17/10/1918 German morale buckles as the Allied advance continues #1918Live

While their masters exchange notes with Washington, Germany’s soldiers on the Western Front continue to be pushed back. Allied troops are now recovering territories that have been in German hands since 1914. For the Belgians this is a particularly exciting time as almost their entire country has been under German occupation and now its deliverance is at hand. Recent Allied victories have forced the Germans to begin a withdrawal from the Belgian coast and today Belgian troops enter the port of Ostend, together with King Albert. His arrival leads to emotional scenes.

French troops meanwhile have recovered Lille, while British forces liberate Le Cateau, scene of a failed attempt by the British in 1914 to hold off the Germans. Times have changed and now it is the Germans who are unable to halt the Allied juggernaut.

The retreats and defeats have sapped the morale of the once-mighty German army. Officers censoring their men’s post report that defeatism is now rife, with many soldiers writing home that they want peace at any price and are no longer willing to risk their lives in a war that has been lost. If an armistice is not concluded soon then the German army is at a very real risk of disintegration.

map (The Long, Long Trail: Campaign and battle maps for the British Army, 1914-1918)

14/10/1918 Allied gains force a German withdrawal from the Belgian coast

For the Germans the battlefield situation on the Western Front remains dire. In Flanders an British, French and Belgian troops are now pressing on from Ypres towards Courtrai and Dixmunde. The success of the Allied offensive obliges the Germans to begin a withdrawal from the Belgian coast, which means their U-boats and destroyers will no longer have direct access to Allied shipping in the Channel.

The collapse in the fighting ability of the German army is evidenced by the frequency with which German troops are surrendering rather than fighting on to the end. Some 250,000 German soldiers have been taken prisoner since the end of the summer. Seasoned German officers like Prince Rupprecht, commander of the forces facing the British, are shocked by the frequency with which entire units are capitulating, with officers themselves leading surrenders rather than trying to prevent them. Such things would once have been unthinkable, but in the German army’s currently broken state they have become all too common.

9/10/1918 As Canadian troops recover Cambrai, Wilson’s reply to Prince Max’s note arrives in Berlin

Fighting on the Western Front is continuing in an almost surreal atmosphere now that news of Germany’s armistice request has reached the soldiers. Officers try to prevent talk of the war’s imminent end, but many of the men are wondering why they should risk their lives in a war whose outcome now seems pre-ordained. On the German side, troops moving to the front are often denounced as scabs by those retreating, who see continued resistance as serving no purpose but to prolong the war and end more lives for nothing.

The Allies meanwhile are continuing to press the Germans. The Americans are plodding away in the Argonne, fighting the kind of attritional battle Pershing had thought his men’s pluck would have allowed him to avoid. Further to the north the fighting is more mobile, and today Canadian troops finally take the city of Cambrai, long a target of Allied intentions. Victory celebrations are muted by the ruinous state of the city, which appears to have been deliberately set ablaze by the retreating Germans (though perhaps Allied artillery bombardments may share some of the blame).

Meanwhile in Berlin the Germans receive a reply from Wilson to their armistice request. The US President’s response is cordial, but he seeks assurances that the German government is truly representative of their country and that it accepts his Fourteen Points. He also makes clear that any armistice will involve Germany’s complete evacuation of all Allied territory it has occupied. Prince Max, the German Chancellor, is reassured by the tone and cautiously optimistic that an armistice can be concluded.

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Canadian troops liberate Cambrai (Cambrai Area Tourist Office: Liberation of Cambrai)

7/10/1918 Haig and Foch scent victory, the Americans finally rescue their Lost Battalion

In Berlin the German leadership is waiting for Wilson‘s reply to their request for an armistice. On the Western Front the fighting continues. British and Commonwealth forces are preparing an attack on Cambrai, which still remains in German hands. Haig is increasingly confident that the war will soon be over. Of course he also thought that a decisive victory would soon be achieved during the Somme and Passchendaele, but he might just be right this time. Foch is also in an upbeat mood. When the two generals meet today, Foch shows Haig a newspaper report of the German armistice request; he tells Haig that this is the result of his men punching through the Hindenburg Line.

In the Argonne the US-led offensive is still struggling. Gains are being made but the inexperienced US troops are suffering terrible casualties. Nevertheless today they achieve a notable symbolic success. Five days ago a German counter-attack separated Major Whittlesey‘s battalion from the rest of the Americans. Since then the ‘Lost Battalion’ has been subjected to relentless German attack (and shelling from their own side). US troops have been attempting to push forward to relieve Whittlesey’s men, taking enormous losses in the process, but after previous reverses they today at last manage to reach the Lost Battalion. Whittlesey is hailed as a hero, but nearly two thirds of his unit are casualties (killed, wounded or missing).

5/10/1918 Star French aviator Roland Garros shot down

Roland Garros was an early pioneer of military aviation. Before the invention of the interruptor motor, the Frenchman had deflector blades fitted to the propellors on his aeroplane that allowed him to fire his guns directly forward, giving him a considerable advantage in combat. However he was captured by the Germans in 1915 when he crash-landed behind German lines.

Early this year Garros managed to escape from his prisoner-of-war camp and eventually made his way back to France. He resumed his career as a fighter pilot but unfortunately today he finds himself facing German ace Hermann Habich. Garros is shot down and killed, dying one day before his 30th birthday.

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Roland Garros on a North Korean stamp (Pinterest)

4/10/1918 Cher Ami, brave pigeon of the Argonne

The German government has submitted a request for an armistice. On the Western Front the war continues. The British and Belgians are continuing to press the Germans in Flanders while further to the south British and Commonwealth forces are now through the Hindenburg Line.

In the Argonne the Americans have renewed their offensive, attacking in strength following a French artillery barrage. While some progress is achieved, the attack is not achieving the results that Pershing wants for his men, with the inexperienced Americans struggling against the terrain and determined German resistance.

Whittlesey‘s “Lost Battalion” remains lost, cut off from the rest of the Americans and under continuous attack by the Germans. The confused nature of fighting in the Argonne means that they are also being heavily shelled by Allied artillery. Whittlesey has sent runners to report his men’s position but they have all been intercepted. Now he sends a message by pigeon, begging for the artillery barrage to be halted. The brave pigeon, named Cher Ami, is shot by the Germans but arrives at divisional headquarters with his vital message. The artillery barrage is halted and then army medics work to save the life of Cher Ami, who is hailed as an American hero.

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Cher Ami (Wikipedia)

2/10/1918 Western Front: in the north Germany retreats, while in the Argonne the “Lost Battalion” gets lost

Allied forces on the Western Front are pressing the Germans hard. British troops have pierced the Hindenburg Line and in response the Germans are building a new position to its rear, the Hermann Line. As the Germans prepare to retreat there are some shocking incidents of indiscipline. In Cambrai the town is looted by the Germans but then fighting breaks out over the spoils between Prussian and Bavarian troops. Shots are fired and fifteen soldiers killed, including an officer who is thrown from an upstairs window.

On the Allied side British and Commonwealth troops are doing much of the fighting. The French army is exhausted, still in a fragile state after the mutinies last year and the casualties it has suffered since the start of the war. Today nevertheless French units manage to take the town of St. Quentin from the Germans. The French are shocked at the state in which the retreating Germans have left it; Mangin even suggests that after the war’s end German prisoners should not be repatriated until they have repaired the damage inflicted by their army.

In the Argonne the American offensive is on hiatus as Pershing attempts to reinforce and resupply his battered troops. Fighting continues here however, as local attempts by each side to improve their position lead to attack and counter-attack. American attention finds itself focussed on the travails of one battalion commanded by Major Charles Whittlesey. After standing firm against a German counterattack, Whittlesey’s men discover that units to their right and left have been driven back. Whittlesey sends runners out to make contact with other American units. When they fail to return he realises the awful truth: his battalion has been cut off from their comrades and is now surrounded, adrift in a sea of resurgent Germans.