Ludendorff’s offensive shatters allied lines in the spring of 1918

General Ludendorff.

General Ludendorff.

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AS the fourth winter of the war drew to a close in 1918 the German army was able to prepare for a massive new attack on the lines of the allies in France and Belgium.

The allies were exhausted by three years of heavy fighting and failed attempts to break through the iron and concrete defences put in place over the long period of trench warfare.

The withdrawal of Russia from the war following the revolutions of March and October 1917 had released huge numbers of German troops who were brought back to the western front and concentrated for a new offensive.

The scale of the losses in the ill-fated campaign in Flanders from August to November 1917 had forced a reorganisation of the structure of the British army in the field.

The composition of brigades was reduced to three battalions and many of the ‘Pals’ and wartime service battalions, to which men had flocked in their thousands in the heady days of the summer of 1914, were amalgamated or reduced to cadre status with no active role at the front.

The minimum age for service at the front had been reduced to just 18 and six months and the army was now totally dependent upon conscripts to fill the gaps in units as heavy fighting continued to take a toll on the strength of battalions at the front.

To add to the woes of the general staff at GHQ, the evidence of a forthcoming German offensive, led by General Erich Ludendorff, was well known.

The outcome of the enemy offensive begun on March 21 would be the eventual defeat of the Central Powers (Germany, Austria and Turkey) but not before the allies had stared defeat in the face as the Germans pushed the British and French lines back across the battlefields of France and Flanders upon which so much blood had been spilt in the previous three years.

The reputations of generals were made and lost in the coming months.

General Sir Hubert Gough, commanding the Fifth Army, would be seen as having failed, while Sir Henry Rawlinson would come to be regarded as the architect of the final successful 100 days of fighting leading up to the Armistice in November.

But for three months the picture was altogether different and heavy losses were suffered as the enemy pushed forward towards Paris.

The casualties amongst Tynemouth borough men were markedly high and the period from March 21 to 29 produced the second highest losses – 40 men killed – a figure exceeded only by the bloodbath on the first day of the Somme battle two years earlier.

n The appeal for anyone having an example of the Tynemouth Village War Service Medal made in last week’s News Guardian produced an immediate response and the project now has contact with a further three people in possession of a medal awarded to a member of their family.

The project is still seeking information about the circumstances of the medal.

It was manufactured by a company in Birmingham still trading today and further enquiries are being made.

THE next open forum for members of the project and any member of the public interested to learn about progress is being held on Tuesday, March 27, at 7pm in the Linskill Community Centre.

There will be a demonstration of the database on a large screen and the fascinating insight this computer-based system allows into the relationships of the men killed in the war.

Analysis by home address for instance allows to see that more than 40 men from a single street – Church Way – were lost.

Those attending will see the ways in which the database will provide a resource for local history of families in the early part of the 20th century.

THIS week’s casualty list gives details of men from the borough who were killed or died on March 21, 1918, the beginning of the German spring offensive.

Allen, Lawrence Poole, age 25, Sergeant, 4th Battalion Royal Fusiliers (City of London) Regiment, KIA, 43 Middle Street, son of William John and Catherine, 6 Collingwood Terrace.

Bean, Joshua Hall, age 20, Private, 15th DLI, KIA, son of Mary Jane and late John Robert, 4 Tyne Street.

Bonner, M A, age 29, Private, 26th Battalion NF (Tyneside Irish), KIA, 67 King Street, husband of Hannah, son of Thomas and Amy, of 7 Park Place, Newcastle. Enlisted November 1914, his brother DOW, October 19, 1917.

Dykes, William Kindon, Corporal, 2nd/2nd Battalion Royal Fusiliers (City of London) Regiment, KIA. Details needed.

Hall, J, Royal Garrison Artillery, KIA, 1 Norham Terrace. Details needed.

Hart, David Matthews, age 24, Private, 1st Battalion NF, KIA, 37 Stephenson Street, son of Dorothy and the late John Henry.

Hull, Thomas Frederick, age 23, AB, RNVR Drake Battalion, RND, KIA, 14 West Percy Street, previously served 5th Battalion, East Yorks Regiment Cyclists Battalion, transferred to RND on June 16, 1917.

Norvell, Walter Warman, age 20, Driver, ‘A’ Battery 315th Brigade RFA, KIA, 6 Trinity Terrace.

Ridley, Joseph Chilton, age 22, Private, 2nd Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers, KIA, 24 Beacon Street, husband of E M Bertram, (formerly Ridley), 6 James Square, Hudson Street.

Ware Patrick, age 23, Private, 12th/ 13th NF, KIA, 91 Church Street, born Queenstown, Co Cork.

Yates, John Barrington, Lieutenant, 160th Brigade, RFA, KIA, 5 Yeoman Street. Details needed.

Key:

KIA – killed in action

DOW – died of wounds

LAS – lost at sea

NF – Northumberland Fusiliers

DLI – Durham Light Infantry

RND – Royal Naval Division

RNR – Royal Naval Reserve

RFA – Royal Field Artillery

n Anyone with information on this week’s list or who wants to find out more about the project, should visit www.tynemouthworldwarone.org, e-mail contact@tynemouthworldwarone.org or write to Tynemouth World War 1 Commemoration Project, c/o Essell, 29 Howard Street, North Shields, NE30 1AR.