Western Front 1918: The German Offensives

Strategic context

1918: Background to the Franco-British Summer Offensives - the strategic context

Even after the exhausting and costly failures of the German Somme and the Lys offensives in the spring of 1918, Ludendorff grimly persisted with his obsession: the destruction of the British Army within the decisive arena Battle of the Aisne: German infantry advancing over a captured trench, June 1918of the Flanders battleground. To this end, after a lull in the fighting in the first weeks of May, he sanctioned a series of diversionary offensives (targeting French positions in the south) intended to draw Allied reserves far away from the Flanders front prior to a German attack there in order to smash, once and for all, British and Belgian military power.

But dramatic successes in the first two German diversionary attacks, on the Chemin des Dames in late May, and towards the River Matz in early June, lured Ludendorff into prolonging these operations to the detriment of preparations for the Flanders campaign. The third diversionary offensive, launched between Reims and Soissons on 15 July (the last major German attack on the Western Front of the war,) met with startling gains west of Reims, but eventually stalled (to the east of that city) and a powerful French counter-offensive, launched on 18 July, then forced (in a crucial series of complex actions known as the Second Battle of the Marne) a German retirement behind the rivers Vesle and Aisne.

The Marne fighting provoked a crisis of confidence in the German High Command and signalled the end of Ludendorff’s diversion battles; cumulative high casualties meant that his great Flanders attack was postponed. By high-summer the balance of forces in the West no longer favoured the Germans as increasing numbers of American troops arrived in France. The Allies, heartened by inspiring French counter-attacks and their growing strength (in manpower and material resources), began to believe in and plan for the defeat of Germany before the winter.

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