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 (1914-1918) WWI
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john hayward
Allenstown NH USA
Posts: 871
Joined: 2004
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/17/2020 9:25:37 AM

The German Spring Offensive 1918 changed the face of the Western Front. Since the Battle of the Marne and the Race to the Sea battles the Front has settled into one long siege warfare. The Germans were secure behind the Hindenburg Line and the Allies were trying numerous ways, many unsuccessful, to get them out.

With the Spring Offensive the Germans were out of the trenches and open warfare and movement was now back. I just finishing reading the "4th Marine Brigade at Belleau Wood and Soissons," and both battles can be seen as fights of movement and not against heavily fortified positions. The Marines took terrible losses but they took ground against the Germans. There is little mention of deep trenches and heavy barb wire. Small squads moved forwarded and flanked machine gun nests.

Any thoughts?


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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Michigan Dave
Muskegon MI USA
Posts: 6142
Joined: 2006
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/17/2020 10:57:36 AM

Hi John,

It always seems the Germans are having a Spring Offensive! That is when they are not having a Winter, Summer, or Fall ones? The Germans certainly made deadly use of the Maxim Machine Gun! Who went and gave it to them anyway? Anything for money, I guess?

What say you?
MD
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"The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 4879
Joined: 2004
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/17/2020 11:15:13 AM

Quote:
The German Spring Offensive 1918 changed the face of the Western Front. Since the Battle of the Marne and the Race to the Sea battles the Front has settled into one long siege warfare. The Germans were secure behind the Hindenburg Line and the Allies were trying numerous ways, many unsuccessful, to get them out.

With the Spring Offensive the Germans were out of the trenches and open warfare and movement was now back. I just finishing reading the "4th Marine Brigade at Belleau Wood and Soissons," and both battles can be seen as fights of movement and not against heavily fortified positions. The Marines took terrible losses but they took ground against the Germans. There is little mention of deep trenches and heavy barb wire. Small squads moved forwarded and flanked machine gun nests.

Any thoughts?




Yes, indeed, John....things really started to open up as of 21 March 1918.

It must have been bewildering for soldiers - and their commanders - to make the change from static to open warfare.

That’s what the commanders wanted : to break out of those dismal pulverised battlefields, and to get into their stride ....only to find that, when they accomplished that, they were confronted with new problems of supply and communication .

In achieving some of their greatest tactical successes of the war, the Germans paid a dreadful price. Their loss of life in March and April 1918 was phenomenal. To a degree, this was because their very success lured them forward into those deserted battlefields of the Somme and Passchendaele, where they got stuck in salients and were left to contemplate the rotting human debris of the horrible static fighting of 1916 and 17.

The open warfare of 1918 was a breath of fresh air, but it still exacted a monstrous toll.

Have any troops ever fought harder than the US Marines did at Belleau Wood ?

I doubt it.

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: 871
Joined: 2004
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/17/2020 1:33:41 PM

Phil
The Marines at Belleau Wood suffered greatly and nothing can be said that takes away that. But Soissons the Marines again were in heavy fighting. On July 18-19 1918 the US Marines attacked with 24,085 men. By the afternoon of July 19 154 officers and 3788 enlisted men had been killed or wounded. The 6th Marine began the assault with 2450 men and lost about 1300.

One battle lives on to the glory of the Marines. The other is forgotten. The dead and the missing are in the Aisne Marne and Oise Marne Cemeteries. Young men who fought for a cause they believed in and gave the ultimate sacrifice. No one should question or doubt them

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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: 4879
Joined: 2004
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/17/2020 2:16:27 PM

John,

You’re right to draw attention to the other hard fighting that the USMC performed .

Belleau Wood gets the fame ; the battle there cost the Marines 5,183 casualties.

There were 6,996 USMC casualties elsewhere in France by the time of the Armistice, giving an aggregate of 12,179 , including 3,284 killed or died from wounds. This from a total of 31,871 Marines who served there.

Tell Sparta !

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: 871
Joined: 2004
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/17/2020 3:47:08 PM

Phil
The Marines were also involved at Mont Blanc and of course in the Meuse-Argonne. Belleau Wood action made the Marine Corps as it showed little action in the ACW and was in company actions around the world, in China, the Carib etc. There was talk of creating a Marine Division in WWI but Pershing and the Army brass was against it. Even to the point of trying to deny Marine Gen Lejeune a command.

The BEF after the German Offensive also showed great skill in open warfare as they went on the offensive
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Jim Cameron
Ossining NY USA
Posts: 916
Joined: 2005
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/17/2020 4:55:19 PM

Interestingly, the 2nd Division, which included the Marine brigade, would reach its peak effectiveness under Lejeune's command. James Harbord, who had been Pershing's Chief of Staff before being given the combat command he coveted, commanded the Marine Brigade at Belleau Wood, and the Division at Soisson. While a good man, he was out of his depth as a combat commander, and too much a devotee of Pershing's "cult of the rifle" and open warfare doctrine. His unimaginative tactics were a major factor in the heavy Marine casualties at Belleau Wood. After Soisson, Pershing shifted him to command of the AEF Services of Supply, to straighten out the catastrophic logistical situation. In this role, he excelled.
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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: 871
Joined: 2004
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/17/2020 5:35:41 PM

Jim
Despite Gen. Harbord short comings he became one of the most well known generals coming out of the War. An articlte in the NY Tribune Aug 11 1918 sang the praises of the 4th Marine Brigade mentioning prominent Marine officers and Harbord by name. The Marines serving under him had no problems with him. They had more problems with Gen. Omar Bundy who Harbord relieved as 2nd Division commander before Soissons
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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: 4879
Joined: 2004
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/17/2020 6:43:38 PM

Think of the ordeal of the Germans.

Imagine facing those US Marines...the “ Devil Dogs” : then the Senegalese under French command ; Metropolitan France herself showed an immense resurgence; then there were the first rate Belgian troops who surged forward in the north, expelling the invaders ; the Canadian storm troops, along with the Australian and New Zealand contingents who made the BEF uniquely successful ; not to mention the British themselves, who sold their lives so dearly in the spring of 1918 and effectively bled the Germans white, before the Hundred Days began.
There was even an Italian contingent which gave an excellent account of itself.

Small wonder that nearly four hundred thousand of the Kaiser’s men put their hands up in those final four months.

I wonder how many scores of thousands of German soldiers were killed facing up to that nightmare in those final Allied onslaughts, aware that their loved ones at home were being starved and that things were falling apart.

Nothing like the catastrophe of 1945, of course, but bloody awful all the same..


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
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 4879
Joined: 2004
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/18/2020 4:01:39 AM

The ordeal of the Germans....Valenciennes, 2 November, 1918 : the Canadians make another of their successful attacks, the ferocity of it being apparent in the capture of 1,800 prisoners and the counting of 800 German dead, for a Canadian loss of eighty killed and 300 wounded.

Thinking of your Uncle Frank, Brian G. A teenage soldier, who lost his life in these last deadly encounters.

How could I have forgotten to mention the Influenza Pandemic ? Ironic, given our current predicament.

In the closing days of October, Haig had written to his wife :

"......it is most important that our Statesmen should think over the situation carefully and not attempt to so humiliate Germany as to produce a desire for revenge in years to come."

What do we have here : a blinkered dullard, limited by the confined mind set of an Imperial military caste ; or a prescient and enlightened soldier ?

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: 871
Joined: 2004
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/18/2020 9:22:42 AM

Phil
At Soissons the 1st Moroccan Division went in on the Marines' flank. Another example of how diverse the Allies were.

During the battle the Marines captured a young (about 16 years old) German soldier. As they were taking him to the rear, a Moroccan soldier walked up to the prisoner and shot him. Three other Moroccans then kicked the body and fired into the corpse. The Marine yelled at them to stop. They looked at him shrugged and walked away.

Didn't a French general say at the signing of the treaty about it being a 20 year armistice?
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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: 11426
Joined: 2009
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/18/2020 11:13:56 AM

No love lost between the Moroccans and the Germans. It was Moroccans and Algerians who received the initial gas attack at 2nd Ypres in 1915.

Quote:
"Becoming a prisoner was one of the most dangerous acts on the battlefield of the Great War,"
. Cook, Tim

I am sure that the young Marines were shocked at the action of the Moroccan soldiers as John has described it.

But for soldiers who had been hardened to battle for three plus years, they may have seen the action as justified or normal.

Tim Cook works at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa and his area of expertise is WW1. I have to say that I was shocked when Cook wrote that Canadians were well represented among soldiers who had no qualms about shooting prisoners.

The situation that John described would be more rare than executions that took place right on the battlefield and at the moment of surrender. Cook described a number of situations in which a section would attempt to take out an MG position, for example, and would lose a couple of men in the process. The German machine gunners would continue to shoot until it was clear that they were about to be killed and then throw up their hands and shout, "don't shoot, I surrender".

At that moment, those men could be cut down. Cook said that the moment of capitulation was fraught with danger for the men trying to surrender. I have always assumed that it would be the same for German troops taking an allied surrender but then I don't know that for sure.

You may have seen photos of German POW carrying allied troops on stretchers. They would be pressed into this service as a condition of survival.

I know that Canadians had a reputation among the Germans for engaging in the shooting of prisoners but I am trying to imagine how I would have felt as I watched friends or men under command fall at the hands of an enemy. Surely one's sense of morality would be tested.

Here is a quote from a letter written by Canadian, Lt. R. Germain to his parents in Aug. of 1918. It is quite shocking in its callousness.

Quote:
"After losing half of my company there, we rushed them and they had the nerve to throw up their hands and cry, 'Kamerad.' All the 'Kamerad' they got was a foot of cold steel thro' them from my remaining men while I blew their brains out with my revolver without any hesitation.

"You may think this rather rough, but if you had seen my boys go down you would have done the same and my only regret is that too many prisoners were taken."


I am left to wonder what this young man was like before he volunteered to fight. Did he have so little regard for human life in 1914? And those Moroccans? What were they like before the war?

Cheers,

George
john hayward
Allenstown NH USA
Posts: 871
Joined: 2004
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/18/2020 11:48:11 AM

George
I found numerous accounts from Marines who stated the same thing.
""After losing half of the squad, we rushed them and they threw up their hands and cried, 'Kamerad.' It was too late."
No prisoners were taken esp machine gunners.
At Soissons the Marines captured about 15 Germans. As they were rounding them up, one prisoner made a dash for a machine gun. Before he could squeeze the trigger, the Marines riddled him. They never understood why the German did it.

Im not sure but I think the Marine was more upset about the Moroccans' behavior after they killed the prisoner, not that they killed the prisoner.
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Jim Cameron
Ossining NY USA
Posts: 916
Joined: 2005
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/18/2020 1:53:24 PM

I recall reading, some years ago (it may have been with regard to WW2, but would have also applied to WW1), that in the German army, a man could surrender with honor once he had expended all his ammunition.
The Americans, and I would imagine, the Allies, tended to take the attitude that the enemy soldier trying to surrender with no ammo left was only doing so because he couldn't kill them any more. This outraged them and might well result in the would be prisoner being dispatched on the spot. Better if the man trying to surrender still had some ammo left.
Different military cultures, I suppose, where the differences could be deadly.

As far as bayonets, I still believe that the most common use of the bayonet wasn't in hand to hand combat, but to dispose of unwanted prisoners.
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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: 4879
Joined: 2004
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/18/2020 2:00:38 PM

Quote:


You may have seen photos of German POW carrying allied troops on stretchers. They would be pressed into this service as a condition of survival.


Pressed into this service ?

I think it more likely, George, that they fell over themselves volunteering to do this, in the hope that they might assuage the rage of their captors and secure their survival.

Look at the figures I cited for that affair at Valenciennes : eight hundred German dead counted on the field, with 80 Canadians killed and 300 wounded : that speaks of a slaughter of men who might have been trying to surrender.

I was shocked to read of a little known episode a few moths earlier, in June 1918, when British troops stormed a German position at a place called Le Becque. I write from memory, so might have misspelt the name.

A heap of thirty five German dead was found all bayoneted . Canadians earned a reputation for this sort of thing, but it was clearly practiced by Tommy Atkins, 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
George
Centre Hastings ON Canada
Posts: 11426
Joined: 2009
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/18/2020 2:10:43 PM

Quote:
Look at the figures I cited for that affair at Valenciennes : eight hundred German dead counted on the field, with 80 Canadians killed and 300 wounded : that speaks of a slaughter of men who might have been trying to surrender.


Hello Phil,

Perhaps so. However, most of the accounts to the battle speak to the effectiveness of the barrage that preceded the attack. The Canadians were surprised and quite happy to be walking through scores of dead Germans as they advanced to the village and into it. If my memory isn't faulty, the shoot by the artillery was pinpoint and impressive at Valenciennes.

That is not to say that German soldiers were not killed as they tried to surrender but I thought that I would mention that the artillery men were deadly accurate on that day.

Cheers,

George
George
Centre Hastings ON Canada
Posts: 11426
Joined: 2009
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/18/2020 2:20:05 PM

If I may backtrack in time, I would like to ask why Gough's 5th Army was given such a massive area to defend? Is it not true that the British were aware that an attack would come in this area at some time in the spring of 1918 and that the 5th was quite short of manpower.



Cheers,

George
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 4879
Joined: 2004
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/18/2020 2:22:27 PM

You're right, George. Your discerning and disciplined approach is appreciated.

Currie made a diary entry and alluded to the disproportionate number of German dead : I know that it was not the intention of our fellows to take many prisoners, as, since they have lived amongst and talked to the French people here, they have become more bitter than ever against the Boche.

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: 11426
Joined: 2009
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/18/2020 2:32:48 PM

I am bouncing around a bit but I have always found this photo intriguing. You will see French and British style helmets in the shallow trenches.




At which stage of the offensive would this have taken place and where? Surely it was later than Mar. 21 and possibly after Foch had been made the supreme commander. (speculating here)

The caption only says, "British and French alongside each other, waiting for the Boche".

Cheers,

George
john hayward
Allenstown NH USA
Posts: 871
Joined: 2004
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/18/2020 6:37:18 PM

George
The French Adrian helmet was very comfortable to wear. There is a picture of Churchill in the trenches wearing one.

The picture also shows the foxholes/trenches that became a part of open warfare in the summer of 1918. Whenever they halted the men dug in but no where near the entrenchment found in 1916-17
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 3504
Joined: 2004
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/18/2020 8:36:29 PM

… and is buried

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"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 4879
Joined: 2004
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/19/2020 5:56:12 AM

Quote:
George
The French Adrian helmet was very comfortable to wear. There is a picture of Churchill in the trenches wearing one.

The picture also shows the foxholes/trenches that became a part of open warfare in the summer of 1918. Whenever they halted the men dug in but no where near the entrenchment found in 1916-17


John,

The striking thing about the Verdun, Somme and Passchendaele battles of 1916-17 is the degeneration of the trenches and the emergence of the battle as a contest for the crater field.

You’ll probably have seen one of the most evocative photographs of the Great War : Canadians in the shell holes at Passchendaele ...little groups, isolated, in a wilderness of mud, with the odd machine gun deployed here and there. The image is one of dispersal among the craters. This was also the case in other battles at that time. Artillery had become so preponderant and powerful that to consolidate in defined trench lines was to invite destruction.

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
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 4879
Joined: 2004
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/19/2020 6:18:26 AM

Quote:
I am bouncing around a bit but I have always found this photo intriguing. You will see French and British style helmets in the shallow trenches.




At which stage of the offensive would this have taken place and where? Surely it was later than Mar. 21 and possibly after Foch had been made the supreme commander. (speculating here)

The caption only says, "British and French alongside each other, waiting for the Boche".

Cheers,

George



George,

This photograph was taken on 25 March, 1918, and depicted Anglo French cooperation in a sector near a place called Nesle. It was, I daresay, designed to reassure people that the Entente remained intact, despite - or, indeed, because of - Ludendorff's attempt to separate the British from the French.

The date is significant, because it was the day before the Doullens conference, and there had been much Anglo French recrimination : Haig complained that the French weren't doing anything.

The place is significant because it is in the southern reaches of the Somme sector, a region where the British Fifth Army had been driven into precipitate retreat, or, I daresay, rout.

The newly scraped rifle pits say much about the predicament of the soldiers, and their commanders, and their statesmen .


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: 11426
Joined: 2009
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/19/2020 9:08:20 AM

Thanks Phil. I had been labouring then under a misconception that the French did not send aid north until after the conference and the selection of Foch as commander in chief.

I checked the maps and Nestlé appears to be just east of Amiens and only 85 km away from the town.

The site of the Doullens conference was only 95 km from Nestlé by the most direct route. That was a large gathering of top military people whose gathering was pretty close to the enemy.

Given that the Germans were stopped only 5 km from Amiens, a critical rail hub, then the men in the photograph were preparing for combat, as the German forces intended to take Amiens. It didn't look like a stage photo. Did it to you?

Thanks for the research effort, Phil. I had seen the photo before but never knew where it was taken.

Cheers,

George
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 4879
Joined: 2004
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/19/2020 10:23:10 AM

George,

It’s an absolute pleasure to work with you on this.

Let me say that the name of the place is Nesle, not Nestle.

Nesle was site of Gough’s HQ. It had to be abandoned when the Germans attacked at eight o’clock in the morning of the very day that the photo was taken .

There were two French divisions deployed, the 22nd and the 62nd, and the Frenchmen in the photo are soldiers of the 22nd, which was to suffer 2,720 casualties in the fighting there. The British troops are survivors of the 20th division.

The struggle here was for the Nesle-Ham bridgehead, and within eight hours the two French divisions had been driven back two and a half miles .

According to British accounts, this French retirement “forced the more tenacious British to conform “.

One might be forgiven for attributing British bias here, but it is sufficient to note that both French divisional commanders were replaced within four days.

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: 11426
Joined: 2009
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/19/2020 11:26:35 AM

Thank you for the correction Phil. Nesle then, not Nestlé. Nestlé is near Saint- Quentin.

Checking the maps once again, Nesle is to the SW of Amiens and even closer than Nestlé is, at just under 60 km. Quite a dire situation.

I enjoy looking at maps if only to determine where an action took place so please bear with me.

Have I got the correct place this time?

[Read More]

It certainly sounds as though the British were displeased with the French effort.

I also have not read an account of the meeting at Doullens. Was it acrimonious? Did Haig express his displeasure with the French or was he more diplomatic? What promises did Foch make?

This is a huge topic and I appear to be moving off in different tangents. Hope that you don't mind.

Cheers,

George
Jim Cameron
Ossining NY USA
Posts: 916
Joined: 2005
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/19/2020 12:56:22 PM

Quote:
George
The French Adrian helmet was very comfortable to wear. There is a picture of Churchill in the trenches wearing one.


A bit lighter construction than the British and U.S. Brodies, and the brims were also separate pieces, but they were serviceable enough.
There are also pictures of General James Harbord, Pershing's Chief of Staff and later head of the AEF Services of Supply (he also commanded the Marine brigade at Belleau Wood and the 2nd Division at Soisson) wearing an Adrian helmet.
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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.
Wazza
Sydney  Australia
Posts: 600
Joined: 2005
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/19/2020 7:31:33 PM

Interestingly, Australian diary entries of this period show a certainty that the Germans had 'shot their bolt'. And while they had made great gains, the AIF quickly had a sense (going by the similar comments even in Battalion diaries), that the Germans had overextended themselves and that this last (?) push was their final attempt at gains before possibility of brokering a peace deal.
I assume this would be a similar view amongst most Allied formations on the Western Front. They all would have been aware through prisoner information that the Germans were struggling with recruits, materials and a general lethargy in war fighting...... Russian transferred formations notwithstanding this view.

Thoughts?
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 4879
Joined: 2004
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/20/2020 3:38:18 AM

George,

You’re right on the money with that map, and, yes, in my belief the situation was dire.

There was acrimony at Doullens : Petain was overheard announcing that the British would be beaten, followed by the French themselves. He then said that the British had run away like the Italians had at Caporetto.
Haig’s comments about the French in his diary are usually most unflattering . Bearing these tensions in mind, the outcome was surprisingly successful for the Allies. Most attribute this to Foch’s inspirational leadership, and there is a historiographical contest to confer credit on other participants : the pro Haig school being especially prominent here.

I agree with your view that the photograph is not staged : I do think, however, that it served a purpose to depict Anglo French harmony at a critical moment when things could easily swing either way.

One exquisite description I heard was that there are one or two “ Change your underwear moments” in the history of both the world wars, and that this was definitely one of them !

Please don’t be deterred from moving off in different tangents....it’s testimony to the enormity of the things we’re discussing ; I’m only too happy to indulge in it .

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
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 4879
Joined: 2004
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/20/2020 3:43:55 AM

Quote:
Quote:
George
The French Adrian helmet was very comfortable to wear. There is a picture of Churchill in the trenches wearing one.


A bit lighter construction than the British and U.S. Brodies, and the brims were also separate pieces, but they were serviceable enough.
There are also pictures of General James Harbord, Pershing's Chief of Staff and later head of the AEF Services of Supply (he also commanded the Marine brigade at Belleau Wood and the 2nd Division at Soisson) wearing an Adrian helmet.


Churchill’s tour of duty in Flanders gave rise to a lot of anecdotal accounts.

He was conspicuous for insisting on luxury, bringing his own special bath tub into the line, along with special deliveries of picnic hampers from Fortnum & Mason and liberal amounts of expensive champagne etc.
He might well have opted for that French helmet on account of its comfort, but there is also a story that he wanted to make a statement of Entente unity by wearing it.

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
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 4879
Joined: 2004
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/20/2020 4:04:47 AM

Quote:
Interestingly, Australian diary entries of this period show a certainty that the Germans had 'shot their bolt'. And while they had made great gains, the AIF quickly had a sense (going by the similar comments even in Battalion diaries), that the Germans had overextended themselves and that this last (?) push was their final attempt at gains before possibility of brokering a peace deal.
I assume this would be a similar view amongst most Allied formations on the Western Front. They all would have been aware through prisoner information that the Germans were struggling with recruits, materials and a general lethargy in war fighting...... Russian transferred formations notwithstanding this view.

Thoughts?


Interesting points, Wazza.

There was certainly awareness that the Germans had made a sacrifice in life that was described as “ reckless”.

A legitimate view : while suffering a very serious defeat, and losing enormous numbers of men and vast amounts of material, the Allies - principally the British - succeeded in inflicting casualties on the Germans which were truly appalling. March and April 1918 saw more Germans being killed than in any other comparable time span throughout that war.

It would surprise me, though , to learn that the views expressed in those AIF diaries were widespread as early as the first week of April.

The Germans were yet to unleash their Flanders Offensive ( Georgette) that was to inspire Haig’s Order Of The Day - Backs to the Wall etc. - and then there was to be a huge attack against the French at the end of May, followed by some more big efforts in June, culminating in the Second Battle of the Marne in mid July.

It’s arguable that the German failure on 28 March was a very significant episode in determining the final outcome. This is where hindsight affords us the luxury of long term perspective .

I’m tempted to suggest that the Dominion contingents of the BEF were spared the worst of the March -April ordeal ( not overlooking the Aussie achievement here), and that they were better able to adopt a more positive and discerning view than their British counterparts, who were being knocked about in a terrifying manner.

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: 871
Joined: 2004
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/20/2020 10:05:52 AM

Phil
Between March 26 and April 5 1918 45 French Infantry divisions and 6 Cavalry divisions moved to the area between the Somme and the Oise. Foch was faced with demands from both Haig and Petain. He gave neither the total men they wanted but he did give to both.

Between March 21 and March 26 the German attacking divisions lost between 2,500 and 3,500 men with only no more than 1,000 replacements. By April 10 the 17th, 2nd and 18th Armies had lost the equivalent of one entire army. It might be argued that the Germans defeated themselves
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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: 11426
Joined: 2009
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/20/2020 10:24:40 AM

Hello Phil,

It is true that the Canadian Corps was not involved in the initial defensive battles beginning on Mar. 21. Later, divisions would be taken from the Corps, despite Gen. Currie's objections, to bolster defensive positions. Currie was fearful that the deployment of his divisions piecemeal would result in the destruction of the fighting capabilities of the Corps. I believe that the CDN 2nd division was attached to a British corps for several months. But the Corps as a whole was not deployed.

Unless detached, the remainder of the Canadian Corps remained in the Lens and Vimy sector. It was never attacked there and some Canadian authors claim that that was because of the strong defensive position created by the Corps as they awaited their next assignment.

However, the Canadian Cavalry Brigade, actually mounted, distinguished itself as did the Motor Machine Gun Brigade during the Spring Offensive. The brigade was commanded by British Brig. Gen. Jack Seely. Here is Seely mounted on his horse, Warrior. Many horses died in this war but Warrior lasted the four years and lived to be 33 years old.



One cavalryman, Lt. Gordon Flowerdew was awarded the VC for his part in the charge by his squadron at the Battle of Moreuil Wood on Mar. 30, 1918.



Royal Canadian Dragoons at Moreuil Wood. Painting by Sgt. A. E. King who witnessed the attack



I will provide a link to the Legion Magazine's story of the work of the Canadian Mounted Brigade at Moreuil Wood. It reads like a boys' novel adventure story.

[Read More]

The cavalry in this war were valuable as reconnaissance units or were used as dismounted infantry but in this case, as Lt. Flowerdew put it to his men, "It's a charge boys, it's a charge".



Armoured cars were used as they were intended and so open warfare also allowed these cars to quickly move to positions to stall the German advance. It was costly though. Many men died or were wounded during offensive but they did their job well.

At Villers-Bretonneux, sometime between Mar. 22 and April 5, 1918.



Cheers,

George
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 4879
Joined: 2004
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/20/2020 12:50:33 PM

George,

The moment that I wrote about the Dominion troops being relatively undamaged, I became fretful : principally on account of Australian performance near Hazebrouk( Forest of Nieppe) - Villers Bretonneux a couple of weeks or so later, of course - but also because of that fabulous Canadian cavalry action at Moreuil Wood, and their deployment of mobile MG units.

I’m sure that the Kiwis and the South Africans did some fighting, too.

I must consult CWGC database and find out how many died from the Dominions and the UK between 21 March and 5 April 1918 on the Western Front.

The CWGC website has been updated, and the thing is not as easy to consult as it used to be.

I’ll see what I can find out.

Edit : Good Grief ! that was hard work ! Total CWGC commemorations for France and Belgium, 21 March to 5 April 1918 : 37,129. Of these, 33,625 ( just over 90%) were from the UK. The proportions would change quite significantly in the final months of the war.

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: 871
Joined: 2004
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/20/2020 3:15:49 PM

Phil
What tactics did the BEF use in the final 100 days?

I am familiar with Pershing's ideas and the AEF belief in the rifleman. Those ideas led to a bloodletting in Meuse-Argonne. So much that Pershing called a halt in the attack to regroup and reorganize.

I believe the terrain may have led to differences, Flander's plain to the Argonne forests but the BEF was gaining large chunks of ground right up to Nov. 11

Have to admit that I am more knowledgeable on the AEF then BEF
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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: 11426
Joined: 2009
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/20/2020 3:26:36 PM

Quote:
The moment that I wrote about the Dominion troops being relatively undamaged, I became fretful : principally on account of Australian performance near Hazebrouk( Forest of Nieppe) - Villers Bretonneux a couple of weeks or so later, of course - but also because of that fabulous Canadian cavalry action at Moreuil Wood, and their deployment of mobile MG units.


No need to be fretful. The Canadian Corps was not hit by the Germans during the Spring Offensive and, as I said, Currie was adamant that any divisions moved from under his command would be returned as soon as possible.
He saw them as shock troops but as I recall, he was prepared for any assignment during the offensive that would bring his Corps into action.

Cheers,

George
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 4879
Joined: 2004
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/20/2020 4:38:27 PM

Quote:
Phil
Between March 26 and April 5 1918 45 French Infantry divisions and 6 Cavalry divisions moved to the area between the Somme and the Oise. Foch was faced with demands from both Haig and Petain. He gave neither the total men they wanted but he did give to both.

Between March 21 and March 26 the German attacking divisions lost between 2,500 and 3,500 men with only no more than 1,000 replacements. By April 10 the 17th, 2nd and 18th Armies had lost the equivalent of one entire army. It might be argued that the Germans defeated themselves


John,

If I may, I'll expound on those German casualties you cited.

There were about 240,000 killed, wounded and missing in the three German armies involved in the main attacks, in the three weeks between 21 March and 10 April 1918.. There were scores of thousands of additional losses in subsidiary operations, diversions and routine fighting on other sectors of the Western Front.

Hutier's 18th Army suffered about 85,000, Marwitz's 2nd Army reported 74,000, and Below's 17th Army, 81,000. More precisely, the breakdown was : killed, 35,163 ; missing, 22,701 ; wounded, 181,694 : a total of 239,558. More than half of the missing were dead, and many of the wounded would die.

For the entire Western Front, spanning the months of March and April 1918, the Germans reported 476,339 killed, wounded and missing, which was to supplemented by another 301,922 in May and June, and 165,099 in July.

To add to these battle casualties, the Influenza laid low tens of thousands.

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: 11426
Joined: 2009
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/20/2020 5:58:43 PM

If I may, the tactics of the BEF evolved from 1914 into a well co-ordinated, all arms affair. The British and the French altered tactics when it became obvious that they could not sustain casualties at the rate that they were.

By 1916, the BEF was experimenting with different tactics. And they weren't above sending officers to discuss tactics with the French.

There were technological developments in communications, and the infantry tactics at the smallest unit level were maximized. I know that by 1917, even the lowly private was privy to information about his section's objectives. He had seen the maps and if there was time for a set piece battle, then a mock up of the battle field would have been set up with soldiers practising their movements.

Small units would carry the weapons that they needed to reduce an objective, like rifle grenades, small mortars and the Lewis gun.

Artillery shoots became far more sophisticated as did the spotting techniques. And critically, the problem of shell shortages had been fixed.

By the time of the battle of Amiens, Aug. 8, 1918 there were many more tanks on the battlefield and greater understanding of how to co-ordinate their work with that of the infantry sections. I must add that the Canadian Corps was not fully convinced of the value of the tanks, considering them to be too slow. As well, there was some concern that the infantryman would lose his initiative and wait for the tanks to take that initiative.

Aircraft played their role as spotters and bombers.

This may be interesting. It is training manual SS143, Instructions for the Training of Platoons for Offensive Action 1917. It indicates that a higher level of individual training plus co-ordination of arms was to be expected.

[Read More]

Aug. 8, 1918 and the Battle of Amiens was a good example of what all arms tactics could do. It may be worth a discussion just to highlight how it all came together.

Cheers,

George
john hayward
Allenstown NH USA
Posts: 871
Joined: 2004
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/20/2020 9:08:03 PM

George
French tanks supported the US Marines at Soissons in July 1918. The Marines had two complaints about them. First was the speed of the tanks. The Marines were taught to move and move fast. Advancing behind the tanks slowed them to a crawl. Second the tanks brought down upon them heavy artillery fire. The Marines also felt the French tankers were amazingly brave and tough.
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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: 11426
Joined: 2009
German Spring Offensive 1918
9/20/2020 10:21:50 PM

John, I was reading an account of the timeline of the Amiens attack in the Canadian Corps sector. In that account, it was noted that there was no preliminary bombardment so as not to warn the Germans of the upcoming attack.

But it was also true that artillery tactics were much improved and the availability of the 106 fuse meant that wire would be cut effectively without the preliminary saturation bombing that was usually required to cut wire as shells would explode on contact and shred the wire.

Aircraft laid down smoke. 2,000 (British and French) aircraft were involved in this attack. Each corps had a squadron of reconnaissance planes attached and they would report German movements and artillery positions. And those recce squadrons were protected by 8 single seater fighter squadrons. They would also make ground attacks where appropriate.

Planes like Handley-Page bombers were flown over the battlefield before the attack to mask the sound of the tanks clanking into position. These planes were in the air just past midnight with the attack to go in at 4:20.

At 4:20 AM 900 artillery guns opened up and the infantry moved forward behind a creeping barrage, and so did the tanks, over 500 of them in all sectors.

Types of Tanks:
342 Mark V "heavies"
120 supply tanks
72 of the new Whippets which were quick (well 8.3 mph), and designed to exploit any advantages gained.

With respect to your comments about the use of tanks, at Amiens, the infantry had to fight its way through woods and boggy country in the Canadian sector. This led to the infantry outpacing the tanks which had difficulty in the boggy and foggy areas and in wooded areas. The Luce River valley was covered in heavy mist and some tanks lost their direction in the valley or bogged down completely.

I cannot confirm that the tanks were able to maintain the pace in front of the Australians, British or French. The tanks did help with the initial breakthrough to the three lines of German trenches and certainly raised the morale of the foot soldier when the tanks were able to take out MG positions.

Later in the morning some tanks did catch up with the infantry and together were able to attack effectively.

One other example to indicate that the integration of tanks was a work in progress was when a combined cavalry and tank attack was planned. Around 10 AM, the Canadian Cavalry Brigade arrived and passed through the infantry with 32 Whippet tanks. Together they would punch a hole for the infantry with the cavalry leading while the tanks took care of MG positions. The problem that developed was that the tanks could not keep up with the cavalry and so were too slow to lend support to them. So the cavalry charged and took several hundred prisoners but at the cost of hundreds of horses killed by MG fire.

There is anecdotal commentary from German soldiers that the use and number of tanks impressed them greatly. This comment is from a German unit history captured by the Australians.

Quote:
“Everything was affected by the fearful impression that the fire-vomiting iron dragons had made on artillery and infantry. A true tank-panic…, and, where any dark shapes moved, men saw the black monster. ‘Everything is lost’


I should add that armoured cars made their mark in this battle as well. The Australians describe attacks by their armoured cars that completely surprised German units who were at breakfast.

You commented on BEF tactics in the Last 100 days, and certainly they seemed more sophisticated than in prior years. I am not sure whether the soldiers learned to fight better over the years, or whether the technological advances leading to a more effective all arms approach, made them better fighters.

Cheers,

George
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