The Sandbag Times Issue No: 45

sandbagtimes

The Veterans Magazine

The Historical Tommy Atkins

The Beginning

of The End

Written By Peter Macey

July 1918 was famous for a number of worthy

news items but also two major world changing

events. Although at the time they might have

gone unnoticed and certainly one was kept a

deep dark secret for many years, the truth of

which was only discovered in the 1980s, some

70 years on from what happened, they were

nonetheless world changing.

On 15th July the German Army started an

offensive on the Western Front near to the

River Marne in France. What would become

known as the Second Battle of the Marne

would prove to be the last offensive by the

Germans and unbeknown to anyone at the start

of the battle would prove to turn the war in the

Allies favour, and the Great War would finish

just over three months later.

On the morning of 15th July twenty three

German divisions assaulted the French

positions near to the Marne. This was a rash

attempt to make an impact without the

realisation that the French Army, due to the

attachment of the American 42nd Division

now heavily outnumbered the German front in

every capacity of manpower, tanks and

artillery. The hope of the advancing Germans

was to split the French Army into two parts

and counter each in turn. East of Reims the

French Fourth Army had prepared a defence

in-depth to counter any bombardment and

infiltrating infantry. Their main line of

resistance was around two miles behind the

front and beyond the range of the enemy field

guns. The French gun line behind the front

was lightly manned, but the remaining guns

fired frequently, so the Germans did not detect

its weakness from rate of firing although aerial

intelligence told them otherwise but was

ignored. But the counter-intelligence gained by

the French was not ignored and so when the

attack came, the French and American armies

were well prepared for any ‘surprise’ attack.

The German bombardment was scheduled for

12:10. The French opened fire on the German

assault trenches at 11:30. When the Germans

finally opened fire they pounded the almost

empty French front line. The attackers moved

easily through the French front line but this

advance meant the infantry moving far more

quickly than the support armour and artillery.

They were ordered to stop and rest while the

other parts of the attack played catch up.

Early the following day the Germans were

stopped by accurate fire by the bulk of the

French artillery. They tried to advance again at

noon, but failed.

Meanwhile in the west on the south bank of

the Marne the Americans had to hold the river

bank by enduring an intense three hour

bombardment, including many gas shells.

Under this cover Germans stormtroopers

swarmed across the river in every sort of

transport—including canvas boats and rafts.

They erected skeleton bridges at 12 points

under fire from the Allied survivors. Some

Allied units, held fast or counter-attacked, but

by evening, the Germans had captured a

bridgehead 4 miles deep and 9 miles wide.

Despite the aerial intervention of 225 French

bombers, dropping 40 tons of bombs on the

makeshift bridges, the German commander on

the ground, Ludendorff regarded their advance

as “the very pinnacle of military victory”.

Then the French were reinforced by the British

XXII Corps and 85,000 American troops. The

German advance stalled completely, two days

after it had started.

The German failure to break through allowed

Foch, the Allied Supreme Commander to

proceed with the planned major counteroffensive

which started on 18th July. Some

twenty four French divisions, and two US

divisions under French command, joined by

other Allied troops, including eight large

American divisions and 350 tanks attacked the

recently formed German stronghold.

This was the beginning of the end.

The Germans ordered a retreat on 20 July and

were forced back to the positions from which

they had started their Spring Offensives.

On 1st August, French and British divisions

renewed their attack, advancing to a depth of

nearly 5 miles. The Allied counter-attack came

to a halt out on 6th August in the face of the

German defences. But by this stage the

German stronghold had been reduced and the

Armies forced back by 28 miles. The German

defeat marked the start of almost unstoppable

advance by the Allies which culminated in the

Armistice around 100 days later.

In early July in Russia, the allies were

supporting the White Russians who were still

defending the Eastern Front. The Bolsheviks

who now formed the Government within

Russia had withdrawn from the War to

concentrate on creating a communist state.

But the contingent of non conforming

Russians were still fighting for freedom and

now supported by the allies in their attempts to

defend their homeland although most of the

German divisions had been moved from the

East to attack the Western Front.

But there would be a final act or authority by

the Bolsheviks, under the command of Lenin,

who had come to power following the

revolution in October the year before, the

former leader of all of Russia. In the early

hours of the morning of 17th July the Tzar

Nicholas II and his entire family, including his

wife Alexandra and their five children; Olga,

Maria, Tatiana, Anastasia and Alexie, were

executed in the basement of Ipatiev House in

Yekaterinburg, where they had been held

prisoner for some months.

The deaths of the former Royal family which

marked the end of the Romanov dynasty was

believed to have been carried out following a

direct order from Lenin. The deaths were

denied by the Bolshevik Government until

1926 when it was suggested they had been

killed by elements of the White Russians or

left wing.

The burial ground of the family was

discovered by an amateur sleuth in 1979. In

1981 the whole family were canonized as

Saints and declared Martyrs and Passion

Bearers by the Russian Orthadox Church

Abroad.

The site of their execution is now beneath the

altar of the Church On Blood.

Were your relatives involved in the Second

Battle of Marne? If so we would like to hear

from you. Please write into SBT or contact us

at Forgotten Veterans UK (FVUK).

www.sandbagtimes.co.uk 9 |

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