By the third day of the battle, the Germans had opened a fifty-mile-wide gap and were pouring into open country: Ludendorff had broken the long trench stalemate–but he had not severed the connection between the Allied armies. Now heavy losses and fatigue took their toll; hungry soldiers stopped to loot British supply dumps. After a forty-mile advance, Ludendorff’s tactical masterpiece faded to strategic inconsequence.
Meanwhile, on March 26, the desperate Allies agreed on a step they should have taken long before: putting their armies under a single commander, Ferdinand Foch. He would deftly coordinate a defense that, several times in that menacing spring, seemed on the verge of collapse. Three German “Paris guns” with a seventy-five-mile range bombarded the capital. Ludendorff launched five more offensives, all on the March 21 model: Arras (March 28), which failed; the Lys River in Flanders (April 9), which threatened to force the British back to the Channel ports; and the breakthrough at the Chemin des Dames (May 27), which reached the Marne, just forty-odd miles from Paris.
Americans helped to stop Ludendorff’s exhausted divisions at Belleau Wood and Ch[acir]teau-Thierry: he was clearly running out of time. His Oise attack (June 9) was a costly waste. Then, on July 15, Ludendorff made his final throw of the dice, seeking to pinch off Reims. This time the French turned his own defense-in-depth tactics against him, and his last offensive subsided in the chalky downlands of Champagne. Since March 21, Germany had suffered close to a million irreplaceable casualties–and the Americans were now arriving in France at the rate of 300,000 a month. For the Allies, it was the arithmetic of victory.
The Reader’s Companion to Military History. Edited by Robert Cowley and Geoffrey Parker. Copyright © 1996 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.