Meuse Argonne offensive

The Meuse–Argonne offensive of World War 1

The Meuse–Argonne offensive (also known as the Meuse River–Argonne Forest offensive, the Battles of the Meuse–Argonne, and the Meuse–Argonne campaign) was a major part of the final Allied offensive of World War I that stretched along the entire Western Front.
It was fought from September 26, 1918, until the Armistice of November 11, 1918, a total of 47 days.

The Meuse–Argonne offensive was the largest in United States military history, involving 1.2 million American soldiers.

It is the second deadliest battle in American history, resulting in over 350,000 casualties including 28,000 German lives, 26,277 American lives, and an unknown number of French lives.
U.S. losses were worsened by the inexperience of many of the troops, the tactics used during the early phases of the operation and the widespread onset of the global influenza outbreak called the “Spanish Flu”.

Meuse–Argonne was the principal engagement of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) during World War I.

It was one of a series of Allied attacks known as the Hundred Days Offensive, which brought the war to an end.

It was the largest and bloodiest operation of World War I for the AEF even if, given the scale of other battles on the Western Front, its size was limited and the operation itself secondary as it was far from the main offensive axis.

The logistic prelude to the Meuse attack was planned by then Colonel George Marshall who managed to move American units to the front after the Battle of Saint-Mihiel (Saint-Mihiel is a town on the river Meuse, the most important water obstacle on the Western Front.

The September/October Allied breakthroughs (north, center, and east) across the length of the Hindenburg Line – including the Battle of the Argonne Forest – are now lumped together as part of what is generally remembered as the Grand Offensive (also known as the Hundred Days Offensive) by the Allies on the Western Front.

The Meuse–Argonne offensive also involved troops from France, while the rest of the Allies, including France, Britain and its dominion and imperial armies (mainly Canada, Australia, and New Zealand), and Belgium contributed to major battles in other sectors across the whole front.
German soldiers drawing water After the main 1918 German offensive that began well for them but ended with the disaster of Reims in front of the French army, The French and British armies launched “The Grand Offensive” or the “100 days offensive”, systematically pushing back a German army whose efficiency was decreasing rapidly.

British, French, and Belgian advances in the north, along with the French–American advances around the Argonne forest, is in turn credited for leading directly to the Armistice of November 11, 1918.

On September 26, the Americans began their strike north towards Sedan.

The next day, British and Belgian divisions drove towards Ghent (Belgium).

British and French armies attacked across northern France on September 28.

The scale of the overall offensive, bolstered by the fresh and eager, but largely untried and inexperienced, U.S. troops, signaled renewed vigor among the Allies and sharply dimmed German hopes for victory.

The Meuse–Argonne battle was the largest frontline commitment of troops by the U.S. Army in World War I, and also its deadliest.

Command was coordinated, with some U.S. troops (e.g. the Buffalo Soldiers of the 92nd Division and the 93rd Division) attached and serving under French command (e.g. XVII Corps during the second phase).

The main U.S. effort of the Meuse–Argonne offensive took place in the Verdun Sector, immediately north and northwest of the town of Verdun, between September 26 and November 11, 1918.

Far to the north, U.S. troops of the 27th and 30th divisions of the II Corps AEF fought under British command in a spearhead attack on the Hindenburg Line with 12 British and Australian divisions, and directly alongside the exhausted veteran divisions of the Australian Corps of the First Australian Imperial Force (1st AIF).

With artillery and British tanks, the combined three-nation force, despite some early setbacks, attacked and captured their objectives (including Montbrehain village) along a six-kilometer section of the Line between Bellicourt and Vendhuille, which was centered around an underground section of the St. Quentin Canal and came to be known as the Battle of St. Quentin Canal.

Although the capture of the heights above the Beaurevoir Line by October 10, marking a complete breach in the Hindenburg Line, was arguable of greater immediate significance,] the important U.S. contribution to the victory at the St. Quentin Canal is less well remembered in the United States than the Meuse–Argonne.

The Brusilov Offensive

The Brusilov Offensive of World World 1

The Brusilov Offensive (Russian: Брусиловский прорыв Brusilovskiĭ proryv, literally: “Brusilov’s breakthrough”), also known as the “June Advance”, of June to September 1916 was the Russian Empire’s greatest feat of arms during World War I, and among the most lethal offensives in world history.

Historian Graydon Tunstall called the Brusilov Offensive the worst crisis of World War I for Austria-Hungary and the Triple Entente’s greatest victory, but it came at a tremendous loss of life.

The offensive involved a major Russian attack against the armies of the Central Powers on the Eastern Front. Launched on 4 June 1916, it lasted until late September.

It took place in an area of present-day western Ukraine, in the general vicinity of the towns of Lviv, Kovel, and Lutsk. The offensive takes its name after the commander in charge of the Southwestern Front of the Imperial Russian Army, General Aleksei Brusilov.

Spring Offensive

The Spring Offensive

The 1918 Spring Offensive, or Kaiserschlacht (“Kaiser’s Battle”), also known as the Ludendorff Offensive, was a series of German attacks along the Western Front during the First World War, beginning on 21 March 1918.
The Germans had realised that their only remaining chance of victory was to defeat the Allies before the United States could fully deploy their resources.

The German Army had gained a temporary advantage in numbers as nearly 50 divisions had been freed by the Russian withdrawal from the war with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

There were four German offensives, codenamed Michael, Georgette, Gneisenau, and Blücher-Yorck. Michael was the main attack, which was intended to break through the Allied lines, outflank the British forces (which held the front from the Somme River to the English Channel) and defeat the British Army.

Once that was achieved, it was hoped that the French would seek armistice terms.

The other offensives were subsidiary to Michael and were designed to divert Allied forces from the main offensive effort on the Somme.

No clear objective was established before the start of the offensives and once the operations were underway, the targets of the attacks were constantly changed according to the battlefield (tactical) situation.

Once they began advancing, the Germans struggled to maintain the momentum, partly due to logistical issues. The fast-moving stormtrooper units could not carry enough food and ammunition to sustain themselves for long, and the army could not move in supplies and reinforcements fast enough to assist them.

The Allies concentrated their main forces in the essential areas (the approaches to the Channel Ports and the rail junction of Amiens).

Strategically worthless ground, which had been devastated by years of conflict, was left lightly defended. Within a few weeks, the danger of a German breakthrough had passed, though related fighting continued until July.

The German Army made the deepest advances either side had made on the Western Front since 1914. They re-took much ground that they had lost in 1916-17 and took some ground that they had not yet controlled.

Despite these apparent successes, they suffered heavy casualties in return for land that was of little strategic value and hard to defend.

The offensive failed to deliver a blow that could save Germany from defeat, which has led some historians to describe it as a pyrrhic victory. In July 1918, the Allies regained their numerical advantage with the arrival of American troops.

In August, they used this and improved tactics to launch a counteroffensive.

The ensuing Hundred Days Offensive resulted in the Germans losing all of the ground that they had taken in the Spring Offensive, the collapse of the Hindenburg Line, and the capitulation of the German Empire that November.

Gallipoli campaign

Gallipoli campaign of World War 1

The Gallipoli campaign, also known as the Dardanelles campaign, the Battle of Gallipoli or the Battle of Çanakkale (Turkish: Çanakkale Savaşı), was a campaign of the First World War that took place on the Gallipoli peninsula (Gelibolu in modern Turkey), from 17 February 1915 to 9 January 1916.

The Entente powers, Britain, France, and Russia, sought to weaken the Ottoman Empire, one of the Central Powers, by taking control of the straits that provided a supply route to Russia.

The Allies’ attack on Ottoman forts at the entrance of the Dardanelles in February 1915 failed and was followed by an amphibious landing on the Gallipoli peninsula in April 1915 to capture the Ottoman capital of Constantinople (Istanbul).

In January 1916, after eight months’ fighting, with approximately 250,000 casualties on each side, the land campaign was abandoned and the invasion force withdrew.

It was a costly defeat for the Allies and for the sponsors, especially First Lord of the Admiralty (1911–1915), Winston Churchill. The campaign was considered a great Ottoman victory.

In Turkey, it is regarded as a defining moment in the history of the state, a final surge in the defense of the motherland as the Ottoman Empire retreated.

The struggle formed the basis for the Turkish War of Independence and the declaration of the Republic of Turkey eight years later, with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who rose to prominence as a commander at Gallipoli, as founder and president.

The campaign is often considered to be the beginning of Australian and New Zealand national consciousness; 25 April, the anniversary of the landings, is known as ANZAC Day, the most significant commemoration of military casualties and veterans in the two countries, surpassing Remembrance Day (Armistice Day)

Sinking of the RMS Lusitania

The Sinking of RMS Lusitania during World War 1

The sinking of the Cunard ocean liner RMS Lusitania occurred on Friday, 7 May 1915 during the First World War, as Germany waged submarine warfare against the United Kingdom which had implemented a naval blockade of Germany.

The ship was identified and torpedoed by the German U-boat U-20 and sank in 18 minutes, and also took on a heavy starboard list.

The vessel went down 11 miles (18 km) off the Old Head of Kinsale,:429 Ireland, killing 1,198 and leaving 761 survivors.

The sinking turned public opinion in many countries against Germany, contributed to the American entry into World War I, and became an iconic symbol in military recruiting campaigns of why the war was being fought.

Lusitania fell victim to torpedo attack relatively early in the First World War, before tactics for evading submarines were properly implemented or understood.

The contemporary investigations in both the United Kingdom and the United States into the precise causes of the ship’s loss were obstructed by the need for wartime secrecy and a propaganda campaign to ensure all blame fell upon Germany.

Arguments over whether the ship was a legitimate military target raged back and forth throughout the war as both sides made misleading claims about the ship.

At the time she was sunk, she was carrying over 4 million rounds of small-arms ammunition (.303 caliber), almost 5,000 shrapnel shell casings (for a total of some 50 tons), and 3,240 brass percussion fuses, in addition to 1,266 passengers and a crew of 696]

Several attempts have been made over the years since the sinking to dive to the wreck seeking information about precisely how the ship sank, and the argument continues to the present day.

The Battle of Jutland

The Battle of Jutland during World War 1

The Battle of Jutland was a naval battle fought between Britain’s Royal Navy Grand Fleet, under Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, and the Imperial German Navy’s High Seas Fleet, under Vice-Admiral Reinhard Scheer, during the First World War.

The battle unfolded in extensive maneuvering and three main engagements (the battlecruiser action, the fleet action, and the night action), from 31 May to 1 June 1916, of the North Sea coast of Denmark’s Jutland Peninsula.

It was the largest naval battle and the only full-scale clash of battleships in that war. Jutland was the third fleet action between steel battleships, following the long-range gunnery duel at the Yellow Sea and the decisive Battle of Tsushima in 1905, during the Russo-Japanese War.

Jutland was the last major battle in world history fought primarily by battleships.

Germany’s High Seas Fleet intended to lure out, trap, and destroy a portion of the Grand Fleet, as the German naval force was insufficient to openly engage the entire British fleet.

This formed part of a larger strategy to break the British blockade of Germany and to allow German naval vessels access to the Atlantic.

Meanwhile, Great Britain’s Royal Navy pursued a strategy of engaging and destroying the High Seas Fleet, thereby keeping German naval forces contained and away from Britain and her shipping lanes.

The Germans planned to use Vice-Admiral Franz Hipper’s fast scouting group of five modern battlecruisers to lure Vice-Admiral Sir David Beatty’s battlecruiser squadrons into the path of the main German fleet.

They stationed submarines in advance across the likely routes of the British ships.

However, the British learned from signal intercepts that a major fleet operation was likely, so on 30 May Jellicoe sailed with the Grand Fleet to rendezvous with Beatty, passing over the locations of the German submarine picket lines while they were unprepared.

The German plan had been delayed, causing further problems for their submarines, which had reached the limit of their endurance at sea.

On the afternoon of 31 May, Beatty encountered Hipper’s battlecruiser force long before the Germans had expected. 

In a running battle, Hipper successfully drew the British vanguard into the path of the High Seas Fleet.

By the time Beatty sighted the larger force and turned back towards the British main fleet, he had lost two battlecruisers from a force of six battlecruisers and four powerful battleships—though he had sped ahead of his battleships of 5th Battle Squadron earlier in the day, effectively losing them as an integral component for much of this opening action against the five ships commanded by Hipper.

Beatty’s withdrawal at the sight of the High Seas Fleet, which the British had not known was in the open sea, would reverse the course of the battle by drawing the German fleet in pursuit towards the British Grand Fleet.

Between 18:30, when the sun was lowering on the western horizon, back-lighting the German forces, and nightfall at about 20:30, the two fleets—totaling 250 ships between them—directly engaged twice.

Fourteen British and eleven German ships sank, with a total of 9,823 casualties.

After sunset, and throughout the night, Jellicoe maneuvered to cut the Germans off from their base, hoping to continue the battle the next morning, but under the cover of darkness, Scheer broke through the British light forces forming the rearguard of the Grand Fleet and returned to port.

Both sides claimed victory.

The British lost more ships and twice as many sailors but succeeded in containing the German fleet.

The British press criticised the Grand Fleet’s failure to force a decisive outcome, while Scheer’s plan of destroying a substantial portion of the British fleet also failed.

The British strategy of denying Germany access to both the United Kingdom and the Atlantic did succeed, which was the British long-term goal.

The Germans’ “fleet in being” continued to pose a threat, requiring the British to keep their battleships concentrated in the North Sea, but the battle reinforced the German policy of avoiding all fleet-to-fleet contact.

At the end of 1916, after further unsuccessful attempts to reduce the Royal Navy’s numerical advantage, the German Navy accepted that its surface ships had been successfully contained, subsequently turning its efforts and resources to unrestricted submarine warfare and the destruction of Allied and neutral shipping, which—along with the Zimmermann Telegram—by April 1917 triggered the United States of America’s declaration of war on Germany.

The Great Retreat

The Great Retreat of World War 1

The Great Retreat, (French: La Grande Retraite) also known as the Retreat from Mons, is the name given to the long withdrawal to the River Marne, in August and September 1914, by the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), the French Fifth Army, and Allied forces on the Western Front, after their defeat by the armies of the German Empire at the Battle of Charleroi (21 August) and the Battle of Mons (23 August).

A counter-offensive by the Fifth Army, with some assistance from the BEF at the First Battle of Guise (Battle of St. Quentin 29–30 August), failed to end the German advance and the Franco-British retreat continued to and beyond the Marne.

From 5 to 12 September, the First Battle of the Marne ended the Allied retreat and forced the German armies to retire towards the Aisne river and fight the First Battle of the Aisne (13–28 September).

Reciprocal attempts to outflank the opposing armies to the north known as the Race to the Sea followed.

Siege of Przemyśl

The Siege of Przemyśl during World War 1

The Siege of Przemyśl was the longest siege of the First World War and a crushing defeat for Austria-Hungary against the Russian attackers.

Przemyśl (German: Premissel) was a fortress town on the River San and a Galician stronghold. 

The investment of Przemyśl began on 16 September 1914 and was briefly suspended on 11 October, due to an Austro-Hungarian offensive.

The siege resumed again on 9 November, and the Austro-Hungarian garrison surrendered on 22 March 1915, after holding out for a total of 133 days.

Diaries and notebooks kept by various people in the town have survived.

The diary of Josef Tomann, an Austrian recruited into military service as a junior doctor, reveals the results of the activities of garrison officers:

“The hospitals have been recruiting teenage girls as nurses. They get 120 crowns a month and free meals. They are, with very few exceptions, utterly useless.
Their main job is to satisfy the lust of the gentlemen officers and, rather shamefully, of a number of doctors, too.

New officers are coming in almost daily with cases of syphilis, gonorrhea, and soft chancre.
The poor girls and women feel so flattered when they get chatted up by one of these pestilent pigs in their spotless uniforms, with their shiny boots and buttons.”

Other accounts reveal the pervasive presence of starvation and disease, including cholera, and the diary of Helena Jablonska, a middle-aged, quite wealthy Polish woman, reveals class and anti-semitic and racial tensions in the town;

“The Jewish women in basements rip you off the worst”, and on March 18, 1915 – “The Jews are taking their shop signs down in a hurry, so that no one can tell who owns what.

They’ve all got so rich off the backs of those poor soldiers, and now of course they all want to run away!”

Once the Russians arrived in March the fate of the Jews worsened and she noted:

“The Cossacks waited until the Jews set off to the synagogue for their prayers before setting upon them with whips.

There are such lamenting and despair.

Some Jews are hiding in cellars, but they’ll get to them there too.”

Battle of la Bassee

The Battle of La Bassée of World War 1

The Battle of La Bassée was fought by German and Franco-British forces in northern France in October 1914, during reciprocal attempts by the contending armies to envelop the northern flank of their opponent, which has been called the Race to the Sea.

The German 6th Army took Lille before a British force could secure the town and the 4th Army attacked the exposed British flank further north at Ypres.

The British were driven back and the German army occupied La Bassée and Neuve Chapelle.

Around 15 October, the British recaptured Givenchy-lès-la-Bassée but failed to recover La Bassée.

German reinforcements arrived and regained the initiative, until the arrival of the Lahore Division, part of the Indian Corps.

The British repulsed German attacks until early November, after which both sides concentrated their resources on the First Battle of Ypres.

The battle at La Bassée was reduced to local operations.

In late January and early February 1915, German and British troops conducted raids and local attacks in the Affairs of Cuinchy, which took place at Givenchy-lès-la-Bassée and just south of La Bassée Canal, leaving the front line little changed.

By 6 October, the French needed British reinforcements to withstand German attacks around Lille. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) had begun to move from the Aisne to Flanders on 5 October and reinforcements from England assembled on the left flank of the Tenth Army, which had been formed from the left flank units of the Second Army on 4 October.

The Allies and the Germans attempted to take more ground, after the “open” northern flank had disappeared, Franco-British attacks towards Lille in October, being followed up by attempts to advance between the BEF and the Belgian army by a new French Eighth Army.

The moves of the German 7th and then the 6th Army from Alsace and Lorraine had been intended to secure German lines of communication through Belgium, where the Belgian army had sortied several times from the National redoubt of Belgium, during the period between the Franco-British retreat and the Battle of the Marne.

In August British marines had landed at Dunkirk. In October a new German 4th Army was assembled from the III Reserve Corps, the siege artillery used against Antwerp and four of the new reserve corps training in Germany.

Flanders terrain

Flanders Plain: Belgium and northern France, 1914
The North-east of France and south-west Belgium are known as Flanders.

West of a line between Arras and Calais in the north-west, lie chalk downlands covered with soil sufficient for arable farming.

To the east of the line, the land declines in a series of spurs into the Flanders plain, bounded by canals linking Douai, Béthune, Saint-Omer and Calais.

To the south-east, canals run between Lens, Lille, Roubaix and Courtrai, the Lys river from Courtrai to Ghent and to the north-west lay the sea. 

The plain is almost flat, apart from a line of low hills from Cassel, east to Mont des Cats, Mont Noir, Mont Rouge, Scherpenberg and Mont Kemmel.

From Kemmel, a low ridge lies to the north-east, declining in elevation past Ypres through Wytschaete, Gheluvelt and Passchendaele, curving north then north-west to Dixmude where it merged with the plain.

A coastal strip about 10 miles (16 km) wide was near sea level and fringed by sand dunes.

Inland the ground was mainly meadow, cut by canals, dykes, drainage ditches and roads built upon causeways. The Lys, Yser and upper Scheldt had been canalised and between them, the water level underground was close to the surface, rose further in the autumn and filled any dip, the sides of which then collapsed.

The ground surface quickly turned to a consistency of cream cheese and on the coast, troops were confined to roads, except during frosts.

The rest of the Flanders Plain was woods and small fields, divided by hedgerows planted with trees and cultivated from small villages and farms.

The terrain was difficult for infantry operations because of the lack of observation, impossible for mounted action because of the many obstructions and difficult for artillery because of the limited view. South of La Bassée Canal around Lens and Béthune was a coal-mining district full of slag heaps, pit-heads (fosses) and miners’ houses (corons). North of the canal, the city of Lille, Tourcoing and Roubaix formed a manufacturing complex, with outlying industries at Armentières, Comines, Halluin and Menin, along the Lys river, with isolated sugar beet and alcohol refineries and a steelworks near Aire-sur-la-Lys.

Intervening areas were agricultural, with wide roads on shallow foundations and unpaved mud tracks in France and narrow pavé roads, along the frontier and in Belgium. In France, the roads were closed by the local authorities during thaws to preserve the surface and marked by Barrières fermėes, which were ignored by British lorry drivers.

The difficulty of movement after the end of summer absorbed much local labour on road maintenance, leaving field defences to be built by front-line soldiers.

Third Battle of Ypres

The Third Battle of Ypres

The Third Battle of Ypres (German: Dritte Flandernschlacht; French: Troisième Bataille des Flandres; Dutch: Derde Slag om Ieper), also known as the Battle of Passchendaele (/ˈpæʃəndeɪl/), was a campaign of the First World War, fought by the Allies against the German Empire. 

The battle took place on the Western Front, from July to November 1917, for control of the ridges south and east of the Belgian city of Ypres in West Flanders, as part of a strategy decided by the Allies at conferences in November 1916 and May 1917. 

Passchendaele lies on the last ridge east of Ypres, 5 mi (8.0 km) from Roulers (now Roeselare) a junction of the Bruges (Brugge) to Kortrijk railway. 

The station at Roulers was on the main supply route of the German 4th Army. 

Once Passchendaele Ridge had been captured, the Allied advance was to continue to a line from Thourout (now Torhout) to Couckelaere (Koekelare).

Further operations and a British supporting attack along the Belgian coast from Nieuport (Nieuwpoort), combined with an amphibious landing (Operation Hush), were to have reached Bruges and then the Dutch frontier.

The resistance of the 4th Army, unusually wet weather in August, the beginning of the autumn rains in October and the diversion of British and French resources to Italy enabled the Germans to avoid a general withdrawal which had seemed inevitable in early October. 

The campaign ended in November, when the Canadian Corps captured Passchendaele, apart from local attacks in December and early in the new year. 

The Battle of the Lys (Fourth Battle of Ypres) and the Fifth Battle of Ypres of 1918, were fought before the Allies occupied the Belgian coast and reached the Dutch frontier.

A campaign in Flanders was controversial in 1917 and has remained so.

The British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, opposed the offensive, as did General Ferdinand Foch, the Chief of Staff of the French Army.

Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, commander of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), did not receive approval for the Flanders operation from the War Cabinet until 25 July.

Matters of dispute by the participants, writers and historians since 1917 include the wisdom of pursuing an offensive strategy in the wake of the Nivelle Offensive, rather than waiting for the arrival of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) in France.

The choice of Flanders, its climate, the selection of General Hubert Gough and the Fifth Army to conduct the offensive, debates over the nature of the opening attack and between advocates of shallow and deeper objectives, remain controversial. 

The time between the Battle of Messines (7–14 June) and the first Allied attack (the Battle of Pilckem Ridge, 31 July), the extent to which the internal troubles of the French armies influenced the British, the effect of the exceptional weather, the decision to continue the offensive in October and the human costs of the campaign are also debated.