Great War Wednesday: The Hundred Days


hundred daysAugust 1918 proved a turning point in the Great War, in this case, the final turning point. The German Spring Offensive had begun with a roar in early May, but by July had managed to peter out with a whimper. It had managed to prove the war could become mobile again, but the cost was the cream of the German Imperial Army. At this point, the Entente forces realized the time was ripe for a decisive counter attack while Germany was at her weakest and most overextended. Thus began what we now call The Hundred Days or, so a not to confuse it with the “original” Hundred Days of Napoleon Bonaparte, The Hundred Days Offensive or sometimes The Advance to Victory.

Germany’s greatest fear materialized in the middle of 1918. Even though the war was down to only the Western Front, Russia having capitulated, that one front was now loaded with men and most of them were not wearing German uniforms. The Americans had arrived in force with more arriving every day. The presence of so many new men, especially so many new men seemingly suicidally rash, invigorated the Entente forces. Even though General Pershing insisted on American troops remaining in American units instead of spreading out to replace other countries’ troops, the Americans turned the tide. Once the British and French realized the doughboys were not going to break up, they happily placed American units in the line and pretty much let them go at it pell mell. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked.

The Entente also acquired numerous troops from the Middle Eastern and Italian Fronts. Those sectors had been largely abandoned as everyone realized for good or ill this war would be decided where it had begun, on the Western Front.

The usual starting point of the Hundred Days is fixed at the Battle of Amiens. For the first time, and eerily foreshadowing future events, five hundred tanks accompanied the infantry into this battle. They managed to blow a hole in the depleted German front and the tanks poured through the gap much as the cavalry of old and attacked the rear lines. The first day saw the Entente troops gain back twelve miles of territory and, more importantly, for the first time in the war, German morale shattered and the proud Imperial Army showed its back as it began what would become the final retreat.

By mid-August, Germany had lost the entirety of the gains it had made during Operation Michel and was in a fighting retreat. British General Haig took two weeks to consolidate his position and launched the Second Battle of the Somme on 21 August 1918. Unlike the massive casualties suffered in 1916, the British had great success against what was becoming rapidly growing numbers of raw German recruits and lesser reserves. Now the painful losses of the Spring Offensive began to tell against the Germans as the new troops forced into the line were in no way capable of replacing the quality of first line troops lost in the doomed attacks. By the time the Entente troops stopped to regroup in late August, the entire German front line had collapsed. Nothing remained between the Entente and a final victory except the massive Hindenburg Line. Here, Germany would make its final stand.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.


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