The Naval Order of 24 October 1918 and the Kiel Mutiny

By late October 1918, the Allied victories during Hundred Days Offensive tore huge gaps in the Hindenburg Line on the Western Front and the German Army conducted a fighting retreat to shorten their lines and hopefully reestablish a defense. The Austro-Hungarian Empire dissolved and with it Germany’s food and oil supply. Morale plummeted among both the military at the front and the civilians at home. Erich von Ludendorff knew he needed to “restore the valor” of the military in order to stop the Allied offensive and gain an acceptable negotiated peace. To convince the retreating German Army that this was truly the “Endkampf” or “Final Battle”, a valiant sacrifice was needed, one worthy of emulation. The German High Seas Fleet would provide that sacrifice.

Without approval by the government (because it would certainly be denied) and despite vehement objections by the Chief of the German Admiralty, Adm Reinhard Scheer, Ludendorff issued the Naval Order of 24 October 1918 to the commander of the High Seas Fleet Adm Franz von Hipper. Hipper was warned of the order two days before and began concentrating the fleet at Schillig Roads off Wilhelmshaven. The concentration itself was break from the norm which didn’t bode well for the sailors.

The High Seas Fleet last saw serious action at the Battle of Jutland two years before and had sortied only three times since then, conspicuously returning to port without engaging any Allied ships each time. After the Battle of Jutland, the High Seas Fleet was no match for the British Grand Fleet, especially after the addition of four American battleships, so it sought to avoid contact with their British adversary. However, that did nothing for the morale of the average German sailor who toiled under bad conditions and ruthless discipline while conditions at home and news from the front grew steadily worse.

Rumors swirled below decks as to the reason for the concentration. On 29 October 1918, the crews’ worst nightmares were confirmed: The German High Seas Fleet was to sortie and engage the British in a decisive battle that could only end with their glorious destruction. That night, several crews of the capital ships at Schillig Roads refused orders to weigh anchor and some began sabotaging equipment and machinery. Sailors on shore leave refused to return to their ships and had to be forcibly returned. Mass insubordination occurred on at least seven ships. It took three days, and loyal sailors from torpedo boats, U-boats and minesweepers, before control was restored. Nevertheless, Admiral Hipper ordered the operation cancelled. Ludendorff was cashiered by the Kaiser when he learned of the Wilhelmshaven mutiny. The most mutinous squadron, the Third Naval Squadron, was ordered to return to Kiel in order to isolate them from the rest of the High Seas Fleet.

Kiel was not an optimal choice for the mutineers’ ships to harbor. Kiel had a long history of socialist and workers’ agitation stemming from the Russian Revolution of the previous year. The addition of the crews of the mutinous ships to the city proved to be the spark needed for open rebellion. Mass demonstrations and riots were organized and soldiers, sailors, and workers’ councils took over the ships and the city. Imprisoned mutineers were freed, but the demands for “Peace and Bread” were not forthcoming. German troops resorted to firing into the protesters which only enflamed the crowds and caused many soldiers to desert and join the mutineers. By 3 November, red flags replaced the Imperial German ensign on the fleet’s masts. On the 4th Kiel was controlled by more than 40,000 workers, sailors, and soldiers and the mutiny had spread back to Wilhelmshaven. That evening, their leaders met at the Kiel Union House and formed a ruling council. The council issued demands for a “social, liberal, and democratic” political system.

The successful Kiel Mutiny inspired countless other mutinies, revolts, and defections on the Western Front and in the town and cities behind the frontlines, and quickly spread as far south Munich by the 7th. On the 9th, Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated. Almost immediately, a democratic republic was announced, and 30 minutes later its first vote turned the nascent democratic republic into a socialist republic, which tore the country apart. The German Revolution continued until the Weimar Republic was established in August of 1919. Peace talks with the Allies commenced on the 10th, the day after the Kaiser abdicated, and an armistice ending the fighting began at 11 am on 11 November 1918.

The Kiel Mutiny and the uprisings it inspired gave rise to the “Stab in the back” legend that the German Army was not defeated on the battlefield in the First World War but by civilian agitators at home. German Nationalists and National Socialists promulgated the patently false legend later in the 1920s, which combined with the denouncement of the onerous (to Germans) clauses of the Treaty of Versailles, caused significant political gain for them, leading directly to the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Second World War.

Pope John Paul II

Just a little over a month after he was elected Pope of the Catholic Church and sovereign of Vatican City, Pope John Paul I died in his bed on 28 September 1978. Two weeks later on 16 October the Second Papal Conclave of 1978 elected Pope John Paul II after two days of deliberations. Pope John Paul II was the greatest Roman Catholic Pope of the modern age.

Born Karol Wojtyla outside of Krakow, Poland, he was the son of a Polish Army noncommissioned officer and attended university in Krakow where he studied history and languages until the Nazis closed it down in 1939. By 1941, his entire family was killed by the Germans, but Wojkyla survived by taking jobs in factories that got him exempted from the random detention and execution of Polish civilians. He spent his free time studying at an underground seminary while protecting and hiding Polish Jews from the Nazis.

After the war, Wojtyla was ordained a priest and spent the next 30 years in the difficult position of an outspoken Roman Catholic in a country dominated by Communism. His unpretentious demeanor and wise counsel earned him the nickname “Uncle” which his parishioners and peers used until he was elected Pope in 1978, when he took the name John Paul II.

Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in 500 years, and one of the youngest and healthiest. He had a worldly view that contrasted greatly with previous popes. Pope John Paul II spoke eight languages fluently and was the most widely traveled pope in history. He spent much energy repairing relations with the other world religions and was the first Pope ever to pray in a mosque. Pope John Paul II was not against contraception for health reasons i.e. to prevent the spread of HIV, and routinely affirmed Catholicism’s stance that evolution and creationism are not mutually exclusive. He publicly apologized for many of Roman Catholicism’s historical sins, and the first ever papal email was sent apologizing for the church sex abuse scandals.

Despite this, Pope John Paul II was hated throughout much of the world due to his staunch and outspoken nature against totalitarianism. He specifically decried Apartheid in South Africa, the Mafia in southern Italy, Latin and South American dictators, Socialist Liberation Theology, and was the one of the few world leaders with the courage to call the fighting in Rwanda what it was: genocide. He was a consistent opponent of war in general, but more importantly, Pope John Paul II was the world’s moral leader against Communism.

He survived numerous attempts at humiliation (a favored tactic of socialists) and two actual assassination attempts, one of which was bankrolled by the KGB, due to his voracious anti-communism. His homilies and sermons on the evils of Communism and Socialism gave hope to hundreds of millions of oppressed people around the world, particularly in Eastern Europe. Most historians agree with Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walesa and former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, both of whom said that without Pope John Paul II there would have been no Solidarity, and without Solidarity there would not have been the Fall of the Iron Curtain and Berlin Wall in 1989.

In 2004, Pope John Paul II was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and died in the Vatican on 2 April 2005. On 8 April 2005, four million people packed into Rome, St Peter’s Square, and the Vatican to attend the funeral of Pope John Paul II. His funeral is the single largest gathering in the history of Christendom. It was attended by over 90 heads of state, and in a historical anomaly, was attended by the spiritual leaders of 14 of the world’s largest religions, including Islam, Judaism, the various Protestant denominations, and Eastern Orthodoxy. It was the first time the Archbishop of Canterbury attended Catholic Mass since the 16th Century, and the first time the Patriarch attended a papal funeral since the Great Schism between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches a thousand years before.

He was canonized St. John Paul II on 27 April 2014.

Black Thursday: The Bombers Don’t Always Get Through… Again

On 14 October 1943, the Eighth United States Army Air Force launched Mission 115, the second raid on Schweinfurt, Germany to destroy the production of ball bearings, a key bottle neck in the German wartime economy. Nearly 350 B-17 Flying Fortresses of the US 91st, 92nd, 305th, 306th, 379th Bomb Groups made the raid. Because of the distance to Schweinfurt from their bases in Great Britain, there were no escorting fighters for a portion of the raid.
Like the previous raid on Schweinfurt in August, this was also a disaster. 60 B-17s were shot down by Luftwaffe fighters and flak defenses around the city, 17 more were so damaged they were scrapped, and 125 more were damaged. Most bombs fell on massive sheets of cloth spread on farm fields which were painted to look like factories from the air. Those bombs that did actually hit their targets only disrupted German production of ball bearings for six weeks. On-hand stocks easily kept up with the demand during that time.
The Eighth Air Force was crippled for the next four months and did not resume serious operations until new Merlin-engined P-51 Mustang long range fighters could provide escort to the bombers all the way to the target and back. The idea that a heavy bomber could adequately defend itself against determined defensive fighter attack was found to be wanting, once and for all. Douhet’s theory that bombers could win the war all by themselves exemplified by the quote “the bomber will always get through” was relegated to the dustbin of history… Well, at least until a new shinier version was proposed in 1947… and 1973… and 1999…

The Battle of Zama

In 218 BCE during the Second Punic War, the Carthaginian general Hannibal Barca crossed the Pyrenees and then the Alps onto the Italian Peninsula. He proceeded to defeat the Roman Republic in a series of stunning battles, including his masterpiece, the double envelopment at Cannae. However, Hannibal could not capture Rome due to his lack of siege equipment, the guerilla tactics of Roman general Fabius Maximus, and the resilience of the Roman system that kept pumping out citizen armies to face the Carthaginians.
After a 16 year impasse, Roman general Publius Cornelius Scipio attacked and conquered all of Hannibal’s Iberian possessions, and in 203 BCE crossed into North Africa to take the fight to Carthage. Hannibal was recalled from the Italian peninsula to face him. On 15, 16 or 19 October, 202 BCE, Scipio and Hannibal met on the plains of Zama, outside of modern day Tunis.
Hannibal outnumbered Scipio in infantry, although the mercenary quality of the Carthaginian army was less than the veteran Roman citizens in their legions. Hannibal also had 80 war elephants but Scipio had more and better cavalry due to his Numidian allies. At the start of the battle, Hannibal unleashed his elephants but the Romans were prepared. They blew their horns loudly which terrified the elephants and some rampaged back through the Carthaginian left. Scipio also ordered gaps in the formation and any elephants that continued to charge were simply let through the lines and dispatched later. The battle then joined and the legions held. Roman and Numidian cavalry routed the remains of Hannibal’s left wing and then fell upon the Carthaginians from behind. 20,000 Carthaginian soldiers were killed and another 20,000 captured.
After the battle, Scipio asked his guest Hannibal who were the three greatest generals in history. Hannibal replied either Alexander of Macedonia or Pyrrhus of Epirus, and then himself. Scipio, slightly jealous, then asked if that would be so had he won the battle. Hannibal graciously replied then he would be the greatest, mollifying Scipio by implying that he had defeated someone more talented than Alexander the Great.
The Roman victory at Zama removed the last peer competitor to the Romans in the western and central Mediterranean basin and gave them free rein in the area for the next 500 years.

The Uprising at Sobibor

By the summer of 1943, Operation Reinhardt, Adolf Hitler’s “Final Solution” to his identity politics’ first victim, the Jews, was almost complete: nearly two million Jews in the General Government (German occupied Poland) were killed in industrialized ethnic extermination. National Socialist bureaucrats and technocrats led by SS wunderkind Reinhard Heydrich devised a plan in 1942 to exterminate “non-desirables” as efficiently as possible in order purify Germany of the so-called “untermensch” or “sub-humans”. To this end the National Socialists established three major death camps and an entire support system to liquidate the Third Reich’s Jews and political opponents, Sobibor being the least well known of its murderous sisters: Belzec and Treblinka. By mid-1943, the Jews of Germany and the General Government had almost completely disappeared. Victims had to be sought from elsewhere. In order to maintain the “quotas”, trains full of Jews from as far away as the Netherlands were packed off to the extermination camp at Sobibor in eastern Poland. The National Socialists were running out of Jews to murder in their occupied territories.

The trains from the west arrived with less frequency, and the Jews of the Sonderkommando knew their turn was soon. The Sonderkommando was composed of healthy and skilled Jews taken from the masses of those on the way to “the showers” who could assist the Nazis in running the camp under pain of death. They were sorters of the deads’ possessions, the burners and buriers of their bodies, and the labouers who performed the menial tasks of the camp under the watchful eyes of its Ukrainian guards. (As for the Ukrainians, they had to make a choice between the socialism of Stalin, which starved 8 million Ukrainians to death in 1937/38 or the socialism of Hitler which would murder just as many later in 1941-43.) With no choice but to comply or be killed, the Jews of the Sonderkommando survived to the best of their ability. In the spring of 1943, a “kapo” (a forced Jewish guard that the Nazi’s used to divide the Jewish community) arrived at Sobibor on a train from the recently closed death camp at Belzec, and confirmed what the Sonderkommando at Sobibor suspected: once the camp was closed the Jews who were forced to assist in its administration were killed.

On 14 October, 1943, the Sonderkommando of the Sobibor Death Camp rose up against their jailers and torturers. A Soviet-Jewish Red Army prisoner of war who survived the extermination at Minsk, Lieutenant Alexander Perchesky led the attempted mass escape at Sobibor. The original plan was to silently kill the 16 National Socialist SS overseers, and while the Ukrainian guards were confused, walk out the main gate with all 600 Sonderkommando, and escape into the forest. What actually happened will never be known. Perchesky and his Jewish confederates killed eleven SS administrators and seized the camps armory, but they could not execute their plan. The SS were mostly killed silently but eventually the guards were alerted, and many of the Sonderkommando were killed in the ensuing confusion. Most Jews in the camp were unaware of the plan. Nonetheless, their situation was dire enough that they participated at the moment of decision. 300 of the 600 remaining Jews of Sobibor escaped into the nearby forest, where many joined Polish and Jewish resistance groups. Unfortunately, most, but not all, escapees were subsequently recaptured and shot by the SS and their lackeys.

The Escape from Sobibor was such a stain on National Socialist honor that the chief of the SS, Heinrich Himmler ordered the camp closed. He wanted the camp as anonymous as the 250,000 victims were that passed through. The buildings of Sobibor were bulldozed and pine trees planted over top. The gas chambers were torn down and a road built on their foundations. By 1944, there was no sign the Death Camp of Sobibor existed.

Like every atrocity, victims survive. Some went on and fought in Polish and Soviet partisan units, some just fled. The survivors emigrated to America, Brazil, and Israel, and were instrumental bringing their German National Socialists and their Ukrainian enablers to trial. The Uprising at Sobibor was the greatest mass escape in the history of the Holocaust.

The Yom Kippur War

During the Six Day War of 1967, Israel routed Syria, Jordan and Egypt and occupied the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights and the West Bank in order to provide a buffer against further Arab attacks. Six years later the humiliated Arab states were seething for revenge. On 6 October 1973, Arab armies, mostly from Egypt and Syria, launched Operation Badr, an attack on Israel while most of the Israeli Defense Force was on leave for the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. The attack was a complete surprise to Israel.

To make matters worse, the Arabs were well equipped with new Soviet equipment including tanks, planes, infrared night vision, surface-to-air missiles, and anti-tank guided missiles (which were making their first appearance on the modern battlefield). The Israeli Defense Force’s initial losses were devastating. Egypt ingeniously penetrated the Israeli defenses along the Suez Canal by using high pressure water to “cut” through Israeli sand berms and then quickly pursued Israeli troops into the Sinai. Moreover, Syrian armour nearly broke out of the Golan Heights. Had it not been for determined and near-fanatical resistance, hard decisions on the use of reserves, and ad hoc counterattacks, the Syrians would have penetrated into the hills of Galilee and the cities of Israel’s northern coastal plain beyond. For the next 19 days, the largest air and armored battles since the Battle of Kursk during the Second World War took place.

Israel’s initial counterattacks were disastrous, but they did buy time for reserves to mobilize. The fighting was so bad that Israel seriously considered using its then-secret small nuclear arsenal to stop the advancing Arab nations, especially Egypt. However, a combination of hard fighting, Israeli airpower, Arab mistakes and their unwillingness to move beyond their static SAM belts allowed Israel to blunt the offensive and counterattack. Eventually, the Egyptians in the Sinai were surrounded and Cairo was threatened. The Syrian Army was broken and only the Iraqi and Jordanian armies prevented Israel from seizing Damascus. The war ended with a ceasefire on 25 October.

The Israelis however had suffered horrendous losses and the Arab armies acquitted themselves well. Israel found itself a new respect for the Arab armies, in particular Egypt’s and would eventually sign a peace accord as military equals. In the United States, military leaders still reeling from a decade of war in Vietnam, saw the Yom Kippur War as a validation of tank and artillery-centric conventional war. This perception was reinforced in 1975, when North Vietnam overran South Vietnam, not through a popular insurgency, but from a conventional attack with massed tanks, infantry, artillery and airpower. For the next 33 years after the Yom Kippur War, future American doctrine would completely disregard the counter-insurgency lessons of Vietnam and focus on the conventional warfare exemplified by the Yom Kippur War.

The Battle of Marsaglia

After the Ottoman threat to the Hapsburg Holy Roman Empire diminished in the late 1680s, the Holy League turned its attention to Louis XIV’s France, who seized territory at the expense of the Christian nations of Europe fighting the Turks. They wanted to curb and roll back France’s expansion into the Low Countries and territories beyond the east bank of the Rhine, and solidify William of Orange’s victory in the Glorious Revolution to prevent Louis XIV from restoring James II to England’s thrown. To this end they formed the League of Augsburg, better known as the “Grand Alliance” in 1688 of the Holy Roman Empire, England, Scotland, the Dutch Republic, Sweden, and eventually Spain and the Italian state of Savoy. The War of the League of Augsburg, better known in North America as “King William’s War”, was fought over the next nine years and involved fighting on five continents and on the seas in between

Though Louis XIV’s massively expanded army won magnificent sieges and glorious battles, his marshals failed to reap any decisive reward. (Tis the problem with offensive operations by a force operating with interior lines of communication. See the Army of the Potomac after Gettysburg, spoiler: Lee escaped.) The Dauphin’s operations in Swabia in the spring of 1693 sputtered, and Louis’ advisors convinced the king to support newly promoted Marshal Catinat across the Alps in Italy. Catinat was then organizing an army to relieve the operationally vital city of Pinerolo in the Piedmont then invested by Duke Victor Amadeus II of Savoy, who was himself reinforced by Imperial troops. Louis agreed and sent his elite Gendarme galloping south.

On the morning of 4 October 1693, the Duke of Savoy lined up his polyglot army against the French relief force outside the village of Marsaglia. Savoy’s pan-European army included Milanese cavalry and Hungarian hussars (the first hussars in Western Europe, and soon adopted by all nations), Bavarian and German infantry, Savoyard, Spanish, Lombard and Neapolitan troops, Waldensian and Huguenot refugees, and Swiss, English and Flemish mercenaries. However, the language difficulties and uneven quality of Savoy’s troops allowed Catinat the time to organize his army so it could target specific points in Savoy’s line. Prior to the battle, Catinat meticulously arranged his line so there was overmatch by professional French units against lesser Allied formations. That morning, Savoy assaulted the French line, and was handily repulsed by the new regimental efficiency of the reformed French army.

Soon thereafter, the French counterattack broke Savoy’s army.

On the left, the heavy cavalry of the Gendarme under the Duke de Vendôme in a legendary countercharge scattered the Allies to their front in the midst of their own charge and then, without breaking stride, fell upon the Allied center in the flank. In the center, the Irish Brigade, consisting of Irish soldiers under French command by treaty (for an equal number of French soldiers fighting the English in Ireland), smashed through the Allied line. Concurrently, the entire French line surged forward in the first massed bayonet charge with socketed bayonets in history. Savoy’s army was destroyed in detail.

Duke Victor Amadeus II of Savoy lost 11,000 men compared to less than two thousand under Marshal Catinat. The Battle of Marsaglia was the single most lopsided victory of the War of the League of Augsburg and salvaged French martial prestige after a year of disappointment for Louis XIV. However, like most battles of the war, the French were unable to capitalize on the victory. The siege of Pinerolo was lifted, but since the battle happened so late in the fighting season, Catinat had to withdraw back across the Alps to winter in France. The Battle of Marsaglia did induce the young 29 year old Eugene of Savoy to seek reform of the Imperial armies, and he would become the Holy Roman Emperor’s greatest leader of men in the early 18th century.

However in 1693, the Battle of Marsaglia changed little – The War of the League of Augsburg/the Nine Years’ War/the War of the Grand Alliance/King William’s War dragged on inconclusively for another four years.

The Munich Agreement: “Peace in our Time”

In 1938, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler’s foreign policy sought to unite all ethnic Germans under the National Socialist flag. In March of that year, he had united Austria and Germany in the Anschluss. Hitler’s next target was the Sudetenland, then a part of Czechoslovakia, which contained a sizable German minority. However, the amalgamation of the Sudetenland was just an excuse for the conquest of Czechoslovakia, which stuck into Germany like a lance into the belly of the Third Reich.

The rugged mountains and hills of the Sudetenland were key to Czechoslovakia’s defense against invasion from Germany. The Czechoslovakian Army was every bit comparable to the contemporary Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe. The Czech Army of 1938 was based on a quick mobilization while the professional army held extensive fixed fortifications in the rugged terrain through which German troops would have to pass. (The regular army was already fighting German Freikorps in the Sudetenland). Also, the Czechoslovakian Army had arguably the best tank designs of 1938, the Skoda Works’ Lt vz 35 and 38 tanks, far superior to the German PzI and PzIIs. Even with Germany’s strategic advantages, a German invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938 would have been a hard fight, and one that Germany was not guaranteed to win. Had the Czechoslovakians been allowed to resist, or even threaten resistance, the Second World War would have turned out quite different. However, the Czechoslovakians were not part of the negotiations.

Hitler promised the Sudetenland would be his “last territorial demand”. The Soviet Union sided with Czechoslovakia but were also not part of the negotiations. Great Britain and France sought to appease Hitler and Germany. Though France recognized Hitler’s plans for European domination, her perceived weak financial and military situation demanded that Britain also stand in defiance of Germany. On 30 September 1938, eleven months before the start of the Second World War, Germany, France, Great Britain, and Italy signed the Munich Agreement which gave Germany the Sudetenland in exchange for peace.

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain immediately flew back to London. At Heston airport (now Heathrow) he proclaimed he had secured “peace in our time” and waved the document for all to see.

After the Munich Agreement, Czechoslovakia was fair game for all her neighbors. In October, Hungary was given most of southern Slovakia by Germany, and in November, Poland seized small Polish enclaves in northern Moravia and Slovakia. The Soviet Union rightfully viewed the Munich Agreement as a betrayal of Czechoslovakia, which was confirmed when Hitler seized the rest of the country six months later. In Stalin’s eyes, Great Britain’s and France’s policy of appeasement showed that they could not be relied upon to fight if Hitler decided to demand Soviet territory. The Soviet Army in 1939 was a wreck as a result of the purges of the officer corps in 1937/38 and would not be able to resist. As a result, the Soviet Union began negotiations with Nazi Germany for a non-belligerence treaty which resulted in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in August of 1939.

Emboldened by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and Allied fecklessness, Hitler invaded Poland on 1 September 1939 which began the Second World War. More than 60 million soldiers and civilians died over the next six years in the most destructive war in human history.

The Battle of St Mihiel

With the success of the British offensive at Amiens, Gen John “Blackjack” Pershing requested an American-led offensive against the salient at St Mihiel. The reduction of the salient would prevent the Germans from shelling the newly liberated Amiens rail line and significantly ease Allied logistical problems. Foch approved, but as the unexpected success of the Amiens offensive began to unfold, told Pershing to plan for a general offensive by the end of September, and scrap the St Mihiel. The general offensive from the Meuse-Argonne would make the St Mihiel salient untenable and an offensive unnecessary. Pershing disagreed, mostly because the St Mihiel salient spilt the American forces. As they stood, only the southern American troops would be under American army command for the general offensive; the northern troops would fall under French command. If the St Mihiel salient was reduced Pershing could feasibly construct an American army group of two American armies, commanded by himself, which would put him on par with Haig and Foch. He enlisted the help of France’s greatest American advocate, Marshal Petain to make it happen. Petain and Pershing argued that if the troops in the St Mihiel salient were captured, they would be unavailable to defend against the general offensive two weeks later. Furthermore they assured Foch that the St Mihiel offensive would not affect or delay the general offensive from the Meuse-Argonne two weeks later. Foch relented, and approved the first American led army level offensive of the Great War.
On 10 September 1918, two American corps attacked the flanks of the salient while a French corps under American command attacked the apex. Pershing was not going to let this attack fail and secured an overwhelming amount of support in terms of tanks, artillery and planes. Despite the fact that the St Mihiel salient was not overrun since the Germans captured it in 1915 and the Germans built it into a fortress, the Americans made good progress. The Germans put up stubborn resistance but more out of habit than anything else. They had been ordered to withdraw to shorten the line on the 8th of September, but took their time. On 12 September, America’s premier division, the 1st US Infantry Division, drove from the south and linked up with the 26th “Yankee” US Infantry Division (of Sgt Stubby fame), which closed the pocket.
At a cost of 7,000 casualties, Pershing inflicted 17,000, mostly captured, and secured his flanks for the upcoming general offensive. The Allied logistics were eased considerably by the shortening of the line and the push east. Most importantly, Pershing, his commanders, and his staff gained invaluable experience for the larger and more complex general offensive that was to occur at the end of the month.

The Battle of Amiens: “A Black Day in the History of the German Army”

In 1815, Emperor Napoleon I returned from exile on the island of Elba and retook power in France. For the next 111 days the fate of Europe hung in the balance, until he was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo. “The Hundred Days” determined the future of Europe for the next century.
103 years later, the fate of Europe again hung in the balance. By August 1918, the “Kaiserschlacht” or the German Spring Offensive was contained and the British Expeditionary Force was no longer threatened with isolation. The threat to Paris ended with the French and American defense at the Battle of Chateau Thierry, and then the German salient was rolled back with the Franco/American victory at the Battle of Soissons. But the German Army was still full of fight and heavily reinforced with victorious troops from the Eastern Front. The Germans prepared for local Allied counterattacks, but expected to handily throw them back. They would then wait out the rest of the year while U-boats starved Britain into submission. In the spring of 1919, Germany’s conquered territories in the East would allay the shortages on the German home front and provide the necessary supplies to defeat the exhausted French and inexperienced Americans.
Unexpectedly, on 8 August 1918, the British Third and Fourth Armies assaulted the German lines at Amiens. The Germans in the Amiens’ sector saw none of the indicators that the Allies planned to attack there: No noticeable build up, no lengthy artillery preparation, nothing. Meticulous British staff work got the entire Canadian Corps, nearly 40,000 men, trained, rehearsed and in their assault positions with Germans completely ignorant of their whereabouts. Tactical and operational surprise was complete. The British had learned the lessons of the past year, and put them all in effect for offensive at Amiens. Radio deception, sound ranging, photo graphic reconnaissance, pin point artillery targeting, rolling barrages, platoon and company rehearsals, engineers and labor battalions for road repair, and the inclusion of more than a thousand tanks in the assault all contributed to what Gen Ludendorff called, “A black day in the history of the German Army.”
The Canadians, Australians, and British troops split the front wide open. German casualties were high, and most notable was the number of surrendered Germans. The German Army was tired and the morale of the divisions that had been on the Western Front for the last three years was extremely low. They surrendered en masse. Only the German divisions recently transferred from the East could be relied upon. The offensive stalled when attacking troops outran, not their supplies as was usual for the last three years, but their artillery support. Nonetheless, the British offensive at Amiens was a success beyond the wildest expectations of Sir Douglas Haig and Ferdinand Foch, the British and French commanders. The Battle of Amiens was the opening move of the Allied general offensive on the Western Front. Ferdinand Foch expected the general offensive to end the war by the spring of 1919. He was wrong.
The Allied offensive in the autumn of 1918, like Napoleon’s attack into Belgium in 1815, is known to history as “Hundred Days Campaign” and like its predecessor a century before, changed the face of Europe for the next one hundred years.