August 8th in German History: The Start of the Hundred Days Offensive

An under-strength platoon of the 5th Australian Division is addressed by an officer near Warfusee-Abancourt during the Battle of Amiens, 8 August 1918. © IWM (E (AUS) 2790)
Australian troops are inspected on August 8th in preparation for the offensive.

The First World War was characterized by years of bloody stalemate. Offensive after offensive failed to break the trenches, and millions died for little perceivable gain. It would require hundreds of thousands of men from the United States, a nation that had only just entered the war, and a collapse of the German economy and government to end the war. On August 8th, 1918, the Hundred Days Offensive began. It would end with the collapse of the German Army and the end of WWI.

The German Spring Offensives of 1918 had nearly led to the collapse of the Allied lines and the fall of Paris. However, the Germans had been stopped at the Marne, for the second time, and in July the front had again become quiet. Time was on the side of the Allies, as the American Expeditionary Force was arriving in great strength and the domestic situation in Germany was continuing to deteriorate. Thus, Allied supreme commander Ferdinand Foch decided in August that conditions were right for another offensive. British commander Sir Douglas Hauge chose the area south-west of the Somme, in Picardy, as the place for the offensive. The terrain would allow for the use of tanks and its location along the lines would allow for cooperation between the British and French armies. The operation began with the Battle of Amiens on August 8th. Ten allied divisions, with five hundred tanks, broke through German lines, achieving surprise and capturing 17,000 prisoners. A 15-mile gap was opened in the enemy defenses and over the next three days, the Allies advanced twelve miles. Subsequent battles at the Somme and other areas forced the Germans back to the Hindenberg Line, a series of extensive fortifications intended to allow a weaker force to hold out against a more numerous enemy. German commanders Paul von Hindenberg and Erich Ludendorff realized that the collapse of army morale made holding their gains from earlier in the year impossible, and that their only hope was to retreat to more entrenched positions. However, the decline in German morale caused by food shortages at home and defeat on the front made holding against a superior force nearly impossible, regardless of the fortifications present. On September 26th the first assaults on the Hindenberg Line commenced as French and American troops pushed forward in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Numerous breakthroughs in the German lines led to the total collapse of the Hindenberg line on October 17th. The German Army was pushed back into Belgium, and this total defeat led to German capitulation on November 11th, 1918.

While no Allied soldier set foot on German soil on the Western Front, after the fall of the Hindenburg Line there was really nothing Germany could have done to alter or even forestall the outcome of the war. Far more decisive in determining the outcome than the 100 Day’s Offensive was the British blockade of Germany. This blockade resulted in food shortages which, although they impacted the civilian population more than the soldiers who had a higher priority for rations, lowered German combat effectiveness and decreased morale. Further, domestic dissatisfaction with the Imperial government led to revolts in 1918. If the war had not ended in November, these revolts could have grown and put in place a government far more radical than that of the Wiemar Republic. In the end, Germany’s defeat in 1918 was perhaps the best possible outcome at that point, as it did not have to experience trench warfare on its own soil and still had a cohesive army with which to defend itself against domestic threats.

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