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World War I - The Major Battles - 1916 to 1918

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The previous article discussed five of the ten major battles of the war. This article will discuss the last five.

First Battle of the Somme

1 July to 18 November 1916: During the last week of June 1916, allied forces began a major artillery bombardment of the German lines along the Somme River in northern France. On the 1st of July British troops of the Fourth Army attacked. The battle line was 15 miles long. Simultaneously, the French launch3ed an attack south of the Somme along an 8-mile front. In the area where the French attack, the German forces were not as heavily concentrated.

The French artillery consisted of over 900 cannons. The British had much less, yet the British line was twice the length of the French line.

The German forces were behind well-planned fortifications and were armed with a great number of machine guns. The British, facing such a large force of machine guns, suffered approximately 57,000 dead and wounded on that first day.

The battle lasted for one hundred and forty-one days. It is considered by many historians to be the bloodiest battle of the war.

The Battle of Passchendaele

1 July through 6 November 1917: On the first of July allied Forces began a new attack in Belgium’s Flanders area. Preceding the battle, the Allies shelled the German positions using 3,000+ artillery guns to delivery 4.5 million shells on the German defenses. This did not silence German machine guns because they were situated in concrete structures. The structures resembled the small containers used to hold medicine; thus, they were named pillboxes. British and Canadian Expeditionary forces that won a major battle on 6 November 1917 were led by British Commander Sir Douglas Haig. Haig commanded nine British division that were joined by six French divisions.

Though the British and French suffered many casualties, they pushed the Germans back over a mile and captured more than 5,000 German troops.

Due to heavy rains, bringing massive mud fields, the offensive stalled for a most of the summer and fall months.

Haig ordered three separate attacks on Passchendaele in October which finally were successful in taking possession of the town.

The Spring Offensive

21 March 1918: Also known as the Kaiserschalcht/Ludendorff Offensive, this was a sequence of attacks by the Germans designed to win the war before the United States could deploy all its troops.

The Russian revolution and the creation of the Bolshevik government, and ultimately the Communist government, removed the Russians from the war. With the collapse of the Eastern Front, Germany moved all the troops to the Western Front, giving them a 50 Division advantage.

Using this advantage, Germany initiated an offensive against the allies which they called “Kaiser’s Battle”; in German it would be “Kaiserschlacht”. Also known as the Ludendorff Offensive, it was an attempt to beat the allies before the United States forces could become fully involved. The offensive involved four separate attacks. The main assault attempted to defeat the British forces that held the territory from the Somme River to the English Channel. The other four skirmishes were an attempt to split up the allied forces, thereby taking the of the strength of the forces protecting the Somme.

Logistic problems hampered the German advance. The inability to move supplies to their troops ultimately gave the allies an advantage and the offensive came to an end.

Battle of Lys and the Second Battle of the Somme

7 to 29 April and 21 August to 3 September 1918: The Battle of Lys was part of the German offensive during the fighting in Flanders. It was planned to drive the British back to the channel ports. This would have forced the British out of the war.

The second battle of the Somme was a counterattack against the German Spring Offensive. Portugal had entered the war and sent several divisions to France. The were placed in support of Scottish division.

The extreme bravery of both the Portuguese and Scottish troops during this battle turned the tide in favor of the Allied Forces.

The Hundred Days Offensive

8 August to 11 november 1918: The German Spring Offensive of 21 March 1918 had failed to accomplish its goals and had died out by July. Their advance had reached the River Marne but stalled there. Hostilities continue in the area until November. This was the last battle of the war.

Also known as the Advance to Victory, this offensive was not initially expected to attain victory.

At this point, after the second battle of the Marne, the German army was disorganized. The allies took advantage of this and targeted the railroad lines at Ameins and Chateau-Thierry. This drove the allies deep into German territory, causing more disarray.

A series of attacks by American, French and British troops put so much pressure on the German High Command that they were forced to capitulate, ending the war.

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