The Germans are preparing for their next offensive on the Western Front. Although Ludendorff is still intending to drive the British into the sea in Flanders, the next assault will hit the French in the south, with some 40 divisions to attack on either side of Reims. Ludendorff has dubbed this battle der Friedensturm (the Peace Offensive), hoping to convince his battered troops that this is the one last push that will somehow bring the war to an end.
The fighting since the start of the offensives has been devastating. The Germans have suffered some 800,000 casualties since the first assaults in March. Their gains in the first four offensives have stretched their frontline from 390 to 510 kilometres, which leave them vulnerable if the Allies should regain the initiative. The Germans are also being hit hard by the new influenza pandemic, which in the last month has led to some 135,000 military cases on the Western Front, far more than the Allies have suffered. Very few of these men have died, but while they are sick they are unable to fight.
German casualties have afflicted the elite stormtrooper units most severely. Ludendorff has replenished their ranks by taking men from ordinary units. This has however diluted the quality of the stormtroopers and left other units depleted and less able to perform their functions.
The Allies have taken great casualties too in the offensives but they seem to have a deeper well of manpower, while American troops are continuing to arrive in Europe in great numbers. All in all time is running out for Ludendorff: if his next offensive does not break the Allies then it looks disturbingly like Germany will lose the war.
Stormtroopers (Drakegoodman on Flickr)