THE WORLD’S GREATEST BATTLE
All previous battles of the Great War paled into comparative insignificance when the German offensive of 1918 opened on the Western front, March 21, with a desperate and partially successful attempt of a million men to break through the British line, attacking fiercely from the Ailette to the Scarpe, along a front of sixty miles. For weeks the battle raged over the territory of the Somme, and when a second German drive occurred farther north, from Givenchy to Ypres, fully 3,000, men were engaged on both sides, and all records of human combat were broken.
The loss of life was appalling, but in the absence of official reports while the fighting was in progress, could only be guessed at, though the world knew that the rivers of France and Flanders ran with blood. The Germans attacked in masses and successive waves, and paid the penalty of their desperate strategy. For though the British, and later the French, lines were bent backward for miles, and gaps were occasionally torn in them by the foe’s furious attack, the Allied defensive withstood the onslaught and after a month of the most terrific struggle the world has ever seen, both British and French forces presented an unbroken front to the disappointed enemy.
The city of Amiens, one of the keys to Paris, had been a chief objective of the German drive, but all efforts to capture that important railroad center failed. True, Noyon, Peronne, Bapaume, Albert and Montdidier, on the south, and Festubert, Neuve Chappelle, Armentieres, and Paaschendaele, to the north, were successively captured from the Allies, in spite of the most gallant and heroic resistance. But then the lines held firmly, and all the Germans had to show for an awful sacrifice of life and morale was a few miles of advance into territory already devastated by war.
On April 21, when the Hun offensive had lasted a full month, not only were the armies of the Allies intact, and better still, their spirit and morale unbroken, but the utmost confidence prevailed among them. All the Allied forces, British, French, Canadian, and American, on the Western front, had been by this time placed under the supreme command of the eminent French strategist, General Ferdinand Foch, an important step in the co-ordination of effort that met with universal approval among the Allied nations.
GENERAL PERSHING OFFERS AID
A magnanimous offer by General Pershing, approved by President Wilson, to brigade the United States troops in France with the British and French forces, was gratefully accepted by General Foch. While the Americans bore only a minor part in the big battles, or rather the continuous battle of March and April on the Somme, and had no part at all in the fighting in Flanders, they held splendidly to their section of the front-line trenches in the vicinity of Toul, and gave the enemy a taste of their quality in many a trench raid. Several attacks by German storm troops were also beaten off, the most important of these occurring late in April, when the Americans defeated a force of some 1,200 picked Hun troops, driving them back to their own lines with a loss of 400, while the total losses of the Americans was about 200.