Year 1918

The situation at the fronts in 1918.

German infantry marches for Operation Michael

German infantry marches for Operation Michael to the Western Front.

With the end of fighting on the Eastern Front in December 1917 and the Italians still psychologically reeling from the Caporetto ‘Catastrophe’, Germany’s de facto supreme commander, General Erich Ludendorff (his official title was ‘First Quartermaster General’), had a breathing space to devote all his organizational and tactical skills to the problem of the stalemated Western Front.
He calculated that the American Army would be unable to intervene decisively in France before the early summer of 1918: It seemed to Ludendorff, therefore, that Germany could take no other course but to transfer divisions from Russia to the West and, by exploiting her temporary superiority in the field, achieve a decisive victory over Britain and France before the Americans began to arrive en masse – Germany’s last hope of winning the greatest conflict in history so far.

After prolonged discussion and disagreement, Ludendorff rather belatedly reached a decision to direct the main weight of his grand offensive on the British-held St Quentin (Somme) sector (code name ‘Operation Michael’). The aim was to drive west between Peronne and Arras towards the Channel coast. ‘If this blow succeeded, the strategic result might indeed be enormous, as we should separate the bulk of the English army from the French and crowd it up with its back to the sea…’ (My War Memories 1914-1918 by Erich Ludendorff).

The ambitious plan depended for success on the maximum exploitation of the novel’ storm troop’ tactics evolved in Russia (notably by General Hutier and artillery Colonel Bruchmueller) and first employed at Riga. These specially trained formations – armed with light machine-guns, rifles, flamethrowers, mortars and a sprinkling of field guns – had orders to infiltrate as fast as their legs could carry them, bypassing Allied strongpoints. In a reversal of accepted tactical doctrine, reserves would be put in where the attack was progressing, not where it was held up.

Special artillery tactics involved a crushing short bombard­ment of a fews hours’ duration using a 4:1 preponderance of gas projectiles, to dislocate and paralyse the defenders. But, despite the vital need to maintain the momentum of advance, no attempt was made to create a German tank corps on the British or French model, and both cavalry and supply units were seriously embarrassed by a lack of horses.

Nevertheless, the German Kaiserschlacht (‘Emperor’s Battle’) offensive began in spectacular fashion on 21 March 1918. Between 23 and 25 March Ludendorff was within reach of victory as the outnumbered British Third and Fifth Army began ‘the Great Retreat’. However, Ludendorff’s Teutonic inflexibility and his basic flaws of character and intellect now revealed themselves: the nearness of the Allied front and Allied solidarity to final collapse was not apparent from the reports of his own armies. Above all, the pattern of success on the ground had failed to correspond with the strategic character of the Michael plan, of the three attacking gener­als only Hutier [Eighteenth Army] had achieved the kind of swift, deep advance which Ludendorff had been count­ing on. Yet under the original Michael strategy, Hutier’s role was the subsidiary one of the flank guard. The German success was all on the wrong wing.

If on 23 March 1918, Ludendorff had chosen to throw all his ‘attack’ divisions behind a single thrust by Hutier and the left-wing of Marwitz’s Second Army towards Amiens (‘hinge’ of the Anglo-French front), there is every possibil­ity that an ineradicable wedge could have been driven between the British and French with devastating psycho­logical effects on the defeatist Petain (no longer the indomitable ‘Victor of Verdun’).

Instead Ludendorff waffled and ordered no fewer than three separate thrusts by his three armies. It was all a fatal dispersion of effort, a plan beyond the powers of his rapidly tiring troops. Although Hutier crossed the Somme on a broad front, even he fell 6-10 miles short of his objectives. On 25 March Ludendorff drastically revised his directive of the 23rd, but only succeeded in dissipating his chances of a decisive breakthrough. Only on 28 March (four days too late), did he order an all-out attack on Amiens. By then, the crisis in the Allied command set-up had been overcome, Foch being appointed Supreme Commander.

Throughout April, late May, early June and half of July, Ludendorff continued to ring the changes with another four massive blows, and bellow down the field telephone at his increasingly resentful and frustrated generals. Even so, by June the Allies had lost all they had gained since 1915 and the Germans had reached the River Marne for the second time in the war. But they had nowhere succeeded in permanently breaking the Allied line, while American troops were now in action in ever-increasing numbers. Fifteen US divisions landed in France between April and June 1918.

On 15 July the Germans attacked simultaneously on both sides of Reims (Aisne Salient). East of that constantly bombarded city, they made slight gains. To the west, they crossed the Marne. Foch replied with a massive artillery bombardment followed by a decisive counter-attack (18 July-6 August) spearheaded by swarms of fighters, light bombers and ‘fast’ light Renault FT-17 tanks. Nine American divisions supported powerful French units. In this Second Battle of the Marne, the Germans were forced back to the River Vesle.

On 15 September 1918, Salonika-based British, French, Serb and Greek units attacked the Bulgarian line in Mac­edonia. Bulgarian resistance soon collapsed. The following month Serbia was cleared of Austrian occupation forces and Germany’s Balkan flank lay exposed. The final Austrian offensive against Italy had soon petered out on the Piave (15-25 June 1918). An eleventh hour Allied offensive (Battle of Vittorio Veneto) from 24 October broke initial stubborn resistance and quickly developed into an Austrian rout, accelerated by the ever-increasing disaffection, desertion and mutiny by Serb, Croat, Czech and Polish troops and sailors of the finally disintegrating Imperial armed forces. Austria signed an armistice on 3 November 1918, her non-German subject peoples had already seized independence.

The British General Allenby captured a Turkish army at Megiddo in September and overran Syria. The surrender of the Turkish army on the Tigris followed. The Ottoman Empire signed an armistice on 30 October.
Foch launched a general counter-offensive in September. The tank-led British drove the Germans back 8 miles at Amiens on 8 August and attacked the Hindenburg Line in September. That same month, the Americans stormed the four-year-old Saint Mihiel Salient and Allied armies broke through the Hindenburg Line after 18 days’ continuous battle (26 SEptember – 13 October). During October, an Anglo-French-Belgian army group freed Flanders coast, the British reached the River Scheldt, the French drove east over the Aisne and the Americans down the Meuse to Sedan.

Mutiny gripped the German Fleet in the last days of October and revolution quickly followed in all the main cities. Armistice negotiations, on the basis of US President Wilson’s famous ‘Fourteen Points’ programme, began on 6 November; the Kaiser ‘abdicated’ on 9 November and, on 11 November, the Armistice was signed in Foch’s converted wagon-lit at Compiegne. The Great War had ended after 1,567 days.

Diary December 31, 1918

preamble to the final constitution of the German Reich

World War One Diary for Tuesday, December 31, 1918: Home Fronts Germany: Vorwaerts publishes draft German constitution. Landsturm demobilized and dissolved. USA: War Industries and Railroad Board dissolved. Britain: 288,438 troops demobilized so far; 124,680 British ex-PoWs reach dispersal camps.… learn more

Diary December 30, 1918

Communist Party of Germany.

World War One Diary for Monday, December 30, 1918: Home Fronts Germany: German Communist Party founded. Eastern Front North Russia: Allies take Kadish. Siberia: Kolchak takes Birsk. Politics Britain: Wilson receives freedom of Manchester. learn more

Diary December 29, 1918

Demonstration of the majority socialists for the German government

World War One Diary for Sunday, December 29, 1918: Home Fronts Germany: Majority Socialist demo in Berlin vs Spartacists, but 3 Independ­ent Socialists leave Government. France: Liberated Districts Ministry formed. Britain: ­Meat ration coupon value raised from 4d to 5d… learn more

Diary December 28, 1918

German SPD cabinet December 1918

World War One Diary for Saturday, December 28, 1918: Home Fronts Germany: 3 Commissars (USPD) resign but replaced by SPDs. BRITISH GENERAL ELEC­TION RESULTS: Government Coalition 478 seats (Tory 384; LG Liberal 138, Coalition Labour 14) vs 219 Opposition (58… learn more

Diary December 27, 1918

Follower of the Spartacus group

World War One Diary for Friday, December 27, 1918: Eastern Front USSR: Lenin writes to Chicherin urging Berlin or Holland conference to found Third Communist International by February 1, 1919 (platform basis to be that of Bolsheviks and Spartacus League… learn more

Diary December 26, 1918

'Lennuk' of the Estonian Navy

World War One Diary for Thursday, December 26, 1918: Eastern Front Baltic States: 2 Royal Navy cruisers and 3 destroyers capture Red destroyers Spartak and Avrotil (until December 27) after chase off Reval, 247 PoWs; ships later given to Estonian… learn more

Diary December 25, 1918

Anatoly Pepelyayev

World War One Diary for Wednesday, December 25, 1918: Eastern Front Urals: General Pepelyayev’s White Siberian Corps of General Gadja’s Northern Army (Kolchak) captures and loots Perm (province capital and industrial city) in surprise thrust, takes 30,000 PoWs; 50 guns;… learn more

Diary December 24, 1918

white flagged negotiator

World War One Diary for Tuesday, December 24, 1918: Middle East North Syria: 28th Indian Brigade (7th Division) occupies Killis and Aintab, north of Aleppo, and Baghdad Railway. Home Fronts Austria: Toasts to Emperor drunk all over Vienna (provisional President… learn more

Diary December 23, 1918

machine-gun group of Spartacists

World War One Diary for Monday, December 23, 1918: Home Fronts Germany: Spartacists and Marines seize Berlin Chancery but Government troops eject with 29 killed until December 24. Western Front Germany: Erzberger, head of German Armistice delegation, praises Foch’s ‘benevolent… learn more

Diary December 22, 1918

British soap advertising

World War One Diary for Sunday, December 22, 1918: Eastern Front Georgia: British brigade (from Salonika Army) lands at Batumi to link with Baku garrison as Armenian vs Georgian fighting in progress (peace signed with British mediation on January 17,… learn more

Diary December 21, 1918

Masaryk enters Prague

World War One Diary for Saturday, December 21, 1918: Home Fronts Czechoslovakia­: President Masaryk arrives in Prague (inaugurated December 22). Britain: Children’s sugar rations increased (manufactur­ers allowance doubled on December 30). Germany: Prussia National Assembly elections fixed for January 16,… learn more

Diary December 20, 1918

French colonial troops in Odessa

World War One Diary for Friday, December 20, 1918: Eastern Front General Borius’ 1,800 French African troops (156th Colonial Division) land at Odessa. Petlura’s Ukrainians capture Kiev and end Skovopadski’s rule. Home Fronts Germany: Hindenburg protests vs Berlin Conference military… learn more

Diary December 19, 1918

Douglas Haig 1916

World War One Diary for Thursday, December 19, 1918: Home Fronts Britain: Haig and his 5 army commanders return to London. Sir E Geddes made Coordinator for Army demobili­zation. Military gratuities scale issued (Navy’s on December 24). Czechoslovakia: 8 hour… learn more

Diary December 18, 1918

demonstration for radical Berlin workers' executive council

World War One Diary for Wednesday, December 18, 1918: Home Fronts Germany: Berlin Conference decides on Ebert Provisional Government pending National Assembly elections (fixed for January 19, 1919). Britain: Information Ministry abolished. Government to grant up to £10 million for… learn more

Diary December 17, 1918

Advertisement for a bleach

World War One Diary for Tuesday, December 17, 1918: Western Front British occupation of Cologne bridgehead and US occupation of Koblenz bridgehead completed, 40 Allied divisions deployed. Eastern Front Latvia declared a Soviet Republic. Germany: Oberost HQ to move to… learn more

Diary December 16, 1918

Reich Congress of Workers' and Soldiers' Councils

World War One Diary for Monday, December 16, 1918: Home Fronts Germany: Conference of Workers and Soldiers Councils at Berlin (until December 20), 450 deputies. Britain: Demobilization scheme for Army and RAF men with jobs to go to. Lard rationing… learn more

Diary December 15, 1918

German government loyal soldiers

World War One Diary for Sunday, December 15, 1918: Home Fronts Germany­: People’s Party programme. Austria: Emperor Charles ill at with flu at Eckartsau (all his 5 children too). Eastern Front Estonia proclaimed Soviet Republic. Lenin urges Trotsky’s deputy to… learn more

Diary December 14, 1918

British Prime Minister Lloyd George

World War One Diary for Saturday, December 14, 1918: Home Fronts Britain – GENERAL (THE ‘KHAKI’ OR ‘COUPON’) ELECTION, first since 1910 (results on December 28 to allow forces’ votes to be counted). Munitionette volunteers released. Soldiers released for civil… learn more

Diary December 13, 1918

US President Wilson at Paris

World War One Diary for Friday, December 13, 1918: Politics France: President Wilson lands at Brest, arrives Paris on December 14 (receives freedom of city on December 16). Britain: Lloyd George election press statement backs universal abolition of conscription. Indian… learn more

Diary December 12, 1918

German Republican Guard

World War One Diary for Thursday, December 12, 1918: Home Fronts Germany: Republican Guard formed. Britain: Men over 41 called up in 1918 to be demobilized. Horseflesh prices fixed due to rise in consump­tion. Churchill’s final election speech at Dundee… learn more