Op MICHAEL

Event
Thursday, 21 March, 1918 - Friday, 5 April, 1918

On 21 March 1918, General Ludendorf ordered a massive offensive in the area between Arras and La Fère against the British Third and Fifth Armies; included in the latter was the 36th (Ulster) Division. German High Command had moved some fifty divisions from the eastern front, where the Russians had surrendered, to confront what they perceived as a weakened British Expeditionary Force (BEF). The main aim was to outflank the BEF in Flanders, attack its lines of communication, cut off its supply lines from the channel ports, defeat the British and therefore force a French armistice; if successful, the Kaiser would defeat the Allies and win the war. Although the USA had declared war in April 1917, they had not fully arrived on the Western Front. The German imperative was to launch their spring offensive before the well-trained American Expeditionary Force was committed in strength.

The German’s opening and main offensive, Operation MICHAEL, began at 0440 hours when their heaviest preparatory artillery bombardment yet seen on the Western Front pounded the British around St Quentin in depth with the forward trenches receiving mustard, chlorine and tear gas thickened by smoke. Then at 0940 hours the Germans attacked using their recently developed ‘Offensive in Trench Warfare’ tactics. Elite infiltrating stormtroopers led the assault and the infantry followed, attacking out of an early morning mist made dense by artillery and trench mortar smoke.

The Germans broke through the British Fifth Army's front and after two days, Fifth Army fell back in retreat. At Arras On 28 March, Ludendorf next launched a hastily prepared against against the British Third Army's right wing at Arras in an attempt to enlarge the breach in the Allied lines that lay to the north side of the British boundary with the French. When Op MICHAEL began to falter and overall failed to capture Amiens, Lundendorf called off Op MICHAEL on 5 April.