A Shift in Priorities

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by rast, Dec 17, 2008.

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  1. rast Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Aug 22, 2008
    Crisis

    The first indication came from a reconnaissance flight: „Strong enemy elements moving westwards in direction Combles, no own forces observed between Bapaume and Combles.“
    This was British 5th Army, apparently choosing the most unfavourable option, i.e. moving west.

    The second indication was an attack on the forward elements of 17th Army. „Unkown fast British (?) tanks advancing northeastwards, attack repulsed, but high casualties of own infantry. – Ammunition of 12th Kanobil Battalion spent 90%.“

    The next information came from the aviators again. „Approximately 100 enemy tanks approaching Albert from direction Combles.“
    17th Army reported that they had no forces to counter this threat. 12th Kanobil Bn couldn’t be resupplied before March 23rd, 17:00 hours.
    18th Army had 8th Kanobil Bn at Cappy at the Somme and could send them north, reinforced by infantry riding on the vehicles.

    It was a trap. 8th Kanobils were caught in the flank by numerous British guns while attacking the enemy tank force. Losses were heavy, only 20 vehicles rallied at Bray-sur-Somme. The losses of the infantry were even more grave. The unprotected Kanobil riders were mowed down by British machine guns.

    No own forces were now left to stop 5th British Army from breaking out of the pocket.
     
  2. rast Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Aug 22, 2008
    Closing the bag

    The night from March 22nd, 1918, to March 23rd was one of extreme bustle at the OHL. The impending breakout of 5th British Army had to be prevented by all means. More convential artillery had to take over fire support for the infantry, thus releasing some Kanobil formations for another strike. The Kanobils had to manoeuvre to favourable positions. Air support had to be organised, a difficult task because the airfields still all were located on former „German“ ground, far away from the projected battlefield near Albert.

    General Otto von Below’s 17th Army was responsible for the execution. For the task, they had been given Jastas 20, 23, 25, 27, 32, Bavarian 35, 49, 58 and 59; plus Schlastas 28, 29, 31, 34, 36, 37 and 38. Assault Battalion No.3 from 2nd Army was to reinforce their Assault Battalion No.8.
    At 06:35 hours in the morning, they reported that Kanobil Battalions 1, 2, 3, 7, 14 and 17 would be tasked and that the attack was scheduled to commence at 14:25 hours, striking right through the „Somme Desert“ down to the Somme, where 18th Army held some bridgeheads north of the river.

    The 7th Kanobils were gathering. The three combat companies together numbered 34 vehicles. Two days ago there had been 52.
    The 2nd Company still had eleven Kanobils. First Lieutenant Pfeifer, the CO, was dead. Lieutenant Kubrich was now in charge. He had convened a commanders‘ meeting for 09:30 hours.
    „Yesterday, the English have trapped our comrades by drawing them on their tanks and catching them in the flank with artillery. Therefore, we will follow behind 3rd Battalion and cover their flank. Behind us will be 14th Battalion with the task of covering our flank. – Our company will be in lead, behind us will come 3rd company, 1st company will follow on our right side. – Signal to develop will be the green flag. II. and III. Platoons will go in line, I. Platoon will follow centrally, ready to extend the front to the left.“

    At 10:00 hours, the 7th Kanobils marched southwards to an assembly area north of Bapaume. At 11:30 hours, Grabowsky arrived with lunch. He also had some „Schnaps“ (booze), a bottle for each Kanobil crew, and tabacco, the good stuff from a conquered English quartermaster’s store. Schultz managed to talk two bottles of booze out of Grabowsky.

    At 14:00 hours, everything was ready. To the right, there was an ad-hoc formation of about 30 Naschobils, carrying assault infantry squads. They had the task to take Bapaume, together with 17th Kanobils.
    Above them, the sky was filled with aircraft. Great circus, this. Fortunately, the flyers were busy with their opposing colleagues and had no time to badger the men on the ground.

    14:25 hours: Advance!
    Schultz was thankful that there was no dust. The Kanobils threw up mud but visibility remained good. No fog today, good for the gunners.
    They passed by Bapaume. Some guns fired on them but in turn were engaged by the 17th Kanobils. Then the Naschobils arrived and spat out assault troopers and flame thrower crews.

    Gun fire from nine o’clock! One of 3rd Bn’s vehicles burst into flames. Green flag! Schultz passed the signal on.
    „Gudrun“ veered to the left, „Erna“ and „Brunhilde“ beside her.
    Schultz scanned the ground.
    There they were!
    „Gun emplacement at 11 o’clock, 500 metres!“
    „Seen!“ shouted Gräbner who had taken his old position again. „Paulsen, stop!“
    Another enemy battery opened fire in their flank. But already 3rd Company had attained their left side and engaged the English guns.

    At about 17:30 hours it was over. The British enfilading positions were eliminated, the British tanks destroyed, the British infantry dead or in full retreat. The cauldron around British 3rd and 5th Armies had been closed. How many enemy formations had managed to escape during the night was not known. But the reconnaissance flyers reported only supply columns, no artillery, infantry or cavalry west of the Ancre.
     
    Last edited: Dec 26, 2008
  3. rast Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Aug 22, 2008
    Victory in Sight

    Lieutenant-Colonel Max Bauer had ample reason to be pleased. His creation, the assault artillery, had earned Germany a dazzling success: Two British armies, approximately 15 divisions strong, had been caught in a huge cauldron. All attemps at breakout had been smashed. The number of British defectors from the cauldron was rising by the hour. 2nd German Army was now slowly but steadily advancing while the British were evacuating their old positions.
    Own losses were admissible. In total, the infantry had not suffered much. Kanobil losses were around one third, but crew losses were far less. Replacements were under way. It had already been decided not to rise new formations but to replenish the existing battalions.
    The air service had suffered most, being forced to fight far away from their bases and over enemy territory. This was unpleasant as skilled pilots were not in ample supply. Now more peaceful sectors of the front and the home defense forces were scanned for replacement pilots.

    Technically, the Kanobils had stood the test. Their reliability was good with only 25 percent of the losses a result of technical failure. They had come out of combat clearly on top of the British tanks.
    Vollmer and his gang of engineers had done an excellent job. At present, they were examining the new fast British tank type that had been met and knocked out in combat between Courcelette and Flers.
    All Kanobil units had been relieved from infantry support by conventional artillery and were currently replenishing and resting.

    To the south, three divisions of the III. British corps had not been stricken by 18th Army’s attack. It was believed that these divisions were now under French control while French forces were starting to arrive in numbers. Their attacks had all been repulsed so far.
    To the west of the cauldron, there were about four British divisions, providing a weak veil but clearly incapable of offensive action.
    To the north, arrival of first elements of the elite Canadian Corps had been detected around Arras.

    General Ludendorff intended to strike at Arras and to advance in direction northwest into „the soft belly of the BEF“. In order to pin down the British forces, Army Group Crown Prince Rupprecht was to conduct a diversionary attack west of Lille.
    All Kanobil battalions would be relocated to the Arras sector. The plan was to strike on March 26th. The Kanobils had proven to be ideal for combat in urban environment. Their cannons could demolish even large buildings with a couple of shells.
    The use of Naschobils as troops carriers had been a great idea by 17th Army. An order for more unarmed vehicles had already been placed.

    Max Bauer thought that one more big battle would be fought around Arras. Thereafter, the British would be done. The Belgian King seemed to have the same impression. Secret negotiations between German and Belgian diplomats were already going on in Switzerland.
     
  4. clifton Well-Known Member

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    Oct 8, 2007
    Location:
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    Panzers forwards:p:p:p
     
  5. rast Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Aug 22, 2008
    Preparing the Battle of Arras

    Lieutenant General Konrad Krafft von Delmensingen, Chief of Staff 17th German Army, did not believe that the Canadian Corps had been deployed for the defense of Arras. The Canadians were renowned for their offensive spirit. Their task certainly was to open the cauldron and link with 3rd British Army.
    For an attack, one thing was imperatively needed: Artillery. Aerial reconnaissance had already detected some new batteries, there might be a lot more yet undetected.
    Another ingredient were tanks. The British tank force had been badly mauled: 2nd Tank Brigade almost annihilated in 3rd Army’s attempt to break out in direction Arras. 3rd and 4th Tank Brigades perished in the battle between Peronne and Albert. 4th Tank Battalion and the English Guards Division destroyed when they attacked in support of 3rd Army’s breakout attempt.
    What remained was 1st Tank Brigade, found by the airmen northwest of Arras now, in an excellent dislocation to support the Canadians.
    Krafft had little doubt that the Canadians were hastily preparing an attack. But he hoped that the German attack could be launched while the Canadians were still in the preparation phase.

    Krafft knew that new methods, like the use of the Kanobils, could score some nice initial successes, but that the enemy eventually would come up with an own new way to counter one’s new method. Therefore he thought that the „conventional“ use of the Kanobils would run into difficulties this time.
    He had convinced General von Below that the counter artillery Kanobil battalions would not precede the infantry attack from the south towards Arras, but would be launched from the east, from the old front line. They would advance north of the Scarpe and attack the British guns, which were aligned to fire southwards, from the side.
    The bulk of the Kanobil force would of course advance from south to north in direct support of the attacking infantry, but the death blow for the British artillery was to be delivered by a dash from east to west.

    As it happened, General Arthur W. Currie, the CO of the Canadian Corps, had realised that the Germans were preparing to attack his forces – and that he could not hope to beat them to it. So, he decided to serve them some nasty surprises.
    Then, aerial reconnaissance reported that more than one hundred Kanobils had been seen moving north of the Scarpe. Now, this really was interesting...
     
  6. rast Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Aug 22, 2008
    No Quarter

    „The Battle of Arras is remarkable for several reasons:

    a. It brought about the destruction of the Canadian Corps, which in consequence led to the annihilation of the British Army in France.
    b. It convinced King Albert and the Belgian Government to ask Germany for terms.
    c. It was fought with unparalleled ferocity. The number of Canadian prisoners of war was the lowest of all western front battles in 1918.
    d. It saw the introduction of effective anti-Kanobil measures, which formed the basis for post war developments in all countries.
    e. It triggered the construction of turreted Kanobils by the Germans.

    The Battle in fact started far north, on the Lys River, where the German barrage started at 04:00 hours on March 26th, 1918. The attack of units of the 6th German Army brought some important initial successes, which persuaded the British High Command to stop the transport of the Australian Corps to the Arras front.
    Only at 10:00 hours, after the infantry attack at the Lys had already started, did the barrage around Arras commence. Shells started to rain from two directions: East and south. The Germans had concentrated more than 2,500 guns, orchestrated by the capable Colonel Georg Bruchmüller.
    After four hours, German infantry and Kanobils advanced from the south, while a force of five Kanobils battalions pierced the British front line north of the Scarpe River. These latter units had been tasked to destroy the British-Canadian field artillery in their positions north of the river.
    But because the Canadians had been warned about this force, all guns had been moved to the south bank of the Scarpe, quite a number of them now facing north. Consequently, the Kanobils suffered substantially from flanking fire but were hardly able to silence the enemy guns. Only in four places did Kanobil units manage to ford the Scarpe, but all vehicles were eventually destroyed. But the Kanobils nevertheless sealed off the north side of the battle ground and prevented reinforcements from getting in as well as retreating Canadians from getting out.
    This left the decision to the infantry – Kanobil force that advanced from the south.

    While above them German aeroplanes slowly eked out the upper hand over their British and French opponents, the German soldiers and their armoured support guns methodically annihilated their Canadian adversaries. The Canadians truly fought like lions. German veterans still today remember this battle as the fiercest one they ever were in. Land mines and hidden enfilading guns reduced the Kanobils as did bundled charges wielded by the Canadian infantry. But in revenge, the Kanobils destroyed machine gun emplacements, dug outs, field guns and command posts.

    The street and house-to-house fighting in Arras was an epic battle inside the battle. Bavarian, Württemberg and Hessian regiments demonstrated that they were absolutely equal in ferocity and fighting spirit to the Canadian volunteers. They paid a high price, but they overwhelmed their foes.

    On the morning of March 27th, it was over. The Canadian Corps had ceased to exist. General Arthur Currie was dead, killed at Saint-Catherine north of the Scarpe, where he had tried to organise a break out of his last battalions.
    German casualties were heavy, very heavy in deed. Much heavier than on March 21st, almost as heavy as those of the Meuse passage in 1914. But while the Meuse passage had been fought only against relatively weak French rear guards, this one had been fought against the most elite formation of the enemy.
    Kanobil losses were at 65 percent. But of these, only one fifth were total losses, the remainder could be repaired. Crew casualties were about 15 percent.

    In the air, the German flyers had broken their British adversaries. The Royal Flying Corps had lost all offensive capacity. The prominent location of Arras in a triangle between the German lines had clearly favoured the Germans. But the Germans did not go unharmed: Richthofen, Udet, Loerzer and Goering were dead, as were too many of their co-pilots.

    But despite all these losses, the Germans were the masters of Northern France. The end of the British Forces in France now only was a matter of time.“

    from:
    „Epic Battles of the Great War“ by Carl Koetsman, Amsterdam & Köln, 1935
     
  7. clifton Well-Known Member

    Joined:
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    Location:
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    The allies need reinforcements fast!!!! I hope for the french that America will still send there armies or else france is lost.
     
  8. rast Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Aug 22, 2008
    Rest and Refit

    Finishing the British Army in France was seen as a „normal“ operation now that could be executed by the „normal“ field army without Kanobil support. 17th Army was given the task of leading the march northwards into the „soft belly“ of the Brits.
    The Kanobil force was concentrated around Cambrai for rest and refit.

    „Dagmar“ had survived the Battle of Arras, as had her crew. But „Erna“ had been destroyed by a bundled charge thrown under her belly, and „Brunhilde“ had run on a land mine, shearing her left track. That meant that Vizefeldwebel Klein was now riding on „Dagmar“ too, something Unteroffizier Schultz did not appreciate very much.
    The company was billeted at Awoingt, east of Cambrai. Right at the moment, there were only six Kanobils – but another eight were either already under repair or still awaiting salvage. Three complete Army Motor Transportation Depots had been dedicated to work for the Kanobil force.
    Maintenance and small repairs on „Dagmar“ took three days. Then the whole crew was sent on leave for one week. Going home...

    On April 10th, they were back at Awoingt. „Brunhilde“ was there now too, as was „Clara“, salvaged from the old breakthrough battlefield of March 21st. „Anneliese 2“ and „Erna 2“ had joined the platoon from the factory.

    Lieutenant Kubrich had called for another commanders‘ conference.
    „All right, gentlemen, we’re at 100 percent again. – And already have been given a new assignment. – We’ll entrain tomorrow here at Awoingt and travel to the Argonne!“
    „The Argonne? – But that‘s no ideal battle ground for Kanobils!“
    „You’re right, it isn’t. But it is ideal for concealing Kanobils. – My personal guess is that we will have to pince off the Verdun Salient by attacking from the Argonne in direction of St.Mihiel. But that is only a guess. – Although it would mean a heavy blow for French morale...“
     
  9. rast Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Aug 22, 2008
    A Prize of Glory

    It was not without utter surprise that Colonel Edgar von Wolf had accepted his appointment as „Kommandeur der Kanobil Bataillone“ (commanding officer of the Kanobil battalions). He had been even more surprised when he learned that he would have two professional general staff officers on his staff. Himself being a Saxon field artillery man, his Ia was the Württemberg Major Friedrich Muff, who came from the Chefkraft (chief of motor transport) staff, and his Ib the Bavarian Major Hugo Baur, who had been a staff officer in the railway section of HQ Army Group Crown Prince Rupprecht.
    A Saxon, a Württemberger and a Bavarian. Well, it almost seemed as if the Prussians were shy to get involved with the Kanobils. But, on the other hand, almost all his battalion commanders were Prussians.
    While during the initial operations at the Arras – St.Quentin front, his staff had only been seen as a provider, and tactical employment had been executed in accordance to Assault Battalion No.5‘s manual on tactical use of the Kanobils and the intentions of 17th and 18th Army Commands, here in 3rd Army sector, they were seen as the specialists, which in deed they had become, for optimal usage of the Kanobil force.
    From the original 21 battalions, two had been dissolved after Arras in order to allow the remainder to gain full strength again, and five were retained in vicinity of Cambrai as OHL reserve. That left 14 battalions for „Operation Roland“, the bold stroke to St.Mihiel via St.Menehould and Chaumont-sur-Aire.
    At St.Mihiel, Armee Abteilung C would also mount an attack, of the conventional kind and with limited objective, while 5th Army would exercise some pressure north of Verdun.
    The trick was to very rapidly rupture the enemy‘s front line, disable a sizeable portion of his artillery and thus to allow the own infantry to advance quickly. The seizure of St.Menehould would bring the rail line to Verdun under German control and thus effectively impede any French attempt to shuttle in reinforcements.

    The weather was very bad, constant rain, ideal to get the Kanobils and the artillery into position without being detected by enemy aerial reconnaissance. The start of „Roland“ was now set for April 16th, 07:00 hours.

    On April 13th, the encircled 3rd and 5th British Armies capitulated for lack of food and ammunition. On April 15th, 18th German Army finally took Amiens from the French, after more than one week of bitter street fighting. On the same day, 17th German Army took St.Omer and Hazebrouck.

    „Roland“ took the French by complete surprise. They had expected the Germans to finish rounding up the BEF before they turned to the next enemy. Within few hours, the front line between Tahure and Apremont was breached, the artillery positions destroyed and command posts annihilated. German infantry, supported by Kanobils poured through the gap. Once the gap had been created, there was nothing to stop the Germans. French reserves had all gone to Picardy and the protection of Paris.
    German losses were relatively light. Especially the anti-Kanobil measures of the Arras battle had apparently not yet been digested by the French in Lorraine. The famous French 75 mm field cannons proved to be as unable to penetrate the frontal armour of the Kanobils as previously had their British 18 pounder counterpieces.
    And again, the logistic support provided by the Naschobils was an important contribution to victory.

    On April 17th, 14:25 hours, the vanguard of the advancing „Roland“ force linked up with the vanguard of the „Olifant“ as the Army Detachment C attack had been duped. Now, the fortress of Verdun and the French part of the Argonne had become another huge cauldron.
    At 19:30 hours, General Karl von Einem, CO of 3rd German Army, had the pleasure to put the decoration „Pour le Merite“ around Colonel von Wolf’s neck and to confide to him that his rank was now Major General.

    On the same day, German 17th Army made contact with the Boulogne – Watten – Dunkerque Line, where the last battle worthy units of the BEF, including the crack Australian Corps, were preparing to deliver a last ditch defense.

    News of the British last stand resulted in an immediate order to deploy the OHL reserve Kanobils. At the same time, Major General von Wolf received a warning order that his „Roland“ battalions were urgently needed up north and that they should prepare for entrainement on April 18th.
     
  10. Alratan Member

    Joined:
    Nov 6, 2005
    I forsee that after the German defeat there will be even more of a stab in the back myth after the war than there was in OTL.

    These greater successes on the Western Fornt will do nothing to stop the implosion of the German home front, and the logistical limitations of WW I warfare mean that decisive German victory is impossible here.

    The greater scare that the Entente have received, and the British/Commonwealth desire for revenge, probably leads to a vastly harsher Treaty, as the British won't restrain the French. We are likely to see the dismemberment of Germany.
     
  11. rast Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Aug 22, 2008
    War Council

    While fresh infantry divisions, the Kanobil battalions and Georg Bruchmüller’s battering train moved towards the Boulogne – Watten – Dunkerque Line, the German political and military leaders met at Spa on April 20th, 1918. The question was how to proceed after the BEF had been eliminated.
    That it had to be eliminated was not in doubt. It could not be allowed to ship out to Britain. Every single British PoW was needed for the expected negotiations with Britain.

    But how to handle France? Stage another offensive? Or offer peace? And if peace, which one?
    And what about the Americans?

    Foreign Secretary of State Richard von Kühlmann started by explaining the results of the negotiations with the Belgian and Luxemburg Governments:
    The armistice with Belgium was already in effect and an agreement had been reached. Belgium would become an ally of the German Empire under its own king, its own laws and its own parliament. Belgium would be granted tariff union with the German Empire. Germany would recompense damages to personal health and private property caused by German Forces under a special agreement. There would be German Army garrisons at fortresses of Liège, Namur, and Antwerp, while the German Navy would have bases at Nieuwpoort, Oostende and Zeebrugge. A special treaty would regulate the size, rights and obligations of the German Forces in Belgium. The deployment of the German Forces in Belgium was currently limited until June 30th, 1928, but an option for extension existed if both parliaments agreed. Belgium would retain Belgian Congo as colony, but had pledged the intention to consider a colonial union with adjacent German colonies.
    Luxemburg would become a state of the German Empire under Grand Duchess Marie Adelheid. The adjacent territory to the east and the north, ceeded to Prussia in 1815, would be returned to the Grand Duchy. Luxemburg would have one seat in the Bundesrat and elect two deputies for the Reichstag. Luxemburg would undertain one army regiment that would be part of the country’s peace time garrison of one division.

    Then General Erich Ludendorff expounded the military situation:
    The British Forces in France were already substantially beaten. 735,500 prisoners of war, English, Canadian, Australian, New Zealandian, Irish and Portuguese had been captured since March 21st. Almost more importantly, nearly 150,000 horses and huge quantities of fodder had been captured. This was a great boost for the mobility of the entire army.
    There was little doubt that the position at Boulogne – Watten – Dunkerque would be breached in short order. Although the British were known to frantically evacuate troops to England, they had to keep their fighting units in line, thus only less important rear area formations could so far have been evacuated.
    The final attack was planned to start the day after tomorrow. He was certain that the British pocket could be eliminated within two days.
    The situation at the Verdun cauldron was calm and stable. The French forces were currently concentrated above Paris and no relief operation for Verdun seemed likely within the next fortnight.
    The American forces were still neglectible, only four or five divisions could be considered combat ready right now.
    The question was now: Attack the French first, inflict another defeat on them and offer negotiations after this – Or offer negotiations right now, after the British Forces had been eliminated? He proposed negotiations first.

    As next, Vice Chancellor Friedrich von Payer reported on the civil situation:
    Public morale was still good, borne by the hope of imminent peace – not victory, just peace. Everything that could be seen as prolongation of the war would have a negative impact on morale. People generally wanted the war to end, if this could be done victorously it would be appreciated. But, he reiterated, peace was more important than anything else. – The civil government therefore proposed an offer to France and the US for negotiations, once the British had been expulsed from French soil.

    Admiral Henning von Holtzendorff, Chief of the Admiral Staff, referred about the naval situation:
    The British submarine crews in the Baltic had scuttled their vessels in early April, therefore the Baltic was now completely under German control. – But apart from that, the general situation was unfavourable. The submarine war was not a complete failure but failed to produce decisive results, even the troop transports from the USA ran almost without being contested. The British had effectively mined the Dover Straights, this meant that the submarines in Flanders could no longer attack cross Channel traffic. The supremacy of the Royal Navy in terms of capital ships was compelling. Britain might be beaten in France, but Britannia still ruled the waves.

    The meeting closed with the decision to offer negotiations to France and the US. Terms were to be worked out between General Ludendorff and State Secretary von Kühlmann.
     
  12. tchizek Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Dec 28, 2008
    Location:
    Halfway between Detroit and Chicago
    No, no you are missing the point. rast is in the process of having the Germans win the Great war...

    And this is exactly why I am having to loosen up my suspension of disbelief in order to read this thread. It is interesting but I think a bit ASBish since by the POD proposed by this thread the Germans were really on their last leg and were not in shape to be producing several hundred tanks that skipped the whole "first generation of anything does not work well" thing.:eek:

    A fun romp for the Germans where they are given WWII level tactics, tanks that work out of the gate. Oh well fun to read anyway.
     
  13. rast Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Aug 22, 2008
    Just to claim it: The Kanobils were within the technical possibilities of the Germans in 1917/18. See Vollmer's A7V-U "assault gun". The POD is Bauer recognizing that this might be heplful (instead of OTL's complete negation).
    The accompanying tactic wasn't Bauer's (who had no sound employment idea of his own), but Rohr's, who really was the best man on the ground to determine what was useable for the German army. - Fire and movement. No movement without fire, no fire without movement. (Very old very common German tactical knowledge.)
    Once Bauer has been convinced that the tool is useful, resources will be available for the formation of the new arm. Bauer really had Ludendorff's ear and could influence him thoroughly.
    1917/18 Germany wasn't a place where resources were only waiting to be exploited, but it wasn't a barren land either. All that was required was just "A Shift in Priorities."
     
  14. rast Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Aug 22, 2008
    Invitation to the Mouse Trap

    On April 26th, 1918, at London, a thoroughly beaten Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig went into retirement and ignominy after having lost his army.
    Initial counts established that only 545,800 men, of which about two thirds were wounded, had been evacuated to Britain. This meant a loss of almost 1,260,000 men since March 21st, 1918.
    As the Germans admitted for 840,000 British and Commonwealth prisoners of war as a result of their „Great Battle in France“, that implied 420,000 dead and missing since March 21st. The debacle was acerbated by the fact that the unharmed evacuees consisted mainly of rear area scribes, rail and supply workers and non combatant Chinese and Negroe laborers, while the fighting units had perished in Northern France.
    For all practical reasons, the British Expeditionary Force had ceased to exist.

    It was therefore with rather subdued sentiments that the French leaders met at Paris to discuss the German note in the evening of April 26th.
    Before the meeting started, General Philippe Pétain, Commander-in-Chief of the French Army, took Georges Clemenceau, the Prime Minister, aside. „I told you that the Germans would beat the British in open battle! – You didn’t believe me. – Well, they have been crushed and their debris swept from the continent. – And now it’s our turn to be beaten!“

    The German note was rather short:
    „In the light of recent events in Northern France, the Government of His Imperial Highness, Emperor Willhelm II, has come to the belief that further bloodshed will only prolongate human suffering without changing the outcome of the war. A request by the High Governments of the French Republic and the United States of America for an armistice therefore would be positively received.
    Negotiations without preconditions for a peace settlement could be entered immediately after the terms of the armistice have been met.
    Should an armistice not be requested until May 2nd, 18:00 hours Berlin time, the German Armed Forces will act according to the situation.“

    President of State Raymond Poincaré posed the decisive question: „Do we have any prospect of checking them until the Americans are ready?“
    At this, Pétain shook his head, but looked at General Ferdinant Foch, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Armies, to provide an answer.
    Foch rose and explained: „Monsieur le Président, forget the Americans. – They cannot be ready in any sufficient number before September. The question thus is: Can we, the French alone, defeat les Boches? – And the answer is: No, we can’t. – They have the initiative right now and their strategy is to pinch off a portion of our strength, like at Verdun, digest it and thereafter isolate the next bit and munch it away. – Unfortunately, we do not have the means to stop them from doing that. They have wrecked the British Army in less than one month. They can and will do the same to us, if we do not ask for peace.“
    „We should continue to fight!“ shouted Clemenceau. „We will fight in front of Paris, we will fight in Paris, we will fight behind Paris!“
    „After fighting in front of Paris, there will be little left of our army.“ Foch replied.
    „Then we’ll raise improvised armies, like in 1871!“
    „That will work as badly as in 1871, devastate the country and provide the Boches an excuse to execute our men as Franc Tireurs. – Remember, we lost the war in 1871.“
    „But perhaps we can delay them until the Americans are ready!“
    „Perhaps, but it would require both armies, our’s and the Americans, to beat the Boches. Your proposal calls for the remainder of France turned into a desert – where the Boches then will beat the Americans after our army is long gone. – No, it’s hopeless. The Germans are right, we can prolong human suffering and utterly ruin our country, but we cannot change the outcome of this war.“
    Now General Pétain took the word.
    „I thank General Foch for his explanations. – Let me provide some annotations. As long as we are not beaten, our army remains an important factor in the bargain. The Boches know that we are no easy prey. They generally have more respect for us than they had for the British. If we allow them to cut us into pieces, this respect will vanish quickly. – Their new assault artillery, the Kanobils, are something for which we have no answer. We will have some hundred new Chars Renault combat ready in May, but they are no match for the German Kanobils, even less than the British tanks were. – Our men are tired of this war. If we do not accept the German offer, we risk mutinies like in 1917.“
    „But as soon as we start negotiations, it will be impossible to bring our men to an offensive again!“ Clemenceau interrupted.
    „As soon as we start negotiations, the same will most probably be true for the Boches. – By talking we can possibly get better results than by fighting.“
     
  15. clifton Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 8, 2007
    Location:
    unknown
    french fasists?
     
  16. Parma Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2007
    great story!!
     
  17. sloreck Grunt Bear

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2008
    Location:
    Midwest
    No fascists, not in 1918. Could see collapse of the republic and maybe even a return to the monarchy (either Orleans or Bourbon) - there were pretenders out there and the Germans esp the Kaiser would prefer a monarchist France to a republican one. I would expect for the Germans to tell the Brits if they call off the blockade immediately they will begin to repatriate POWS (of course they will start with sick & wounded), also if free access of trade then no U-Boat campaign. The Brits will take the deal.
     
  18. rast Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Aug 22, 2008
    Armistice

    Once the French leaders had arrived at the conclusion that a request for an armistice was inevitable, they still faced the task to arrange with their allies.

    In Britain, Prime Minister David Lloyd George and his war cabinet were totally opposed to even talking with the Germans right now. This was a moment of maximum weakness, entering into pourparlers must be avoided, otherwise the Germans would get everything – and Britain would see happening all that for the prevention of which she had gone to war in 1914.
    But the British were safe on their island, guarded by the mighty Royal Navy. The French had to face a very superior German Army on their own soil.
    On the other hand, the Germans hadn’t even mentioned the British in their note. And diplomatic channels susurrated that the Germans had no intention to invite Lloyd George to negotiations. They waited for his downfall.

    The Americans weren’t easy either. Although they had only a handful of divisions combat ready, the number of American troops in France approached one million. Neither President Wilson nor Secretary of State Robert Lansing were pleased by the French intention to ask for terms. The Creel Commission had done a good job in putting the nation in mood for this war to end all wars, and now this...
    But General John Pershing, the commander of the American Expeditionary Force, as a professional soldier arrived at the same conclusions as Generals Pétain, Foch and Ludendorff. There was no chance to win or even hang on with this war right now, and the Germans would not wait until a sizeable portion of the AEF became operational.

    Things accelerated when the fortress of Verdun surrendered.
    The Germans had slowly reduced the cauldron until they attained the perimeter of the fortress. They had no intention of starting a costly dogfight, but they still had quite a number of their famous 42 cm siege guns, the Fat Berthas. When they started shelling Fort Dugny and Fort de Landrecour on April 29th, both forts quickly surrendered after the first few shells had made the earth tremble. The Germans quickly arrived at the impression that the French garrison of Verdun was battle weary and ready to give up. They pointed their Fat Berthas at Fort de Regret – and got another white flag after three shells. On April 30th, they repeated the exercise at Forts des Sartelles, de Choisel, du Chana and de la Chaume – and now the whole French force started waving white flags. – Interrogations soon reveiled that the French soldiers – and even a number of officers, mostly reservists – believed that the war was lost and that there was no use in risking their lifes for a lost cause. That the French forts to the south and southeast of Verdun were old, had never been modernised, and thus could not withstand the 42 cm shells, certainly had supported this decision.

    On May 1st, 1918, the governments of France and the USA asked Germany for an armistice, which was granted on the same day, 18:00 hours Berlin time.

    The German terms were rather straight:

    1. All French and American forces currently manning the front line to a depth of 35 km will retreat 35 km to the rear. This move must be complete by May 3rd, 18:00 hours Berlin time.
    2. All guns with a calibre greater than 105 mm will remain in position as will their ammunition and ancillary equipment and will not be moved to the rear.
    3. No French or American forces additional to those which are present in France on May 1st, 24:00 hours Berlin time, will enter the country. French forces from other theatres of war, such as Italy and Greece/Bulgaria, will be garrisoned in Algeria.
    4. All German prisoners of war and internees in French or US custody will be released and repatriated immediately. This also applies to prisoners of war and internees from other Central Power states.
    5. The Government of the United States of America will repatriate its troops in France as fast as possible. Infantry units shall be shipped to the USA in first priority.
    6. The Government of the French Republic will immediately start to demobilise the French Army to the peace time level of 1914. Demobilisation must be complete on June 15th, 1918.
    7. The Governments of the French Republic and the United States of America agree to enter negotiations for a permanent peace treaty with the Governments of the Central Powers. The negotiations will be hosted by the Royal Dutch Government and will commence at Eindhoven on May 15th.
    8. This Armistice is in effect until June 16th, 1918, and may be prolongated if the French and US governments have complied with the terms listed above.
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2009
  19. rast Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Aug 22, 2008
    Another Armistice

    For their renegade former ally, Italy, the armistice terms of the Central Powers were rather austere. The Italians had asked for terms on May 1st – after several new German divisions had been detected in Friuli and Tyrolia.

    1. All Italian forces must be withdrawn to the south bank of the Po river until May 14th, 1918.
    2. All British, French, US and other former Entente forces must leave Italy until May 14th, 1918.
    3. All guns with a calibre above 105 mm must immediately be surrendered to the forces of the Central Powers in Italy. This must be completed until May 8th, 1918.
    4. 2,000 trucks of two to five ton cargo capacity must be surrendered to the forces of the Central Powers in Italy. This must be completed until May 10th, 1918.
    5. All tanks and armoured cars in Italy must be surrendered to the forces of the Central Powers in Italy. This must be completed until May 7th, 1918.
    6. 1,500 airplanes, especially all SPAD, Niewport and Hanriot fighters and Caproni bombers, must be surrendered to the forces of the Central Powers until May5th, 1918.
    7. The Dodecanes Islands must be handed back to the Ottoman Empire immediately. All Italian subjects on these island will become prisoners of war or civil internees of the Ottoman Empire.
    8. All Italian forces in Lybia, Albania, Greece and Bulgaria must return to Italy immediately.
    9. All Italian ships of war must be handed over to the naval authorities of the Central Powers in Triest, Pola or Cattaro until May 18th, 1918.
    10. All Central Power prisoners of war and internees in Italian custody must at once be released and repatriated.
    11. Italy will immediately start demobilisation of its forces to the peace time strength of July 1914. This strength must be attained on May 18th, 1918.
    12. The Italian Government agrees to enter negotiations about a permanent peace treaty with the Central Powers. The negotiations will be hosted by the Swiss Government and start at Zürich on May 20th, 1918.
    13. This armistice is effective until May 19th, 1918, and may be prolongated if the Italian Government meets the above terms.

    The Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman governments had had a prominent part in formulating these terms. The Italian government had great pains to accept them, and only did so after Prime Minister Vittorio Emanuele Orlando had resigned and been replaced by Giovanni Giolitti.
    The future didn’t seem to look too bright for Italy. But Giolitti took hope from the fact that the Central Powers had invited for negotiations. Apparently, they were not planning to dictate a peace treaty. One could talk... May be that the Turks had bad feelings because of Lybia and the Dodecanes, but the Germans knew that he had been against abandoning the Central Powers and joining the Entente.
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2009
  20. rast Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Aug 22, 2008
    Armistice in the Balkans?

    Matters on the Balkans were rather complicated: While the French and Italian units were ordered to evacuate the area without further fighting, the British and Serbians were determined to fight on. In Greece, civil war between Eleftherios Venizelos‘ followers and the royalists was imminent, now that the case of the Western Powers obviously was lost. The Greek divisions quickly broke apart, while units, sub units or individuals joined the rivalling factions.
    French General Adolphe Guillaumat, the CO of the Armee d’Orient, had received orders to withdraw his divisions to Salonika and to embark for Oran and Algiers, while the Italian forces were to be withdrawn to the Albanian coast for transport to Italy.
    Right then, on May 2nd, 1918, seven British and six Serbian divisions, together with two Russian brigades, now under the command of British General George Milne and Serb General Živojin Mišić respectively, started to move for Salonika because the British War Council had decided to evacuate them to Limnos Island.
    Learning that the British and the Serbs were heading for Salonika, where open street fighting between the Greek factions had already started, Guillaumat asked the opposing Army Group Scholtz for an armistice and told them his intention to have his six divisions stay put.
    This armistice was granted without further conditions. The Bulgarian and few German forces opposite the French were paralysed by their desperate supply situation and happy to stay just where they were. In consequence, a jolly fraternisation soon developed in the Ochrid – Bitola area between the French, Bulgarian and German soldiers.

    The Serbs, after having reached Salonika, sided with Venizelos’s followers, who were just about to lose control of the city. The Serb support made the difference and the royalists were bloodily expulsed.
    The British did not care for the internal Greek strife. They quickly embarked their ships and headed for Limnos. General Mišić, after the fighting was finally finished, had to disregard the orders he had received from his government and to stay in the Salonika area for some more days, the British had taken all available ships...

    The Central Powers supreme commander on the Macedonian Front, General Jekow, on May 4th, gave a warning order to Bulgarian 1st and 2nd Armies to prepare for a move to Salonika, after the German Ambassador had conveyed a message from the German government to King Ferdinand. The message was quite short: „Take what you can, we’ll back you. – But leave Mount Olympus to the Greeks!“
     
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