each from Russia, France, Austria-Hungary, the United Kingdom, and Italy. Even the U.S., latecomer to the war, lost more than 100,000 men. Actual fatalities have been estimated as high as 13 million. In addition, nearly 22 million men were wounded, 7 million of them permanently disabled or mutilated. More than 9 million civilians were also killed.
The world of 1919 was stunned and uncertain. Ten years later the mood still lingered. People wanted to understand what had happened but could not. It is in that atmosphere that Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front appeared.