29/4/1918 Germany’s last attack in Flanders #1918Live

Ludendorff has been trying to win victory on the Western Front, attacking first in the Somme sector and now in Flanders. Exhaustion and mounting casualties are leading to a slackening of German efforts while reinforcements, particularly French reinforcements, have strengthened the Allied defence. Today the Germans make another push near Ypres, attacking French troops who have relieved their battered British allies. However, unlike at Kemmelberg, just a few days ago, the French hold firm. German gains are minimal.

Realising that no further gains are to be had, Ludendorff halts this phase of the offensive. The Allies have survived again but the Kaiser’s Battle continues. Ludendorff now ponders where to land the next blow. Time is however beginning to run against him. The fighting in the Somme cost the British some 178,000 casualties, the French 77,000 and the Germans 239,000. The Flanders offensive has cost the Allies another 118,000 casualties and the Germans some 95,000. But the Allies have greater reserves of manpower to draw on, particularly now that American troops are starting to arrive in France. Worse, the German casualties are concentrated among the elite stormtroopers and assault troops, the men Ludendorff can least afford to lose. The Germans need to win the war soon, before Ludendorff’s offensives destroy their army.

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map (Wikipedia: Battle of the Lys)

Erich Ludendorff (Revolvy)

25/4/1918 German losses on the Somme, gains in Flanders #1918Live

Yesterday in the Somme sector German troops captured the village of Villers-Bretonneux but their attempts to advance further where blocked in the war’s first tank versus tank battle. Overnight British and Australian troops counter-attack, first surrounding the village and then storming it. In brutal fighting most of the German defenders are killed, with a small number managing to surrender. Villers-Bretonneux is back in Allied hands, meaning that for now the railway hub of Amiens is safe from the enemy’s attentions.

The Germans have more success in Flanders, where Ludendorff‘s Georgette offensive continues to press against the British. Foch, now officially the Allies’ supreme commander, has sent French troops to strengthen the British line. Newly arrived French troops take over British positions at Mount Kemmel, near Ypres, but they find they have arrived in hell when they are subjected to a devastating artillery bombardment and gas attacks before elite German units move forward against them, supported by German aircraft. German troops take the hill and thousands of French troops lose their lives. The Kaiser is so pleased with the victory that he calls for champagne to toast his Kemmelberg heroes.

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Australian night attack on Villers-Bretonneux (RSL Virtual War Memorial: Villers-Bretonneux)

Kemmelberg heroes (Wikipedia: Kemmelberg)

19/4/1918 As influenza arrives on the Western Front German efforts slacken #1918Live

While German efforts in Flanders are continuing, there is a sense that the offensive here is running out of steam. The fighting has depleted the ranks of the German assault troops and the survivors are increasingly exhausted. Ludendorff has not helped matters by dispersing efforts against a number of targets: the transportation hub of Hazebrouck, the prestige target of Ypres (to whose outskirts the British have withdrawn) and the not particularly significant town of Bailleul. Meanwhile fresh troops are arriving to reinforce the British, including a large contingent of French troops.

German officers are noticing a fall in the morale of their men. With the spring offensive began with Ludendorff’s attack on the Somme, morale was high. The Germans believed that they were launching the offensive that would end the war. Now, a month on, the British still have not thrown in the towel and it is starting to look like the war will go on indefinitely.

There is another factor at play. Since Albert Gitchell took ill in early March the strain of flu that struck him down has spread across the world. It remains no more lethal than any other strain of influenza, but it is remarkably virulent. Somehow it has managed to cross the front lines and is afflicting men on both sides of the conflict, making them too ill for combat or anything else for up to a week. And it seems to be affecting German soldiers more, perhaps because of their poorer diets, robbing the German assaults of manpower at this crucial stage of the battle.

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map (Remembrance Trails – Kaiserschlacht: the German Spring Offensive of 1918)

12/4/1918 Britain retreats to the gates of Ypres

Ludendorff’s Georgette offensive in Flanders has brought German troops to within six kilometres of Hazebrouck, the transportation hub on which the supply of British troops in this sector depends. Perhaps a determined assault might take it, forcing the collapse of the Allies in Flanders, but as with his first offensive at the Somme, Ludendorff chooses to disperse his forces, ordering his men to also attack the less crucial target of Bailleul. And Ludendorff turns his gaze towards Ypres, further to the north, thinking that if this prestige target were to fall then the morale of the British would be shattered.

In this regard the British are ahead of him. They fear the consequences of Ypres’ capture now after all the blood that has been spent in its vicinity during the first, second and third battles there. To maximise their chances of holding it they withdraw now in secrecy to strongly fortified positions just outside the town. This means that they are giving up the shattered village of Passchendaele, whose capture last year was secured at an enormous cost in lives.

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British Lewis gunners defending the Lys canal (The Battle of Hazebrouck)

Ypres frontlines (Our Family Stories)

29/11/1917 Fate catches up with German fighter pilot Erwin Böhme #1917Live

Last year German fighter pilot Erwin Böhme accidentally caused the death of his commander, fighter ace Oswald Boelcke, when their aeroplanes collided during a dogfight. The distraught Böhme had to be dissuaded from killing himself.

Since then Böhme has made his reputation as a fighter pilot, notching up an impressive rate of kills. Three days ago he was awarded the Pour la Merité, Germany’s highest award for bravery. This morning he shoots down his 24th enemy aircraft, a British Sopwith Camel. Later in the day he sets off on another patrol over the Ypres salient. Spotting a British aeroplane on a reconnaissance mission, he swoops to attack. Unfortunately he overshoots and the British fliers manage to score enough hits on his Albatross to set its fuel ablaze. Böhme goes down in flames, crashing on the British side of the lines.

The British retrieve Böhme’s charred body and bury him with full military honours. He was 38 years old, almost twice the age of most other fighter pilots.

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Erwin Böhme (Wikipedia: Erwin Böhme)

Erwin Böhme shot down (Barry Weekley studio: Aviation Galleries) follow link for more pictures of warplanes from the First World War and beyond

6/11/1917 Passchendaele finally falls to the Canadians #1917Live

The British and their Commonwealth allies have been plugging away at Ypres for months now. Now at last after several failed attempts a Canadian assault captures the village of Passchendaele. This heap of ruins is of no strategic importance but its capture allows Haig to claim that victory of a sort has been achieved. The Third Battle of Ypres now winds down, with the British generals finally accepting that conditions are too poor for further offensive action.

Both sides have suffered greatly in this battle. Exact numbers are unclear but both sides appear to have taken more than 200,000 casualties since the first British attacks at the end of July. It appears to be the case that in the latter stages of the fighting as many as one in four of the British dead died not from enemy gunfire but by drowning in mud.

images source (Wikipedia: Battle of Passchendaele)

26/10/1917 Canadians take their turn being killed at Passchendaele #1917Live

At Ypres, a recent British and ANZAC attempt to advance on Passchendaele has failed. Now the Allies attack again. The British and the antipodeans have been so battered by previous efforts that now it falls to the Canadians to take the leading role. But the Canadians are no more able to advance on Passchendaele than their predecessors. Even without the guns of the Germans, it has become extremely difficult to move across the water-sodden battlefield and the attacks make minimal progress.

An attack by Belgian and French forces to the north of the Ypres salient is somewhat more successful. The Germans are pushed back and several of their pillbox defensive positions captured. The Belgians and French prepare to push on tomorrow. The Canadians and British meanwhile lick their wounds and plan to renew their advance on Passchendaele in the near future.

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Mud (Copwick: images of Poelcapelle and the Passchendaele battle site)