Hundred days offensive
The last phase of the First World War on the Western Front is known as the Hundred Day Offensive . During this period from August 8, 1918 to November 11, 1918, the Allies undertook a series of attacks against German troops. The first successful attack was the Battle of Amiens . The series of attacks forced the Germans to retreat behind the Hindenburg line and ended with the Compiègne armistice . The Hundred Days Offensive is not a self-contained operation , but rather the rapid succession of individual and ultimately decisive victories by the Allies.
The series of offensives launched by the Germans on the Western Front in spring 1918 slowly came to an end in July 1918. The Germans had advanced as far as the Marne , but had not made a decisive breakthrough. With the end of the German offensive, the Allied Commander-in-Chief Ferdinand Foch ordered a counter-offensive at Villers-Cotterêts and in the Soissons area during the Second Battle of the Marne on July 18 . The Germans realized that their position at Château-Thierry was untenable and retreated north. For this victory, Foch was appointed Marshal of France on August 6 .
Foch felt it was high time the Allies launched another offensive. American troops were now in France in large numbers and this had a positive effect on the morale of the Allied troops. The commander in chief of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) General John J. Pershing wanted to use his army in an independent role. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) Field Marshal Douglas Haig was by troops from Palestine and Italy , as well as reinforcements that Prime Minister David Lloyd George had held back in England until then, been reinforced.
A number of plans were considered, and eventually Foch agreed to a proposal by Haig to attack the Somme , east of Amiens and southwest of the 1916 battlefield . The aim of this attack should be the displacement of the Germans from the important Amiens - Paris railway line. The Somme was chosen as a particularly suitable location because, as in 1916, it was the liaison point between the BEF and the French army and so both armies could not only work together, but could also be supplied via the road from Amiens to Roye . The Picardy landscape was also seen as more suitable for the use of tanks compared to Flanders . The German troops in this section were rated as relatively weak, as the 2nd Army under General Georg von der Marwitz had already been explored by constant minor attacks (e.g. on July 4, 1918 in the Battle of Hamel by Australian troops) .
The Battle of Amiens (referred to as the Battle of Montdidier by the French on the south flank of the front ) began on August 8, 1918 with the attack of the British 4th Army under General Henry Rawlinson with more than 10 divisions, which were already largely Australian and Canadian Troops were provided and more than 500 tanks used. The attack had been carefully prepared and came as a complete surprise to the Germans. Australian and Canadian units launched the attack and broke through the German lines at Villers-Bretonneux , the tanks that had collapsed as far as Harbonnières threatened the rear positions and caused panic among the German troops.
North of the Somme supported the British III. Corps under General Richard Butler by attacking Morlancourt. Marshal Foch succeeded in ensuring that the French 1st Army, under General Marie-Eugène Debeney, also took part in the offensive against the German 18th Army under General Oskar von Hutier . By the end of the day the Allies had taken 17,000 prisoners and captured 330 guns. The total losses of the Germans are estimated at 30,000 men. The Allies lost 6,500 soldiers. The chief of the Supreme Army Command, Erich Ludendorff, called this day the " black day of the German Army ". The advance of the Allied troops continued for three more days, but without repeating the great successes of the first day, as the supplies could not keep up because of the rapid advance. On the first day the Allied troops gained a breakthrough 19 km wide and about 8 km deep, on August 10th Montdidier was taken by the troops of Debeney and the Germans withdrew to the line Bray - Lihons - Arvillers. It was not until August 18 that the Allied attack on the Albert - Chaulnes - Roye - Lassigny line was briefly halted by German reserves.
French attacks between Noyon and Soissons
The attack of the British troops was strongly supported by the French Army Group Fayolle south of the Somme. On August 12, the Boehn Army Group, newly formed by the Germans, took over command on both sides of the Somme, subordinate to the German 2nd, 18th and 9th Army . By August 18, the 18th Army (Hutier) had already been withdrawn from the French 1st and 3rd Armies on the Lassigny - Roye - Chaulnes line. With the Crown Prince Army Group adjoining it to the south , the German 7th Army - now under Infantry General Magnus von Eberhardt - had already given up the Marne advance at the end of July because of the attacks by the French 10th Army under General Charles Mangin and had returned to Vesle . On August 17th the French 3rd Army under General Georges-Louis Humbert opened the second battle near Noyon , the city of Noyon had to be surrendered on August 29th by the German 18th Army. The German 9th Army was pushed back to the Ailette at Coucy until August 22nd . The German 1st and 3rd Armies of Generals Bruno von Mudra and Karl von Eine , which followed to the south-east, were able to hold the old positions at Reims and in Champagne .
Fight at Albert, Arras and the Somme
On August 15, 1918, Marshal Foch asked General Haig to continue the breakthrough at Amiens. The British 4th Army's offensive stalled because the Allies lacked supplies and the German Army Command under General Erich Ludendorff was able to bring reinforcements to this area in good time. Haig refused and instead prepared a new attack a little further north at Albert . The Battle of Albert began on August 21, 1918. The British 3rd Army under Julian Byng was able to tear open the German front to a width of 5 km between Boisleux and Bucquoy . General Byng took Courcelles and crossed the Ancre at Albert and Beaucourt . Albert was retaken by the British on August 22nd, Thiepval was retaken on August 25th, Montauban , Martinpuich, Mametz , and Longueval on the 26th . The town of Bapaume and Combles was retaken from Byng between August 29 and 31 in the so-called Second Battle of Bapaume .
On August 26, the corps of the British 3rd Army further north extended their attack south of the Scarpe and reached the break-in to a width of eleven kilometers. The Battle of the Scarpe is also known as the Second Battle of Arras , the destroyed Monchy-le-Preux was taken. At the same time, the British 4th Army, which was further south, pushed its front further eastward over a width of eleven kilometers north of the Somme. To the east of Amiens, the Australian corps under General John Monash , after artillery and ammunition had been brought in, managed to cross the Somme north of Peronne . In the battle of Mont Saint-Quentin between August 31 and September 3, the German General Command 51 was heavily harassed, Peronne was surrendered by the 18th Army on September 1. On September 2, the British 3rd Army broke with the fourth, and the Canadian 1st and 4th Division in the Battle of Drocourt-Quéant in the German Wotan position which at Arleux double included 17 army retreated to the seventh September back to the Bertincourt - Doignes - Busy line. At the same time, further north, the Leie bend and the Kemmelberg , which was won in April, were given up by the 6th Army . The headquarters of the German Army Command had already been relocated from Avesnes to Spa as a precaution .
Advance on the Hindenburg line
After these incursions into the German front, the Allies pressed further on the Hindenburg line. The German main line of defense extended from Cerny on the Aisne to Arras . The VI. Corps of the British 3rd Army crossed the Canal du Nord with the 62nd Division, the New Zealand Division and the 2nd Division and was able to break through the front of the German 17th Army on September 12 at Havrincourt . Encouraged by this result, Douglas Haig ordered further action on Cambrai . The British 4th Army under General Rawlinson reached the Attilly - Vermand - Buissy line by September 11th , captured the Bois d'Holnon, won the Battle of Épehy on September 18th and advanced on St. Quentin from the north . German counterattacks between Villers-Guislain and Mœuvres to the north failed.
The French Groupe d'Armées du Center of General Paul Maistre on the Aisne was approaching the Hindenburg line from the south with the subordinate 10th, 6th and 9th armies. Opposite the German 9th Army of General Fritz von Below covered the line La Fère via Saint-Gobain to the plateau of Laffaux. The German 7th Army withdrew from the Vesle to the Aisne on September 4th, and on September 7th it gave up the last southern promontory at Maizy . In the Battle of Savy-Dallon (September 10, 1918) and the Battle of Vauxaillon (September 14, 1918), the German 9th and 7th Armies were pushed back to the Ailette. At the beginning of September 1918, the German armies in the summer section and on the Aisne had to be essentially returned to their starting positions before the spring offensive of March 1918. The Army Group under General Boehn was disbanded on October 8th because the front was shortened.
Battle for the Hindenburg line
Marshal Foch was now planning a series of simultaneous attacks on the German positions in France (French Grande Offensive ), with the German lines of communication being targeted from various points. A single successful attack from this wave should be enough to move the entire front. Before the actual offensive, the last remaining forward front lines of the Germans were pushed back. French and American units attacked vigorously between September 12 and 15 in the battle of St. Mihiel in the area southeast of Verdun and forced the German and Austro-Hungarian troops to give up the front arc there.
The attack by Foch's "Grande Offensive" began on September 26th simultaneously against the Aisne and together with American troops against the Meuse ( Meuse-Argonne Offensive ). The French 5th Army broke into the positions of the German 1st Army on September 30 at the Battle of Saint-Thierry . In eastern Champagne, the attack was set up by the French 4th Army under General Henri Gouraud at a width of 40 kilometers between Suippes and Massiges to the north. After the Battle of Somme-Py on September 26th, the German 3rd Army under General von Eine was pushed back to Grandpré and the Aire at the beginning of October . To the right of this the 1st US Army under General Hunter Liggett provided support after the advance on Montfaucon-d'Argonne on October 6th, the attack took place on both sides of the Argonne over difficult areas, the Hindenburg line was only broken here on October 17th.
On September 28, the allied army group under King Albert I began in the north with the Belgian Army, the 2nd British Army under General Herbert Plumer and the French 6th Army under General Jean-Marie Degoutte, which was moved from Vesle to Flanders . The Belgians and French attacked the Torhout - Roulers line , Plumer's army initially made great strides in the 5th Battle of Ypres , but was then stopped by supply problems and the German 4th Army under General Friedrich Sixt von Armin . The British 1st Army under General Henry Horne supported the attack and threatened Lens . The defending German 6th Army under General von Quast was able to hold out in the Lille and Douai area until October 17th .
On September 27, fifteen Allied divisions fought northwest of Cambrai on the Canal du Nord, where the Canadian corps was able to take the forest of Bourlon. On September 29, the central attack on the Hindenburg line began in the battle of the Saint-Quentin Canal . The 4th British Army advanced along the Canal de Saint-Quentin , while the French 1st Army attacked the fortifications of the German 18th Army at and south of St. Quentin. General von der Marwitz had to reckon with the fact that the Allies wanted to break through the front of his 2nd Army between Le Catelet and Bellicourt . Surprisingly, the British 4th Army attacked further south near Riqueval on September 29th . The destination for the 27th US Division was the area west of Bellicourt, for the 30th US Division the place Bony and for the 46th British Division the area west of Bellenglise . They were supported by the 4th Australian Division, which was in the rear area at Le Verguier . The front of the German 2nd Army was torn open again at Bellicourt and Bellenglise. On October 5th, the Allies had completely overcome the Hindenburg Line in this section over a length of 31 km.
On September 29, 1918, the German Supreme Army Command under General Ludendorff demanded that the Reich government immediately commence armistice negotiations, stating that the front could collapse any day. The decline in German morality was so evident that many Allied commanders and politicians wanted to end the war in 1918 - before they believed they could not force the decision until 1919.
Battle sequences in October
In October 1918, German troops were driven out of areas they had captured in 1914. There were still 186 divisions on the western front after 22 divisions had to be disbanded due to insufficient personnel. The Allies pushed the Germans towards the railway line from Metz to Bruges , which had ensured the supply of the entire front in Northern France and Belgium for most of the war. When the Allied troops reached this railway line, the German troops were forced to leave behind large quantities of heavy weapons and supplies, which further affected morale and combat capability.
The inadequately developed Hermann position , which began north of Ghent on the coast, followed the course of the Leie and Schelde rivers to the south and merged into the Hunding position at Marle , could no longer stop the Allied attacks in the northern section. On October 8, 1918, the British 5th and 1st Armies broke through the Hindenburg Line. The army group of Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria was attacked in the Battle of Courtrai (October 14) and the Battle of the Lys and Scheldt (October 20) and forced to retreat to the Tournai area .
On October 2, the IX. Corps (General Walter Braithwaite ) of the British 3rd Army with the 46th and 32nd Divisions, supported by the 2nd Australian Division, to break through the front at Beaurevoir . The remnants of the German 2nd and 18th Armies then withdrew to the interception position that had been set up at the beginning of September. The German 9th Army was disbanded in the central section because of the shortening of the front; on October 8th, the 18th Army, fighting near St. Quentin, resigned as the new right wing of the German Crown Prince Army Group .
The British 3rd Army broke on October 8th with the VI. (General Aylmer Haldane ), XVII. (General Charles Fergusson ) and the Canadian Corps (General Arthur Currie ) at the Battle of Cambrai through the front of the German 17th Army and liberated the city the following day. After the breakthrough of the British cavalry corps under General Charles Kavanagh at Le Cateau, General Otto von Below had to go back to the Hermann position by October 10 and was replaced by General Mudra on October 12. On October 13, Douglas Haig and Georges Clemenceau visited the liberated Cambrai. The British 5th Army occupied Lille on October 18, the German 6th Army returned to Tournai . The British 3rd Army pushed the German 17th Army back to the Valenciennes - Solesmes - Le Cateau line in the Battle of the Selle until October 20 , south of which the British 4th Army had taken Bohain and was approaching Wassigny .
In the central section, the French attacked: The 10th Army under Mangin took Laon back and pushed north. The Italian 2nd Corps under General Alberico Albricci , fighting in the French 5th Army (General Henri Berthelot ), crossed the Aisne near Berry-au-Bac and took part in the reconquest of the Chemin des Dames . By October 10, Crown Prince Wilhelm had withdrawn the 18th Army on the Aisonville line - west of Macquigny - east bank of the Oise. The German 18th Army had withstood French attempts at transition on the Oise near La Fère until October 15, and was forced to retreat to the Guise - Vervins and Poix line at the Battle of the Serre . The French 1st Army had crossed the Sambre after taking St. Quentin and won the battle of Mont-D'Origny on October 15th . The German 7th Army (Eberhardt) moved behind the Souche , the 1st Army (since October 12th under Otto von Below) went back to Rethel and the 3rd Army (Eine) to Vouziers . General Gallwitz's Army Group wrestled with the French 5th Army in the Dun area and, east of Verdun, had to surrender the Woëvre plain to the 2nd US Army under General Robert Lee Bullard .
Final fighting and armistice in November 1918
In the battle of Valenciennes, the German 2nd Army (under General Adolph von Carlowitz since September 22nd ) was pushed back to the Belgian border on November 1st. This momentous breakthrough convinced the German high command that the war should be ended. In the Battle of the Sambre on November 4th, the British 4th Army won together with the French 1st Army, which simultaneously supported the battle of Guise from the south and in the Thiérache area on November 6th . The British troops tried to break through on Maubeuge and Mons , but suffered heavy losses when attempting to cross the Canal de la Sambre à l'Oise , but they were able to cross a bridgehead about 80 km long and 5 km deep by November 5th of the canal and throw the German 2nd and 18th armies back on Charleroi .
Shortly before the end of the war, the English armies were almost entirely in the Belgian area. From north to south the 2nd Army (Plumer) reached the line Voorde to Lessines , the 5th Army (Birdwood) followed by Ath and Chièvres , the 1st Army (Horne) was concentrated in the Mons area. The British 3rd Army stood on both sides of the Sambre in front of the fortress Maubeuge. The southernmost army, the British 4th, was still on French territory in the Avesnes area , where it joined the French 1st Army under Debeney. The French 10th Army had liberated Vervins, the French 5th Army under General Adolphe Guillaumat reached Mézières by the end of the war . Between November 1st and 5th, the French 4th Army fought at the Battle of Le Chesne and penetrated the Sedan area until the end of the war . The 1st US Army crossed the road between Buzancy and Barricourt and came across Stenay . On November 1, the 2nd US Army under General Bullard attacked and pushed the Gallwitz Army Group back onto the Montmédy - Longuyon - Etain line until the end of the war .
The number of dead and wounded was high on both sides during these fighting. The losses in the number of German troops were particularly severe, especially the number of prisoners and missing persons increased dramatically with the withdrawals - 17,700 in June, 52,500 in July, 110,000 in August and 119,000 in September. According to the composition of the Supreme Army Command, the German Western Army has lost a total of 1,344,300 soldiers since the offensive from March up to and including September 1918.
On October 26th, the German operations leader General Ludendorff was replaced by the new Quartermaster General Wilhelm Groener, who, together with Field Marshal Hindenburg , urged Kaiser Wilhelm II to abdicate on November 9th. The final fighting in front of the Antwerp-Maas position lasted a few minutes before the Compiègne armistice came into force on November 11, 1918 at 11.00 a.m. One of the last soldiers to die in that war was Canadian soldier George Lawrence Price , who fell two minutes before the armistice.
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- John FB Livesay: Canada's Hundred Days. With the Canadian Corps from Amiens to Mons, Aug. 8 – Nov. 11, 1918. Thomas Allen, Toronto 1919, pp. 205 f.
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- John Hayes Fisher: The last soldiers to die in World War I. BBC News, October 29, 2008.