On 21 March 1918, the German army launched its spring offensive with Operation Michael

One hundred years ago today the German Army on the Western Front unleashed a series of massive attacks on the exhausted French and British troops.

German troops amassing in St. Quentin for Spring Offensive 21st March 1918
German troops amassing in St. Quentin for Spring Offensive 21st March 1918

The 1918 Spring Offensive or Kaiserschlacht (Kaiser's Battle), also known as the Ludendorff Offensive, was a series of German attacks along the Western Front during the First World War, beginning on 21 March 1918, which marked the deepest advances by either side since 1914. The Germans had realised that their only remaining chance of victory was to defeat the Allies before the overwhelming human and material resources of the United States could be fully deployed.

German General Erich Ludendorff thought he could win World War I with one final blow. He planned to punch holes between the French and British armies. Then he would drive through their trenches to the English Channel, isolating and destroying the British army. For a brief moment, the war had suddenly swung in Germany's favour by March 1918.

The attack began 4.40am with one of the most intense bombardments of the war. More than 3.5 million shells were fired from 6,600 artillery guns within 5 hours, the infantry assault went in along a 46-mile front to mark the start of the offensive.

The Spring Offensive almost worked, the British were heavily outnumbered at first - 65 German divisions took part in the initial attacks against just 26 British divisions. Within days, the British army had suffered some 50,000 casualties. Altogether, about a half-million French, British and American troops were killed or wounded during the entire offensive. It was the second worst day for the British Army during the First World War, surpassed only by the number of casualties on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

The map shows part of the terrain over which the British troops were forced to retire in the days immediately succeeding the German Spring Offensive
The map shows part of the terrain over which the British troops were forced to retire in the days immediately succeeding the German Spring Offensive

But within a month, the German offensive was slowing. They could get neither supplies nor reinforcements to the English Channel. Germany had left 1 million soldiers behind in the east to occupy and annex huge sections of conquered Eastern Europe and western Russia.

German prisoners, taken by the British in the great battle which began on March 21st, 1918
German prisoners, taken by the British in the great battle which began on March 21st, 1918

The British and French had learned new ways of strategic retreat. By summer of 1918, the Germans were exhausted. In August 1918, the Allies began a counter-offensive with the support of 1–2 million fresh American troops and using new artillery techniques and operational methods. This Hundred Days Offensive was the final period of the First World War, during which the Allies launched a series of offensives against the Central Powers on the Western Front from 8th August to 11th November 1918, beginning with the Battle of Amiens. The offensive resulted in the Germans retreating or being driven from all of the ground taken in the Spring Offensive, the collapse of the Hindenburg Line and the capitulation of the German Empire that November.

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Over 6+ million WW1 records transcribed by ‘Forces War Records’

Over 6+ million WW1 records transcribed by ‘Forces War Records’

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