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 (Mental Floss WWI Centennial: America’s Fighting Debut)