Aisne Offensive

A massive surprise offensive, on the 27th May 1918, the Germans began a bombardment of the Chemin des Dames ridge, captured at huge cost in 1917 during the Nivelle Offensive, with 4000 guns. At the time of the offensive the ridge was held by four British divisions, ironically sent there from Flanders in early May to recover from being on the receiving end of the Lys Offensive. The sector was however under French command, in the form of General Denis Duchene. When Duchene sent the British troops to the front line as the offensive developed, the British commander, Hamilton Gordon, was thus obliged to follow his orders despite not wanting his fatigued men to be further exposed. Gordon recommended to Duchene that a policy of defence in depth be adopted, however Duchene disagreed, preferring to mass troops in the front line trenches.

Owing to the heavy concentration of troops, casualties from the bombardment were severe, the four British divisions were virtually wiped out. The bombardment was accompanied by a gas attack, after which seventeen stormtrooper divisions began their advance. Taken completely by surprise and with their defences spread thin, the Allies were unable to stop the attack and the German army advanced through a 40km gap in the Allied lines.

Between Soissons and Reims the Germans smashed through another eight Allied divisions, four British, four French, and reached the River Aisne in under six hours. The German offensive continued to power on into June, in an advance more reminiscent of the mobile warfare of 1914 than the static warfare of the middle war years. General Duchene, in an atmosphere of crisis in Paris, was dismissed by Petain, as the tip of the German thrust reached the town of Chateau-Thierry and Belleau Wood, fifty miles from the French capital.

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