Hundred Days Offensive
By the end of September 1918, the Germans had been forced back beyond the Hindenburg Line and territories gained in 1914. During the retreat the Germans were forced to abandon increasingly large amounts of heavy equipment and supplies, further reducing their morale and capacity to resist. In Belgium the Battle of Courtrai saw Belgian, British and French forces pursuing the Germans until winter rains stopped movement in early October 1918. Following the rain the offensive for the Battle of Courtrai began early morning of the 14th October 1918 with an attack on the Lys river at Comines aimed northward to Dixmude. With a creeping barrage there was little resistance from the German infantry. By the 17th October 1918, Thourout, Ostend, Lille and Douai had been recaptured, with Bruges and Zeebrugge falling on the 19th October 1918. The neutral Dutch border was reached on the 20th October 1918.
In northern France the Allied and German armies sustained many casualties during the actions in “Pursuit to the Selle” beginning on the 9th October 1918. This was followed by the Battle of Mont-D’Origny on the 15th October 1918. Further rear-guard actions by the Germans at the Selle from the 17th to 26th October 1918, and the Battle of Lys and Escaut was fought on the 20th October 1918. The Battle of Serre was also fought on the 20th October 1918. The Germans had been forced to retreat from the Meuse-Argonne region in the south to the Dutch border in the north.
The Second Battle of Cambrai was fought during the latter part of the Hindenburg Line Offensive between British and German troops, from the 8th to 10th October 1918. This took place in and around the French town of Cambrai. Three separate German lines spanning 6,400 mts. (7,000 yds.) were held by two divisions and supported by approximately 150 guns. The rapid Allied general advance caused the weakened German defensive line to collapse. The German defenders were unprepared for the attack by 324 tanks, closely supported by infantry and aircraft. On the 8th October 1918, the 2nd Canadian Division entered Cambrai and encountered sporadic and light resistance. However, they rapidly pressed northward leaving the ”mopping up” of the town to the 3rd Canadian Division following closely behind. When the 3rd Division entered the town on the 10th October 1918, they found it deserted. Although the capture of Cambrai was achieved sooner than expected, German resistance northeast of the town stiffened, slowing the advance and forcing the Canadian Corps to dig in on the Hindenburg Line.
During the Meuse-Argonne Offensive the Battle of Blanc Mont Ridge was fought between the 3rd to 27th October 1918 in the Champagne area of France, northeast of Reims. The U.S. Army’s 2nd and 36th Infantry Divisions opposed Imperial German Army’s 200th and 213th divisions. On the morning of the 3rd October 1918 French and American artillery opened fire and by 8.15 a.m. the Americans were on the hill leading to the ridge. Within three hours they had seized the crest and for seven days they held out against German counter-attacks before advancing northward. From the 10th October 1918, no further advance was made until the 27th October 1918 when the American army assembled in the Suippes-Somme-Suippes area and established headquarters at Corde-en-Barrois. Here the American army HQ stayed until the signing of the armistice.
Also during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive the Americans launched a series of costly assaults that finally broke through the German defences at the Battle of Montfaucon between the 14th to 17th October 1918. The U.S. forces finally cleared the Argonne Forest by the end of October 1918. The French who fought alongside the Americans on their left flank reached the Aisne River. It was in this action that Sergeant Alvin York became one of the most decorated United States Army soldiers of the Great War for leading an attack on a German machine-gun nest. His patrol took 35 machine-guns, killing at least twenty five enemy soldiers and capturing one hundred and thirty two men. York was awarded the Medal of Honor by the Americans and further honours by France, Italy and Montenegro.
On the Italian Front, the Third Battle of Monte Grappa began on the 24th October 1918, as part of the final Italian Offensive of the war. Control over Monte Grappa, which covered the left flank of the Italian Piave front, was contested between the armies of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Kingdom of Italy. The Italians had been forced to retreat during the Battle of Caporetta but halted the Austrian Offensive on the Piave River in late 1917. The Italian Chief of General Staff, General Luigi Cadorna, had ordered fortified defences constructed on the Monte Grappa summit which stabilized the Italian front along the Piave River. The Third Battle of Monte Grappa began when nine Italian divisions attacked the Austrian positions. The Austrians committed all their reserves to increase their force from nine to fifteen divisions but after Czechoslovakia declared independence from the Empire, the war-weary Austrian army began a general retreat from the 29th October 1918.
The Battle of Vittorio Veneto was fought from the 24th October to 4th November 1918 along the Piave River. The Tenth Italian Army, consisting of two Italian and two English divisions, were able to create a small but significant break in the Austrian lines. The turning point of the battle was on the 27th October 1918 when the decision was taken to exploit this breakthrough. The Austrians counter-attack failed on the 28th October 1918 and the Austro-Hungarian high command ordered a general retreat on the 29th October 1918 and organised an armistice commission to contact the Italians. Meanwhile the Italian army exploited the breakthrough and advanced on, and reached, the city of Vittorio Veneto on the 30th October 1918. The Italian troops reached Trento and Trieste on the 3rd November 1918 and the armistice was signed at 3.20 pm to become effective 24 hours later at 3.00 pm on the 4th November 1918.
Mesopotamia, the Middle East and the Caucasus
The final action fought on the Mesopotamian Front, the Battle of Sharqat, saw the British army secure control of the Mosul oilfields north of Baghdad. The British government had ordered the remaining Turkish influence in the region to be removed as much as possible prior to the anticipated Turkish armistice. The Anglo- Indian force left Baghdad on the 23rd October 1918 and within two days it had covered 120 km (75 miles) and expected to engage the Turkish army. However, the Turks had retreated a further 100 km (62.5 miles) to Sharqat and the British attacked on the 29th October 1918. Within a day, on the 30th October 1918, the Turks surrendered despite the fact their lines had not been breached by the Anglo-Indian forces. Mosul was peacefully occupied by the Indian Cavalry Division following the Battle of Sharqat, which was last battle in Mesopotamia.
Following the capture of Damascus, by the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) and Lawrence’s Arab forces, the Central Powers were collapsing and the EEF was required to push on to Aleppo, 320 km (200 miles) to the north. After a brief period of consolidation, the advance continued and Aleppo fell on the 26th October 1918. Four days later the Turkish signed the Armistice of Mudrus on the 30th October 1918.
In the Caucasus, military operations were halted when the Turkish-Ottoman Empire signed the Armistice of Mudros on the 30th October 1918. Following the defeat of the British-Armenian-White Russian forces at the Battle of Baku on the 14th September 1918, the Turkish Empire held the territory until the armistice. On the 27th August 1918, Germany had provided financial assistance to the Russian Bolshevik government to stop the Turkish Army of Islam in return for guaranteed access to Baku’s oil. However, a severe political crisis in Germany rendered the Caucasus expedition abortive. On the 21st October 1918, the German government ordered the withdrawal of all troops from the region denying support to the Turkish-Azerbaijani coalition. The Turks surrendered to the Allies and signed the Armistice on the 30th October 1918. The war with Turkey was over.
Over four years the campaign in the Middle East had sucked in nearly 1,200,000 men from all over the British Empire. With over 5,000 lost in battle and over 500,000 through disease, what was achieved is difficult to understand. If the intention was to knock Turkey out of the war, the EEF had failed as the Turks surrendered only a few weeks before the Germans. Could the forces on the Western Front have been better served if the resources not been diverted to the Middle East, Mesopotamia and Salonika?
On the 4th October 1918, in Bulgaria, Tsar Ferdinand I abdicated in favour of his son Boris III. Following the signing of the Bulgarian armistice with the Allies, Ferdinand’s abdication was an attempt to save the Bulgarian throne. However, in 1946 the Kingdom of Bulgaria was succeeded by the People’s Republic of Bulgaria ending the Bulgarian monarchy.
At the age of 55 years old the Reverend Theodore Bailey Hardy died of wounds on the 18th October 1918. He was Temporary Chaplain to the Forces and attached to the 8th Battalion the Lincolnshire Regiment. After being recommended for a VC in April 1918, he was presented with the Victoria Cross by King George V at Frohen-le-Grand, near Doullens, on 9th August 1918. There seems to have been no vanity streak in Reverend Hardy’s make-up and he was not hungry for medals. When told he had won the VC he said “I really must protest”. Reverend Hardy would habitually cover the array of ribbons on his chest with his arm so as to hide his embarrassment. The King was so impressed with Reverend Hardy that on 17th September 1918 he was appointed Chaplain to His Majesty. The King hoped that he would be able to persuade Reverend Hardy away from the dangers of the front line but even at over 50 years of age he refused all offers to leave “the boys”. Late 1918 finally found the Germans being pushed back and by early October the 8th Lincolns were approaching the river Selle. They managed to establish a crossing and the familiar voice of the chaplain could be heard moving through the ranks. Suddenly a burst of machine gun fire shattered the night air and the cry went up for stretcher bearers. The chaplain was hit in the thigh but at first it was considered not too serious and he was taken to Rouen. Sadly his condition deteriorated, pneumonia set in, and the gallant padre passed away on the 18th October 1918. Theodore Bailey Hardy was laid to rest in St. Sever cemetery in Rouen. A short memorial service was conducted by the corps chaplain Reverend Hales, and the service was well attended by officers and men of all units. There were other men of the cloth who lived exemplary lives at the front, but the respect and affection earned by Reverend Hardy was unique. If any single Briton deserved to be remembered for their unselfish humanity during that savage war the tiny, self-effacing Reverend Theodore Hardy, VC, DSO, MC, must surely be a candidate.
On the 20th October 1918, German Admiral Reinhardt Scheer, Naval Supreme Commander, ordered all his navy’s U-boat submarines to return to their German bases. This was after the final German torpedo was fired in the Irish Sea sinking a British merchant ship. Unrestricted submarine warfare was first introduced early in 1915 when Germany declared the area around the British Isles a war zone. Germany hoped the naval warfare could win the war despite the deadlock on the battlefields, but with Germany on the retreat, an armistice was the logical solution. When the German submarines returned to their home base, the entire Belgian coast was firmly under Allied control.
On the 29th October 1918, Admiral Scheer planned for a final fleet action against the British Grand Fleet. Scheer intended to inflict as much damage as possible on the British navy in order to retain a better negotiating position for Germany just prior to the armistice. However, many war-weary sailors felt the operation would disrupt the peace process and prolong the war. When the order was given to sail from Wilhelmshaven, sailors on several battleships mutinied. The unrest ultimately forced Scheer to cancel the operation.
After confrontation between Wilhelm Groener and Erich Ludendorff, who was Quartermaster General of the German Army, Groener was appointed as Ludendorff’s successor on 29th October 1918. Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, as Supreme Commander of the German Army, had dismissed Ludendorff, who had been his deputy. The dismissal was for the decline of the German military machine and the threat of social unrest and possible revolution amongst the civilian population. Groener started to prepare the withdrawal and demobilisation of the army, and also was in favour of accepting the Allies armistice terms.
In the final year of the Great War the Austro-Hungarian monarchy was suffering from an internal crisis caused by unrest amongst its numerous Slavic populations. The Proclamation for the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs, was a short-lived entity formed on the 29th October 1918 by the Slovenes, Croats and Serbs residing in what was the southernmost parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Although not internationally recognised this was the first indication of a Yugoslav State and was founded on the Slavic ideology. A month after it was proclaimed, the State joined the Kingdom of Serbia to form the Kingdom of Serbia, Croats and Slovenes.