Western Front 1918: The German Offensives

Overview

The British offensive in Picardy: origins, purpose, course and consequences (8 August - 3 September 1918)

Deeply troubled by the success of the French counter-offensives on the Marne and Aisne during late July, Ludendorff rejected sound advice to pull his exhausted forces in the west back from the now-vulnerable Amiens salient. 60-pounder guns in action during the Battle of Amiens, August 1918Here Rawlinson’s Fourth Army, invigorated by recent local successes, was poised to strike and renew the Allied offensive momentum.

Plans for an eastward assault from Amiens had long been considered, but formal approval was only obtained at an Allied conference on 24 July; in subsequent meetings the aims of the offensive were precisely defined and date of attack fixed for 8 August. The Amiens battle was not envisaged as a one-off attempt at strategic breakthrough; rather, reflecting hard-acquired wisdom in allied planning, it represented merely one part of a complex and massive scheme for co-ordinated allied offensives to be launched on different sectors of the front. The immediate purpose of the Amiens battle was to clear the invaders from Picardy; the cumulative purpose of the separate offensives was to win the war.

Planned with meticulous care and in the greatest secrecy, the Amiens attack, launched early in the morning of 8 August, met with dramatic initial success; but progress gradually slowed and fighting was effectively closed down by 12 August. The weight of assaults shifted north and a series of successive attacks initiated by Haig between 21 August and the beginning of September (in which Third and First Army formations complemented the aggressive forward moves of Fourth Army) repeatedly forced the Germans back, regaining much ground lost during the spring.

Within the context of the Picardy arena, the momentous attack of 8 August set in motion a series of co-ordinated assaults which ultimately compelled the Germans to abandon the old Somme battlegrounds and seek shelter behind the profound defences of the Hindenburg Line.

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