WORLD WAR ONE 1918: return to a war of movement

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  • Created by: naomi
  • Created on: 08-05-13 16:47

Reasons for the German Spring Offensive in 1918

1. March 1918 - Russia had surrendered and signed a peace treaty

2. 21st March 1918 - Germany had transferred 44 divisions to the Western front

3. Ludendorf was confident that half a million additional men would make the difference

4. The Germans had developed a technique for breaking the deadlock of trench warfare: a short hurricane bombardment followed by attacking storm troopers

5. German economy was collapsing - high command would soon not be able to re-equip German armies and make up for use and loss of munitions 

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First German offensive

  • launched against British Fifth Army recovering from third Ypres battle
  • the sector, in front of the old somme battlefields and taken over from the French, was regarded as quiet
  • offensive nearly reached the crucial rail juction of Amiens, but ran out of steam
  • on the northern end the British third army held its ground
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Second German offensive

  • launched in April, south of Ypres and recaptured all the ground lost in 1917
  • failed to break through the British lines
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Third German offensive

  • launched on the Chemin des Dames in May
  • threatened Paris, but was finally held 56 miles (90km) from the capital
  • US divisions were rushed in to hold the line
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German successes and failures


  • massive breakthroughs were achieved and troops pushed forward


  • three major offensives were followed by two minor attacks which achieved little
  • German army was now weakened (800,000 + German casualties) & holding a wider front (before 240 miles/390km; after 320 miles/510km)
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Allied counter-offensive, 1918

  • in the weeks before the German spring offensive, Haig had been confidently telling both the government and his officers that the Germans would not dare to attack
  • Effect of war - by 1918 British infantry divisions reduced in size 

+ Firepower massively increased; more guns, mortars + light machine guns

+ infantry divisions backed by vast expansion of artillery; by 1918 the Royal Artillery amounted to 25% of BEF

+ by the summer of 1918 losses of military equipment during German offensive more than replaced by new equipment 

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Amiens, August 1918

Haig put Nawlinson in charge of another offensive on the Somme, starting on 8th August. The contrast with 1st July 1916 could not have been greater:

  • Hurricane bombardment began at 4:20am. Intensity of fire was far greater than in 1916
  • Accurate counter battery work silenced most of the German artillery
  • A creeping barrage went ahead of the attacking infantry
  • Infantry and tanks smashed through the German lines to achieve their objectives, taking 18,000 prisoners + 400 field guns. Ludendorf referred to 8th August as the 'black day' of the German army
  • As the push stalled, the attack was closed down and fresh attacks were made further north. 
  • There was now a rolling series of attacks, pushing the Germans back
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Capturing the Hindenburg Line

A key achievement of the BEF was the capture of the Hindenburg line near St Quentin on 29th September by 46th North Midland Division. 

Here, too, a massive and accurate bombardment was vital to success.

Nearly a million shells were fired in the final 24 hours on a 10,000 yard (9km) front 

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