Remembering the ‘Spring Offensive’

Spring of 1918 a pivotal time in the horrific First World War

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

The conflict had dragged on since the summer of 1914.

During that time, despite the losses of millions of lives, very little had changed along the Western Front. The huge opposing armies were in a stalemate, with each side well-defended in an intricate network of trenches and neither side able to secure any sort of prolonged advantage over the other.

The Canadian Expeditionary Force (C.E.F.) had won three notable victories during 1917 – at Vimy Ridge, Hill 70 and Passchendaele.

While each of these victories had earned the Canadians the reputation as some of the very best assault troops on the Western Front – soldiers of exceptional skill and bravery – very little else was achieved.

The front lines did not move very much. Moreover, the Canadians had suffered more than 35,000 casualties in these three epic battles.

Passchendaele, in particular, epitomized the general futility of the War.

The Canadians basically moved the lines from one side of a large swamp/marsh to the other side where the village of Passchendaele was located.

The front shifted forward by only 9.5km (six miles). Nothing of true strategic importance was captured, even though the Canadians had suffered 15,564 casualties.

Sir Winston Churchill later summed up Passchendaele as a, “Forlorn expenditure of valour and life without equal in futility.”

Meanwhile, things were looking better for the German military.

Russia collapsed into revolution in late 1917 and the new Bolshevik (communist) government pulled out of the War. That allowed the German army to shift millions of men westwards to bolster the fatigued divisions in the trenches of the Western Front.

The United States had entered the War in April 1917, but had not been able to send many men overseas yet.

The German High Command reasonably concluded that the time was ripe for one more massive offensive in France and Flanders that might bring the long-sought victory in the War.

On March 21st, 1918, the Germans launched their great assault, initially dubbed Operation Michael.

They initially had great success. The German attacks were made more effective through the use of open warfare tactics honed on the Eastern Front.

In particular, the Germans used stormtrooper units which were highly mobile and could quickly advance when exploiting gaps and weak points in the Allied defences.

The Germans also effectively used creeping artillery barrages immediately ahead of their advancing troops. It was a tactic that had been used with excellent results by the Canadians in their capture of Vimy Ridge in April 1917.

Within a relatively short period of time, the Germans had been able to push the front lines southward and westward with the largest advances by any side since 1914.

On March 30th, 1918, the British attempted to halt the German advance at the Arve River. The Canadian Cavalry Brigade was deployed to push the 23 Saxon Division out of Moreuil Wood.

The fighting was fierce and the casualties on both sides were heavy.

During the battle, C Squadron of the Lord Strathcona Horse, commanded by Lieutenant Gordon Flowerdew, launched a cavalry charge against the Germans.

This heroic action is often referred to as, ‘The Last Great Cavalry Charge’.

The losses of Canadians were horrific.

The unit of the L.S.H. suffered a casualty rate of 75%. Lieut. Flowerdew himself was fatally wounded. Nevertheless, the German advance was stemmed at this point in the Front.

Flowerdew was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his incredible valour.

As the spring continued, the great German offensive 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.

In the end, both sides had suffered heavy losses and were exhausted.

However, the Allies, bolstered by fresh American troops, soon launched a successful counter-attack. The depleted German forces were unable to stem the assault. It finally seemed that the Great War might be coming to an end.

Just Posted

WATCH: Red Deer commemorates National Indigenous Peoples Day

Citizens take part in activities throughout the week

Red Deer RCMP investigate armed robbery at pharmacy

Suspect wielded a handgun, demanding staff member to open the safe

WATCH: Mellisa Hollingsworth highlights Special Olympics Celebrity Breakfast

Olympic Bronze Medalist from Central Alberta shared her journey with a packed house

Court full as schools, parents dispute Alberta gay-straight alliance law

Justice Centre argues keeping parents out of the loop violates freedom of religion and expression

Marijuana to be legal in Canada Oct. 17: Trudeau

Prime Minister made the announcement during question period in the House of Commons

WATCH: Loads of summer events await Central Albertans

From CentreFest to Westerner Days, there will much to explore this season

A look at what Canadian teams might do in the 1st round of the NHL draft

Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver and Edmonton in top 10 of upcoming draft

Koko, the gorilla who knew sign language, dies at 46

Western lowland gorilla, 46, died in her sleep in California

Clearview and Wolf Creek school boards sign historic agreement

Partnership will help 2,000 high school students

Trudeau says he can’t imagine Trump damaging U.S. by imposing auto tariffs

New tariffs on Canadian autos entering the U.S. would amount to a self-inflicted wound on the U.S. economy

B.C. inmate gets 2 years in prison for assault on guard

Union rep said inmate sucker punched correctional officer, continued assault after officer fell

Temperature records broken across B.C., again

The first heat wave of the season went out with a bang across the province

Canada’s first national accessibility law tabled in Ottawa

The introduction of the Accessible Canada Act marked a key step towards greater inclusion

Police chief calls for mass casualty plan in Saskatchewan after Broncos crash

Former Saskatoon police chief Clive Weighill said the office was tasked with creating such a plan 13 years ago but none exists

Most Read