20 February 1918 – Schlachtstaffeln?

German plans to use ground attack aircraft in support of Ludendorff‘s spring offensive.


Unlike tne famous Jastas, one of the lesser known German aerial formations is the Schlachtstaffeln (often abbreviated to Schlastas), which make up about 10% of german formations at this point. They had originated as security flights for the Fliegerabieilungen who carried out reconnaissance.

As the war progressed, their two-seaters transitioned into more of a ground-
attack role aircraft specially designed for that role were introduced.

With the preparations for the forthcoming German offensive in full swing, an entire section of the new German attack doctrine issued in January 1918 was devoted to air support for the ground

That doctrine was underlined by a document issued today specifically dealing with the and their control under divisional command in the initial stages of the attack. It lays out the role of the squadrons as “flying ahead of and carrying the infantry along with them, keeping down the fire of the enemy’s…

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1/1/1918 1918, year of decision? #1918Live

For the Germans, 1917 was to have been the year the war ended in victory: the escalated U-boat campaign would force Britain to make peace, after which France and Russia could be picked off at the Germans’ leisure. But the projections as to how much damage could be inflicted by the U-boats were over-optimistic, as were calculations regarding British resilience to attacks on their trade. The U-boats failed to end the war and they have instead brought the USA into the war on the side of the Allies. Now the Americans are raising an army whose size will tip the balance in Europe if it arrives before the war’s end.

The Germans had one unexpected stroke of luck in 1917. Revolution broke out in Russia, with unrest spreading from the urban centres to the countryside and the Russian army. The Russians became increasingly unable to continue the war against Germany and Austria-Hungary; following their seizure of power the Bolsheviks agreed an armistice with the Germans and are engaged in negotiations towards a peace treaty at Brest-Litovsk.

Russia’s collapse means that the Germans are now free to redeploy men from the East. Ludendorff, Germany’s Quartermaster-General, plans to use these to launch a final offensive on the Western Front, one that will defeat the British and French before the Americans arrive in strength. This will be Germany’s last throw of the dice: if the offensive fails to bring an end to the war then Germany’s defeat will be unavoidable.

For the Allies, 1917 was mostly a terrible year. The Italians are still reeling from their defeat at Caporetto and are barely able to continue the war. On the Western Front the French offensive on the Chemin des Dames failed so badly that the French army came close to collapse. The British have made gains against the Turks, but the Middle East is a side show; their main effort on the Western Front at Ypres saw large numbers of men die horribly for no good purpose. Now the British and French know that the Germans are preparing something big for the spring. With their own armies exhausted, the Allies have no option but to hope that they can contain the German attacks until the American armies arrive.

It looks therefore like 1918 will decide the war’s outcome. Either Ludendorff’s offensive will win victory for the Germans, or it will fail, dooming Germany to defeat (though perhaps not until 1919).

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Erich Ludendorff (Wikipedia)

7/12/1917 Cambrai: a bloody draw but a German victory on points

The battle of Cambrai is now winding down. The German counter-attack hit the British hard and Haig had to order a withdrawal from most of his men’s gains to prevent a complete collapse. The British still hold a small slice of the territory they captured but the Germans to the south have pushed beyond their original frontline. Both sides have taken around 45,000 casualties in the fighting.

For the British the battle has proved dispiriting. The initial successes (thanks to tanks and well-targeted artillery) could not be sustained and the German counter-attack has shown what the enemy is still capable of on the Western Front. For the Germans meanwhile the second part of the battle has raised their morale, showing that Hutier‘s infiltration tactics are as effective against the British as they were against the Russians and Italians. Ludendorff is looking forward to applying them in his spring offensive next year, which he hopes will bring the war to a victorious end.

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Knocked out British tank & map (Remembrance Trails of Northern France: the Battle of Cambrai)

30/11/1917 Cambrai: the Germans strike back

The British have called a halt to their attacks at Cambrai. While the first day‘s successes were not repeated, the battle so far has done wonders for British morale, showing that the combination of tanks and carefully targeted artillery is able to smash through even the strongest defences.

The British think the battle is over now, but they are wrong. The Germans have reinforced the Cambrai sector and now they launch an unexpected counter-attack, hoping to recover the ground lost in the fighting so far. The Germans do not have tanks to spearhead their assault, but they do have the infiltration tactics developed by Hutier at Riga and then used to great effect at Caporetto.

When German stormtroopers attack after a short but intense bombardment they attack the right flank of the British, ripping through their lines. The Germans are supported by a significant deployment of air power, with large numbers of ground attack aircraft harrying the British. Only the deployment of the few tanks the British still have available prevents their complete collapse.

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German stormtroopers attack (Metropostcard – Belligerents and Participants in World War One: The German Empire  pt1)

29/11/1917 Fate catches up with German fighter pilot Erwin Böhme #1917Live

Last year German fighter pilot Erwin Böhme accidentally caused the death of his commander, fighter ace Oswald Boelcke, when their aeroplanes collided during a dogfight. The distraught Böhme had to be dissuaded from killing himself.

Since then Böhme has made his reputation as a fighter pilot, notching up an impressive rate of kills. Three days ago he was awarded the Pour la Merité, Germany’s highest award for bravery. This morning he shoots down his 24th enemy aircraft, a British Sopwith Camel. Later in the day he sets off on another patrol over the Ypres salient. Spotting a British aeroplane on a reconnaissance mission, he swoops to attack. Unfortunately he overshoots and the British fliers manage to score enough hits on his Albatross to set its fuel ablaze. Böhme goes down in flames, crashing on the British side of the lines.

The British retrieve Böhme’s charred body and bury him with full military honours. He was 38 years old, almost twice the age of most other fighter pilots.

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Erwin Böhme (Wikipedia: Erwin Böhme)

Erwin Böhme shot down (Barry Weekley studio: Aviation Galleries) follow link for more pictures of warplanes from the First World War and beyond

27/11/1917 Cambrai: as British attacks halt, the Germans prepare for a counterattack #1917Live

British Mark IV 'Female' (Blarney Castle), Fontaine Notre Dame, November 1917
After a first day of astonishing successes, British progress at Cambrai has slowed as their tanks have broken down or been knocked out by the enemy. Now after a series of failed attempts to take the village of Fontaine the British call a halt to their attacks. The Cambrai offensive has shown what tanks are capable of; the British hope that next year they will be able to apply these lessons on a larger scale.

As far as the British are concerned, the Battle of Cambrai is over. The Germans however see things differently. They brought troops to Cambrai to block the British advance. Now they are preparing for a counter-attack, one that will treat the British to the infiltration tactics that were so successful at Riga and Caporetto. The second phase of the Battle of Cambrai is about to begin.

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German soldier and British tank knocked out during fighting in Fontaine (Flickr, Drakegoodman: tanks)

map (Wikipedia: Battle of Cambrai)

23/11/1917 Cambrai: British progress stalls #1917Live

"English tanks near Cambrai" / „Dieses Vieh überfährt Schützengräben, Bäume und Wälle.”
The British have had trouble exploiting their initial gains at Cambrai. German resistance has stiffened as reinforcements have arrived while the British tank force is being depleted by enemy action and mechanical failure.

The fighting has now assumed a more positional character. The village of Fontaine is targeted by the British, but evicting the Germans from it proves nigh impossible. The defenders are making the most of the cover the ruined buildings of the village provide. And now the Germans have discovered that the tanks are vulnerable while manoeuvring through Fontaine’s narrow streets. They take to knocking out the land battleships by flinging bundles of grenades underneath them.

The British are still making gains. Today they drive the Germans from Bourlon Wood. However they fail to take the nearby Bourlon village. With fighting at Fontaine stagnated and tank numbers depleted down to 92, the British offensive at Cambrai is clearly running out of steam.

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Knocked out tanks near Fontaine, probably photographed some time after the fighting was over (Drakegoodman: Tanks (a Flickr album of vintage First World War tank photographs))