Operation Michael Runs Out Of Breath I THE GREAT WAR Week 193

Operation Michael Runs Out Of Breath I THE GREAT WAR Week 193

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The German soldiers have been in the trenches
for years, and as we’ve seen, supplies from home were drying up and shortages of everything
but munitions were common. So what happens when the Germans break through
to villages behind the Allied lines? Scenes of looting. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to the Great War. Last week the British began an attack on Amman,
but the main action was on the Western Front, where Operation Michael, the first phase of
the German spring offensives, had smashed through the British and French, causing them
to retreat all along the line, and taking tens of thousands of prisoners. The Allies were now sending all available
troops to the vital rail junction Amiens which, if it fell, would split the British and French
and spell disaster. The largest guns ever made – the Paris Guns
– began shelling Paris from over 100km away, and Ferdinand Foch was given overall command
of the Allied forces. Foch, after his promotion, complained that
he was tasked with winning a battle that was already lost, but kinda the opposite was true. By this week, Operation Michael seemed to
have lost its coherence. (World Undone) “The character of the campaign
was becoming almost farcical, with the British retreating at an easy walk and the Germans
following at the same pace. When the British stopped to rest, the Germans
would stop as well, keeping a safe distance. They had left behind most of their artillery
and were short of almost everything.” And there were also many scenes of looting,
which the German officers could not prevent. One officer told of the infantry stopping
one day near Albert, which surprised him, since the airmen had told him there was no
enemy near. When he got to the town, he saw soldiers driving
cattle, carrying hens or boxes of paper, or carrying – and drinking – bottles of wine. “Men with writing paper and colored notebooks. Men dressed up in comic disguise. Men with top hats on their heads. Men staggering. Men who could hardly walk… the streets were
running with wine. Out of a cellar came a Leutnant of the Second
Marine Division… I asked him, «What is going to happen?»… He replied solemnly and emphatically, «I
cannot get my men out of this cellar without bloodshed.»” Still, the Germans claim 70,000 prisoners
from the offensive at beginning of week – 90,000 at the end. The German attacks resumed the 30th but they
generally stalled all along the line. That day, British, Australian, and Canadian
troops counter attack and take most of Moreuil Wood, and this kind of signified the tide
turning. The Germans were 15km east of Amiens but just
couldn’t take it, and allied reinforcements kept pouring in. But since the 21st, they had advanced in some
places over 60km and retaken all of the allied gains from the Battle of the Somme that had
cost the Allies over 500,000 casualties to take in 1916. On the 31st, German Quartermaster General
Erich Ludendorff pauses the offensive for a few days rest and reinforcing. April 1st was Easter Monday, and British troops
advanced and captured Rifle Wood. Poet Isaac Rosenberg died that day, he had
written this from the trenches: “Heaped stones and a charred signboard shows
with grass between and dead folk under, and some bird sings while the spirit takes
wing, and this is life in France.” Operation Michael would resume the 4th south
of the Somme toward Amiens – the right wing of the German 18th army and left wing of 2nd. On the 5th, the attack would be resumed north
of the Somme – the right wing of second army and left wing of 17th. The objectives did not actually include Amiens,
but if they got close enough then they could shell the railway station and bridges there
and disrupt everything. They didn’t get close enough. They attacked at Villers-Bretonneux on the
4th, in front of Amiens, but British and Australian troops drove them back. The attacks the 5th also failed and at the
end of the week, Ludendorff calls off the Somme offensive. Noting in his memoirs about Amiens, “the
enemy resistance is beyond our powers.” He had sent 9 of General von Below’s divisions
from further north to reinforce General Marwitz, but the French 5th army, which was the third
French army sent to help the British, came and basically settled things. The Germans could not advance and trenches
were again being dug. Michael was at an end April 5th. (Gilbert) Lord Birkenhead wrote a decade after
the war in Turning Points of History, “…after the first terrible fortnight was passed, the
front still stood and Ludendorff’s last throw had patently failed. Amiens was saved; so was Paris, so were the
channel ports, so was France, so was England.” Well, I suppose that’s easy to say in hindsight,
but what were the tangible results of the two weeks of Operation Michael? Germany had taken 1200 square miles of territory,
90,000 prisoners, and mountains of supplies. Caused 160,000 British casualties and 70,000
French as well, but they themselves had lost 160,000 of their best troops and all of that
ground taken didn’t include one single place of true strategic value. They had left behind their brilliant defense
infrastructure – the Hindenburg Line- and in the process lengthened their lines by 80km
into a new salient. They kind of had to start building defenses
from scratch now and were way more vulnerable. And a big also – in allowing Oskar von Hutier’s
breakthrough to run all the way up to Amiens, Ludendorff had used up the reserves for the
next phase of his attack after Operation Michael. Some of the 90 divisions that had gone into
battle now had only a few thousand men alive and unwounded. There were only 11 assault divisions ready
for the coming attack in Flanders, which was a third of that originally planned. Still, already March 30th, orders had been
issued to start sending the artillery north for phase two of the offensives. General Max Hoffman would write of the situation
with the German army, (Undone), “…that it could not take Amiens, in other words,
that the breakthrough had not succeeded… should also have realized that decisive victory
on the Western Front was no longer within reach… it was its bounden duty to tell the
government that the time had come to begin negotiations.” But the war proceeded in plenty of places
away from the western Front. The Germans landed 30,000 troops in Finland
this week, and the Finnish White Guard captured Tampere. The German troops are there at White invitation
and say operations are confined to Finland and they will not enter Russia. But others were, in fact, entering Russia. This week, the Japanese and British land at
Vladivostok. These men were the first of what would be
a decent sized force sent in to help the White Russians in Siberia. The British were still attacking in the Middle
East as well. Trying to take Amman on the Palestine front. They withdrew March 30th, though, after receiving
misleading intelligence reports that 15,000 Ottoman troops were heading for the town. In fact, the British abandoned their plans
to even hold on to es Salt and they retreated back across the River Jordan April 2nd, followed
by 5,000 mostly Christian refugees, who were worried about Ottoman reprisals. The British took around 1,200 casualties in
the failed action on Amman. Remember, though, British General Edmunds
Allenby had launched his offensive the same day that all hell broke loose on the western
front, so by now the British War Office had told Allenby that its plans to send him troops
from Mesopotamia were cancelled, and that men and artillery were going to be taken from
him instead and sent to France as soon as possible. He was to now adopt a policy of active defense. But those troops in Mesopotamia were still
active in the field. This week, they entered Ana and then pursued
the Ottomans, taking 5,000 prisoners and lots of munitions. And here is a note to end the week. On April 1st, Britain formed the Royal Air
Force from merging the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service. It was the first independent air force – an
air force independent of army or navy control. And the week ends, and as it does so to does
Operation Michael, that for all of its successes, was still ultimately a failure. The British had a failure of their own in
Palestine, a success in Mesopotamia, and a consolidation in the skies. And there were scenes of looting in Northern
France. Now, I don’t know what goes through your
mind when you hear of soldiers looting. I have to admit, that when I hear it or read
it, whichever army it is that’s doing the looting, I first think, “that’s terrible,
it’s so barbaric”, and then I remind myself, millions of men are blowing each other up,
gassing each other, and lighting each other on fire, and I think stealing chickens is
barbaric? The cognitive dissonance is enormous because
modern war is so damn impersonal. If you want to learn more about Oskar von
Hutier and the German Infantry tactics of 1918, you can click right here for our special
about that. Our Patreon supporter of the week is Oleg
Krokhmal. Thank you for your support on Patreon, it
makes these shiny map animations better and you all want these, I know you do. Don’t forget to subscribe, see you next
time.

100 thoughts on “Operation Michael Runs Out Of Breath I THE GREAT WAR Week 193”

  1. A question to the team and give flo a raise!!!! What was the effect of the Spanish flu having on both sides and what version was it? I know one of the later version was hitting the troops very badly esp the Germans due to poor or no food and with them being very under weight but not sure when that fully kick in and effect the troops of both sides?

  2. Hey indie If they had guns to shoot all the way to Paris why didn’t they just aim them a Amiens. Wouldn’t they be helpful in taking it.

  3. I enjoy every episode and have for years, but this one seemed better some how. I loved the animation of showing the ground the Germans had taken, but also pointing out that it left them vulnerable with the expanded lines. I'm kind of sad we're only 7 months away from this journey coming to an end.

  4. When the enemy does it, it's looting. It's stealing. It's a crime and it's wrong. When your side does it, it's foraging, which was an ancient way of having your army not starve to death.

  5. I believe you said 30,000 German troops landed in Finland, it was only 13,000. Ostsee-Division sailed from Gdansk to Hanko and a smaller force from Tallin landed in Loviisa under Rüdiger von der Goltz and Otto von Brandenstein respectively. While the Ostsee-Division did behave themselves in Hanko, they did loot the famous Hangon Keksi biscuit factory.

  6. 8:21 apparently their flight simulator consisted of the guy making NNNNNEEEEEOOOOOOWWWWWWWWWW noises while in the seat

  7. Wow, Indie. Your Humanitarianism or plain Humanism really places a valuable perspective on the conditions of war.

  8. Hey Guys I have a question for out of the trenches. How much did the royal mail impact moral and the soldiers themselves on western front and everywhere where the soldiers were based? And how efficient was the service?

  9. Indi, Flo not sure if you are aware the story of how the RAF got their light blue/grey uniform colour due to the Russians cancelling an order that was originally meant to go to Imperial Cavalry, so could be purchased by British cheaply.

  10. Given that the German assault divisions were supposed to always keep pushing and even to fight with captured enemy weapons they were probably also expected to loot allied supplies instead of carrying their own.

  11. We're almost done.  Can't wait for them to start on WW2.  Which they should be able to start in 2019 since the war started in Sept of 1939.

  12. It's crazy looking at it after the fact but at this point no one though the war would be over in just over 7 months.

  13. In 1918 was the American army even trained and strong enough to knock out Germany I mean maybe if Germany didn’t launch the spring offensive those extra men could have been used for tight defense against the allies

  14. Hey Indy, How can I e-mail you? I have important material to share from the 38th Infantry Regiment From The Second Battle of The Marne. A response would be appreciated. Thank you!

  15. what was the point it wasn't even an English war it was a Serbian conflict we should of just left them to it. Yeh ok the French would have been quonqerd but let's face it that ain't a hard thing to do now is it

  16. Even if France fell, maybe followed by Italy, I just don't see Britain and America immediately coming to terms with the Central Powers. Also, all three of Germany's allies were tottering by this point, only (barely) kept standing by German help.

  17. During this offensive what is Austria Hungary doing? Just sitting on the Piave waiting to lose the war?

  18. Of course, the chickens being looted may be a major source of food for some civilian family who have nothing left to feed themselves once the war passes them again.

  19. "…but if they could get in range[of Amiens], they could shell it and split the British from the French."

    Why not use the Paris guns? THOSE had more than enough range, and shelling Paris at this point in the advance doesnt really help.

  20. "We found stacks of egg,bread and bear on the way to Amien.. when the war ended, I will send some home.." —-narrated by a German soldier before battle of Amien….

  21. Looting is one thing but isn't it usually accompanied by raping? Looting also often condemn civilians to a slow death by lack of food, medical supplies, oil and coal, etc…

  22. Thanks Indy
    Great job.
    Will be visiting the fields of Flandres again….
    First time at the museum at (the bone house)….
    I had not thought about casualitys.
    At the museum there was a most horrendus display of what happened to the "casualitys"
    Those who was wounded
    I strongly recomend a visit to that museum.
    You may be Gung-Ho going in…..
    You`ll leave with a sour taste in your mouth…..
    War ain`t heroic.
    Neraly everybodie dies.
    Or get maimed.
    Medals are providied.
    To those who are alive at the end.
    Thanks for a great show!
    Flo u r fantastic!
    Cheers guys!

  23. To put into perspective the WW1 German failure to take Amiens, in 1940 German tanks reached the edge of the city on May 20, just 10 days after their offensive started (heavy fighting in the area, including with British, meant the city did not conclusively fall until June 8).

  24. My question here is, what if instead of shelling Paris with the Paris gun, why didn't they shelled Amiens or the railway, that was their main objective? That could have saved them lots of men an also they could have entered and take Amiens without much resistance due to the shelling that would have left the Allied troops without a fast supply system.

  25. Did the French and British refer to there alliance as the "Entente" during the war or the "Allies" like they did during WW2?

  26. An amazing piece of history. Just how soldiers break through the lines and then start eating and drinking because they had such shortages. And I really love your final note, Indy! In Finland a civil war between reds and whites broke out as well. In Helsinki there is this bridge covered with German bullet holes. When I spoke to some Fins they believed the Finish Civil War still has some controversies till this day. Would be awesome if you guys touched on that!

  27. Do guys have thing about the battle of La Lys? Today in Portugal news, this battle was remembered in Paris along our President of Republic. Was this battle a big deal or was just another example of the poor World War 1 Portuguese Western European front campaign?

  28. Man, I hope the Germans pick it up. I was so optimistic with their chances that I even bet some money on them to win the war.

  29. Finally caught up to all the episodes, it took me a month. And what's the better news? Turns out I might not have to learn German.

  30. The problem with looting is not that the soldiers are stealing, but that discipline has evaporated. The core concept of any army is, "When I tell you to kill, I expect you to kill. When I tell you to stop, I expect you to stop." Soldiers who are looting become armed gangs. They become a danger to themselves and all others. Also, they become defenseless against organized adversaries.

  31. I wonder why they never used the Paris Guns to provide fire support for Operation Michael and other offensives.

  32. Moving and letting armies fight over long periods is a logistical challenge. Hence the kaiserschlacht fell short, it’s not the propagandistic left movement at home, it was simply the fact that the German army just did not have wether a plan of what to do in a breakthrough and a logistical power to have their troops running. A strategic masterpiece but too late and at this stage of war desperate since the Ressources were rare.
    Btw looting is bad and barbaric? What do you think the glorified Roman legions, army of Alexander had to do on their conquests? The same the deviled Mongol horde had to do to keep their logistics running – seize what the country gives you to keep the army going

  33. Imagine sitting in a trench for six months. You're short on food, short on fuel, and short on ammunition.
    Finally, you are called for what you are told is the last great offensive, and you attack, taking thousands of casualties.
    You succeed in breaking the enemy line, and behind their lines, in their supply depots, you come across a veritable horde of food, medicine, ammunition, and booze. More food than you have seen in years.
    I think at that point, you might just say, "To heck with it," and sit down to a nice meal, and a bottle or three.

  34. This is offtopic, but I'm thinking about maybe reread "Rilla of Ingleside" once this series finishes.

  35. Quick offensevies require quick supplies and even quicker chain of command. Or else it's another legendary falkenhayen offeneseive let's bleed the enemies out, when only one left to bleed is Germany and amount of land makes for less potienonal farms and more bleeding kills farm boys…

  36. I have always seen land warfare much more primitive than that on sea. In case of WW1 that primitiveness though having all industrial support was remarkable. And armies were commanded by old men having ideas of 1870's society.

  37. This episode focuses on what Von Clausewitz termed the Kulminationspunkt or "Culminating Point" of an offensive. It is an inevitable exhaustion that is the necessary result of the limitations of the human condition in an army. including logistical and political conditions. Classic examples: Napoleon at Moscow, Patton's stall in France in Sep '44, the "operational pause" due to severe sandstorm in Iraq, March 23-27. 2003.

  38. @9:15 The looting is seen as more barbaric then the killing in the fields. The same thing happened in the American Civil War. Grant killed far more Southern soldiers, but it is Sherman that is vilified by the Confederates for burning down barns and stealing chickens.

  39. Because modern war is so damn impersonal.

    Couldn't have said it better Indy! Much ink was spilled over stolen chickens and pilfered cows (which is awful) but only loved ones are there to rage for their lost young men.

  40. Why do I get the impression that, tactically, the offensive was a success but, logistically (and therefore strategically), it was a fail? Between the problem of logistics and the seeming absence of tactical or strategic objectives for most of these battles that have been fought, it seems like the leaders were, indeed, fighting a 19th century war with 20th century weapons. Defeat the enemy army, occupy the capital, dictate the peace. Neither the generals nor the politicians seem to have given much thought beyond that. Logistics would become the bane of the German army again 20+ years later.

  41. Would've been interesting if you had mentioned when the finnish jägers left for and arrived in Finland, seeing as we had a '100 years since' event last year where both finnish and german troops (probably less than 400 total, but hey) marching through Vasa

  42. Your comments about looting just reminded me of a chapter in a book "Flashman and the dragon" I think it is in. One of a series of Flashman books by George MacDonald Fraser based on a dubious and lucky British officer Harry Flashman who turns up in all sorts of real life 19th century war's and bumbles his way through them. In the chapter he is describing the quality of the looting by French troops as they take the Chinese Imperial city. I remember a phrase about the the soldiers being son's of men who fought for Napoleon and had turned looting into an art form.

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