19th Mar 1918: German deserters tell of pending offensive

Statements from Alsatian and Polish deserters, a captured flying officer and other prisoners were all pointing to the principal point of attack on the British sector would be between Arras-St.Quentin in the coming days. The troops of the British 3rd & 5th Armies were told to expect an attack on the morning of either 20th or 21st March. However for the men in the front, warnings had been issued before and nothing had happened. In light of the intelligence Haig transferred four of his divisions from the 2nd Army in the north to the 3rd & 5th Armies expected to take the brunt. The triple defence system had been established along the British line, but the sector recently taken over from the French was in the poorest condition. Moreover the Fifth Army’s sector was the widest and most lightly held. For the purposes of harassing the enemy, 700 cylinders containing gas were fired from the AIF 5th Division’s front by a special company of the Royal Engineers. The history of the 226th RIR says that 21 of its men were gassed, nine fatally.

3rd Mar 1918: Treaty of Brest-Litovsk

The new Bolshevik Government of Soviet Russia agreed to peace with Germany in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. The harsh German terms included ceding control of the Baltic States and Poland to Germany plus the province of Kars Oblast in the South Caucasus to the Ottoman Empire, and recognised the independence of Ukraine. Historians believe that Lenin was willing to give up vast tracts of land with great economic wealth in order to concentrate on dealing with problems in the main part of Russia following the revolution and dealing with the White Russians.

26th Feb 1918: HS Glenart Castle torpedoed with 162 lives lost

hs_glenart_castleAt dark on the morning of 26th February, the Glenart Castle was leaving Newport in the Bristol Channel heading towards Brest, France, when despite being lit as a hospital ship she was hit by a torpedo. The blast destroyed most of the lifeboats, while the subsequent pitch of the vessel hindered attempts to launch the remaining boats. In the eight minutes the ship took to sink, only seven lifeboats were launched, and the rough seas with inexperienced rowers swamped most of the boats. Only a few survivors were reported and 162 people were killed including the Captain Bernard Burt, eight nurses, seven Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) medical officers and 47 medical orderlies. Evidence later found suggested that the submarine may have shot at initial survivors of the sinking in an effort to cover up the sinking of Glenart Castle. After the war, the British Admiralty sought the captains of U-Boats who sank hospital ships, in order to charge them with war crimes. Kapitänleutnant Wilhelm Kiesewetter — the commander of UC-56 — was arrested after the war on his voyage back to Germany and interned in the Tower of London. He was released on the grounds that Britain had no right to hold a detainee during the Armistice.

16th Feb 1918: German divisions increasing on Western Front

British intelligence estimated that the Germans now had 178 divisions on the Western Front, with nearly half being opposite the British Army. However Field Marshall Haig felt that the main blow would come against the French to the south, but told his Army commanders to be prepared for an attack across the old Somme battlefields where communication for the British remained difficult. He also felt that the initial blow was less likely to be delivered in Flanders where the ground remained wet and therefore less suitable much later than to the south.

14th Jan 1918: Air reconnaissance shows German build up opposite British

The British began to extend its front southwards taking over from the French, first to St.Quentin and then by the end of the month to Barisis. Field Marshall Haig now had 125 miles to defend with 57 divisions, but these were much weaker than before. Intelligence estimated that Germans were transferring between 30 to 40 divisions from the now quiet east over the winter, so for Haig the question was how to distribute his forces against the expected attack. With the Americans still slowly arriving it made sense that if the Germans were to attack it would be sooner than later, probably in early March. Although the weather had been bad for flying and for observation, British airmen had brought in photographs of numerous new aerodromes, dumps, railway sidings and hospital camps in the region opposite the British 3rd and 5th Armies from Arras to Peronne. But similar reports were coming in opposite the British 2nd Army on the Lys, and also on the French front in Champagne near Rheims.

8th Jan 1918: Wilson publishes ’14 points’ for any peace agreement

US President Wilson published his ‘Fourteen Points’ which must be conceded by Germany before the US could think of peace. With one exception they were the same as British Prime Minister Lloyd George’s and although not all agreed by the French they became recognised as the general basis upon which the Allies would consent to negotiate. 

20th Dec 1917: Australian people reject conscription in second referendum

The Australian people rejected conscription for the second time in a referendum. Although the soldiers voted marginally in favour, the majority of the men at the front voted against, with the pro-conscription coming from the newly arrived reinforcements in the depots in England. With voluntary enlistment falling, commanders were facing the prospect of some units having to be broken up.