Black Day of the German Army

He who has not fought the Germans does not know War.

British Army military maxim

One hundred years ago the Battle of Amiens (August 8, 1918-August 12, 1918) was underway, a joint British and French offensive.  The Battle marks the beginning of what historians refer to as the Hundred Days Offensive which ended in victory in World War I for the Allies, a period of relentless Allied drives that tore the heart from the German Army.  Love them or hate them, the Germans have a deserved reputation of being good fighters.  It is therefore stunning to learn that of the 75,000 German casualties of the Battle of Amiens, 50,000 were prisoners.  Quartermaster General Ludendorff referred to August 8, 1918 when 12,000 German soldiers surrendered as The Black Day of the German Army.  By the end of the month Ludendorff was advising the civilian government to seek an armistice because the German Army had reached the limits of its capabilities.  The Fat Lady a hundred years ago was clearing her throat.

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August 4, 1918: Ludendorff Whistles as it Grows Dark for Germany

 

Quartermaster General Erich Ludendorff, de facto commander of the Imperial German army, issued this terse statement on August 4, 1918:

Foch’s plan was undoubtedly to cut off the entire arc of our front south of the Aisne by a breakthrough on the flank. But with the proved leadership of our Seventh and Ninth Armies that was quite impossible.

We figured with an attack on July 18th and were prepared for it. The enemy experienced very heavy losses, and the Americans and African auxiliary troops, which we do not underestimate, suffered severely.

By the afternoon of the 19th we already were fully masters of the situation and shall remain so. We left the abandoned ground to the enemy according to our regular plan.

“Gain of ground” and “Marne” are only catchwords without importance for the issue of the war.

We are now, as before, confident.

Privately Ludendorff knew that the initiative on the Western Front had passed from the Germans to the Allies.  What the Allies would do with that initiative would soon be revealed to Ludendorff.

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March 21, 1918: Operation Michael Begins

And then, exactly as a pianist runs his hands across the keyboard from treble to bass, there rose in less than one minute the most tremendous cannonade I shall ever hear…It swept round us in a wide curve of red leaping flame stretching to the north far along the front of the Third Army, as well as of the Fifth Army on the south, and quite unending in either direction…the enormous explosions of the shells upon our trenches seemed almost to touch each other, with hardly an interval in space or time…The weight and intensity of the bombardment surpassed anything which anyone had ever known before.

Winston Churchill, who was present at the front when Operation Michael began.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 1918 German Spring Offensive, known to history as the Kaiserschlacht (Kaiser’s Battle), got underway on March 21, 1918.  Three German Armies struck the British Fifth Army and the right wing of the British Third Army.  The British Fifth Army held the juncture with the French forces in the south.  If the British could be driven away from the French, hopefully being driven into the North Sea, the Germans thought that they could then defeat the French.  This large scale test of the German stosstruppen tactics seemed initially to be a great success.  Rolling artillery barrages protected the German stormtroops as they avoided Allied strongpoints and punched holes in the British trench lines, restoring a mobility to the Western Front warfare that had been absent after 1914.

 

By the time the offensive came to an end on April 5, 1918 the Germans had put a scare into the Allied High Command and made huge, up to 65 miles, almost unbelievable, in the context of the Western Front, gains against the British.  However, there were worrisome factors for the Germans to contemplate.  Each side during the offensive lost a quarter of a million men, but the German losses were mostly among their highly trained, and irreplaceable, stormtroops.  The Germans enjoyed huge tactical successes, but General Ludendorff, perhaps the most overrated commander of the Great War, was unable to use these successes to gain the strategic goal of separating the British from the French.  The Germans had great difficulty in keeping their assault troops supplied over the torn up terrain they were advancing over.  The Germans captured 75,000 British troops, and 1300 pieces of artillery, but they were no closer to ultimate victory than they had been when Operation Michael was launched.