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1918 - The headlines of a year of combat

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BerichtGeplaatst: 08 Nov 2010 23:32    Onderwerp: 1918 - The headlines of a year of combat Reageer met quote

1918 - The headlines of a year of combat

Fighting the war: operations
With the arrival of The United States, China and Brazil etc. 1917 was to see the conflict escalate to the global level. However, on both sides, any success that was to come was never decisive. And on the eve of the winter of 1917-1918, although the desire to win remained as strong as ever, the warring factions were under no illusions as to how long the conflict would last. Following a spring full of uncertainties, the summer months would see the hopes of Germany and her allies in ruins.

The eve of battle
In France, Clemenceau's arrival as the government's Minister of War revived energies. But the stability of the commanders and the calmness in the army following the mutiny crisis of the spring of 1917, could barely hide the problem of strength on the ground.
Clemenceau: I will fight the war
Recalled by President Poincaré on 16 November 1917 to succeed to Painlevé's cabinet, at 77 years of age, Georges Clemenceau was the man for the situation. "My aim," he said to the Chambers, "is to be the victor." The indomitable energy and remorseless iron will in the face of the task in hand that had given him the nickname the "Tiger", spoke for themselves and could bear this out.

The problem with strength on the ground
The Russian defection (the Brest-Litovsk armistice of 15 November 1917) soon raised the question of German superiority on the Western Front. The general reserves were to be regrouped and it wouldn't be long before American support came into play.

In response to German losses on the Eastern Front (10 divisions per month) in March, Ludendorff, who had left a million men in Russia (54 divisions), transferred 40 divisions to the West. Pétain was concerned and rightly so. Since 1916, the French forces had been in decline.

Georges Clemenceau, made head of the French Government on 16 November 1917, photographed on the 19th at the War Department. Source: The Illustration - the war album 1914-1919
In 1917, the divisions were reduced from 4 to 3 regiments. The 19th contingent, created in April, provided only 180,000 men, barely reinforced by the 110,000 "recovered" from reserved occupations, unfortunately mostly specialist factory workers. The call was put out to Africa, 80,000 men, and to 100,000 Italian workers; a corps of Czech volunteers was created, plus one made up of Poles. In total, France assembled 109 divisions of which 67 were lined up along a 500 kilometre front that Pétain wanted to see reduced by the English, who, with 58 divisions, 3 of which were cavalry, held 158 kilometres. With a Portuguese division and American units under instruction, we could assemble 172 divisions. Opposite, 192 divisions (36,000 officers, 3,500,000 men).

However, equipment was never brought into question; the war machine was turning and even managed to supply the Americans who landed almost all their heavy artillery.
Then, in July 1918, on the Western Front, the position completely reversed. The allies had 195 divisions (103 French, 60 British, 12 Belgian, 18 American et 2 Italian).

The strategic problem
The allied generals disagreed on a joint strategy in case of German attack. The Englishman Haig was preoccupied with defending the Channel ports; Pétain was worried about covering Paris and not losing troops in the front lines, preferring to contain the assault in the second, or even third lines, (which Clemenceau would refuse at first: we are not giving up one inch of national territory); Foch favoured an offensive approach in the Somme and in the North. In fact Pétain wanted above all to build up great reserves, keeping a pre-eminent role in the alliance for the French army. The hard-nosed Pershing adopted a strategy of concentrating forces on the Western front and refused the amalgamation of his units into the French divisions.

On the other side, Ludendorff did not want to wait for American reinforcements to become operational and believed that his troops were just waiting for the right moment to start attacking once more.

Ludendorff's short lived victory

Ludendorff prepared 56 divisions specially. He envisaged launching a series of surprise attacks, to be carried out as soon as the breakthrough was made, starting with cutting the front in two, separating the French and the English.

The thorns on the Picardy roses: the Northern and Flanders Assaults
The first "blow" fell in Picardy, between Arras and La Fère. At 9.40 am on 21 March 1918 along the 80 kilometre front, the infantry set off, supported by 6,200 cannons, limiting preparation time to just 3 hours (surprise effect). The 3rd British Army resisted, but the 5th yielded, as did the 22nd and 23rd. Ludendorff took advantage of his success by pushing his attack onwards to Amiens. There was danger of a gap opening up between the French and the English. On the 24th, the Germans advanced 20 kilometres.
In face of the danger and the risk of Haig becoming surrounded and concerned about saving their coastal bases, Government and army leaders met in Compiègne on the 25th, then at Doullens on the 26th, where the need for a single commander was established. Foch, Chief of the General Staff of the French Armies, responsible for "co-ordinating the action of all allied armies on the Western Front", saw his powers extend to strategic management, military operations and, on the 14th April, he was named Commander in Chief of the allied armies in France. On the 28th March, Pershing offered his available divisions: at the beginning of April, despite the German advance of 60 kilometres, the assault ran out of steam. But on the 6th April, stopped short of Amiens, the German onslaught took up again against the British left wing that Ludendorff wanted to push back towards the coast.

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