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History of the Great War of 1914 to 1918 (1918)

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Operations on the Western Front, 1918

The conclusion of an armistice with the Russian Soviet Republic on December 15, 1917, left Germany at liberty to transfer to this front a force estimated to amount to more than a million of men with artillery in proportion, and the German army there was consequently increased from one hundred and fifty divisions in November, 1917, to one hundred and ninety-six in March, 1918. A considerable numerical preponderance was accordingly regained and combined with the enormous advantage of the unified command of a homogeneous force acting upon interior and therefore shorter lines. A deficiency in the necessaries of life had however produced serious discontent and suffering among the people, and the conviction was growing daily stronger that decisive success was no longer possible; still it was decided by the governing authorities to make a final desperate effort to gain a favourable decision by an offensive on a greater scale than had yet been attempted. Preparations for this were carried on with great secrecy for many weeks, by the concentration of troops in reserve positions, the accumulation of munitions and special training of “storm troops” in the new methods of attack that had recently been developed with marked success on the eastern front by General von Hutier. As the number of American troops in France was steadily increasing, and would increase still more rapidly when spring returned, this blow must be delivered at the earliest moment that operations became practicable. The point of junction between the British and French armies was naturally selected for the main attack with the intention of separating them and driving the British armies into the restricted area north of the Somme, where they would be hampered by want of room for manoeuvre. Forty divisions were brought forward by night marches with the utmost secrecy and held in positions concealed as far as practicable during daylight. Preceded by a short but very heavy bombardment and favoured by dull foggy weather, this attack began on a fifty-mile front extending from Arras to La Febre. The German soldiers had been assured that this would be the last battle and that a decisive victory would certainly bring peace. Emerging in dense masses from the fog which had screened them on leaving their reserve positions they flung themselves upon the British trenches with irresistible fury. They were preceded by a rolling barrage fire leaping forward at ten-minute intervals in which poisonous gas shells were mingled with shrapnel. The troops holding the advance positions were nearly annihilated and the few survivors easily overwhelmed by the rush of their assailants. The German infantry were accompanied with light cannon, portable trench mortars, a great number of machine guns and a few tanks of a cumbrous type. The two lines of defence, which had been so carefully prepared and were deemed practically impregnable, were soon pierced in four places. Both faces of the Cambrai salient were penetrated. The whole of the British Fifth Army was compelled to fall back, fighting desperately on all parts of their line where resistance seemed possible. The pursuit was carried on at first with tremendous energy, and many supporting batteries were taken or driven out of action. The retreating troops lost touch next day with the French on their right, and with the Third Army on their left. After being rallied on a second position several miles in rear, this line was broken and a further disorderly retreat took place. The Third Army had lost some ground on its right in the first attack. It was then obliged to retreat still further in the hope of maintaining contact with the Fifth Army, by whose hurried retreat a gap of eight miles was opened. This gap was hastily filled by an extemporized force of engineers, army service corps men and other details who took their place in the line at this critical moment. Peronne was evacuated on March 23 and Bapaume next day. The French were driven from Roye on March 27, and afterwards withdrew from Noyon, but continued to extend their line to the left in a vain effort to keep contact with the British Fifth Army. General von Hutier continued to press his advantage on the 27th by advancing more than ten miles and reaching Montdidier, an important railway junction. His onslaught had then spent its force and he was unable to gain further ground. To the northward the Germans regained the positions abandoned in 1916, occupying Albert on March 27. They had then advanced within fourteen miles of Amiens which thenceforth became one of their chief objectives. This great disaster convinced the Allies of the necessity of unity in command. Controversies and rivalry ceased for the moment. On March 31 it was announced that the Allied War Council had entrusted the supreme command to Marshal Ferdinand Foch, and that the entire American force had been placed at his disposal.

The Germans had solved the problem of breaking through a strongly intrenched front, but they had accomplished it at an enormous cost and the force of the blow was exhausted until they could reorganize their forces and prepare for the delivery of another. A pause of a week then ensued. On March 23 Paris had been bombarded at intervals by a high velocity gun which opened fire at a range of more than seventy miles. The material damage occasioned was not great, until Good Friday, March 29, when a church was wrecked by a shell and many of the congregation killed or injured.

The Germans crossed the Oise on April 5, and gained considerable ground at the expense of heavy losses. The French retired behind the river Ailette. The Germans forced the passage of this river on April 8, and made some further progress. Their main attack was then suddenly shifted to Flanders, where the first British army occupied the sector of the line between Arras and Ypres. After another short, but destructive artillery bombardment, an assault was made on a front of twenty miles between Givenchy and Ypres, having Hazebrouck as its chief objective. A Portuguese division in the front line was driven out with heavy loss, and a breach made on a front of nearly ten miles. The British position at Armentieres was turned on both flanks and abandoned during the night of April 10‑11. Neighbouring intrenchments were lost and retaken several times, but the British line from Bethune to Arras was eventually maintained. The German advance along the Lys continued; they reached the railway and approached within five miles of Hazebrouck. The situation had become so extremely critical that on April 12 Marshal Haig published a general order calling upon his troops to “die where they stood, fighting with their backs to the wall.” The German assaults were renewed with unremitting fury. Bailleul and Wyts-chaete were both taken on April 16, with the entire adjacent line of heights captured by the British the year before. Fierce fighting with varying success, in which these positions twice changed hands, continued for two days. Reinforcements of British and French troops had then come up and some American battalions were brigaded with the British. A violent attack was repulsed that day, and a pause followed which lasted for a week. The Germans were reinforced by specially trained “shock” and Alpine troops, and began another attack on April 25, after a very severe bombardment on a front of seven miles in the vicinity of Mount Kemmel. Here a section of five miles of the front line had been taken over from another area by veteran French troops, against whom the whole force of the onset was directed. Mount Kemmel and the adjacent villages were eventually taken after a stubborn defence and this compelled a considerable withdrawal from the line south of Ypres. All attempts to pursue, however, were checked with great loss. Subsequent attacks on the new British position were repelled and the German troops occupying Mount Kemmel were subjected to a destructive and continuous artillery fire. The German advance in Flanders had then been brought to a definite halt. On April 23 another offensive in the direction of Amiens made some progress, but in most places the assailants were repulsed or driven back by counter-attacks.

Finding that their efforts to force a passage to the Channel were unsuccessful and that a great body of troops had been assembled to resist them, the Germans then prepared to deliver a great attack on the French front in the direction of Paris. Twenty fresh divisions of veteran troops were brought forward by night marches with great secrecy. This attack was made along the Aisne on a front of thirty-five miles opposite Soissons and Reims. An artillery bombardment of terrific violence began at one o'clock on the morning of May 27, which continued for two hours and a half. Preceded by the usual barrage of gas shells and shrapnel, the German “storm troops,” accompanied by many tanks, swept over the front line trenches. Their success was greatest on a part of the line west of Craonne, where the defenders were driven across the Aisne, then across the Vesle, and nearly annihilated. Four British divisions, which had been worn out by hard fighting elsewhere and sent to this part of the line for rest, were forced to retreat in the direction of Reims. The German advance continued until the French had retired beyond the Marne, where they organized a fresh position and held their ground stubbornly. German attacks in the vicinity of Soissons and Reims met with little success. Inside of a week this offensive had lost its driving power. It had, however, been still more damaging than those preceding it, as a wide pocket was opened in the French front extending from the Aisne to the Marne, bringing the enemy appreciably nearer to Paris. The general situation had grown distinctly more serious for the Allies.

As a result of their costly experience, in attempting to resist these tremendous onslaughts on their advanced lines and in bringing up supporting troops through an exterminating barrage fire, it was decided by the Allied commanders to adopt a system of “elastic defence,” which had already indeed been successfully practised by the enemy on several occasions. Secret instructions were accordingly issued to army commanders directing them no longer to hold their first positions at all costs as heretofore, but to retire to a main line of resistance a considerable distance in rear, by which great losses from gas shells and barrage fire might be avoided. This was substantially a reversion to the old doctrine by which the line of supports was made the line of resistance.

On June 9 the Germans launched another attack on a front of twenty miles between Noyon and Montdidier, pushing forward in great force on both sides of the river Oise in the direction of Compiègne. They penetrated the French position to a depth of three miles and made further advances the next day. The French retired gradually to their main line of resistance among the hills south of the river Matz. The evident intention of the Germans on this occasion was to unite the two pockets they had previously formed and secure a new base of operations from which they might accomplish an effective bombardment of Paris and render that great city untenable. They failed to break through, although they used forty divisions in this offensive and suffered enormous losses. An attack on a large scale in the vicinity of Reims on June 18 also failed with very heavy loss. A pause in operations then occurred during which a great number of British and American troops arrived in France and careful preparations were made for a counter-offensive on a grand scale.

The German artillery preparation for their fifth and last effort began at midnight, July 14‑15, on a front extending for nearly sixty miles from Chateau Thierry to the western edge of the Argonne forest. Their fire was to a great extent wasted upon positions which the French had already determined to abandon, and when the infantry advanced at daybreak they were opposed by a mere curtain of troops, who retired rapidly before them. As they followed in pursuit, they were overwhelmed by the fire of batteries securely posted in the rear of the main line of defence. By using canvas boats they succeeded in crossing the Marne at several points and then establishing pontoon bridges. Their progress was definitely checked on July 16, and a vigorous counter-offensive began two days later against the exposed right flank of the German salient on the Marne. One of the secret preparations made for this counter-offensive was the construction of a very large number of light tanks on the Renault model, armed with small guns to accompany the infantry in their advance. Rain was falling heavily on the morning of July 18, when the French counter-offensive began in the region between Villers Cotterets and Soissons by an army commanded by General Mangin, whose troops had been discreetly hidden in the wooded valleys among the hills. There was no preliminary bombardment. The infantry advanced at dawn under cover of a rolling barrage, directed by the map, and accompanied by eight hundred swift “mosquito tanks.” The German front line was taken by surprise and gave way. On the left the French advanced until they reached the hills overlooking Soissons, and in some places the French cavalry pressed through the gaps thus created and took part in the pursuit. When night fell the Allies were able to report that twenty thousand prisoners and three hundred and sixty guns had been taken. Three British divisions and many British tanks took part in this attack near Reims. Several divisions of United States troops also co-operated in the vicinity of Chateau Thierry, where they fought stoutly. The pressure of the Allies continued with encouraging success, driving the Germans steadily before them until they were forced to recross the Marne, and part of their troops were withdrawn to the Aisne. These advances had the effect of materially shortening the allied front, and removing the menace against Paris. Large masses of troops assembled as reserves for a projected offensive against the British front under Prince Ruprecht of Bavaria were drawn away to resist this attack and the contemplated operation was consequently abandoned.

On July 23, a secret conference was held of the allied commanders at which the methods for developing the advantages of the success already gained were discussed at considerable length. The commanders of the British, French and American armies were required to prepare plans for local offensives to be undertaken at an early date with definite limited objectives. The first great objective proposed on the British front was the liberation of the Amiens-Paris railway which had been rendered unworkable by the enemy's fire for several weeks.

War in the air

The British forces had been greatly diminished by casualties during the two great offensives directed against them in March and April. Eight divisions had then been reduced to mere skeletons and no longer could be regarded as fighting formations. Two others which still continued in the line were greatly weakened. There had been immense losses of artillery and military stores, including two hundred tanks, material for light railways, rolling stock and motor carriages. Two months of comparative quiet had brought about a great improvement. The gaps in the ranks were more than filled by drafts from England and reinforcements from other fronts. The number of infantry divisions had been increased from forty-five to fifty-two, and the total strength of British troops employed in France was not less than 1,700,000. All losses of material had been more than replaced. The artillery was stronger than ever before and a stock of thirty-five million shells had been accumulated for its use. New lines of railway had been built and additional tracks laid on old lines in many places, totalling a length of two hundred miles. New defensive lines of great strength and remarkable complexity had been constructed which included five thousand miles of trenches. By the end of July, the British forces were wholly reorganized in France and prepared to undertake the great task imposed upon them. Reserves amounting to more than a million of men were under training in England from whom losses could be readily replaced. A decided supremacy had been secured in aerial warfare. To enable this attack to be made with sufficient force, it was decided to transfer the Canadian Corps from the area occupied by the First British Army to that held by the Fourth Army. In order to deceive the enemy as regards this move, two battalions were placed in the line in the Kemmel hill sector and wireless messages purposely sent to be intercepted, worded in such a way as to indicate the presence of Canadians in this part of the front. It was freely announced that the corps would move in the direction of Ypres, where the Second Army expected an attack. Many tanks were ostentatiously paraded near St. Pol. The transfer began on July 30, and the movement into battle-assembly positions was completed on the night of August 7‑8. The concentration area lay to the southwest of Amiens, a distance of forty miles from the battle-assembly position. Every precaution was taken to conduct these movements with the greatest secrecy. The troops moved by railway, motor bus and route march, entraining and detraining being accomplished during hours of darkness. The area chosen for concentration was heavily wooded and well adapted for concealing the presence of troops. The advance of the infantry to the position of assembly was accomplished in motor lorries and buses during the night. Here woods, villages and sunken roads afforded considerable cover from overhead observation. The extensive wood of Gentelles was largely used to conceal the assembly of many tanks. Cloudy and foggy weather greatly favoured secrecy and the movement of these troops seems to have been unobserved by the enemy.

The front of attack covered twenty thousand yards. The First French Army, acting under the orders of the Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, was to attack on the right, the Canadian Corps in the centre, the Australian Corps on its left and the Third British Corps on the left of the latter. The intention was to push forward rapidly in the direction of the railway leading from Roye to Chaulnes. A large number of officers from the Australian and Canadian Corps were sent to observe demonstrations of co-operation between tanks and infantry at the training school to familiarize them with the combined tactics of these troops. After a brief bombardment on the morning of August 8 four hundred and fifteen heavy and light tanks advanced, followed by strong columns of infantry, the number of tanks allotted to each division ranging from twenty-four to thirty-six according to the nature of the ground. This movement was favoured by heavy fog which screened them from view until close to the German positions. The ground was broken and interspersed with many compact villages surrounded with gardens and orchards, and here and there small woods and copses. The German defences consisted largely of disconnected trenches with many machine gun emplacements scattered about. Their defenders were surprised and the advance was extremely rapid at first. The German positions were penetrated to a depth of more than eight miles and many villages captured. In an official report the defeat of the German Second Army on this occasion was attributed to the fact that “the troops were surprised by the massed attack of the tanks and lost their heads when the tanks suddenly appeared behind them, having broken through under the protection of natural and artificial fog.” The attack was resumed on the morning of the 9th and rapid progress again made all along its front, in some places to a depth of more than six miles. During the day the resistance perceptibly stiffened and the Germans brought up fresh troops supported by a few huge tanks. The movement of the French First Army had been restricted to a demonstration in force on the 8th followed on the morning of the 9th by a heavy artillery bombardment which was discontinued about noon-day. The Germans were thrown off their guard and relaxed their vigilance in the course of the afternoon. At five o'clock when they were engaged in preparing their evening meal, the French began their principal infantry attack, moving swiftly against the German line of retreat, eastward, and ultimately surrounding the town of Montdidier which was taken about noon on the 10th. The German reserves had been moved to protect the important railway junction at Chaulnes from the British attack. Counter-attacks were repelled on August 11 and 12, and the French continued their advance all along their front from Montdidier as far as the Oise. They crossed the Matz and recaptured several villages on the further bank. Farther to the south and east other advances were made. This success brought the allied troops into the old trenches occupied by them in 1916, and the pressure of strong German reserves supported by many batteries of artillery made a further advance inexpedient. Thirteen British infantry divisions and three cavalry divisions had been engaged and in the course of four days they had captured 21,850 prisoners and four hundred guns. Twenty German divisions were identified among the prisoners.

The French army commanded by General Mangin began a forward movement east of the river Oise on August 18. Attacking on a nine-mile front, with a large number of light tanks which enabled him to break up the German machine gun positions very easily, he made rapid progress. Resuming his advance on August 20, on a wider front, he took ten thousand prisoners and gained the line of the Ailette on August 22.

The British attack was then transferred to the north. The Canadian Corps and the Second American Corps were moved in that direction by night in railway trains and motor transport vehicles. On August 22 the Third Army under Sir Julian Byng, reinforced by these two corps, attacked in the direction of Bapaume and reached the Arras-Albert railway. The point of attack then shifted to the south of Albert. That town was captured and the assailants crossed the river Ancre. German reserves, hurried up to oppose this attack, were defeated. Montauban was taken on the 26th and on the following day the New Zealand division entered Bapaume. On August 23, another advance began from Arras along the Scarpe, which was equally successful in spite of obstinate resistance. The town of Bray was taken by another British force on August 24. On August 26 the Canadian Corps co-operating with the Seventeenth British Corps carried the German positions at Monchy-le-Preux, Wancourt and Roeux. German reserves thrown in on the following day were repulsed and a further gain of ground made. Southward of this the Australians made a swift advance in the direction of Peronne which they carried by assault on the 31st, after severe fighting from house to house, taking many prisoners. By these operations the flank of the German positions on the Somme was turned, and they were compelled to withdraw to the east bank of that river. Twenty-three divisions were engaged on the part of the Allies, and during the ten last days of August, they took 34,250 prisoners and 270 guns. They had been opposed by thirty-five German divisions.

French troops, who had been released by the shortening of their front after the success of their recent operations, moved northward and took over part of the line from the British. A successful attack was made by them on August 25. On August 27 they took Roye and next day captured Chaulnes. The Germans withdrew from Noyon on August 29 and the French pursued them closely. On September 4 Mangin commenced a new offensive in which he succeeded in crossing the Aisne near Vailly. This compelled a further retirement of the German line in that region. They fell back to their old defensive positions in advance of Douai, Cambrai, St. Quentin, and Laon. The First British Army striking eastward from Arras had made slow progress against very stubborn opposition. Experience gained in the operations near Amiens indicated that tanks should follow rather than precede the infantry. An attack was launched early on the morning of September 2 by the Canadian Corps and 17th British Corps against the Drocourt-Quéant system of defence Preceded by an effective barrage and followed by a large fleet of tanks the infantry advanced on both sides of the Arras-Cambrai national road and carried the German intrenchments on a front of eight miles, in the face of a most resolute resistance by ten German divisions, holding a very strongly prepared position. This was one of the most remarkable exploits during the war. Almost 10,000 prisoners were taken and an advance made of five miles. Further progress was made next day and on September 4 the British advanced within seven miles of Cambrai. The Germans were forced to fall back on the outer defences of the Hindenburg line. As a result of these operations the Lys salient was evacuated by them. Lens, Bailleul and Kemmel Hill were abandoned and the important railway centre at Hazebrouck was freed from any further menace. Seven British divisions were engaged in this operation. Between August 26 and September 3 they took 8,850 prisoners belonging to thirteen German divisions, and 200 guns.

By the night of September 8 the Germans had retired to the general line, Vermand-Epehy-Havrincourt, and thence running northward along the east bank of the Canal du Nord. From Havrincourt southward, their main line of resistance was the system of defences known as the Hindenburg line which ran southeastward of the Scheldt canal at Bantouzelle, thence following the line of that canal to St. Quentin. In front of this main line strong detachments held well prepared advance positions about Havrincourt and Epehy, which must be taken before a final attack could be made on the Hindenburg line. On September 12 two corps of the Third British Army attacked on a front of five miles at Havrincourt, employing the New Zealand and three British divisions. These positions were carried and the line advanced. On September 17 the Ninth British and the Australian Corps captured Holnon village and a neighbouring wood. Next day, early in the morning, the Third and Fourth Armies attacked in the midst of a heavy rain on a front of seventeen miles extending from Holnon to Gouzeaucourt, accompanied by a small number of tanks. The First French Army and two American divisions co-operated south of Holnon. The British troops advanced to a depth of three miles as far as a strongly organized belt of defences formed of the old British and German lines of 1917. They were stubbornly opposed and had severe losses. Fourteen British divisions were engaged and captured 11,750 prisoners among whom fifteen German divisions were identified, and took one hundred guns. All the positions required for an attack on the main Hindenburg line were then secured. The French army had also advanced steadily on their right and on September 20 reached the Oise near Vendeuil. The fort of that name was taken by them on September 22.

The First American Army was organized in the latter part of August by the withdrawal of divisions hitherto serving with other allied armies. General Pershing was placed in command and took over a sector of the front extending from Port-Sur-Seille to Verdun, where he began independent operations. After a very fierce artillery preparation lasting for four hours in the early morning of September 12 the seven leading divisions assisted on the left by French troops advanced at daybreak against the German salient at St. Mihiel, preceded by a number of tanks whose crews were provided with wire cutting torpedoes and other instruments for demolition of entanglements. This movement was made on a front of ten miles, and by noon some of the outer positions were taken. During the afternoon the advance was continued, and at daybreak on the following morning the retreat of a considerable body of the defenders was intercepted. Violent counter-attacks enabled a portion of the German forces to withdraw, but 16,000 prisoners and 443 guns were taken. All the ground necessary as a starting point for the projected advance down the Meuse was carried.

This series of operations is a notable example of well coordinated effort. It was only made possible by unity of command and a highly efficient service of supply and transport. An immense army of railway construction troops, foresters, artificers, and labourers of all descriptions was constantly employed on the lines of communication behind the advancing troops. Several hundred thousand unskilled labourers had been recruited in the African and Asiatic possessions of Great Britain and France and in China. The losses of the fighting troops had been severe, but they were rapidly replaced from the large reserves constantly pouring into France from England and the United States. The French had likewise organized and brought in from their African dominions fighting troops numbering nearly a million men.

It was next decided, after a careful discussion between the allied commanders, that four convergent and simultaneous offensives should be undertaken. These were as follows: by the Americans west of the Meuse in the direction of Mézières; by the French west of the Argonne in close co-operation with the American attack and having the same general objective; by the British on the St. Quentin-Cambrai front in the general direction of Maubeuge; by Belgian and other allied troops in Flanders in the direction of Ghent. It was anticipated that if these operations were successful the German forces opposed to the French and Americans would be forced back into the difficult hilly region of the Ardennes, while the British advance would strike at their chief lines of communication. In Flanders it was expected that the gradual weakening of the German forces would enable the Allies to clear the Belgian coast by a surprise attack. Much depended upon the success of the British advance in the centre, as the German system of defence was there most strongly developed and if it was once broken, their lines of lateral communication would be vitally menaced.

By launching these attacks in rapid succession along a front of one hundred and twenty miles, the enemy would be unable to shift about his reserves on interior lines of communication as he had done so frequently in the past with success. His troops would be nailed to their positions and if the Hindenburg line was once penetrated he would be driven from a defensive position where he had probably planned to remain during the winter.

As these operations were to commence from the right, the whole of the First American Army was transferred to the area behind the sector of the line between the Meuse and the western edge of the Argonne forest which had been quiet for many months and was thinly held by both the opposing forces. In rear of their front lines, the Germans had, however, constructed three strongly fortified alternative positions. On the morning of September 26, the First American and Fourth French Army accordingly attacked on both sides of the Argonne between the Meuse and Suippe rivers. The right flank of the American army was covered by the Meuse; its left wing was, however, obliged to force its way through a region of hills, ravines and thick woods, obstructed by numerous entanglements and trenches. Although this movement appears to have taken the Germans by surprise to some extent, reserves were soon brought and the advance was checked. On the right the first and second lines of defence were taken with several thousand prisoners. West of the Argonne the French penetrated to the German second line, where they were held up.

The British First and Third Armies, on the evening of September 26, occupied a front extending from the village of Selency, west of St. Quentin, through Gouzeaucourt and Havrincourt to the marshy and inundated country on the banks of the Sensée River at Écourt St. Quentin.

Between St. Quentin and Bantouzelle the main defences of the Hindenburg line lay generally on the east side of the Scheldt canal and were sited with great skill to prevent the occupation of suitable artillery positions for their attack. The canal itself was utilized to furnish cover for troops in reserve or rest and for the garrisons of the main trenches during a bombardment. Deep cuttings were numerous, being in some places sixty feet in depth, and in one case the canal passed through a tunnel for a distance of three and one-half miles. This tunnel was used to provide quarters for troops and was connected by shafts with trenches above. In the sides of the cuttings many tunnelled dug-outs and shelters of concrete had been constructed. Along the crest of the bank were numerous concealed machine gun emplacements. On the western side of the canal two well-organized lines of trenches ran parallel to it south of Bellicourt, where the canal cutting became shallow. They were protected by wide belts of wire entanglements. Many other trenches, switch lines and communication trenches, in most cases strongly wired, were constructed to strengthen weak points or gain desirable fields of fire. The entire defensive system, with numerous fortified villages, occupied a belt of country varying in width from seven to ten thousand yards, thoroughly organized with every device, revealed by four years' experience in active warfare. The northern portion of the canal was deemed too formidable an obstacle to attempt its passage in the face of the enemy. The extraordinary strength of the position made a prolonged artillery preparation necessary. This began during the night of September 26-27, along the whole front of all three armies, with the intention of deceiving the enemy as to the main point of an attack to be delivered by the First and Third Armies only. At 5.20 a.m. on September 27 the Canadian and three British corps began their advance in the direction of Cambrai, on a front of thirteen miles, extending from Gouzeaucourt northward. Assisted by sixty-five tanks the infantry soon penetrated deeply into the German position, in the face of stubborn resistance. The passage of the canal was forced at several points and the slopes on the farther bank secured. Bridges were then quickly constructed and the leading divisions passed over. At the end of the day a substantial advance had been made all along the front of attack. Ten thousand prisoners and two hundred guns were taken. Next day the movement was continued and several fortified villages carried by assault. The bombardment begun on the morning of September 27 had been maintained along the whole front of the Fourth Army for forty-eight hours without intermission. During that day alone the British artillery fired 943,837 shells, weighing 40,000 tons. This was a greater expenditure of ammunition than had been made in the entire South African war lasting three years. The troops in the German front line were driven by this intense fire into their deep dugouts and tunnels and their provision parties were unable to bring up food and ammunition.

On the morning of September 29 an attack was made on a front of twelve miles, extending northward from Holnon by two British and one American corps, aided by a large fleet of tanks. On the right of the Fourth Army the French First Army continued the attack in the sector of St. Quentin, while on its left two corps of the Third Army also attacked. One division of the Fourth British Army stormed the village of Bellenglise on the eastern side of the canal, some troops crossing the canal on foot bridges which the enemy had not been allowed time to destroy, others equipped with life-belts and carrying mats, rafts, and scaling ladders dropped down the steep sides of the canal and swam or waded across. The German trenches with their posts in the great tunnel were carried and the garrison of the village surrounded and taken. The 46th Midland division alone took 4,600 prisoners and more than a thousand machine guns. The second American corps further north was obstinately opposed, but succeeded in carrying the main points of resistance. The Third Army captured Masnières and secured the crossings of the canal on the outskirts of Cambrai. The Canadian Corps gained ground to the northwest of that town, taking two villages. Attacks continued on all these fronts for the next two days. On September 30 the gap in the Hindenburg line was considerably enlarged. The Germans abandoned two of their main positions on the west side of the canal and retired behind it. Next day the First French Army attacked from the west, taking the greater part of St. Quentin, driving the enemy from house to house, while the Australian Corps and a British division attacked on their left, reaching the railway beyond the canal. Wet weather accompanied by high winds drenched the troops and soaked the fields, but did not stop the advance. On October 2 the French took the remainder of St. Quentin and their lines south of the town were advanced to the river Oise. South of Cambrai the New Zealand division and one British division took two fortified villages; while north of that town the Canadian corps cleared the high ground. The fighting here was extremely severe, as in the course of five days the Germans employed eleven divisions in succession in their frantic efforts to check this attack. The advance was continued along the whole front with slow but steady success until October 8, when the Canadian Corps carried the canal crossings near Ramillies, northeast of Cambrai, making that town untenable. The Germans consequently abandoned it and fell back on the line of the river Selle. On the night of October 9 Cambrai was occupied by British and Canadian troops. In ten days of victorious fighting the last and strongest German line had been effectually smashed and the way opened for a war of movement and a thrust against their railway communications. This may be regarded as one of the most decisive operations of the war. Between September 27 and October 10 thirty-five British infantry, three British cavalry, and two American infantry divisions engaged forty-five German infantry divisions, from whom they took twelve thousand prisoners and two hundred and fifty guns. The moral effect of so damaging a defeat was of still greater importance.

Arrangements for the development of offensive operations on the Flanders front were settled at a conference held by Marshal Foch at Cassel on September 9. The large force assigned for these operations was placed under the command of the King of the Belgians. It was composed of the Belgian Army, two corps of the British Second Army, several French divisions, and two American divisions transferred from the Meuse. Without any preliminary bombardment the two British corps attacked on a front of five miles and easily carried the whole of the high ground east of Ypres, which had been so fiercely fought over the year before. The Belgian attack was made on an eight mile front from Dixmude to the north of Ypres and made an advance of about three miles. Next day, the British crossed the Lys and advanced upon Roulers, which the Belgians were likewise approaching. The Germans commenced to withdraw from La Bassée and from Armentieres and Lens. A salient was driven into their lines which greatly endangered their positions on the Belgian coast. During its advance on September 28-29 the Second British Army took 4,800 prisoners and one hundred guns.

The second and final phase of the British offensive then began, having the capture of Maubeuge and the disruption of the main lateral system of the German railway communications as its chief objectives. The Fourth and Third British Armies, and the right of the First Army advanced with the left flank resting on the canal running from Cambrai to Mons and its right covered by the First French Army. North and south of the Aisne the French armies, assisted by some Italian troops, continued their forward movement. On October 8 the First French Army advanced along the Oise to the southward of St. Quentin, and French and American troops attacked in Champagne and east of the Meuse, and made important progress. The Third and Fourth British Armies advanced on a front of seventeen miles in the direction of Le Cateau, assisted by one American division. The German positions were penetrated after severe fighting to a depth of between three and four miles. Their unfinished trenches were quickly carried, and they were driven into the open country beyond. The enemy's resistance fairly broke down; his infantry became disorganized and retired eastward. British air-scouts reported that the roads converging on Le Cateau were jammed with retreating infantry and transport vehicles. Next morning the advance was resumed and the British cavalry engaged in the pursuit. When night came the advanced troops were within two miles of Le Gateau and the Germans had been prevented from completing the destruction of the railway. On October 10 progress continued, but the German resistance perceptibly stiffened, and attempts of the British cavalry to pass the Selle were unsuccessful. The French First Army made a substantial advance east of St. Quentin. In this operation twenty British infantry, and two British cavalry divisions, and one American infantry division drove before them twenty-four German divisions and took from them 12,000 prisoners and 250 guns. Full possession was gained of the important double-tracked line of railway from St. Quentin to Cambrai, running through Busigny. By October 13 the British armies had advanced to the river Selle and established bridge-heads at several places. Another deep pocket had been driven into the German position. French and American troops had pushed forward steadily on both sides of the Argonne. The entire ridge of the Chemin des Dames was occupied by them on October 11 and 12. La Fère and Laon were entered on October 13 without opposition. The key of the old German line in-France was abandoned.

At daybreak on October 14 the allied forces commanded by the King of the Belgians resumed the offensive on the whole front extending from the river Lys at Comines to Dixmude. This attack was attended by complete success. Roulers was taken, and on October 16 and 17 the allied troops entered Menin and Courtrai. The defences of Lille were turned on both flanks. The Germans removed their supplies and abandoned that city on October 16, when it was entered by the British troops. Ostend was evacuated on October 17, with the important submarine bases on the Belgian coast. The next German line of defence was established on the Selle and Scheldt rivers.

The advance of the American forces on the right was slow and difficult, owing to the hilly nature of the country, the stubborn resistance of the enemy, and to some extent to a breakdown of their transport services, which had been encumbered with an undue amount of baggage. Their staff was inexperienced and had not the advantage of satisfactory railway lines of communication. On October 4 the First American Army renewed its attack along its entire front, advancing on both banks of the Meuse and along the winding valley of the Aire, where the wooded hills of the Argonne had been skillfully fortified. Its losses were severe, but the casualties were rapidly replaced. Not until October 16, however, did this force succeed in gaining a foothold in the German third line of defence, taking the town of Grandpré, an important road junction. Here it halted for the purpose of re-organization for an effective attack on the Freya position, the last German line south of Sedan, which was its prospective objective. On the American left the French advanced on the same day crossed the river Aisne and took the German positions on the right bank. General Gouraud then moved along the Aisne, taking Neufchatel and other towns. Vouziers was captured on October 12, and a further advance made in the direction of Rethel. The German retreat on that part of the line had become general, but was accomplished in good order.

The communications on the British front were rapidly improved and it was soon possible to undertake further important operations. On October 17 the Fourth Army attacked on a front of ten miles from Le Cateau with two British and one American corps, acting in conjunction with the First French Army on its right. The Germans held a line running through a wooded undulating country in great strength, and were well supported by their artillery. Their resistance was obstinate, but by the night of October 19 they were driven across the Sambre and Oise canal at nearly all points south of Catillon. This success was followed up at two o'clock next morning by the advance of six divisions of the Third British Army and one division of the First Army along the line of the Selle River north of Le Cateau. Supported by a number of tanks, which succeeded in crossing the river, the infantry overcame a very stubborn resistance and repelled vigorous counter-attacks. The objectives on the high ground east of the Selle were gained while the other troops of the First Army advanced on both sides of the Scheldt canal and occupied Denain.

Another large operation was undertaken on a front of fifteen miles shortly after midnight on the morning of October 23, in which four divisions of the Fourth and the same number from the Third British Army were engaged. Next day three divisions of the First Army extended the line of attack for five miles further northward to the Scheldt. Unfavourable weather had made it difficult to locate the enemy's batteries, and their fire was heavy and well directed; still, in the course of two days' fighting, an advance of six miles was made through difficult country. Many woods and villages were stubbornly held by the opposing troops, and one of the latter was not taken until the afternoon of October 24, by an enveloping attack of two divisions. The western outskirts of the Mormal forest were reached and in the course of minor operations in the three following days, a large section of the railway running from Valenciennes to Le Quesnoy was seized. In the course of the fighting between October 17 and 25 twenty-four British and two American divisions had engaged thirty-one German divisions, from whom they took twenty-one thousand prisoners and four hundred and fifty guns, and carried their objectives at all points. It became apparent that the German infantry and machine gun troops were no longer reliable, and in several instances they retired in front of the British artillery barrage without fighting. The difficulty of replacing their heavy losses in guns, machine guns, and ammunition had enormously increased, and the German reserves of men were almost exhausted. The capitulation of Turkey and Bulgaria and the approaching collapse of Austria rendered their military situation desperate and their troops had become thoroughly disheartened. It still seemed possible that if their armies were allowed to withdraw to shorter lines near their own frontier, they might protract the contest during the winter. To anticipate this, another general forward movement was undertaken on the whole allied front.

On October 9 a second American army was formed and took over a sector of the front in the Woevre. Twenty-one American divisions were then in the field, numbering with other army troops nearly a million men. The American First Army continued its advance slowly down the left bank of the Meuse, overcoming stubborn resistance. On November 2 it had advanced as far as Buzancy and cleared the Germans out of the Argonne. The Third Army Corps forced the passage of the Meuse at two points on November 4 and 5, and gained a footing on the right bank. On November 6, the first corps reached the river opposite Sedan, which it entered in conjunction with French troops next day. On November 8 other troops of the same army advanced to Montmedy and occupied Stenay on November 10.

After the capture of Vouziers, the French army moved against that portion of the Argonne lying north of Grandpré, which they cleared of the Germans after several days severe fighting. Another column of the same army occupied Hirson on November 9, and advanced to the Belgian frontier. Between the Aisne and Meuse, Gouraud's army advanced without opposition until it arrived on the Meuse between Sedan and Mezières, where it crossed the river and retook the latter town. Mangin's army reached the north bank of the Serre on October 25, and crossed the Aisne at various points between Rethel and Attigny on November 5. The First French Army commanded by General Debeney advanced along the Oise. They were strongly opposed at Guise which was resolutely held by the Germans until October 23.

Canadian troops entering Mons at the close of the War

Early on the morning of November 1, the Seventeenth Corps of the British Third Army, and the Twenty-second and Canadian Corps belonging to the First Army attacked on a front of six miles south of Valenciennes. In the course of two days bitter fighting the Germans were expelled from their positions, and the Fourth Canadian Division captured Valenciennes and advanced beyond that town. On November 3, the Germans withdrew and the line was further advanced. As information was then secured that a further retirement was under contemplation, the principal attack was accelerated. This was launched by the Fourth, Third and First British armies on November 4, upon a front of thirty miles, extending from the Sambre north of Cisy to Valenciennes. The character of the country made this an extremely difficult operation. The river had to be crossed at the start and in the centre the great forest of Mormal, obstructed by the debris of German forestry operations, presented a formidable obstacle. Further northward several streams running parallel to the line of advance must be passed and the fortified town of Le Quesnoy had to be taken. Proceeded by a most effective artillery barrage the German positions were soon penetrated along the whole front, and by nightfall an advance of five miles was accomplished. The Sambre was crossed by rafts and the town of Landrecies was taken. Before dawn on November 5 fighting was resumed and the eastern edge of the forest was reached. Le Quesnoy was surrounded by the New Zealand division, and the German garrison surrendered in the afternoon. On the British right the French First Army continued the line of attack southward to the vicinity of Guise, taking many prisoners and guns. By these operations the German resistance was finally broken. During the night they fell back on nearly their whole front, and on the three following days, in the midst of continuous rain, the victorious troops continued to press forward almost without opposition. The roads packed with the enemy's troops and carriages presented favourable targets for the airmen of the allies, who made effective use of their opportunities in spite of the weather. Many guns and vehicles were abandoned by the retreating forces. On November 8 the British troops entered the outskirts of Maubeuge, and that fortress was occupied next day. The First, Fifth and Second British Armies crossed the Scheldt in several columns. On November 10 the advance of all five British Armies continued with cavalry and cyclists operating in front of the infantry. Little opposition was encountered except in the neighbourhood of Mons, and in the early morning of November 11 that town was captured by the Third Canadian Division with small loss. The whole of its defenders were killed or taken prisoners. The great disorder of the retiring troops, the number of the abandoned trains and stores of all kinds indicated that their defeat had been decisive. At eleven a.m. on November 11, in pursuance of instructions from the Commander in Chief of the allied armies, hostilities were suspended in consequence of the conclusion of an armistice. The right of the Fourth Army had then crossed the Franco-Belgian frontier.

During this last phase of the operations which has received the name of the battle of Maubeuge, extending from November 1 to November 11, twenty-six British divisions were engaged with thirty-two German divisions from whom they took 19,000 prisoners and 460 guns. The enemy's last great line of lateral communications was broken. His positions on the Scheldt were turned and his forces separated into two distinct groups by the great natural barrier of the Ardennes.

During this long period of uniformly successful offensive enterprises beginning on July 18, the British armies had taken 188,700 prisoners and 2,480 guns, the capture of 31,537 prisoners and 623 guns being credited to the Canadian Corps; French armies had taken 139,000 prisoners and 1,880 guns; the American armies had taken 43,300 prisoners and 1,421 guns; Belgian armies had taken 14,500 prisoners and 474 guns.

The terms of the armistice provided for the evacuation by the German armies of the countries on the left bank of the Rhine, and the occupation of these territories by allied and American garrisons holding the principal crossings of the Rhine at Mayence, Coblenz, and Cologne with bridge-heads at those points having a radius of thirty kilometres on the right bank. This evacuation was to be completed in thirty-one days after the signing of the armistice. In conformity with these arrangements, it was decided that the First and Fourth British Armies should advance to the Rhine and that the Canadian Corps should form part of the Second army. This movement began on November 17, each army advancing with two corps in front, marching in several nearly parallel columns. This long march was conducted by easy stages. The German frontier was crossed on December 4, and Cologne reached by the leading troops on December 10. The bridge-head at Mayence was occupied by French troops and that at Coblenz by Americans.

Operations on Italian Front, 1918

During the early part of the year there were few engagements of much importance on this front. Austrian attempts to cross the lower Piave failed without exception.

On June 15 their long expected offensive commenced on a front of ninety miles, extending from the Asiago plateau to the shores of the Adriatic. In the sector of the Brenta they succeeded in penetrating the first three lines of Italian intrenchments taking many prisoners. Their advance was finally checked on the 17th. Elsewhere after crossing the river they were held up close to its banks. The Austrians reported the capture of 30,000 prisoners and 120 guns, and the Italians stated that they had taken 9,000 Austrians. Very heavy rains then came to the assistance of the Italians, causing a complete suspension of operations. The Piave River rose rapidly and carried away several bridges, leaving large bodies of Austrian troops on the right bank, separated from their reserves and supplies. The situation of these forces became very perilous, but they succeeded in retiring across the river on the night of June 22, at most points, not without heavy losses. In a series of successful operations on June 24 and 25 the Italians reported the capture of 18,000 prisoners. On July 6 the Austrians were forced out of positions near the mouth of the Piave which they had held since November, 1917. In October the situation on the western front had become so promising that Marshal Foch directed a general Italian offensive on the Upper Piave by which he anticipated that the Austrian forces might be separated and defeated in detail. The main attack began on the night of October 26‑27, in which the Tenth British army under Lord Cavan participated in conjunction with two Italian armies. The passage of the river was forced, and after two days hard fighting, the Austrians were driyen from their main positions. On October 31 the allied armies reached the line of the Livenza, advancing on a very wide front. Then the Austrians requested an armistice which was refused. They were rapidly driven across that river and their retreat practically became a rout. Udine and Belluno were retaken, and the Tagliamento was crossed on November 2 so quickly as to prevent the Austrians from taking up a new position behind that river. An armistice was concluded on November 3, by which the total demobilization of the whole Austro-Hungarian army and the evacuation of all territories invaded by them was agreed upon. During their advance the allied armies had taken three hundred thousand prisoners and five thousand guns. The overthrow of Austria as a military power was complete.

Operations on the Balkan Front, 1918

French and Italian troops began a series of offensive operations in Albania early in June which met with considerable success. The Greek army had been thoroughly re-organized and trained by French officers with the intention of co-operating in the recovery of Serbia, by a general attack on the Bulgarian army in the vicinity of Lake Doiran and the region of Kavadar. British, Greek, French, and Serbian troops took part in these operations, which began by a general attack on September 15. The Bulgarian lines were pierced and their forces separated and driven back on divergent roads. The pursuit was vigorously pressed, and by September 23 the Bulgarian troops became thoroughly disorganized, abandoning their trains and throwing away their arms. The victorious forces marched at once upon the capital, and the Bulgarian Government requested an armistice on September 26, which was granted on terms practically amounting to an unconditional surrender. All fighting ceased at noon on September 30. The defeat of the Bulgarians left the Austro-German forces in Serbia and Albania in such an exposed situation that a rapid retreat became inevitable. Durazzo was taken by Italian troops on October 14, and on November 3, after the conclusion of the armistice with Austria, allied forces were landed at Scutari for the occupation of the country until a treaty of peace was signed.

The War in Asia, 1918

After taking Jerusalem General Sir E. H. Allenby advanced slowly northward, with a view of preventing any movement against General Marshall's army in Mesopotamia by the large Turkish army assembled at Aleppo, under von Falkenhayn. An irregular force of Arabs, organized by the king of the Hedjaz, assisted him by co-operating on the east side of the Jordan. Jericho was taken on February 21, and the Turks retreated beyond the Jordan. Early in March British troops advanced in Mesopotamia, defeating an opposing force on two occasions.

The Russian army of occupation in Armenia began its evacuation of the country early in February, followed by the Turks who re-occupied Trebizond and Erzerum, and took Batum on April 16. A small British column, pushing swiftly forward from Mesopotamia, after a very difficult and trying march of nearly seven hundred miles, took possession of Baku, a city of great importance on account of its large production of mineral oil. Late in the year, when menaced by an attack from a much superior force of German and Bolshevist troops, this detachment was withdrawn. During the hot season, while active operations were suspended, General Allenby held a line extending from the Mediterranean coast to the Jordan, some fifteen miles in advance of Jerusalem, while a Turkish force exceeding 100,000 men occupied the hills of Samaria on his front. A military railway had been completed connecting Jerusalem with Cairo, and a pipe line was laid for the conveyance of water from the Nile. The Turkish position was naturally very strong and had been carefully prepared for defence. Their troops were supplied by two short railway spurs from the Damascus line, while the main highway from Jerusalem to Damascus ran directly through their position and would form their natural line of retreat. A series of demonstrations and limited attacks was planned upon the left of their main position lying between the highroad and the Jordan River to attract their attention to that part of their line while the main attack was launched to their right near the sea coast. If this succeeded in effecting a breach the whole of the cavalry were to pour through it and endeavour to cut their lines of communication and pursue the defeated troops. A vigorous holding attack was made on the Turkish left on September 19, with the anticipated result. Next morning the main attack was launched by a very strong force of Australian, British, and French troops on a front of sixteen miles with its centre opposite Gilgal. After some hours of stubborn resistance the Turkish troops on the extreme right gave way and in the course of a vigorous pursuit were completely routed and dispersed. The whole of the allied cavalry rapidly advanced across the plain of Sharon in two columns, one of them turning immediately eastward to intercept the retreat of the remainder of the Turkish army by seizing the Damascus road and railways while the other pursued the routed enemy to Nazareth and thence turned eastward toward the Jordan. British infantry advanced by forced marches and seized the fords of that river while the Arabian auxiliaries cut the enemy's railways by a series of attacks at the same time. Seventy-five thousand prisoners and seven hundred guns were taken in this decisive victory. The Seventh and Eighth Turkish Armies ceased to exist. A cavalry column advancing from Nazareth on September 23 occupied Haifa and Acre and the country around Lake Tiberias. Allenby then advanced northward meeting with very slight opposition. His cavalry entered Damascus on October 1, taking 7,000 prisoners while a French force occupied Beirut. The junction of the Palestine railway and the main line to Aleppo was reached on October 5. Tripoli was taken on October 13, Homs on October 15, and Aleppo, the enemy's base and great railway centre, was occupied on October 26, the insignificant remnant of the Turkish army retiring without any resistance. The Turkish forces in Mesopotamia were entirely cut off from their supplies. General Marshall resumed his advance upon Mosul on October 24. Conscious of its weakness, the Turkish government despatched General Townshend, whom they still held as a prisoner of war, to the British Admiral in command in the Aegean Sea to sue for peace. The terms offered and eventually accepted were equivalent to unconditional submission. A fleet of British and French destroyers entered the Dardanelles on November 9, and British troops took possession of the forts at Constantinople. A large allied fleet arrived on November 13, with the intention of beginning active operations against the German fleet on the Black Sea, which were only prevented by the conclusion of the armistice with Germany.

Events on the Eastern Front, 1918

After the conclusion of the armistice with the Central Powers at Brest-Litovsk, the Bolshevist Government at Petrograd was still engaged in waging war with the new republics of Finland, the Ukraine, and the Cossacks of the Don. Negotiations with Germany were resumed on January 7, 1918, at Brest-Litovsk, and as the Ukraine republic was then represented by delegates, a peace acceptable to the Germans was concluded. The Bolshevist Government at once ordered the demobilization of all armies under their control and proclaimed that the war was over. Before these orders could be carried out a Bolshevist force had captured Kief, the capital of the Ukraine. Alleging that the Bolshevists had failed to comply with the terms of peace and that their demobilization had not been sufficiently carried into effect, Austrian and German forces swiftly advanced to the assistance of their new allies in the Ukraine. One army crossed the Dvina on February 18, and took the important town of Dvinsk; another force marching from Kovel occupied the fortress of Lutsk. A third advanced from Riga along the Baltic coast, following the railway towards Petrograd. Kief was taken by them on March 1, but no further advance then made beyond a line extending from that city northward through Vitebsk to the Baltic near Reval. All the terms proposed were submissively accepted by the Bolshevist Government, and a treaty signed on March 3, 1918. German troops, however, continued to move southward. Odessa was taken by them with the whole of the Black Sea fleet and a force advanced eastward into the Crimea. German troops were also despatched into Finland and the Ukraine with the avowed intention of enforcing the economic provisions of the treaty of peace, particularly the shipment of food to Austria and Germany.

A remnant of the Rumanian army had been forced to retire into Bessarabia. The Allies were unable to give that force any assistance. After the conclusion of the armistice in the fall of 1917, the Rumanian Government had firmly declined to submit to the German terms of peace. It was now helpless, and on May 6, 1918, a treaty was signed between Rumania and the Central Powers by which a large cession of territory was made, the payment of a large indemnity agreed to, and a free passage guaranteed for German troops advancing into Russia. After the collapse of Bulgarian opposition allied troops crossed the Danube, and the German army retired before them. Upon the conclusion of the armistice the German forces still commanded by Field Marshal von Mackensen attempted to retire, but were interned in Hungary at the demand of the Allies. Allied troops entered Bucharest on November 17, and a British force occupied Constanza, the great Rumanian port on the Black Sea.

British and French troops and marines were landed from allied vessels at Murmansk on July 15, and at Archangel on August 4, for the purpose of assisting the local Russian garrisons in the defence of those ports, and for the protection of large quantities of military stores and other supplies landed there for the former Russian Government. A column advanced southward from Archangel and ascended the Dvina, where they were attacked by Bolshevist troops. This column was reinforced by an American brigade in September.

An allied force composed of American, British, French, and Japanese troops, landed at Vladivostok on August 4 for the protection of that port and the valuable supplies deposited there. At the request of the British Government these troops were reinforced by a body of Canadian troops, organized for that special service, and designated the “Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force,” under Major-General J. H. Elmsley. A body of Czecho-Slovak troops, formerly belonging to the Austrian army, had voluntarily surrendered to the Russians and had taken service in the Russian army under the auspices of the Kerensky Government. They were quartered near Kief when the Germans invaded the Ukraine, but retired along the line of railway from the Don to Vladivostok, after which they cooperated effectively in the operations against the Bolshevist forces in Siberia.

The War at Sea, 1918

The British Grand Fleet continued to maintain and even strengthen its effective blockade of the ports of the Central Powers. The task of detecting and hunting down hostile submarines was pursued with greater vigour and success than ever, and although the incursions of German submarines were fitfully extended to the coasts of the United States and Nova Scotia during the summer and a number of small vessels destroyed by them or by mines they had laid, these raids had not the slightest effect in delaying the continuous movement of troops and supplies across the Atlantic. A few unimportant attacks by destroyers or submarines were also made on some British and French coast towns, in which little damage was done, as the assailants after firing a few shots took to flight. Four British hospital ships returning to England with wounded were sunk with heavy loss of life, although all of them were plainly marked to indicate their character. The German High Seas Fleet was unable to put to sea for a great battle, owing to the demoralization of the seamen which had set in immediately after the battle of Jutland. A serious mutiny occurred among them on November 3, which seems to have developed into a general revolutionary movement and accelerated the signing of the armistice, by the terms of which the surrender of the most efficient ships and all the submarines of the German navy was exacted. It had, however, already ceased to exist as an effective fighting force. It was officially announced by the British Admiralty that one hundred and fifty German and seven Austrian submarines had been sunk during the war up to August, 1918. Subsequent information shows that this estimate was considerably under the truth and that the number taken or destroyed exceeded two hundred.

A formidable base for submarine activities had been established by the Germans at the ports of Zeebrugge and Ostend on the Belgian coast soon after their occupation. From its position and comparative security from attack it had become a serious menace to the sea communications of the British army in France and the seaborne commerce of the country generally. An attack on these ports on April 13 had failed with some loss. A second enterprise on a larger scale was then carefully organized and reinforced from the French navy. Its objects were to block the Bruges ship canal at its entrance into the harbour of Zeebrugge; to block the entrance from Ostend harbour to the sea; and to inflict as much damage as possible upon these two ports. Five obsolete cruisers were filled with concrete to be used as blocking ships. The expedition started from its secret point of concentration, sixty-three miles distant, on the afternoon of April 22, and under a cover of artificial screens of smoke and mist the vessels employed boldly entered the channels and at midnight succeeded in running alongside of the mole at Zeebrugge, where a storming party of marines and sailors was successfully landed. As a diversion to enable the blocking ships to enter the harbour, this attack was entirely successful; those vessels proceeded to their allotted stations and four of them were sunk in accordance with the plan. The entrance of the Bruges ship canal was completely blocked. The viaduct was blown up by the storming party, but the damage to the mole was not as complete as had been planned. The entrance of the Ostend channel was only partially blocked, but a second attempt made on May 9 was more successful. The old cruiser “Vindictive” was filled with concrete for the purpose and sunk in such a position as to block the entrance entirely. These daring enterprises and the establishment of an immense mine field in the North Sea extending from the Orkneys to the coast of Norway, a distance of two hundred and thirty miles, mainly carried out by the navy of the United States, contributed greatly to the defeat of the enemy's submarine campaign.

British war ships attacked the Turkish cruisers, formerly the “Goeben” and “Breslau” of the German navy, at the mouth of the Dardanelles on January 20. The “Breslau” was sunk in this action and the “Goeben” seriously damaged and driven ashore. The British lost two light monitors.

Another squadron of monitors shelled Ostend on March 22.

On May 14 Italian torpedo boats entered the harbour of Pola, and after destroying a dreadnought succeeded in making their escape. Other vessels of the same class attacked a squadron of battleships on June 10. One battleship was sunk and another seriously damaged. Still another successful attack was made in the harbour of Durazzo on October 2.

Three Russian battleships with a number of Russian and British submarines frozen up in the Baltic ports were destroyed on the approach of the Germans in April, but the remainder of the Russian fleet in that sea succeeded in escaping to Kronstadt. The whole of the Russian Black Sea Fleet was taken possession of by the Germans in June, but surrendered to the Allies on November 27. The first division of the German High Seas Fleet, in accordance with the terms of the armistice, was delivered to an allied fleet, commanded by Admiral Sir David Beatty, off the Firth of Forth. German submarines numbering one hundred and twenty-two, among them several of the largest cruiser type, were surrendered to a British squadron at Harwich.

The following table of the naval war losses of the Allies and Central Powers, although not official, has been derived from an authoritative source. All vessels lost through accident are included, as well as those destroyed by hostile action. The comparatively small losses of the German navy, particularly in large vessels, are due to the fact that the greater part of her fleet remained in port during the war and as she had no mercantile marine at sea the service of scouting vessels and patrol boats to protect her shipping was unnecessary.

Naval war losses of the Allies and Central Powers, 1918
Description of vessel Great Britain France Italy Japan United States
Battleships 13 4 3 1 -
Battle cruisers 3 - - - -
Cruisers 25 5 2 4 1
Monitors 6 - 1 - -
Destroyers 64 14 10 3 2
Torpedo boats 10 8 5 1 -
Submarines 50 14 8 - 1
Small craft 27 9 - - -
Total Tonnage 550,000 110,000 76,000 50,000 17,000
Total for the Allies 803,000        

Enemy losses were as follows:

Naval war losses of the enemy and Central Powers, 1918
Description of vessel Germany Austria-Hungary
Battleships 1 3
Battle cruisers 1 -
Cruisers 24 2
Monitors - 3
Destroyers 72 5
Torpedo boats 51 4
Submarines 205 8
Total Tonnage 350,000 65,000
Total for the Central Powers 415,000  

The total loss of the British merchant tonnage was stated by the Admiralty to amount to 15,053,386 gross tons, valued at $3,000,000,000. According to this official statement 2,475 British ships were sunk with their crews and 3,147 sunk and their crews set adrift, and 670 fishing boats were destroyed. The total number of lives lost by the warfare waged against the British merchant marine exceeded 15,000.

Early in the year 1918 the demand that American troops should be rapidly transported to France became so urgent that a large number of British fast vessels were detailed for this service. Between May 1 and November 1 the number of troops transported across the Atlantic amounted to 1,673,000, of whom the greater part were embarked in British vessels and in many cases escorted by British cruisers and destroyers.

The action of the British fleet was unquestionably one of the most decisive factors in the war, as the blockade had brought the Central Powers to the verge of famine and deprived them of the most essential supplies for a continuation of hostilities.

It had also kept the seas absolutely free for the transportation of troops to every important theatre of war.

Participation of the United States and the British Overseas Dominions in the war, 1918

The mobilization of the forces of the United States for active employment in the war was conducted with great energy and ability. Between the date of the declaration of war on April 7, 1917, and the conclusion of the armistice on November 11, 1918, the army of the United States was expanded from 190,000 to 3,665,000 men, of whom 1,993,000 had been actually embarked for the theatre of war.

Shortly before the re-organization of the Government of Canada on the basis of a union of political parties, Major General S. C. Mewburn became Minister of Militia in Canada in succession to Sir A. E. Kemp, who had been appointed Overseas Minister for the same Department. At a secret session of both Houses of Parliament held on April 17, the Prime Minister gave an explanation of the extreme gravity of the military situation in consequence of the marked success of the great German offensives on the western front and emphasized the necessity that every possible effort should be made to maintain the troops in the field at full strength, and increase the production of food as well as that of munitions of war. An Order in Council was passed taking the widest powers in dealing with all cases of exemption, and on April 20 all men between the ages of twenty and twenty-three were called to the colours. By the operation of the Military Service Act, large reinforcements were sent at once to the reserve battalions in England, enabling them to maintain the Canadian Corps at full strength and to augment all infantry battalions by one hundred men and add several pioneer battalions, field companies, forestry companies and other units, thereby increasing the strength of the troops in the field by nearly 19,000 of all ranks. Notwithstanding the severe losses sustained in subsequent operations, the forces engaged were constantly kept up to strength, or nearly so. Before the conclusion of the armistice, the number of troops sent overseas reached 418,052 of all ranks. The total casualties reported up to December 31, 1918, numbered 9,989 officers and 204,397 other ranks, besides 3,575 prisoners of war. The total number of deaths in service in Canada during the same period numbered 2,221 of all ranks. The total number of enlistments up to November 15, 1918, were officially reported to number 595,441. More than 350,000 men, women and children were employed in munition factories in Canada, and the value of contributions for war purposes and to patriotic funds was estimated to exceed $90,000,000, or more than eleven dollars per head for the total population. Opposition to the Military Service Act in the city of Quebec culminated in disturbances in which a few lives were lost. These were promptly suppressed and the premier of the province and the leader of the opposition in the Federal Parliament strongly discountenanced all unconstitutional opposition to this measure. These wise counsels soon had the desired effect.

In June the Imperial War Cabinet and an Imperial War Conference met in London and were attended by the Canadian Prime Minister and two members of his cabinet.

In Australia the result of the referendum showed that a majority of the people were opposed to the principle of compulsion. The government of Mr. Hughes consequently resigned, but as it immediately became evident that no administration headed by another had any chance of remaining in power, he was asked to form a new cabinet in which he succeeded and a vote of no confidence was promptly defeated by a decisive majority. A recruiting conference was convened in April, presided over by the Governor-General, at which many labour delegates were present. As a result of its deliberations, and the success of the Germans on the western front, a vigorous recruiting campaign was started with great effect, and in the end the Australian troops in the field did not suffer materially for want of reinforcements. Australia was represented at the war conference by Mr. Hughes and Sir Joseph Cook, and the former remained in England to represent Australia.

Reinforcements for the New Zealand division in the field were also maintained by voluntary recruitment until late in the summer. In South Africa, a republican agitation became bolder and more out-spoken until in March there was serious apprehension of another rising. In May, after making repeated appeals to the Nationalists for moderation, General Botha announced that the government would take the most energetic measures to suppress sedition. In July plots were discovered which made military measures indispensable. Order was quickly restored. General Smuts remained in England to assist in the vigorous prosecution of the war and, with Mr. Burton, represented the union at the Imperial War Cabinet.

India promptly responded to a stirring appeal from the Prime Minister. A war conference at Delhi was attended by representatives of all shades of popular opinion, and it was decided to take measures to raise another half million men within twelve months. The non-official members of the Viceregal Legislature approved a proposal by the Finance Minister that India should pay the expense of maintaining a much larger proportion of her troops. The forces in Mesopotamia, Syria and Palestine were strongly reinforced and losses quickly replaced.