The Strategy of the Lloyd George Coalition, 1916-1918

By David French | Go to book overview

9
The Defeat of the Spring Offensive, March-July 1918

BY the spring of 1918 the War Cabinet was committed to a Fabian policy on the western front for the rest of that year, coupled with an attempt to knock out Turkey. They had reached this decision on the assumption that in 1918 the Germans would follow the French and British example and remain on the defensive in the west.1 But the Germans were not so obliging. The British were not the only belligerents who were conscious of their failing strength. By November 1917 the U-boat war had failed to defeat Britain and the USA represented an enormous accretion of potential military power to the Entente alliance. Despite the Russian collapse, Ludendorff recognized that Germany's ability to sustain its efforts was not inexhaustible. As early as April 1917 he had decided that Germany must eschew the strategic defensive in the west in favour of an offensive.2 At Mons on 11 November he told a group of staff officers that, as the alliance of the Central Powers was held together only by the hopes that their allies invested in a German victory, they had to secure it in 1918, before the Americans had mobilized and deployed a huge army in France.3

Ludendorff considered three possible locations for the offensive: in Flanders, where a penetration of Haig's line would threaten the Channel ports; on the Somme, where the British and French lines met; or further south against the French. He decided to mount his spring offensive against the BEF because he believed that its commanders were less tactically skilful than their allies, because he had too few divisions to destroy the French army, and because it might

____________________
1
PRO CAB 27/14/MPC: Minutes of the 1st meeting of the manpower committee, 10 Dec. 1917.
2
H. H. Herwig, "'The Dynamics of Necessity: German Military Policy during the First World War'", in A. R. Millett and W. Murray (eds.), Military Effectiveness, i. The First World War ( Boston, Mass., 1988), 100.
3
E. Ludendorff, My War Memoirs, 1914-1918 ( London, 1919), ii. 538-43; R. Aspery , The German High Command at War: Hindenburg and Ludendorff Conduct World War One ( New York, 1991), 364-7.

-213-

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