11/8/1918 Further Allied gains at Amiens

The Allied offensive at Amiens has smashed the Germans. Australian and Canadian troops have made unprecedented gains, as have supporting British and French forces. The battle has forced the Germans onto the back foot, obliging Ludendorff to abandon plans for another offensive of his own. The initiative on the Western Front has now definitively passed to the Allies.

The Allied advance has also brought relief to Paris capital from the Germans’ Paris Gun, which had been shelling the French capital from territory captured in their earlier offensives. Allied progress now means that the Paris Gun within range of British and French artillery, forcing it to discontinue its operations.

After the first day of the battle Allied progress begins to slow. German resistance begins to stiffen as reinforcements are rushed to the battle, while the Allied tank force weakens due to breakdowns and tanks being knocked out be enemy action. At the Somme and Passchendaele, Haig continued to order attacks long after it should have been clear that no breakthrough was going to be achieved; however the Haig of 1918 appears to be a changed man, as he now heeds calls from Monash and Currie, the Australian and Canadian commanders, for a halt to the offensive. Foch is pressing for further attacks but Haig agrees to pause operations until the tanks are ready for action again. The French separately halt their attacks, after capturing Montdidier yesterday.

Losses in this round of fighting have been considerable, with the Allies suffering some 44,000 casualties. At 75,000, German losses however are much greater, with some 50,000 of the Germans having been captured.

image sources:

map (Weapons and Warfare: Tanks at Amiens 1918)

German prisoners captured on the 8th of August (Wales at War: Amiens, 8th – 12th August 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.

image sources:

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

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

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.

image sources:

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.

images:

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)

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)

25/6/1918 US Marines clear the Germans from Belleau Wood #1918Live

US marines played their part in halting the Germans’ third offensive this year when they went into battle in the Belleau Wood near the Marne. The Americans have been attacking since then, determined to clear the enemy from the woods. Lacking combat experience, the Americans took heavy casualties but they proved determined fighters and now at last the forest is entirely in their hands, albeit at the cost of nearly 10,000 casualties.

The Allies derive great comfort from the battle. The Americans have shown that they can fight the Germans and are not cowed by losses of the scale encountered in Western Front fighting. On the other side of the hill the battle shakes German morale. Belleau Woods is of no great strategic significance in and of itself but it is a worrying harbinger of things to come. The Americans, largely on their own (although with some French support) have successfully defeated the Germans. With US troops now pouring into France, time is clearly beginning to run out for Ludendorff and his offensives.

In American the battle is used for propaganda purposes. Recruitment posters invite men to join the Teufel Hunden (Devil Dogs), the strangely ungrammatical nickname the Germans are reported to have given the marines.

image sources:

US and French troops, near Belleau Wood (Wikipedia: 6th Machine Gun Battalion (United States Marine Corps))

Teufel Hunden poster (Wikipedia: Battle of Belleau Wood)

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.