On This Day – Germany Launches Operation Michael


Operation Michael was a German attack that began the Spring Somme Offensive on this day in 1918. It was launched from the Hindenburg Line and was aimed at breaking through the Allied lines and seizing the Channel Ports, which supplied the British Expeditionary Force, to ultimately drive them to the sea. Just two days later, German commander Erich Ludendorff changed his tactics and decided instead to push for an offensive along the entire British front north of the Somme, to separate the British and French armies and push them into the sea.

The first day of the battle began at 4:40am with an artillery bombardment, with trench mortars, mustard gas, chlorine gas, tear gas and smoke canisters concentrated on the forward trenches, while heavy artillery bombarded rear areas to destroy Allied artillery and supply lines. More than 3,500,000 shells were fired in five hours in the greatest bombardment of the war.

The final day of the battle was on 5 April as German progress had stalled, causing Ludendorff to call a halt to the offensive. One of their biggest problems was that they were unable to move their supplies and reinforcements fast enough to maintain their advance, and the fast-moving stormtroopers leading the attack could not carry enough food and medical supplies to sustain themselves for long.

Much of the battle was fought over the previous grounds of the First Battle of the Somme in 1916, and its ultimate failure has been seen as the beginning of the end of the First World War. Even though the Germans had captured 1,200 square miles of France and advanced up to 40 miles, they had not achieved any of their strategic objectives. Allied losses stood at around 255,000 men while German losses were approximately 239,800.