Western Front: 1918

poppy-2Treaty of Brest Litovsk3rd March 1918: 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.

hs_glenart_castle26th February 1918: At 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.

Operation Michael25th February 1918: Air reconnaissance and other intelligence picked up signs of a new German Army HQ being established between Arras and St.Quentin. By then GHQ estimated that the German forces in the West had grown to 181 divisions, and during the following fortnight signs of a pending attack became increasingly evident.

16th February 1918: British intelligence now 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.

31st January 1918: The build-up of American troops in Europe was progressing slower than expected. Conscription meant that men had to be trained, but the main issue was the insufficient number of transports available to ship the men across. By the end of January only four American divisions had arrived.

14th January 1918: 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 WilsonChampagne near Rheims.

8th January 1918: US President Wilson (photograph right) 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. 

4th January 1918: The Hospital Ship Rewa was returning to Britain HS Rewafrom Malta with 279 wounded officers aboard. Neutral inspectors from Spain had boarded the ship in Gibraltar to confirm that she had no military function. At 11:15, she was hit by a torpedo 19 miles off Hartland Point, Devon. The ship took around two hours to sink, allowing all wounded and ship’s crew to board lifeboats except for the four engine men who died in the initial explosion.


Events Archive 1917

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