28/3/1918 As German losses mount, Ludendorff’s assault on Arras fails #1918Live

Ludendorff did not set his men clear final objectives before the beginning of the spring offensive. His intention rather was to respond to events and opportunistically take advantage of successes achieved. However the offensive’s early successes have not led to Ludendorff clarifying his men’s goals. As a result, German efforts lacks focus, with assaults now taking place on divergent axes. The greatest progress has been achieved in the south of the German battle line, where Hutier has made gains of 40 miles. Unfortunately for the Germans, Hutier’s advance does not lead to anywhere of any great strategic significance. Meanwhile Ludendorff has ordered his men to press on towards Amiens, a vital rail hub for the British, but he has not concentrated efforts on this target and is continuing to disperse his men on other lines of attack.

Now Ludendorff launches another thrust against the British, his men attempting to push northwards towards Arras, paving the way for an advance on the Channel in conjunction with another offensive he is preparing to launch in Flanders. The Germans have high hopes for this assault, codenamed Operation Mars, but things do not go their way. Expecting an attack, the British have prepared their positions well, while the German assault lacks the panache seen at the start of the Kaiser’s Battle. Some British soldiers report that the Germans attack in human wave formations reminiscent of the First Battle of Ypres in 1914. The result is a similar kind of carnage, with the Germans making very limited gains at great cost.

Since the start of the spring offensive, barely a week ago, the Germans have taken some 250,000 casualties. British and French casualties are slightly higher, but with the Americans on the way the Allies have a deeper well of manpower to draw on. Problematically for the Germans, their losses are concentrated among the highly trained stormtroopers who spearhead the assaults. This rate of casualties is unsustainable and if unchecked will decimate the best units of the German army.

image source (History Key: Stormtroopers: German WW1 Elite Troops)

27/3/1918 Ludendorff’s offensive starts to run out of steam? #1918Live

In just a week of fighting German troops commanded by Hutier have advanced some 40 miles from their starting points, now capturing the town of Montdidier. Elsewhere progress has been less impressive, but at 15 miles or so it is still far more than anyone has achieved since the front stabilised in 1914. The Germans have now overrun the old Somme battlefield, taking the town of Albert behind the British lines of 1916.

These gains have been achieved at considerable cost. The advancing Germans are beginning to outrun their supply lines, a problem exacerbated by their advancing over territory laid waste during the withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line last year. This may perhaps explain why German troops stop to loot Albert. Mounting casualties are depleting the ranks of the stormtrooper units. While the Germans are making good these losses by reassigning men from ordinary units, doing so is reducing their ability to support the stormtroopers’ advance.

So the German offensive may be beginning to run out of steam. But there is life in it yet. If the Germans can take the vital rail hub of Amiens the British in this sector will collapse. Hutier’s advance may yet unnerve the enemy so much that the French and British pull away from each other, triggering a general collapse of the Allies. The Germans also have great hopes for an attack they are planning to launch tomorrow towards Arras, codenamed Operation Mars. Ludendorff and subordinate commanders like Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria see this push as likely to prepare the way for a triumphant push towards the Channel ports, in concert with another offensive Ludendorff is planning to launch soon in Flanders.

image source:

Stormtroopers (MetroPostcard: Campaigns of World War One, The Western Front  1917-1919)