March 1918

Ludendorff‘s spring offensive smashes the British. Germany’s supergun shells Paris. A new strain of influenza appears in a US army camp. Germany and Austria-Hungary go hungry.

3/3/1918 Brest-Litovsk: Germany and Russia agree a peace treaty

4/3/1918 Private Gitchell takes ill

5/3/1918 Germany’s food crisis

6/3/1918 John Redmond dies, once Ireland’s leading politician, now almost an irrelevance

7/3/1918 Germany prepares to intervene in Finland’s civil war

8/3/1918 Bombing Paris, preparing for the spring offensive

11/3/1918 The food crisis eating at the Austro-Hungarian Empire

12/3/1918 Turkey recovers Erzurum and presses on towards the Caucasus

14/3/1918 Trotsky takes over as commander of the Red Army

18/3/1918 Looting the occupied Italian zone

20/3/1918 Eve of Armageddon

21/3/1918 The blow falls: German stormtroopers smash the British

21/3/1918 New German weapons

23/3/1918 The Kaiser and Hindenburg visit the scene of victory

23/3/1918 The Paris gun

24/3/1918 German success causes Allied nerves to fray

25/3/1918 Haig feels the strain

26/3/1918 Foch takes command

26/3/1918 The Czechoslovak Legion: marooned in Russia

26/3/1918 Ludendorff targets Amiens

27/3/1918 Allenby pushes towards Amman while he can

27/3/1918 Ludendorff’s offensive starts to run out of steam?

28/3/1918 Finland’s Whites attack Red Tampere

28/3/1918 As German losses mount, Ludendorff’s assault on Arras fails

28/3/1918 Trotsky’s big idea: recruiting Tsarist officers into the Red Army

29/3/1918 Calvary: the Paris Gun kills 90 attendees of Good Friday service

30/3/1918 Britain retreats from Amman

30/3/1918 Moreuil Wood: Canadian cavalry stops the German advance

image sources:

German A7V tank advancing through Roye (Wikipedia: Spring Offensive)

map (Mental Floss, WWI Centennial: Avenging Angel—Operation Michael)

see also:

Monthly Archive 1918

February 1918

April 1918

@ww1liveblog (Twitter)

World War 1 Live Blog (Facebook)

30/3/1918 Moreuil Wood: Canadian cavalry stops the German advance #1918Live

Ludendorff has belatedly fixated on Amiens as a target for his spring offensive. If this railway hub falls then the Allies will not be able to sustain themselves in the Somme sector, which could lead to a general collapse. However German stormtrooper numbers have been depleted by the heavy fighting since the start of the battle, while the survivors are increasingly exhausted. Desperate resistance by the British and their French and Commonwealth allies is slowing the German advance to a crawl.

The village of Villers-Bretonneux commands the approaches to Amiens. If the Germans take here they will be able to shell Amiens. But for now they are unable to dislodge the Allies. Meanwhile at the Moreuil Woods a bizarre episode takes place. German troops have occupied the woods, overlooking the Amiens-Paris railway, but now Canadian cavalry units are ordered forward against them. Machine guns and barbed wire have rendered cavalry obsolete on the Western Front, but somehow in confused fighting the Canadians push back the the Germans, breaking the momentum of their attack in this sector. At the end of the charge the scene in woods is horrific, a landscape of dead and broken men and horses.

Ludendorff licks his wounds. His offensive on the Somme appears to have failed to break the Allies, though he will renew his efforts to take Amiens after a short pause. But for Ludendorff the Somme battle is only a phase of his spring offensive. His attentions now turn to Flanders, where he hopes that another round of assaults will drive the British into the sea.

image source:

Charge of Flowerdew’s Squadron, by Alfred Munnings (Wikipedia)

30/3/1918 Britain retreats from Amman #1918Live

British Empire forces have been attempting to take Amman, which Allenby wants to secure before he is obliged to send his best troops off to the Western Front, where they are needed to help withstand Ludendorff‘s spring offensive. Back home in Britain people may think of the Middle East as a perpetually dry zone of aridity, but the last few days have seen the area around Amman buffeted by a series of rain storms. Conditions have been so poor that several of the British have died of exposure on the march.

After reaching Amman the British have been trying to storm the town. They have inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy but they have been unable to dislodge the Turks from their defences and have taken heavy casualties themselves. With there being no immediate prospect of the Turks throwing in the towel, the British decide to retreat. As they withdraw, closely pursued by the Turks, they are joined by the civilian population of the town of Salt. The people here had welcomed the British when they arrived last week. Now they fear the Turks’ vengeance and flee with whatever of their goods they can carry.

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map

Refugees from Salt crossing the Jordan

29/3/1918 Calvary: the Paris Gun kills 90 attendees of Good Friday service #1918Live

After yesterday’s German failure at Arras the front today is relatively quiet. For all that German troops are still advancing, their offensive may be beginning to wind down.

Parisians meanwhile are marking Good Friday. The Germans have been shelling Paris with their astonishing Paris Gun, capable of firing a shell over 70 miles. As a result of the shelling and previous air raids, the inhabitants of the French capital have learned to avoid gathering together in crowds. Unfortunately religious congregations make for ideal targets. When a shell lands on the church of St-Gervais-et-St-Protais, the roof collapses, killing around 90 members of the congregation and wounding many more. Thus far this is the greatest loss of life from a single shell of the Paris Gun.

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The damage to the church (Wikipedia: Paris Gun)

28/3/1918 Trotsky’s big idea: recruiting Tsarist officers into the Red Army #1918Live

Fearing that the Germans will renege on the peace agreement and march on Petrograd, Russia’s Soviet government has removed itself to Moscow, safely in Russia’s interior, where Lenin and his fellow members of Sovnarkom install themselves in the Kremlin. The Bolshevik government nevertheless continues to rest on shaky foundations. Kornilov and Alexeev remain on the loose in south Russia, their Volunteer Army a serious thorn in the side of the regime. The Bolsheviks fear that other armed threats to their power could erupt into being at any moment.

Trotsky has been appointed as People’s Commissar for War, charged with turning the Red Army into an effective fighting machine. The Red Army’s fundamental problem is that it is an army of enthusiastic amateurs, a successor to the workers’ militias that took part in the recent revolution. It is in no state to take on a professionally organised fighting force.

Now Trotsky reveals his controversial plan for the reformation of the Red Army: officers of the former Tsarist army will be recruited in order to bring their military experience and training to bear. This shocks many of Trotsky’s Bolshevik comrades, who fear that the these officers will undermine the revolutionary character of the Red Army. They also suspect that the officers will be unreliable, more sympathetic to the cause of their former associates in Kornilov’s force than the Revolution. But the military threats to the Bolshevik regime concentrates minds; Trotsky has his way and the recruitment of the officers begins.

image source:

Leon Trotksy and Red Army troops (La Granda Guerra + 100: Lev Trotsky)

28/3/1918 As German losses mount, Ludendorff’s assault on Arras fails #1918Live

Ludendorff did not set his men clear final objectives before the beginning of the spring offensive. His intention rather was to respond to events and opportunistically take advantage of successes achieved. However the offensive’s early successes have not led to Ludendorff clarifying his men’s goals. As a result, German efforts lacks focus, with assaults now taking place on divergent axes. The greatest progress has been achieved in the south of the German battle line, where Hutier has made gains of 40 miles. Unfortunately for the Germans, Hutier’s advance does not lead to anywhere of any great strategic significance. Meanwhile Ludendorff has ordered his men to press on towards Amiens, a vital rail hub for the British, but he has not concentrated efforts on this target and is continuing to disperse his men on other lines of attack.

Now Ludendorff launches another thrust against the British, his men attempting to push northwards towards Arras, paving the way for an advance on the Channel in conjunction with another offensive he is preparing to launch in Flanders. The Germans have high hopes for this assault, codenamed Operation Mars, but things do not go their way. Expecting an attack, the British have prepared their positions well, while the German assault lacks the panache seen at the start of the Kaiser’s Battle. Some British soldiers report that the Germans attack in human wave formations reminiscent of the First Battle of Ypres in 1914. The result is a similar kind of carnage, with the Germans making very limited gains at great cost.

Since the start of the spring offensive, barely a week ago, the Germans have taken some 250,000 casualties. British and French casualties are slightly higher, but with the Americans on the way the Allies have a deeper well of manpower to draw on. Problematically for the Germans, their losses are concentrated among the highly trained stormtroopers who spearhead the assaults. This rate of casualties is unsustainable and if unchecked will decimate the best units of the German army.

image source (History Key: Stormtroopers: German WW1 Elite Troops)

28/3/1918 Finland’s Whites attack Red Tampere #1918Live

Finland has separated from Russia but is now in the midst of a civil war between the socialist Reds and conservative Whites. The Reds look to Soviet Russia for inspiration support while the Whites have negotiated with Germany for assistance.

The initiative has now passed from the Reds to the Whites. Under the command of Mannerheim, formerly a general in the Russian army, the Whites have moved against Tampere, a mill town known as the Manchester of the North. The prevalence of radical ideas among the industrial workers here makes Tampere a centre of Red sentiment. For the Whites, Victory in Tampere would break the back of their socialist enemies.

Having surrounded Tampere, the White Guard now attempt to storm the town. The Reds however put up more resistance than expected; although the Whites make gains, they are unable to reach the town centre and suffer heavy casualties in the process. So for now they abandon attempts to take the Tampere by storm, instead softening it up with artillery fire.

image sources:

Red Guards (Tampere sodan 1918 näyttämönä (The 1918 Battle of Tampere)) this Finnish language site has some stunning if grim photographs from Tampere in 1918

Civil War map (Wikipedia: Finnish Civil War)

27/3/1918 Ludendorff’s offensive starts to run out of steam? #1918Live

In just a week of fighting German troops commanded by Hutier have advanced some 40 miles from their starting points, now capturing the town of Montdidier. Elsewhere progress has been less impressive, but at 15 miles or so it is still far more than anyone has achieved since the front stabilised in 1914. The Germans have now overrun the old Somme battlefield, taking the town of Albert behind the British lines of 1916.

These gains have been achieved at considerable cost. The advancing Germans are beginning to outrun their supply lines, a problem exacerbated by their advancing over territory laid waste during the withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line last year. This may perhaps explain why German troops stop to loot Albert. Mounting casualties are depleting the ranks of the stormtrooper units. While the Germans are making good these losses by reassigning men from ordinary units, doing so is reducing their ability to support the stormtroopers’ advance.

So the German offensive may be beginning to run out of steam. But there is life in it yet. If the Germans can take the vital rail hub of Amiens the British in this sector will collapse. Hutier’s advance may yet unnerve the enemy so much that the French and British pull away from each other, triggering a general collapse of the Allies. The Germans also have great hopes for an attack they are planning to launch tomorrow towards Arras, codenamed Operation Mars. Ludendorff and subordinate commanders like Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria see this push as likely to prepare the way for a triumphant push towards the Channel ports, in concert with another offensive Ludendorff is planning to launch soon in Flanders.

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Stormtroopers (MetroPostcard: Campaigns of World War One, The Western Front  1917-1919)

27/3/1918 Allenby pushes towards Amman while he can #1918Live

Since the fall of Jerusalem, British progress in Palestine has slowed. Allenby has been attempting to move forward in the Transjordan region, hoping that by doing so he can bypass the strong Ottoman defences in the hill country west of the river. His men have advanced across the Jordan and taken the town of Salt, preparatory to advance on Amman, for the Turks a vital centre on the railway linking them to their garrisons in Medina and other points to the south.

Today though Allenby receives some bad news from London. The success of the German offensive in France has led to a desperate need for fresh troops there. Allenby is ordered to adopt a defensive posture and to prepare his best troops for despatch to France; they will be replaced by new recruits from India, who will require extensive training before they can be sent into battle with the Turks.

Allenby’s men are already preparing for the final advance on Amman. Perhaps they will be able to take the town before he has to send them off to the Western Front.

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British troops on the march (Wikipedia: Battle of Amman)

26/3/1918 Ludendorff targets Amiens #1918Live

While the Allies are reorganising their command, the Germans on the Western Front are continuing to advance. Ludendorff‘s men are now overrunning the Somme battlefield of 1916, capturing in days territory that the British took months to seize.

Ludendorff has adopted an opportunistic approach to the battle. Instead of setting final targets for his men he has waited to see how the battle develops, hoping to exploit opportunities as they arise. This approach served the Germans well on the Eastern Front but it may be less well suited to operations in France and Belgium. Today Ludendorff designates Amiens as an objective for his forces. German troops are barely 11 kilometres from this railway hub, whose fall would leave the British unable to adequately supply themselves in the Somme sector. Unfortunately Ludendorff chooses not to concentrate his forces on this objective, instead ordering more divergent assaults to the north.

German spirits nevertheless remain high. In his headquarters the Kaiser celebrates German progress with champagne and declares that when the British send a delegation seeking peace terms, they will have to first kneel before the German standard.

image source:

Stormtroopers Advancing Under Gas, by Otto Dix (Wikipedia: Otto Dix)

British artillery in action (Wikipedia: Operation Michael)