22/7/1918 Ludendorff shaken as French troops advance across the Marne #1918Live

French troops, supported by Americans (as well as British and Italian contingents), are counterattacking on the Marne. The Germans have been forced to abandon their own Marne-Champagne offensive and are now being pushed backwards, forced to gradually yield some of the gains of their earlier Blücher-Yorck battle. The French have now crossed the Marne and are continuing to move forward, though their advance has slowed somewhat thanks to their own exhaustion and the broken nature of the ground.

The Germans appear to be suffering something of a morale crisis. The spring offensives, starting with Operation Michael in March, were meant to bring victory but instead they have led to ever-lengthening casualty lists. With the Allies now striking back the promises of victory seem hollow. The crisis in morale manifests in incidents of units surrendering to the Allies and in disorder behind the lines. Nevertheless, most German units are continuing to resist the Allied advance; for the French this is no victory parade.

The failure of his Marne-Champagne offensive and the successful French counterattack has shaken Ludendorff, Germany’s Quartermaster-General and effective dictator. However he is still hoping that one more German offensive will bring about the final defeat of the Allies. For some time now he has been planning an offensive in Flanders, codenamed Hagen, which is meant to drive the British into the sea and force the French to surrender. His southern offensives (Blücher-Yorck, Gneisenau and the Friedensturm) were meant to be diversionary preludes to the final battle in Flanders. Now his attention turns back to the north and the war-winning offensive he intends to launch there. But with his army broken and the Allies in the ascendant, Ludendorff’s dreams of victory now look delusional.

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French machine-gunnners in a ruined church (Wikipedia: Bataille de la Marne (1918))

US propaganda poster showing African American troops of the US 369th infantry regiment (Wikipedia: 369th Infantry Regiment)

3/7/1918 “Wholesale jollification”: Lettow-Vorbeck’s victory at Nhamacurra #1918Live

The outcome of this war will most likely be decided on the Western Front, where the bulk of German and Allied forces are deployed. But there are other fields of battle, and one of these is East Africa, where Lettow-Vorbeck has commanded German forces since the beginning of the war. His plan remains to keep his army in being, tying down as many Allied troops as possible and preventing their transfer to Europe. The forces ranged against him are overwhelming but Lettow-Vorbeck remains at large, his army (European officers and locally recruited Askaris) continuing to evade resist Germany’s enemies.

Lettow-Vorbeck has been unable to prevent the Allies from overrunning German East Africa. He has retreated into the Portuguese colony of Mozambique where his army is living off the land, often leaving starvation in its wake but also provoking native rebellions against their colonial masters. British Empire forces under South Africa’s Deventer and Portuguese army units seem powerless to stop Lettow-Vorbeck’s march; Deventer in particular is increasingly disdainful of the efforts of his Portuguese allies. He sees their troops as next to useless, an actual liability in combat against the Germans.

Fighting over the last few days at Nhamacurra, near the port of Quelimane, both accords with and runs counter to Deventer’s poor opinion of his allies. When Lettow-Vorbeck attacked the Portuguese here many of them quickly surrendered. However others, supported by a contingent of British Askaris, put up a stout resistance until they were eventually overwhelmed.

The vicotry at Nhamacurra is a godsend to Lettow-Vorbeck. As well as continuing to burnish his reputation for invincibility, his men have also captured the supplies of their enemies: stores of arms and ammunition and an enormous quantity of both food and quinine, the drug that protects his European officers from the ravages of malaria. The Germans also discover a large quantity of Portuguese wine and other alcohol, which leads to what Lettow-Vorbeck describes as “a wholesale jollification”, a surrender to drunkenness enjoyed by both his African and European troops.

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German standard bearer (Africans and West Indians at War: German African Soldiers)

map (Wikipedia: Battle of Ngomano)

28/5/1918 Hubert Rees meets the Kaiser

The Allies are reeling from Germany’s Blücher-Yorck offensive in the Aisne sector. Most of the defending troops are French but British troops are also present, veterans of the first and second German offensives who had been sent to this previously quiet sector for a rest. Although French commander Pétain had suspected that the Germans might attack here, the preparations of Duchêne, the local commander, were inadequate and the German gains since yesterday have been unprecedented.

As the Germans advance they round up vast numbers of Allied prisoners. The Germans are moving forward so quickly that even senior officers are finding themselves being captured. One of these is Brigadier-General Hubert Rees, who had fought as a junior officer in the First Battle of the Aisne and at Ypres in 1914 before rising through the ranks. After falling into the hands of the enemy, Rees is brought to meet what he assumes will be a senior German officer but instead finds himself face to face with the Kaiser. The German Emperor is visiting the Crown Prince, the local German commander, and is pleased to meet a captured enemy general. He is also amused to learn that Rees, like Lloyd George, is Welsh.

Ludendorff, meanwhile, is pleased with the progress of the battle. It was meant to be a diversion, drawing Allied attention away from Flanders, where he planned to launch Operation Hagen, which would drive the British into the sea. But now Hagen has been postponed. Ludendorff is reinforcing Blücher-Yorck, hoping that it will provoke the collapse of the Allies.

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Kaiser Wilhelm II and Brigadier-General Hubert Rees (BBC)

27/5/1918 Blücher-Yorck: German stormtroopers smash the French #1918Live

The first two phases of Ludendorff‘s spring offensives (codenamed Michael and Georgette) saw the Germans make considerable initial gains against the British only for momentum to be lost as reinforcements, particularly French reinforcements, were rushed in to aid the defenders. This has engendered a certain complacency on the part of the French, a feeling that they do not have too much to fear from the German stormtroopers.

That complacency is shattered today when the Germans unleash their Blücher-Yorck offensive against the mainly French defenders of the Aisne river in the Chemin des Dames sector. The Allies had not expected an attack here on what had until now been a quiet sector (so much so that some battered British units have been sent to the Aisne to recuperate) and the German juggernaut takes them by surprise. First German guns stun the defenders with a bombardment of unprecedented scale, then the stormtroopers move forward, as usual bypassing any pockets of strong resistance in order to advance as far as possible.

Duchêne, the French commander in the sector, had concentrated his men at the front line rather than constructing a defence in depth. His aim was to prevent the loss of any of the gains of the disastrous Nivelle Offensive last year. But placing the men so far forward means that they are easily overwhelmed by the German assault. The Allied line collapses and the Germans make their greatest gains of the offensives so far.

Ludendorff had intended the Chemin des Dames attack to be a feint, drawing Allied reinforcements here before he launches his final war-winning assault on the British in Flanders. But, ever the opportunist, he now decides to delay the Flanders offensive and reinforce the victorious stormtroopers in the Chemin des Dames. Perhaps this is where the Allied armies will be decisively defeated.

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German stormtroopers (Commonwealth War Graves Commission: Operation Blücher-Yorck)

map (Ossett – the history of a Yorkshire town: Private Charles Henry Derry)

4/5/1918 Turkey in the ascendant as the British retreat across the Jordan

British and Australian forces have crossed the Jordan and established themselves in the town of Salt, preparatory to an attack on Amman. But the Turks are somehow wise to their plans, counter-attacking the Allies in great numbers. The British have been hanging but are in increasing danger of being cut-off and forced to surrender. Realising there is no longer any prospect of taking Amman, Allenby gives his men permission to withdraw. They slip back across the Jordan, abandoning Salt to the Turks.

The balance of forces in Palestine and Transjordan now seems to be moving in favour of the Turks. Allenby has to send his best troops to France, where they are needed to meet the German spring offensives. The failure at Salt has discredited the British, as has the publication by Soviet Russia of the Sykes-Picot agreement to partition the Middle East. With the Turks now in the ascendant they see a surge in enlistment from the Arabs of Transjordan as local notables send men to join the winners’ army.

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Retreating across the Jordan (Wikipedia: Second Transjordan attack on Shunet Nimrin and Es Salt)

30/4/1918 Another British attack across the Jordan goes awry #1918Live

In Palestine Allenby has been ordered to prepare his best troops for despatch to the Western Front, where they are needed to face Ludendorff‘s spring offensive. However the British general is determined to have one last crack at Amman in Transjordan before he has to go on the defensive. Today Australian and British troops cross the Jordan and secure the town of Salt, in preparation for an attack on Amman itself.

But then things begin to go wrong. German and Turkish forces materialise out of nowhere to launch an unanticipated counterattack of unexpected strength. Liman von Sanders, the German commander of Turkey’s forces in Palestine, has somehow got wind of Allenby’s plan, through treachery or the interception of British wireless messages.

The Australians and British find themselves heavily outnumbered and in danger of being cut off. Reinforcements are quickly sent across the Jordan to their aid, but there is no longer any prospect of capturing Amman: the expeditionary force is fighting for its survival.

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map (Wikipedia)

29/4/1918 Germany’s last attack in Flanders #1918Live

Ludendorff has been trying to win victory on the Western Front, attacking first in the Somme sector and now in Flanders. Exhaustion and mounting casualties are leading to a slackening of German efforts while reinforcements, particularly French reinforcements, have strengthened the Allied defence. Today the Germans make another push near Ypres, attacking French troops who have relieved their battered British allies. However, unlike at Kemmelberg, just a few days ago, the French hold firm. German gains are minimal.

Realising that no further gains are to be had, Ludendorff halts this phase of the offensive. The Allies have survived again but the Kaiser’s Battle continues. Ludendorff now ponders where to land the next blow. Time is however beginning to run against him. The fighting in the Somme cost the British some 178,000 casualties, the French 77,000 and the Germans 239,000. The Flanders offensive has cost the Allies another 118,000 casualties and the Germans some 95,000. But the Allies have greater reserves of manpower to draw on, particularly now that American troops are starting to arrive in France. Worse, the German casualties are concentrated among the elite stormtroopers and assault troops, the men Ludendorff can least afford to lose. The Germans need to win the war soon, before Ludendorff’s offensives destroy their army.

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map (Wikipedia: Battle of the Lys)

Erich Ludendorff (Revolvy)