On March 30, 1918, British, Australian and Canadian troops mount a successful counter-attack against the German offensive at Moreuil Wood, recapturing most of the area and forcing a turn in the tide of the battle in favor of the Allies.
After launching the first stage of a major spring offensive on March 21, 1918–masterminded by Erich Ludendorff, chief of the German general staff–the German army swiftly pushed through the British 5th Army along the Somme, crossing the river on March 24. Their attacks were less successful to the north, however, around the crucially important Vimy Ridge, where Britain’s 3rd Army successfully held its positions. Determined to push on toward Paris, Ludendorff threw his troops against the town of Amiens. To Ludendorff’s distress, although they came within 11 miles of the city, the Germans had great difficulty capturing Amiens and its railway junction, which the British and French were told to hold at all costs. Lacking sufficient cavalry, the Germans also had problems delivering artillery and supplies to their front-line troops; those troops also received no relief, and were expected to sustain the momentum of the attack all on their own.
By the morning of March 30, the Germans had occupied Moreuil Wood, some 20 kilometers south of Amiens. On that day, an Allied force including British and Canadian cavalry and air brigades confronted the Germans head-on. By the end of the day, the Allies had managed to halt the German advance at Moreuil Wood, despite suffering heavy casualties.
The events at Moreuil Wood broke the momentum of the German attacks. While the operation had technically been successful, resulting in a gain of almost 40 miles of territory and inflicting heavy losses on the Allies; 177,739 British troops died or were taken prisoner during the battle, at a daily rate of 11,000 men, while the French lost nearly 80,000; German troops had also lost over a quarter of a million men to injury or death. The casualties included Ludendorff’s own stepson, a German pilot shot down over the battlefield during the attacks. Ludendorff called off the attacks on April 5; the next stage of the offensive would begin just four days later.
By early April 1918, both the Allies and the Central Powers had entered a crucial period of reckoning. A major German victory on the Western Front would mean the end of the war, in their favor. As British Prime Minister David Lloyd George told the leaders of the British Dominions in a speech on March 31: “The last man may count.” The Allies, at least, could count on fresh infusions from the United States, which increased its troops in France to more than 300,000 by the end of that month. For their part, the Germans were prepared to wager everything they had on this spring offensive—the last they would undertake in World War I.