Pneu Michelin (Firm).

The Somme, Volume 2. The Second Battle of the Somme (1918) online

. (page 1 of 8)
Online LibraryPneu Michelin (Firm)The Somme, Volume 2. The Second Battle of the Somme (1918) → online text (page 1 of 8)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

THE SOMME, VOLUME 2 (1918) ***

Produced by Brian Coe, Brian Wilsden and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at







Hôtel du Rhin, 4, _rue de Noyon_. Tel. 44.
Belfort-Hôtel, 42, _rue de Noyon_. Tel. 649.
Hôtel de l'Univers, 2, _rue de Noyon_. Tel. 2.51.
Hôtel de la Paix, 15, _rue Duméril_. Tel. 9.21.
Hôtel de l'Ecu de France, 51, _place René-Goblet_. Tel. 3.37.


Hôtel de la

H. de l'Ecu
de France

Hôtel de

Hôtel du



Hôtel du Rond-Royal, _av. Thiers_. I Rond-Royal. Tel. 4.15.
Palace-Hôtel, _place du Palais_. I Palace, Tel. 1.15.
Hôtel de la Cloche, 27, _place de l'Hôtel-de-Ville_. Tel. 0.85.
Hôtel de Flandre, 2, _rue d'Amiens_. Tel. 36.


H. de Flandre
H. de la Cloche
H. du Rond-Royal

_The above information, extracted from the_ MICHELIN TOURIST GUIDE
(1920), _may no longer be exact when it meets the reader's eye.
Tourists are therefore recommended to consult the_ MICHELIN TOURING
OFFICES, _81, Fulham Rd., London. S.W. 3, or 99, Boulevard Pereire,
Paris, 17^e_.


The Michelin Map

_On sale
at booksellers


_For the
take sheet
n^o =6=._


_this map
was made
for you._

The "Michelin Wheel"

BEST of all detachable wheels because the least complicated



It embellishes even the finest coachwork.


It is detachable at the hub and fixed by six bolts only.


The only wheel which held out on all fronts during the War.


Can be replaced in 3 minutes by =anybody= and cleaned still quicker.

It prolongs the life of tyres by cooling them.










Compiled and published by
MICHELIN & CIE., Clermont-Ferrand, France.

_All rights of translation, adaptation or reproduction (in part or
whole) reserved in all countries_

[Illustration: The Front Line, March 21, 1918.



At different periods during the War, important events took place in the
Plains of Picardy, in the region which extends between Amiens and St.
Quentin, Bapaume and Noyon, between the valleys of the rivers Ancre,
Avre and Oise.

The Franco-British Offensive of July-September 1916, and the German
Retreat of March 1917, are described in the Michelin Guide "=The First
Battle of the Somme=, 1916-1917", which includes carefully prepared
itineraries, enabling the reader to cover the whole battlefield of that

The present guide describes the operations which took place in Picardy
in March-April 1918 (=The German Offensive=), and in August 1918 (=The
Franco-British Offensive=); in a Word, the ebb and flow of the German
Armies in 1918, from St. Quentin to Montdidier.


Driven from the banks of the Somme by the Franco-British Offensive of
1916, the Germans were compelled, in March 1917, to retreat, before the
menace of the Allied offensives on their flank.

They then established themselves on the Hindenburg Line, and in
1917, in consequence of British attacks in the Arras sector and
before Cambrai, they unceasingly increased the number of their
fortified lines. This redoubtable position stretched to the west of
the Cambrai-La Fère road, via Le Catelet and St. Quentin, utilising
a series of natural obstacles, the most important of which were the
Escaut, the St. Quentin Canal and the marshy valley of the Oise. (See
the Michelin Guide "=The Hindenburg Line=".)

But in the early days of 1918, having crushed Russia, Germany decided
to assume the offensive, using the Hindenburg positions as a kind of
spring-board, from which her mighty armies rushed forward to conquer

In February 1918, the British positions extended in front of the
Hindenburg Line, as far as the village of Barisis, opposite the Forest
of St. Gobain, to the south of the Oise. Three successive positions,
widely separated from one another, had been actively strengthened.
Moreover, the water-lines of the marshy valley of the Oise, the Crozat
Canal, the loop in the Somme, and the North Canal, formed so many
natural obstacles.

The Picardian Plain, with its broad and gentle undulations, dotted here
and there with small woods, is closed, on the south, near the valley
of the Oise, by the wooded hills of Genlis, Frières and La Cave, and
to the west of the bend in the Oise, by the hills of Porquericourt
and the wooded _massif_ of Le Plémont, with its promontory, Mount
Renaud, to the south of Noyon. Further west, the high ground of
Boulogne-la-Grasse does not close the Plain of Santerre, which, between
the slopes of Le Plémont and Montdidier, communicates freely with the
Plain of Ile-de-France. The enclosed and wooded valleys of the rivers
Avre, Trois-Doms and Luce intersect the tablelands of Santerre. Further
north, stretches the old battlefield of 1916, - a chaotic waste of
winding trenches and barbed wire entanglements.

In the Picardian Plain, beyond the bounds of the old battlefield,
were numerous country villages, with their cottages grouped around
the church. The long, straight roads, bordered with fine elms or
fruit-trees, stretched as far as the eye could reach. This rich
and prosperous region, with its vast fields of corn and beet, was
completely ravaged by the War.


The German Offensive: Formation of the Montdidier Pocket (March
21-April 24.)

[Illustration: _Disruption of the British Front (March 21-22.)._]

[Illustration: _Widening the Breach._]

[Illustration: _The fall of Montdidier (March 27.)._]

[Illustration: _The fixing of the new front-line._]

The Allied Offensive: Reducing the Pocket as far as the Hindenburg Line
(August 8-September 25.).

[Illustration: _The Offensive of August 8-12. Liberation of

[Illustration: _Combined Offensives on the Somme and Oise, August

[Illustration: _Combined Offensives on the Scarpe and Aisne, August
25-Sept. 8._]

[Illustration: _In contact with the Hindenburg Line (September

[Illustration: GENERAL PÉTAIN.]

[Illustration: FIELD-MARSHAL HAIG.]

_In March 1918, the British and French Armies, under separate commands,
opposed the furious attacks of numerically superior and more powerfully
equipped enemy forces, grouped under the command of a single chief:


The Opposing Forces - Their Material and Moral Strength.

Towards the end of 1917, the abandonment of the Allies, by Russia, was
consummated by the Russo-German Armistice of December 20, followed by
the Peace of Brest-Litowsk, of February 9, 1918. As early as November
1917, Germany began to transfer her legions from the eastern to the
western front. Arriving, via Belgium, in ever-increasing numbers,
sixty-four new divisions were thus added to her Western Armies, already
one hundred and forty-one divisions strong, giving a total strength of
205 German divisions against the Allies' 177 divisions.

The material resources, accumulated on the Russian front, were likewise
transferred to the western front. The enemy's artillery was reinforced
all along the line, the number of heavy batteries being doubled in many
of the sectors.

[Illustration: LUDENDORFF.

_From General Buat's_ "LUDENDORFF" (_Publishers: Payot. Paris._)]

Besides this numerical and material superiority, Germany possessed
the additional advantage of a unique commander: Ludendorff, master
of the hour, at once absolute military chief and political dictator.
On the other hand, whilst the Allies were closely united by cordial
friendship, sealed on the field of battle, their armies were
independant units, separately commanded, each having its own reserves
concentrated behind its particular front.


On February 3, 1917, the United States of America ranged themselves on
the side of the Allies, but their eventually powerful effort could not
make itself seriously felt before the summer of 1918. In March 1918,
four American divisions were in France, and a million more men were
expected by the following Autumn, but the Germans were convinced that
they would have the Allies beaten before then.

The moral strength of the opposing forces constituted one of the most
important factors of victory.

During 1917, after the Allies' Spring Offensives, a wave of lassitude
had lowered the fighting spirit of certain units of the French Army.
However, the _morale_ of the French Army had fully regained its former
high level, when the great German offensive of March 1918 was launched.

The British Army had in the meantime perfected its training, and
acquired, in addition to experience, splendid fighting qualities.

The Germans, badly shaken in 1916 by their failure at Verdun and by
the Allies' Offensive on the Somme, had, in consequence of Russia's
collapse, recovered all their former arrogant confidence and pride.

But the Allies' blockade, despite Germany's ruthless submarine warfare,
tightened, and each day the menace of famine increased.

Triumphal announcements of victory, and promises of an early German
peace appeared periodically in their press, yet still the war dragged
on. Something had to be done to end it all, whatever the cost, and so
the "Peace Offensive" was decided on.

Although inferior in numbers and equipment, the Allies had acquired
moral superiority.

[Illustration: DRIVEN FROM HOME BY THE GERMAN PUSH. (_Photo Imperial
War Museum_).]

The German Strategy and Tactics.

In all the previous offensives, especially that of the Somme in 1916,
the artillery had been used, prior to the attack, to destroy the
adversary's defences. The great number of fortified works and their
ever increasing strength necessitated a proportionately longer and more
intense artillery preparation. Thus warned, the enemy were able to make
dispositions to counteract the effects of the attack, and to bring up

Moreover, the tremendous pounding of the ground greatly hampered the
advance of the storming troops, who were hindered at every step by the
enormous shell-holes and craters.

Breaking away from past errors, and adopting and perfecting the methods
inaugurated the previous year before Riga, the German High Command
attacked by surprise, in March 1918, thereby securing a crushing
numerical superiority. The Allies were thrown into confusion, and
all attempts at resistance were unavailing, until the arrival of the
reserves. During this period of complete demoralisation, the enemy were
able to exploit their initial success to the full.

The method employed was that of a sudden, violent shock, preceded by a
short artillery preparation, mostly with smoke and gas shells, the aim
of which was to put the men out of action, rather than to crush the
defences. To this end, huge concentrations of troops were effected, in
such wise that the masses of men could be thrown quickly and secretly
at the presumed weak part of the Allies' front.

The semi-circular disposition of the front facilitated the enemy's
task, as the German reserves, grouped in the Hirson-Mézières region,
in the centre of the semi-circle, could be used with the same rapidity
against any part of the front-line from Flanders to Champagne.

The point chosen by Ludendorff was the junction of the Franco-British
Armies. To separate these two groups, by driving back the British, on
the right, and the French, on the left; to exploit the initial success
in the direction of the sea, isolating the British and forcing them
back upon their naval bases of Calais and Dunkirk; then, having crushed
the British, to concentrate the whole of his efforts against the
French, who, unsupported and demoralized, would soon be driven to their
knees, - such was apparently the strategical conception of the enemy's
"Kaiserschlacht" or "Emperor's Battle".

The Opposing Forces.

On March 21, three German armies attacked along a 54-mile front, from
the Scarpe to the Oise.

In the north, the XVIIth Army (von Below) and the IInd Army (von
Marwitz) attacked on either side of the Cambrai salient, but the main
effort was made by the XVIIIth Army (von Hutier), which stretched from
the north of St. Quentin to the Oise.


Facing these armies were: the right of the British 3rd Army (Byng),
extending from the Scarpe to Gouzeaucourt, and the British 5th. Army
(Gough), from Gouzeaucourt to south of the Oise.

The British expected the brunt of the attack to fall between the river
Sensée and the Bapaume-Cambrai road, i.e. on the right of Byng's Army,
which was reinforced accordingly, whilst the sector in front of the
Oise, south of St. Quentin, against which von Hutier's huge army had
been concentrated, was only held by 4 divisions.

More than 500,000 Germans were about to attack the 160,000 British
under Gough and Byng, whilst from the outset of the battle, large enemy
reserves swelled the number of the attacking divisions to 64, i.e.,
more than the total number of British divisions in France. In all, no
less than 1,150,000 Germans were engaged in these tremendous onslaughts.

During the five nights which preceded the attack, the German divisions
had been brought up secretly, the artillery having previously taken up
its positions and corrected its range, without augmenting the volume of
firing, so that nothing revealed the increased number of the batteries.

The shock troops, after several weeks of intensive training, were
brought up by night marches to the points of attack. During the day,
they were kept out of sight in the woods or villages. At night, whether
on the march or bivouacking, lights and fires were strictly forbidden.
Aeroplanes hovered above the columns to see that these orders were
carried out. The ammunition parks and convoys were concealed in the
woods. Until the last moment, the troops and most of the officers were
kept in ignorance of their destination.

These huge forces moving silently under the cover of night,
symbolized the enemy's might and cunning. "_It is strange_", wrote a
German officer in his note-book, "_to think of these huge masses of
troops - all Germany on the march - moving westward to-night_".


On March 21, during this, the "Einbruch" or piercing stage, the
enormous enemy mass crushed, in less than 48 hours, the three British
positions situated in front of St. Quentin. Carrying the battle into
the open country beyond, the enemy transformed the "piercing" into a
break-through ("Durchbruch").

This sudden, powerful thrust was followed by a "tidal wave" of German
infantry which at first submerged all before it, but which, dammed by
degrees, finally spent itself, a week later, against the Allies' new


On March 21, at daybreak (4.40 a.m.) a violent cannonade broke out,
and for five hours the intensity of this drum-fire steadily increased.

First, a deluge of shells, mostly gas, pounded the British batteries,
some of which were silenced. Then the bombardment ploughed up the first
positions, spreading dense clouds of gas and fumes over a wide zone.

"Michael" hour.

Under cover of the smoke and fog, the German Infantry speedily crossed
No-Man's Land, and at 9.30 a.m. ("Michael" hour) penetrated the
British defences.

[Illustration: GENERAL GOUGH.

_Photo "Daily Mirror Studios"._]

[Illustration: GENERAL BYNG. _Photo Russell, London._]

The front assigned to each attacking division was only two kilometres
wide, the troops being formed into two storm columns of one regiment
each. The third regiment was kept as sector reserves, to develop
initial successes.

The storm-troops, led by large numbers of non-commissioned officers,
advanced in waves, shoulder-to-shoulder, preceded by a rolling barrage
some 300 yards ahead of the first line. This barrage afterwards moved
forward at the rate of about 200 yards every five minutes.

The waves advanced resolutely, protected first by the rolling barrage,
then by the accompanying artillery and _Minenwerfer_. Wherever the
resistance was too strong, a halt was made, allowing the neighbouring
waves to outflank the obstacle on either side, and crush it.

The Germans straightway threw the greatest possible mass of infantry
into the Allies' defences.

Amid clouds of gas, smoke and fog, the British in the advanced
positions were surrounded and overwhelmed, often before they had
realized what was happening.

Nearly all their machine-guns, posted to sweep the first zone, were put
out of action.

The First Day (March 21).

The first day of the attack, General Byng's Army from
Fontaine-les-Croisilles to Demicourt, withstood the shock steadily, the
Germans penetrating the first lines only.

In the centre, before St. Quentin, and to the south, in front of
Moy and La Fère, General Gough's Army, overwhelmed by numbers, and
notwithstanding the courage of the men, was broken early in the attack.

Opposite Le Catelet, the enemy storm divisions advanced 6 to 8
kilometres, penetrating at noon the second-line positions along the
Epéhy-Le Verguier line. Further south, in front of Moy, they reached

General Gough withdrew his right behind the water-line of the Crozat
and Somme Canals.

[Illustration: _The Disruption of the Front. March 21-22._]

The Second Day - March 22.

Tergnier fell, and the water-line was turned from the right. Still
favoured by the fog, the Germans crossed the Crozat Canal. Fresh
divisions harassed the British without respite, the losses, both in men
and material, being very heavy.

Their reserves, greatly outnumbered, were quickly submerged, and the
third positions were lost after a desperate but ineffectual resistance.

In spite of its stubborn resistance, the 3rd Army (Byng) was forced to
fall back, pivoting on its left, to line up with the retreating 5th
Army (Gough).

The enemy advance developed rapidly. Within forty-eight hours, over 60
German divisions (750,000 men) had been thrown into the battle, which
now raged in the open.


[Illustration: _Arrival of the first French Divisions. (March 22)._

_Humbert's Army barring the road to Paris. (March 24)._

_Debeney's Army holding the enemy on the west. (March 28)._


The crushing of the right and centre of the British 5th Army opened a
large breach north of the Oise, through which, as early as March 21,
the Germans streamed south and west. The situation was critical, as the
enemy hordes, having broken through the fortified zone, threatened to
submerge all before them. Prompt intervention was imperative, in order
to retard the enemy at all cost.


As early as the evening of the 21st, General Pétain made dispositions
to support the British right. The 9th and 10th Div. (5th Corps) and the
1st Div. of unmounted Cuirassiers (Pellé), in reserve near Compiègne,
received orders to hold themselves in readiness. At the same time, the
staff of Gen. Fayolle's Army Group, and that of Gen. Humbert's Army,
prepared to take over the direction of the operations.

The 125th Inf. Div. was pushed forward to the Oise, whilst the
22nd, 62nd, and 1st. Cavalry. Divn. (Robillot's Group) were rapidly
despatched to the weak points of the battle line.

This newly formed group was placed under the command of Gen. Robillot
of the 2nd Cavalry Corps.

Rushed up in lorries, the first French divisions were thrown into the
thick of the battle without waiting for their artillery. Heroism often
made good the lack of equipment and munitions.


Once the fortified zone crossed, the German armies pushed westward

On March 23, the French Cavalry Divisions were engaged, with their
armoured cars and groups of cyclists. Thanks to their great mobility,
the situation was repeatedly saved. Galloping from breach to breach,
the Cavalry, dismounting, stayed the enemy advance until the arrival of
the infantry.

The armoured cars raided the enemy's lines unceasingly and harassed
their troops with machine-gun fire. They were also used for bringing
up supplies to the first-line troops and for maintaining the different
liaisons. Their splendid work, with that of the Cyclist Corps, greatly
helped to stay the enemy thrust.

The retreat of the British was also covered by detachments of cavalry,
mounted artillery, armoured cars and tanks, which vigorously attacked
the assaillants.

The Air Service likewise rendered invaluable aid.

On the evening of the 22nd, General Pétain gave orders for every
available bombing plane to be used to retard the enemy advance, until
reinforcements could be brought up. The air squadrons met a few hours
later at the assigned point, some of them having flown ninety miles. On
the way, they dropped their loads of bombs on German troops which were
crossing the Somme, north of Ham, thereby retarding the advance of two
enemy divisions which were preparing to outflank the British.

On the 23rd, at noon, a hundred aeroplanes, skimming just over the
Germans' heads, wrought indescribable havoc and confusion in their
ranks. Priceless hours were thus gained.


_Photographed in the Ardennes, in October 1918. A German munition
train, bombed by aeroplanes, blew up, destroying the line and the
artillery limbers which were being loaded. The dead horses and broken
limbers are plainly visible. One may imagine the ravage caused by the
Allies' aerial bombardments among the enemy concentrations in the

Crossing the Water-line of the Crozat Canal, Somme and Tortille (March


Whilst Byng's Army withstood the enemy's onslaughts, that commanded by
Gough was dislocated by the powerful thrust of von Hutier's Army.

On the =morning of the 23rd=, the remnants of the British 3rd and
18th Corps were thrown back across the Crozat Canal, among the French
divisions which were taking part in the battle between the Somme and
Oise, and with which they were assimilated.

Further north, his divisions heavily depleted, and reinforcements
coming up only slowly, General Gough abandoned the strong
Somme-Tortille line, and continued his retreat westward, towards his
reserves in the old battlefield of 1916.

The same day, the first French units to arrive were thrown between
Crozat Canal and the woods of Genlis and Frières, linking up, on their
right, with the 125th Division, detached from the left of the 6th Army,
and established astride of the Oise, in front of Viry. (_Sketch below_).

The 1st Division of dismounted Cuirassiers (Brécart) vigorously
attacked the enemy, and succeeded in staying their thrust towards the
Oise. The 9th Division (Gamelin) barred the Ham-Noyon road, along a ten
mile front. On their left, the 10th Division (Valdant) held the zone
north of Guiscard.

[Illustration: _The French Divisions were engaged from the Oise to
Nesle, before Noyon, which the British retreat left unprotected._]

On the evening of the 23rd, the situation was critical. General Pellé's
divisions retarded the German advance in front of the Chauny-Noyon
region, which they were covering, but the enemy held Ham. In their
retreat, the British constantly bore to the north-west.

The 1st Cavalry Division (Rascas), and the 22nd (Capdepont) and 62nd
(Margot) Divisions arrived, and were thrown into the battle between
Guiscard and Nesle, where they attempted to join hands with the French
10th Division on their right and with the British on their left.

[Illustration: _Converging on Noyon, the Germans effected a breach

1 3 4 5 6 7 8

Online LibraryPneu Michelin (Firm)The Somme, Volume 2. The Second Battle of the Somme (1918) → online text (page 1 of 8)