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(1914-1918) WWI
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john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 12/26/2019 10:12:54 AM

On April 24/25 1918 the German advance was checked on the long ridge of Villers-Bretonneux with the spires of Amiens, the critical railway link between the British and French sectors, in sight on the horizon. In all the Germans took over 90,000 and 1,000 guns while wiping the gains the British made in the Somme section of the line. Some recent studies suggest that had Ludendorff clearly identified the railhead cities, (Amiens in the south, Hazebrouck in the north) he might have succeeded in breaking the Allies lines on the Western front, with the French withdrawing to cover Paris and the British withdrawing to the Channel ports.
Did the Germans actually have a chance or did Ludendorff fail on what was the "operational level" of war by not linking his battles together to produce a worthwhile strategic result?
Opportunism rarely wins war.
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 12/26/2019 12:26:53 PM

“ Strategy ? I forbid the use of the word !

One punches a hole and the rest follows . “

So Ludendorff is supposed to have said.

A generation later, his protege, Adolf Hitler, spoke in the same vein about the prospect of invading the Soviet Union .

“ Just kick the door in and the whole rotten edifice tumbles down !”

In both cases, opportunism compromised coherence.

But in both cases the Germans stood a chance, and came quite close, I reckon.

Regards, Phil
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"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
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 12/27/2019 7:36:44 AM

I assume if you are comparing Lundendorff to Hitler than you don't think he was up there with other great generals
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 12/27/2019 2:08:03 PM

Allow Bernard Law Montgomery to put Ludendorff in perspective :

If the war produced no soldier of genius, Falkenhayn, Ludendorff, Mustapha Kemal, Plumer, Monash, Allenby and Brusilov were all outstanding fighting commanders.

Cited from A HISTORY OF WARFARE, Montgomery of Alamein, page 494.

An outstanding fighting commander ? I would endorse that with circumspection, but I would like to cite R.E. Lee's caveat about John Bell Hood "....very bold....doubtful as to other qualities necessary."

Regards, Phil
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"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
Ossining
NY USA
Posts: 914
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 12/28/2019 1:28:41 PM

Did the Germans actually have a chance?
On the one hand, it's easy enough to say yes. We only know what actually transpired, but once off the beaten path of actuality, things can play out however one desires. Take Amiens and Hazebrouck, the BEF goes home, and Germany and France are at the conference table. Whatever they work out, it's not Compiegne.
That said, my gut reaction is that any chance the Germans may have had was fleeting, at best, and more likely, illusory. Michael had begun to falter by early April, and the attack on Amiens was called off on the 5th. Georgette and the attack on Hazebrouck was halted in late April. The German army was operating under too many logistical constraints to pull off either operation. All the rest of the battles gained was casualties the Germans couldn't afford, and a series of difficult to defend saliants.

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Jim Cameron Every time I go to Gettysburg, I learn two things. Something new, and, how much I still don't know.
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 12/28/2019 2:13:03 PM

Quote:
Did the Germans actually have a chance?
On the one hand, it's easy enough to say yes.



Let me take the easy way out, and say yes.

The scale and intensity of the onslaught was monstrous, and it was all too effective.

Petain - admittedly , a notorious pessimist, albeit a first rate tactician - predicted, when the Entente conferred at Doullens, that Haig would be defeated, and would capitulate in the field.

Haig was rattled when he issued his Order of the Day more than two weeks later

That said, the German Mars attack was repulsed 28 March with terrific loss : that was a turning point.

I reckon the Germans had good reason to hope for success sufficiently substantive to win terms that Falkenhayn had aspired to a couple of years earlier .

Regards, Phil


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"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
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 12/28/2019 9:14:33 PM

On the other side of the coin, could the Germans have just decided to stand pat behind their defensive lines? Let the Allies batter themselves against the German trenches.
I don't see this as an option. Damned if they do, damned if they don't.
The offensives were successful but at a terrible cost. The assault troops, well trained, took losses that could not be replaced and as stated above created salients that were difficult if not impossible to defend
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 12/29/2019 4:16:10 AM

That said, my gut reaction is that any chance the Germans may have had was fleeting, at best, and more likely, illusory.

Your words carry weight with me, Jim.

British people seek redemption in the image of the Great War. It still doesn’t sit well on the public conscience.

What is needed is a great story : drama, and hair’s breadth salvation. What we get is protracted, dismal and industrialised massacre, shorn of towering personalities and defined by exhaustion.

It’s understandable, viewed in this light, that historians might strive to grip the story with the aim of offering a different and more exciting interpretation . In this respect, the Kaiserslacht has potential.

The German onslaught of March 1918 was phenomenal in terms of scale and intensity . No doubt about that.
It was very frightening and imposed immense strain. And yet it’s failure was determined by logistical flaws, its strategic incoherence and, above all, by its own profligacy . Given steadiness of nerve and stoutness of heart, a commendable performance by doughty British and Dominion soldiers, and a willingness to coalesce under the influence of a charismatic French Marshal......the odds were too heavily stacked against the Germans.

My preference is to endow the story with something of the “ touch and go”.

There’s an intriguing historiographical example that I’ve come across. Walter Reid, accomplished lawyer and enthusiastic historian, wrote a book in 2006 titled Haig : Architect of Victory. Here Haig is depicted as the commander who held things together under great pressure in March and April 1918, and was competent and brave enough to exploit advantage when the Germans’ failure afforded the opportunity to do so.

Now he has just written another book : Five Days from Defeat, how Britain nearly lost the First World War.

Reid, it seems, has changed his mind and is gracious enough to admit it. The theme is ideal for our thread, and argues that the five days between the opening of Ludendorff’s offensive and the Doullens conference witnessed desperate peril for Haig’s command and implies a degree of culpability on his part. I haven’t yet read the book, and am contemplating buying it.

Incidentally, regarding the defeatist attitude of Petain, I understated the dire nature and content of his comments, which , it must be said, were supposed to have been overheard : . The English will be defeated in the open field, and then we will be, too .

Regards, Phil

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"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
Ossining
NY USA
Posts: 914
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 12/29/2019 10:52:16 AM

Reid's new book sounds very interesting, although I must admit to not having read his earlier work.
The title, "Five Days From Defeat", seems however to at least echo my earlier comment about any chance the Germans may have had being fleeting. You mention the enormous scale and intensity of the German offensive, achieved, in Michael and Georgette, despite the logistical flaws a strategic incoherence you allude to. Yet, despite the ground, material, and men lost, and the "backs to the wall" rhetoric, the BEF rode it out, and the front stabilized.
There was a truism on the front that the enemy could pretty much always capture your first trench line, any time he made the effort. In some ways (the analogy can only be pushed so far) I equate the German gains in the opening offenses as "taking the first trench", writ large. Yes, it was a lot of ground to loose, not to mention, men and material. And, uncomfortably close to the trailheads and the channel ports. But all of this the British could afford, and, make good. The BEF had the experience, resources, and professionalism to take the hit.
The Germans, for their part, were able to land the punch, but when the other guy didn't go down, were in serious trouble.
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Jim Cameron Every time I go to Gettysburg, I learn two things. Something new, and, how much I still don't know.
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 12/29/2019 9:44:01 PM

I read somewhere that as the Germans advanced they came upon immense piles of supplies left behind by the BEF. this led to a breakdown in discipline especially in the follow-up troops as they looted these supplies. The Germans who were feeling the pinch of the blockade found foodstuffs they only dreamed of. The fact that BEF could leave behind so much led not only to the discipline breakdown but a drop in morale after the offensives failed
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 12/30/2019 7:38:27 AM

Having now focused my research on this period, I have changed my opinion, unconstrained by consistency , that hobgoblin of little minds.

So writes Walter Reid , accounting for his conversion to a different viewpoint.

This interests me as much as the narrative itself .

It takes courage, candour and conviction for historians to do this.

I wonder how many of us suffer from the attentions of those hobgoblins.

Regards, Phil
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"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
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 12/30/2019 8:17:51 AM

This is what I "learned" about WW1 when it was taught in school, if at all.
The Lusitania was sunk by a nasty German U-boat
The USA declared war to make "the World Safe for Democracy"
The US Army arrived in Europe, saved the Allies and won the war
Wilson had 14 Points but no one listened so he went home

It is what I have learned since then that has opened my mind, "talking" to people on this forum, listening and learning and growing and changing
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 12/30/2019 8:58:35 AM

There is a wonderful podcast series by Dan Carling, an American entertainer, who’s developed a profound interest in history and has pitched a series HARDCORE HISTORY. He devotes a large segment to the Great War, Blueprint for Armageddon , and he has an exquisite turn of phrase to describe the impact of Ludendorff’s Spring Offensive . This is from memory, so the words aren’t exact :

Every now and then, in the world’s greatest conflicts, occurred moments of crisis. They might be described as change your underwear moments. Those of us who wish to discuss how close this offensive came to winning, can rest assured that, whatever its chances , it was certainly enough to require a change of underwear.

Regards, Phil
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"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
George
Centre Hastings
ON Canada
Posts: 10971
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 12/30/2019 9:00:12 AM

John, had the war continued into 1919 I think that the significance of this war would have been realized by Americans as they were the only allied nations that still had a large pool of replacement soldiers to address the carnage.

As it is, the AEF experienced significant casualties in the battles in which it did fight. They suffered as a result of lack of experience as had the other allies at the beginning of their journeys.

I am surprised that those losses didn't resonate anyway and found their way into US high school history books.

I can tell you that the Canadians were most distressed at the hype that surrounded the return of US soldier at the end of the war. US newspapers claimed that the US had won the war and that upset Canadian soldiers greatly.

Cheers,

George
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john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 12/30/2019 10:33:06 AM

In a history research class I teach at a local college one of the things I show the students is a sheet entitled " The reckoning and the aftermath" It is a sheet that shows all the losses, by country, from the First World War. The students focus on the huge numbers of Russia, Germany and the other major powers. I point out the USA losses of 364,826, killed, missing, wounded and POW. (Numbers may vary from different sources). It is from there we begin our discussion.
First US serious combat is April 1918 and war's end Nov 1918 while the other Great Powers are in from the start. Then the USA numbers take on a totally different aspect.
I also ask the students about the Battle of Cantigny May 28, 1918. None have heard of it. I explain that May 28 was once a very important US holiday from 1919 thru the 1930's. They also do not know that the Meuse-Argonne is the largest and deadliest battle in US history.
WWII is usually covered in great detail and The Great War gets glossed over
My grandmother's first husband served in Marines was gassed at Belleau Wood and died in 1921 from its effects
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
George
Centre Hastings
ON Canada
Posts: 10971
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 12/30/2019 10:50:20 AM

Hello John,

My wife's grandparents were English. Her grandfather was gassed during the war and British doctors said that the English climate wasn't good for his lungs and that he should move to a better climate. How Toronto fits into that category I don't know. His health was never very good but he did manage to eke out a living by fixing radios when he could.

Managed to make it to 1959 but the way my wife describes it, his enjoyment of life was not good. Her grandmother said that when her husband went off to war he was the most happy and positive person. His post war life was exactly the opposite.

Glad to hear that you're letting your students know about the AEF and those famous and costly battles. They need to hear it.

I should say that our treatment of WW1 in school isn't anything to write home about. Most kids will learn about Vimy Ridge but that's about it. There are dedicated teachers who are organizing yearly trips to Europe with their students as a pilgrimage of sorts. Those kids come back and give presentations to their peers. It's a start.

Cheers,

George
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Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 12/30/2019 12:45:25 PM

Canada’s population at that time was in the order of eight million. That of the USA was in excess of one hundred million. Canadian and US battle deaths were almost identical : approaching fifty five thousand each.
Deaths from disease and accident in the Canadian forces were around six thousand, while US deaths from those causes were literally ten times as numerous; this reflected the ravages of the Spanish Influenza pandemic which hit the American troops hard, and killed most of them while they were still at home. The US battle casualties were pretty severe for the six months of intense combat from May 1918 to the Armistice. The Meuse Argonne was especially murderous, accounting for not far short of half of all US battle deaths in forty seven days.

Even the Meuse Argonne pales beside the slaughter of the Germans by the British in the forty days between 21 March and 29 April 1918. Shattered, pushed back and even routed as the British forces were, they yet managed to inflict losses on the Germans that were appallingly bloody even by the standards of that terrible war. In March and April 1918, German archival sources reveal that, opposite the British held front alone, they sustained 348,303 battle casualties ; there were perhaps another 125,000 who fell at the hands of the French in the same period. The BEF returned 303,240 casualties in those two months.

For Germany to suffer 475,000 battle casualties in two months ( at least 95% of them from 21 March to the end of April) speaks of colossal damage. Only about twenty thousand of these were unwounded prisoners. The loss in killed was simply staggering, and, for some reason, contained a grotesquely higher proportion of officers than was the norm in the German Army.

This was an all or nothing effort, and the consequential despair at failure must have been commensurate .

Regards, Phil

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"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
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 12/30/2019 3:04:43 PM

"For Germany to suffer 475,000 battle casualties in two months ( at least 95% of them from 21 March to the end of April) speaks of colossal damage. Only about twenty thousand of these were unwounded prisoners. The loss in killed was simply staggering, and, for some reason, contained a grotesquely higher proportion of officers than was the norm in the German Army."

Most of them were highly trained troops and veteran officers, something that no army can overcome easily
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 12/30/2019 3:25:09 PM

Yes, John, a loss every bit as disastrous in qualitative terms as it was in the quantitative.

You tell us about your grandmother’s first husband who was gassed at Belleau Wood.

Twenty seven percent of all US battle casualties were victims of gas. Seventy five thousand cases, of whom roughly fifteen hundred died in hospital. A fatality rate of two percent doesn’t sound too bad...until you try and imagine the excruciating manner of death .

And, as your family story reveals, there were many very premature deaths from its effects in the post war years.

The American gas casualty rate was excessive, attesting inexperience.

Editing : another comment on US casualties ….the USMC record shows just how strong the zeal for combat raged in that elite unit. With 2,461 killed in battle or died from wounds, the Corps suffered only 390 non battle deaths. What a contrast with the overall USA record ! This speaks volumes about discipline, morale, standards of hygiene and, of course, a determination to engage the enemy as hard, and as fast, and as closely as possible.

Semper Fidelis.

Another edit : New Hampshire suffered a total of 358 combat deaths from a total US figure of 53,513. That, in per capita terms, is rather higher than the national average, if my arithmetic is correct. I don't have figures for the State's deaths from disease etc.

Regards, Phil
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"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
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 12/30/2019 4:07:28 PM

Thank you. I didn't know that about NH. What I do know that NH governor was upset over the physical and educational condition of the draftees from the State. Overhauled the education system of the State starting in 1919. One thing was to set 180 days as the school year.

A majority of men from NH were assigned to the 103rd Inf 26th Division "the Yankee Division"

My grandmother didn't talk much about her first husband. Got info from great aunt who said he returned from the War a changed man
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 12/31/2019 4:59:00 AM

What chance does WW1 stand in gaining reputational stature in the popular interest of the American people ?

It’s overshadowed by the drama of the Civil War and the triumphant narrative of WW2....pretty well sandwiched between them it’s almost an unwelcome intruder.

I sometimes think that the Great Depression looms larger in the public psyche.

There is a claim that the battle of Belleau Wood might, by dint of one or two criteria, be considered as the bloodiest battle in United States history. By definition of “ United States”, the Civil War is obviously excluded !

Regards , Phil

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"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
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 12/31/2019 7:46:31 AM

I think WW1 will never obtain the status our Civil War or WWII have here in America. Even with the 100th anniversary it was given very little notice. Of course our President put it in the news for about 1 week during his visits or non visits while in France. Many didn't even know why he was there. (Neither did he)
There are still people alive in America who remember the Great Depression and it is still a benchmark for any economic turndown..."worse since the Great Depression" etc.
The Civil War with our numerous National Parks, re-enactments, the Rebel flag, monuments, The Lost Cause, and Lincoln will always be in our psyche. It made us who we are, the good and the bad.
WWII may be consisted the high water mark of America's Century. "The Greatest Generation" We won! Good vs Evil
We Americans have a short attention span. We believe we are always moving forward. Solve a problem Move on. The past is the past. Don't look back. Nothing to see there.
The number of visitors to our Historical sites has been dropping every year since 2016. Without school groups tours (which are also dropping because $ problems) and for. tourists the drop would be even larger
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
George
Centre Hastings
ON Canada
Posts: 10971
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 12/31/2019 8:00:32 AM

I found this article on the American Historian website. It was written by historian Jennifer D. Keene.

She says that WW1 impacted US society greatly and also challenges the accepted view that the US was truly neutral and disengaged from world events prior to WW1.

The article is a review of modern analysis of the war and how that scholarship should alter the paradigm. That should mean that Americans should be more aware of how impactful this war was on them domestically and in international relations.


Quote:
Challenging old paradigms, the new scholarship underscores how the war permanently transformed individuals, social movements, politics, foreign policy, culture, and the military.
. Keene

Her view seems to be that the older views of the impact of WW1 on the US were incomplete and too simplistic.

[Read More]

Cheers,

George
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RiaindeVoy
Geelong
 Australia
Posts: 1776
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 12/31/2019 3:16:39 PM

In my mind the Germans threw their biggest punch into the worst place; the area they withdrew from to make the Hindenburg Line and into the ever expanding area of central France. If the same or similar punch had been thrown at the British 1st Army as others have said they advance deep into BEF rear areas and threaten to reach the sea, which I think is a igger war winning chance than simply wandering into central France where no matter what happens they reach a culmination point and stop.
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“We are pretending to know about things we don’t know and pretending to not know things we’ve known til yesterday.” Douglas Murray.
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 1/1/2020 6:00:53 AM

Bad ground up there in the north, Riain.

Waterlogged and difficult for deployment of sufficient artillery, let alone bringing up the munitions in sufficient quantity on time, with the additional problem of moving ordnance forward.

This was so for all sectors to a degree, but it was especially bad in Artois and Flanders.

The Germans had seen the British struggling here in their 1917 attacks, and they themselves had bad memories of trying to make headway in those fields in late 1914.

Picardy offered drier ground and was where it would be easier to separate the French from the British.

You’re right, though : the British could use their Picardy deployment as the door that can swing back, while Flanders was the hinge that must hold.

Happy new year !

Regards, Phil
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"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
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 1/1/2020 10:33:26 AM

The 1st German offensive was designed to breakthrough the BEF and then turn right, getting behind it and driving towards the Channel ports. Three armies struck the BEF lines. Each had various degrees of success. The most successful of these was von Hutier's 18th Army, the one on the German left. The 18th was not considered the main attack. Ludendorff was now faced with a decision: reinforce success and change the focus of the advance or continue with the original plan.
The plan was changed. von Hutier was ordered to press the attack, south and west, and threaten Paris. The other two were ordered to continue their advance in a westerly direction. The German advance was now a breakthrough and spreading out, resembling a fan. No longer was the right hook included.
Ludendorff was now creating a giant salient and he failed to destroy or drive off the BEF
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 1/1/2020 11:34:33 AM

Here’s something to throw into the mix.

The initial German success was insufficiently
supported by that much derided arm, the cavalry. This sounds anachronistic : the popular view of the Great War is that Commanders were living in a bygone age when they imagined that cavalry was a valid arm of exploitation . They have been vilified as hopelessly out of touch with realities of the modern battlefield.

The memoirs of British veterans of the opening days of the Michael Offensive give ample evidence to refute the disdain in which commentary has held the role of cavalry in this war. Fifth Army officers went on the record and described how they dreaded German cavalry arriving and pressing the pursuit. They considered themselves extremely fortunate in the Germans’ failure to use cavalry.

It’s understandable that, pressed by years of attritional warfare, the Germans were reluctant to lavish resources on maintaining and deploying a large cavalry force : artillery and storm troopers were seen as more worthy of attention. Cavalry is expensive in terms of space, fodder and transport.

The fact remains, though, that British soldiers in retreat - rout, I daresay- were vulnerable to cavalry attack and were expecting it with dread. It’s ironic that the principal cavalry action in this phase of the war was carried out against the Germans, by Canadian horsemen, in an attack that was as successful as it was dramatic.

There has been modern research into German failure in 1914, and that, too, has attributed this to improperly resourced cavalry that allowed French, British and Belgian forces to escape and turn back the Kaiser’s army .
Thwarted in 1914, and again in 1918, the cavalry - or the lack of it - is a significant denominator in failure.



Regards , Phil
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"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
George
Centre Hastings
ON Canada
Posts: 10971
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 1/1/2020 12:44:05 PM

Hello Phil, that cavalry attack was extremely costly however. I presume that you are speaking of the charge in which Lt. Flowerdew of Lord Strathcona's horse won his VC.



On Mar. 31, 1918, the British forces were in retreat and the Canadian Cavalry Brigade was order to plug a 5 km gap in the line at Le Bois de Moreuil (Moreuil Wood) near a town of the same name. The wood is to the south and east of Amiens.

What Flowerdew and his men did there is the stuff of boys' novels and action movies but the question for me is whether cavalry attacks were sustainable if used in this manner.

Moreuil Wood was in a triangle shape and the north, west and south-east sides of the wood were each about 1500 metres in length and parts of the wood were occupied by Germans. CDN Brig. Seely sent three mounted squadrons into the woods and two more squadrons followed but they were dismounted. And so one wonders how often that cavalry were employed as ground troops once they arrived at the battle site.

The CCB also had an MG squadron that gave flanking cover to the cavalry.

So we had Germans and Canadians milling about in the woods, trying to kill one another. Lt. Flowerdew was ordered to ride to the NE corner to prevent the Germans from sending reinforcements into Moreuil Wood and to attack Germans trying to escape from the wood. When they arrived they saw two lines of German infantry deployed about 300 m away. The German infantry was supported by artillery between the two lines and MG's on the flanks.

Here's the part that gets the heart racing. Flowerdew raised his sword and organized his men in their lines and yelled, "It's a charge, boys. It's a charge."

With sabres drawn, they charged. Flowerdew was cut down by bullets in the legs and the chest at the first line of German troops. The Strathcona's kept going and using the sabre, killed many German soldiers. They went through both lines of Germans and then wheeled, reformed and charged again.

They dismounted and hand to hand combat took place and finally, the Germans broke and retreated. Flowerdew and his men are credited with saving the day at Moreuil Wood. His commander, Brig. Seely post war, said that Lt. Flowerdew had saved the allied armies.

Seely reported that Flowerdew's last reported words, said while on the ground were, "Carry on boys, we have won."

Other historians said that this charge, one of the last of the war had been catastrophic.

The cost to the Canadians was 70% of their number, killed and wounded. Flowerdew encouraged his men throughout even though he could not walk because of bullets through his legs. He died the next day and was awarded the VC posthumously.

I have no idea how many horses died during the battle and I wonder whether cavalry charges, coming as this one did at the dawn of the tank age was sustainable. 70% seems like a great price to pay if this was the normal result of a cavalry charge.

Brig. Seely's brigade had lost 300 men and 800 horses. Just how many replacement horses would a cavalry brigade have to have in reserve to replace those maimed or killed in action?

The press got hold of the story of Flowerdew's charge and as is their wont, they hyped it greatly, mixing fact and fiction.

The Germans dismissed the charge as one of little consequence although the situation was stabilized to the SE of Amiens.

Flowerdew's charge was brave no doubt, but to claim that the war was won here (by Brig. Seely and the press) was inaccurate.

A British account of Flowerdew and his famous charge:

[Read More]



Apparently, the actual action was not as controlled as the painting indicates. It was far more chaotic.

Cavalry units were still used but I wonder how often they dismounted and operated as infantry.

Cheers,

George




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Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 1/1/2020 1:39:12 PM

Great to have this input from you, George ! You can guess, I’m sure, that I had hoped to lure you into this thread by making an allusion to Moreuil Wood.

Canadian motorised MG units also made an excellent account of themselves in repelling the German attacks in the Kaiserslacht.

Ironic, isn’t it ? Here was Ludendorff’s Magnus Opus, the supreme effort . With Russia down and out, with the Americans not yet fully battle ready, the French still fragile after the crisis of indiscipline/mutiny of 1917, and the British seared and exhausted by Passchendaele : yes, surely, the Germans had a chance.

And yet, there was this “ strategic incoherence”, rendered more damaging by failure to deploy an arm of exploitation. It was the Canadians, with that cavalry charge, and their motorised MGs, who revealed the better application of mobility while on the defensive......they were the things that the attackers needed.

Perhaps it was their very success in the East that deprived the Germans of their exploitative potential in the West. Let me cite from John Terraine’s TO WIN A WAR, page 39 :

“ But Germany’s cavalry divisions were in the Ukraine and the Baltic States, supporting grandiose and senseless dreams of power. And so it came about that the German Great General Staff launched what it envisaged as the decisive battle of the war, in an area which, Ludendorff admits, seemed to lack any definite limit , with no mobile arm for exploitation at all. It hardly seems credible, yet it was so. This attack would go as far as the German infantryman’s legs would carry him, no further. As Sir John Wheeler-Bennett has said, it was Ludendorff the politician who defeated Ludendorff the soldier. “

A British infantry officer remarked :

It was a crowning mercy that [the Germans] had no cavalry. How many times during the retreat did we thank heaven for this ! The sight of a few mounted men in the distance would at once start a ripple of anxiety....Cavalry was the one factor which would have smashed the morale of the defence in a twinkling.

Not every one will agree with the views of John Terraine. He was the doyen of Haig rehabilitators. On this matter, I find him convincing.

Regards , Phil
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"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
George
Centre Hastings
ON Canada
Posts: 10971
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 1/1/2020 3:01:15 PM

Thanks for that Phil. Do you think that the foot soldier had greater fear of tanks than of horse mounted cavalry?

Terraine speaks of the fear of the cavalry and yet may we conclude that there is a consensus among historians that in WW1, the cavalry could no longer deliver decisive blows that would determine the outcome of a battle? Were there any battles in which the cavalry achieved a major break through that was exploited by the infantry?

I think that they could exploit a situation but the role of the cavalry changed into more of a supportive role. That could include reconnaissance, fighting as infantry where needed and even traffic control behind the lines. Still, I am aware that the cavalry could get to places that tanks could not and MG's on armoured cars could not.

At least that is how I understand the evolution in duties of that branch of the military. Am I incorrect? Wasn't this war a bit frustrating for the men of cavalry units?

BTW, I used the word "sabre" in a previous post but I believe that the British cavalry were armed with a straight sword by this stage of the war.

Cheers,

George
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Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 1/1/2020 3:25:04 PM

There is a revisionist school of thought that seeks to overturn the caricatured view of cavalry in the Great War being obsolete and ineffective.

We must be so circumspect in how we assess the conflicting accounts.

I would imagine, George, that soldiers retreating - or fleeing - in the open fields, deprived of the habitual points of reference bestowed by several years of positional warfare, would have felt frightened of mounted troops hunting them down. This was close to the fabled era when horsemen could still decide an outcome on the battlefield : South Africa was fresh in the memory , and, even at the time, mounted troops were being used to great effect in Palestine. Much had been accomplished by them on the Eastern Front in the earlier part of the war.

Soldiers under cover, wether in trench or shell hole, would have been more frightened of tanks, I should think.

The prospect of being trapped and crushed by relentless metal juggernauts would have made charging cavalry look harmless in comparison.....fear might vary depending on whether it was claustrophobic or expansive.

Forgive me, I have no qualification to make a proper answer here. I’m just guessing.

I think that the comments made by that British infantry officer in late March 1918 must stand as authoritative .

Regards, Phil
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"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
scoucer
Berlin
 Germany
Posts: 2778
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 1/1/2020 7:02:09 PM

We should not forget that WW1 was a lot more than the trenches of the Western Front. Cavalry played an important role on the Eastern Front and even mre so in the Russian Civil War.

Trevor
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`Hey don´t the wars come easy and don´t the peace come hard`- Buffy Sainte-Marie Some swim with the stream. Some swim against the stream. Me - I´m stuck somewhere in the woods and can´t even find the stupid stream.
George
Centre Hastings
ON Canada
Posts: 10971
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 1/1/2020 7:36:32 PM

Trevor, I was reading that the German army only had 22 regiments of cavalry at the end of the war which was 1/5 of what they had at the beginning. Did they also choose to dismount their cavalry and employ them as infantry? And were they running out of horses?
It's a little off topic but I wondered how the armies of that period obtained their horses. Did they have their own breeding farms or did they buy stock from breeders under contract? Just curious about the level of planning and maintenance required to keep thousands of horses in the field and to replace them.

Cheers,

George
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scoucer
Berlin
 Germany
Posts: 2778
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 1/2/2020 4:29:10 PM

Quote:
Trevor, I was reading that the German army only had 22 regiments of cavalry at the end of the war which was 1/5 of what they had at the beginning. Did they also choose to dismount their cavalry and employ them as infantry? And were they running out of horses?
It's a little off topic but I wondered how the armies of that period obtained their horses. Did they have their own breeding farms or did they buy stock from breeders under contract? Just curious about the level of planning and maintenance required to keep thousands of horses in the field and to replace them.Cheers,George


Yes George. They were running out of horses. They were dismounted and refered to as "Schützen" regiments. The horses were bought from breeders under contract. Of course many cavalry officiers joined the German Air Force.

It is indeed tragic to contemplate how many of these wonderful creatures were slaughtered.

Trevor
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`Hey don´t the wars come easy and don´t the peace come hard`- Buffy Sainte-Marie Some swim with the stream. Some swim against the stream. Me - I´m stuck somewhere in the woods and can´t even find the stupid stream.
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 1/2/2020 4:45:01 PM

Britain responded to this horse shortage by importing them from America and New Zealand with as many as 1,000,000 coming from America. This cost Britain 67.5 million pounds. The German espionage unit in the US attempted to spread glanders among the horses that were shipped overseas from NYC.
Germany had a more elaborate system before the war. They had set up sponsored horse-breeding programs in anticipation of the war. Their horses were registered every year, just like army reservists. In the first few weeks of the war Germany mobilized about 715,000 horses. During the war 375,000 were taken from occupied countries plus about 140,000 from the Ukraine.
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
George
Centre Hastings
ON Canada
Posts: 10971
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 1/2/2020 7:32:17 PM

Forgive me but I seem fixated on the fate of these animals. John H.'s post told us that nearly 1, 000,000 horses from the US were sold to the British.

And so I wondered whether Canadian horses were also sold and it seems that while the British had high praise for the Canadian horses, they decided to place contracts in the US rather than in Canada. There are stories of Canadian politicians expressing their anger to the British over their purchasing plans, which did not appear to include Canadian breeders.

The British felt that they had to curry favour with the US and to ensure that the US also purchased British goods and so they determined to purchase most of their horses in the US. Of course, there were many more horses available in the US but Canada was ignored for a long period of time.

Canadian horse breeders weren't shut out completely. British purchasing agents did appear in Alberta and so did French purchasing agents. Breeders were given advice on presentation and grooming of the animals as the agents had many options in the US and so shaggy manes, shaggy tails and wooly winter coats had to go.

On Aug. 10 of 1916, French purchasing agents were in Alberta and this item appeared in the Wetaskiwin Times:

Quote:
“Artillery animals only are wanted at the present time, and those of the lighter weights. The stout active horse has proven his superiority over the big fellows at the front for the type of warfare now going on. These are the good ones. Animals between 1,100 and 1,200 pounds bring $130. Those between 1,200 and 1,300 pounds bring $140.”


Of all the horses that the Canadian Corps used during the war, 400,000 came from the US. That was a cause for concern as there were horses at home. I believe that all British and Commonwealth cavalries received replacement horses from the British Remount Service (??). If Britain was buying US horses then the Canadian Corps would receive them too.

Quote:
There were 7,636 on board 14 ships sailing with the first Canadian contingent of soldiers in October 1914. Eighty-six horses died during the weeklong crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. Horses would sometimes panic on board and fall and be trampled.


Quote:
Those that did arrive and needed medical attention were treated in Allied veterinary hospitals set up in Le Havre, France and Shornecliffe, England. From mid-August 1914 through mid-January 1919, 725,216 horses were admitted to hospital, 529,064 were cured, 18,975 died and 127,741 had to be destroyed.


At the end of the war, the British wanted to sell their horses in Europe and offered them at a bargain rate. They had 450,000 horses at armistice and did not want to take them home.

The Canadian Corps had about 24, 000 horses at the end and decided that to take them home with only 600-700 on a ship would be cost prohibitive and so the Canadians did an end around and negotiated their own deal with Belgium to take the Canadian horses.

110 horses did return to Canada and nearly all were the horses of the most senior officers. Hmm.



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john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 1/3/2020 7:37:55 AM

The US despite righteous talk of neutrality was far from it. The only true neutral was Sec of State WJ Bryan and he didn't last long. The amount of supplies to the Allies that flowed thru NYC alone was staggering. Plus the amount of $ that Morgan and others loaned the Allies. It is no wonder the British bought horses from the US in large numbers.
Also it should come as no surprise the Germans waged war against the US right from the start knowing neutrality was a sham. Building pipe bombs to be placed on outbound freighters to England, bombing the US Capital, attempted assassination of Morgan and the massive explosion at Black Tom munition dump in NJ in 1916.
The explosion there was so large it was heard in Philadelphia and felt in Baltimore and damaged the Statue of Liberty. Her up raised arm was closed to visitors and only reopened after 1986.
It is considered one of the largest artificial non-nuclear explosions to have ever occurred.
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
George
Centre Hastings
ON Canada
Posts: 10971
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 1/3/2020 8:12:53 AM

John, the British had a rather bad habit of ignoring the economic needs of the Dominions whose men were dying in large numbers along with Imperial forces. The war was a massive commitment for small countries like Canada and Australia to make.

It is true that Canada and Australia, as examples, depended upon a great deal of imperial support like artillery to be effective. In the beginning, many senior command officers were British.

But the financial commitment was also huge and the feeling, at least in Canada was that contracts should be placed in Canada for munitions and indeed, horses. That was with the knowledge that the industrial might of the US was absolutely necessary to provide a lot of material to GB. The war was a huge economic boon to the US economy.

I guess my point was that Canada needed British pounds spent in the purchase of Canadian made product to ensure that it could maintain its war effort.

BTW, the same scenario played out in the second war. Prior to US entry, Canada was providing huge quantities of foodstuffs. At British request, a largely agrarian society managed to develop a military industrial capacity. However, with the advent of lend-lease, Britain was going to order less from Canada and was going to cancel contracts. This would have been disastrous except that our PM, W.L. Mackenzie-King worked out a deal with FDR to ensure that Canada and the US purchased raw materials and partially made goods from one another so that the balance of trade was maintained. Effectively products made in Canada for Britain could be considered lend-lease products.

I am a big fan of Britain but the relationship was not always smooth and in WW1, Canada felt that it was owed respect from Britain and that included the economic relationship.

George
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Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 1/3/2020 3:54:50 PM

Forgive me but I seem fixated on the fate of these animals.

All too forgivable, George.

There’s an account I read in Jack Sheldon’s book about the German Army at Ypres in 1914.

Some intense fighting had littered the field with mangled horses and the German commander in the locality was determined that the poor beasts should be dispatched as mercifully as possible.

He insisted that only the townsmen among the German troops should be put to this task, because the farmers found it too distressing.

German generals seemed to have a disdain for city dwellers : perhaps they suspected them of being socialists and Jews .

There are still hetacombs of horses’ bones to be seen in some of those battlefields.

Regards, Phil
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"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
George
Centre Hastings
ON Canada
Posts: 10971
Lundendorff Spring Offensives 1918
Posted on: 1/3/2020 7:55:21 PM

Would it be too ghoulish to ask whether the wounded and later destroyed animals were used for food? Horse meat is still popular in France. I was also thinking of the towns folk in Belgium who were hungry and could have used the meat.

And at the end of the war, there were thousands of horses available for sale. If Britain had 450,000 horses that it would not take home, I doubt that all of those horses were put to work on farms.

Cheers,

George
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