July 1918

July 1918

The German Spring Offensive

The Battle of Le Hamel was fought on the 4th July 1918 and was a victory for the Allies. The Australian 4th Division was the main attack force with four companies of the United States Infantry as supporting troops and had the assistance of 60 Allied tanks and machine gun units. The aim for the attack was to straighten a German-held salient bulging into the Allied line. The carefully planned attack was a complete surprise to the Germans and the salient was won and closed up within approximately 90 minutes, with casualties on the Allied side of about 1,000. Almost 1,500 Germans surrendered.

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The Second Battle of the Marne was fought from 15th July to 6th August 1918. It was intended as a diversionary attack either side of Reims to cross the river Marne and draw the Allied reserves away from Flanders, where the German High Command was planning to make another offensive to break through the Allied line once and for all. The battle consisted of a series of offensives, launched by Ferdinand Foch the Allied Supreme Commander, which eventually halted the German advance leading up to the Allied One Hundred Days Offensive. The Allies suffered 107,000 casualties while the Germans suffered 168,000 casualties.

The Champagne-Marne Offensive was fought from 15th to 18th July 1918 and was the last of the German five offensives of 1918 that had come close to breaking through the Allied lines. The earlier German advances had created a new salient in the French lines around the fortified city of Reims. The German High Command decided to launch a two pronged attack to the west and east of Reims. Three German Armies and fifty two Divisions were allocated to the Champagne-Marne Offensive. West of Reims was their Seventh Army. To the east were their b First and Third Armies and facing them were two French Armies, the Sixth to the west of Reims and the Forth Army to the east. The French were well aware the Germans were proposing to attack, and preparations were underway to launch a massive counter-attack on the Marne Salient. On the 18th July 1918 the Allied counter-attack, comprising French, British, American and Italian troops pushed the Germans back.

The Battle of Château-Thierry was fought on the 18th July 1918, and was one of the first actions of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) under General John J. ”Black Jack” Pershing. Initially a German offensive was launched on the 15th July 1918 against the AEF, an expeditionary force of troops from both the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. On the morning of the 18th July 1918, the French and American forces between Fontenoy and Château-Thierry launched a counter-assault against the German positions. The allied forces managed to keep their plans secret and their 04.45 attack took the Germans completely by surprise when the assault troops attacked without a preparatory artillery bombardment. They followed closely behind a rolling barrage and the French and American troops were successful with their attack and captured the town. Although generally inexperienced, some individual American units exercised great initiative, despite the fact that the impact of the Americans had previously been hindered by Pershing not allowing his troops to be commanded by either French or British officers.

The Battle of Soissons was a battle waged from 18th to 22nd July 1918, between the French, with American and British assistance against the Germans. The offensive was launched on the 18th July 1918 using 24 French divisions, 2 British and 2 U.S. divisions under French command. They were supported by approximately 478 tanks which sought to eliminate the salient that was aimed at Paris. The battle ended on the 22nd July 1918 with the French recapturing most of the ground lost to the German Spring Offensive of May 1918. Adolf Hitler, the future Führer of Nazi Germany was awarded the Iron Cross First Class at Soissons on the 4th August 1918.

On the 18th July 1918, the French led counter-attack began after the defeats and retreats at the Second Battle of the Marne. The Germans retreated to the Hindenburg Line where they began their Spring Offensive in March 1918. The German Spring Offensive failed for several reasons. There were serious command errors. The German High Command squandered their chance at victory by missing British logistical targets, and lost a grip on the operations, and repeatedly reinforcing mere tactical successes. The German army’s material, manpower and mobility limitations called into question whether it was capable of defeating the British and French. These enemies were tough and eventually learned from the tactical mistakes which had contributed to their reverses after the Battle of Passchendaele. The German High Command was accused of squandering a chance of a negotiated peace with a military operation doomed to failure. Certainly, the offensives hastened the German defeat. The million U.S. soldiers who had arrived in France by July 1918 covered the Allied heavy losses. By contrast, the German army had no reserves to replace its nearly one million casualties and was stretched out on a front longer than in March 1918. Its fittest and best-trained troops had disproportionately perished in the failed operations. Officers and soldiers were exhausted and demoralised. From the 8th August 1918, the Allied forces began what is known as the ”Hundred Day Offensive” ended with the Armistice of November 1918.

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The Western Front

On the Western Front in July 1918, Britain lost two flying aces whilst flying over France. Both earned the Victoria Cross (VC) for their actions.

On the 9th July 1918 at 1300 hours, James McCudden collected a SE5a fighter aircraft from Hounslow for delivery to France. Somehow he became disorientated and at 1800 hours he landed at a small airfield in France known as Auxi-le-Chateau and asked a member of the ground crew directions to his designated airfield. McCudden took off again and at a height of about 70 feet his engine cut out, and he crashed heavily into a wooded area at the side of the airfield. He sustained very serious injuries including a fractured skull. He was immediately taken to No. 21 Casualty Clearing Station where he died three hours later. He was buried the following day with full military honours in the small Waverns Military Cemetery. He was only 23 years of age and had just been promoted to Major. McCudden was born in Gillingham, Kent in March 1895 and on the 26th April 1910 aged 14 years he enlisted in the Royal Engineers as a Boy Bugler. After basic training he was sent to Gibraltar. After returning to the U.K. he was transferred to the newly formed Royal Flying Corps (RFC) as Air Mechanic 2nd Class and was posted to Farnborough. On the 1st April 1916 he was promoted Air Mechanic 1st Class. At the outbreak of the war McCudden was sent to France and his squadron was involved in the retreat from Mons and Le Cateau. In the spring of 1915 he was promoted to Flight Sergeant and about this time he started to fly as an air gunner. In December 1915 McCudden was recommended for pilot training after having had experience as an air navigator. He was promoted Second Class Flyer in May 1916 and by June 1916, McCudden had been posted to No. 20 Squadron in France as an operational fighter pilot. He received steady promotions up to Captain from September 1916 and at the time of his death he had accumulated 57 victories. During his flying career McCudden had been awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and bar, Military Cross (MC) and bar, Military Medal (MM) and on the 2nd April 1918 he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

On the 26th July 1918, Edward ”Mick” Mannock died whilst leading the inexperienced Lt. Donald Inglis into a storm of small gun fire whilst over the German trenches in France. As they zig-zagged away from the scene, Inglis noticed a small bluish flame on his major’s engine cowling. Then the left wing of Mannock’s aircraft fell away and he plunged into a death spin. Exactly what happened to Mannock remains a mystery. He was buried in an unmarked grave by a German soldier, who returned his identity discs, notebooks and personal effects to his family through the Red Cross. The pristine state of his identity discs suggest that Mannock had been throw clear of his aircraft before it was consumed by fire. It may be that he fulfilled his pledge to shoot himself at the first sign of fire. The truth will never be known. “Mick” Mannock was the highest-scoring and most highly decorated British fighter pilot of the Great War and was eventually credited with 73 combat victories or ”kills”. Furthermore, he transformed himself from someone who initially came across as arrogant and brash into one of the greatest legends in RAF history. Mannock was born in Brighton on the 24th May 1887 but when he was 13 years old his wayward Irish father abandoned the family, leaving them desperately short of money. Mannock was forced to leave St. Thomas School in Canterbury and take a series of menial jobs before eventually joining his brother, Patrick, who worked for the National Telephone Company. When Mannock was 27 he moved to Turkey as leader of a telephone cable-laying gang when the Great War broke out. When Turkey entered the war on Germany’s side, he and other British workers were imprisoned. When he tried to escape, he was recaptured and put into solitary confinement but his health deteriorated and an American consulate secured his release. Back in Britain, Mannock was listed as “unfit for military duties”. In July 1915, he re-joined as a sergeant in the Territorial unit of the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) in which he had served before going to Turkey. On the 1st April 1916, Mannock was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the Royal Engineers. Then in August 1916 he was transferred to the Number One School of Military Aeronautics at Reading, and after further training qualifying as a pilot in November 1916. He was posted to France in April 1917, and on the 7th May 1917 he claimed his first success when he and five others shot down a gas filled balloon five miles behind German lines. He did not have to wait long for his first enemy “kill” for in early June 1917 he shot down a German Albatross D.III. By mid-October 1917, Mannock had been awarded the Military Cross (MC) and a bar and by January 1918 he recorded his 21st official “kill”. After returning home for a rest he was back in France on the 3rd March 1918. His Comrades noticed a new bloodlust, but he never let it cloud his judgement in the air and his number of kills rapidly escalated. However, amid all the success he remained a realist, never taking off without his revolver, resolving to shoot himself at the first sign of any flames. In May 1918. Mannock learnt he had been awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and he was promoted to major and chosen to command 85 Squadron. Nearly a year after his death the London Gazette announced he had been awarded the Victoria Cross. This was brought about by considerable lobbying from those who served with and under him. He was also awarded posthumously his second and third DSO to go with his original award.  His astonishing medal group of VC, three DSOs and two MCs, all awarded for bravery over 15 months, makes Mannock the most highly decorated man in the newly formed Royal Air Force of the Great War.

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Other Theatres

The Battle of Abu Tellul was fought on the 14th July 1918 during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign after German and Turkish Empire forces attacked the British Empire in the Jordan Valley. The valley had been occupied by the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) from February 1918 when Jericho was captured. Bad feelings arose between the two allies after the Turks violated the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and aggressively expanded the Turkish presence in Georgia. A German and Turkish force attacked the Australian Light Horse units defending the heights at Mussallabeh and Abu Tellul on the edge of the Jordan Hills, while a German force attacked those defending the Wadi Mellaha midway between Abu Tellul and the Jordan River. While these attacks were taking place on the western bank of the river, on the eastern side the Turkish Caucasus Cavalry Brigade deployed two Turkish regiments, to attack the bridgeheads at the fords of El Hinu and Makhadet Hijla. However, the Turkish formation was overwhelmed by a combined force of British and Indian troops before it could launch its attack, and the outcome was a victory for the British Empire. These were the last attacks against the British in this campaign. The defeat was a severe blow to German prestige, German prisoners captured at Abu Tellul claimed they had been betrayed by their Turkish allies who should have supported their flanks.

In Russia, the Bolsheviks executed Tsar Nicholas II on the 17th July 1918. Following the abdication of Nicholas on the 15th March 1917, Alexander Kerensky’s Provisional Government evacuated the Romanovs (Nicholas and his family) to Tobolsk in the Urals, to protect them from the rising tide of revolution during the Red Terror. In early March 1918, the Provisional Government placed Nicholas and his family under house arrest in the Alexander Palace at Tsarkoe Selo, 24 km (15 miles) south of Petrograd. After the Bolsheviks came to power in October 1917, the conditions of their imprisonment grew stricter and talk of putting Nicholas on trial increased. The Romanovs were moved during April and May 1918 to Yekaterinburg, a militant Bolshevik stronghold, as the White counter revolutionary movement gathered force, which was to lead to a full-scale civil war by the summer of 1918, During the early morning of the 17th July 1918, Nicholas, his wife Alexandra, their children, their physician and several servants were taken into the basement and shot. Although there is a lack of hard evidence it is believed the order came directly from Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (known as Lenin) in Moscow. The execution may have been carried out on the initiative of local Bolshevik officials, or it may have been an option pre-approved in Moscow should White troops approach Yekaterinburg. It is also believed that Lenin’s bodyguard personally delivered the telegram ordering the execution and that the evidence was to be destroyed. The execution brought about the end of the Russian Romanov Dynasty.

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