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Approaching The Final Stage

( Originally Published 1918 )

THE might and pride of Germany were smashed and humbled by Foch in frontal attacks divided roughly into three great sectors. The first of these attacks was delivered by the French and Americans in the southern sector which included Verdun and the Argonne. The second smash was delivered by British, French and Americans in the Cambrai sector. The third was delivered by British, Belgians, French and Americans in the Belgian sector on the north of the great battle line.

The Cambrai operation had as its first objectives the possession of the strategic railways both of which ran from Valenciennes, one to the huge distribution center at Douai; the other to Cambrai itself. To reach these objectives the Allies were obliged to cross the Sensée and the Escaut canals under infantry and artillery fire. Besides these natural obstacles, there was the famous Hunding line of fortifications erected by the Germans between the Scarpe and the Oise River.

The attack was opened in force on September 18, 1918, by the Fourth British army under General Rawlinson and the First French army under General Debeney. The assault was successful northwest of St. Quentin and deter-mined German counter-attacks were broken down by French and British artillery fire.

The Third British army under General Byng and the Thirtieth American division co-operating with the First British army under Sir Henry Horne, attacked furiously over a fourteen mile front toward Cambrai. The net result of this operation was the possession of the Canal du Nord, the taking of several villages, and 6,000 prisoners. This was on September 27th. The following day the same forces captured Fontaine-Notre Dame, Marcoing, Noyelles, and Cantaing, More than 200 guns were captured and 10,000 prisoners. On September 29th the Americans took Belle court and Nauroy, and invested the suburbs of Cambrai. The British crossed the Escaut canal and the Canadians penetrated some of the environs of Cambrai.

The resolution and ferocity of the attack thoroughly dismayed the Germans, and the salient produced by the smash forced the Teutons to evacuate the greatly prized Lens coal fields on October 3rd. Horne and Byng continued their advance, the former occupying Biache-St. Vaast southwest of Douai, and the latter reaching a position five miles northwest of Cambrai.

Caught between the jaws of the pincers, the German forces occupying Cambrai made haste to escape outright capture. The city that had been the objective of British hopes and thrusts for two years, fell into the hands of the Allies. The German retreat extended over a thirty-mile front and included both St. Quentin and Cambrai. Simultaneously the German forces between Arras and St. Quentin fell steadily backward. Le Cateau and Zazeuel fell into the hands of the British October 17th, three thousand prisoners and a quantity of war material being included in the bag.

In the meantime General Mangin attacking in the Laon sector, drove the Germans from the strategic Chemin des Dames and with General Berthelot captured Berry-au-Bac, the St. Go-bain massif and completed contact with Generals Pershing and Gouraud on the right and with Generals Rawlinson and Debeney on the left.

The Allied advance now became a huge steel broom, sweeping the Germans irresistibly be-fore it. The operation extended from the Oise southeast to the Aisne, broadening thence until it included the entire front. The Hindenburg line, the Somme battle-field, the Hunding line, were all quickly overrun. The fortress of Maubeuge, fifty miles northeast of St. Quentin, which was connected with that city by a triple railway connection, was evacuated as a direct result of this operation.

When St. Quentin itself fell into the hands of Debeney, it was found that the Germans had deported the entire civilian population of 50,000.

This was the crux of the operations by Foch. Germans were given no rest; night and day the pressure continued. Every clash showed the increasing superiority of the Allies both in men and material and the corresponding deterioration of the German forces. This demoralization of the Germans extended from the High Command to the private soldier. Prisoners poured into the hands of the Allies. Evacuation of Lille was commenced on October 2d and Roubaix and Turcoing also fell.

It was the beginning of Germany's military debacle. The time was ripe for the coup-degrâce soon to be delivered by Americans cooperating with the Allies on a seventy-one mile front.

The Kaiser, Ludendorff and von Hindenburg abandoned hope. The command went forth from the German general headquarters to retreat, retreat, retreat, while Prince Maximilian of Baden, appealed to America for an armistice. The sword in Germany's hand was broken. Autocracy, defeated in the eyes of its deluded subjects and discredited in the eyes of the world, was in headlong flight. Its only concern was to save as much as possible from the ruins of the ostentatious temple it had reared.

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