1918 - the year of offensives

Discussion in 'World War I' started by parsifal, Sep 6, 2011.

  1. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    we were discussing this issue in another thread, and were correctly advised to get back on topic. Because this issue was intersting, i thought people might like a dedicated thread to discuss the issues.

    The discussion can take whatever form and progress it likes, but of interest to me was a claim that the allies had to accept versailles, as a negotiated settlement, because they lacked the ability to defeat the german army. Not my opinion, but a claim put very seriously in this other threead. I believe that the german Army was defeated in 1918, and it was easily within the grasp of the allies to seek unconditional surrender of the Germans in 1918. Various political machinations, mostly from the Wilson camp, prevented that from ever happening, and from there we get the unsatisfactory treaty of Versailles....unsatisfactory from all perspectives.....

    Perha-ps we should start by discussing or establishing the historical context of the various offensives, force availability tactics, resources, outcomes that kind of thing
     
  2. michaelmaltby

    michaelmaltby Well-Known Member

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    Aunt Ju needs to appreciate the role non-Europeans played in WW1.

    I'll start with Canada because Parsifal you have already laid out some of the Australian achievements.


    Canada's 100 Days :)

    Canada's Hundred Days - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Wikipedia or not, it sounds like a route to me.

    MM
     
  3. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    Thanks MM, despite being a wiki source, that lines up pretty exactly with AWM accounts.

    We must all be living in the dark ages, I guess, because we just dont understand our european history........

    And huzzah to the Canadians. Fine soldiers, fine country
     
  4. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    How about the Eastern Front? By 1918 the German garrison consisted almost entirely of Landwehr and cavalry. During the summer of 1918 Germany liberated all of Ukraine and the Caucasus from Bolshevik control using these third troops. The German Army also assisted in the liberation of Finland. One can argue the opposition was weak but it was essentially similiar to the opposition that defeated British organized White Russian forces during 1919.

    Europe_map_1919.jpg
    Unfortunately the German efforts were mostly undone by the Versallies Treaty. Poland and the Baltic nations managed to defend newly won independence. Ukraine and the Caucasus were conquered by the Bolsheviks as soon as the German Army withdrew. They would have to wait another 70 years for freedom from communist rule.

    The above map shows what might have happened to Russia without the Versallies Treaty. Ukraine, The Don Cossacks, Kuban Cossacks, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan were all independent nations for a few months. Siberia east of the Urals had essentially no government other then that provided by military units such as the Czech army corps and Japanese Army.
     
  5. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    It sounds like an intersting topic, but the issue being discussed is the western front. Perhaps we need another thread for this additional topic
     
  6. Readie

    Readie Well-Known Member

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    I'm going to re read my WW1 sources.
    In the meantime my understanding of the situation on the Western Front in 1917-18 is this:

    1) Australian Army.This wiki article sums up nicely History of the Australian Army - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    2) The Canadians were there at the start and finish Canadian Expeditionary Force - CEF - Battalions in WW1
    3) The Americans arrived too late to have any real impact. HOWEVER, the Germans must have realised the enormous resources that the USA could hurl into the fray.
    4) The French Army was near the end of its tether.
    5) The British Army was plugging away and had finally learned the lessons on 1915. The Tank would prove a formidable weapon.
    BBC - History: World War One
    Taking the USA resources, the allied naval blockage superior battle tactics into account, the allied victory was assured.

    Cheers
    John
     
  7. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    Excuse me but I don't see "Western Front" mentioned in the topic.
     
  8. Readie

    Readie Well-Known Member

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    Dave, have a shuftie at the original thread that this one has spun off from and you'll see that we were talking, well some of us were talking... about the Western front.
    Cheers
    John
     
  9. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    Ah true, but I do see 1918 in the title (as opposed to post war), and as John points out its the western front.

    But to respond to your comments attempting to compare operations on the eastern front to those on the western front, the germans suffered just as many supply failures on the western front as the allies did. more in fact. And, further, their rates of advance were nowhere near what they were on the Eastern Front. For the Germans it was a good day if they advnaced 5 km, just like the allies.

    As toatmpting to say the British could not achieve what the germans did. Maybe, but in the TO where comparisons like that are possible, that is on the Western Front, you have declined to make any comment. The best place to make the comparison that you want to make, that is german army versus British army, is on the western front. Why not make that comparison. The data and the knowledge is there, so isnt that the best place to look at the effectiveness issue?
     
  10. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    Making the record as complete as possible.....

    The comment that led to the creation of this htread came from the thread "Which side would you fly for" and basically said this

    "So did the German advance so much in spring 1918 offensive. There was little indication that Entente could stop it. Then German reached end of supply line, and offensive gradual halted. It simple nature of non-motorized warfare. There was simply nothing suggest that German army was about to collapse in 1918. All it was done to push it back a bit. 40-60 miles advance may seem a lot to generals of trench warfare, but in practical side? German were retreating toward supply, Entente from it, and frontline shortened. You also seem to forget they were still in Belgium - France border. Territory could be traded any time - it had no importance for German. Problem was that march forward 50 miles was not going to change anything in big picture of things. What parsifal suggest, that march into Germany and force unconditional surrender was simple pipe dream for Entente or anybody else".

    My initial reply to that was to recount the victory at hamel....the point where the allies stopped banging their heads against the wall, and started to de-construct the german defences:

    "According to the Deuxieme Bureau the germans were calculated on the 27 March to posses 85 divisions for their offensive. of which 62 were considered combat ready. A contemporay German high command corroborates this assessment, and further reports that of the remaining divisions, approximatrely half could not be considered combat ready because of malnourishment. They were starving and considered unable to stand up to the rigours of an offensive battle. So much for Germany being self sufficient in food in 1918.

    By 27 June, the numbers of combat ready divisions on the western front had fallen to just 39 divisions, and the French intelligence service noted that many of these formations had lost their most experienced troops, including the stosstruppen. Replacements were insufficient to fill all gaps in the ranks and consisted mostly of underaged, inadequately trained replacements.

    According to martin Marix Evans (1918, Year of Victories), "the germans were becoming increasingly anxious at the level of allied resistance and the casualties they (the Germans) were suffering. The army high command determined that they could not recommence offensive action until the 20 july but in the end this proved an impossible target, and the offensive was not restarted.

    Moreover sickness rates per division in the German army were very high, about twice as high as in the british army, due mostly to systemic malnourishment in the German Army at this time
    ."

    Part II of this excellent book is entitled "The Allied counteroffensive - the German army destroyed. The ANZAC Corps was involved in these counterattacks at this time, and represented one of the elite formations used to spearhead and destroy the rearguards of the retreating Germans. Just as an example, lets look at one small counterattack In the counterattack at Hamel. The Australian commander, John Monash demonstrtrated how well and how complete the Australians now understood the principals of warfare. Monash put his plan to his army commander Rawlinson in June. He requested and received a tank Brigade for support, the 5th tank Brigade to support the single division committed. The assault Infantry battalions rehearsed and trained for several weeks with the Tank Corps men, so that the tanks and the infantry worked as a close knit team and had a good understanding of each other. The 5th Tank Brigade, was equipped with the new MkV tanks far more reliable than those used at bullecourt, and now adequately supported by proper maintenance. Monash arranged to to use his artillery in counterbattery fire assisted by observation balloons and FOOs. The command structure for thje attack was simple and efficient. The artillery was to be used also as a smokescreen and as a creeping barrage to support the attack. The Infantry were detailed to support the armour, not the other way round. Each Infantry Company was to advance independantly, behind the cover of an tank. The Infantry were carrying machine guns and grenades and a heavy amount of ammunition.

    The battle went ahead on the 4 July, with some 8 companies of American troops also participating (with reluctant agreement from Pershing). The battle was a complete success. Despite some stiff resistance from the german defenders (2 VCs were won that day), the ANZACs killed or captured 4310 Germans in less than 93 minutes. Australian casualties were 731. It was a marked demonstration of just how far the Australians had developed their fighting techniques. The British published the battle plan in a brochure and used it for the remaineder of the war as a model for a set piece battle. Gains of territory unheard of previously had been achieved....close to 6 miles in places. The best appraisal possibly can be found in the records of the enemy. The German second army HQ commented on the allied success that day, and how the germans had proven unable to counter the offensive effectively. It was the beginning of the end for the German army."

    A further comment by Aunty Ju was as follows

    What German high command (Luddendorf) knew was that war could not be won, but there was no doubt on the other hand that peace could be made. The suffering of morale is true, but at same time it is noted that Entente morale for offensive was already crippeld two years ago. We know French soliders simply refuse to attack. Mass executions were ordered by Petain to restore order. In short, the German were at the end of their will to make offensive, but so were the Entente. I completely agree with you about importance of German allies falling out. This was imho most important part that German throw in towel, too.

    My response (slightlymodified)

    "Really???? Err no, by the second half of 1918, the french had staged a recovery, and were counterattacking effectively. For example, Foch used the french XX Corps of the 10 army to counterattack after 2nd Marne to recapture Soissons, and trhen clear the Germans entrencehed along the river. The frenchmen performed very well in this operation, before being relieved and rested by the American forces. The Germans were essentially kicked from pillar to Post by this series of attacks, delivered in rapid succession to each other"".

    I will come back a bit later and analyse in more detail just how "crippled" the French were, looking at some of the battles they were involved in such as SDoissons and 2nd Marne along with their collaborative efforts at belleau Wood and elswhere with the americans and the british. There can be no denying that the french had been wounded by their experiences in 1917, but "at the end of their will to make offensive"...hardly as the accounts will show
     
  11. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    The Battle Of Amiens
    This is a further cut and paste from the thread "which side would you fly for, again to make the records as complete as possible)

    "Looking a little further at events in late 1918, and whether the German Army was effectively resisting allied offensives...

    This is an extract, a summary from the Official Australian War Memorial archives in Canberra


    "On 14 July 1918, the German Army launched its last great attack on the French in the area of the Marne River, east of Paris and on either side of the major city of Rheims. The French had anticipated this move and had held their front line lightly. Then, as the Germans went forward, they encountered strong French reserves and were repulsed. On 18 July the French, accompanied by fresh American divisions, counter-attacked. This Franco-American advance drove the enemy back towards his main supply railhead. Taken by surprise, the Germans began to pull back and a major offensive against the British in Flanders was called off as reinforcements were sent south. It was a turning point on the Western Front. The great German offensive had faltered and was not resumed. The initiative now passed back to the Allies and it was decided that a major British attack would be made east of Villers-Bretonneux. It was thought that because of constant Australian harassment there, the Germans’ morale was low and their fortifications weak.

    The Battle of Amiens, fought between 8 and 11 August 1918, marked the beginning of the British advance that culminated in the Armistice of 11 November 1918. The preparations for the battle included unprecedented security in order to achieve maximum surprise. The Canadian Corps was secretly moved to the Somme area and took over the southern half of the Australian front line. The Australia Corps was concentrated between the Canadians and the Somme River while the British held the line north of the river. The infantry moved into their assembly positions in the small hours of 8 August. A dense fog gathered and unseen aeroplanes droning above drowned out the noise of the tanks that would support the infantry. The fog was still dense at 4.20 am when the artillery barrage opened fire and the advance began.

    These early attacks were carried out in dense fog with infantry and tanks moving in what they hoped was the right direction. The first objective was seized by 7.30 and some German positions were bypassed and then attacked in the rear. Most of the German field artillery was overrun and quickly captured. By 8.20 the fog had began to thin and fresh troops resumed the advance".


    Charles Bean, the Australian official historian wrote:

    "A little later the mist suddenly cleared, and for a moment all eyes on the battlefield took in the astonishing scene: infantry in lines of hundreds of little section-columns all moving forward – with tanks, guns, battery after battery, the teams tossing their manes".

    Charles Bean, Anzac to Amiens, Canberra, 1948, p.471


    When the fog lifted German guns opened up at the tanks and put many out of action, but the Australian infantry kept going and soon overran most of the guns. The greater part of the final objective for the day, the old outer line of the Amiens defence system, was captured. The Canadian and French attacks had gone as well as those of the Australians and penetrations of up to 25 kilometres of the German front south of the Somme had been achieved within a few days of the offensive as the german defences were swept away in dramatic fashion.

    This was a victory that far surpassed any previous success of the British Army on the Western Front. The Allies had inflicted over 75000 unrecoverable casualties on the totally demoralized german forces. 4th Australian Division alone had captured more than 13,000 Germans were made prisoners and more than 200 guns captured. The French had taken 3500 prisoners.

    General Eric von Ludendorff, the German commander, later wrote of 8 August 1918:

    [It] was the black day of the German Army in this war. ... The 8th of August put the decline of that [German] fighting power beyond all doubt. ... The war must be ended.

    Ludendorff, quoted by Charles Bean, Anzac to Amiens, Canberra, 1948, p.473

    The advance continued on the following days with the Australians taking Etinehem, Lihons and Proyart. Australian casualties for the offensive, mainly from 9–12 August, were 6,000 killed and wounded with total Allied casualties (some of whom later returned to battle) of just 22000.

    I fail to see how it can be said the german army by this stage was effectively resisting the allied counteroffensive. Sure they may have staged a partial recovery in the latter stages of 1918 as the winter weather set in, and some manpower previously wounded was returned to units, but as ludendorf states, from the 8th August on there was no recovery for the germans.

    The allies should never have accepted the weak treaty of versailles. Pershing was absolutely right. Unconditional surrender should have been the allied terms. nothing less. That and the full occupation of germany itself in 1919 (the modern equivalent the romans ploughing salt into the soil of carthage) would have left no doubt as to who had won, and prevented the myths that led to Hitlers rise from ever gaining traction.

    What a lost opportunity...... "
     
  12. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    The Battle Of Cambrai-St Quentin

    The battle of Cambrai-St. Quentin, 27 September-9 October 1918, was the main British contribution to Marshal Foch’s all out attack on the Hindenburg line (the Hundred Days). It saw three British and one French army force the Germans out of their strong defensive line and back to the River Selle. In this period the german army was repeatedly and comprehensively defeated, following on from the initial successes at Hamel and Amiens.

    Foch’s plan involved a Franco-American attack between Reims and Verdun (Meuse-Argonne Offensive), a combined French, British and Belgian attack in Flanders, and a mainly British offensive between Cambrai and St. Quentin. Here four allied armies (three British and one French), under the overall attack of Douglas Haig, would attack the strongest part of the German line.

    Haig’s four armies, from north to south, were the British First (Horne), Third (Byng) and Fourth (Rawlinson) and the French First (General Marie Eugene Debeney). On 25 September the British had 22 divisions in the front line, with twenty more in reserve (all conbat ready). In addition there were two divisions of the American II Corps, the equivalent of four normal divisions. Debeney had a further eight divisions in the line. The Germans had fifty seven divisions opposing the British. Rawlinson’s fourth army, which was to make the central attack, was faced by von der Marwitz’s Second Army.

    The German defensive position had been carefully chosen towards the end of 1916. Long sections of it were based on the Canal du Nord and the St. Quentin Canal, which ran through steep sided 60ft deep cuttings. The British plan was to launch their main attack between Vendhuille and Bellicourt, where the canal ran through a tunnel. The elite Australian corps and the fresh US II Corps would carry out the attack. Elsewhere attacks would be made on the line of the canal, but less was expected of them.

    The battle began on 27 September with an attack by the First and Third Armies on the Canal du Nord. They advanced four miles along a thirteen mile front, captured 10,000 prisoners and cleared the canal. They suffered less than 2000 casualties completing this task.

    The southern attack began on 29 September. It did not go according to plan. A preliminary attack on 28 September had failed, leaving American troops in isolated advanced position close to German strong points. The artillery bombardment couldn’t fire on these strong points for fear of hitting the Americans, and nor could the first part of the advance be protected by a creeping barrage. The American attack was soon bogged down (although elements from the 30th Division were able to seize control of the southern end of the St. Quentin Canal), forcing the Australians to join in much sooner than expected. The attack on the St. Quentin Canal was in serious trouble.

    Further south the canal itself was also under attack. IX Corps had prepared carefully for the water crossing, providing their men with collapsible boats, life jackets and even floating piers, in the expectation that the Germans would destroy every bridge over the canal. Instead, as the 46th (North Midland) Division advanced towards the canal they realised that the bridge at Riquaval was still intact. The 137th (Staffordshire) Brigade captured the western bank of the canal, and the 1/6th North Staffords rushed the bridge. By the end of the day two divisions were across the canal, and IX Corps had captured four miles of the main Hindenburg Line. The attack at Riquaval produced one of the most famous pictures of the war, taken on 2 October 1918 and showing the men of the 137th Brigade lining the steep banks of the cutting listening to a speech by Brigadier-General J V Campbell.

    The following day the 3rd Army were in the western suburbs of Cambrai and by 2 October the line of the St. Quentin Canal had been captured. General Max von Boehm, commanding the local German army group, was forced to retreat to a new line running south from Cambrai.

    This line only held for a few days. On 8 October the British Third and Fourth and French First Armies, launched a set-piece attack along a 17 mile front, forcing the Germans out of the new line. Cambrai was liberated on 9 October, and the Germans forced back to a new line on the River Selle, near Le Cateau. The BEF was returning to the battlefields of 1914.

    The battle of Cambrai-St. Quentin is also know as the battle for the Hindenburg Line. Officially it was the battles for the Hindenburg Line, further broken down into the battle of the Canal du Nord, 27 September-1 October 1918 (the British First and Second Armies) and the battle of the St. Quentin Canal, 29 September-2 October 1918 (the Fourth and French First Armies), followed by the battle of Beaurevoir, 3-6 October 1918 and then the battle of Cambrai of 1918, 8-9 October 1918.

    After 9 October the fighting died down for a few days while the British prepared to attack the line of the Selle. Having pushed the Germans out of their main defensive lines, Haig was determined not to give them the time to create strong new positions. The battles of the Selle, 17-25 October, Valenciennes, 1-2 November 1918 and the Sambre, 4 November 1918, followed by the Pursuit to Mons, 4-11 November 1918, saw the Germans pushed out of a series of defensive positions, until on the morning of 11 November the Canadians entered Mons, just in advance of the armistice.
     
  13. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    The Hundred Days The above accounts are part of what Foch referred to as the "Hundred Days" (references to Napoleons Hundred days perhaps???)

    (18 July-11 November 1918) was the final Allied offensive of the First World War on the Western Front. The stalemate on the Western Front had been broken by the great German offensives of the spring and summer of 1918, which had pushed the Allies back up to forty miles and created a series of huge salients in the Allied line. They had failed to achieve their main objective, which had been to separate the British from the French and capture the channel ports, and had drained much of the strength out of the German army.

    One result of the crisis caused by the first of the German offensive (second battle of the Somme), had been the appointment of Marshal Foch as commander-in-chief of all Allied armies on the Western Front. As the German offensives began to run out of power, Foch began to plan the Allied counterattack. This was to begin with a series of attacks designed to eliminate the salients in preparation for a final campaign in 1919. If the initial attacks went well, then Foch hoped to launch a major offensive that he hoped would push the Germans back off French soil. Even if that succeeded, there was every chance that the Germans might choose to defend their own borders, leaving the final campaign still to be fought.

    Phase One – Clearing the Salients

    The Hundred Days began with a French counter-attack. The final German offensive, the Champagne-Marne Offensive, 15-18 July, made very little progress, and on 18 July the German salient (Château-Thierry or Marne salient) was attacked from the west (Aisne-Marne Offensive, 18 July-5 August). By the time the French offensive ended, the Germans had been pushed back to the line of the Aisne and Velse rivers.

    The next step was the elimination of the Amiens salient. This had been created during the second battle of the Somme, and extended over the old Somme battlefield of 1916, past the Somme River and almost to Amiens. The battle of Amiens began on 8 August with a surprise tank attack by the British Fourth Army (Rawlinson). This broke through the German lines, destroyed six divisions and forced the Germans back nine miles in one day. Ludendorff described 8 August as the “Black Day of the German Army”. The second phase of the battle (battle of Bapaume) saw the Germans forced back to the line of the Somme, and then to the Hindenburg Line, their starting point back in March. The most important feature of this battle was that it saw entire German units collapse for the first time during the war.

    The final salient to be cleared was at St. Mihiel (12-13 September), south of Verdun. This was the first major battle fought by the American army since their arrival in France. The Germans were caught in the process of evacuating the salient and after some fierce fighting the Americans captured 13,000 German prisoners and cut off the salient.

    Phase Two – Assaulting the Hindenburg Line

    The great success of the battles to clear the salients encouraged Marshal Foch to launch his great triple offensive. The Germans had been forced back to the strong defensive line they had held at the start of 1918, known in English as the Hindenburg Line. To the Germans this was the Siegfried Stellung (the Siegfried Position), a series of defensive zones constructed over the winter of 1916-17 twenty five miles behind the then front line on the Somme. Operation Alberich saw the Germans withdraw to the new shorter stronger front line in four days (March 1917). Ludendorff’s five great battles of the spring and early summer had seen the Germans advance well beyond the line, but now they were back in place. This would be the big test of Allied strength.

    Foch decided to launch a three pronged attack on the German lines. In the north King Albert of Belgium, with a force of British, French and Belgian troops, would attack through Flanders. In the centre of the line Haig would command three British and one French army in an attack on the heart of the Hindenburg line between Cambrai and St. Quentin. Finally, to the south the French and Americans would attack on the front between Reims and Verdun.

    The great offensive was timed to begin at the end of September. A number of preliminary operations were required to bring the Allied line into place for the assault; amongst them the battle of Epehy (18-19 September) but the Allies were soon in place ready for what was hoped would be the final “big push”.

    The southern part of the great attack was the Meuse River-Argonne Forest offensive of 26 September-11 November. This saw the America First Army attack on the front west from the Meuse into the Argonne Forest and the French Fourth Army from the Argonne Forest east towards Reims. The first phase of this battle began on 26 September. The Americans advanced two miles through the difficult Argonne Forest and five miles along the Meuse. Further west the French pushed forward nine miles. The Americans were then forced to take a short break to rotate fresh troops into the front line, before beginning the second phase of the battle on 4 October. Between 14-17 October they forced their way through the main German defences, and by the end of October had cleared the Argonne forest. On their left the French advanced twenty miles, reaching the Aisne River. By the end of the war the French and Americans had reached Sedan and had cut the Sedan-Metz railway line, one of the main supply lines to the German front.

    The northern attack began on 28 September and was a dramatic success. The British and Belgian armies advanced across the old Ypres battlefield and recaptured all of the ground lost during the Lys Offensive. In three days the Menin Road Ridge, Passchendaele Ridge and all of the familiar landmarks of four years of fighting were back in Allied hands, and at the end of three days the Allies had advanced ten miles, reaching the Menin-Roulers road. This phase of the fighting was officially designated the battle of Ypres, 1918, but is also sometimes known as the fourth battle of Ypres.

    Rain, mud and inadequate planning then delayed the offensive for a fortnight. The second phase of the northern offensive began on 14 October (battle of Courtrai) and continued until the end of the war. On 17 October Lille, Ostend and Douai were liberated. The Belgian army reached Zeebrugge and Bruges on 19 October. By the end of the month the Allies were at the Schelde and by the time of the Armistice the Allies had advance fifty miles.

    Haig had been given the hardest job. His was the only front where the Germans still outnumbered the Allies, although not by a great deal, and the quality of their troops was in some doubt after the fighting of the spring and early summer. Forty British divisions supported by the American II corps faced fifty seven German divisions protected by the powerful fortifications built before the German withdrawal of 1917. The German defences took advantage of a series of wide canals which ran though deep cuttings. The cuttings on the Canal du Nord and the St. Quentin Canal were up to sixty feet deep.

    The central attack began on 27 September with an attack on the Canal du Nord by the 1st and 3rd Armies (battle of Cambrai-St. Quentin). Two days later the 4th Army began the main attack on the St. Quentin Canal. The main set-piece attack, aimed at a gap in the line where the canal went through a tunnel, got bogged down, but an attack by the 46th (North Midland) Division further south captured a bridge over the canal at Riqueval, and captured a key beachhead across the canal, along with a stretch of the main Hindenburg line. A second set piece attack on 3 October met with more success, pushing the Germans out of their reserve line. The Hindenburg line had been broken.

    If the British had expected a rapid advance beyond the Hindenburg line they were to be disappointed. German resistance was stubborn, if unsuccessful, and every advance was contested. The Germans held a new line running south from Cambrai, forcing another set-piece attack. On 8 October the British Third and Fourth Armies and the French First Army attacked along a seventeen mile front extending south from Cambrai. The town was captured on 9 October and the Allies advanced four miles before the Germans took up another position on the Selle.

    After a brief pause another set-piece attack was launched on 17 October (battle of the Selle). The British were now back on familiar ground from 1914, fighting around Le Cateau (17-18 October). The Germans retreated to yet another river line, this time on the Sambre. Once again a set-piece attack was launched. A preliminary attack on 1-2 November saw the Canadians capture Valenciennes, and then on 4 November Haig’s armies launched an attack on a thirty mile front along the Sambre. This was the final British set-piece of the war. The fighting from 4-11 November was officially designated the Pursuit to Mons. One of the last actions of the war saw Canadian troops liberate Mons on the morning of 11 November.

    This final phase of the fighting on the Western Front was amongst the most costly of the war. The British suffered 350,000 casualties between August and the end of the war, 200,000 of them between the start of September and 9 October, of which 140,000 were suffered at Cambria-St. Quentin. Only the first battle of the Somme was more costly. The difference this time was that the Allies finally achieved all of their objectives, for the fighting since August had finally broken the German will to continue the war.
     
  14. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    U]Phase Three – The German Collapse[/U]

    The three pronged Allied offensive triggered a process of collapse inside the German establishment. On 28 September Ludendorff had his own black day, spending most of the day in an incoherent rage. That evening he told Hindenburg that Germany needed to seek an armistice, as it was no longer possible to win the war on the battlefield. The spring and summer offensives had been designed to win the war before the Americans could arrive in numbers. Now an increasingly large number of American troops were taking part in the fighting and the British and French were demonstrating an ability to force their way through the strongest of defensive lines.

    The crisis soon spread. On 29 September the Kaiser visited headquarters as Spa to be told that victory was no longer possible. On the same day the Bulgarians began armistice negotiations – the first of Germany’s allies was about to be knocked out of the war.

    On 3 October the Kaiser appointed Prince Max of Baden, a political moderate, as Chancellor of Germany. It had been decided that the only way to gain a good peace was to transform Germany into a democracy. There was also an increasing amount of unrest on the home front, where the Allied blockade was being felt. Sacrifices that were acceptable while the German armies were advancing were not tolerable now they were in retreat.

    German hopes were based on President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points. These peace terms had been announced on 8 January 1918 in a speech to Congress, and were seen as the basis for an honourable peace. That speech had been made before the massive battles of 1918, and the eventual armistice terms would be rather less generous.

    Prince Max had the sense to get Hindenburg to admit in writing that there was no further chance of forcing a peace on the enemy. This was fortunate, as towards the end of October Ludendorff had recovered his nerve. The German army was still in retreat, but it was now a fighting retreat. On 24 October Ludendorff issued and then withdrew a proclamation denouncing Prince Max. One copy was leaked, and on 27 October Ludendorff was ordered to resign.

    At the British prepared for their attack on the Sambre, the Kaiser left Berlin and moved to the military headquarters at Spa (29 October). There he soon lost all contact with reality, and began to plan to use the army to restore order in Germany.

    30 October was a key day. On that day Turkey surrendered. Germany’s only remaining ally, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was in the process of dissolving. With defeat clearly imminent the German High Seas Fleet was ordered to sea, to seek a final suicidal battle with the British Grand Fleet. Not surprisingly the fleet mutinied, and refused to take to sea. On 4 November the Kaiser’s brother, Prince Henry of Prussia, the commander at Kiel, was forced to flee. On the previous day the Austro-Hungarian cease fire had come into effect.

    Negotiations with the Allies were now under way. The only stumbling block was the Kaiser, who was unacceptable to the Allies. On 9 November, under increasing pressure from revolutionary forces in Berlin, Prince Max handed power to Friedrich Ebert. He was a moderate socialist, who despite being a monarchist saw that any attempt to retain the Kaiser might lead to revolution. On 10 November Willhelm II went into exile in Holland, from where on 28 November he signed his abdication papers. At 11 am on 11 November the fighting stopped on the Western Front.
     
  15. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    So, there it is, a basic framework of what happened in that final 5 months of 1918. Happy to field questions or additional questions, but the burning question for me is, that the allies had it within their power to demand unconditional surrender, why did they accept the unsatisfactory peace of Versailles???? I blame Wilson
     
  16. michaelmaltby

    michaelmaltby Well-Known Member

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    #16 michaelmaltby, Sep 8, 2011
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2011
    "... I blame Wilson".

    I basically agree - although the Revolution taking place in Russia and the diplomatic leaks that followed Lenin's withdrawal (for ex.
    Sykes-Picot) from the war cannot have made for easy going for either Britain or France. Certainly Britain knew the Bolsheviks were going to be sewing discord among Russia's former allies wherever they could. Long term - a new Communist state committed to world Revolution was more dangerous than a more traditional foe - Germany - which itself was being threatened by the
    Internationaliste conflagration.

    But Wilson - the academic - had certain pretensions for himself and for America. He was wrong of course, as born out by Congress' rejection of membership in the League. But - like our current crop of academics, Wilson was a dabbler IMHO. Dangerous because he wasn't geo-politically realistic and he didn't carry the weight of America behind him - the way Harry Truman and George Marshall did in 1945-46, for example.

    MM
     
  17. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    I agree. But I should also acknowledg that the glaring difference in WWI interallied co-operation was the lack of international co-operation outside the strictly military. In the 2nd war, the allies were able to meet and agree on general terms of surrender. that makes it harder for a nation to cut and make a separate deal with the enemy. The allies were also able to provide assistance to each other such as lend lease and the coordination of major offensives and the like. None of this occurred until the appointment of Foch as the supreme leader of the allied armies, and then only for that TO, and only in relation to miltary matters. Diplomatic arrangements continued to be a bit of a hodge podge IMO
     
  18. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    Fourteen Points - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    The German Government agreed to stated U.S. war aims. Try as he might, President Wilson could not refuse to accept an armistice based on the Fourteen Points. Otherwise he would probably get impreached by Congress.
     
  19. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    well, it does seem that there is general consensus that militarily the Allies were capable presing for unconditional surrender. The main problem preventing this from ever happening was

    a) British and French war weariness and exhaustion
    b) a lack of unity at the diplomatic level by the Allies. There was no clearly stated joint declaration by the allies calling for unconditional surrender.
    c) The US was committed to a negotiated settlement

    First question then, are there any other factors that might have contributed to the Allies negotiating a peace deal rather than demanding it. One possibility i can think of is the Rhine barrier. I have never found any references to this anywhere, its sheer speculation, but I could envisage the allies seeing the crossing of the rhine as a major incentive to making peace. Was the situation along the rhine different in a major way to 1945. Would the germans have surrendered unconditionally once their territory west of the rhine had been lost?

    Secondly what sort of unconditional surrender were the Germans likley to have imposed on them? The WWII sirrender had been pretty carefully worked out, with zones of occupation, de-nazification and de militarization programs agreed on. Eventually how to deal with war crimes was also worked out....no summary justice, rather a process of war crimes trials, as fair as they could be.....no application of collective responsibility, though Soviet behaviour kinda tested that principal. The allies agreed that Germany as a nation would be retained, and rebuilt, though once again the Soviets kinda reneged on that idea, hence the two state solution until 1989.

    All of these principals were unheard of in 1918, and the peace treaty had more in common with the treaty that followewd Waterloo rather than the treaty that followed German surrender in '45. Unconditinal surrender had usually led to annexation, permanent occupation and exploitation and the like and had pretty much disappeared after the 1700s. Negotiated settlements, a kind of extension of limited war, was the order of the day, but in my view, the concepts of "civilized" limited war settlements could not be applied to a conflict that to all intents and purposes had been a toal war, the first since the 30 years war (Napoleons wars were not total in the same sense, though they were big. The ACW was perhaps the nearest modern equivalent)

    But despite the new concepts in diplomacy that would have been needed, it was not beyond possibility for this to have occurred. I think the main stumbling block was that countries were concerned that occupation would be permanent, and would in fact lead to annexation....the destruction of the german state, and this would have been just as unsatisfactory as conditional surender to most of the major powers (Britain and the US mostly)

    So, even though I am a very strong believer in unconditional surrender in 1918, because i think it would avoid the need for a 2nd global conflict, I simply dont think it was feasible for a number of reasons.

    Still, I have to pose a final question.....if a unconditional surrender had been achieved, with Germany as a state surviving, would this have been enough to have prevented the 2nd war from erupting (perhaps later than 1939), would germany have ended up a communist state, or would the remainder of Europe have achieved a permanent peace for itself???

    seems
     
  20. michaelmaltby

    michaelmaltby Well-Known Member

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    #20 michaelmaltby, Sep 10, 2011
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2011
    ".... the peace treaty had more in common with the treaty that followed Waterloo rather than the treaty that followed German surrender in '45."


    This is very profound and very true :). The EXPERIENCE of WW1 -- four years of mass, mindless slaughter - was a great influencer of tween-war consciousness:the death of Christianity for many in Europe and the West. The climate leading to WW2 was totally shaped by the horrors of '14-'18.

    "....if a unconditional surrender had been achieved, with Germany as a state surviving, would this have been enough to have prevented the 2nd war from erupting (perhaps later than 1939), would germany have ended up a communist state, or would the remainder of Europe have achieved a permanent peace for itself???


    The short answer is: WW2 was act II of a three act play. If the First Punic War had turned out differently, would there have been a Second or Third Punic War?

    Yes. There wasn't room for Carthage and Rome. And there wasn't room for another European "Empire" in 1914. [And as a consequence of the war, all European empires were destroyed.

    MM
     
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