The Kaiserschlacht – 1
The offensive that was launched in the early spring of 1918 was General Erich Ludendorff’s through and through. He (photographed here in full uniform in c. 1918) had conceived it - several months earlier at a meeting of the German Chiefs of Staff in November 1917.
The impending arrival of millions of battle-ready soldiers from the United States was Germany’s greatest threat by the start of 1918, and German high command paid very close attention to this ticking clock of fate. Thus it was imperative, at least in Ludendorff’s mind, that a decisive offensive be launched before the Americans arrived, to break the back of the British and French armies and cause the Allies to plea for peace. For his offensive Ludendorff envisioned a grand attack in the Somme area centered around the town of Saint-Quentin. The terrain in that sector of the front proved more favorable than other places and would dry quicker in the wake of the imminent spring rains, making it easier to attack across.
The idea was to break through a weaker section of the Allied lines where the British and French armies met, roll up the southern flank of the British, and push them back against the English Channel ports essentially trapping them. This was the main attack, Operation Michael. Subsidiary offensives would follow, launched elsewhere on the frontlines aimed at French and Belgian ports in order to draw attention away from the main area of the attack. These would come in the form of Operations Georgette, Gneisenau, and Blücher-Yorck.
Furthermore, working in Ludendorff’s favor was the fact that up to 50 divisions, millions of men in strength, were slowly beginning to transfer over from the East to the West as a result of Russia’s withdrawal from the war in late 1917.
With everything set out on paper, the date was set: March 1918.