Imperial German army
Paul von Hindenburg
Paul von Hindenburg (Chief of the German General Staff,
concrete, steel, barbed wire
World War I
Battle of Arras (1917)
First Battle of Bullecourt
Battle of Lagnicourt
Second Battle of Bullecourt
Battle of Cambrai (1917)
Battle of Cambrai (1918)
Battle of St Quentin Canal
Operations on the Ancre
11 January – 13 March
(German retreat to the Hindenburg Line)
Race to the Sea
3rd Ypres (Passchendaele)
Hindenburg Line (Siegfriedstellung or Siegfried Position) was a
German defensive position of World War I, built during the winter of
1916–1917 on the Western Front, from Arras to Laffaux, near Soissons
on the Aisne. In 1916, the German offensive at the Battle of Verdun
had been a costly failure. The Anglo-French offensive at the Battle of
the Somme had forced a defensive battle on the Germans, leaving the
western armies (Westheer) exhausted. On the Eastern Front, the
Brusilov Offensive had inflicted huge losses on the Austro-Hungarian
armies in Russia and forced the Germans to take over more of the
front. The declaration of war by Romania had placed additional strain
on the German army and war economy. Construction of the Hindenburg
Line in France was begun by the Germans in September 1916, to make a
retirement from the Somme front possible, to counter an anticipated
increase in the power of Anglo-French attacks in 1917.
The shorter defensive position behind the Noyon Salient was built to
economise on manpower, contain an Allied breakthrough and make
possible a deliberate withdrawal to prepared positions. By destroying
the infrastructure and demolishing civilian buildings in the salient
before a withdrawal, the Germans could dislocate Franco-British
offensive preparations, by forcing them to advance into a wasteland.
The British and French armies would need about eight weeks to rebuild
roads, bridges and railways in the abandoned area before they could
attack. A shorter Western Front could be held with fewer troops and by
incorporating the lessons of defensive battle on the Somme, the
importance of troop dispersal, reverse-slope positions, defence in
depth and camouflage, German infantry casualties could be reduced.
While the German army recuperated from the losses of 1916, protected
Hindenburg Line and similar defensive positions on the rest of
the Western Front, a return to unrestricted submarine warfare and a
strategic bombing offensive against Britain were planned.
By the beginning of 1917, the strategic outlook for the Germans made a
retirement inevitable. German divisions on the Western Front numbered
133 on 25 January 1917, reducing the German manpower shortage but not
by enough to contemplate an offensive. Greater output of explosives,
ammunition and weapons by German industry to provide the means to
counter the Allied Materialschlacht (battle of equipment) was
attempted in the
Hindenburg Programme of August 1916. Production did
not sufficiently increase over the winter, with only 60 percent of the
programme expected to be fulfilled by the summer of 1917. The German
Friedensangebot (peace initiative) of December 1916, had been rejected
by the Entente and the Auxiliary Service Law of December 1916,
intended to further mobilise the civilian economy, had failed to
supply the expected additional labour for war production.
The retirement to the
Hindenburg Line took place as part of the
Alberich Bewegung (Operation Alberich/Alberich Manoeuvre) from
February–March 1917, after local withdrawals on the Somme had been
forced on the 1st Army in January and February, by British attacks up
the Ancre valley. News of the demolitions and the deplorable condition
of French civilians left behind by the Germans, were serious blows to
German prestige in neutral countries. Labour was transferred south in
February 1917 to work on the Hundingstellung, from La Fère to Rethel
and on the forward positions on the Aisne front, which the Germans
knew were due to be attacked by the French armies. Divisions released
Operation Alberich and other reinforcements increased the number of
divisions on the Aisne front to 38 by early April. The Hindenburg Line
was attacked several times in 1917, notably at St Quentin, Bullecourt,
the Aisne and Cambrai and was broken in September 1918, during the
Hundred Days Offensive.
Battle of the Somme
Battle of the Somme 1916
1.2 German strategy for 1917
1.2.1 Hindenburg Programme
1.2.2 Unrestricted U-boat warfare and strategic bombing
1.3 Defensive fortification
1.4 Anglo-French strategy for 1917
2.1 German Western Front preparations
2.2 German defensive methods
2.3 Anglo-French offensive preparations
2.4 Operations on the Ancre, 1917
3.1 German plan
3.2 German retirements on the Somme
3.3 Alberich Bewegung
3.4 Anglo-French advance
3.5 Air operations
4.3 Subsequent operations
5 See also
9 Further reading
10 External links
Battle of the Somme
Battle of the Somme 1916
Main article: Battle of the Somme
Battle of the Somme
Battle of the Somme 1916.
In August 1916 the German armies on the Somme had been subjected to
great strain; the IX Reserve Corps had been "shattered" in the defence
of Pozières. Ten fresh divisions had been brought into the Somme
front and an extra division had been put into the line opposite the
British. Movement behind the German front was made difficult by
constant Anglo-French harassing-fire by artillery, which added to
equipment shortages by delaying deliveries by rail and interrupting
road maintenance. Destruction, capture, damage, wear and defective
ammunition had caused 1,068 of 1,208 field guns and 371 of 820 heavy
guns to be out of action by the end of August. The artillery situation
was only slowly improved by the plan of General Max von Gallwitz, to
centralise the command of the remaining artillery for counter-battery
fire and to use reinforcements of aircraft to increase the amount of
observed artillery fire, which had little effect on Allied air
superiority but did eventually increase the accuracy and efficiency of
German bombardments. The 2nd Army had been starved of reinforcements
in mid-August, to replace exhausted divisions in the 1st Army and
plans for a counter-stroke had been abandoned for lack of troops. The
emergency in Russia caused by the Brusilov Offensive, the entry of
Romania into the war and the French counter offensive at Verdun had
already overstretched the German army.
Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg
Erich von Falkenhayn
Erich von Falkenhayn the German Chief of the General Staff was
dismissed on 29 August 1916 and replaced by Field Marshal Paul von
Hindenburg, with First Generalquartiermeister General Erich Ludendorff
as his deputy. The new supreme command (OHL) ordered an end to attacks
at Verdun and the dispatch of troops from there to Romania and the
Somme front. On 5 September proposals for a new shorter defensive
position to be built in France were requested from the commanders of
the western armies, who met Hindenburg and Ludendorff at Cambrai on 8
September. The western front commanders were told that no reserves
were available for offensive operations, except those planned for
Romania. Lieutenant-General Fuchs, a corps commander, recommended that
a defensive line be built from Arras to west of Laon, to shorten the
front by 25 mi (40 km) and release ten divisions, which with
other troops could be used for an offensive in Alsace or Lorraine.
Ludendorff criticised the practice of holding ground regardless of its
tactical value and advocated holding front-line positions with a
minimum of troops and the recapture of lost positions by
counter-attacks, a practice that had already been forced on the
German armies on the Somme.
On 15 September Generalfeldmarschall Crown Prince Rupprecht, commander
of the northern group of armies, was ordered to prepare a rear
defensive line and on 23 September work on the new Siegfriedstellung
(Hindenburg Line) began. On 21 September, after the battle of
Flers–Courcelette (15–22 September), Hindenburg ordered that the
Somme front was to have priority in the west for troops and supplies.
By the end of the Battle of Morval (25–28 September) Rupprecht had
no reserves left on the Somme front. During September, the Germans
sent another thirteen fresh divisions to the British sector and
scraped up troops wherever they could be found. The German artillery
fired 213 train-loads of field artillery shells and 217 train-loads of
heavy ammunition, yet the début of the tank, the defeat at the Battle
of Thiepval (26–28 September) and the number of casualties
(September was the costliest month of the battle for the German
armies) had been severe blows to German morale. On 7 October,
Rupprecht anticipated a British attack north of the Ancre River in
mid-October, anxiety about the situation at Verdun also increased and
on 19 October, the dispatch of reinforcements from Verdun to the Somme
was suspended. Defeats inflicted by the French Tenth Army (10–21
October) led to the sacking of the 2nd Army Chief of Staff, Bronsart
German strategy for 1917
Main article: Hindenburg Programme
A German poster from January 1917 quotes a speech by Kaiser Wilhelm
II, against the Allied rejection of the Friedensangebot (peace
Hindenburg and Ludendorff demanded domestic changes to complement
their strategy changes. German workers were to be subjected to an
Auxiliary Service Law (Hilfsdienstgesetz) that subjected all Germans
from 16–50 years old to compulsory service, from November 1916.
The new programme was intended to create a trebling of artillery and
machine-gun output and a doubling of munitions and trench mortar
production. Expansion of the army and output of war materials caused
increased competition for manpower between the army and industry. In
early 1916, the German army had 900,000 men in recruit depots and
another 300,000 due in March when the 1897 class of conscripts was
called up. The army was so flush with men that plans were made to
Landwehr classes and in the summer, Falkenhayn
ordered the raising of another 18 divisions, for an army of 175
divisions. The costly battles at Verdun and the Somme had been much
more demanding on German divisions and they had to be relieved after
only a few days in the front line, lasting about 14 days on the Somme.
A larger number of divisions might reduce the strain on the Westheer
and realise a surplus for offensives on other fronts. Hindenburg and
Ludendorff ordered the creation of another 22 divisions, to reach 179
divisions by early 1917.
The men for the divisions created by Falkenhayn had come from reducing
square divisions with four infantry regiments to triangular divisions
with three regiments, rather than a net increase in the number of men
in the army. Troops for the extra divisions of the expansion ordered
by Hindenburg and Ludendorff could be found by combing out rear-area
units but most would have to be drawn from the pool of replacements,
which had been depleted by the losses of 1916 and although new classes
of conscripts would top up the pool, casualty replacement would become
much more difficult once the pool had to maintain a larger number of
divisions. By calling up the 1898 class of recruits early in November
1916, the pool was increased to 763,000 men in February 1917 but the
larger army would become a wasting asset. Ernst von Wrisberg (de)
Deputy Minister of the Prussian Ministry of War, responsible for
raising new units, had grave doubts about the wisdom of this increase
in the army but was over-ruled by Ludendorff.
The German army had begun 1916 equally well-provided for in artillery
and ammunition, massing 8.5 million field and 2.7 million heavy
artillery shells for the beginning of the
Battle of Verdun
Battle of Verdun but four
million rounds were fired in the first fortnight and the 5th Army
needed about 34 ammunition trains a day to continue the battle. The
Battle of the Somme
Battle of the Somme further reduced the German reserve of ammunition
and when the infantry was forced out of the front position, the need
for Sperrfeuer (defensive barrages), to compensate for the lack of
obstacles, increased. Before the war, Germany had imported nitrates
for propellant manufacture and only the discovery before the war of
Haber process for the synthesis of nitrates from atmospheric
nitrogen, enabled Germany to produce explosives while blockaded.
Haber process and building factories to exploit it took
time. Under Falkenhayn, the procurement of ammunition and the weapons
to fire it, had been based on the output of propellants, since the
manufacture of ammunition without sufficient propellant fillings was
as wasteful of resources as it was pointless; Hindenburg and
Ludendorff wanted firepower to replace manpower and ignored the
To meet existing demand and to feed new weapons, Hindenburg and
Ludendorff wanted a big increase in propellant output to 12,000 long
tons (12,000 t) a month. In July 1916, the output target had been
raised from 7,900–9,800 long tons (8,000–10,000 t), which was
expected to cover existing demand and the extra 2,000 long tons
(2,000 t) of output demanded by Hindenburg and Ludendorff could
never match the doubling and trebling of artillery, machine-guns and
trench mortars. The industrial mobilisation needed to fulfil the
Hindenburg Programme increased demand for skilled workers,
Zurückgestellte (recalled from the army) or exempted from
conscription. The number of Zurückgestellte increased from 1.2
million men, of whom 740,000 were deemed kriegsverwendungsfähig (kv,
fit for front line service), at the end of 1916 to 1.64 million men in
October 1917 and more than two million by November, 1.16 million being
kv. The demands of the
Hindenburg Programme exacerbated the manpower
crisis and constraints on the availability of raw materials meant that
targets were not met.
The German army returned 125,000 skilled workers to the war economy
and exempted 800,000 workers from conscription, from September 1916
– July 1917. Steel production in February 1917 was 252,000 long
tons (256,000 t) short of expectations and explosives production
was 1,100 long tons (1,100 t) below the target, which added to
the pressure on Ludendorff to retreat to the Hindenburg Line.
Despite the shortfalls, by the summer of 1917, the Westheer artillery
park had increased from 5,300 to 6,700 field guns and from 3,700 to
4,300 heavy guns, many being newer models of superior performance.
Machine-gun output enabled each division to have 54 heavy and 108
light machine-guns and for the number of
Maschinengewehr-Scharfschützen-Abteilungen (MGA, machine-gun
sharpshooter detachments) to be increased. The greater output was
insufficient to equip the new divisions, and existing divisions, which
still had two artillery brigades with two regiments each, lost a
regiment and the brigade headquarters, leaving three regiments.
Against the new scales of equipment, British divisions in early 1917
had 64 heavy and 192 light machine-guns and the French 88 heavy and
432 light machine-guns.
Unrestricted U-boat warfare and strategic bombing
Hindenburg and Ludendorff forced a return to the policy of
unrestricted submarine warfare on 9 January 1917 and engineered the
dismissal of the Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg and other opponents of
the policy the next day. The policy was to resume on 1 February, to
sink 600,000 long tons (610,000 t) of shipping per month and
knock Britain out of the war in 5–12 months. Optimistic claims by
the navy were less important to the decision than the "desperate"
position of the western armies and the decrepitude of Germany's
allies. Another front in the west was to be opened by the
resumption of air attacks on Britain. New aircraft had become
available to replace airships, which had become too vulnerable to
British counter-measures in 1916. Planning began in late 1916 and
Operation Turk's Cross (Unternehmen Türkenkreutz) began in May
German defensive positions from July to November 1918
As part of the defensive strategy for the Western Front, five
defensive positions were planned to form the basis of the
Abwehrschlacht (defensive battle) expected in 1917. A Flandernstellung
(Flanders Position) from the Belgian coast, along Passchendaele Ridge
and behind the Messines salient, to the defences of Lille, the
Wotanstellung (Wotan Position, known as the
Drocourt-Quéant Line to
the British) from
Lille to Sailly, was to be built behind the
battlefields of 1915 at Loos, Vimy and Arras and the 1916 battlefield
of the Somme. The Siegfriedstellung (Siegfried Position, known to the
British as the Hindenburg Line) was to be built across the base of the
Noyon Salient, from Neuville Vitasse near Arras, through St Quentin
and Laon, the Aisne east of Soissons to Cerny en Laonnois on the
Chemin des Dames ridge.[a]
The Hundingstellung (Hunding Position) was to run from Péronne to
Etain, north-east of Verdun behind the Champagne battlefields of 1915.
The Michelstellung (Michel Position) was to cover Etain to
Pont-à-Mousson behind the St. Mihiel Salient. The new fortified areas
were intended to be precautionary measures (Sicherheitskoeffizient)
built to be used as rallying-positions (Eventual-Stellungen, similar
to ones built on the Russian front) and to shorten the Western Front
to economise on troops and create more reserves. The Siegfriedstellung
had the potential to release the greatest number of troops and was
begun first; Hindenburg and Ludendorff decided its course on 19
September and construction began on 27 September.
Withdrawal to the Siegfriedstellung was debated by Ludendorff and
other senior German commanders over the winter of 1916–1917. An
offensive in the new year with 21 divisions was discussed on 19
December but it was considered that such a force could not achieve a
decisive result. An
Oberste Heeresleitung (OHL, German army high
command) memorandum of 5 January, noted that offensive preparations by
the French and British were being made all along the Western Front so
as to keep the site of a spring offensive secret. It was considered
that the Somme front, the area between Arras and Lille, the Aisne
front, Lorraine and Flanders were particularly threatened. Prisoner
interrogation, postal analysis, espionage and air reconnaissance were
used to identify the probable sites of Anglo-French offensives. March
was considered the earliest that the Anglo-French could attack, with a
possible delay if a Russian offensive was also planned. The Chief of
Staff of Army Group Rupprecht, Generalleutnant
Hermann von Kuhl
Hermann von Kuhl issued
a survey of offensive possibilities on 15 January. A German
breakthrough attempt was rejected for lack of means and the
consequences of failure. Limited-objective attacks at Loos, Arras, the
Somme and the Aisne were considered but the manpower and equipment
shortage meant that even smaller attacks risked using up reserves
needed for defence against the expected Anglo-French spring
offensives. Local attacks like those at Bouchavesnes and La Maisonette
on the Somme in late 1916, which could be mounted without
reinforcements, were all that could be considered. Ludendorff accepted
the analysis that no offensive was possible.
On a visit to Kuhl on 20 January, Generalleutnant Georg Fuchs,
concluded that Allied superiority was so great that the German army
could not forestall the Anglo-French with an attack or stop them
attacking elsewhere. The army could not withstand another battle like
the Somme; work on defences there was futile and would exhaust the
troops for nothing. On 29 January, Ludendorff ruled that a withdrawal
could not be ordered on political as well as military grounds, then on
31 January, discussed withdrawal with Kuhl, while the 1st and 2nd Army
commanders on the Somme front opposed a retirement. Resources
continued to be directed to the Somme defences during January and
February and on 6 February, the 1st Army HQ requested three divisions
and 15,000 labourers to work on new positions, to implement the
Wotan–Siegfried–Riegel plan, a partial withdrawal to a line from
Arras to Sailly. Even with the expansion of the German army over the
winter and the transfer of divisions from Russia, 154 German divisions
the Western Front were confronted by 190 French, British and Belgian
divisions, many of which were bigger than the German equivalents. The
Wotan–Siegfried–Riegel plan would reduce the front by 8.1 mi
(13 km) and need six fewer front-holding divisions, compared to a
shortening of 28 mi (45 km) and a saving of 13–14
divisions by withdrawing an average of 9.3 mi (15 km) to the
Siegfriedstellung (Hindenburg Line).
Anglo-French strategy for 1917
The German army was far from defeat but in 1916 had been forced back
on the Somme and at Verdun, as had the Austro-Hungarian army in
southern Russia. At the
Chantilly Conference of November 1916 the
Allies agreed to mount another general offensive. The Anglo-French
contribution was to be a resumption of the Somme offensive with much
larger forces, extending the attack north to Arras and south to the
Oise, followed by a French attack between Soissons and Rheims. The
British were to attack the salient that had formed between Bapaume and
Vimy Ridge with two armies and the French with three armies from the
Somme to Noyon. The attacks were to be made on the broadest possible
fronts and advance deep enough to threaten German artillery
positions. When Marshal
Joseph Joffre was superseded by General
Robert Nivelle, the "Chantilly strategy" was altered. The French
returned to a policy of decisive battle, with a breakthrough to be
achieved within 24–48 hours, leading to the "total destruction of
active enemy forces by manoeuvre and battle". Successive attacks in a
methodical battle were dropped and continuous thrusts were
substituted, to deprive the Germans of time to reinforce and
strengthen their defences. A large amount of heavy artillery fire up
to 5.0 mi (8 km) deep, to the rear edge of the German
defences would achieve the breakthrough. The infantry advance was to
reach the German heavy artillery in one attack and then widen the
breach with lateral attacks. A strategic reserve would then move
through the gap and destroy the German reserves in open warfare. The
original French attacks between the Somme and Oise were reduced in
size and the secondary attack between Soissons and Rheims was
reinforced to become the main offensive. The
Nivelle Offensive was
planned to begin with a British attack on the Bapaume salient in early
April 1917, to assist the main French attacks a week later by holding
German troops on the Arras front and diverting reserves from the
German Western Front preparations
Main article: German defensive preparations in early 1917
German reconnaissance aircraft surveyed all of the Western Front over
the winter of 1916–1917 to look for signs Anglo-French offensive
preparations. The design of the Siegfriedstellung (Siegfried
Position, later known by the Allied powers as the Hindenburg Line) was
drawn up by Colonel Kraemer, an engineer from supreme headquarters
(OHL) and General Lauter, the Inspector General of Artillery.
Construction was organised by Rupprecht and Kuhl; when the plans were
ready the line was divided into sectors and officers from the General
Staff, gunners and engineers were appointed to oversee construction,
which was expected to take five months. The defences were built by
German construction companies, who brought skilled workmen to
fabricate ferro concrete emplacements, while 12,000 German and 3,000
Belgian labourers and 50,000 mainly Russian prisoners of war dug the
trenches.[b] The building works absorbed most of the cement, sand and
gravel production of occupied France and Belgium plus that of west
Germany. Transport of materials was conducted by canal barge and
railway, which carried 1,250 trainloads of engineering stores,
although the building period from October 1916 to March 1917 meant
that only about eight trains a day were added to normal traffic.
Mass-production techniques were used to produce items for the
position. Steel-reinforced concrete dug-outs for infantry squads and
artillery-observation posts were standard designs and all woodwork was
made to a pattern.
The line was 90 mi (140 km) long and built for a garrison of
twenty divisions, one every 4.5 mi (7.2 km). Telephone
cables were deeply buried and light railways built to carry supplies
to the defences. The position had two trenches about 200 yd
(180 m) apart, with sentry garrisons to occupy the front trench.
The main line of defence was the second line, which was equipped with
dugouts for most of the front garrison. Fields of barbed wire up to
100 yd (91 m) deep, were fixed with screw pickets in three
belts 10–15 yd (9.1–13.7 m) wide and 5 yd
(4.6 m) apart, in a zig-zag so that machine-guns could sweep the
sides placed in front of the trench system. Artillery observation
posts and machine-gun nests were built in front of and behind the
trench lines. Where the lay of the land gave observation from behind
the system, it was built on reverse slopes (a Hinterhangstellung),
with a short field of fire for the infantry, according to the
experience of the Western Front defensive battles of 1915 and 1916,
when forward-slope positions had been smashed by observed
In much of the new position, the new principle of reverse-slope
positions with artillery-observation posts to the rear, was not
followed. Artillery observation posts were built in the front-trench
system or in front of it. Trenches had been dug near a crest, on a
forward slope or at the rear of a reverse slope, which replicated the
obsolete positions being abandoned. The 1st Army commander, General
Fritz von Below
Fritz von Below and his Chief of Staff Colonel Fritz von Loßberg
rejected this layout since smoke and dust would make artillery
observation from such positions impossible. They urged that the 1st
Army section of the Siegfriedstellung (Hindenburg Line) from Quéant,
where it met the site of the Wotanstellung (Wotan Line) to Bellicourt
north of St Quentin, should have another position built
2,000–3,000 yd (1.1–1.7 mi; 1.8–2.7 km) in front
of the new position, which would become the artillery protection
position (Artillerieschutzstellung) behind the revised front system;
the line already had 1,200 dug-outs to accommodate 14,000 men, which
was sufficient to shelter local reserves. The new line would be
similar but on reverse slopes, have dugouts for 24,000 men and be
ready by 15 March. The existing artillery positions were scrapped and
the artillery sited to dominate ground useful for the assembly of
assault-troops, such as the La Vacquerie plateau. Rupprecht refused to
delay implementation of
Operation Alberich (the Alberich Bewegung) but
having inspected the Siegfriedstellung (Hindenburg Line) on 27
February, sanctioned the 1st Army proposal and provided three
divisions and 15,000 labourers for the new construction, which turned
the Siegfriedstellung (Hindenburg Line) into the Siegfried I Stellung.
Another two-trench system (Siegfried II Stellung) was planned near the
artillery reserve positions, which were about 3,000 yd
(1.7 mi; 2.7 km) behind the existing battery positions, to
be built as soon as labour became available. The extra position would
ensure that an attack that captured the Siegfried I Stellung
(Hindenburg Line), could not continue without a pause to move
artillery into range of the Siegfried II Stellung. When complete the
various positions had a depth of 6,000–8,000 yd
(5,500–7,300 m) and the original
Hindenburg Line had become an
intermediate line (Siegfried I Zwischenstellung). Work began on
another defensive position in the autumn of 1917, with the original
Hindenburg Line as its front-trench system.
German defensive methods
Main article: German defensive tactics in early 1917
The practice of rigidly defending front-line trenches, regardless of
casualties was abolished, in favour of a mobile defence of the
fortified areas being built over the autumn and winter of 1916–1917.
Allgemeines über Stellungsbau (Principles of Field Fortification) was
published in January 1917, in which instructions were given for the
construction of defences in depth, according to the principles of
greater depth and of disguise by dispersal and camouflage.
Trench-lines were mainly intended for accommodation, dumps of supplies
and as decoys, rather than firing lines. Deep dug-outs in the front
line were to be replaced by many more smaller, shallow
Mannschafts-Eisen-Beton-Unterstände (MEBU (pillboxes)) with most
built towards the rear of the defensive areas. Within the new forward
zones, battlezones and rearward battle zones, the chain of command was
streamlined by making corps headquarters into Gruppen (groups),
responsible for the administrative tasks in an area into which
divisions would be moved for periods, before being withdrawn to rest,
train and be brought up to strength. Command of areas rather than
units was also introduced in divisions, with command of regiments
devolved to the front battalion commander (KTK
Kampftruppenkommandeur), which reduced the chain of command from five
to two posts.
The value of ground was to be determined by its importance to a
defensive position. Where the lay of the land gave the defender a
tactical advantage, by which an attacker could be defeated with the
minimum of casualties to the defenders, with small-arms fire from
dispersed, disguised positions and observed artillery-fire, it was to
be fought for by the garrison and local reserves, which would
counter-attack to regain any ground lost. The changes were codified in
a training manual Grundsätze für die Führung in der Abwehrschlacht
(The Conduct of the Defensive Battle in Position Warfare) issued on 1
December 1916, which made infantry sections (Gruppen) rather than the
battalion the basic tactical unit. Small, advanced garrisons were to
repulse attacks and penetrations were to be cut off and
counter-attacked immediately, without waiting for orders. Front line
troops were allowed to move away from fire, preferably by advancing
into no man's land but moves to the flanks and rear were also
When front-line garrisons and their supports were unable to hold or
recapture the front-line, they were to defend positions even if
surrounded, to give time for a counter-attack by reserve divisions.
When an immediate counter-attack (Gegenstoss) from behind the
defensive position was not possible, a deliberate counter-attack
(Gegenangriff) was to be planned over several days. Two schools of
thought emerged over the winter; the principal authors of the new
training manual, Colonel
Max Bauer and Captain Hermann Geyer of the
General Staff, wanting front garrisons to have discretion to move
forwards, sideways and to retire. General von Hoen and Colonel Fritz
von Lossberg the 1st Army Chief of Staff issued a memorandum,
Erfahrungen der I Armee in der Sommeschlacht (Experience of the German
1st Army in the Somme Battles) on 30 January 1917. The document
advocated the rigid holding of the front line by its garrison, to keep
the defence organised under the control of battalion commanders.
Lossberg and Hoen doubted that relief divisions could arrive quickly
enough to counter-attack before Allied infantry had consolidated. They
predicted that Ablösungsdivisionen (relief divisions) would not be
ready in time for hasty counter-attacks to succeed and that they
should make planned counter-attacks after 24–48 hours with full
artillery support. Both theories were incorporated by Ludendorff into
the new Ausbildungsvorschrift für die Fusstruppen im Kriege (Training
Manual for Foot troops in War) of March 1917. Training schools
were established to prepare German commanders and courses began in
Anglo-French offensive preparations
Main article: Anglo-French offensive preparations
British and French plans for 1917 were agreed at an Allied conference
at Chantilly from 15–16 November 1916. Existing operations were to
continue over the winter, fresh troops arriving in front-line units
were to be trained and in the spring the front of attack was to be
broadened, from the Somme to Arras and the Oise. The front of attack
was to be about 50 mi (80 km) long, with two French surprise
attacks near Rheims and in Alsace, to begin after the main attacks, to
exploit German disorganisation and lack of reserves. The Allies
expected to have 168 divisions against 129 German divisions, for the
co-ordinated offensives. A British operation in Flanders was also
agreed, to begin several weeks after the main offensives further
south. Joffre was replaced by Nivelle on 13 December, who proposed a
much more ambitious strategy, in which the plan for a resumption of
Anglo-French attacks either side of the Somme battlefield of 1916 was
retained but the offensive on the Aisne was converted to a
breakthrough offensive, to be followed by the commitment of a
strategic reserve of 27 divisions, to fight a "decisive" battle
leading to the exploitation of the victory by all of the British and
French armies. French troops south of the British Fourth Army were
freed to join the strategic reserve by an extension of the British
front, to just north Roye on the Avre facing St Quentin, which was
complete by 26 February.
During periods of fine weather in October 1916, British reconnaissance
flights had reported new defences being built far behind the Somme
front; on 9 November, reconnaissance aircraft found a new line of
defences from Bourlon Wood to Quéant, Bullecourt, the river Sensée
and Héninel, to the German third line near Arras. Next day, an
escaped Russian prisoner of war, reported that 2,000 prisoners were
working on concrete dug-outs near St Quentin. Behind the Fifth and
Fourth army fronts, the course of the
Hindenburg Line was further away
and the winter weather was exceptionally bad, which grounded aircraft
and made air observation unreliable. On 11 December, a reconnaissance
in the area of Marcoing reported nothing unusual, despite flying over
the new diggings. German fighter opposition in the area became much
worse, with more aircraft and the arrival in service of superior
aircraft types in the late summer of 1916. Three intermediate
defensive lines begun in late 1916, much closer to the Somme front,
were observed by British reconnaissance aircraft, which made
fragmentary reports of digging further back unexceptional.
On 2 January, Nivelle instructed the Aéronautique Militaire to
co-operate with the British to investigate German defensive systems
that spies and repatriated civilians had reported. Not until 26
January, did a British intelligence summary report a new line of
defence between Arras and Laon. In February, attempts to send more
aircraft to reconnoitre the line were hampered by mist, snow, rain,
low cloud and an extremely determined German air defence. British air
reconnaissance discovered diggings between Drocourt and Vitry en
Artois at the end of January and on 15 February, found a line between
Quéant and Etaing. The British were able to trace the new line (named
the Drocourt–Quéant Switch) south to Bellicourt on 15 February and
St Quentin on 25 February, the day after the first German withdrawal
on the Ancre. British aircraft losses on these flights were severe due
to the presence of
Jagdstaffel 11 (the Richthofen Circus) near Douai;
six British reconnaissance aircraft were shot down on 15 April, along
with two escorts.
Operations on the Ancre, 1917
Main article: Operations on the Ancre, January–March 1917
Winter weather in mid-November 1916, stopped the Anglo-French attacks
on the Somme, rather than the defensive efforts of the German army. On
1 January, a German attack took Hope Post near Beaumont Hamel, which
was lost to a British attack on 5 January. On the night of 10/11
January, a British attack captured the Triangle and Muck Trench,
covering the flank of an attack on Munich Trench during the day;
British troops edged forward over Redan Ridge for the rest of the
month. A fall in temperature added to German difficulties, by freezing
the mud in the Ancre valley, making it much easier for infantry to
move. On 3 and 4 February, British attacks towards Puisieux and River
trenches succeeded, despite German counter-attacks on 4 February. On 7
February, British attacks threatened the German hold on Grandcourt and
Serre. Each small advance uncovered to British ground observers
another part of the remaining German defences. A bigger British attack
began on 17 February, to capture Hill 130 and gain observation over
Miraumont and the German artillery positions behind Serre. Three
divisions attacked after a three-day artillery bombardment using the
new fuze 106. A thaw set in on 16 February, which with the Germans
alerted to the attack by a deserter, led to the attack on the south
bank advancing only 1,000 yd (910 m) at most and to the
capture Boom Ravine (Baum Mulde). The attack on the north bank, to
gain observation over Miraumont from the west, succeeded despite the
weather and the Germans being forewarned.
On the Fourth Army front, fewer attacks took place while the French
line was being taken over in stages, southwards to the Amiens–Roye
road. On 27 January, the 29th Division took 368 prisoners in an
advance of only 400 yd (370 m) and on 1 February, an
Australian attack on Stormy Trench was repulsed by a German
counter-attack. A second attack on 4 February succeeded. On 8
February, a battalion of the 17th Division took a trench overlooking
Saillisel and held it, despite German counter-attacks that continued
on 9 February. On 21 and 22 February, Australian troops captured more
of Stormy Trench despite rain, which made the ground even more
"appalling", than before the freeze in January and early February. On
23 February, British and Australian troops on the south side of the
Ancre, sent patrols forward to investigate fires seen in German
trenches and discovered the German withdrawal. Reports began to reach
British commanders by 9:30 a.m. on 24 February, who ordered intensive
patrolling and advanced guards to be prepared, ready to move forward
at dawn on 25 February.[c] The German positions back to a reserve
line, Riegel I Stellung (Trench I Position) from Le Transloy to Serre
were found to be empty; Gough ordered that strong patrols were to move
forward and regain contact with the Germans.[d] Behind the British
front, the effect of the thaw on roads and supply routes caused acute
Mine crater in the road through Athies, to impede the British
Over the winter, German deception operations were conducted and
indications of an offensive through Switzerland diverted French
attention at the end of 1916. The British were occupied by reports of
troops and heavy artillery moving into Flanders and increased numbers
of agent reports of troop movements from Lille, Tourcoing and
Courtrai. Until January 1917, the British took seriously a possible
limited offensive towards the Channel ports and made Flanders the
subject of most of their long-range reconnaissance flights.
Rupprecht, the northern army group commander on the Western Front, was
made responsible for planning the devastation of the infrastructure
within the Noyon Salient and the retirement to new defensive positions
along the Siegfriedstellung (Hindenburg Line), codenamed the Alberich
Bewegung (Operation Alberich/Alberich Manoeuvre). The Germans
prepared a 35-day Alberich timetable; infrastructure in the salient
was to be destroyed and buildings demolished from 9 February – 15
Booby-traps were devised with delayed-action fuzes used a striker on a
spring, held back by a wire. Acid ate through the wire, to release the
striker and detonate the explosive. A number of devices with such
fuzes were planted in bunkers but most booby-traps had simple pressure
detonators. Wires were attached to useful items like stove chimneys
and loot; trip-wires on the stairs of dugouts were connected to
bundles of hand-grenades. On some roads, heavy-artillery shells were
buried with contact-fuzes, which would only be triggered by the weight
of a lorry. British engineers and tunnelling companies scoured areas
as they were occupied and disabled many of the explosives. Roads
were flooded by destroying drains and water-courses; wells sabotaged
by drilling a shaft next to them and exploding a charge, permanently
ruining the well. Much of the explosive used by the Germans (Donarit,
Westphalite and Perdit) had the property of water-absorption so could
be neutralised by dousing. Some British booby-trap patrols made German
prisoners go first, who revealed traps rather than be blown up and
British tunnellers removed 22,000 lb (10,000 kg) of
explosives. (In some areas no booby-traps were found, as German
divisional commanders had been allowed to choose whether to mine their
areas and some refused.)
Trees were to be cut down, wells polluted and the civilian population
forced to leave the area. Rupprecht objected to the scorched-earth
policy on moral and practical grounds, that the destruction would be a
propaganda disaster, provide enemy troops with shelter, material to
repair the damage to roads and undermine the morale and discipline of
the German soldiers involved in the destruction. The buildings of
Nesle, Ham, Noyon and several villages were excluded from the plan and
10,000–15,000 French civilians were to be left behind in them, while
150,000 able-bodied civilians were to be evacuated to work in the rest
of occupied France and Belgium. A 35-day timetable for the demolition
plan was prepared to be followed by two marching days for the troops
on the flanks of the area, three for the troops between Nauroy and
Coucy le Chateau and four marching days for those between St Quentin
and La Fère.
German retirements on the Somme
Etreillers cut down during the withdrawal.
Defensive positions held by the German army on the Somme after
November 1916 were in poor condition, the garrisons were exhausted and
postal censors reported tiredness and low morale, which left the
German command doubtful that the army could withstand a resumption of
the battle. The German defences on the Ancre began to collapse under
British attacks in January 1917, which caused Rupprecht to urge on 28
January, that the retirement to the Siegfriedstellung (Hindenburg
Line) begin. Ludendorff rejected the proposal next day but British
attacks on the 1st Army, particularly the Action of Miraumont/Battle
of Boom Ravine (17–18 February), caused Rupprecht on the night of 22
February, to order a preliminary withdrawal of about 4 mi
(6.4 km) between Essarts and Le Transloy to Riegel I Stellung. On
24 February, the Germans withdrew to the Riegel I Stellung protected
by rear guards, over roads in relatively good condition which they
then destroyed. Next day, German rear guards inflicted 174 casualties
on Australian troops near Loupart Wood and forced British troops back
out of Irles with artillery-fire. A British attack on Puisieux on 26
February took all day and ended in hand-to-hand fighting. Next day
troops of Prussian Foot Guard Regiment 5 withdrew from Thilloy,
completing the retirement to the Riegel I Stellung. The German
withdrawal was helped by a thaw, which turned roads behind the British
front into bogs and by disruption to the Allied railways that supplied
the Somme front. On the night of 12 March, the Germans withdrew from
the Riegel I Stellung between Bapaume and Achiet le Petit, while small
parties of troops sent up flares to mislead the British, who were
preparing an attack. It took the British until 13 March to close up
the Riegel II Stellung (Trench II Position).
The British opposite the 1st Army, received indications that a
withdrawal was imminent on 20 and 21 February, when intercepted
wireless messages were decoded, ordering German wireless stations at
Achiet le Petit, Grévillers and the vicinity of Bapaume, to close and
prepare to move back. After this period, information from prisoners
and the evidence of German demolitions, indicated that a longer
retirement was planned but the existence of three German reserve lines
5–6 mi (8.0–9.7 km) behind the front line, made a local
German retirement seem more likely than a longer one.[e] On 13 March,
a document revealing the plan and the code-name Alberich dated 5
March, was found in Loupart Wood. On 24 February
Hubert Gough defined the boundaries of the three
corps making the advance and ordered them to regain contact with the
German armies, using strong patrols supported by larger forces moving
forward more deliberately behind them. The German front-line was being
maintained along the rest of the front and the possibility of a sudden
German counter-offensive was not discounted. On 25 February, the 2nd
Australian Division advanced on Malt Trench, found it strongly held
and was forced to retire with 174 casualties. The Fifth Army divisions
advanced with patrols until they met German resistance, then prepared
deliberate attacks, some of which were forestalled by German
withdrawals, which by 26 February, apart from some small detachments,
had abandoned the ground west of the Riegel I Stellung. British
engineers improvised sleds to move guns and wagons, with pack-mules
being used to carry food and ammunition and on 8 March, ammunition
lorries were able to move forward in the V Corps area. Behind the old
British front line, the thaw badly affected roads, which had been in a
very poor condition at the end of 1916, many were closed and others
were limited to horse-drawn traffic. Railway transport was even worse
affected, with Boulogne harbour blocked, the number of trains and
wagons on the northern French railways far short of British
requirements, the lines being congested and subject to traffic
restrictions. Supply difficulties had also begun to increase on the
Third Army and Fourth Army fronts before the German withdrawals.
On 10 March, the Fifth Army took Grévillers Trench and Irles in a
deliberate attack, which overwhelmed the German defence and took 215
prisoners. Fires could be seen behind Bapaume, with more visible
behind the Riegel III Stellung and British military intelligence
reported that the headquarters of Rupprecht had been moved to Mons;
civilians were known to have been evacuated along with supply dumps
and artillery. The Riegel II Stellung was found to be empty between
Bapaume and Achiet le Petit on the night of 12 March but next day an
attack on Bucquoy failed with 574 casualties. The German document
found in Loupart Wood dated 5 March, containing details of the
Alberich Bewegung (Operation Alberich), showed that Loupart Wood had
been abandoned a day early. On the night of 14 March, patrols found
that the Germans had withdrawn from part of the Fourth Army front and
on 17 March, the Germans slipped away on all of the Third and Fifth
Main article: Operation Alberich
German withdrawal from the Bapaume and Noyon Salients.
On 4 February, the order was given to begin the Alberich Bewegung
(Alberich Manoeuvre), with 9 February to be the first Alberich day and
16 March the first marching day. The 1st Army from Arras to
Péronne brought reserve Siegfried divisions forward to the Riegel III
Stellung and outpost villages close to the Siegfriedstellung
(Hindenburg Line). The front-holding divisions, which had been worn
down by British attacks, were withdrawn behind the Siegfriedstellung
(Hindenburg Line). On 17 March, the German troops at the north end of
the Bapaume Salient withdrew swiftly, as there were no intermediate
lines corresponding to the Riegel III Stellung north of Achiet le
Grand. Riegel I Stellung was abandoned by 18 March and next day
Boyelles and Boiry Becquerelle were evacuated. The withdrawal went
straight back to the Siegfriedstellung (Hindenburg Line) except for
outposts at Hénin sur Cojeul, St. Martin sur Cojeul and the west end
of Neuville Vitasse. Numerous raids were mounted on British outposts
during 20 and 21 March. 
The Riegel I Stellung was abandoned north of the Ancre, along with
part of the Riegel II Stellung near its junction with Riegel I
Stellung at Bapaume, which was also abandoned while many houses were
still on fire. Next day, parties of Germans at Beugny in the Riegel
III Stellung fought until nightfall then slipped away. A party at
Vaulx Vraucourt was surprised (while some were shaving) and driven
back to Lagnicourt. On 20 March, an Australian attack on Noreuil
failed with 331 casualties and an attack on Croisilles was repulsed. A
German counter-attack to recover Beaumetz was mounted on 23 March and
got into the village before being forced to withdraw; the attack was
repeated next day but only one party reached the village. Lagnicourt
was lost on 26 March and a counter-attack from Noreuil repulsed, then
a British attack on Bucquoy was defeated.
The 2nd Army conducted the withdrawal with the line-holding divisions,
which were fresher than the divisions of the 1st Army and assisted by
several cavalry divisions and cyclist battalions. On 17 March,
withdrawals began north of the Avre and by 18 March, the German 7th,
2nd, 1st and the southern wing of the 6th Army, began to withdraw from
the old front-line (110 mi (180 km) in length, 65 mi
(105 km) as the crow flies). Soissons was abandoned, roads
leading out of Noyon were flooded, railway bridges were blown and the
Somme River and canal crossings from Offoy to Péronne were destroyed.
Roads built on causeways over marshy ground between the river and
canal, caused water to form pools 0.5 mi (0.80 km) wide,
making crossings practical only at the causeways. The bridges over the
rivers Germaine, Omignon, Cologne, Tortille and the
Canal du Nord
Canal du Nord were
also destroyed and huge craters blown in crossroads, the damage being
made worse by the spring thaw. German rear-guards made a stand in part
of the Riegel III Stellung from Nurlu to Péronne on 18 March, which
was the third and final marching day of the retreat from Roye to St
Quentin and the second and final day from Péronne to le Catelet, when
the main body of German troops reached the Siegfriedstellung
(Hindenburg Line). Work was still being done to remedy defects in the
original position and the rear-guards retired next day from Nurlu and
Bertincourt as soon as British troops appeared, then counter-attacked
British cavalry around Poeuilly on 22 March.
Hindenburg Line at Bullecourt, 1920.
A large counter-attack was mounted on the French front on 22 March,
which forced French cavalry and cyclists back over the Crozat Canal
with many casualties but began too soon to ambush a large force that
included artillery, as had been intended. A Booby-trap exploded in
Bapaume town hall on 25 March, killing Australian troops and two
French Deputies; French civilians were left behind at Bouvincourt,
Vraignes and Tincourt on 26 March and Villers Faucon, Saulcourt and
Guyencourt were lost on 27 March, to attacks by British cavalry and
armoured cars. Supplies of armour-piercing bullets had been sent
forward by the Germans after Roisel was captured the day before,
resulting in the armoured cars being peppered with bullet-holes. The
armoured cars decoyed the German defenders, while cavalry got round
the flanks and captured the villages.
Outpost villages close to the Siegfriedstellung (Hindenburg Line)
south of Quéant had to be held by the Germans for longer than
expected, because of the need to complete the additions to the
defences being built to remedy defects in the original position.
Heudicourt, Sorel and Fins were lost on 30 March. The northern outpost
villages were lost on 2 April and Lempire fell on 5 April. The
German order of battle after the retirement from north to south was
23rd Reserve Division, 220th Division, 26th Reserve Division, 2nd
Guards Reserve Division, 38th Division, 4th Division, 50th Reserve
Division, 9th Reserve Division, 22nd Reserve Division, 199th Division,
29th Division, 111th Division, 221st Division, 25th Division, 15th
Reserve Division, 47th Division, 46th Reserve Division, 13th Division,
211th Division and 222nd Division.
Flooding in Tincourt-Boucly, April 1917. (IWM Q 1985)
In early March, instructions were given by the British Fourth Army
corps commanders, for advanced guards to maintain contact should the
Germans retreat, with larger forces to follow and dig in behind them
on defensible ground, so that the advanced guards could fall back if
attacked. The first sign of a German retreat was seen on 14 March when
fires were seen in St Pierre Vaast Wood. Later in the day, the British
entered Saillisel and by 16 March, most of the wood had been occupied.
The British Fourth and Fifth armies organised all-arms forces of
cavalry squadrons, infantry and cyclist battalions and artillery
batteries, to some of which armoured-car units were attached. On 15
March the French Groupe d'armées du Nord (GAN), south of the junction
with the British Fourth Army at Roye, was ordered to follow up a
German retirement. By 18 March the German 6th, 1st, 2nd and 7th
armies were withdrawing and British and French cavalry patrols met in
Nesle, 9.5 mi (15.3 km) behind the old front line. When
French troops entered Lassigny they caused a traffic jam and vehicles
that tried to skirt the jam bogged in mud. GAN had been on
ten-day's notice to attack (about fourteen days before Groupe
d'armées du Centre (GAC) attacked on the Aisne) between the Oise and
Avre rivers. News of the first German retirements led the army group
commander, General Franchet d'Espérey to advocate an attempt to
surprise the Germans and force them to retreat prematurely. The
suggestion was rejected and GAN began to prepare a limited attack for
17 March, by when the Germans had gone.
On 17 March Haig and the British army commanders met and discussed the
effect of the German retirement. The precedent of a German withdrawal
to a prepared position followed by a counter-attack, which had
occurred in 1914 was noted and that reserves freed by the retirement,
would give the Germans an opportunity to attack the flanks of the
withdrawal area. Nivelle had already decided to use the French troops
released by the shorter front to reinforce the line in Champagne.
British preparations for the attack at Arras were to proceed, with a
watch kept for a possible German attack in Flanders and preparations
for the attack on Messines Ridge were to continue. The pursuit of the
German army was to be made in the Fourth Army area with advanced
guards covered by the cavalry and cyclists attached to each corps and
the 5th Cavalry Division. Larger forces were not to move east of a
line from the
Canal du Nord
Canal du Nord to the Somme south of Péronne until
roads, bridges and railways had been repaired. The boundary of the
Fourth Army and French Third Army was set from south of Nesle, through
Offroy to St Quentin. In the Fifth Army area from Bapaume to the
north, the advance to the
Hindenburg Line needed to be completed in
time to conduct supporting operations for the Third Army attack, due
at Arras in early April. All-arms columns of cavalry, infantry,
artillery and engineers were organised to advance on the front of each
division. The advanced guards of the 5th and 2nd Australian divisions
had a detachment of the Australian Light Horse, a battery of
18-pounder field guns, part of an engineer field company, two infantry
battalions and several machine-guns. The advance had fewer
geographical obstacles than further south. On the left flank the
country beyond Riegel II Stellung was open and on the right the
Germans made little effort to hold the ground west of Riegel III
Stellung, the ground inclining slightly to the north-east towards
Bullecourt, 9 mi (14 km) away, with most of the rivers
flowing in the direction of the British advance.
After 18 March the main body of the Fifth Army was ordered to dig in
temporarily from Bancourt to Bapaume, Achiet-le-Grand and
Ablainzevelle and the advanced guards, which were large enough to be
mobile columns, be reinforced to the strength of brigade groups. Some
of the columns advanced boldly and others dug in temporarily as a
precaution. Information that the Germans were burning villages behind
the Hindenburg Line, led Gough to order II Corps and V Corps and the
Lucknow Cavalry Brigade to advance vigorously on 19 March, with the
support of the reinforced mobile columns to Ecoust St. Mein,
Croisilles, Lagnicourt and Hénin sur Cojeul. Next day the brigade
groups were to support the cavalry drive the Germans back to the
Hindenburg Line, which led the 2nd Australian Division force to attack
Noreuil on 20 March. The attack was repulsed with 331 casualties and
an advance on Ecoust and Croisilles by infantry of the 18th Division
with cavalry and artillery on the flanks was repulsed by fire from
about fifteen machine-guns and six field guns; Gough ordered that
attacks on the German outpost line were to stop until more artillery
The British advance in the Fourth Army area reached the Somme rapidly
from 17 to 20 March, with a continuous pursuit by vanguards and the
main body moving forward by bounds between lines of resistance up to
the Somme river and Canal du Nord, which ran north-to-south from Offoy
to Péronne, then paused while the river was bridged, with a priority
of light bridges for infantry first, pontoon or trestle bridges for
wagons and field artillery and then heavy bridges for mechanical
transport and heavy artillery. The heavy steel bridges could be
transported from a Base Park at Le Havre with 72 hours' notice. A
bridge over the canal near Péronne was built by surveying the ground
on the night of 15 March, towing pontoons up river the next night,
building beginning at dawn on 17 March and the 60 ft (18 m)
pontoon being ready by noon. Infantry of the 1/8th Royal Warwicks
crossed that evening and were then ferried over the river beyond on
rafts, to become the first Allied troops into Péronne. On the
right flank, IV Corps had to advance about 14 mi (23 km)
over cratered and blocked roads to reach the Somme but Corps Mounted
Troops and cyclists arrived on 18 March to find German rearguards also
mounted on bicycles. Infantry crossed the river on 20 March by when
the mounted troops had reached Germaine and the Fourth Army infantry
outposts were established on high ground 2.5–3 mi
(4.0–4.8 km) east of the Somme. "Ward's Force" was formed with
corps cavalry, cyclists and two batteries of field artillery, two
sections of engineers, a battalion of infantry from the 48th Division
on 22 March as a precaution after cavalry was forced out of Poeuilly
and neighbouring villages by a counter-attack and the corps cavalry
relieved by the 5th Cavalry Division. The villages were reoccupied
next day. The German retirement from the Riegel III Stellung had begun
on 19 March when Nurlu and Bertincourt were occupied by the British
after slight pressure. British infantry and cavalry were finding
greater German resistance.
After a pause until 26 March, Ward's Force captured Roisel with an
infantry company, two cavalry squadrons and two armoured cars;
Canadian cavalry took Equancourt. The cavalry advanced again on 27
March and took Villers Faucon, Saulcourt and Guyencourt "with great
dash". An attempt at a swifter pursuit by French cavalry and cyclists
on 22 March failed, when they were forced back over the Crozat canal
by a German counter-attack, with many casualties. On 28 March the
British precautionary line of resistance was moved forward to a line
while the outposts of cavalry, cyclists and some infantry mostly
paused. On the army boundary with the French the 32nd Division kept
two brigades in line and one in reserve. Each brigade in the line had
two infantry companies in outposts held by platoons backed by their
battalions and the artillery close enough to cover the outposts. By
late March each British corps in the pursuit had diverted a minimum of
one division to work on road repairs and bridging, the thaw making the
effect of German demolitions far worse. In the Fifth Army area, repair
work was concentrated on the railway up the Ancre valley, the
Candas–Acheux line, two light railways and the Albert–Bapaume,
Hamel–Achiet le Petit–Achiet le Grand and
Serre–Puisieux–Bucquoy–Ablainzevelle roads, most of the labour
coming from front-line divisions.
By 1 April, the British and French armies were ready to begin
operations, against outpost villages still occupied by the Germans
west of the Hindenburg Line. The French Third Army prepared to attack
at St Quentin on 10 April, for which the preliminary bombardment began
on 4 April. The British Fourth Army prepared to support the attack
with artillery and such infantry attacks as could be attempted, while
communications were still being repaired. Information from captured
documents and prisoners had disclosed the details of Operation
Alberich and that outpost villages had to be held for longer than
planned, to enable work to continue on the Hindenburg Line
(Siegfriedstellung), where it was being rebuilt south of Quéant.
Despite increased German resistance Neuville Bourjonval, Ruyaulcourt,
Sorel le Grand, Heudicourt, Fins, Dessart Wood, Ste. Emilie, Vermand
sur Omignon, Vendelles, Jeancourt, Herbecourt, Épehy, Pezières were
captured between 28 March and 1 April. Deliberate attacks were mounted
in early April to take Holnon Wood, Savy (where the German garrison
had to be overwhelmed by house-to-house fighting), Holnon, Sélency
(including six German field guns) and Francilly Sélency. A German
counter-attack on 3 April by a storm troop, to recover a German
artillery battery from Holnon Wood, coincided with a British attempt
to do the same and failed. The French Third Army captured the Epine de
Dallon on 3 April, bringing it up to the
Hindenburg Line and on 4
April the British captured Metz en Couture in a snowstorm. Ronssoy,
Basse Boulogne and Lempire were captured after house-to-house fighting
but an attack on le Verguier failed. The villages still held by the
Germans were found to be in a much better state of defence, with much
more barbed wire around them. An attack on Fresnoy Le Petit late on 5
April, was hampered by uncut wire and a second attack the next night
was stopped halfway through the village, the defenders holding out
until 7 April; an attack on Vadencourt also failed. On 9 April the
Fourth Army began a bombardment of the Hindenburg Line, with such
heavy artillery that it had in range, as the Third and First armies
began the offensive at Arras to the north. Fighting on the Fourth Army
front, for the remaining outpost villages, went on until the end of
Replica Sopwith 1½ Strutter in 2006.
German air operations over the winter concentrated on reconnaissance
to look for signs of Anglo-French offensive preparations, which were
found at Messines, Arras, Roye, the Aisne and the Champagne region. By
March the outline of the Anglo-French spring offensive had been
observed from the air. German air units were concentrated around Arras
and the Aisne, which left few to operate over the Noyon Salient during
the retirement. When the retirement began British squadrons in the
area were instructed to keep German rearguards under constant
observation, harass German troops by ground attacks and to make
long-range reconnaissance to search the area east of the Hindenburg
Line, for signs of more defensive positions and indications that a
further retreat was contemplated. A policy on rapid movement had been
devised in September 1916, in which the Army Wing and Corps Wings not
attached to the corps moving forward, would move with army
headquarters and the Corps Wings attached to the corps that were
advancing, would keep as close to their associated corps headquarters
as possible.[f] Squadrons would not need to move every day and could
arrange temporary landing-grounds. On 21 March 1917 the use of
temporary facilities was ordered with portable hangars to be built
near corps headquarters and aircraft flown back to their normal
aerodromes at night. IV and V Brigades were involved in the advance,
with their squadrons attached to divisions for contact-patrols. Two
cavalry divisions were attached to the Fourth and Fifth armies for the
advance, with aircraft for reconnaissance of the ground that the
cavalry was to traverse and to help the cavalry maintain touch with
Suitable targets found by air observation were engaged by artillery
using the "zone call" system.[g] The cavalry divisions were issued
with wireless stations to keep in touch with their attached aircraft
but in the event good ground communications made them redundant. The
German retirement was so swift and the amount of artillery fire was so
small, that telephone wires were cut far less frequently than
expected. German troop movements were well concealed and rarely seen
from the air and it was usually ground fire that alerted aircrew to
their presence. Pilots flew low over villages and strong points to
invite German ground fire for their observers to plot, although this
practice gave no indication of the strength of rearguards. A few
attacks were made on German cavalry and infantry caught in the open
but this had little influence on ground operations. The artillery
wireless organisation broke down at times, due to delays in setting up
ground stations, which led to missed opportunities for the direction
of artillery fire from the air. The main influence of air operations
was exerted through message carrying and reconnaissance, particularly
in observing ground conditions in front of the advance and
intermittent co-operation with artillery. Distant reconnaissance, some
by single-seat fighters, found no evidence of German defences beyond
Hindenburg Line but many new aerodromes and supply dumps,
indicating the permanence of the new position.
Map of German troop dispositions on the Siegfriedstellung in the
Saint-Quentin area, 22 April 1917.
The success of the German withdrawal to the
Hindenburg Line has been
explained as an Allied failure to anticipate the retirement and in
being unable seriously to impede it. Another view is that the
Anglo-French were not pursuing a broken enemy but an army making a
deliberate withdrawal after months of preparation, which retained
considerable powers of manoeuvre and counter-attack. Belated
awareness of the significance of the building work along the base of
the Noyon Salient, has also been given as a reason for a cautious
pursuit deliberately chosen, rather than an inept and failed attempt
to intercept the German retirement. In Cavalry Studies:
Strategical and Tactical (1907) Haig had described the hasty retreat
of a beaten enemy and an organised withdrawal by a formidable force,
capable of rapidly returning to the attack, to defeat a disorganised
In the case of an organised withdrawal, Haig described a cautious
follow up by advanced guards, in front of a main force moving
periodically from defensive position to defensive position, always
providing a firm base on which the advanced guards could retire. The
conduct of the Anglo-French pursuit conformed to this model. General
Franchet d'Espérey proposed a hasty offensive to Nivelle, who
rejected the idea, in favour of strengthening the main French front on
the Aisne. British heavy artillery had been moved north from the Fifth
Army in January, ready for the offensive at Arras and had been partly
replaced by inexperienced units from Britain. Divisions from the
Fourth Army had been moved south, to take over former French positions
and I Anzac Corps had been transferred to the Fifth Army to compensate
for divisions sent north to the Third Army by 6 February, which left
the Anglo-French forces in the area depleted.
Beach concluded that evidence of German intentions had been collected
by air reconnaissance, spy reports and debriefings of refugees and
escaped prisoners of war but that German deception measures made
information gleaned from intermittent air reconnaissance during the
frequent bad flying weather over the winter appear unremarkable.
German digging behind existing fortifications had taken place several
times during the Somme battle and led British Intelligence to
interpret the evidence of fortification-building further back from the
Somme front, as an extension of the construction already being
watched. In late December 1916, reports from witnesses led to British
and French air reconnaissance further to the south and in mid-January
1917 British intelligence concluded that a new line was being built
from Arras to Laon. By February, the line was known to be near
completion and by 25 February, the local withdrawals on the Fifth Army
front and prisoner interrogations, led the Anglo-French to anticipate
a gradual German withdrawal to the new line.
When British patrols probing German outposts found them unoccupied,
the Allies began a cautious advance, slowed by German destruction of
the transport infrastructure. The troubled transport situation behind
the British front, which had been caused by mounting difficulties on
the Nord railways, overloading and the thaw on roads made British
supply problems worse. The Germans had the advantage of falling back
over good roads to prepared defences, protected by rearguards. The
German armies made an efficient withdrawal, although the destruction
Operation Alberich led a considerable amount of
indiscipline. Defending villages as outposts, with most of the
rearguard posted at the western exits, left them vulnerable to
encirclement and attacks from commanding ground and the predictability
of such methods, provided French and British troops with obvious
Cyril Falls, a British official historian, criticised the British army
for the failings it showed during the German withdrawal to the
Hindenburg Line, writing that the divisions were "bewildered and
helpless", until they gained experience in the new form of
warfare. The commander of the 8th Division, Major-General William
Heneker wrote on 2 April, that it had taken three weeks for his
division to become proficient in open-warfare techniques. In April
1917, an analysis by II Corps had found that patrols coming under fire
had stopped to report, ground of tactical importance had been ignored
by patrols that had returned to British lines, forfeiting
opportunities to force German withdrawals and artillery had been
reluctant to push forward. Liaison between divisional engineers and
artillery had been poor, advanced guards had not known the importance
of reporting on the condition of roads, ground and the accuracy of
maps; the cavalry element of advanced guards was also criticised for
hesitancy although in contrast, Charles Bean, the Australian official
historian, concluded that the advanced troops of I Anzac Corps had
been sent out on a limb.
Falls rejected claims that British methods were predictable, noting
that attacks had been made at dawn, noon, afternoon and at night.
Bombardments had been fired before some attacks, during attacks on
other occasions, on call from the infantry or were dispensed with.
Attacks had been made indirectly, using ground for cover and a number
of outflanking moves had succeeded. Combined operations with infantry,
cavalry, cyclists, armoured cars and aircraft had also occurred. The
most successful divisions in the pursuit were those that had been on
the Somme for a considerable time, rather than the newer divisions,
which were fresh and had trained for open warfare in England. Many
of the British attacks had substantial casualties, mostly from German
machine-gun fire, although artillery casualties were also high.
Attacks on similar objectives using different methods had similar
casualties, which suggested that losses were determined by the German
defence, rather than unsatisfactory British methods. British field
artillery had been supplied with an adequate amount of ammunition,
despite the transport difficulties but much heavy artillery was left
Illustration of the German retirement to the
Siegfriedstellung/Hindenburg Line, 1917
The weather was also unusually severe, with snow in early April, which
had less effect on German rearguards, who occupied billets and then
blew them up when they retired. Allied troops in the pursuit suffered
from exposure and shortages of supplies but had increased morale,
better health (trench foot cases declined sharply) and adapted to open
warfare. Draught animals suffered from the weather, short rations and
overloading; the British artillery soon had a shortage of 3,500 horses
and several immobilised heavy artillery batteries. The length of
the Western Front was reduced by 25 mi (40 km), which needed
13–14 fewer German divisions to hold. The Allied spring offensive
had been forestalled and the subsidiary French attack up the Oise
valley negated. The main French breakthrough offensive on the
Aisne (the Nivelle Offensive), forced the Germans to withdraw to the
Hindenburg Line defences behind the existing front line on the Aisne.
German counter-attacks became increasingly costly during the battle;
after four days 20,000 prisoners had been taken by the French armies
and c. 238,000 casualties were inflicted on German armies opposite
the French and Belgian fronts between April and July. Most German
casualties had been incurred during the
Nivelle Offensive and were
greater than any earlier Entente attack, against 274,000 French
casualties for the same period.
The French armies lost 96,125 casualties by 25 April and were also
struck by a collapse of the medical services on the Aisne front,
c. 60,000 casualties being stranded close to the battlefield for
several days; German losses have been estimated at 83,000 for the same
period. A wave of mutinies broke out in the French armies, which
eventually affected 54 divisions. Between 16 April and 15 May the
mutinies were isolated but then spread, with 46 incidents recorded by
31 May. From 1–6 June violent resistance increased, possibly six
people being killed by mutineers, which threatened the
battle-worthiness of the French armies, before order slowly returned
by the end of June. The French strategy of breakthrough and
decisive battle had failed disastrously and for the rest of 1917, the
French armies resorted to a strategy of "healing and defence".
Continuous and methodical battles were replaced by limited attacks
followed by consolidation. A massive rearmament programme was begun to
produce aircraft, heavy artillery, tanks and chemicals, which had
similar goals to the Hindenburg Programme.
The parts of the Western Front where German defences were rebuilt on
the new principles, or had naturally occurring features similar to the
new principles, such as the Chemin des Dames, withstood the
Franco-British attacks of the
Nivelle Offensive in April 1917,
although the cost in casualties was high. The rate of German infantry
losses in these defences diminished, although this was also apparent
in the rate of loss of the attackers, who were better organised and
used more efficient methods, made possible by the increased flow of
equipment and supplies to the Western Front, which had so concerned
Ludendorff in September 1916 (In 1917 British artillery ammunition
shortages ended and barrel-wear, from firing so many shells became a
problem.) At Verdun in December 1916, Arras in April 1917 and at
Messines in June, where the new German defensive principles of depth,
camouflage and reverse-slope defences, dispersed methods of
fortification and prompt reinforcement by Eingreif divisions, were not
possible or had not been adopted in time, the British and French
armies inflicted costly defeats on the Germans.
The German defensive strategy on the Western Front in 1917, succeeded
in resisting the increase in the offensive power of the Entente,
without the loss of vital territory but the attrition of German
manpower was slowed rather than reversed. Unrestricted submarine
warfare caused the United States to declare war on 6 April and failed
to isolate Britain from its overseas sources of supply. The bombing
offensive against Britain, acted to divert Anglo-French air defence
resources, which slowed the rate at which the German air service was
outnumbered in France. By the end of the Third Battle of Ypres in
November 1917, the effectiveness of the methods of defence introduced
in 1917 had been eroded and continuation of a defensive strategy in
the west was made impossible. The defeat of Russia gave the German
leadership a final opportunity to avoid defeat, rather than the
attempts to compete with Allied numerical and industrial superiority,
through economic warfare in the Atlantic and the domestic initiatives
of the Hindenburg Programme, the Auxiliary Service Law and temporary
demobilisation of skilled workers from the army.
The accuracy of Great War casualty statistics is disputed. Casualty
data available refer to Western Front totals as shown in Winston
Churchill's The World Crisis (1923–29) and do not refer directly to
the German withdrawal to the
Hindenburg Line (Siegfriedstellung) or
losses which would be considered "normal wastage", occurring as a
consequence of the existence of the Western Front, rather than to
particular military operations. Total British losses from January to
March 1917 in France were given as 67,217, French losses given were
108,000 and German losses were 65,381.
Main article: Battle of Arras
Battle of Arras, April 1917.
The first attack of the
Nivelle Offensive by the British First and
Third armies came at Arras, north of the
Hindenburg Line on 9 April
and inflicted a substantial defeat on the German 6th Army, which
occupied obsolete defences on forward slopes. Vimy Ridge was captured
and further south, the greatest depth of advance since trench-warfare
began was achieved, surpassing the success of the French Sixth Army on
1 July 1916. German reinforcements were able to stabilise the front
line, using both of the defensive methods endorsed in the new German
training manual and the British continued the offensive, despite the
difficulties of ground and German defensive tactics, in support of the
French offensives further south and then to keep German troops in the
area while the Messines Ridge attack was being prepared. German
casualties were c. 85,000, against British losses of 117,066 for the
Third and First armies.
Main article: First Battle of Bullecourt
During the Battle of Arras the British Fifth Army was intended to help
the operations of the Third Army, by pushing back German rear guards
to the Siegfriedstellung (Hindenburg Line) and then attacking the
Bullecourt to Quéant, which was 3.5 mi
(5.6 km) from the main Arras–Cambrai road. The German outpost
villages from Doignies to Croisilles were captured on 2 April and an
attack on a 3,500 yd (3,200 m) front, with
Bullecourt in the
centre was planned. The wire-cutting bombardment was delayed by
transport difficulties behind the new British front line and the
attack of the Third Army, which was originally intended to be
simultaneous, took place on 9 April. A tank attack by the Fifth Army
was improvised for 10 April on a front of 1,500 yd (1,400 m)
to capture Riencourt and Hendecourt. The attack was intended to begin
48 minutes before sunrise but the tanks were delayed by a blizzard and
the attack was cancelled at the last minute; the 4th Australian
Division withdrawal from its assembly positions was luckily obscured
by a snowstorm. The cancellation did not reach the 62nd Division on
the left in time and several patrols were already in the German barbed
wire when the order arrived. The attack was postponed for 24 hours but
only four of the twelve tanks in the attack were in position on time.
The tanks which attacked lost direction and were quickly knocked out,
leaving no gaps in the barbed wire for the infantry. Australian troops
took a portion of the front Hindenburg trench and false reports of
success led to cavalry being sent forward, where they were forced back
by machine-gun fire as were the Australians, by a counter-attack at
10:00 a.m. Total British casualties were 3,300, patrols from the 62nd
Division lost 162 casualties, the 4th Australian Brigade lost 2,258
out of 3,000 men, with1,164 taken prisoner and the 12th Australian
Brigade had 909 losses; German casualties were 750 men.
Main article: Battle of Lagnicourt
At 4:05 a.m. on 15 April, elements of four German divisions attacked
from the Siegfriedstellung (Hindenburg Line) from Havrincourt to
Quéant to occupy Noreuil, Lagnicourt, Morchies, Boursies, Doignies,
Demicourt and Hermies until nightfall, to inflict casualties, destroy
British artillery to make a British attack in the area impossible and
to attract British reserves from the Arras front further north.
Lagnicourt was occupied for a short time and five British guns
destroyed but the rest of the attack failed. Co-ordination between
German infantry and artillery suffered from the hasty nature of the
attack, for which planning had begun on 13 April. Several units were
late and attacked on unfamiliar ground, with 2,313 casualties against
1,010 Australian losses.
Main article: Nivelle Offensive
Labour was transferred to work on the Hundingstellung from La Fère to
Rethel and 20 fortress labour battalions were sent to work on the
forward positions on the Aisne front on 23 February. The German
strategic reserve rose to c. 40 divisions by the end of March and
the Aisne front was reinforced with the 1st Army, released by
Operation Alberich and other divisions, which raised the number to 21
in line and 17 in reserve on the Aisne by early April. The French
Groupe d'armées du Nord (GAN) attacked the
Hindenburg Line at St
Quentin on 13 April with no success and the "decisive" offensive, by
the French Groupe d'armées de Réserve (GAR) began on 16 April,
between Vailly and Rheims. The French breakthrough attempt was
defeated but forced the Germans to abandon the area between Braye,
Condé and Laffaux and withdraw to the
Hindenburg Line from Laffaux
Mill, along the Chemin des Dames to Courtecon. The German armies in
France were still short of reserves, despite the retirements to the
Hindenburg Line and divisions depleted by 163,000 casualties during
Nivelle Offensive and then replaced by those in reserve, had to
change places with the counter-attack divisions, rather than be
Main article: Second Battle of Bullecourt, 3–17 May 1917
Another British attack at
Bullecourt was planned after the failure of
11 April but postponed several times until the Third Army further
north, had reached the river Sensée and there had been time for a
thorough artillery preparation. By May the attack was intended to help
the Third Army to advance, hold German troops in the area and assist
the French army attacks on the Aisne. Two divisions were involved in
the attack with the first objective at the second Hindenburg trench on
a front of 4,000 yd (3,700 m), a second objective at the
Fontaine–Quéant road and the final objective at the villages of
Riencourt and Hendecourt. Many of the British transport and supply
difficulties had been remedied, with the extension of railways and
roads into the "Alberich" area. The attack began on 3 May, part the
2nd Australian Division reached the
Hindenburg Line and established a
foothold. Small parties of the 62nd Division reached the first
objective and were cut off, the division having c. 3,000 casualties,
an attack by the 7th Division was driven back.
From 4–6 May, the battle in the 2nd Australian Division sector
continued and the foothold in the
Hindenburg Line was extended. The
7th Division continued to try to reach British parties, which had got
Bullecourt and been isolated. A German counter-attack on 6 May
was defeated but the engagement exhausted the 2nd Australian Division
and the 62nd Division; serious losses had been inflicted on the 1st
Australian and 7th divisions. The German 27th, 3rd Guard, 2nd Guard
Reserve divisions and a regiment of the 207th Division had made six
big counter-attacks and also had many casualties. The British attacked
again on 7 May with the 7th Division towards
Bullecourt and the 1st
Australian Brigade west along the Hindenburg trenches, which met at
the second objective. Next day the "Red Patch" was attacked again and
a small part held after German counter-attacks. The 5th Australian
Division relieved the 2nd Australian Division by 10 May, while the
Bullecourt continued to the west, the 7th Division capturing
the village except for the Red Patch on 12 May, while the 62nd
Division advance was pushed back. The 58th Division relieved the
Australians and British attacks on 13 May failed. A final German
counter-attack was made to recapture all of
Bullecourt and the
Hindenburg trenches on 15 May. The attack failed, except at Bullecourt
where the west of the village was regained. The 7th Division was
relieved by part of the 58th Division, which attacked the Red Patch
again on 17 May and captured the ruins, just before the Germans were
able to withdraw, which ended the battle. The Fifth Army lost
14,000–16,000 casualties and German losses in two divisions were
4,500 casualties, with casualties in the regiments of five other
divisions engaged being c. 1,000 at a minimum. Total British
losses for both
Bullecourt operations were 19,342.
Main article: Battle of Cambrai
The Battle of Cambrai began with a secret deployment of British
reinforcements for the attack. Instead of a long period of artillery
registration (firing ranging shots before the attack) and
wire-cutting, which would have warned the German defence that an
assault was being prepared, massed artillery-fire did not begin until
the infantry–tank advance began on 20 November, using unregistered
(predicted) fire. The British sent 378 tanks to roll through the
Siegfriedstellung (Hindenburg Line) barbed-wire fields, as a
substitute for a long wire-cutting bombardment and the ground assault
was accompanied by a large number of ground-attack aircraft. The
British attack broke through the Siegfried I Stellung but was
contained in the rear battlezone (rückwärtige Kampfzone) by the
Siegfried II Stellung, which had been built on the east side of the St
Quentin canal on this part of the front. Preparations for a further
advance were hampered by the obstacles of the Hindenburg defences,
which had been crossed but which limited the routes by which the most
advanced British forces could be supplied. The German defence quickly
recovered and on 30 November began a counter-offensive, using a
similar short bombardment, air attacks and storm troop infantry
tactics, which was contained by the British, in some parts of the
battlefield using the
Hindenburg Line defences captured earlier.
Main article: Battles of the Hindenburg Line
Allied gains in late 1918
A sequence of Allied offensives began with attacks by American and
French armies on 26 September 1918 from Rheims to the Meuse, two
British armies at Cambrai on 27 September, British, Belgian and French
armies in Flanders on 28 September; on 29 September the British Fourth
Army (including the US II Corps) attacked the
Hindenburg Line from
Holnon north to Vendhuille while the French First Army attacked the
area from St Quentin to the south. The British Third Army attacked
further north and crossed the
Canal du Nord
Canal du Nord at Masnières. In nine
days British, French and US forces crossed the Canal du Nord, broke
Hindenburg Line and took 36,000 prisoners and 380
guns. German troops were short of food, had worn out clothes and
boots and the retreat back to the
Hindenburg Line had terminally
undermined their morale. The Allies had attacked with overwhelming
material superiority, using combined-arms tactics, with a unified
operational method and achieved a high tempo. On 4 October, the
German government requested an armistice and on 8 October, the German
armies were ordered to retire from the rest of the Siegfriedstellung
World War I
World War I portal
^ The withdrawal to the last part of the line was made under the
pressure of the Nivelle Offensive, rather than the retirement of March
^ The Hague Rules allowed prisoners of war to be used as labourers but
not on work concerned with warlike activities.
^ On 24 February, the Germans withdrew on an 18,000 yd
(10 mi; 16 km) front opposite the Fifth Army, abandoning
Warlencourt, Miraumont and Serre. A prisoner revealed that this was to
be part of a bigger retirement to the Hindenburg Position.
^ The British Official History termed the operations the Advance to
the Hindenburg Line, 1917, comprising Operations on the Ancre 11
January – 13 March 1917 and the German Retreat to the Hindenburg
Line 14 March – 5 April 1917.
^ The first two German reserve lines had various British names
(Loupart line, Bapaume line, le Transloy line, and Bihucourt line) and
the third line was known as the Beugny–Ytres Switch, which were
called Riegel I Stellung, Riegel II Stellung ( Allainesstellung) and
Riegel III Stellung (Trench III Position, Arminstellung) by the
Germans. Riegel I Stellung extended from Essarts–Bucquoy–west of
Achiet le Petit–Loupart Wood–south of Grévillers–west of
Bapaume–le Transloy to Sailly Saillisel. "Riegel II Stellung" ran
from Ablainzevelle–west of Logeast Wood–west of Achiet le
Grand–western outskirts of Bapaume–Rocquigny–le Mesnil en
Arrousaise to Vaux Wood. "Riegel III Stellung" branched from "Riegel
II Stellung" at Achiet-le-Grand then ran to
Beugny–Ytres–Nurlu–Templeux la Fosse.
^ From 30 January 1916, each British army had a Royal Flying Corps
brigade attached, which was divided into wings, the "corps wing" with
squadrons responsible for close reconnaissance, photography and
artillery observation on the front of each army corps and an "army
wing", which by 1917 conducted long-range reconnaissance and bombing,
using the aircraft types with the highest performance.
^ "Zones" were based on lettered squares of the army 1:40,000 map;
each map square was divided into four sections 3,000 yd
(2,700 m) square. The observer used a call-sign of the map square
letter and the zone letter to signal to the artillery. All guns and
howitzers up to 6 in (150 mm) able to bear on the target,
opened rapid fire using corrections of aim from the air observer.
^ Miles 1992a, pp. 228–231.
^ Wynne 1976, pp. 134–135.
^ Miles 1992a, pp. 423–424.
^ Sheldon 2006, p. 265.
^ Miles 1992a, p. 455.
^ Asprey 1994, p. 285.
^ a b Foley 2007, pp. 158–159.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 159–160.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 160–161.
^ Feldman 1992, p. 301.
^ Feldman 1992, p. 271.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 161–162.
^ Asprey 1994, pp. 286–294.
^ Feldman 1992, p. 270.
^ Hoeppner 1994, pp. 105–108.
^ a b c Wynne 1976, pp. 133–134.
^ Falls 1992, p. 110.
^ Sheldon 2009, p. 3.
^ Sheldon 2008, pp. 229–230.
^ Sheldon 2009, pp. 3–5.
^ Doughty 2005, pp. 314–316.
^ Doughty 2005, pp. 324–325.
^ Neumann 1920, p. 223.
^ a b Sheldon 2009, p. 2.
^ a b Falls 1992, p. 92.
^ Wynne 1976, p. 139.
^ Wynne 1976, pp. 139–145.
^ Samuels 1995, pp. 176–177.
^ Samuels 1995, pp. 178–183.
^ Samuels 1995, pp. 182–192.
^ Samuels 1995, p. 185.
^ Falls 1992, pp. 1–11, 37–64.
^ Jones 2002, pp. 317–318.
^ Falls 1992, pp. 87–89.
^ Falls 1992, pp. 89–90.
^ Falls 1992, pp. 67–82.
^ Harris 2008, p. 293.
^ James 1994, pp. 15–16.
^ Falls 1992, pp. 82–97.
^ Beach 2004, pp. 187–191.
^ Simkins 2003, p. 111.
^ Falls 1992, p. 113.
^ Falls 1992, pp. 148–149.
^ Barton 2010, pp. 54–55.
^ Falls 1992, pp. 113–115.
^ Falls 1992, pp. 95–107.
^ Falls 1992, p. 64.
^ Falls 1992, pp. 104–109.
^ Falls 1992, pp. 97–103.
^ Falls 1992, pp. 97–110.
^ Falls 1992, p. 115.
^ Falls 1992, pp. 149–154.
^ Falls 1992, p. 138.
^ Falls 1992, pp. 127–135.
^ Falls 1992, pp. 135–137.
^ Falls 1992, pp. 138–153.
^ Kahn 1970, pp. 2,031.
^ Barton 2010, pp. 50–51.
^ Philpott 2009, pp. 457–463.
^ Falls 1992, pp. 111–126.
^ Falls 1992, pp. 138–140.
^ Falls 1992, pp. 140–144.
^ Falls 1992, pp. 127–132.
^ Falls 1992, pp. 132–136.
^ Falls 1992, pp. 132–146.
^ Falls 1992, pp. 152–160.
^ Neumann 1920, pp. 225–227.
^ Jones 2002, pp. 147–148.
^ Jones 2002a, pp. 324–328.
^ Jones 2002, pp. 175–176.
^ Jones 2002a, pp. 328–331.
^ Harris 2008, pp. 293–294.
^ Griffith 1996, p. 85.
^ Sheffield 2011, pp. 213–214.
^ Brown 1996, pp. 221–222.
^ Haig 1907, pp. 90–140.
^ Falls 1992, pp. 69–70.
^ Beach 2004, pp. 190–195.
^ Walker 2000, p. 52.
^ Falls 1992, p. 155.
^ Falls 1992, p. 543.
^ Thomas 2010, p. 260.
^ Thomas 2010, pp. 253–255.
^ Bean 1941, pp. 153–154.
^ Falls 1992, pp. 160–162.
^ Farndale 1986, p. 164.
^ Falls 1992, p. 162.
^ Harris 2008, p. 294.
^ a b Falls 1992, pp. 499–500.
^ a b c Doughty 2005, pp. 366–367.
^ Brown 1996, p. 234.
^ Feldman 1992, pp. 266–273, 301–348, 349–406.
^ Churchill 1927, pp. 1423–1425.
^ Falls 1992, p. 556.
^ Falls 1992, pp. 357–369.
^ Falls 1992, pp. 370–377.
^ Falls 1992, p. 492.
^ Nicholson 1962, p. 243.
^ Falls 1992, pp. 491–499.
^ Falls 1992, pp. 455–466.
^ Walker 2000, pp. 466–186.
^ Falls 1992, p. 561.
^ Miles 1992, pp. iii–v.
^ Boraston 1919, pp. 282–285.
^ Philpott 2009, pp. 532–533.
^ Edmonds & Maxwell-Hyslop 1993, pp. 210–211.
Asprey, R. B. (1994) . The German High Command at War:
Hindenburg and Ludendorff and the First World War (Warner Books ed.).
New York: William Morrow. ISBN 978-0-7515-1038-6.
Barton, P. (2010). Arras: The Spring 1917 Offensive in Panoramas,
Including Vimy Ridge and Bullecourt. London: Constable.
Bean, C. E. W. (1982) . The Australian Imperial Force in France,
1917. Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918. IV
(12th ed.). Canberra, ACT: Australian War Memorial.
ISBN 978-0-7022-1710-4. Retrieved 14 November 2015.
Boraston, J. H. (1920) . Sir Douglas Haig's Despatches (2nd
ed.). London: Dent. OCLC 633614212.
Churchill, W. S. (1927). The World Crisis. IV. London: Thornton
Butterworth. OCLC 758460454.
Doughty, R. A. (2005). Pyrrhic victory: French Strategy and Operations
in the Great War. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.
Edmonds, J. E.; Maxwell-Hyslop, R. (1993) . Military Operations
France and Belgium 1918: 26th September – 11th November, The Advance
History of the Great War
History of the Great War Based on Official Documents by
Direction of the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial
Defence. V (Imperial War Museum & Battery Press ed.). London:
HMSO. ISBN 978-0-89839-192-3.
Falls, C. (1992) . Military Operations France and Belgium, 1917:
The German Retreat to the
Hindenburg Line and the Battles of Arras.
History of the Great War
History of the Great War Based on Official Documents by Direction of
the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence. I
(Imperial War Museum & Battery Press ed.). London: HMSO.
Farndale, M. (1986). Western Front 1914–18. History of the Royal
Regiment of Artillery. London: Royal Artillery Institution.
Feldman, G. D. (1992) . Army, Industry and Labor in Germany
1914–1918 (repr. Berg ed.). Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Dennis, P.; Grey, G., eds. (2007). "Foley, R. T. The Other Side of the
Wire: The German Army in 1917". 1917: Tactics, Training and
Technology. Loftus, NSW: Australian History Military Publications.
pp. 155–178. ISBN 978-0-9803-7967-9.
Griffith, P. (1996) . Battle Tactics of the Western Front: The
British Army's Art of Attack 1916–1918 (pbk. ed.). London: Yale.
Haig, D. (2009) . Cavalry Studies: Strategical and Tactical
(General Books ed.). London: Hugh Rees. ISBN 978-0-217-96199-8.
Retrieved 23 March 2014.
Harris, J. P. (2009) . Douglas Haig and the First World War
(repr. ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hoeppner, E. (1994) . Deutschlands Krieg in der Luft: ein
Rückblick auf die Entwicklung und die Leistungen unserer
Heeres-Luftstreitkräfte im Weltkriege [Germany's War in the Air: The
Development and Operations of German Military Aviation in the World
War] (in German) (Battery Press ed.). Leipzig: K. F. Koehler.
James, E. A. (1994) . Record of the Battles and Engagements of
the British Armies in France and Flanders 1914–18 (Naval &
Military Press ed.). London: Gale & Polden.
Jones, H. A. (2002) . The War in the Air, Being the Story of the
part Played in the Great War by the Royal Air Force. II (Naval &
Military Press ed.). London: Clarendon Press.
ISBN 978-1-84342-413-0. Retrieved 18 August 2014.
Jones, H. A. (2002) . The War in the Air, Being the Story of the
part Played in the Great War by the Royal Air Force. III (Naval &
Military Press ed.). London: Clarendon Press.
ISBN 978-1-84342-414-7. Retrieved 18 August 2014.
Kahn, L. (1970). Purnell's History of the First World War. London:
BPC. OCLC 9091594.
Miles, W. (1992) . Military Operations, France and Belgium,
1916: 2nd July 1916 to the End of the Battles of the Somme. History of
the Great War Based on Official Documents by Direction of the
Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence. II (Imperial
War Museum & Battery Press ed.). London: HMSO.
Miles, W. (1992) . Military Operations, France and Belgium,
1917: The Battle of Cambrai.
History of the Great War
History of the Great War Based on
Official Documents by Direction of the Historical Section of the
Committee of Imperial Defence. III (Imperial War Museum & Battery
Press ed.). London: HMSO. ISBN 978-0-901627-65-0.
Neumann, G. P. (1920). Die deutschen Luftstreitkräfte im Weltkriege
unter Mitwirkung von 29 Offizieren und Beamten des
Heeres-und-Marine-Luftfahrt [The German Air Force in the Great War:
Its History, Development, Organisation, Aircraft, Weapons and
Equipment, 1914–1918] (in German) (abr, trans. ed.). Berlin: Mittler
& Sohn. OCLC 773250508. Retrieved 18 August 2014.
Nicholson, G. W. L. (1962). Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914–1919
(PDF). Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War.
Ottawa: Queen's Printer and Controller of Stationary.
OCLC 59609928. Retrieved 18 August 2014.
Philpott, W. (2009). Bloody Victory: The Sacrifice on the Somme and
the Making of the Twentieth Century (1st ed.). London: Little, Brown.
Samuels, M. (1995). Command or Control? Command, Training and Tactics
in the British and German Armies 1888–1918. London: Frank Cass.
Sheffield, G. (2011). The Chief: Douglas Haig and the British Army.
London: Aurum Press. ISBN 978-1-84513-691-8.
Sheldon, J. (2006) . The German Army on the Somme 1914–1916
(Pen & Sword Military ed.). London: Leo Cooper.
Sheldon, J. (2008). The German Army on Vimy Ridge 1914–1917.
Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military. ISBN 978-1-84415-680-1.
Sheldon, J. (2009). The German Army at Cambrai. Barnsley: Pen &
Sword Military. ISBN 978-1-84415-944-4.
Simkins, P.; Jukes, G.; Hickey, M. (2003). The First World War: The
War to End All Wars. Oxford: Osprey.
Wynne, G. C. (1976) . If Germany Attacks: The Battle in Depth in
the West (Greenwood Press, NY ed.). London: Faber & Faber.
Walker, J. (2000) . The Blood Tub, General Gough and the Battle
of Bullecourt, 1917 (Spellmount ed.). Charlottesville, VA: Howell
Press. ISBN 978-1-86227-022-0.
Beach, J. (2004). British Intelligence and the German Army 1914–1918
(Thesis) (PhD ed.). 2004: London University. OCLC 500051492.
uk.bl.ethos.416459. Retrieved 18 August 2014.
Brown, I. M. (1996). The Evolution of the British Army's Logistical
and Administrative Infrastructure and its Influence on GHQ's
Operational and Strategic Decision-making on the Western Front,
1914–1918 (PhD). London: King's College London (University of
London). OCLC 53609664. uk.bl.ethos.321769. Retrieved 19 March
Thomas, A. M. (2010). British 8th Infantry Division on the Western
Front, 1914–18 (PDF) (Thesis). Birmingham: Birmingham University.
OCLC 690665118. Retrieved 19 December 2014.
Dennis, P.; Grey, G., eds. (2007). "Foley, R. T. The Other Side of the
Wire: The German Army in 1917". 1917: Tactics, Training and
Technology. Loftus, NSW: Australian History Military Publications.
pp. 155–178. ISBN 978-0-9803-7967-9.
Oldham, Peter (2000) . The Hindenburg Line. Battleground Europe.
London: Leo Cooper. ISBN 978-0-85052-568-7.
Priestley, R. E. (1919). Breaking the Hindenburg Line: the story of
the 46th (North Midland) Division. London: T. F. Unwin.
OCLC 697901281. Retrieved 15 August 2015.
Sheldon, J. (2015). The German Army in the Spring Offensives 1917:
Arras, Aisne & Champagne. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military.
Taylor, C. (2014). I Wish They'd Killed You in a Decent Show: The
Bloody Fighting for Croisilles, Fontaine-les-Croisilles and the
Hindenburg Line, March 1917 to August 1918. Brighton: Reveille Press.
Yockelson, Mitchell (2016). Forty-Seven Days: How Pershing's Warriors
Came of Age to Defeat the German Army in World War I. New York: New
American Library. ISBN 978-0-451-46695-2.
Peaple, S. P. (2003). The 46th (North Midland) Division T. F. on the
Western Front, 1915–1918. Thesis (PhD). Birmingham: Birmingham
University. OCLC 500351989. Retrieved 14 November 2015.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Hindenburg Line.
The German Retreat and the Battle of Arras, Imperial War Museum
The Hindenburg Line: The Apotheosis of German Fortifications on the
Western Front in the Great War westernfront co uk at the Wayback
Machine (archived 22 May 2006)
An interpretation of the
Breaking the Hindenburg Line, Australian War Memorial
World War I
Sinai and Palestine
Asian and Pacific
German New Guinea and Samoa
North Atlantic U-boat campaign
Indian, Pacific and South Atlantic Oceans
Más a Tierra
Scramble for Africa
Scramble for Africa (1880–1914)
Russo-Japanese War (1905)
First Moroccan (Tangier) Crisis (1905–06)
Agadir Crisis (1911)
Italo-Turkish War (1911–12)
French conquest of Morocco
French conquest of Morocco (1911–12)
First Balkan War
First Balkan War (1912–13)
Second Balkan War
Second Balkan War (1913)
Anti-Serb riots in Sarajevo
Battle of the Frontiers
Battle of Cer
First Battle of the Marne
Siege of Tsingtao
Battle of Tannenberg
Battle of Galicia
Battle of the Masurian Lakes
Battle of Kolubara
Battle of Sarikamish
Race to the Sea
First Battle of Ypres
Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes
Second Battle of Ypres
Battle of Gallipoli
Second Battle of Artois
Battles of the Isonzo
Second Battle of Champagne
Siege of Kut
Battle of Loos
Battle of Verdun
Lake Naroch Offensive
Battle of Asiago
Battle of Jutland
Battle of the Somme
Battle of Romani
Battle of Transylvania
Capture of Baghdad
First Battle of Gaza
Second Battle of Arras
Second Battle of the Aisne
Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele)
Battle of Mărășești
Battle of Caporetto
Southern Palestine Offensive
Battle of Cambrai
Armistice of Erzincan
Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
Second Battle of the Marne
Battle of Baku
Hundred Days Offensive
Battle of Megiddo
Third Transjordan attack
Battle of Vittorio Veneto
Battle of Aleppo
Armistice of Salonica
Armistice of Mudros
Armistice of Villa Giusti
Armistice with Germany
Mexican Revolution (1910–20)
Somaliland Campaign (1910–20)
Libyan resistance movement (1911–43)
Maritz Rebellion (1914–15)
Zaian War (1914–21)
Indo-German Conspiracy (1914–19)
Senussi Campaign (1915–16)
Volta-Bani War (1915–17)
Easter Rising (1916)
Anglo-Egyptian Darfur Expedition
Anglo-Egyptian Darfur Expedition (1916)
Kaocen Revolt (1916–17)
Central Asian Revolt (1916-17)
Russian Revolution (1917)
Finnish Civil War
Finnish Civil War (1918)
Russian Civil War
Russian Civil War (1917–21)
Ukrainian–Soviet War (1917–21)
Armenian–Azerbaijani War (1918–20)
Georgian–Armenian War (1918)
German Revolution (1918–19)
Revolutions and interventions in Hungary (1918–20)
Hungarian–Romanian War (1918–19)
Greater Poland Uprising (1918–19)
Estonian War of Independence
Estonian War of Independence (1918–20)
Latvian War of Independence
Latvian War of Independence (1918–20)
Lithuanian Wars of Independence
Lithuanian Wars of Independence (1918–20)
Third Anglo-Afghan War
Third Anglo-Afghan War (1919)
Egyptian Revolution (1919)
Polish–Ukrainian War (1918–19)
Polish–Soviet War (1919–21)
Irish War of Independence
Irish War of Independence (1919–21)
Turkish War of Independence
Greco-Turkish War (1919–22)
Turkish–Armenian War (1920)
Iraqi revolt (1920)
Polish–Lithuanian War (1920)
Vlora War (1920)
Franco-Syrian War (1920)
Soviet–Georgian War (1921)
Irish Civil War
Irish Civil War (1922–23)
Schlieffen Plan (German)
Plan XVII (French)
Last surviving veterans
1918 flu pandemic
Destruction of Kalisz
Rape of Belgium
German occupation of Belgium
German occupation of Luxembourg
German occupation of northeastern France
Pontic Greek genocide
Blockade of Germany
German prisoners of war in the United States
Partition of the Ottoman Empire
Agreement of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne
Paris Peace Conference
Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
Treaty of Lausanne
Treaty of London
Treaty of Neuilly
Treaty of St. Germain
Treaty of Sèvres
Treaty of Trianon
Treaty of Versailles
League of Nations
World War I
World War I memorials