World War I: Final Allied Offensive--The Hundred Days Offensive (August-November 1918)


Figure 1.--The German soldiers did not suffer the same caualty rates as the Russians or even the French, but even after the victory in Russia the Germany were still badly outnumbered. They essentially threw away their victory over Russia by driving America to declare War. The Germans took substantial casualties in their failed Spring 1918 offensive. And the steady build up the AEF with a seemingy inexhaustable pool ofreplacements was demoralizing. This young soldier was one of the new recruits that joined the Geman Army on the Western Front in 1918. Germany had a much more limited pool of new recruits than the Allies. Note his flash light. Also note the two insignias on his cap. One is the Imperial German roundel. I'm not sure what the other was.

When the German Spring 1918 Western offensive ground to a halt the Allies initiated their offensive. This was largely an Anglo-American operation. The French Army since 1917 was largely restricted to defensive operations. The British in 1914 had only a small professional force. By 1918 they had built a large conscript army. The army had learned a great deal on the Somme (1916) and with a new tank force was ready to assault the Hindenburg Line. The Americans when they entered the War in 1917 also had only a small professional army. America rapidly built a large conscript army and by mid-1918 that army was ready to assault the Germans. The Allies wanted the Americans to be used as replacement troops in British and French units. Pershing insisted on fielding an American army--the AEF. Having help stop the German offensive, the Americans along with the British went on the offensive. The Allied Hundred Days Offensive proved to be the war-winning offensive of World War I. The Allies struck (August 8). The German Spring-Summer offensive had severely bleed the German Army. Under the powerful Allied onslaught, the Germans finally began to crack and large numbers of soldiers began to surrender and desert. The Allies forced the Germans to retreat.

Final German Offensive

The collapse of Russia in late 1917 and peace treaty forced upon the Bolsevicks in 1918 enabled the Germans to transfer powerful forces to the Wesern Front. The draconian demands on the Bolshecicks, however, delayed the signing of the peace treaty and the transfer of troops to the Western Front. The Russian Revolution occurred during the late Fall. The ensuing Winter of course meant that the Germans could not launch a major offensive until the Spring. By the time they were able to launch their offensive, a new American Army of over 1 million men awaited them in the Allied trenches. The German offensives began with Operation Michael (March 1918). The French Army almost broke. Without the arrival of the Americans, it is likely that the Germans would have won the war. German General Ludendorff was to say after the War that it was the arrival of the American infantry that was the decisive factor on the Western Front. They had nearly succeeded, but it was clear that the Germans had failed to achieve a decisive victory (July 1918). The Germans had reached the the Marne River, but failed to breakthrough. Allied commander Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch, ordered a counter-offensive, now known as the Second Battle of the Marne. The Germans having sustained huhe losses, withdrew north to more defensible, presviously prepared positions.

Allied Armies

The French Army had been the primary force which stoped the Great German offensive (1914). And for 3 years they were the primary force manning the Westen Front. The Belgian Army that survived the initial German offensive was very small. The BEF that fought the Germans in Belgium was very small and the volunteer army raised by the British was severely booded on the Somme (1916). Finally the British wre forced to introduce conscriptin and build a new army, They were augented by the Australians and Candians. The German offensive at Verdun has significantly weakened the French Army, but they also suffered horandous casualties. Disaterous German miscalculations resulted in America entering the War (1917). Thus when the German Spring 1918 Western offensive ground to a halt the Germans found themselves not only greatly weakened, but facing not only astrengthened British Army, but a new American Army rapidly growing in strength. The Allied initiated their Hundred Day Offensive which would be a largely Anglo-American opperation.

The French

The Germans had souught to break the Frenh Army at Verdun. They cme very close to achieving their objective, but in the process suffered debiklitating losses of their own. The French Army since 1917 as a result of the struggle foe Verdun was largely restricted to defensive operations. The French Army had been severely weakened at Verdun, but it was not broken. And it played a major role in stopping the German 1918 Spring offensive. In doing so they had suffered enormous losses, but so had the Germans. Te Germans could not replace their losses. The French could turn to the massive new American Army growng in strength every day. The situation in 1918 thus was very different than in 1914. The Western Front was not longer a primarily French front.

The British

The British in 1914 had only a small professional forceto deploy--the BEF. The initial BEF helped stop the German drive that was meant to in the war (1914). The volunteer force that followed in its wake was decimated at the Somme (1916). This forced the British for the first time to pass a conscription law, a step it had not taken even during the Napoleonic Wars. This enabled Britain to build a large new army. The Britih a aresult by 1918 they had built a large conscript army that was finally a match for the Germans. It was the largest field army that the British had ever deployed. And it was supported by Canadian and Australin units. The British had learned a great deal on the Somme (1916) . Revised tactical doctrine and supported by new tank force, the British were finally ready to assault the Hindenburg Line.

The Americans

An entirely new army took up position on the western Front during 1918--the AEF. The Americans when they entered the War in 1917 also had only a small professional army. America rapidly built a large concript army and began transporting it to France. The German Navy assured the Kaiser and Reichstag that German U-boats would prevent America from deploying an army in France. It was one of the most distrous military assessments in German history. The AEF began arrived in France in numbers and by mid-1917 there were about 1 million Americans training in France and 2 million more being trained at American camps. The AEF was not yet fully trained, but it was a force with high morale and willing to assault the Germans. The Allies wanted the Americans to be used as replacement troops in British and French units. Pershing insisted on fielding an American army to fight under the U.S. flag and American commanders.

Initial Allied Assaults (August-September 1918)

Marshal Foch sensed that the time had come for the Allies to strike in force. He accepted a proposal from Field Marshal Douglas Haig, the commander of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to attack on the Somme, at a point near the disatrous 1916 Somme battlefield. The Allied Offensive began with a rare French attack west of Rheims (July). The majpr attack would be delivered by the British to the west on the Somme. Having helped stop the German offensive, the Americans along with the British went on the offensive. The Allied Hundred Days Offensive proved to be the war-winning offensive of World War I. The Allies struck (August 8). The German Spring-Summer offensive had severely bleed the German Army. The British decided to attack at the Somme again for several reasons. The Somme (Amiens-Roye road) was where the British and French Armies joined and thus at attack there allowed the two allies to cooperate. Especially important was the fact that the ground around Picardy was ideal ground and terrane for the British tanks. The Germans did not produce effective tanks and thus the British tanks were a decisuve advantage. In addition the Allies believed that the German Second Army of General Georg von der Marwitz, had been weakend. The British then struck at the exposed Amiens Bulge. Furthur south the Americans and French struck at the St. Michels salient. The Allied offensive succeeded in driving the Germans back to the havily fortified Hindenburg Line. This set up the battle to pierce the Hindenburg Line which would determine the outcome of the War.

Breeching the Hindenburg Line (September-November 1918)

Marshal Foch issued the command to strike at the Hindenburg Line itself (September 26). "Everyone to battle". ThecAllies had assembled an imposing force. The Allies (American, Belgian, British, and French) struck with 123 well supplied divisions and 57 divisions in reserve. They were opposed by 197 German divisions in strong positions, but the Germans had been badly bled. Most of the German divisions were far under strength. They did not have the reserves of man power that with the Americans, the Allies now had. The Allied assessment was that only 51 German divisions were battle ready. [Keegan, p. 412.] This was a general assault on the vaunted Hindenburg Line. The British deployed tanks in numbers which proved highly effective in breeching trench fortifications. The Americans attacked the St. Mihiel Salient south of Verdun and then moved against the Argonne Forrest west of Verdun. The Allies suffered severe losses. The Americans suffered 100,000 casualties in the Argonne fighting alone. The Allies succeeded, however, in breaking through the Hindenburg Line and the Germans began falling back. Under the powerful Allied onslaught, the Germans finally began to crack and large numbers of soldiers began to surrender and desert for the first time in the War. The Allies forced the Germans to retreat.

Armistice (November 11)

The Götterdämmerung begun as the Allies began to crack open the vaunted Hindenburg Line. Allied offensives on the Western Front cracked the German front forcing them back toward Germany. The German Navy mutined. Riots broke out in Germany cities. The General staff informed the Kaiser that they could no longer guarantee his saftey. He abdicated and fled to the neutral Netherlands. A German Government was hastily formed and asked for an armistice based on President Wilson's 14 Points. After determining that the request came from a civilian German Government and not the Kaiser or German military, the Allies accepted the German offer. There was not total agreement on this Genetral Pershing wanted to fight on to Berlin. The guns fell silent after 4 years of vicious fighting at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month (November 11, 1918). There had been over 8.5 million soldiers killed and 21.2 million wounded.

Sources

Edmonds. Brig. Gen Sir J. France and Belgium 1918 Vol. I "The German March Offensive And Its Preliminaries" Official History of the Great War (Naval & Military Press).

Keegan, John. The First World War (Knopf: New York, 1999), 475p.







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Created: 6:08 AM 7/19/2006
Last updated: 8:10 PM 5/16/2014