Operation Michael


Operation Michael
Operation Michael
Part of the Western Front of World War I
German gains in early 1918
Date 21 March-5 April 1918
Location Northern France
Result Tactical German success
German operational failure[1]
German strategic failure
Belligerents
 German Empire France France

United Kingdom United Kingdom

United States United States

Commanders and leaders
German Empire Erich Ludendorff France Ferdinand Foch
United Kingdom Douglas Haig
Casualties and losses
239,800[2] 254,739[2]

Operation Michael was a First World War German military operation that began the Spring Offensive on 21 March 1918. It was launched from the Hindenburg Line, in the vicinity of Saint-Quentin, France. Its goal was to break through the Allied lines and advance in a north-west direction and seize the Channel ports which supplied the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and drive the BEF into the sea.[3] Just two days into the operation, Ludendorff changed his plan, and pushed for an offensive due west along the whole of the British front north of the Somme. This was designed to separate the French and British Armies and crush the British forces by pushing them into the sea.[3] The offensive ended at Villers-Bretonneux, a little to the east of the key Allied communications centre of Amiens, where the Entente managed to halt the German advance. The German advance stalled largely through very heavy casualties, an inability to maintain supplies to the advancing troops and the arrival of Entente reserves. Since much of the territory involved consisted of the shell-torn wilderness left by the 1916 Battle of the Somme it was known to some as the 1918 Battle of the Somme,[4] and to the French as the Second Battle of Picardy (French: 2ème Bataille de Picardie).

The failure of the offensive marked the beginning of the end of the First World War. The arrival in France of large reinforcements from the U.S. replaced material and men lost by the Entente, but the German Army was unable to recover from its losses before these reinforcements deployed. Operation Michael had failed to achieve its objectives, namely in separating the Allied Armies.[4]

All territory gained during this offensive was lost during the British-led Allied counteroffensive, known as the second battle of the Somme, which started on 21 August, during the Allied Hundred Days Offensive.

Contents

Background

On 11 November 1917, the German High Command (Oberste Heeresleitung, or OHL) decided to make what they hoped would be a war-winning attack on the Western Front the following Spring. Their target was the British Army, who they believed were exhausted by the battles in 1917 at Arras, Messines, Passchendaele and Cambrai. At the start of 1918, the German people were close to starvation and growing tired of the war. General Erich Ludendorff, in command of the German armies, realized that he had a fleeting chance to win the war. By mid-February 1918, he had moved nearly 50 divisions from the east following the Russian surrender and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk which gave his forces a numerical advantage on the Western Front. Germany now had between 177 and 190[5] divisions in France and Flanders, out of a total of 241 in the Army. Of these, 110 were in the front line, including 50 which faced the short British front. A further 67 were in reserve, including 31 facing the BEF (British Expeditionary Force). However, American soldiers were on their way to Europe. By May 1918, 318,000 American soldiers would be in France and another million were to arrive before August. The German authorities knew their only realistic chance of victory was to defeat the Allies before the human and material resources of the United States could be deployed.

They laid plans for the 1918 Spring Offensive or Kaiserschlacht (Kaiser's Battle), a series of attacks that achieved the deepest advances along the Western Front by either side since 1914. There were four German attacks, codenamed Michael, Georgette, Gneisenau and Blücher-Yorck. Ludendorff's first and main attack, (Michael), was on the Somme. There were subsequent diversionary attacks against the British at the Lys and at Ypres which were planned to confuse the enemy and Blücher against the French in the Champagne region. Although British intelligence knew an operation was being prepared, this-far reaching plan was much greater than Allied commanders ever envisaged. Ludendorff's aim was to cut through on the Somme, then wheel north-west to cut the British lines of communication behind the Artois fronts, cutting off the BEF in Flanders. This would draw forces away from the Channel ports that were essential for British supply and then the Germans could attack these ports and other lines of communication. The British army would be surrounded with no means of escape, which would lead to surrender. The thrust of this simple strategy was weakened and unbalanced during planning.

Tactically, the German army adopted an approach that had succeeded on the Eastern Front, particularly at the Battle of Riga. They had developed elite units following Hutier tactics (after General Oskar von Hutier), trained to infiltrate the enemy's front line. These stormtroopers (Stoßtruppen)[6] were to lead the infantry attack, operating in groups that advanced quickly by exploiting gaps and weak defenses. The heavily-defended areas would be dealt with by follow-up infantry units once they had been cut off from the rest of the British lines. The stormtroopers' tactic was to occupy territory rapidly so as to disrupt communication by attacking enemy headquarters, artillery units and supply depots in the rear. Each division "creamed off" its best and fittest soldiers into these storm units, from which several new divisions were then formed. This process gave the German army an initial advantage in the attack but meant that the best troops would suffer disproportionately heavy casualties, while the quality of the men in reserve declined.

Such new infantry tactics demanded a corresponding change in artillery tactics. Gone was the massive bombardment of enemy infantry in the forward trenches which took away the element of surprise. Developed by Lieutenant Colonel Georg Bruchmüller, a German artillery officer, the Feuerwalze,[7][8] was an artillery barrage concentrated on artillery and machine-gun positions, headquarters, telephone exchanges, railways and other important centers of communications. There were three phases to the bombardment: a brief attack on the enemy's command and communications, then destruction of their artillery and lastly an attack upon the enemy front-line infantry defenses. This was a very deep barrage designed to knock out the British ability to respond that lasted only a few hours before the infantry went in so as to retain surprise. Bruchmüller's tactics were made possible by the vast numbers of accurate heavy guns (well supplied with shells) which Germany had deployed all along the western front by 1918. They could launch an offensive at almost any point on the front without giving the Allies notice of their intentions by moving guns and shells to the sector.

The British and German lines before the battle

In early 1918, replying to this kind of attack posed many problems for the BEF. In the British lines morale was at a low point.[citation needed] The slaughter of the First Battle of the Somme, the atrocious conditions of Passchendaele and the disappointment of the counter-attack wiping out the early successes at Cambrai had all taken their toll in both manpower and morale. Britain had now been at war for over three years. The troops were sick and tired of monotonous rations and boredom in the trenches and sick to death with shell shock, mud and trench foot. The only major German offensive on the Western Front since the second Battle of Ypres in 1915 was against the French at Verdun, giving the British commanders little experience in defense. The successful development of a deep defense system of trench lines by the Germans during 1917 had led the British to adopt this new and unfamiliar system. Defence in depth required three lines: a front line, a battle zone and redoubt line and a rear line (though "zone" is probably a better description than "line"). The front line or "outpost zone" (later renamed the "forward zone") was backed up by the "battle zone", where an offensive was to be firmly resisted, and behind this was the "rear zone", where reserves were held ready to counter-attack or seal off penetrations. This reduced the proportion of troops in the front line, which was lightly held by snipers, patrols and machine-gun posts only, and in theory pulled reserves and supply dumps back beyond German artillery range. A British infantry division (with nine infantry battalions) deployed three battalions in the outpost zone, four battalions in the battle zone and two battalions in the rear zone.[9]

The frontline between British and German forces on 21 March and 5 April 1918

The Germans chose to attack the sector around St Quentin taken over by the British in April following the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line in the Spring of 1917. The British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, had agreed to take over this area at the Boulogne Conference, against military advice, after which the British line was extended. In reality, this "line", taken over from the French, barely existed, needing many man-hours of construction work to make it easily defendable. Unfortunately, sufficient man power was not available.

Germany had begun construction of the Siegfried Stellung (as they called that part of the Hindenburg Line) in September 1916, during the battle of the Somme. It stretched from the Channel to the Moselle River. Over 300 mi (480 km) long, designed by Col von Lossberg and built by Belgian and Russian prisoners, its strongest section was the salient at St. Quentin between Arras and Soissons. The line was the ultimate in “defence in depth” trench building. It was 1 mi (1.6 km) deep with barbed wire in zig-zag lines of 50 ft (15 m), protecting three lines, of trenches, interconnecting tunnels and strong points. In the rear were deep underground bunkers known as "stollen" (galleries) — holding reserves for a counter-attack — and the artillery was hidden on the reverse slopes of the line. The Germans withdrew to this line in an operation codenamed Alberich over five weeks during which time German High Command ordered a Scorched earth policy, and the ground abandoned in the retreat was laid waste, wells were poisoned, booby-trapped souvenirs were left behind, and villages such as Bapaume destroyed. During the winter of 1917-1918, the new British line was established in an arc around St Quentin by many small unit actions among the ruined villages in the area. This line differed from the rest of the British front as the line of trenches was not complete. There were many isolated outposts, gaps in the line and large areas of disputed territory and waste land. These positions were slowly improved by attempting to implement (despite the manpower shortages) the new three-zone tactic of defence in depth. The 1/1st Hertfordshire war diary,[10] along with many other war diaries of battalions in the area,[11] shows that the battalion was engaged in 'working parties' for much of January, February, and March, but while most of the redoubts in the battle zone were complete by March 1918, the rear zone was still under construction.

To add to these woes, the British Army had undergone a drastic reorganization to cope with the manpower shortages. A British infantry division was now nine battalions strong, reduced from four battalions to three per brigade. It had been laid down that the senior (regular and first-line territorial) were to be retained in preference to the higher-numbered second-line territorial and New Army battalions. Consequently, second-line territorial and New Army division were badly disrupted, having in some cases to disband ½ of their battalions to make way for units transferred from regular or first-line territorial divisions. Given that some battalions — normally 1,000 men strong — were down to below 500 men due to battle losses and sickness during the cold winter months, the new defences were not only difficult to construct, but where built they were then undermanned.

The attacking armies were spread along a 43 mi (69 km) front between Arras, St. Quentin and La Fère. Ludendorff had assembled a force of 74 divisions, 6,600 artillery pieces, 3,500 mortars and 326 fighter aircraft, which were split between Otto von Below’s Seventeenth Army, Georg von der Marwitz’s Second Army, both of which were part of the Army Group commanded by Rupprecht, Crown Prince of Bavaria, and General Oskar von Hutier Eighteenth Army, (part of the Army Group commanded by Crown Prince Wilhelm) and the Seventh army. The main weight of attack was between Arras and a few miles south of St-Quentin. Von Hutier's Eighteenth Army, headquartered at Guise, boasted 27 Divisions. The average strength of a German Division in 1918 stood at 12,300 men, 3,000 horses, 48 artillery pieces, 120 mortars, 78 heavy machine guns, 144 light machine guns, and 6–12 trucks.[12][page needed]

The movement of German Divisions through the offensive

In the north, two German armies would attack either side of the Flesquières salient, created during the battle of Cambrai. The Eighteenth Army, fresh from the Eastern Front, planned its attack on each side of St. Quentin, aiming to sever British lines and divide the British and French armies. The two northern armies would then attack the British position around Arras before advancing north-west, to cut off the BEF in Flanders. In the south, it was intended to reach the Somme, and then hold the line of the river against any French counter attacks. During the planning process, the southern advance was extended to include an advance across the Somme. The success of this southern advance would badly unbalance the entire offensive.

This attack fell on two British armies. In the north was General Julian Byng’s Third Army defending the area from Arras south to the Flesquieres salient. To the south was General Hubert Gough’s Fifth Army which held the line down to Barisis and the junction with the French. Byng had commanded the Canadian troops who took Vimy Ridge and his Third Army was at the Battle of Cambrai, while Gough had commanded the Reserve Army (renamed the Fifth Army in October 1916) which had been present during the infamous 1st day of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916. His army was the weaker of the two. It consisted of 12 Divisions, 1,650 guns, and 119 tanks, and 357 aircraft. An average British division in 1918 consisted of 11,800 men, 3670 horses and mules, 48 artillery pieces, 36 mortars, 64 Vickers heavy machine guns, 144 Lewis light machine guns, 770 carts and wagons, 360 motorcycles and bicycles, 14 trucks and cars, and 21 motorized ambulances.[12]

By mid-March 1918, British intelligence was sure that a German offensive was coming.[13][clarification needed] Allied aircraft had successfully photographed German preparations behind their lines. New supply roads had been constructed and shell craters had been turned into concealed trench mortar batteries. Heavily laden motorized and horse-drawn transports had been seen heading into St. Quentin from the east, and in the distance German officers were observed studying British lines. The British answer was increased nightly bombardment of the German front lines, rear areas, and possible areas of troop assembly.[14]

A few days before the attack, two German deserters wanting to avoid the coming offensive slipped through No Man's Land and surrendered to the 107th Brigade. They spoke of troops, batteries of artillery and trench mortars massing on the German front. They reported 100 mortars directly in front of 36th Division lines for the purpose of cutting their wire and an artillery bombardment, lasting several hours, as a preliminary to an infantry assault.[15][page needed] A number of other German prisoners had already been taken, which had provided valuable information to XVIII Corps Headquarters, resulting in scaled up preparations for the offensive. The 9th Irish Fusiliers' War Diary describes their activities from 18–20 March as being intensive training during daylight hours with specialist training in the evening. During the night of 20 March, troops of the 61st Division launched a raid on German positions and took more prisoners who told them that the offensive would be launched the following morning. The British reacted upon the information gained from the 61st Division's prisoners but their commanders had completely under-estimated what was awaiting them, the answer was merely to order a bombardment of German lines and likely areas of assembly for attack between 02:30 and 03:00. Before this began, however, the Germans had already started their own barrage.

The British Command knew that the preparations for Ludendorff's Spring Offensive were now in their final hours with the sector held by Fifth Army still unfamiliar, badly organised terrain. It had defences which were not completed and there were too few troops to properly hold the position 'in depth'. The rear zone existed as outline markings only, and the battle zone consisted of battalion "redoubts" that were not mutually supporting (allowing stormtroopers to penetrate between them). In addition Gough’s army contained a large number of reorganised divisions. For the British, unused to a discontinuous line and the idea of deep zone defended strongholds, Ludendorff's attack would require heroism in the face of chaos and confusion to avoid disaster.[citation needed]

Michael (21 March to 5 April 1918)

The evolution of the front line between 21 March and 5 April 1918

The Battle of St.-Quentin (21 – 23 March 1918)

Day 1–21 March 1918

And then, exactly as a pianist runs his hands across the keyboard from treble to bass, there rose in less than one minute the most tremendous cannonade I shall ever hear...It swept round us in a wide curve of red leaping flame stretching to the north far along the front of the Third Army, as well as of the Fifth Army on the south, and quite unending in either direction...the enormous explosions of the shells upon our trenches seemed almost to touch each other, with hardly an interval in space or time...The weight and intensity of the bombardment surpassed anything which anyone had ever known before.[16]

Minister of Munitions Winston Churchill, who was inspecting the 9th (Scottish) Division at Nurlu on the night of Michael

The artillery bombardment began at 02:00 with an intensive German barrage opened on British positions south west of St Quentin for a depth of 4–6 km (2.5–3.7 mi). At 04:35, a heavy German barrage opened up simultaneously along the whole 40 mi (64 km) front. Trench mortars, mustard gas, chlorine gas, tear gas and smoke canisters were concentrated on the forward trenches, while heavy artillery bombarded rear areas to destroy Allied artillery and supply lines. Troops, horses, transport and guns suffered heavily. Over 1,100,000 shells were fired in five hours, hitting targets over an area of 150 sq mi (390 km2); this was the biggest barrage of the entire war.[17] and it hit all areas of British front occupied by Fifth Army, most of the front of Third Army, and some of the front of the First Army to the north. In total, the British suffered 7,500 casualties during this bombardment alone. The front line was badly damaged and communications were cut with the rear zone, which was severely disrupted. Although the British had learned the approximate time and location of the offensive, the weight of the attack and of the preliminary bombardment was an unpleasant surprise.

German A7V tank in Roye, 21 March 1918.

When the infantry assault went in between 06:00 and 09:40, the stormtrooper tactics were a stunning success. Dawn broke to reveal a heavy morning mist. By 05:00, visibility was barely 10 yd (9.1 m) in places, and the fog was extremely slow to dissipate throughout the morning. The fog (combined with smoke from the bombardments of both sets of artillery) made visibility poor throughout the day allowing the stormtroopers to penetrate deep into the British positions undetected. Most forward positions were overwhelmed and nearly all of the British front line fell during the morning. British communications were soon in a shambles; telephone wires had been cut by artillery and runners had a difficult time finding their way through the dense fog and heavy shelling. There was chaos as forward positions could not communicate with Battalion and Divisional Headquarters or the artillery.

Around midday, a major breakthrough south west of St Quentin, saw German troops in the battle zone and, by 14:30, they were nearly 3 km (1.9 mi) south of Essigny[18][page needed] and the enormity of the attack was plain to General Gough. The Fifth Army's "Forward Zone", the only area where their defenses had been completed before the start of the attack, had been captured. Most of the troops in the zone were taken prisoner by the enemy who moved up unseen in the fog. Although several garrisons in the various keeps and redoubts had put up stern resistance, by now they were surrounded. Many of these inflicted heavy losses on the Germans, despite direct attacks on their trenches with flame throwers. The fighting was bitter, bloody and hand-to-hand. The surrounded units surrendered once entirely cut off, out of ammunition and severely reduced by casualties. Many units fought to the last man. Gough, however, was still having problems convincing his own commanders of the gravity of the situation.

The Third Army had seen important breakthroughs by the enemy in the morning along the Cambrai-Bapaume road in the Boursies/Louverval area, and through the weak defenses of 59th Division near Bullecourt.

By the close of the day, the Germans had broken through the British first and second lines of defense along ¼ of the entire line attacked. and large parts of the 5th Army were falling back. Static trench warfare had given way to mobile warfare for the first time since 1914. South-west of St Quentin, the 9th Irish Fusiliers' war diary reported that serious losses had been sustained. In addition to losing the three battalions of the Forward Zone, the three battalions in the Battle Zone were reduced to 250 men each and only the three reserve battalions were at reasonable strength. The fighting strength of the division now numbered less than 3,000 men.

Gough had been forced to order a fighting retreat to win time for reinforcements to reach his army. It was as the British fell back, that troops in the redoubts had been left behind to be mopped up by the following German infantry. The right wing of the Third Army also retreated, to avoid being outflanked. The morning fog had delayed the use of aircraft but, by the end of the day, 36 squadrons of the Royal Flying Corps had been in action and reported losing 16 aircraft and crew, while having shot down 14 enemy. The Germans for their part reported respectively 19 and 8.[12]

The first day of the battle had been very costly for the Germans. They suffered almost 40,000 casualties, slightly more than they inflicted on the BEF. More seriously, the crucial attack in the north had failed to isolate the Flesquieres salient, which had been held by the renowned 63rd (Royal Naval) Division. The German attack was already beginning to head in the wrong direction, but that would have been of little comfort to Gough and his men as darkness closed in on the first day of battle.

Day 2–22 March 1918

Operation Michael: British troops retreat, March 1918

On the second day of the offensive, British troops continued to fall back, losing their last footholds on the original front line. Several British and German Battalions were destroyed by huge casualties in the vicious fighting over the first two days, never to be rebuilt.[17]

Thick fog damaged both sides' operations. It did not burn off until early afternoon. The second day was a collection of many separate, often isolated engagements as the Germans pressed forward and the British held their posts, often not knowing who was to either side of them due to the "fog of war". Brigades and battalions did not count for much that day. It was a day of stubborn and often heroic actions by platoons, sections and even individuals isolated from their comrades by the fragmented nature of the battle and lack of visibility.[17] The situation had become dire for the Fifth Army by this time and everywhere the retreat was in danger of turning into a rout.

The biggest danger on 22 March was that the two British armies might become separated. Byng was perhaps too keen to hang on to the Flesquieres salient, which his army had won at such cost, and Haig had to order him to keep in contact with Gough’s army, even if that required a bigger retreat than the fighting would otherwise justify. The day also saw the first French troops enter the battle, on the south of the line.

Despite the looming disaster, many relatively small events in the context of the size of the battle would make a difference later, as pockets of British and Commonwealth troops delayed the advancing masses just long enough to allow those to their rear to rush into new defensive positions. Some of the British battalions in the Battle Zone managed to stand firm and delay the spectacular German advance, despite the very real risk of being overrun, even managing to withdraw at the very last minute. Lieutenant Colonel Wilfrith Elstob, VC, DSO, MC commanding the 16th Manchesters in the Manchester Redoubt was one of many who held his position to the last, winning a posthumous Victoria Cross in the process. Directly to their rear in support were the 2nd battalion of the Bedfordshire regiment,[19] who were assailed from all sides after the units on their flanks had been pushed back by the sheer weight of the German assault. They made a determined stand and held firm despite being surrounded, shelled heavily throughout the two days and being subjected to a series of vigorous assaults from all sides. They retired only when specific orders were issued to do so, having lost half their number (including an entire Company) during their stand.

The biggest retreat was made by XVIII Corps, whose commander, General Ivor Maxse, seems to have misinterpreted the order from Gough for a fighting retreat to mean that he could fall back all the way to the Somme. The Germans brought heavy artillery into Artemps under the cover of the morning mist which duly forced the remaining battalions of the 109th brigade to retreat to join the 108th Brigade at Happencourt. The result of the misunderstanding between Gough and Maxse was that General Nugent's commanders chose Sommette-Eaucourt on the south bank of the Canal de Saint-Quentin (where there was heavy fighting) to form a new line of defence. This required the Division to cross the Canal at Dury. This decision to withdraw during daylight, over a distance of almost 9 mi (14 km), meant heavy fighting and numerous casualties. It was latter considered to have been foolhardy and an unnecessary surrender of a vital position and was untypical of the fight being put up elsewhere.[20]

During the retreat the Engineers blew all the bridges across the Canal between Ham and Ollézy, however the railway bridge at Pithon suffered only minor damage and the Germans were soon crossing in great numbers. Within 48 hours, the Germans had penetrated up to 10 miles (20 km) behind the British lines.

Day 3–23 March 1918

Early on the morning of Saturday 23 March, German troops succeeded in breaking through the line in the 14th Division's sector on the Canal at Jussy. The 54th Brigade were holding the line directly to their south and were initially unaware of their predicament, as they were unknowingly being outflanked and surrounded. The 54th Brigade History records "the weather still favoured the Germans. Fog was thick over the rivers, canals and little valleys, so that he could bring up fresh masses of troops unseen". In the confusion, Brigade HQ tried to establish what was happening around Jussy and by late morning the British were in full retreat once again in front of German troops who had crossed the Crozat Canal at many points. All lines of defence had now been overcome and there was nothing left to stop the German advance. Bitter fighting over open country ensued. There was little rest for British troops; who were either fighting, beating a retreat or doing both.[10] During that day Aubigny, Brouchy, Cugny and Eaucourt fell.

Yet despite the drastic nature of the British position, small events still made a difference. Lieutenant Alfred Herring of the 6th Northamptonshire regiment in the 54th Brigade, despite having never been in battle before, led a small and untried platoon in a counter attack against German forces who had captured the critical Montagne Bridge on the Crozat Canal. He not only won the position back against all odds but held it against repeated attacks for twelve hours before he was captured along with the remnants of his small command. Lieutenant Herring was awarded a Victoria Cross when repatriated after the war.[10]

By now, the remnants of the 1/1st Hertfordshire Battalion were beating a retreat across the southernmost edges of the 1916 Somme battle field and by the morning of the 24th there were only eight officers and around 450 men left in command. The war diary [10] read:

23-3-18. Before dawn the Bn marched to BUSSU & dug in hastily on the east side of the village. When both flanks became exposed the Bn retired to a line of trenches covering the PERONNE-NURLU road. After covering the 4/5th Black Watch Regt on the left the Bn withdrew to the ST. DENNIS line which was very stubbornly defended. The Bn then retired with difficulty to the line protecting the PERONNE-CLERY road with the remainder of the 116th Inf. Bde. to cover the retreat of the 117th and 118th Inf. Bdes. When this had been successfully accomplished under very harassing machine gun fire from the enemy, the Bn conformed to the general retirement on CLERY village where it concentrated. The remnants of the Bn then defended a line of trenches between the village and running down to the River SOMME.”

21 cm Mörser 16 crew moving up near Ham

Thinking that he had broken through the British lines, or was about to, Ludendorff implemented the second phase of his battle plan. He issued the following directive for the "continuation of the operations as soon as the line Bapaume - Peronne - Ham had been reached: Seventeenth Army will vigorously attack in the direction Arras - St Pol, left wing on Miraumont [4.5 miles (7 km) west of Bapaume]. Second Army will take Miraumont - Lihons [near Chaulnes] as direction of advance. Eighteenth Army, echeloned, will take Chaulnes - Noyon as direction of advance, and will send strong forces via Ham".[21] Thus, von Below's Seventeenth Army was charged with "rolling up" British forces northwards, and von der Marwitz's Second Army was to attack west along the Somme towards the to the vital railway centre of Amiens. Von Hutier's Eighteenth Army was to head south-west destroying French reinforcements en route and threaten the approaches to Paris (the Second Battle of Picardy (French: 2e Bataille de Picardie)). von der Marwitz and von Hutier would continue to achieve successes until the end of March, but the original purpose of the attack, the thrust north west against the British, was not being achieved. The fighting retreat of the British Fifth Army and the staunch resistance of the Third Army were paying off. The German infantry had incurred very heavy casualties and were now beginning to show the first signs of battle weariness. They were starting to extend their lines of supply and were outdistancing their heavy artillery support.[22]

Actions of the Somme crossings and the First Battle of Bapaume (24 – 25 March 1918)

Day 4–24 March 1918

German supply column moving up near Étricourt-Manancourt, 24 March

[23]

By now, the front line was difficult to establish as the remnants of the divisions of the Fifth Army were fighting and moving in small bodies, often composed of men of different units. Germans units advanced irregularly and some British units ended up under French command to the south or behind enemy lines to the east, making the logistic tasks of the corps and divisional staffs nigh impossible. Brigadier-General Sir James E. Edmonds commented:

After three days of battle, with each night spent on the march or occupied in the sorting out and reorganization of units, the troops - Germans as well as British - were tired almost to the limits of endurance. The physical and mental strain of the struggle against overwhelming odds, the heavy losses, the sinister rumors which were rife, all contributed to depress morale.[24]

The 109th brigade were planning a counter attack in the early hours of 24 March but, before dawn, German troops entered Golancourt, just north-west of Villeselve, so British troops were forced to remain in their defensive positions. The front at this time ran roughly between Cugny and the south of Golancourt.

The 54th Brigade were a prime example of the condition of many British units who had been engaged in the fighting. By nightfall on 23 March, the 7th Bedfordshire and 6th Northamptonshire battalions could only muster a pitiful 200 men each whereas the 11th Royal Fusiliers had just 26 men and 2 officers left. Nevertheless, they were hurriedly refitted and reorganized before the bedraggled remnants took up position in the wood north of Caillouel at 10:00.[10] Fierce fighting continued throughout the morning along the entire front and at 11:00 the remnants of the 14th Division were ordered to withdraw further south to the town of Guiscard. A series of small German attacks that day dislodged the exhausted British troops piecemeal and gaps in the front created by this staggered withdrawal were utilized by the advancing Germans. The 54th Brigade's sector of the line slowly collapsed. Being attacked now from both the north-east and north-west, they fell back into Villeselve, but were heavily bombed by German Artillery from around 12:00. British troops, backed up by French infantry attempted to hold the line here, but when the French received their own orders to retreat, leaving the British flank exposed, they had no choice but to retreat with them, and fell back through Berlancourt to Guiscard. During the move, German Artillery leveled barrages on both of these towns. Finally the 54th Brigade ordered the retirement of what was left of their battalions to Crepigny. At 03:00 on the 25th, they slipped away under cover of darkness.

Meanwhile, further north, the 1/1st Herts war diary [10] read:

24-3-18. After an intense bombardment of our trenches the enemy attacked with large numbers. The Bn, after heavy fighting, retired to a crest in front of the FEVILLERS-HEM WOOD ROAD. Here the Bn lost its Commanding Officer, Lieut. Colonel E.C.M. PHILLIPS, about whom, up to the time of writing, nothing is known. In the evening the Bn got orders to withdraw through the 35th Division to MARICOURT where the Bn spent the night.

By nightfall, the British had lost the line of the Somme (except between the Omignon and the Tortille). The fierce fighting and the many enforced hard fought retirements in the face of unceasing pressure by the German Second Army led the right of the Third Army to give up ground as it sought vainly to keep contact with Fifth Army's endless retreats. In the late evening of 24 March, after enduring unceasing shelling, Bapaume was evacuated and then occupied by German forces on the following day. The British official historian, Brigadier-General Sir James E. Edmonds, noted:

The whole of the Third Army had swung back, pivoting on its left, so that, although the VI and XVII Corps were little behind their positions of the 21st March, the right of V Corps had retired seventeen miles. The new line, consisting partly of old trenches and partly shallow ones dug by the men themselves, started at Curlu on the Somme and ran past places well known in the battle of the Somme, the Bazentins and High Wood, and then extended due north to Arras. It was, for the most part, continuous, but broken and irregular in the centre where some parts were in advance of others; and there were actually many gaps...Further, the men of the right and centre corps..were almost exhausted owing to hunger and prolonged lack of sleep." [25]

The rapid German advance began to falter, however. After three days, the infantry was now exhausted and bogged down as it became increasingly difficult to move artillery and supplies forward to support them through the shell-hole filled Somme battlefield of 1916 and the wasteland of the 1917 German retreat to the Hindenburg line. Advancing German troops had also fallen onto the abandoned British supply dumps which had been hurriedly evacuated. In a curious twist, this started to demoralize them as they understood that their enemy was not as starving as they had been led to believe, with luxuries such as chocolate and even Champagne falling into their hands. Furthermore fresh British and Australian units had been hurried into the region and were moved to the vital rail center of Amiens. The defense began to stiffen.

The German breakthrough had occurred just to the north of the boundary between the French and British armies. The new focus of the German attack came close to splitting the British and French armies. As the British were forced further east, the need for French reinforcements became increasingly urgent. In his diary entry for 24 March, Sir Douglas Haig acknowledged important losses but derived comfort from the resilience of British rearguard actions:

By night the Enemy had reached Le Transloy and Combles. North of Le Transloy our troops had hard fighting; the 31st, Guards, 3rd, 40th and 17th Divisions have all repulsed heavy attacks and held their ground."[26]

Haig was seriously anxious about the numbers of French reserves and their commitment to the British predicament. Late that night Haig (after first dining with General Byng when he urged Third Army to 'hold on ... at all costs') travelled to Dury to meet the French commander-in-chief, General Pétain, at 11pm. Pétain was increasingly convinced that the British Fifth Army was beaten and he also had real fears that the 'main' German offensive was about to launched against French forces in Champagne. Pétain was under enormous pressure from his government to safeguard Paris — which was now under long-range German artillery bombardment. On 24 March, he informed Haig that the French army was preparing to fall back towards Beauvais to protect Paris if the German advance continued. This would have created a massive gap between the British and French armies, and almost certainly forced the British to retreat towards the channel ports, creating a situation very similar to that of 1940. Alarmed by Pétain’s pessimism the British commander-in-chief, Field Marshal Haig sent a telegram to the War Office to request an Allied conference.[27][page needed]

First Battle of Noyon (25 March 1918)

Day 5–25 March 1918

British 60 pounder gun firing near La Boisselle on 25 March

The movements of 25 March were extremely confused and reports from different battalions and divisions are often contradictory. An unidentified officer's account of his demoralizing experiences that day is quoted in the British Official History:

What remains in my memory of this day is the constant taking up of new positions, followed by constant orders to retire, terrible blocks on the roads, inability to find anyone anywhere; by exceeding good luck almost complete freedom from shelling, a complete absence of food of any kind except what could be picked up from abandoned dumps.[25]

The weight of fighting developed to the north of the 54th Brigade, who were now fighting with the French and the battered remnants of the 18th Division who could scarcely raise enough men to form a small Brigade. By 10:00 on the 25th, the left flank of 7th Bedfordshires was again exposed as the French around them retreated, so another retirement was ordered. They withdrew back to Mont Du Grandu further south and away from the British Fifth Army. Midday saw them in a stronger position until the French artillery and machine guns opened fire on them, thinking they were Germans, forcing them to retire, yet again, to high ground west of Grandu.[10]

The remaining troops of the Ulster Division were ordered to withdraw and reorganize. In order to give support to French troops now holding the front, they set off on a 15 mi (24 km) march west. Around midday, they halted for a few hours rest near Avricourt. While there they received orders to head for a new line which would be formed between Bouchoir and Guerbigny.

During the day, the German Army picked up the pace of their advance and pressed forward at an alarming pace covering many miles. Allied troops and civilians with laden carts and wagons filled the roads streaming south and west. The Germans passed through Libermont, and over the Canal du Nord. Further north, the town of Nesle was captured, while to the south west of Libermont German troops soon faced the French along the Noyon-Roye road. The 1/1st Herts having spent the night in Maricourt, "marched from MARICOURT to INSAUNE. The march was continued after breakfast across the River SOMME at CAPPY to CHUIGNOLLES, where the Bn reorganised and spent the night.”[28][Full citation needed]

An example of the amazing rearguard action fought by the Fifth Army is given on a website dedicated to the Bedfordshire regiment [2]:

More orders were received at 3pm to move to Varesnes on the south bank of the River Oise but whilst en-route they were countermanded with surprise orders to counter attack and retake a village called Babouef. Therefore, the war worn Brigade who had been fighting and marching for four punishing days solid were about faced and moved off to the attack with an enthusiasm that is nothing short of incredible. By rights, the Brigade should have been incapable of the action yet those quoted as being there remark that it was the most memorable event of the entire rearguard action. At 5pm, with the Fusiliers on the right, the Bedfords on the left and the Northamptons in reserve, the Brigade formed up with the Babouef to Compeigne road on their right and the southern edge of the woods above Babouef to their left. The Germans had not expected a British counter attack, thinking there was nothing but ragged French units in their area, so were surprised at the arrival of 3 small but determined British battalions. They put little fight up and many Germans fell in the hand to hand fighting that lasted for around 20 minutes before the village was secured and the remaining enemy – that could get away – fled. Ten machine guns and 230 German prisoners were taken with very light casualties recorded by the Brigade; an incredible feat whatever way you view it. They dug in on the German side of the village amongst the cornfields and settled in for the night. Cooking limbers were even brought up and the idea of a quiet night gave the exhausted men a welcomed break from the extreme stress they had all been through in the past five days. Unfortunately, their rest did not last long [10]

The Royal Flying Corps (RFC) flew sorties at low altitude in order to machine-gun and bomb ground targets and impede the German advance. On 25 March, they were particularly active west of Bapaume.[29] The physical and morale stress on the RFC pilots engaged in ground strafing is detailed in "Winged Victory", a novel by V M Yeates of 46 Squadron, who was shot down by machine gun fire on 25 March 1918.

Rearguard actions by the cavalry in Byng's Third Army slowed the German advance, but by 18:00 Byng had ordered a further retirement beyond the Ancre. Throughout the night of 25 March, the men of the Third Army attained their positions but in the process, gaps appeared in the defensive lines - the largest of over 4 mi (6.4 km) between V and VI Corps.

Haig's dramatic early morning telegram to Sir Henry Wilson, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, arrived at the Commander-in Chief's HQ at 11:00 on 25 March, where they discussed in detail the delicate position of the British Armies astride the river Somme. Haig wanted at least 20 French divisions to help defend Amiens and delivered in person a message for the French Premier Clemenceau.[30] The stage was now set for the historic Doullens Conference, which would take place the next day.

Battle of Rosieres (26 – 27 March 1918)

Day 6–26 March 1918

British artillery in action at Ancre, 26 March 1918.

The Allied conference demanded by Haig took place on 26 March at Doullens. Ten senior Allied politicians and generals were present, including the French president, prime minister and Winston Churchill (the Minister of Munitions), Generals Pétain, Foch, Haig and Wilson (the Chief of the Imperial General Staff). The end result of the meeting was that General Foch was first given overall command of the fighting on the Western Front and then later became generalissimo of all Allied forces everywhere.[31] It was agreed to hold the Germans east of Amiens and an increasing number of French soldiers would come to the aid of Gough’s Fifth Army, eventually taking over large parts of the front south of Amiens.

Ludendorff issued new orders on 26 March. All three of his armies were given ambitious targets, which included the capture of Amiens and an advance towards Compiègne (close to Foch’s own head quarters). Neither of these objectives would be achieved, although Montdidier would fall on 27 March.[32]

Sir James E. Edmonds noted:

On 26 March, the general direction of the two northern German Armies of attack, the Second and Seventeenth, was still due west; the Eighteenth Army opened fanwise, its northern boundary some six miles, south of the Somme at Peronne, running west, but its southern one near Chauny, pointing south-west.' In the north the 'Seventeenth Army...met with very determined resistance, but it was hoped, with the aid of the Second Army on the south, which had not encountered so much opposition, and of new attacks - "Mars" and "Valkyrie"...on the north [towards Arras] that the Seventeenth would be able to get going again."[33]

A gap in the British line near Colincamps was held by newly-arrived elements of the New Zealand Division that had moved to the line Hamel-Serre to close the gap. They were assisted by British "Whippet" tanks which were lighter and faster than the Mark IVs. This was their first time in action. At around 13:00, "twelve ‘whippet’ tanks of the 3rd Tank Battalion suddenly appeared from Colincamps, which they had reached at midday, and where there were only two infantry posts of the 51st Div. Debouching from the northern end of the village, they produced an instantaneous effect. Some three hundred of the enemy, about to enter it from the east, fled in panic. A number of others, finding their retreat cut off, surrendered to some infantry of the 51st Divn…" [34] Despite this success German pressure on Byng's southern flank and communication misunderstandings resulted in the unfortunate and premature retirement of units from Bray and the abandonment of the Somme crossings westwards. To the south of the Somme the 1/1st Herts were:

... moved forward through CHUIGNES to a line in front of the CHUIGNES-FOUCACOURT road I support to the 117th and 118th Bdes. After covering their retirement the Bn fought a series of rearguard actions on the many ridges in front of the village of CHUIGNOLLES. In the afternoon the Bn occupied the PROYART-FROISSY road. Orders were given for the Bn to withdraw behind PROYART, astride the FOUCACOURT-MANOTTE road.”[35][Full citation needed]

26 March was also a bad day for French forces on the extreme right (south) of the line troops (now under the command of General Fayolle) fell back in the face of protracted fighting and serious gaps appeared between the retreating groups.

Of the front between the Oise and the Somme, the French held 18 miles and the British 19 miles. It was for the greater part a continuous line; but there was a three-mile space between the French left at Roye and the right of the XIX Corps at Fransart... To fill the gap there were available the remains of the four divisions, the 20th, 36th, 30th and 61st, of the XVIII Corps. These General Maxse had instructed to assemble at and north-west of Roye, in order to keep connection between Robillot's Corps and the XIX Corps and to ensure that if the Allied Armies separated, the XVIII Corps might still remain with the Fifth Army."[36]

Most of the Ulster Division had arrived in their new lines around 02:00 on 26 March, and were able to sleep around six hours, the longest continuous sleep they had in six days. While they slept, German troops entered and occupied Roye. Meanwhile, the 9th Irish Fusiliers were a long way behind the rest of the Division, delayed by their action north of Guiscard the night before. Their retreat was a 30 mi (48 km) continuous night march from Guiscard to Erches, their designated position at the centre of the new line, along the Guerbigny-Bouchoir road. They route-marched through Bussy to Avricourt, then on to Tilloloy, Popincourt, Grivillers, Marquivillers, and finally via Guerbigny to Erches, where they arrived, completely exhausted, around 11:00 on 26 March.

The German troops who took Roye during the early hours of the morning, continued to advance on the Bouchoir-Guerbigny line. By mid-morning, they were in Andechy, just 3.5 mi (5.6 km) from the new British line.

Day 7–27 March 1918

The town of Albert was relinquished during the night of 26/27 March.

With the choice of holding the old position on the heights east of Albert, on the left bank of the Ancre, or the high ground west of the devastated town, it had been decided to adopt the latter course. The ruins of Albert were therefore abandoned to the enemy."[37]

The town was then occupied by German troops who looted writing paper, wine and other items they found.[38]

27 March saw a series of continuous complex actions and movements which signified the stubborn resistance of Fifth Army’s XIX Corps to incessant German attacks (from the north, east and even the north-west) around Rosières (less than 20 mi (32 km) east of Amiens). This was a direct consequence of the precipitate abandonment of Bray (and the winding line of the Somme river, with its important bridgeheads westwards towards Sailly-le-Sec), by formations of British Third Army on the afternoon of 26 March. The important communications center of Montdidier was lost by the French on 27 March.

Lieutenant Colonel John Stanhope Collings-Wells, VC, DSO [3] won a posthumous Victoria Cross for his handling of the 4th Bedfordshires throughout the battle, finally being killed during the complicated and ferocious fighting today.

The 1/1st Herts war diary [10] reads:

27-3-18. The Bn who were in trenches on both sides of the road were ordered to move forward in support of the 118th Bde, being temporarily attached to the 4/5th Black Watch Regt. Soon after moving forward British troops were seen retiring to the left in large numbers. Consequently the Bn was ordered to move forward to the left and cover their withdrawal. After having skilfully carried this out the Bn conformed to the general withdrawal to a line between MORCOURT and the FOUCACOURT-LAMOTTE road. The Bn collected and assembled, then counter attacked the enemy, driving him back to within a few hundred yards of the village of MORCOURT.

The First Battle of Arras (28 March 1918)

Day 8–28 March 1918

[39]

The focus of the German attack changed again on the 28th. This time, in an attempt to get the direction of the offensive back on track, it was the Third Army, around Arras, that would be the target of Operation Mars. Twenty nine divisions attacked Byng’s army, and were defeated in a day. In contrast, Ludendorff's troops, advancing from the original front at St. Quentin, had penetrated some 40 mi (64 km) deep into British lines by this time, having reached Montdidier. The result was that General Rawlinson replaced General Gough on the 28th, despite the latter having organized a long and reasonably successful retreat given the conditions. Andrew Roberts, a British historian, wrote of this,

The offensive saw a great wrong perpetrated on a distinguished British commander that was not righted for many years. Gough's Fifth Army had been spread thin on a forty-two-mile front lately taken over from the exhausted and demoralized French. The reason why the Germans did not break through to Paris, as by all the laws of strategy they ought to have done, was the heroism of the Fifth Army and its utter refusal to break. They fought a thirty-eight-mile rearguard action, contesting every village, field and, on occasion, yard ... With no reserves and no strongly defended line to its rear, and with eighty German divisions against fifteen British, the Fifth Army fought the Somme offensive to a standstill on the Ancre, not retreating beyond Villers-Bretonneux.[citation needed]

The northern part of the German attack against the Third army was less successful than the rout of the Fifth. Von Below’s Seventeenth Army east of Arras only advanced 2 mi (3.2 km) during the entire offensive, largely due to the important gain of Vimy Ridge in 1917, which provided a firm northern anchor for the British during the German push. Although Below made more progress further south of Arras his troops posed less of a threat to the stronger Third army than the Fifth Army faced, largely because trench defenses to the north were better and crossing the old Somme battle field was more difficult terrain. More to the point, after the successes of the first day, Ludendorff failed to make the most of his stormtroopers. As already stated, these elite units were supposed to lead the attack, advancing quickly through weak points (bypassing the strongholds) and so get far behind the British lines as quickly as possible. Ludendorff expected that this would allow his troops to advance 5 mi (8.0 km) on the first day and capture the Allied field guns, but he lacked a coherent follow through to these tactics. This was expressed in a now famous remark to Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria, "We chop a hole. The rest follows". Ludendorff's dilemma was that the parts of the allied line he needed to break most were also the best defended. Much of the German advance was achieved quickly all right but in the wrong direction, where the Fifth Army's defenses were weak. The strategically significant areas which would have allowed the move north west and the taking of Arras were defended by the more experienced Third Army in better trenches. Because of this, when ever Ludendorff tried to keep the direction of the offensive on track, he wasted his forces by attacking strongly entrenched British units. For example, Operation Mars above, was hastily-prepared to try and widen the breach in the third Army lines, and was repulsed achieving little but German casualties.

The Herts war diary [10] reads:

28-3-18. The position gained was held stubbornly against all enemy attempts to retake it. On the morning of the 28th orders were received for a speedy evacuation of this line. The enemy at this point was well in our rear in possession of LAMOTTE so that the withdrawal had to be done quickly. The Bn showed the utmost resource during this dangerous manoeuvre, loosing (sic) very few men. The retirement took place in daylight through HARBONNIERS & CAIX. At the latter place the Bn attacked the enemy successfully but thereafter had orders to retire on COYEUX where it again assembled in a counter attack in which the acting Commanding Officer was wounded. During the day rearguard actions took place along the river bed to IGNAUCOURT. In the evening the Bn went into trenches in front of AUBERCOURT.

Day 9–29 March 1918

The Herts war diary reads: "29-3-18. The enemy remained fairly quiet except for machine gun fire."[citation needed]

Day 10–30 March 1918

The last general German attack came on the 30th. Von Hutier renewed his assault on the French on the south of the newly formed Somme salient, while von der Marwitz launched an attack towards Amiens (First battle of Villers-Bretonneux, 30 March-5 April). Some British ground was lost, but the German attack was rapidly losing strength. The Germans had suffered massive casualties during the battle, many to their best units and in some areas the offensive slowed down while hungry German troops looted Allied supply depots.

The Herts war diary [10] reads:

30-3-18. Today (March 30) saw the enemy advancing on the right flank on the other side of the river de LUCE. He very soon enfiladed our positions both with artillery and machine guns. This was followed by a strong enemy bombardment and attack on our front. After a stubborn resistance the Bn fell back to the BOIS DE HANGARD, making two counter attacks en route.(comment - Lt John William CHURCH died from his wounds and Lt Angier Percy HURD was killed on 30-3-18).

Battle of the Avre (4–5 April 1918)

Day 14–4 April 1918

The final German attack was launched towards Amiens. It came on 4 April, when fifteen divisions attacked seven Allied divisions on a line east of Amiens and north of Albert (towards the Avre River). Ludendorff decided to attack the outermost eastern defenses of Amiens centred on the town of Villers-Bretonneux. His aim was to secure that town and the surrounding high ground from which artillery bombardments could systematically destroy Amiens and render it useless to the Allies. The subsequent fighting was remarkable on two counts: the first use of tanks simultaneously by both sides in the war; and the night-time counterattack hastily organized by the Australian and British units (including the exhausted 54th Brigade) which dramatically re-captured Villers-Bretonneux and halted the German onslaught.

From north to south, the line was held by British and Commonwealth troops, specifically the 14th Division, 35th Australian Battalion and 18th Division. However, by 4 April the 14th Division fell back under attack from the German 228th Division. The Australians held off the 9th Bavarian Reserve Division and the British 18th Division held off the German Guards Ersatz Division and 19th Divisions (the First Battle of Villers-Bretonneux).

Day 15–5 April 1918

Map showing positions on 5 April 1918, the final day of the offensive.

An attempt by the Germans to renew the offensive on 5 April failed and by early morning British Empire troops had forced the enemy out of all but the south-eastern corner of the town. German progress towards Amiens, having reached its furthest point westward, had finally been held. Ludendorff called a halt to the offensive.

Conclusions

Many British soldiers had been taken prisoner, over 75,000. By the standards of the time, there had been a substantial advance. It was, however, of little military value given both the casualties suffered by the German crack troops and the fact that Amiens and Arras remained in Allied hands. On top of this the newly-won territory was for the most part difficult to traverse, as much of it consisted of the shell-torn wilderness left by the 1916 Battle of the Somme. Elsewhere the land had been demolished and poisoned by the scorched earth policy of the German retreat to the Hindenburg line in March 1917. It was therefore, difficult to defend their gains against Allied counter attacks.[40]

Both sides suffered massive losses during the battle. The Allies lost nearly 255,000 men (British, British Empire, French and American losses). The British suffered 177,739 killed, wounded and missing, (90,882 of them in Gough’s Fifth Army and 78,860 in Byng’s Third Army) of these, just under 15,000 died. An unusually high proportion of those who died have no known grave. The greatest losses were to 36th (Ulster) Division (7,310), 16th (Irish) Division (7,149) and 66th (2nd East Lancashire) Division (7,023). All three formations were destroyed and had to be taken out of the order of battle to be rebuilt. Six other divisions each lost more than 5,000 men. They also lost 1,300 artillery pieces and 200 tanks. All of this could be replaced, either from British factories or from American manpower. The Germans had captured 1,200 sq mi (3,100 km2) of France and advanced up to 40 mi (64 km) but they had not achieved any of their strategic objectives. German troop losses were 250,000 men,[40] largely specialist shock troops who were irreplaceable. German casualties, for a slightly different period of 21 March-30 April (which includes the Battle of the Lys) are given as 348,300. A comparable Allied total over this longer period would be French losses of 92,004 plus British of 236,300, making just over 328,000. In terms of morale, the initial German jubilation at the successful opening of the offensive soon turned to disappointment as it became clear that the attack had not achieved decisive results. This was perhaps the turning point of the war.

See also

References

  1. ^ Kitchen, p.280; "Ludendorff had been unable to translate his tactical successes into an operational breakthrough".
  2. ^ a b Roberts and Tucker 2005, p. 1041.
  3. ^ a b Kitchen, pp.83-84
  4. ^ a b Kitchen, p.99
  5. ^ French source. Various sources give different figures
  6. ^ Prior and Wilson, p.34
  7. ^ D T Zabecki, The German 1918 Offensives: A Case Study of The Operational Level of War, Taylor & Francis, 2005, p. 56
  8. ^ Prior and Wilson, pp.34-35
  9. ^ St Quentin Battlefield
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k http://www.bedfordregiment.org.uk/hertsrgt/1stherts1918diary.html
  11. ^ http://www.bedfordregiment.org.uk/7thbtn/7thbtn1918diary.html
  12. ^ a b c "Kaiserschlacht 1918 - The Final German Offensive", by Randal Gray
  13. ^ 9th Irish Fusiliers' War Diary shows increased enemy activity in the weeks before the attack
  14. ^ Major John George Brew - 1918: Retreat from St. Quentin
  15. ^ "The Kaiser's Battle - 21 March 1918: The First Day of the German Spring Offensive" by Martin Middlebrook
  16. ^ p768, Winston Churchill, The World Crisis 1911-1918, Penguin Group, 2007
  17. ^ a b c 7th Bn, the Bedfordshire regiment
  18. ^ "The Royal Irish Fusiliers, 1793–1968", by Martin Cunliffe
  19. ^ http://www.bedfordregiment.org.uk/2ndbtn/2ndbtn1918diary.html
  20. ^ Major John George Brew - 1918: Retreat from St. Quentin
  21. ^ Edmonds p.396
  22. ^ Commonwealth War Graves Commission, p.79
  23. ^ Commonwealth War Graves Commission, p.83
  24. ^ Edmonds, p.90
  25. ^ a b Edmonds, p.470
  26. ^ Sheffield and Bourne, p.391
  27. ^ Sheffield and Bourne
  28. ^ Bn war diary
  29. ^ Edmonds, p.472
  30. ^ Sheffield and Bourne, p.393
  31. ^ ‘A History of the Great War 1914–1918’, C R M F Cruttwell, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1934, p.510
  32. ^ [1]
  33. ^ Edmonds, p.536
  34. ^ Edmonds, p.526
  35. ^ war diaries
  36. ^ Edmonds, p.497
  37. ^ Edmonds, p.518
  38. ^ 'A Fatalist at War', by Rudolf G Binding, quoted in 'Vain Glory', (edited by) Guy Chapman, London, Cassell, 1937, p.566
  39. ^ The Official Names of the Battles and Other Engagements Fought by the Military Forces of the British Empire during the Great War, 1914–1919 and the Third Afghan War, 1919: Report of the Battles Nomenclature Committee as approved by the Army Council’, London, HMSO, 1922, p.21)
  40. ^ a b Middlebrook The Kaiser's Battle, p. 347.

Sources

  • Edmonds, Brigadier General James E. (1935). Military Operations. France and Belgium, 1918 (Volume I). London: MacMillan. 
  • Kitchen, Martin. The German Offensives of 1918. Tempus. ISBN 0-7524-3527-2. 
  • Prior, Robin; Trevor Wilson (1999). "Winning the War". In Peter Dennis and Jeffrey Grey. Defining Victory. Canberra: Army History Unit. 
  • Sheffield, Gary; John Bourne (2005). Douglas Haig. War Diaries and Letters 1914–1918. Weidenfeld & Nicholson. 
  • Roberts, Priscilla; Spencer Tucker (2005). The Encyclopedia of World War I: A Political, Social, and Military History. ISBN 978-1851094202. 
  • Gray, Randal (1991). Kaiserschlacht 1918; The Final German Offensive. Osprey Campaign Series #11. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-85532-157-2

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