Published By Ben Hillidge
IWM Voices of War – Podcast 41: The German Spring Offensive
The Kaiser Offensive was a series of German attacks between March and July 1918. The plan was to breakthrough the British lines and to split and defeat the allied armies. The Offensive was a last ditch attempt to win the war or, alternatively, to be in a position to negotiate a favourable peace before American troops could be fully deployed.
The Offensive began on 21 March 1918 with the first of four assaults – Operation Michael, in the Somme sector. This was followed on 9 April by Operation Georgette towards Armentières: on 20 April by Operation Blüch-Yorck against French troops at Reims; and, the final phase, in July, Operation Gneisenau at the River Marne.
The German plans, at first, went well with each successive offence breaking through the front line. The British began a wholesale retreat westwards and by mid July nearly all the ground, and more, fought over the last 3 years was lost. However, the German Army became over extended, under supplied and exhausted, low on ammunitions and with an increasing shortage of men. Troops deprived of food took to looting, discipline and morale became shaky. Inevitably the advance faltered. In August the allies counter attacked with the 100 Days and the Germans began the final retreat and pursuit back to Germany.
The Germans used ‘storm troopers’ – trained as specialist, highly mobile assault troops who would by-pass forward defences to strike deep thus disrupting communications and spreading chaos in the rear areas. More conventional infantry would then mop up the isolated forward areas.
Operation Michael, 21 March – 5 April 1918
Operation Michael opened up at 4.35am on 21 March with a massive bombardment along a 40 mile front stretching from the River Oise in the south to near Arras in the north. The weight of the assault was centred on the Somme to the south. The barrage was aimed principally at destroying and disrupting British communication and supply lines. It was one of the most intense and concentrated of the war – it is estimated over 3million shells were fired in 5 hours, including much poison gas. The German storm troopers moved quickly by-passing forward defences to cause chaos and confusion in the support and rear areas and frustrating the allied ability to respond. More conventional infantry then mopped up the isolated trench defences and strong points. After successive phases and further advances, by the first week in April, the Germans had reached almost as far as Amiens in the south and Arras in the north. The advanced then continued into the next phase – Operation Georgette
Men on the Gates – Operation Michael
- Somme. St Quentin. 2/7 Bn Lancashire Fusiliers. 21 March 1918
- Somme. La Fère & River Oise. 2/2 Bn London Regiment. 21 March 1918.
- Somme. Noreuil. 1 Bn King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. 21-22 March 1918
- Somme. Metz-en-Coutere. 1/4 (Denbighshire) Bn Royal Welsh Fusiliers. 21-25 March 1918
- Somme. Brie. 9th (Queens Royal) Lancers. 22 March 1918.
- Arras. Heninel. 7 Bn King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. 21-30 March 1918.
- Somme. Lebucquiére. 1/4Bn King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. 23 March 1918.
- Somme. Bray St Christophe. 6 Bn King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. 20 March- 2 April 1918.
- Somme. Happencourt. 7 Bn Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. 24 March 1918.
- Somme. Beugny. 9 Bn Cheshire Regiment. 25 March 1918.
- Somme. Folies and Rouvrel, 18 Bn King’s Liverpool Regiment, 28 March 1918.
Operation Georgette, 7 – 29 April 1918
Operation Georgette, 7 – 29 April 1918 was the second phase of the Kaiser Offensive. The focus of the attack shifted northwards from the Somme to be centred on Armentières and the River Llys. The front ran from Festubert and Givenchy in the south and to beyond Ypres at the northern end. Military historians have indentified up to 8 separate engagements during the offensive. The fighting was complex and contiguous but in chronological order were the Battles of Estaires, Messines, Hazebrouck, Bailleul, First Kemmel, Béthune, Second Kemmel and Scherpenberg. Each engagement saw the Germans steadily advancing and driving the allies back. By the end of the month the Germans had recaptured nearly all the ground fought for over the previous 2 years. However, as with Operation Michael, the Germans over stretched themselves and the offensive was held only after desperate defence – so much so that on 11 April the CinC Douges Haig’s Order of the Day read ‘With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each of us must fight on to the end’.
Men on the Gates – Operation Georgette Bethune.
- Bethune. Locon, Mesplaux Farm. 1/10 Bn King’s Liverpool Regiment. 9-11 April 1918.
- Erquinghem. 11 Bn Suffolk Regiment. 9-19 April 1918
- Bethune. Givenchy. 1/4 Bn Loyal North Lancashire. 9 April 1918.
- Ypres. Wytschaete. 9 Bn Royal Welsh Fusiliers. 18 April 1918
- Ypres. Wulverghem. 1/4 Bn King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. 19 April 1918.
- Bethune. 7 Bn King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. 29 April 1918
Amiens – during the later stages of Operation Michael (21 March 1918 – 5 April 1918) the British Army had fallen back through the old Somme battlefields towards Amiens where the offensive was held and from where the British advance in the last 100 Days would be initiated. The area was still active as a diversion and to keep reinforcements from the main battle area.
Operation Blücher-Yorck, 27 May – 6 June
Operation Blücher-Yorck was the third phase in the Kaiser Offensive. The battlefront was between Soisson and Reims. The sector was being held by British divisions. The divisions were much depleted and had been sent to the sector for rest and reorganisation. The defences too were weak and unprepared. The German plan had the strategic objective to draw forces south and weaken the northern sectors where the assault would continue. The assault began on 27 May. The Germans made significant gains and advanced as far as the River Marne and threatening Paris, the understrength and battle weary British troops fell back. However, the German advance ran out of steam, supply lines were over extended and reinforcements were few. The assault was called off on 6 June.
Men on the Gates – Operation Blücher-Yorck
- Arras. Feuchy. 1/5 Bn Cheshire Regiment. 20-23 May 1918
- South of River Aisne. 25 Bn Machine Gun Corps. 27-30 May 1918
- Battle of the Aisne. Lhery. 10 Bn Worcestershire Regiment. 30 May 1918
- Avion, Lens. 6 Bn King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. 10 June 1918.
- Dickebusch. 1 Bn King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. 30 June 1918.
- Armentieres. St Andre, Lille. 12 Bn Gloucestershire Regiment. 9 July 1918
Operation Gseinau, 9 12 June
Operation Gseinau was the fourth and final phase of the Kaiser Offensive. The battlefront was along the River Matz, north of Compiegne. The assaukt was an extension of Blucher-Yorke. After early successes the Germans managed to Advance about 9 miles until a strong counter attack by French troops on 11 June halted and turned the enemy at the Second Battle of the Marne. With the conclusion of Operation Gseinau the Allied forces would re group and counter attack on 8 August with 100 Days Offensives and lasting until the Armistice on 11 November 1918 and the end of the war.
- Second Battle of the Marne, 15 July – 6 August. 2/8 Bn West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’s Own). 20-28 July 1918.
- Avion, Lens. 6 Bn King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. 13-14 July 1918
B&O 1918. Kaiser Offensive.