The March Offensive, 1918: Part II

‘The enemy’s resistance was beyond our powers,’ Ludendorff wrote, ‘the German Supreme Command was forced to take the extremely hard decision to abandon the attack on Amiens for good.’ The date was April 5th, 1918. By John Terraine.

'At 10 minutes past 5 I was awakened by the roar of a bombardment, which...  was so sustained and steady that it at once gave me the impression of some crushing, smashing power. I jumped out of bed and walked across the passage to the telephone in my office and called up the General Staff. On what part of our front was the bombardment falling? The answer came back almost immediately: “All four corps report heavy bombardment along their front.”'

So, on the morning of March 21st, 1918, General Sir Hubert Gough, commanding the British Fifth Army, learned that the long-awaited German blow had fallen upon his troops. The attack extended northward, beyond the Fifth Army front, along a great part of the sector held by Sir Julian Byng’s Third Army. An officer of Heavy Artillery in the Third Army area, Arthur Behrend, wrote:

‘I awoke with a tremendous start conscious of noise, incessant and almost musical, so intense that it seemed as if a hundred devils were dancing in my brain. Everything seemed to be vibrating—the ground, my dug-out, my bed... The great offensive had begun.’

General Gough alerted his scanty reserves; but there was very little that he—or anyone else—could do. ‘All the necessary steps to meet the storm had been taken: the German infantry would not attack for several hours. I looked out of my window, and in the morning light I could see that there was a thick fog, such as we had not yet experienced during the whole of the winter.

We were getting into spring, and it was extraordinary to have so dense a fog at this date. Very dimly I could see the branches of a tree in the garden about forty feet from my window. The stars in their courses seemed to be fighting for the Germans...’

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