Battles of the Somme 1918: German Spring Offensive

Long Range Gun Fires on Paris

On 24 March the long range, 256 ton German gun called “Kaiser Wilhelmgeschütz” fired its first shells from the Forest of Coucy. With a range of 75-80 miles the shell reached Paris. There were three of these huge railway mounted guns in the forest; the breech blew off when the second gun was fired. The third gun began firing towards Paris on 29 March.

Difficulties of Supply

The German advance by the three armies continued during the few days after 21 March, but gradually the troops began to tire, having been on the move without relief for four days. Added to this, the supply of food, equipment, ammunition and horse fodder became problemmatic the further the infantry advanced ahead of their supply columns. The ground over which they were advancing was cratered with shell holes, roads were badly damaged and the villages they passed through were wrecked. Ironically, the German Army had been responsible for causing deliberate damage to this area when it made a withdrawal to the Siegfriedstellung (called the Hindenberg Line by the British) in the early months of 1917. The wilful destruction included poisoning of wells.

By 29 March the Germans had captured several key Allied-held towns on the Somme battlefield: Péronne, Ham, Noyon, Roye, Montdidier, Albert and Bapaume. The loss of the latter two was especially bitter for the British, given that they had struggled through the summer of 1916 to advance to Bapaume and many thousands of lives had been lost to capture this town. Within a few days in March of 1918 the ground was once more in German hands.

On 30 March General Ludendorff issued orders that the next phase of the German offensive, Operation Georgette in Flanders, would be carried out and artillery was to begin moving from the rear of the Operation Michael area to Flanders for the artillery's preparatory bombardment. The next day, 31 March 1918, General Ludendorff chose to rest the troops fighting in the Somme sector for a couple of days with a view to resuming the advance of Operation Michael. However, by 4 March the French Army had begun to reinforce its positions with extra reserves to hold back the German Eighteenth Army south of the Somme river. American troops were beginning to arrive on the battlefront. The British and Australian forces put up a successful defence at the village of Villers-Bretonneux against units of the German Second Army. Strong Allied counter-attacks prevented further progress by the Germans to the city of Amiens. Some German commanders now considered that Germany's last chance to strike a decisive blow against the British had passed. The shortages of reserves, ammunition and horses made it impossible to consider launching another offensive in this sector on such a large-scale. On the evening of 5 April General Ludendorff sent out a message to say that Operation Michael was terminated.


Although the Germans had gained over 1,000 square miles of Allied-held territory in a few days, the casualties suffered by the Germans is recorded as 31,000 killed, 20,000 missing and 190,000 wounded. The German offensive resulted in 160,000 Allied casualties killed or wounded and 90,000 men taken prisoner. By the end of Operation Michael the German troops were generally dispirited and disorganized.

Next >> Battles of the Somme 1918: Le Hamel

Further Reading

Book Kaiser's Battle by Martin Middlebrook

The Kaiser's Battle (paperback)

by Martin Middlebrook

430 pages. Publisher Pen & Sword Military (15 Feb. 2007); ISBN-10: 184415498X; ISBN-13: 978-1844154982

Book Kaiserschlacht 1918

Kaiserschlacht 1918: The Final German Offensive (Campaign) (paperback)

by Randal Gray

96 pages. Publisher Osprey Publishing (26 Sept. 1991); ISBN-10: 1855321572; ISBN-13: 978-1855321571

History of the Great War Based on Official Documents (British Official History)

Detailed accounts of the defence by British and Allied Forces on the Western Front can be found in the British Official History. The volumes are not available online but may be available through the inter-library loan service in the United Kingdom, or may be available to see in a military museum library collection. Some volumes are still available as reprints, which were republished by the Imperial War Museum in the 1990s. These are the titles of the two relevant volumes for the March 1918 battles on the Somme:

Book Military Operations: 1918 Vol 1

Military Operations France and Belgium, 1918: The German March Offensive and its Preliminaries vol. 1 (Official History of the Great War) (hardback reprint)

598 pages. Publisher Imperial War Museum; New Ed edition (10 Dec. 1992); ISBN-10: 1870423933; ISBN-13: 978-1870423939

For our page covering volumes of the Military Operations (British Official History) see our page:

History of the Great War Based on Official Documents (British Official History)

Australian Defence at Villers-Bretonneux

The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Volume V, contains a detailed account of the battle at Villers-Bretoneux in March/April 1918and is accessible to read free online:

Website: Volume V

Our page on the volumes covering the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 see:

Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918

Official History of the Imperial German Army in the War of 1914-1918 (German Official History)

The German account of the German offensive in the spring of 1918 is detailed in Der Weltkrieg 1914 bis 1918. The relevant volume is:

For more information about the German Official History volumes see our page:

Official History of the Imperial German Army in the War of 1914-1918 (German Official History)

Related Topic

Pozières Memorial to the Missing at Pozières Cemetery on the 1918 Somme battlefield.
Pozieres Memorial to the Missing

The Pozières Memorial commemorates the names of 14,655 casualties of the United Kingdom and 300 of the South African Forces who died on the 1918 Somme battlefields from the dates of 21 March to 7 August 1918 inclusive.

Pozières Memorial to the Missing