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1918

Germans and Allies step up operations near Somme

On this day in 1918, German forces in the throes of a major spring offensive on the Western Front launch a renewed attack on Allied positions between the Somme and Avre Rivers.

The first stage of the German offensive, dubbed “Operation Michael,” began March 21, 1918; by the first days of April it had resulted in a gain of almost 40 miles of territory for the Germans, the largest advance in the west for either side since 1914. After initial panic, the Allies had managed to stabilize and strengthen their defense, stopping the Germans at Moreuil Wood on March 30 and continuing their hardy defense of the crucial railroad junction and town of Amiens, France, just south of the Somme.

With a bombardment by more than 1,200 guns and a total of 15 divisions sent against only seven of the enemy’s, the Germans attacked in force at Villers-Bretonneux on April 4. Again, British and Australian troops reacted with panic in the face of such an onslaught, but soon rallied to drive back their attackers. At the same time, French divisions made their own advances along the front running between the towns of Castel and Cantigny, to the south of Villers-Bretonneux.

Also on April 4, German military officials announced that their attacks in the Somme region had claimed a total of 90,000 Allied prisoners since March 21. The following day, Erich Ludendorff, chief of the German general staff, formally closed down the Michael offensive; the second phase of the attacks, “Georgette,” would begin four days later in Flanders.

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