21/9/1918 Turkish collapse in Palestine

Allenby‘s offensive in Palestine is starting to look like a decisive victory. After the initial infantry assault smashed through the Turkish lines, Australian and Indian cavalry have exploited the victory and are pushing northwards at speed while the infantry wheels to the right to roll up the Turkish line. Many of the Turkish units in the path of the juggernaut have disintegrated. Retreating units are being relentlessly attacked by British and Australian aeroplanes.

Germany’s Liman von Sanders commands Turkish forces in Palestine. From his headquarters in Nazareth he is struggling to organise an effective resistance to the enemy. His efforts are hampered by a lack of accurate information as to the location of enemy and even his own forces, as his telephone lines have been cut.

Liman von Sanders’ confusion is underscored by the sudden arrival of enemy forces in Nazareth today. Liman von Sanders has to flee in great haste and is lucky to escape. The Allied advance is so rapid that Indian cavalrymen overrun a Turkish aerodrome at Nazareth, capturing both aeroplanes and their crews. By the end of the day the Allies have secured Nazareth as well as Nablus, with Jenin, Tulkaram and Megiddo already in their hands.

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Map & Turkish prisoners (Wikipedia: Battle of Nablus (1918))

8/8/1918 Amiens: the Black Day of the German Army #1918Live

Foch, recently promoted to marshal, has managed to convince the Allied commanders that it is time for them to go on the offensive. Now the British lead an attack near Amiens in the Somme sector. At the Somme in 1916 and at Passchendaele last year Haig hoped to achieve a breakthrough that would bring the war’s end in reach. This time his goals are more modest, with the main aim being to push the Germans out of artillery range of the transportation hub of Amiens, paving the way for further assaults elsewhere.

Great efforts have been made to keep news about the impending attack from the Germans. Allied fliers prevent German aircraft from observing the troop build-up. Allied soldiers are careful to avoid talking about the plans for the battle, telling any loose lipped comrade to keep their mouth shut. A German raid two days ago saw several hundred Australian troops captured, but none of them spill the beans on the imminent offensive.

Now, finally, the attack begins, with the infantry moving forward behind a devastating barrage, supported by tanks. In an echo of the first day of the German offensives in March, the Allies attack out of mist. The Germans are taken completely by surprise, unprepared for the hammer blow landing on them. The Canadian and Australian troops leading the British assault make astonishing gains, as do the French. As many as 15,000 Germans are taken prisoner.

As news of the disaster reaches Ludendorff he is dumbstruck. Later he will describe this as “der schwarze Tag des deutschen Heeres“: the Black Day of the German Army. What is so shocking is not the gains achieved by the Allies but the apparent collapse in the fighting spirit of the German troops. There are reports of men surrendering after only token resistance and of retreating men shouting “blackleg!” at reserves moving forward, accusing them of prolonging the war.

The initiative has now definitively passed to the Allies. Bowing to reality, Ludendorff finally abandons his plans for a final offensive against the British in Flanders. His attempts to win victory on the battlefield have failed and now it looks like Germany is staring defeat in the face.

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German prisoners (Forces Network: The Beginning Of The End Of WWI – Amiens, 1918)

8 August 1918 by Will Longstaff (Wikipedia: Battle of Amiens (1918))

26/7/1918 The last flight of Mick Mannock, Britain’s highest scoring fighter ace

Irish born Edward Mannock is the highest scoring British fighter pilot, credited with 60 enemy aircraft brought down since his flying career began in March last year. Known as Mick, he had previously served with James McCudden and was shocked by his accidental death. Mannock has flown against the Germans during many battles on the Western Front, including the Third Battle of Ypres last year and Operation Michael, the first phase of this year’s German offensives.

Mannock returned to England on leave in June, with some members of his family noting that he appeared to be under a great deal of nervous strain. On his return to France he took command of the RAF’s 85th Squadron. He introduced new tactics to his men, encouraging the pilots to fight together as a team rather than as individuals.

A week ago at a social function Mannock advised a fellow pilot to never fly low to observe a crashed enemy. Today though he breaks his own rule and pays the price. While patrolling in northern France, Mannock brings down a German aircraft, killing both members of his crew. He then inexplicably dives low to observe the wreckage before setting a course back towards his base. Unfortunately as he crosses the German lines at low altitude his aircraft is hit by intense fire from the ground and bursts into flames. The aircraft crashes behind German lines. Mannock’s body is apparently found some distance away, having been thrown clear or perhaps because he jumped to avoid immolation.

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The last photograph of Mick Mannock, taken in the summer of 1918 by a French farmer (samoyeddogs: Mick Mannock Veteran Page)

Major “Micky” Mannock (Acepilots: Edward “Mick” Mannock)

9/7/1918 The dangerous folly of low level acrobatics #1918Live

James McCudden was one of the six British fighter pilots who brought down German ace Werner Voss over Ypres last year. Since then he has continued to notch up victories, with his tally to date amounting to 57 enemy planes brought down. His efforts have earned him the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for gallantry. But for McCudden it is not enough. He is determined to surpass the 80 victories achieved by Germany’s Richthofen, the Red Baron, so he will have to kill some more.

It is not to be. Today he is on his way back to base after a period of leave in England. After flying across the Channel he stops at Auxi-le-Château for directions. Then he takes off but almost immediately he crashes, his engine stalling when he attempts a low level acrobatic manoeuvre. The fall fractures his skull and although he is rushed to a hospital he does not regain consciousness. He dies that evening, 23 years old.

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James McCudden, by William Orpen (Wikipedia)

4/7/1918 Hamel: a local victory for the Australians and a worrying portent for the Germans

Ludendorff is preparing for his next offensive on the Western Front, the Friedensturm that will perhaps finally bring the Allies to their knees. The Allies though are becoming more confident that the worst of the German storm has passed, wondering if it might soon be time for them to go on the offensive against the Germans. In the meantime. Australian forces (supported by British tanks and aircraft as well as a small contingent of US troops) launch a local attack at Hamel, near Amiens. The aim is to clear a German salient and to prepare the way for a possible larger counteroffensive here.

For the Allies the attack at Hamel goes very well. In just 90 minutes the Australians achieve their objectives, capturing a large number of German prisoners. The attack shows that the Allies are continuing to refine the combined arms tactics that they used to great effect at the first stage of the Battle of Cambrai, a worrying sign for the Germans should they lose the initiative on the Western Front.
Battle of Hamel  - German POWs gathered near Corbie, 4th July 1918 (detail view)

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German prisoners taken at Hamel (Flickr, Baz: Battle of Hamel , July 1918)

1/4/1918 Britain forms the RAF, the world’s first independent air force #1918Live

At the start of the war, aeroplanes were still something of a novelty, their role in warfare unclear. Since then they have proved their mettle, both in an observation role and increasingly in the attacking of enemy troops and positions on the ground. Both sides are also making efforts to use aircraft in a strategic role, attacking enemy cities and centres of production. Germany is using both aeroplanes and Zeppelin airships in this role but the British too have had a crack at bombing German factories, to limited success.

In recognition of the increasingly important role air power is playing in the war, Britain now takes the novel step of creating a single unified air force, independent of the army and navy from which it is taking aeroplane squadrons. The British hope that his new organisation, the Royal Air Force, will allow them to more effectively use the power of the aeroplane to prosecute the war to victory.

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Join the Royal Air Force (History Things: On this Day, April 1st)

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