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)

18/7/1918 2nd Marne: the French strike back #1918Live

The Germans launched the fifth phase of their offensives three days ago, attacking in the Marne and Champagne sectors to the east and west of Reims. Progress has been poor, achieving nothing like the initial successes of the previous assaults.

Now the Allies strike back. A strong French force bolstered by American reinforcements attacks the German salient on the Marne. In a break with Western Front tradition, there is no preliminary bombardment; instead a rolling barrage opens up just as the Allied troops move forward. Supported by several hundred of the new Renault tanks the French make great progress against the Germans, who have been taken by surprise and are manning only weakly fortified positions

The French attack forces the final abandonment of the German offensive, which Ludendorff had rashly dubbed the Peace Offensive in an attempt to persuade German troops that this was the last battle before the war’s victorious end. Now the Germans are losing the initiative. Ludendorff’s attempt to win the war before the Allies collected their strength appears to have failed. Unless he can pull one more rabbit out of the hat it looks like German defeat is now inevitable.

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map (1918: La Deuxiéme Bataille de la Marne)

French tanks and soldiers advance (Herodote.net: 15 juillet 1918 – L’Allemagne joue son va-tout en Champagne)

17/7/1918 The sinking of the Carpathia #1918Live

In 1912 the Carpathia was sailing from New York to Fiume in the Adriatic when a wireless message alerted its crew to the shocking news that the Titanic had hit an iceberg and was sinking. The Carpathia raced to the scene and rescued the 700 survivors of the disaster.

Today the Carpathia meets its own doom. Germany’s U-boat campaign has failed to bring Britain to its knees but the German submarines are continuing to attack Allied shipping. In response the British have arranged for ships to travel in convoys, so that they can be better protected by naval vessels. However travelling in a convoy does not make a ship invulnerable to attack, as the Carpathia discovers today when it is torpedoed by the U-55 while sailing from Britain to the United States. The ship sinks in under two hours.

Unlike the Titanic, the Carpathia has an adequate number of lifeboats for the passengers and crew it is carrying. Almost all of these survive the sinking.

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The Carpathia sinks (Wikipedia)

15/7/1918 Round Five: Ludendorff’s Peace Offensive #1918Live

Germany’s four offensives on the Western Front have failed to break the Allies. While both sides suffer enormous casualties, the Allies have been better able to replenish their ranks from new recruits and reinforcements from America. German losses have weakened the effectiveness of the elite stormtrooper units while morale generally has fallen as the offensives have failed to bring an end to the war.

Now Ludendorff rolls the dice one more time. The German commander still sees Flanders as the best location for a decisive battle but instead his men attack further south, on either side of Reims, in the Marne and Champagne sectors. He has assembled 43 infantry divisions for this assault, which has been dubbed both the Friedensturm (Peace Offensive) and Second Battle of the Marne. As with the previous assaults, this one begins with an intense artillery bombardment of the enemy, with the Germans having assembled some 5,000 guns for the purpose.

Then things start to go wrong for the Germans. The French are ready for the German assault, forewarned by deserters. As the German assault troops move up to the trenches from which they are to attack, they are hit by French artillery. This does not stop the German assault, but the French have learned from previous battles, organising a defence in depth that smothers the Germans, preventing them from achieving the kind of gains seen at the start of the previous battles. While some progress is achieved, there is no breakthrough. By the end of the day it looks disturbingly like the Peace Offensive has failed.

Western Front map (Wikipedia: Third Battle of the Aisne)

Offensive map (Wikipedia: Second Battle of the Marne)

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)

3/7/1918 The death of Mehmed V of Turkey #1918Live

Today sees the death of 73 year old Mehmed V, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and to true Muslims the Caliph, successor of the Prophet. Mehmed’s reign recalls that of Austria-Hungary’s Franz Josef (who died in 1916), in that both men have seen decline of their empires to shadows of their former selves. In Franz Josef’s case the decline took place over the long decades of his rule, but Mehmed was unfortunate enough to see his empire wrecked in the nine years since he ascended the throne in 1909. In these short years the Turkish Empire has lost its North African territories and the Dodecanese in the Italo-Turkish war and almost all of European Turkey in the First Balkan War. Following these disasters effective power in Turkey fell to the so-called Three Pashas, Enver, Talaat and Djemal.

Since Turkey’s entry into the current war the British have driven Turkish forces from Mesopotamia and southern Palestine. Only in the Caucasus do Turkish fortunes appear to be in the ascendant, with Enver taking advantage of Russia’s turmoil to recapture territories lost there in previous wars. Mehmed’s only real part in the current war was to declare a Jihad , calling on all Muslims to wage holy war against the infidel Allies; this appears to have had little effect, with many Arab Muslims instead choosing to support Sharif Hussein of Mecca and his Arab Revolt.

Like Franz Josef, Mehmed is perhaps fortunate to die when he does. The war is not over yet, but Turkey’s position is now looking extremely precarious. Ottoman fortunes are so tied to Germany’s that if, as now appears likely, the German offensives on the Western Front fail to win victory then Turkey will follow the Germans to defeat. That will most likely mean the effective end of the Ottoman Empire. Mehmed V is spared the ignominy of being the last Sultan. That honour may fall to his half-brother, who now ascends to the Sultanate as Mehmed VI.

image source (Wikipedia)