Centennial of the End of the Great War (Full Version)

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Capt. Harlock -> Centennial of the End of the Great War (3/10/2018 2:57:08 AM)

10 March 1918:

It was now almost eleven months since the United States had entered WWI on the Allied side. Though the U. S. Navy had promptly joined the effort against the U-boats, thus far there had been almost no effect on the land war: a rough rule of thumb is that it takes a full year of training to turn a group of raw recruits into an efficient fighting unit. There had of course been a small professional American Army before the war broke out, but nothing like the size that was needed in either manpower or equipment, and the expansion had taken considerable time. But division-sized units were now almost ready to be committed to battle, and German intelligence had guessed as much. If they were to win the war, it had to be soon, before hundreds of thousands of U. S. reinforcements could make their weight felt.

There was a narrow amount of time for a war-winning attack. The collapse of Russia and the resulting Treaty of Bresk-Litovsk had freed large numbers of troops from the Eastern theater of the war. The German railroad network made it possible to rapidly bring these soldiers to the Western front, where they might achieve what both sides had been dreaming of since the German onslaught of 1914 had been stopped: a breakthrough. And a break in the lines was needed: for one of the few times in military history, it was impossible to flank either side. The lines ran all the way from the English Channel to the Swiss Alps. The tremendous firepower given by machine-guns and quick-firing artillery had made frontal attacks staggeringly costly, as Germans and Allies alike had discovered.


However, both sides were evolving weapons and tactics to deal with this situation. Be it said that the first attempts to solve the problem had been failures. The obvious method of dealing with the entrenchments and barbed wire had been to blast them with artillery. However, even when the production of the hundreds of thousands of shells required had finally been managed, the blasted landscapes after the bombardments had proved a powerful obstacle in their own right. It was difficult to move wheeled vehicles through the ruined terrain even when dry, and when the frequent rains came, it was virtually impossible. This meant that the immense quantities of supplies needed by the armies for an advance could not be provided.

The next step had been to use poison gas. The Allies’ outrage at this tactic had not prevented them from responding in kind, and both sides had soon developed chemicals that did grim damage to human beings even when they did not kill outright. But the result was still stalemate: wind, weather, and gas masks had limited the strategic effects to mere local gains in ground.

The methods of 1917 had shown more success. After the usual difficulties with prototypes, tanks had been made fairly reliable and were being produced on the Allied side in quantity. The Germans produced a few tanks of their own, but the British sea blockade limited the stocks of iron available. Therefore the Germans turned to specialized infantry called Stosstruppen or Storm-troopers, trained and equipped with flamethrowers and other high-firepower weapons. They could use infiltration tactics or, more often, follow a carefully orchestrated artillery bombardment dubbed the "Firewaltz". This opened with shells dispensing a form of tear gas which was not blocked by gas masks, and usually made the defending troops remove their masks. Then came shells with mustard gas and other lethal agents. Finally came a barrage of high-explosive shells with instant fuses, causing them to detonate before they had time to bury themselves into the ground, which made them more effective at bringing down barbed wire and also avoided making deep craters. This allowed the Stormtroopers to advance and overwhelm the defenders in their trenches. A minor Allied success at Cambrai, and a spectacular German-Austrian success at Caporetto, had shown that the bloody stalemate on the Western Front might finally be broken.

There was, of course, the alternative of making peace. The Germans had offered terms of "no annexations and no indemnities", which meant that they would withdraw from Belgium and northern France, and in return would pay no penalties for having invaded in the first place. Also, they would keep Alsace and Lorraine. The major Allies vehemently rejected this idea. The French were adamant about reclaiming the two provinces, and Britain and Japan were not about to let go of the German colonies they had captured. Italy, once a member of the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria, had been persuaded to join the Allies by promises of territory from the Austro-Hungarian empire. Further, there had been several atrocities such as the burning of Louvain and its world-famous library, for which the Allies were determined to exact penalties. President Woodrow Wilson had countered the German proposal in January with his "Fourteen Points", which called for not only the return of Alsace-Lorraine but the effective breakup of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. This was of course unacceptable to those empires, and would also leave Germany without an effective alliance, while Britain and France would be strengthened by their alliance with the U. S.

And so, on this date General Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff, now effectively the chief general of the German army, had his orders issued in the Kaiser’s name. The KaiserSchlact, or "Kaiser's Battle" would be launched in eleven days. First would come the offensive code-named Operation Michael. The objective would be the British forces in the St. Quentin sector, which had been the general area of the Battle of the Somme.


Capt. Harlock -> RE: Centennial of the End of the Great War (3/11/2018 2:50:08 PM)

11 March 1918

In Fort Riley, Kansas, mess cook Private Albert Gitchell was diagnosed with a new type of influenza. It is very likely that there had been a number of cases before in various parts of the world, but Private Gitchell was the first officially recorded case of a disease that would become the most lethal pandemic to afflict humanity since the Black Death. He was not alone for long: by afternoon, over 100 other soldiers at Fort riley were reported ill. Gitchell himself would recover (note the dates on the tombstone).

Both the Allies and the Central Powers tried to conceal their death rate, since it was a significant impact on their available manpower. Neutral Spain freely reported the spread of the disease, which would nearly claim even King Alfonso XIII, and so it would become known as the Spanish Flu.


nicwb -> RE: Centennial of the End of the Great War (3/12/2018 2:37:57 AM)

Even more sobering- the Spanish flu would go on to kill more people than would die in the War.

Capt. Harlock -> RE: Centennial of the End of the Great War (3/12/2018 3:42:02 AM)

12 March 1918

The collapse of the Russian Empire had benefited the Ottoman Turks as well as the Germans and Austrians. Central Asia was now largely open, and on this date, Turkish forces advanced and re-took Erzurum (spelling varies depending on translation). The 1916 Russian capture of Erzurum, then considered the strongest fortress-city in the Ottoman Empire, had been a major victory and greatly offset the Allied debacle of Gallipoli. Now the Central Powers had a success to boast about, even before the offensive in the west had begun.


wodin -> RE: Centennial of the End of the Great War (3/12/2018 11:35:13 PM)

My great grandfather's and my great great uncle D Costa MM fought n the 55division that held the German attack after the Portuguese ran away on their fvlank. Dominic who had been out since May 15 was killed on the last day of the action after 8 days continuous fighting. He had won the MM the year before, was 27 with two kids. His brother my great Grandad was fighting with him and buried him but the grave was lost. I'd love to own his MM and death plaque. I've read the letter his commanding officer wrote Dominic's wife after he was killed.

Capt. Harlock -> RE: Centennial of the End of the Great War (3/13/2018 3:36:58 AM)

13 March 1918

To a surprising extent, the war in the air in WWI foreshadowed what would happen in WWII. The Germans began with a distinct advantage both in numbers and in individual performance of their equipment. After a grim initial period where the life expectancy of an Allied pilot had been less than twenty flight hours, British and French designers came up with airplanes to match Anton Fokker's creations. The race had gone back and forth for a time, but by the start of 1918 the Allies had taken a clear lead by weight of numbers. The Germans had introduced an advanced fighter in the Fokker D. VII which might have brought the advantage back to them, but they were having trouble ramping up production. (It would not enter squadron service until May.)

The greatest value of airplanes in WWI was for reconnaissance. Not only the movement of armies, but the construction of fortifications, railroads, harbor facilities, and even long-range artillery emplacements could now be quickly spotted from the air, whereas before they had been invisible except to spies. But this capability did not satisfy the High Commands of either side. They wanted to be able to attack and destroy rather than merely observe. (It is also likely that the airmen themselves were not happy about only being glamorous scouts. That might bring them a measure of fame, but little in the way of promotion.) Both sides had been quick to see the potential of bombs dropped from the skies.

But neither the lighter-than-air Zeppelins nor the heavier-than-air bombers had the bomb capacity to cause enough damage to affect the strategic situation. Therefore the Germans turned to targets that would impact morale. Zeppelins were sent to bomb London, but they succeeded for only a short time until the British fighters began using incendiary bullets. The Zeppelins were large, slow, and filled with hydrogen, as Germany had no source of helium in quantity. Losses rapidly became more than the Germans were willing to accept, and they switched to night-time attacks and heavier-than-air bombers.

The bombers were harder to bring down, but more fighters and anti-aircraft guns eventually raised losses to the point where night-time attacks were necessary for them as well. These had their own problems with navigation, and were practical only with moonlight and few clouds. Thus, the damage done to London and other targets was enough to outrage the Allies, but did not noticeably diminish war production.

An example occurred on this date: a night-time Zeppelin raid was attempted, but only one of the three craft managed to reach England. It dropped its bombs on the town of Hartlepool, killing 8 people. A British pilot trying to intercept was also killed when he flew into Pontop Pike.

It should be added that the British and French condemnation of these attacks as war crimes did not prevent them from launching bombing raids of their own as retaliation. These were as ineffective against the Germans as the German raids had been against the Western Allies.

There was war below the ground as well as above it. For centuries, where there has been static warfare there has been tunneling, or mining and counter-mining operations. One of the most active spots for this kind of activity was the Pasubio plateau in the Little Dolomites range in Italy. Both the Italians and the Austro-Hungarians had set off large underground explosions in attempts to drive each other off the strategic location. At dawn on this date, the Austro-Hungarians fired their fifth charge in the area. This time they used an impressive 50 tonnes (110,000 lbs) of explosive, making it the largest mine on the Italian Front. The blast collapsed the north face of the plateau, killing 40 Italians. However, back-blast from the explosion went into the Austro-Hungarian tunnel system, and caused an unrecorded number of casualties there as well.

Mike Dubost -> RE: Centennial of the End of the Great War (3/14/2018 1:21:10 AM)


while Britain and France would be strengthened by their alliance with the U. S.

At the risk of being accused of pedantry, I would like to point out that the US was not allied to any country in WWI. If you read such period works as Pershing's memoirs, he refers to the "Allied and Associated Powers". I think this was probably due to Washington's warning to avoid entangling alliances.

Capt. Harlock -> RE: Centennial of the End of the Great War (3/14/2018 3:44:24 AM)

14 March 1918

On this date, a peace conference opened in Trabzon, Turkey. It was between The Ottoman Empire and a delegation of “Trans-Caucasian” peoples such as Armenians, Azerbaijanis, and Georgians, and therefore did not deal with the Western front at all. The Ottomans’ idea was to have their territorial gains from the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk accepted, so that they could turn their forces to dealing with the British in Palestine and Persia. But the Armenians, who were watching their brethren still being massacred by the Ottomans in Turkey and the Middle East, were not in a mood to make peace.

Capt. Harlock -> RE: Centennial of the End of the Great War (3/16/2018 3:05:19 AM)

Mid-March 1918

For reasons which will likely remain uncertain, the Allied scouting flights were failing their mission. It was not hard to anticipate a major German offensive in the spring, but exactly where and when were the crucial questions. The massive German build-up opposite the British lines in the St. Quentin sector was so far undetected. (Some have suggested that the Germans used woods as concealment, but there were few leaves on the trees at this time.) It was left to the British and French high commands to guess the point of attack. Naturally, each side claimed the blow would fall on their own lines, and requested reinforcements.

Since they were fighting in French territory and the reserves were mostly French, the French received the bulk of what was available. They reasoned that the British could always fall back to the coast, while the French armies could not afford to retreat too far, lest they lose Paris. More, the British were holding almost 300,000 troops in England to defend against sea-borne invasion. (The British politicians apparently did not realize that, while a few raiding destroyers and cruisers could occasionally sneak through and bombard the English coast, an invasion fleet of troop transports and supply ships could never have made it past the Royal Navy.)

It was an understandable choice, even if it was wrong. The fall of Paris would have been a disaster, but survivable, while forcing the French and British to retreat in different directions would have allowed the Germans to crush each in turn. What was less understandable was the failure to build up the defenses. The new German tactics had already been demonstrated at Caporetto, and had shown the usefulness of “defense in depth”, fall-back lines behind the front lines. Plans had been made for such defenses, but in mid-March many lines were still incomplete. In some places, they had not even been begun.

ezzler -> RE: Centennial of the End of the Great War (3/17/2018 10:48:31 PM)

The armies in England were being deliberately kept back, it has been claimed.
To prevent Haig having any more bloodbath offences he was to be rationed in troops.

The manpower committee failed to mention the army at all when it allocated its priorities. Which had airforce and navy first.
A very odd situation had developed with the generals and politicians of the UK. Which was about to lead to a political as well as military crisis.

Capt. Harlock -> RE: Centennial of the End of the Great War (3/18/2018 12:25:08 AM)

18 March 1918

The Allied governments issued a Note, or formal declaration, refusing to recognize the Russo-German peace treaty. Naturally, it had no immediate effect. The Germans continued to help themselves to territory in eastern Europe as the Russian troops withdrew.

Holland was understandably trying to stay neutral in the war, and for the time being, both sides were willing to accept it. The city of Rotterdam had become espionage central, since agents did not risk execution there. But Holland is a sea-going nation, and Dutch ships going to and from the world’s ports had attracted the attention of Britain, which was now seriously short of cargo ships after losses from U-boats and surface raiders. The Allies had demanded the use of the Dutch ships outside Holland to bolster their depleted fleets, and when the United States joined in, the pressure became even greater. Food was running very short already, and if the Allied ports were closed to Holland, the country faced starvation. On this date, the government of Holland accepted the use of Dutch shipping in United States and other ports, though they had “some reservations”. (Queen Wilhelmina called it “theft”.)

The Germans, to put it mildly, were displeased. If Dutch vessels transported war material for the Allies, then Holland was not really neutral anymore. It was made clear that a German army could very easily cross into Holland, while the Allies could not offer much in the way of aid. (Even more, the Dutch army’s weapons had mostly been purchased from Germany, so getting more ammunition would be a problem.) Holland faced a dilemma.

rico21 -> RE: Centennial of the End of the Great War (3/18/2018 5:18:44 AM)

+ 1 300 000 Morts pour la France


Capt. Harlock -> RE: Centennial of the End of the Great War (3/20/2018 2:33:51 AM)

20 March 1918

A British raiding party managed to capture a few German soldiers a short distance north of St Quentin, and brought them back for questioning. They proved to be from the German 28th division, and were well aware of what was coming. The prisoners therefore quickly informed their captors of the impending bombardment, and asked to be sent to the rear as far and as speedily as possible. In another example of British command at its least competent, no general alert was issued.

But not everyone needed an alert. Other foot patrols were discovering what the airmen had failed to spot, clues like battalion flags and the sounds of many wagons bringing up ammunition and equipment.


After a stint on the front lines commanding a battalion of Royal Scots Fusiliers, Winston Churchill had been forgiven the debacle of Gallipoli and had been made Minister of Munitions. He happened to be in France for a conference, and went to visit the British 9th division, commanded by General Henry Tudor, an old friend. They toured defenses held by a unit of “Springboks” (South Africans). Both men agreed that the fortifications had been well planned and constructed, but the men were too few.

The sun was setting as we left Gauche Wood and took our leave of the South Africans. I see them now, serene as the Spartans of Leonidas on the eve of Thermopylae.
Before I went to my bed in the ruins of Nurlu, Tudor said to me: ‘it is certainly coming now. Trench raids this evening have identified no less than eight enemy battalions on a single half-mile of the front.’ The night was quiet except for a rumble of artillery fire, mostly distant . . .

--Winston Churchill, The World Crisis Vol. 3

Capt. Harlock -> RE: Centennial of the End of the Great War (3/21/2018 4:11:22 AM)

21 March 1918

The first of the German attacks, Operation Michael, began at 4:40 am.

I woke up in complete silence at a few minutes past four and lay musing. Suddenly, after what seemed about half an hour, the silence was broken by six or seven very loud and very heavy explosions several miles away . . . And then, exactly as a pianist runs his hands across the keyboard from treble to bass, there rose in less than one minute the most tremendous cannonade I shall ever hear … through the chinks in the carefully papered window the flame of the bombardment lit like flickering firelight my tiny cabin.
I dressed and went out. On the duckboards outside the Mess I met [General] Tudor. ‘This is it,’ he said. ‘I have ordered all our batteries to open. You will hear them in a minute.’ But the crash of the German shells bursting on our trench lines eight thousand yards away was so overpowering that the accession to the tumult of nearly two hundred guns firing from much nearer to us could not be even distinguished. From the Divisional Headquarters on the high ground of Nurlu one could see the front line for many miles. It swept round us in a wide curve of red leaping flame stretching to the north far along the front of the Third Army, as well as of the Fifth Army on the south, and quite unending in either direction...the enormous explosions of the shells upon our trenches seemed almost to touch each other, with hardly an interval in space or time. Among the bursting shells there rose at intervals, but almost continually, the much larger flames of exploding magazines.

--Winston Churchill, "The World Crisis Vol. 3"

The German prisoners' worries of the day before were all too well founded: over the next five hours, at least 1,100,000 shells were fired into positions held by the British Third and Fifth Armies. The shells included mustard gas, chlorine gas, tear gas, and smoke to both incapacitate and blind the defenders. In addition, there was still considerable morning fog when the storm-troopers began to move, allowing them to penetrate undetected past many of the forward trenches.

Most of the telephone wires to the British forward lines were cut, and runners found the going difficult between fog, smoke, and enemy soldiers already advancing. A number of British units found themselves surrounded before they could be warned. Some surrendered when German artillery was given their precise coordinates. Others fought for a time, partially protected by smoke and fog. Artillery units, positioned to the rear of trenches, had to evacuate:

As the day wore on first one battery then another on either side of us fell silent and we were aware they were pulling out and falling back. Finally, ours were the only guns firing and even they fell silent about mid-afternoon… There were no infantry in sight, friendly or hostile, no planes flew overhead. There was no sound of rifle, machine-gun or mortar fire, no bursting shells. So it remained until night fell when all hands were mustered to load the convoy of lorries drawn up on the road running beyond our left flank. Everything was carried on our backs or shoulders including the several hundred rounds of hundred-pound shells. All was done in strict silence and smoking was forbidden.
--Gunner Maurice Burton, 342nd Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery

The British Third Army managed to hold its lines except for its right wing, but the Fifth Army suffered several breakthroughs. They were more costly than the Germans had anticipated, for a number of the surrounded British redoubts had refused to surrender until they were out of ammunition. The Germans are estimated to have taken 40,000 casualties by the end of the day. However, they had inflicted as many as 55,000 casualties on the British, and had advanced almost to the last line of defenses. So far, Ludendorff's plan was going well.

Far away in the Palestinian theater, the British launched an attack to cross the Jordan River. The water was high at the time, and a number of men were drowned when their barges were sunk by Turkish guns. But the troops persevered, and by the end of the day, two pontoon bridges had been established across the river.

Capt. Harlock -> RE: Centennial of the End of the Great War (3/22/2018 3:19:58 AM)

22 March 1918

German troops continued the massive assault against the British lines. As in the first day, they were helped by fog lasting the entire morning. Again, they did less well against General Julian Byng’s Third Army, but General Hubert Gough’s Fifth Army was steadily driven back. The British feared that if a gap opened between the two armies, the Germans might pour through and then roll up both armies from the flanks. Which of course was exactly Ludendorff's intention.

One French division arrived as a reinforcement, and Gough threw in all of what reserves he had, but it counted for little against the scores of German divisions engaged, a total of 72 including reserves. In terms of sheer military might, Operation Michael was the greatest offensive the world had yet seen. The Allies did have one factor helping them, however. When the fog finally cleared in the afternoons, the Allied air force was finally able to do significant damage. Even the small bombs carried by the fighters could demolish supply wagons and disrupt advancing troop formations, and strafing attacks caused serious casualties to troops in the open. It slowed the German advance, but could not bring it to a halt.

By nightfall the Germans had broken the third and last line of defense. There was nothing for it but for Gough to order the Fifth Army to fall back, and that meant the Third Army would have to retreat as well, lest the fatal gap be opened up.


Lecivius -> RE: Centennial of the End of the Great War (3/22/2018 2:30:43 PM)

Capt., I can't tell you how much I enjoy these historical threads. Thanks for taking the time [;)]

Capt. Harlock -> RE: Centennial of the End of the Great War (3/23/2018 1:47:51 AM)

23 March 1918

An explosion occurred on a street in Paris. At first, it was assumed to have been a bomb dropped by a German Zeppelin or aircraft, but it was daytime, and nothing had been reported in the sky. Investigation into the blast site turned up fragments matching those of an artillery shell rather than a bomb casing. This should not have been possible, for the German lines were still 120 kilometers (75 miles) away.

As more explosions went off over time, the French authorities realized Paris was indeed being targeted by artillery. The Germans had built an extraordinary weapon, which remains to this day the longest-range cannon ever fired in anger. It actually put its shells into a ballistic path reaching an altitude of 40 km (130,000 ft), the first man-made objects to reach that height. The velocity of the shells in the elongated barrel was such that it measurably eroded the bore with each firing, and the shells were made in a careful series with each one having a slightly larger diameter than the one before it.


But if the Pariskanone was a remarkable engineering achievement, it represented another low in morality. At that distance it could not be aimed at any target more specific than the city as a whole. Selecting military targets such as factories or railroad yards was not possible; the gun could do nothing but indiscriminately kill Parisians. The Germans hoped to cause the French government to evacuate (as had happened in 1914). But Clemenceau and his ministers would stand fast. There was no serious disruption of the Allied command structure.

On this date, however, the German infantry seemed to be making good progress no matter what their opponents could do. Positions that had cost the Allies months of campaigning were being overrun in a matter of days. The British had hoped that the Crozat canal would form a barrier to the German advance, but by the end of the day it had been crossed at several points. It began to look as though the city of Amiens, a key railroad hub, might fall to Ludendorff’s offensive. This was a serious threat to the Allied supply chain.

There had been a delay at the Montagne Bridge when three companies of British infantry had counter-attacked and actually retaken the bridge. After twelve hours, however, they had been forced to surrender, and the German forward movement continued.

Capt. Harlock -> RE: Centennial of the End of the Great War (3/24/2018 3:52:10 AM)

24 March 1918

By now the troops on both sides were becoming fatigued. They fought the entire day, and then had to march most of night, taking with them the machine guns and field artillery which then had to be positioned for the next day’s combat. Rations were also running low: such roads as were not heavily damaged had the supply wagons targeted by long-range artillery and aircraft bombs. What food the men had mostly came from pre-existing supply dumps that the Germans captured, or the British fell back to.

For the Germans, the gain in foodstuffs was almost canceled by the impact on morale. To their consternation, the troops found not only quantities of basics like “bully beef” (tinned corned beef) but also luxuries like chocolates for the men and champagne for the officers. The German soldiers had been told that the U-boats were strangling Britain. But now they were seeing with their own eyes that Berlin’s propaganda was false: the British were not even close to starving.


In spite of this disappointment, and the fearful losses they had taken, the German advance continued. The British Fifth Army was now dependent on hastily dug trenches where they tried to hold their positions, instead of elaborate connecting trench-works with barbed wire strung in front. The weather also still favored the Germans, with morning fog preventing the Allied artillery from hammering the assaulting troops. The Third Army was also having to abandon much of their prepared lines, to keep its link with the Fifth.

In the Caucasus, the Ottoman advance now crossed into what had been the territory of the Russian Empire in 1914. Entering WWI on the side of the Central Powers was still a bad deal for the Turks: it had taken almost four years before the Turks were able to gain some territory, and they had still lost large amounts of ground in the Middle East.

Capt. Harlock -> RE: Centennial of the End of the Great War (3/25/2018 4:38:02 AM)

25 March 1918

The British Fifth Army again failed to stop the German forward movement, and now it could now longer maintain a completely continuos line. Besides the gap now opening up between the Fifth and Third armies, there was also one between the French reinforcements and the British near Roye. Even Byng’s Third Army was not immune; his Fourth and Fifth Corps temporarily lost their contact as well.

Desperate for more men in his Fifth Army, Hubert Gough ordered that 2,000 of his rear-echelon troops including tunnelers, signalers, and 500 American engineers be formed into a combat unit. This would be put under the command of General George Carey, and so would be known as “Carey’s Force”. The first American soldiers into battle in WWI would be men never intended to enter combat.

Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig (below), commander in chief of the British troops on the Western front, had already had a long day full of bad news. An hour before midnight, he met with Marshal Petain, considered the savior of Verdun, and now the commander of the French forces on the Western front. To Haig’s dismay, Petain announced that he would pull the French units supporting the Fifth Army’s right flank back to the south and west. At all costs he must block the way to Paris.

But this would break the connection between the British forces and the French forces, allowing the Germans to concentrate on and defeat first one and then the other. Haig quickly contacted the higher-ups in London, and also Sir Henry Wilson, Chief of the (British) Imperial General Staff. It was arranged to have a conference on joint command the next day.


Capt. Harlock -> RE: Centennial of the End of the Great War (3/26/2018 3:38:59 AM)

26 March 1918

All the Allies on the Western Front knew the value of unity of command. But neither the British nor the Americans were willing to simply be underlings to the French. And since the battles were primarily being fought on French soil, and the French had the most men, they would certainly not agree to submit to American or British command. On this date, a partial solution was worked out by a conference in Doullens, France. There could be little doubt that a French commander would be named, since French President Raymond Poincaré, Premier Georges Clemenceau, General Ferdinand Foch, and General Phillipe Petain were there. But it would not be Petain; to quote Winston Churchill, "Only one name was in every mind." (Even if it was a German-sounding name.) Ferdinand Foch would have overall leadership, but not complete control. According to the agreement:

"General Foch is charged by the British, French and U.S. American Governments with the co-ordination of the action of the Allied Armies on the Western Front. To this end all powers necessary to secure effective realization are conferred on him. The British, French and American Governments for this purpose entrust to General Foch the strategic direction of military operations. The Commanders-in-Chief of the British, French and U.S. American Armies have full control of the tactical employment of their forces. Each Commander-in-Chief will have the right of appeal to his Government if in his opinion the safety of his Army is compromised by any order received from General Foch."


Full unity of command had not yet been achieved, but a long stride in that direction had been made. At the very least, the Allies had a commander who understood the value of keeping a connection between the British and French armies.

There was another reason for hope on this date. The sheer power of the German offensive had changed a number of political minds back in London, and the troops in the British isles were being released to go to the aid of their embattled comrades in France. And not just men; this date also saw the first employment of the Medium Mark A “Whippet” tank in combat.

The “Whippet” was designed to be faster and more maneuverable the heavy Mark IV tank, by WWI standards at least. Its top speed across country was just over 13 km/h (8 mph). To achieve this, it carried no cannons but four machine guns. (This is interesting when one considers it had only a 3-man crew.) It therefore could not destroy solid fortifications, but it was lethal against troops in the open and transport vehicles. On this date, a group of Whippets did just that, holding up a German column and giving British troops time to withdraw.

One further bit of good news for the British occurred on this date, though it counted for nothing on the Western front. The advance from Baghdad along the Euphrates River had been proceeding slowly, because the Turkish forces always seemed to simply fall back when attacked, and escape to fight another day. To break this annoying pattern, British General H. T. Brooking assembled a mobile force using trucks (lorries), armored cars, and a cavalry brigade. He sent it on a wide flanking move around the town of Khan Baghdadi, where it entrenched behind the Turkish forces. (It was not hard to predict that the Turks would retreat along the line of the river.) The rest of Brooking’s troops then made a frontal attack on the town, and the Turks retreated in their usual fashion. But this time they ran straight into the well-emplaced mobile force. Seeing themselves caught between hammer and anvil, the Ottoman troops panicked, and whatever formation they had disintegrated. All were soon captured, about 5000 men in total.

Capt. Harlock -> RE: Centennial of the End of the Great War (3/27/2018 4:08:29 AM)

27 March 1918

The German gains, and the heavy casualties of British troops, were causing a political uproar back in England. The British High Command turned to the classic solution: find a scapegoat. The obvious choice was Sir Douglas Haig, the senior British commander on the Western Front. However, as Haig later confessed, he was "conceited enough to think that the Army could not spare" his leadership. He therefore chose another sacrifice.

General Hubert Gough returned to his headquarters late in the afternoon and was met by Haig's Military Secretary, who gave him the unexpected and unpleasant news that he was ordered to hand over command of the Fifth Army to General William Rawlinson the next day. This was probably unfair to Gough, who had done reasonably well in the face of the formidable German offensive with the minimal reinforcements provided to him. And it happened as the Allied lines were stabilizing, though it was hard to realize just at that moment.

In the Middle East theater, the British launched an attack on Amman, which was not a capital at that point. (Jordan had not yet been created.) However, it was a key stop on the Hejaz Railway, and therefore on the route to Damascus.

Even further to the east, the mobile force under General H. T. Brooking, fresh from the victory at Khan Bahgdadi, advanced up the Euphrates. 46 miles from Khan Bahgdadi was and encampment at Ana, where the Ottomans had established their main supply base. This was now overrun by the British, so swiftly that they managed to bag a few high-ranking German officers who were there to observe and advise the Turks.

Capt. Harlock -> RE: Centennial of the End of the Great War (3/28/2018 3:18:45 AM)

28 March 1918

The two key cities in the sector of Operation Michael were Arras to the north and Amiens to east. Amiens was much further from the jump-off lines of March 21, but the German forces seemed to be making steady progress towards it. In the north, however, Byng’s Third Army had been retreating very slowly. Hoping to rectify this, Ludendorff now launched an auxiliary attack to Operation Michael, code-named Operation Mars. This was an assault to the north against the Third Army, hoping to widen the bulge in the British lines, and just possibly break the link between the Third and Fifth Armies. Nine German divisions attacked four British divisions near Arras.

Operation Mars had been planned for some time. Unfortunately for the Germans, they were not the only planners: this was one of the areas where the British had been working on the new system of defenses for some time. As the German troops advanced beyond the first, lightly held British lines, they entered the “Battle Zone”, where the British artillery had been systematically targeted. On this day there was no fog to hinder the artillery spotters, and the German infantry was decimated. They failed to breach the heavier defense lines in the rear. When informed of the casualties, Ludendorff called off Operation Mars after just one day, which was unusual for his aggressive nature.

It is worth noting that as deadly as machine-guns were, WWI artillery was more lethal still. At the beginning of the war, many armies issued cloth caps as headgear for their soldiers. But by this time, every nation that could afford it was equipping its troops with metal helmets against the fragments from artillery shells. The famous German Stahlhelm was introduced in 1916, and was remarkably similar to the ones the Nazi soldiery would wear throughout WWII.

Though the heaviest attack on this date had been against the Third Army, the Germans continued their push against the Fifth Army. They made a determined assault on the town of Hamel, where the improvised Carey's Force was posted. However, Carey’s force was not alone. There was artillery, depleted but experienced British infantry from the 16 Division, and even some troops from the 1st Cavalry Brigade. By mid-afternoon the first German attack had been repelled. The Allies then unwisely mounted a counter-attack, which was stopped in turn. German artillery then entered the fray, and Carey’s Force had reached its limit for the day. They fell back, and the Germans were able to take the village of Marcelcave.

While this had been going on, William Rawlinson officially assumed command of the battered British Fifth Army. He would keep the command for the rest of the war, but not the army’s name: it was considered a defeated force, and would soon be disbanded, and the Fourth Army re-constituted from its ashes.


Capt. Harlock -> RE: Centennial of the End of the Great War (3/29/2018 2:17:56 AM)

29 March 1918

“All quiet on the Western front” was not quite an accurate description of this day; both sides fired occasional machine-gun bursts against the other’s lines. However, there was a breather in the intensity of the fighting: no serious infantry assaults were made by either side.

But it was the worst day for the bombardment of Paris. A shell from the Paris Gun struck the roof of the St-Gervais-et-St-Protais Church, causing it to collapse. Tragically, it was a Good Friday, and there was a large congregation attending the service. 91 people were killed, with 68 more wounded.

The church, which has stood since 1578, was repaired, and is now the headquarters of the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem.

Capt. Harlock -> RE: Centennial of the End of the Great War (3/30/2018 1:48:09 AM)

30 March 1918

The Germans returned to their drive against the Fifth Army. A two-pronged attack was launched, to the west towards Amiens, and to the southwest against French units that had been brought up to reinforce the area.

However, the day’s fighting showed that the pause of the 29th had been more profitable to the Allies than to the Germans. One day’s rest was not enough for the wearied and bloodied attackers, and their supplies were still coming forward slowly. Most importantly, there were not as many of the elite Stosstruppen as there had been nine days ago; their units had, as might be expected, taken the heaviest casualties. The ground gained for the day was measured in mere meters rather than kilometers (or yards instead of miles). The drive towards Amiens was stopped outside the village of Villers-Bretonneux.

In the Palestine theater, the British attack on Amman was brought to a halt. The Ottomans had managed to bring in reinforcements, including a German infantry battalion. Although the British blew up the railway tracks south of the city, their attempt to take the city proper was repulsed. Hill 3039 on the outskirts was overrun during the wee hours, but daylight brought heavy counter-fire from artillery and machine-guns. Ottoman counter-attacks were defeated in turn, but the British could not take the Citadel, the key to the defense of Amman. Casualties on both sides were substantial.


Capt. Harlock -> RE: Centennial of the End of the Great War (3/31/2018 3:31:49 AM)

31 March 1918

It was Easter Sunday for those who used the Gregorian calendar. (The countries to the east using the Julian calendar would celebrate it on May 5.) Artist Norman Rockwell had managed to enlist in the U.S. Navy by gorging on bannanas and doughnuts after he was first rejected for being underweight. However, he had already done some of the Saturday Evening Post covers which would make him famous, and the Navy recognized his talent. He was made a military artist and kept from active service, producing images such as this one for Leslie’s Weekly.

In Palestine, it was now clear that the Ottoman forces, with German help, had been built up too strongly for the British to complete the capture of Amman. General Allenby took the decision to retreat, meanwhile informing the War Office that he had achieved his objective by cutting the Hejaz Railway. In truth, the railway was still in operation up to the Amman station; it was only further on that the tracks had been destroyed.

The German Navy had made the same assumption, and as it turned out, the same mistake as the German Army was making. They had believed that unrestricted submarine warfare could win the war before the Americans could build up enough strength to affect the outcome. The U. S. Navy's battleships and cruisers were immaterial to the critical Battle of the Atlantic; what counted was destroyers and other escort ships to fight the U-boats. And the Americans were new to submarine-hunting, whereas the German submarine officers and crews had years of experience under their belts.
For a brief time the Germans seemed to have guessed correctly. A staggering 869,000 tons of Allied cargo ships had been sunk in April 1917, more than would be lost in any month of WWII. A full quarter of the merchantmen that sailed failed to return to their home ports. There can be little doubt that a few more months of such losses would have collapsed the British economy and war effort.

But the situation began to improve for the Allies the next month. The convoy system was implemented, and the results were dramatic. (German wolf packs were not used seriously until WWII.) American cargo ships helped to replace the shipping losses, and American destroyers provided welcome additions to convoy escorts. Since U. S. industry turned out good quantities of naval munitions, the Yankee crews occasionally dropped depth charges "without rhyme or reason", which technique rendered the U-boat captains' cleverest tactics useless. It did not sink many submarines, but it kept them from torpedoing the ships in the convoys. And that, of course, was the primary goal.

The British were having rather more success with their own violation of the rules of war. Their surface ships had imposed a complete blockade, including foodstuffs. This was prohibited by the Hague Conventions, which were the forerunners of the more famous Geneva Conventions, and other governments including the U.S. had protested at first. But after the sinking of the Lusitania and other ships without warning, world opinion had swung strongly against the Germans, and the blockade had been accepted. Food shortages in Germany had been serious during 1917, and although the conquest of grain-growing territory in the east had prevented outright starvation, the economies of both Germany and Austria-Hungary were in poor shape. Metals were also a problem: the German war effort would very likely have collapsed without the ores from the mines they had captured in Belgium and northern France. As it was, they found it expedient to train the Stosstruppen rather than build large numbers of tanks to break through the trenches.

The German high command concealed the situation at sea from the German population. According to the press releases from Berlin, unless American troops learned to fly, they could not get past the U-boats to fight in Europe. "Foch's reserves" became a phrase to describe illusionary things. But in fact, by the beginning of spring in 1918 the higher-ups on both sides knew that the submarine blockade was failing, and the Allies would soon have hundreds of thousands of fresh troops for their counter-attacks.

When the figures were totaled up, Allied shipping losses for March would be 342,600 tons. This was no light matter, but well below the estimate of 600,000 tons per month which the Germans had calculated would be needed to knock Britain out of the war. It was also the beginning of the final decline of the U-boats’ war: never again would the monthly losses exceed 300,000 tons. With more confidence in their shipping capacity, the Allies relaxed their demand for Dutch cargo vessels, allowing the little nation to keep its neutrality.

Capt. Harlock -> RE: Centennial of the End of the Great War (4/1/2018 4:13:08 AM)

1 April 1918

The United States was oddly lagging in aviation at this point. Britain and France had taken a commanding lead in warplanes: total U.S. production during WWI would actually be less than that of Italy. American pilots would largely fly borrowed French aircraft instead. On this date, the British decided to merge the two wings of their air effort, the land-based or Royal Flying Corps, and the sea-based or Royal Naval Air Service. The Royal Air Force became the world’s first independent military service dedicated to aircraft. For the time being, the R.A.F. headquarters was established in the Hotel Cecil, a hotel on the Strand in London which had been requisitioned for the war effort.


Capt. Harlock -> RE: Centennial of the End of the Great War (4/2/2018 3:35:05 AM)

2 April 1918

For the moment at least, the lines on the Western front had stabilized. It was time for reinforcement, re-supply, and re-organization. The decimated British Fifth Army was officially dissolved, and the Fourth Army re-formed in its stead. However, it had the same commander in General William Rawlinson, occupied much the same position, and comprised many of the same units. There were a few differences, and one of them was the addition of an American unit, the 131st Infantry Regiment, borrowed from the 33rd American Division. Below is the regiment's insignia:


Capt. Harlock -> RE: Centennial of the End of the Great War (4/3/2018 4:24:20 AM)

3 April 1918

Slowed in the west, the German advance to the east rolled on. A German expeditionary force landed at Hangö in south Finland, where civil war had broken out in the wake of the disintegration of the Russian Empire. Not surprisingly, the Germans were there to help the anti-communist forces against the Reds. Further to the south, in what is now the Ukraine, the city of Ekaterinoslav was seized by German forces. It has since been renamed to Dnipro, and is now the third-largest city in the Ukraine.

Capt. Harlock -> RE: Centennial of the End of the Great War (4/4/2018 3:50:44 AM)

4 April 1918

The temporary lull in combat on the Western front had allowed the Germans to reinforce and re-supply their thinned ranks. They had even brought up heavy guns, no small feat given that the roads, bridges, and even the ground itself, were devastated. To be fair, much of the damage had been done by the Germans themselves, to make it difficult for the Allies to advance the year before when there had been a withdrawal to the Hindenburg lines.

On this date, Ludendorff ordered one more attack, hoping to break through and capture the city of Amiens and its key railroad hub. The first objective was the town of Villers-Bretonneux, and the surrounding high ground. If that could be taken, heavy guns could be mounted and the rail yards bombarded into ruins, even if Amiens itself remained in Allied hands. The attack would be a powerful one, using several of Germany’s very few A7V tanks.

After the now-standard opening bombardment, the German troops surged forward. At first, the attack seemed to be succeeding. To the south, the French units that had finally arrived as reinforcements were pushed back. To the north, the British 14th division actually broke and ran, allowing the village of Hamel to be captured.

But the Allies rallied. The French, fighting for French soil, regained the ground they had yielded, though at a heavy cost. To the north, Australian units arrived, and with that encouragement, the 14th division regrouped. The 18th division held its ground until the afternoon, preventing a German breakout. Seeing this, the Germans launched a fresh attack at 1600, finally breaking the line of the 18th division. However, a Lieutenant Colonel managed to scrape together a force of British and Australians, and thrust the Germans back in a counter-charge. By 1900, the Allied lines were holding again, and Villers-Bretonneux was saved – for the time being, at least.

At sea, U.S. armed transports Henry R. Mallory, Tenadores and Mercury were part of a convoy headed back to the United States after having completed a voyage to France delivering troops. At 11:45 am, a German U-boat surfaced and fired torpedoes at the Mallory (below). Happily, the lookouts aboard Mallory spotted the torpedoes, and the ship managed to dodge.

The submarine was now sighted by lookouts on Tenadores and Mercury as well, and all three ships fired on the U-boat. The German vessel dived, but apparently not fast enough, with a hit observed before she submerged. The American transports were also armed with depth charges, and they proceeded to the spot where the U-boat had disappeared and dropped charges. Nothing more was seen of the submarine, and the American vessels were credited with a kill. It was one of only a handful of U-boat sinkings officially credited to U.S. ships during the war.

Capt. Harlock -> RE: Centennial of the End of the Great War (4/5/2018 2:21:40 AM)

5 April 1918

The Germans attempted one further assault in the area of Villers-Bretonneux. This time, it went nowhere, and the British counterattack forced the Germans to fall back even beyond their starting point. Upon receiving the battle reports, Ludendorff ordered a complete halt to advances in the area.

Operation Michael was at an end. Measured by sheer combat power, it had been the mightiest offensive the world had yet seen, surpassing even the Von Schlieffen plan that had come close to taking Paris in 1914. Going by raw numbers, Operation Michael was a tactical victory for the Germans. They had gained considerable territory, and inflicted 235,000 casualties on the British and French forces while losing 220,000 themselves. In addition, the British had lost 1,600 guns and 400 tanks. Exact German losses of these are unknown, but likely much smaller for guns and miniscule for tanks.

However, the victory was not the knock-out blow that Ludendorff wanted and needed. And the principal reason it had not achieved its goals was the extraordinarily stubborn resistance of the British Fifth Army. It had been bled to a shadow of its former self, it had been forced to retreat again and again –- but it had somehow refused to collapse, making the Germans pay for every bit of ground they gained.

. . . I won’t swear that the British soldier is braver than any other -- or even, as Charley Gordon said, that he’s brave for a little while longer. But I will swear that there’s no soldier on earth who believes so strongly in the courage of the men alongside him – and that’s worth an extra division any day.

--George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman and the Mountain of Light

The tanks and guns were rapidly replaced by British industry, and the American troops would make good the losses in men. Most of all, many of the German casualties were the valuable Stosstruppen. The necessary time to train fresh units of these was time the Germans did not have. And lastly, the ground gained gave no real strategic advantage:

No fertile province, no wealthy cities, no river or mountain barrier, no new untapped resources were their reward. Only the crater-fields extending abominably wherever the eye could turn, the old trenches, the vast grave-yards, the skeletons, the blasted trees and the pulverized villages—these, from Arras to Montdidier and from St. Quentin to Villers-Bretonneux, were the Dead Sea fruits of the mightiest military conception and the most terrific onslaught which the annals of war record.

--Winston Churchill, The World Crisis Vol. 3

The Germans had been stopped in one place. But the Central Powers were still on the advance elsewhere. German troops continued to make gains in the east, and Turkish troops were likewise occupying areas the collapse of Russia has left vulnerable. On this date, the Turks re-took the Armenian city of Van.

This was rather poor timing, for at the Trabzond peace conference, the head of the Transcaucasian delegation finally accepted the territorial changes of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. He sent a telegram to the governing bodies of the mini-states, urging them to agree. But the Armenian council at the city of Tiflis was incensed. Instead, they acknowledged a state of war (there seemed no need to formally declare it when combat was well underway) with the Ottoman Empire.

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