The German Spring Offensives 1918
The Great War 1914-18
Throughout the war, the German army showed itself capable of developing new strategies and adapting to suit a situation. These abilities proved to be a constant source of surprise to the Allies and just when the British and French believed they were on the brink of making gains, the Germans would show they were far from being beaten.
After almost four years of war the stalemate on the Western Front still held fast, the Germans had received hundreds of thousands of reinforcements from the Eastern Front following the collapse of Russia after the Revolution and the country's withdrawal from the war. Some of these fresh troops were trained in new tactics in readiness for a series of planned attacks, known collectively as the 'Ludendorff Offensives'. Between March and July 1918 there were five operations; Michael, then Georgette after which followed the Blucher-Yorck, Gneisenau and Marne-Rheims attacks, the first three were the most powerful but the last two were more localised.
The first attack, Operation Michael, was launched on the 21st March across a front that would eventually extend over 50 miles from Arras in the north and past the town of Barisis. The main weight of the attack fell on the British Fifth Army commanded by General Hubert Gough. The effect was devastating as recalled by Captain C M Slack MC, of the 1st Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment, who recorded how: 'By the end of ten days, the Fifth Army had gone back fifty miles and we kept doing counter-attacks, take that wood, lose it, take it again and so on. We kept going backwards and forwards, but it was always one step forward and three back'.
Operation Michael was concluded on the 5th April but it was followed four days later with the launch of Operation Georgette, which fell along Armentiers in the sector between the British Second and First Armies. It is this operation which our sample itinerary follows to examine the fighting which lasted for twenty days, in which time the attack which, at one point, pushed almost fifteen miles into the British lines and extended across a front more than 25 miles wide. Within the first 24 hours the Germans had captured Armentiers and made progress all along the front. The following day, Field Marshal Haig issued his Order of the Day in which he emphasised: 'There is no other course open to us but to fight it out! Every position must be held to the last man; there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall, and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end'.