Remembering the ‘pivotal’ summer of 1918

Remembering the ‘pivotal’ summer of 1918

The great Allied victory turned out to be the first of a string of major successes

The summer of 1918 was a pivotal time in the horrific First World War.

In the early spring, the German army had launched an enormous offensive. The great assault was bolstered with large numbers of new troops transferred from the Eastern Front after the new Bolshevik (Communist) government had pulled Russia out of the War.

Initially, the German spring offensive had impressive results.

The Germans were able to push the front lines southward and westward with the largest advances by any side since the opening weeks of the War in 1914.

However, by July, the German advances had faltered and then stopped. One of the greatest problems was that the German army had been unable to forward supplies fast enough to keep up with the rapidly advancing troops.

More importantly, while both sides had suffered heavy losses, the German forces were exhausted. Morale plunged as the early successes faded. There was little optimism that the German army would be able to secure new resources once the transfers from the Eastern Front were complete. On the other hand, the Allies were bolstered by fresh troops from the United States, which had entered the War in 1917.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Expeditionary Force (C.E.F.) had earned one of the best reputations of any forces along the Western Front. The Canadians had won three notable victories during 1917 – at Vimy Ridge, Hill 70 and Passchendaele. Consequently, the Canadians were considered amongst the very best assault troops with soldiers of exceptional skill and bravery.

However, this superior reputation had been earned at an enormous cost.

The Canadians had suffered more than 35,000 casualties in these three epic battles. During the great German spring offensive, the C.E.F. suffered another 9,000 casualties.

By July 1918, the Allied High Command began to develop plans to launch a major counter offensive.

A significant decision was made to move the Canadians to the centre of the planned battle lines, immediately south of the Australians, who were also considered to be amongst the very best assault troops along the Western Front.

Meanwhile, on July 1st, 1918, the Canadian forces celebrated Dominion (Canada) Day in an impressive style. More than 50,000 Canadian soldiers assembled at Tincques, a village near Arras, for a huge sports day and other festivities. Among the dignitaries present were Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden, several members of his cabinet, the Duke of Connaught (the Governor General of Canada from 1911 to 1916) and the American chief commander, General John J. Pershing.

This highly successful celebration demonstrated the enormous pride felt by the Canadian Corps, but also the sense of Canadian nationhood that had developed during the War.

Moreover, there had been some attempts to break up the Canadians into reinforcement units, particularly during the early desperate days of the German spring offensive.

However, the Allied High Command now agreed that the best strategy was to keep the Canadians as a unified Corps and to use that unified force as a major component in a crucial offensive.

The great assault commenced on Aug. 8th, 1918, near the French city of Amiens. The successes, particularly by the Canadians and Australians, were truly impressive.

A huge hole was punched through the German defences. The Germans were taken by such surprise with the rapidity and success of the Canadian advances that German officers and administrative staff were captured while they were still eating breakfast.

The great victory came at a heavy cost.

Over the three days of battle, the Canadians suffered more than 3,800 casualties. However, this was much less than what had been lost in earlier battles. In contrast, the Germans suffered more than 30,000 casualties, with many others being taken prisoners of war.

German morale was permanently shattered. German General Eric Ludendorff described the commencement of the Battle of Amiens as the, “Black day of the German Army in the history of the War.”

The great Allied victory turned out to be the first of a string of major successes, collectively known as The 100 Days. This finally brought the horrific First World War to a close, with an Allied victory, on Nov. 11th, 1918.