greatwar-1914: April 15, 1918 – British Evacua…

greatwar-1914:

April 15, 1918 – British Evacuate Passchendaele

Pictured – Giving up hard-won ground.

The crisis on the Western Front was reaching its apex. Massive numbers of German, British, French, and now even American troops were clashing around Ypres as Operation Georgette, the secondary German spring offensive, tried to break through to the channel. In April 12 an air battle took place with hundreds of machines on both sides. 

On April 15 the British gave up Passchendaele Ridge, which they had won in 1917 at the cost of 300,000 men over many months. It was a brutal blow. Foch demanded the Americans allow more reinforcements to be put under French command. Pershing acceded. As the American 1st Division marched to the front, Pershing spoke to its officers. “You are going to meet a savage enemy, flushed with victory. Meet them like Americans.”

The Germans had known mostly victory since March 21 but again their offensive was at risk of running out of steam. The Allied defense around Lys was stiffening. Meanwhile Germany’s supplies could not hold up. German storm-troopers were amazed when they say the massive stockpiles of food in British trenches. Ernst Jünger, an officer in a Hanoverian infantry battalion, wrote how he often thought longingly about the times they had captured English supplies, when later “we lay for weeks in trenches, on meagre bread rations, watery soup and thin nondescript jam.”

Tactically the Germans continued to rack up successes like Passchendaele. But the offensive had failed because strategically it was bogged down. “We are all utterly exhausted and burned out,” wrote Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria on the 15th.