The German Operation Blucher, May, 1918
Operation Blucher or The Third Battle of the Aisne or Operation Blucher-Yorck, was named after the the Prussian commander at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. It was the alternative plan to Operation Michael, both in 1918.
After the failure of Michael, the German High Command realized that the dogged British resistance rapidly diminished the discipline of their assault troops with looting and drunkenness when enemy supplies were captured. Despite stunning rapid advances of Michael in March, there was nothing to show for it except a huge bulge. Yet, Operation Blucher, was yet another attempt to strike for Paris, this time, at an inactive part of the front with the 7th Army. The attack was mostly all assault divisions backed by a 160 minute hurricane artillery bombardment from 4000 guns. Eyewitnesses said the violence of the attack was nothing they had ever seen in all of WW1 because the barrage included gas and HE. It began at 0100 and lasted until 0340. German artillery hit all areas of the front. The French 6th Army was taken by total surprise and began to melt away. By mid-morning, this army was retreating to the Aisne River, which offered little defense and in just a few hours, eight French and British divisions were struggling with the calamity. Huge 25 mile gaps appeared. The rapid German assault divisions (17 of them) crossed the Aisne by evening and then to the Vesle River. Some of the assault divisions had advanced 12 miles by nightfall. It was even better than Operation Michael in March! By day 2, the Germans had seized Soissons. By June 2-3, Germans were at the Marne, 35 miles from the front line. This was just 50 miles to Paris! The Allies thought, not this again! How can this happen? The Germans seemed unstoppable this time. The success was so fast, even Ludendorff was shocked as it was beyond his expectations.
The French reserves flooded in (over 20 divisions) along with tank detachments, for most of the French tanks were idle. The Germans had used a few captured tanks and their own A7V in the initial assault, but their numbers paled in comparison to the French and British. The British divisions defending the front were simply shattered as well. Losses were massive as the fell back doggedly.
It would not be an understatement to say that the Americans saved Paris. These troops were fresh and eager to fight. They were well supplied and led. While Ludendorff was elated about finally reaching Paris and ending the war, the Americans were arriving at the right time and place. That place was around Chateau Thierry where German and the American 2nd and 3rd Divisions met in early June. The German assault troops who up to now felt invincible with rapid advances were as rapidly stopped by the Americans. By June 5th, the Germans felt all the impacts of a long logistical line across bad roads and few damaged rail lines. Their effort to seize Reims utterly failed by stout French defenses. Now, as with Michael, there was another bulge to defend! It was Deja-vu. On June 6th, Blucher was terminated after such astonishing rapid gains that truly shocked the Allies. Had the Americans not arrived when they did, there is little doubt the Germans could have advanced much closer to Paris creating a civilian panic.
In June 1918, the French had 500 tanks in reserve (compare to the German 20). They had been used in piecemeal actions during the Blucher offensive. Between May 28 to June 6th, the French had sent in 50 Renault tanks in the Villerers-Cotteret area to assist the French 10th Army. They helped blunt the German advance in that area.
On June 11, 51 Schneider and 37 St. Chamond heavy tanks were used in mass in the area of Matz\Montididier. In this action, 70 tanks were lost. Despite the losses, this mass use of tanks definitely blunted the German advance further. Then on July 18, the largest French tank operation occurred near Soissons with 255 Renault, 100 St. Chamond and 123 Schneider. Ground was quickly seized only slowing for infantry to reach and hold. The faster Renaults led the way and the Germans fell back.
Losses were over 100,000 for the Germans. These losses were hard to replace in 1918. While Reims remained in Allied control, on July 15, another attempt with 43 divisions to take it and expand where Blucher had ended, would occur and fail. The French lost 98,000 men and the British 29,000. The Germans lost 130,000. Because the Americans had finally arrived in mass, the Allied manpower shortage was minimized, while the German losses were unreplaceable.
The end was not far off for the Germans.
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