Monday, 2 April 2007

Chapter 31: German Offensive on The Somme March 1918

The 11th Battery, 4th F.A.B. were at this time in Flanders (Messines). However, it is useful to understand what happened in the Somme at this time, as it sets the conditions for what happened next.

From: John Laffin Western Front 1917-1918 The Cost of Victory. Time-Life books, North Sydney 1988.

" At dawn on March 21, 1918, Ludendorff unleashed Operation Michael, and British troops between Arras and St. Quentin were smothered by a storm of gas shells and hammered by high explosive and shrapnel. Trenches and dugouts were obliterated, whole fields of barbed wire were uprooted and jumbled and few telephone lines remained intact…Within the space of only four days all the British and Empire blood and struggle of the past year went for nought. On the part of the front attacked, the troops were back where they had been at the end of 1916 and the German drive was threatening to spread behind the Allied lines, in the way that floodwater does after breaching a dam.

One hundred kilometres to the north the AIF men at first heard the news without real concern, but when the seriousness of the breakthrough became clear they were eager for action." (p 57)

[The 3rd and 4th Divisions were heavily involved - the 3rd had not previously fought in the Somme, only Flanders. All 5 Divisions were brought in. The 1st was the last brought south from Flanders but only 3 days later it was being rushed north again as Ludendorff struck again with Operation george I - at the line across the Lys river valley south of Armentieres held only by two understrength Portuguese Divisions]

"The strategically vital city of Amiens was firmly in the sights of General Ludendorff, but first he had to break through the high ground and woods around Villers-Bretonneux which the Allies considered the key to Amiens' defence. German tanks and infantry easily broke the British lines on April 24, but the AIF's 15th and 13th Brigades entered the battle and forced back the enemy in a series of wild charges.

A German war correspondent wrote after this fight, "The Australians and Canadians are the best troops that the English have." Months later, a similar tribute was found to have been paid by German soldiers, who buried a soldier of the 48th at Dernancourt. On a wooden cross they had written with an indelible pencil, Hier liegt ein tapferer Englischer Krieger ("Here lies a brave English warrior) " (p 63)

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