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 (1914-1918) WWI Battles    
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anemone
DONCASTER S. YORKS, UK
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The German Withdrawal to behind the Hindenburg Line in 1917
Posted on: 3/1/2017 1:27:06 PM
Germany planned a withdrawal to new positions on the shorter, more easily defended Hindenburg Line (Siegfriedstellung), which took place between 9 February and 20 March 1917. The British referred to it as the German Retreat to the Hindenburg Line but the operation was a strategic withdrawal rather than a retreat.

Operation Albericht-as it was known- was an example of high command relinquishing ground.Did the generals of the Great War attach too much importance to the simple retention of ground ; or lavish too much blood trying to capture it ???

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Regards

Jim
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Pro Patria Saepe Pro Rege Semper

Michigan Dave
Muskegon, Michigan, MI, USA
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Re: The German Withdrawal to behind the Hindenburg Line in 1917
Posted on: 3/1/2017 6:51:49 PM
Hi Jim,

This historian puts the strategic German Retreat in proper perspective!? Be sure to check it out!

[Read More]

Good post,
MD
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Phil andrade
London, UK
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Re: The German Withdrawal to behind the Hindenburg Line in 1917
Posted on: 3/2/2017 2:58:55 AM
In warfare which is dominated by artillery - and this was so much the case 1914-18 - possession of the more suitable ground is vital.

It's understandable that generals would be fixated on ground, if only to provide the best platform for their guns.

A minor eminence confers an advantage, and can cost your enemy a hundred thousand lives....literally.

Small wonder that titanic struggles raged over these ridges and slopes.

It's tempting to see the commanders as rigid or worse : how could they allow themselves to be so obsessed with these tiny arenas and not see a better strategy ?

But we must remember that if your troops are on the receiving end of lethal shelling constantly emanating from those ridges, it's all too imperative that you wrest that ground from the enemy..

The Germans knew this, and exploited their advantage, enjoying the role of the strategic offensive - in so far as they were the invaders - and fighting on the tactical defensive, extorting a monstrous price from the forces deployed against them.

Before I discuss the whys and wherefores of the German withdrawal of early 1917, I wanted to make these points....I reckon that some of the Allied generals have been unfairly criticised because they sought to capture ground in futile offensives.

More to come.

Regards, Phil
---------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!"

"That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

anemone
DONCASTER S. YORKS, UK
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Re: The German Withdrawal to behind the Hindenburg Line in 1917
Posted on: 3/2/2017 3:24:09 AM
It is said that 1916 revolutionised warfare- in that battles were fought over many months- rather than weeks, days or hours;because the battles, had over that sort of time;become sieges without being recognised as such.The British generals particularly had become siege minded-seemingly never knowing when to quit when the objective had not been attained.eg the battle of the Somme went on and on "ad nauseam" for little or no gain at great loss of manpower.

The German withdrawal to the Siegfreid Stellung had a nasty sting in the tail-They had destroyed the infrastructure-roads and rail,villages,poison water supplies and had mined the interim area heavily-making it a waste land.So there much to be done before the Germans could again be attacked.It had also to some extent straightened their line.

Regards

Jim
---------------
Pro Patria Saepe Pro Rege Semper

James W.
Ballina, Australia
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Re: The German Withdrawal to behind the Hindenburg Line in 1917
Posted on: 3/2/2017 3:57:55 AM
I recall as a kid, examining the local geometrical concrete 'pillbox' defence points of WW II, which were based on those effective 'Hindenburg Line' units..

Phil andrade
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Re: The German Withdrawal to behind the Hindenburg Line in 1917
Posted on: 3/2/2017 4:09:24 AM
Every day the Daily Telegraph - or Torygraph as many like to call it - carries an article it published one hundred years ago to the day, in a commemoration of the Great War Centennial.

Yesterday it carried an article by their war correspondent , Philip Gibbs, who provided a series of vignettes about the fighting on the Western Front.

March 1st, 1917, he gives a vivid depiction of the fighting that attended the German retirement, the devastation of the region, and gives this rendition as to the rationale behind the withdrawal :

It is enormously interesting to speculate upon this new plan of the German High Command. It is a plan forced upon him by steady pressure of our attacks, which thrust him into bad ground, where the condition of his troops was hideous, but beyond all by the fear that our fighting power in the spring might break his armies if they stayed on their old line. Now he is executing with skill, aided by great luck - for the foggy weather is his luck - a manoeuvre designed to shorten his line, thereby increasing his offensive and defensive manpower , and to withdraw in the way that he intends to make it difficult for pursuit, and so to gain time to fall back upon new and stronger lines of defence .

There you have it then : the verdict of 1916 interpreted as a concession of defeat by the German High Command.

Do you think he's putting lipstick on a pig ?

Regards, Phil
---------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!"

"That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

anemone
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Re: The German Withdrawal to behind the Hindenburg Line in 1917
Posted on: 3/2/2017 4:32:52 AM
Indeed not-this withdrawal was planned to save his soldiers from the incessant artillery bombardment followed by infantry attacks-it had meant giving up a fair amount of territory but Ludendorff meant to stand on the defensive in order to let the Uboat commanders show what they could do.He had created a desert between himself and his enemies -this so called desert was produced by many wanton and barbarous acts- including the destruction of a nmber of beautiful chateaux.

Regards

Jim
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Pro Patria Saepe Pro Rege Semper

James W.
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Re: The German Withdrawal to behind the Hindenburg Line in 1917
Posted on: 3/2/2017 4:36:49 AM
But wasn't the 'consolidation of the lines' thus achieved, part of a 'cunning plan', by the Germans, that took into account the Russian situation ( Kerensky et al),

& included the 'poison needle' of Lenin - also being forwarded by German impetus - into the Russian Bear's already grievous wounds?

Phil andrade
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Re: The German Withdrawal to behind the Hindenburg Line in 1917
Posted on: 3/2/2017 5:01:54 AM

Quote:
But wasn't the 'consolidation of the lines' thus achieved, part of a 'cunning plan', by the Germans, that took into account the Russian situation ( Kerensky et al),

& included the 'poison needle' of Lenin - also being forwarded by German impetus - into the Russian Bear's already grievous wounds?
--James W.


Very much agreed. Consolidation and husbandry in the West freed up resources to exploit enemy vulnerabilities elsewhere.

The ferro concrete defensive constructions in the new German deployment gave a higher ratio of firepower to manpower, as troops could be dispersed and defence in depth made more effective .

Re pillboxes : I was surprised to learn that the German machine gunners did not fire through the slits from within, but from the top of them.

I suppose the Germans could afford to be more pragmatic about yielding ground on enemy soil than the poor bastards who were fighting on home ground and trying to expel the invader.

Regards, Phil


---------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!"

"That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

Phil andrade
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Re: The German Withdrawal to behind the Hindenburg Line in 1917
Posted on: 3/2/2017 5:08:43 AM
Jim,

You say that the duration of battles by 1916 meant that they became sieges without being recognised as such.

But by the end of 1914, the British War Lord, Kitchener, had identified the war on the Western Front as a gigantic siege....hence the attempt to force the Dardanelles .

OTOH, there were sagacious British officers who realised that an obsession with retaining ground was a big mistake.

Smith Dorrien was one such, suggesting in the Second Battle of Ypres that it would be prudent to withdraw a bit and save losses.

He was sacked.... 'Orrace, your for 'ome !

Regards, Phil
---------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!"

"That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

anemone
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Re: The German Withdrawal to behind the Hindenburg Line in 1917
Posted on: 3/2/2017 5:09:07 AM
The fact that fourteen fewer German divisions were needed for line holding may well have had a knock on effect in Russia; but Allied plans for the spring at Arras- were seriously disrupted-the new German line was only four/five Kilometres away.

The operation was considered by the Allies to have been a propaganda disaster for Germany-they would say that I suppose, due to the scorched earth policy; but it was one of the shrewdest defensive actions of the war.

The wanton destruction of villages chateaux and all infra structure- almost had the Crown Prince resigning because of the barbarian nature of the destruction and desecration-did however get some comfort in not signing for the work to be done-it was done none the less.

Regards

Jim
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Pro Patria Saepe Pro Rege Semper

Phil andrade
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Re: The German Withdrawal to behind the Hindenburg Line in 1917
Posted on: 3/2/2017 9:20:31 AM
The Germans were clearly holding, not folding.

And that hold was rendered more formidable by dint of economy and sheer ruthlessness .

It's probably an axiom of skilful defence in positional warfare : to re-deploy in more favourable ground wherever or whenever circumstances allow.

On a much smaller scale, and in a more localised fashion, Lee did the same at Spotsylvania after the fighting for the Bloody Angle 12 May 1864.

Regards, Phil
---------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!"

"That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

anemone
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Re: The German Withdrawal to behind the Hindenburg Line in 1917
Posted on: 3/2/2017 9:57:27 AM
Your post goes without saying; but it leaves me wondering about the new line's proximity to Arras; and the British offensive which commenced from that area north and south of the city on the 9th April.I gather that 5th Army's preliminary gunfire was so severe- that the Germans had to retreat from their work ahead of schedule; and had to fight bitterly for the right to remain where thy had chosen- and so it turned out- they were all behind the wire of the Hindenburg Line before All Fools Day.The British effort foiled by the man made desert.

NB, Secondary Spur Line opposite Arras ????
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Regards

Jim
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Phil andrade
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Re: The German Withdrawal to behind the Hindenburg Line in 1917
Posted on: 3/2/2017 11:01:39 AM
Jim,

You mention the 5th Army's gunfire....but the British deployed their First and Third Armies in the Arras sector, not the Fifth.

That secondary line you allude to was - I think - known as the Drocourt Queant Switch.

I need some help here, because I don't know why it was known as a " Switch '.

Regards, Phil
---------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!"

"That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

anemone
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Re: The German Withdrawal to behind the Hindenburg Line in 1917
Posted on: 3/2/2017 11:13:35 AM
Apologies for the confusion Phil-In addition to the forthcoming grand offensive at Arras, to be launched by the British 1st and 3rd Armies in early April 1917 as a prelude to the French offensive on Chemin des Dames Ridge.

The Bullecourt Sideshow 10 March
IIUC General Gough,GOC British 5th Army to which four Australian divisions belonged, proposed they should attack the narrow section of the front between the two strong points of the Hindenburg Line in the villages of Bullecourt and Quéant.

A preliminary bombardment to clear a way through the barbed wire was planned but, informed of the initial British successes at Arras on 9 April, Gough decided to bring forward the attack and this left no time for a long bombardment.The Aussies were more than dischuffed.

I find it odd that Allied aerial reconnaissance had failed to spot the construction of Hindenburg Line Defences.???? AFAIK the first intimation of this major move by the Germans- was when outpost patrols went into say the Bapaume Salient- and found only an empty wilderness

Regards

Jim
---------------
Pro Patria Saepe Pro Rege Semper

Phil andrade
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Re: The German Withdrawal to behind the Hindenburg Line in 1917
Posted on: 3/2/2017 2:46:46 PM
That article from Philip Gibbs that I posted mentioned the fog that obscured the German retirement . Maybe that accounts for the lack of spotting from the air.

The Germans had started work on the new position in the autumn of 1916, and had used 65,000 men to construct the defences.

As you say, Jim, it is odd that so little was divined by the Allies : apart from aerial reconnaissance , there was espionage that might have been active.

Apparently, the French were mortified at this pre-emptive move by the enemy, especially when they were gearing up for a mighty offensive.

French liaison officers at GHQ were ordered to report that it was a concession of defeat by the Germans, and that the enemy were retreating due to the incessant pressure that was being exerted.

No doubt the Germans were profoundly hurt by the Somme, and by the humiliating defeats they suffered at the close of the Verdun battle : they were also give a mighty scare by Brusilov. That said, there was a state of denial at French HQ that encouraged a hubristic approach. We know how this was to turn out.

Editing here : Apparently the Allies did know about the construction of these new German defences. The sudden withdrawal, though, took them completely by surprise. The attempts to pursue were hindered by fierce and skilful German rearguard detachments, and there was some small scale but intense fighting.

Regards, Phil



---------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!"

"That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

Jim Cameron
North Bellmore, NY, USA
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Re: The German Withdrawal to behind the Hindenburg Line in 1917
Posted on: 3/2/2017 7:41:20 PM
Simple retention of ground may be putting things too, well, simply. The front was, after all, more than just the line of trenches. What was beyond them? Aside from being situated on - often, in the case of the German army - excellent defensive positions, the front was protecting valuable assets. Railheads, and the rail networks upon which to armies depended for supply and reinforcement. Ports, in the case of the BEF, vital to its potential line of retreat. Population center, coal and iron mines, manufacturing regions. Gaps in the mountain ranges, which worked in both directions. Holding, or breaking, the line wasn't simply an end in and of itself. The lines were where they were for good reason
---------------
Jim Cameron

Every time I go to Gettysburg, I learn two things. Something new, and, how much I still don't know.

phil andrade
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Re: The German Withdrawal to behind the Hindenburg Line in 1917
Posted on: 3/3/2017 3:38:36 AM
Jim C.,

You make a point that it's pretty well impossible to argue with, let alone refute.

All I can throw into the pot is that a very senior British commander, who went on to high command in Mesopotamia, reflected on his tour of duty on the Western Front in the closing months of 1914, and wrote :

...I wonder what history will say about the continued holding of the Ypres salient, with its record of 250,000 dead. One was told that it was held for sentimental reasons, but, if that was the case, I can only say that such costly sentiment is out of place in war .

Regards, Phil
---------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!"

"That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

anemone
DONCASTER S. YORKS, UK
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Re: The German Withdrawal to behind the Hindenburg Line in 1917
Posted on: 3/3/2017 4:13:39 AM
After a fairly fluid 1914-the ground, and therefore battlelines; were invariably chosen by the Germans-ie the German army chose where they were going to "stand on defence" ie.static-was always in the best possible piece of ground.

The Allies whose task it was to break through this enemy defence line- usually from an inferior position-not of their choice- but of a necessity.I do nor say that battlelines do not protect their hinterland; but it is a coincidence of their position of battleline. Loos ,the The Somme and 3rd Ypres were all fought by the Allies from unfavourabe ground- because the Germans chose the best places to defend

The ceding of ground by the Allies was never by choice- but by force of arms.The German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line was a masterful piece of strategy.

Regards

Jim
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Pro Patria Saepe Pro Rege Semper

Phil andrade
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Re: The German Withdrawal to behind the Hindenburg Line in 1917
Posted on: 3/3/2017 6:26:35 AM
The Passchendaele salient was relinquished by choice in April 1918 ; an awful testimony to the futility of the struggle of the previous autumn.

The Germans were appalled to encounter the unburied dead rotting there after all those months.....thousands and thousands of them.

Churchill argued that the retention of ground by the Allies - in this case, Verdun - was a bit like holding out your hands rigidly to catch a cricket ball. Why commit that mistake, when a little give, a backward movement of the hands, and the ball can be caught without pain ?

He was such a persuasive fellow !

All very well, of course....but we must not forget the fragility of morale and its susceptibility to the loss of cherished national territory.

Regards, Phil

---------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!"

"That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

anemone
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Re: The German Withdrawal to behind the Hindenburg Line in 1917
Posted on: 3/3/2017 6:50:46 AM
Yes- I have to admit that after the fearful struggle in the "Slough of Despond" that was Passchendaele-we were quite cavalier in handing it back to the Germans-I wonder how Haig described this event in his Dispatches to DLG's Government-he obviously did not cherish this piece of ground of Armageddon very much.

Regards

Jim
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anemone
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Re: The German Withdrawal to behind the Hindenburg Line in 1917
Posted on: 3/4/2017 3:55:14 AM
There was IMO- an obsession for ground in the British senior echelons, and this permeated the minds of all the junior formations. Capture a pig-sty at the bottom of a hill, overlooked from three sides by the enemy, the sump for the local drainage, and hold it we must and did-Silly I know !!

Any local commander who wished to withdraw 500 yards to the ridge behind him would have been in danger of being relieved of his command. Even to suggest it provoked questions about his competence and his courage.

The large-scale example was, of course, the holding of the Ypres salient: a military folly of the first order. "Ah, public opinion in France, Belgium and Great Britain would not have stood the shock of a withdrawal," would have been the argument. Yet that same public opinion remained stoic and unshaken- when we had to evacuate Gallipoli.

Regards

Jim

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Pro Patria Saepe Pro Rege Semper

Phil andrade
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Re: The German Withdrawal to behind the Hindenburg Line in 1917
Posted on: 3/4/2017 4:49:39 AM
Jim,

You make your point well.

I would like to counter it with some kind of argument ; I reckon I'll go out for a walk and try and think of something !

Editing : Before I go out, I'll make an attempt to invite some reconsideration. Foremost, it was not the intention to capture the pig sty at the bottom of the hill , but to wrest control of the hill itself.
In the event, the task was excessively difficult. Secondly, the enemy did not just sit tight on the top of that hill and wait : he was doing all he could to make life unbearable for the troops at the bottom of the hill. Worse still, this was an invader, holding some of the most important industrial areas of home soil, and, I think it's important to stress, imposing a harsh occupation on the hapless people who had been overrun. A toxic mixture that put the Allied commanders under awful pressure. They had to try and do something .

Regards, Phil
---------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!"

"That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

Phil andrade
London, UK
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Re: The German Withdrawal to behind the Hindenburg Line in 1917
Posted on: 3/4/2017 7:55:36 AM
Jim,

Yet that same public opinion remained stoic and unshaken - when we had to evacuate Gallipoli .

Failure at Gallipoli brought down a government ...well, it certainly helped to do so.

But - and this is more to the point - Gallipoli was enemy soil, not home ground.

Losing ground fifteen hundred miles away is one thing ; yielding it barely one hundred miles away is something else. And, if you were a Frenchman or a Belgian, it was worse still.

The Germans got to within sixty miles of Paris. Imagine how British people would have felt if the Hun had dug in on the South Downs.

But I do love your analogy of capturing a pig sty and struggling to hold on to it under converging fire....too much truth for comfort, I confess !

Regards, Phil

---------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!"

"That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

anemone
DONCASTER S. YORKS, UK
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Posts: 6093
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Re: The German Withdrawal to behind the Hindenburg Line in 1917
Posted on: 3/4/2017 8:42:54 AM
Look at Operation Michael-the German Offensive which wiped the floor with the weak British 5th Army- but for what -a huge, useless salient in which they did not survive. However- justice had to be seen to be done, and the GOC Hubert Gough was sacked on the altar of "Losing Ground" Absolute BS !!
Did I hear a tiny whisper-"Well- that was what we thought would happen"

Regards

Jim
---------------
Pro Patria Saepe Pro Rege Semper

Phil andrade
London, UK
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Re: The German Withdrawal to behind the Hindenburg Line in 1917
Posted on: 3/4/2017 9:50:06 AM
A very large amount of ground was abandoned to the Germans in March 1918....but there was a lot more room down in Picardy than there was in Flanders.

When ground was being yielded up there in the North in April, there was a kind of panic, even though the amount of lost ground was far smaller.

Proximity of the Channel Ports I suppose...hence that Order of the Day with our backs to the wall etc.

The door could be pushed right back down there in Picardy, so long as the hinge held in Flanders.

Just as an aside....I wonder how many German soldiers had fathered children by French women in the time before the withdrawal of early 1917.

Regards, Phil
---------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!"

"That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

anemone
DONCASTER S. YORKS, UK
top 5
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Posts: 6093
http:// 82.44.47.99
Re: The German Withdrawal to behind the Hindenburg Line in 1917
Posted on: 3/4/2017 10:44:00 AM
1917: Operation Hush. A battle that never took place. Plans were made for an audacious British attack against the German-held coast of Belgium; a force was assembled and specialist training began. But necessary advance from Ypres (in ‘Third Ypres’, below) did not materialise and Hush was inevitably cancelled. A sharp German attack against British preparations in the Battle of the Dunes (Operation Strandfest) also disrupted matters.

There was undoubtedly fraternising between French and Belgian women in the occupied territories and consequential children of the coupling.This could have started via the billeting system; but more likely gifts of food would be enough to start a liaison.


[Read More]

Regards

Jim
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Pro Patria Saepe Pro Rege Semper

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