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)

30/6/1918 Time begins to run out for the Germans #1918Live

Dragoner-Stoßtruppen
The Germans are preparing for their next offensive on the Western Front. Although Ludendorff is still intending to drive the British into the sea in Flanders, the next assault will hit the French in the south, with some 40 divisions to attack on either side of Reims. Ludendorff has dubbed this battle der Friedensturm (the Peace Offensive), hoping to convince his battered troops that this is the one last push that will somehow bring the war to an end.

The fighting since the start of the offensives has been devastating. The Germans have suffered some 800,000 casualties since the first assaults in March. Their gains in the first four offensives have stretched their frontline from 390 to 510 kilometres, which leave them vulnerable if the Allies should regain the initiative. The Germans are also being hit hard by the new influenza pandemic, which in the last month has led to some 135,000 military cases on the Western Front, far more than the Allies have suffered. Very few of these men have died, but while they are sick they are unable to fight.

German casualties have afflicted the elite stormtrooper units most severely. Ludendorff has replenished their ranks by taking men from ordinary units. This has however diluted the quality of the stormtroopers and left other units depleted and less able to perform their functions.

The Allies have taken great casualties too in the offensives but they seem to have a deeper well of manpower, while American troops are continuing to arrive in Europe in great numbers. All in all time is running out for Ludendorff: if his next offensive does not break the Allies then it looks disturbingly like Germany will lose the war.

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Stormtroopers (Drakegoodman on Flickr)

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)