17/6/1918 Ludendorff prepares for Round Five #1918Live

French counterattacks have forced the Germans to halt their Gneisenau offensive after only few days. Compared to previous stages of the Kaiser’s Battle, the gains from Gneisenau have been minimal. Now Ludendorff starts to plan the next attacl. Germany’s Quartermaster-General still hopes to end the war with a crushing blow against the British in Flanders, but his attention keeps being drawn further south. He decides to prepare for two simultaneous offensives either side of Reims, one in the Marne valley and the other in the Champagne region. These will be the final diversions, after which he will unleash the stormtroopers in Flanders.

Time is no longer on Ludendorff’s side. He will not be able to launch his next attack until July. Meanwhile American troops are arriving in France in ever increasing numbers and the Allies have more spring in their step, increasingly confident that they are successfully withstanding Germany’s worst. German troops meanwhile are suffering from a slump in morale. In March when Ludendorff launched the first phase of the Kaiser’s Battle, German morale was high: the soldiers believed they were taking part in the battle that would bring the war to a victorious end. Now after four offensives and enormous casualties victory seems no closer and the men are less keen to throw away their lives in Ludendorff’s pursuit of illusory goals. Incidents of insubordination are increasing to an extent that alarms German army commanders.

The men at the front are nevertheless mostly still obeying orders. This is less true of men being sent from Germany to join their comrades in the line. Soldiers on trains to the front are almost in a state of revolt, attacking anyone trying to impose discipline and stoning station commanders. They are also deserting in huge numbers, with troop trains often losing a fifth of their complement in transit.

Ludendorff blames socialist malcontents in Germany for the army’s growing discipline problem. He continues to hope that victory is just round the corner, with the next offensive, or perhaps the on after that, being the one that finally breaks the Allies. After that the shiftless elements at home can be dealt with.

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map (100 Years Ago Today, @CenturyAgoToday on Twitter)

11/6/1918 French counterattack blocks Germany’s latest offensive #1918Live

The fourth phase of Ludendorff‘s offensive sees the Germans attacking French forces between the tips of the salients created by the first and third assaults. Initial gains were promising but progress then slowed, much more quickly than in previous battles, thanks to exhaustion on the part of the stormtroopers and improvements in the Allies’ tactics.

Today sees the French counterattack in strength. The French hit the Germans with four infantry divisions and large numbers of the new Renault FT tanks. The momentum of the German assault is broken; when news of the failure reaches Ludendorff he has no option but to halt this phase of the fighting. But he is not throwing in the towel yet. Instead he ponders where to land the next blow, knowing that he must win victory soon or Germany will inevitably be defeated.

9/6/1918 Round four: Ludendorff unleashes Operation Gneisenau #1918Live

The recent Blücher-Yorck offensive has been the most successful phase of the German spring offensive yet. Ludendorff, Germany’s Quartermaster-General and effective dictator, had intended it to divert Allied attention away from his forthcoming final offensive in Flanders but had then reinforced it in the hope of provoking a general collapse of the enemy. That failed to materialise and now the Germans are left with another salient sticking out into enemy lines.

Ludendorff has decided to delay the Flanders offensive again. His men now launch Operation Gneisnau, intended to join up the two salients created by the earlier offensive in the Somme sector and Blücher-Yorck. Although intended as another diversion, with the additional goal of shortening the German lines, the Germans hope that this will be the blow that breaks the Allies and leads to a triumphant march on Paris.

The French have been forewarned of this attack by deserters, but the local commander has deployed his men poorly and the German assault overwhelms the Allied frontline. German troops push forward some six miles and capture more than 8,000 prisoners. Is the day of victory at hand?

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map; the French 3rd army bore the brunt of the Gneisnau attack (Mental Floss WWI Centennial: America’s Fighting Debut)

6/6/1918 US troops halt one German offensive as Ludendorff prepares another #1918Live

German forces have made unprecedented gains since the start of the Blücher-Yorck offensive in the Chemin des Dames sector, the third phase of Ludendorff‘s spring offensives. Standing now on the Marne, German troops are closer to Paris than at any point since 1914. But it becoming apparent that the offensive has failed: the Allies have not collapsed and are now beginning to contain the Germans. In a worrying development for the Germans, American troops are starting to appear at the front in strength. Today American troops go into battle in Belleau Wood, successfully blocking the German advance there. This marks the end of the German offensive.

Allied troops are buoyed by the appearance of the American troops. It is a sign that they have weathered the storm and that the tide is turning in their favour. For the Germans, it is a sign that time is running out. The spring offensives were meant to end the war before the Americans arrived in large numbers. Now they are starting to take their place in the battle line.

So what next? Ludendorff’s hope remains that a new offensive in Flanders will destroy the British army and force the French to make peace. Yet he remains fixated on the gains achieved by Blücher-Yorck and by the first of the spring offensives in the Somme sector. These have created two salients sticking into the Allied lines. Now he plans a new offensive to join the two together, shortening German lines and also paving the way for an advance on Paris itself.

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American troops attack (Wikipedia: the Battle of Belleau Wood)

map (First World War.com: The Third Battle of the Aisne, 1918)

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)

21/5/1918 Ludendorff’s gaze turns to India #1918Live

Ludendorff is preparing a diversionary offensive against the French in the Chemin des Dames sector, after which he plans to attack the British in Flanders. He hopes that this will see the British driven into the sea and the French forced to make peace. But he is concerned that the destruction of their army in France and Belgium may not be enough to force the British to agree to peace terms. With their naval dominance they will be able to rest secure in their homeland and continue to strangle German trade.

How to force Britain’s surrender? Ludendorff thinks he has the answer. Today he writes to Hans von Seeckt, German chief of staff of the Turkish army. Outlining his concerns, he reveals to Seeckt his solution: Britain will have to make peace if threatened in India. Accordingly Seeckt is to prepare the Turkish army for an overland march to attack the jewel in Britain’s imperial crown.

Ludendorff takes for granted that the Turks will gladly allow their army to be used for this grandiose adventure.

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Erich Ludendorff (The Soldier’s Burden – Die Grosse Schlacht in Frankreich: Events leading up to the 21st of March 1918)

Hans von Seeckt (Wikipedia)