Monday, March 12, 2012

The BEF’s preparations for and conduct of the defensive battles during the spring of 1918 – Part 2

Germany’s Last Chance

At the end of 1917 the German people were at the limit of their endurance.  Germany’s allies, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey, were all on the verge of military and economic collapse.  The German army was suffering from a lack of basic necessities and losses of experienced soldiers.  Despite the hardships the allied position was equally bleak.  The BEF at the end of 1917 was ‘exhausted and much reduced in strength’ (Haig Memorandum 15 Dec 1917 M.P.C. 21, CAB 27/14 – Quoted in: David R. Woodward, ‘Did Lloyd George Starve the British Army of Men Prior to the German Offensive of 21 March 1918?’, The Historical Journal, 27, (1), (March 1984), p. 245.).  The French army much under strength was still recovering from the mutinies of 1917.  The collapse of Russia and Romania and the German victory over the Italians at Caporetto had relieved the pressure on the Germans from those fronts.  Additionally, Caporetto had forced the deployment of five British and six French divisions from the Western Front to Italy.  This combination allowed the Germans to deploy more than 40 additional divisions to the Western Front giving them a numerical superiority (Michael Occleshaw, Armour against Fate: British Military Intelligence in the First World War (London: Columbus Books, 1989), p. 364.).  First ‘Generalquartiermeister’ Ludendorff realized the German advantage was transitory.  America had entered the war in April 1917 and her troop numbers in France were increasing daily.  Germany's only hope for victory, or a compromise peace, appeared to lie in an offensive in the west.

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