Western Front 1918: The German Offensives

The Hindenburg Line

The Hindenburg Line

A mass of barbed wire entanglement in front of the Hindenburg Line near the town. Australian War Memorial, H09184. During the last week of August and first weeks of September 1918 Sir Douglas Haig’s, First, Third and Fourth Armies became involved in a complex series of operations intended to advance their formations towards the forward areas of a formidable system of German field-defences called the 'Siegfried Stellung' (Siegfried Line) – better known to the British as the Hindenburg Line. More a series of well-defended zones than a single line, Haig was determined that these positions should and could be broken within the next few weeks as part of a general Allied offensive. But it was accepted that the imposing strength of the Hindenburg Line would pose the advancing British Armies with the most profound and unprecedented challenges.

Extending from near Vailly on the Aisne in the south to Tilloy (south-east of Arras) in the north, the Hindenburg Line had its origins in the strategic realities of late 1916. The heavy casualties and strains imposed upon the German Army on the Western Front, especially as a result of the terrible fighting on the Somme, induced the German High Command, in September 1916, to decide on a shortening of their defensive lines by withdrawing to a newly-prepared and near impregnable position far in the rear of the Somme battlegrounds. Constructed between late-September 1916 and March 1917, the building of the Hindenburg Line represented a major task of field engineering, which utilised vast quantities of materials and manpower (including the forced labour of civilians and Russian prisoners of war). The end product represented the physical embodiment of German acceptance of a new outlook on the war – the ‘strategic defensive’.

Though temporarily abandoned during the risky German bid for victory in March-April 1918, the re-garrisoning of the Hindenburg Line in August-September 1918 represented a last-ditch attempt to prolong the fighting into 1919.

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