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 July 21, 1918

French and British soldiers operate together

World War One Diary for Sundday, July 21, 1918: Western Front Champagne and Marne: ­CHATEAU-THIERRY RECAPTURED BY FRENCH after Germans retreat 5 miles (night July 20-21). French reach Lassery-Chateau-Thierry road on broad front. Between Marne and Reims, Anglo-French recapture Bois… learn more

Diary July 20, 1918

French troops take cover

World War One Diary for Saturday, July 20, 1918: Western Front Champagne and Marne: ­GERMANS RECROSS THE MARNE. Total Allied captures since July 15 are 20,000 PoWs and 400 guns. Mangin has only 32 tanks but makes 8 attacks. British… learn more

Diary July 19, 1918

HMS Furious' in 1918

World War One Diary for Friday, July 19, 1918: Sea War North Sea – The Tondern Raid: 7 Sopwith Camels (each 2 x 50lb or 65lb bombs) fly 80 miles from carrier Furious, escorted by 6th Light Cruiser Squadron, destroy… learn more

Diary July 18, 1918

US troops open fire on a German sniper

World War One Diary for Thursday, July 18, 1918: Western Front Champagne and Marne – SECOND BATTLE OF THE MARNE: ALLIED COUNTER­STROKE. Franco-Americans, backed by 2000 guns, attack at 0435 hours on 27-mile front, Fonteroy-Belleau. French Tenth Army (Mangin) including… learn more

Diary July 17, 1918

General Max von Boehn

World War One Diary for Wednesday, July 17, 1918: Western Front Western Front at its longest, with 532 miles. Champagne and Marne: Germans advancing on Epernay, reach Montasin-Chare la Rare (French later recapture. Chare) between Marne and Reims. Germans reach… learn more

Diary July 16, 1918

room in which Tsar with familiy was murdered

World War One Diary for Tuesday, July 16, 1918: Eastern Front USSR: EX-TSAR AND IMPERIAL FAMILY MURDERED at Ekaterinburg by Red Ural Regional Council’s order or by Moscow’s. Zsarina’s sister and 5 Romanov princes murdered in nearby Alapaevsk on July… learn more

Diary July 15, 1918

German troops cross the Marne

World War One Diary for Monday, July 15, 1918: Western Front Champagne and Marne: ­FOURTH BATTLE OF CHAMPAGNE (until July 18) and SECOND BATTLE OF THE MARNE (until August 4). Ludendorff launches his fifth offensive since March 21 (codenamed Friedensturm… learn more

Diary July 14, 1918

Indian lancers

World War One Diary for Sunday, July 14, 1918: Middle East Palestine – Action of Abu Tulul: 5800 Turks and Germans (1,000 casualties including 475 Germans and 540 PoWs, 6 MGs lost) attack 2,500 Anzacs and Indian cavalry (c.200 lancers… learn more

Diary July 13, 1918

British and French soldiers playing cards

World War One Diary for Saturday, July 13, 1918: Western Front France: Petain fixes Mangin’s D-day as July 18. General Haller made C-in-C Polish Army (1 regiment). Aisne: British XXII Corps transferred south to Ardre Sector. Eastern Front Turkestan: White… learn more

Diary July 12, 1918

Japanese dreadnought 'Settsu'

World War One Diary for Friday, July 12, 1918: Sea War Pacific: Japan’s first dreadnought 21,900t Kawachi blown up by magazine explosion in Tokuyama Bay, 700 killed. Western Front Somme: French capture Castel-Auchin Farm, northwest of Montdidier. Foch asks Haig… learn more

Diary July 11, 1918

Lawrence of Arabia

World War One Diary for Thursday, July 11, 1918: Middle East Palestine: Lawrence at Allenby’s HQ told outline of Palestine September offensive. Allenby informs CIGS that it will be mid-September (July 12), replies no winter reinforcements from France (July 20).… learn more

Diary July 10, 1918

A walk-over ?

World War One Diary for Wednesday, July 10, 1918: Eastern Front USSR: 5th Congress of Soviets adopts RSFSR Constitution. Volga­: Vatsetis named new Red Eastern Front Commander. North Caucasus: Denikin’s Volunteer Army defeats Red Army (until July 14). Siberia­: British… learn more

Diary July 9, 1918

'Eagle Boat'

World War One Diary for Tuesday, July 9, 1918: Sea War USA: Henry Ford launches first ‘Eagle Boat’ patrol vessel. 60 of 100 ordered built, PE1 commissions October 28, 1918. Britain: Government announces that home­ward-bound shiping loss rate since January… learn more

Diary July 8, 1918

Ernest Hemingway in the hospital in Milan.

World War One Diary for Monday, July 8, 1918: Southern Fronts Piave: First American wounded in Italy is 18-year-old American Red Cross canteen driver Ernest Hemingway severely wounded at Fossalta di Piave with Arditi by Austrian heavy mortar; he receives… learn more

Diary July 7, 1918

3-inch Stokes Mortar of Australian troops

World War One Diary for Sunday, July 7, 1918: Western Front Somme: ­Australians advancing in hills north and south of the river (59th Battalion refuses to advance on July 8). Austria: 1st and 35th Austrian divisions arrive on Western Front.… learn more

Diary July 6, 1918

mountain artillery battery in Albania

World War One Diary for Saturday, July 6, 1918: Southern Fronts Albania – Italian offensive (­until July 14): Ferrero’s XVI Corps (53 battalions) with 300 guns (+ 2 Royal Navy monitors) attacks north of its Valona entrenched camp and to… learn more

Diary July 4, 1918

Vickers MG gunners have settled in a discontinued position

World War One Diary for Thursday, July 4, 1918: Western Front Somme – Actions of Hamel and Vaire Woods: US troops, brigaded with British, in action for first time. Tank-aided (62 Mk V tanks, 3 lost) Australian Corps (Monash, 775… learn more

Diary July 3, 1918

Funeral of Beerdiguing von Sultan Mohammed V

World War One Diary for Wednesday, July 3, 1918: Middle East Turkey: Death of Sultan Mohammed V aged 73 at Yildiz, brother Moham­med VI succeeds. Eastern Front Allied Supreme War Council approve Northern Russia interven­tion with 1,200 more British troops… learn more

Diary July 2, 1918

US troopships heead for Europe

World War One Diary for Tuesday, July 2, 1918: Politics USA: Wilson declares that over 1 million Americans have sailed for France (only 8,165 casualties out of 1,019,115 US troops sent). Britain: Allied 7th Allied Supreme War Council. Allied Parliamentary… learn more

Diary July 1, 1918

'Coatsal' class airship

World War One Diary for Monday, July 1, 1918: Sea War British Home Waters: In July Air ASW (anti-submarine warfare) effort now going to convoy escort (310 aircraft and airships) rather than air patrols; 167 U-boats sighted (until November), 115… learn more