History of War


Source:   German storm troops waiting to assault British lines on the morning of 21 March 1918  


On 20 March 1918 General Marie-Émile Fayolle, who was to lead the Allied reserves that engaged and halted ‘Operation Michael’, the first strike of the German 1918 Spring Offensive, noted in his diary, “More and more it seems to be confirmed that the Boche will not attack.” In their shattering offensive that commenced the next morning, General Erich Ludendorff’s armies would secure that elusive and momentary advantage essential to battlefield victory – surprise.

Several other factors facilitated their early success. First, it was a matter of scale: an attack with 74 infantry divisions along an 80-kilometre (50-mile) front was the largest seen on the Western Front since the battles of 1914. Second, it was a result of method: overwhelming artillery fire coordinated with dynamic infantry tactics to shatter the enemy’s forward defences. Third, there was an element of good fortune: the British lines, against which the first blow fell, were held more thinly than other sectors of the front, and an early morning mist screened the first waves of attacking infantry as they left their trenches to engage the barrage-numbed British defenders.

The blow was a shock to the Allies: “It’s the final battle,” Fayolle noted, somewhat prematurely, on 22 March. But the German army’s tactical prowess masked operational weaknesses that the Allies could exploit once

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