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Home News - May 1918

The End Game

Map of the German Spring Offensive

In late March 1918, the anticipated German Spring Offensive opened up. But it happened across a wider front than anticipated and with a ferocity made possible by the renewal of German forces from multiple Brigades released from fighting on the Russian Front. Following the Russian Revolution, the Russian forces could not be relied upon (nor supported, nor directed effectively). Germany employed "attack troops" who were only lightly encumbered, enabling significant progress and consolidation by German troops in support. The relentless German progress proved also to expose a weakness in supply-lines that contributed to their eventual undoing.

The Allied preparations in defensive training helped stem the tide in due course.

May continued to be bleak, even if the theatre had changed. The momentum was with Germany through the early weeks.

"The Army and Navy Gazette" summarised events on the British (Western) Front.

[NOTE: The Army and Navy Gazette first two issues are not currently available for transcription]

Western (British) Front reported on 10th May

Western Gazette of 10th May 1918
THURSDAYS TELEGRAMS (9TH MAY 1918) – BRITISH OFFICIAL. Successful counter-attacks launched by the British and French troops yesterday evening in La Clytte Voormezeele sector drove enemy from positions of Allied front line, in which he had gained a footing during the morning, and re-established the positions originally held by us. We captured several prisoners.
This morning the enemy again attacked North of Kemmel and succeeded in pressing back our line slightly at one point where fighting continues.
Troops of two German Divisions took part in the enemy's attack yesterday morning. Heavy casualties were inflicted on them by our artillery fire as well as in the infantry fighting both during the attack and subsequent counter-attacks.
Local fighting took place also yesterday at Buczouy, in the course of which we captured 30 prisoners.
During the night further progress was made by us between the Somme and Ancre. Our new positions in this sector were improved and several prisoners were taken by us.
Hostile raids were repulsed in the neighbourhood of Lens and Merris.
The enemy's artillery developed considerable activity during the night in the Albert Sector.

Western (Franco-British) Front reported on 25th May

Local fighting took place on the night of May 13 north of Kemmel, where the enemy attacked in the direction of Klein Vierstraat, and was repulsed by the French. On May 14, after heavy artillery preparation, the enemy attacked on a front of nearly a mile south-west of Morlancourt, and succeeded at one point in entering the British positions. At all other points the attack was repulsed with heavy loss to the enemy, and in this locality an immediate counter-attack by Australian troops drove out the enemy and completely re-established the British line. The casualties of the British, who captured over 50 prisoners, were very light. Successful raids, in which the British took a number of prisoners and two machine-guns, were carried out on the morning of May 18 in Morlancourt sector and south of Hulluch. In the former enterprise Australian troops rushed a hostile post west of Morlancourt village, and, taking the garrison by surprise, captured 21 prisoners and a machine-gun without incurring any casualties themselves. A minor enterprise was successfully undertaken by the British at night in the neighbourhood of Ville-sur-Ancre, north-west of Morlancourt. The British, whose positions in this locality were improved, captured a number of prisoners and machine-guns. The local operation undertaken by the British during the night at Ville-sur-Ancre was completely successful. Australian troops carried the German positions in and around the village, which is now in the possession of the British, and captured 360 prisoners and 20 machine-guns. The British casualties were light. During the night of May 19 the French carried out a successful operation east and north-east of Locre. All their objectives were gained on a front of some 4,000 yards, and over 400 prisoners were captured. Local fighting took place early in the morning north of Albert, as a result of which a few British troops were missing.

Western (Franco-British) Front reported on 1st June 1918

A successful local operation was carried out by troops of a Surrey battalion in the evening of May 20 north-west of Merville. A re-entrant in the line in this sector was closed up, and 30 prisoners and six machine-guns were captured by the British. A hostile counter-attack which was launched in the morning of May 21 against the British new position north-west of Merville was made in considerable strength upon a front of 1,200 yards. A very heavy bombardment preceded the enemy's advance, but in spite of the intensity of his artillery preparation his infantry only succeeded in reaching the British positions at two points, where the enemy was dealt with effectively in each case. The shelling which took place in the night of May 25 in the Villers-Bretonneux sector was heavy, and consisted of gas shell. Heavy gas shelling also took place early in the morning of May 26 west of Hinges. Strong hostile attacks preceded by bombardment of great intensity developed early in the morning of May 27 on wide fronts against the British and French troops in line between Rheims and Soissons, and against the French troops between Locre and Voormezeele. At 3.30 a.m. the British divisions holding the sector of the French front astride the Aisne at Berry-au-Bac (between Bermericourt and Cranonnelle) were heavily attacked. At the same time hostile attacks in great strength were made against the French troops immediately on the British right and against the French Divisions on the British left along the high ground traversed by the Chemin des Dames. In the British sector the enemy's attack was supported by tanks and accompanied by an intense bombardment with gas shell. The British sector the enemy's attack was supported by tanks and accompanies by an intense bombardment with gas shell. The British maintained their battle positions, and were in close touch with the French. The enemy succeeded, after heavy fighting, in pressing the British left back to a second line of prepared positions. On the Lys battle front strong attacks made by the enemy in the morning on the Locre-Voormezeele front were repulsed by the French after fierce fighting with great loss to the enemy. In the neighbourhood of Dickebusch Lake the enemy succeeded in penetrating a short distance into the French positions. Other localities into which the enemy penetrated in his first attack were regained by the French, who secured a number of prisoners.
Continuous pressure was maintained by the enemy throughout May 27 against the British engaged on the Aisne front, and severe fighting was still taking place on the whole front of the British sector. On the British right the 21st Division, in touch with the French, held their battle positions all day, and successfully withstood the enemy's attempts to advance. In the centre and on the left of the British sector the 8th, 50th, and 25th Divisions by a determined resistance maintained their second line positions against the enemy's assaults until a late hour. Towards the end of the day the weight of the enemy's attacks carried his troops across the River Aisne to the west of the British sector. The enemy was developing his attacks in great strength along the whole of the Aisne battle front. On the Lys front local fighting recommenced on May 28 in the area east of Dickebusch Lake. On the remainder of the front a number of prisoners were taken by the British in successful raids carried out at different points during the night. Counter-attacks carried out early on the morning by French and British troops successfully re-established the line east of Dickebusch Lake. Several prisoners were captured. In the enemy's attacks on May 27 in this sector and to the south as far as Locre, four German divisions were known to have been engaged. In the course of the fighting heavy losses were inflicted on these divisions, and the Allied line was maintained at all points. On the remainder of the British front there was nothing to report beyond artillery activity on both sides in different sectors.

Western (French) Front.- During the night of May 28 the German drive, supported by the arrival of fresh divisions, increased, notably on the two wings in the direction of Soissons and Rheims. On the left the French slowly retired fighting to the outskirts east of Soissons. West of Montdidier the Americans successively shattered two German counter-attacks against Cantigny. The battle assumed a character of particular violence on the French left wing in the region of Soissons After a desperate resistance and much street fighting the French evacuated the town, but held the exits. West and south-east of Soissons the battle continued on the plateaux between Belleu, Septmonts Ambrief and Chacrise. On the right the French who covered Rheims fell back behind the Aisne Canal to the north-west of the town. The battle continued without interruption during the night of May 29, when the French held the western outskirts of Soissons, from which the enemy was unable to debouch in spite of his repeated attempts. The battle continued during May 30 with undiminished violence on the whole of the front. The French at the western outlets from Soissons prevented all progress by the enemy on that side. To the south the French held the left bank of the Crise. On the centre the intensity of the struggle did not slacken. The Germans captured Fère en Tardenois and Vezely, and were increasing their efforts in the direction of Ville en Tardenois. By a counter-attack the French retook Thillois.
On our left in the region of the Lower Ailette the Germans continued their pressure during May 31. The French broke all the enemy attacks in the region of Blérancourt, and to the west of that place the enemy, who had succeeded in crossing the Oise east of Sampigny was thrown back on to the right bank. To the west of Soissons the French made vigorous counter-attacks, and retarded the progress of the enemy, who suffered heavily. The enemy succeeded in gaining some ground to the west of the Soissons-Château Thierry road, and in passing behind Oulchy la Ville and Oulchy le Château. In the centre weak German detachments reached the north bank of the Marne between Charteves and Jaulgonne. In the region of Soissons and on the Chaudin-Vierzy line the French on May 31, continuing their counter-attacks, drove back the enemy, and gained some ground everywhere, and took several hundred prisoners. South of Soissons the enemy was driven back on the Crise. Further south, Chaudin and Vierzy, captured and lost several times, remained with the French after obstinate fighting. On the northern bank of the Marne the enemy pushed his advanced elements from the northern and eastern edges of Château Thierry as far as Verneuil.

At Sea

The competing navies continued to disrupt and strangle supplies to fighting forces, demoralise and starve home populations. Submarines were evolving as effective instruments of war. Many air attacks on Britain were reported as "naval" actions.

North Sea. - Hostile aircraft crossed the coasts of Kent and Essex shortly after 11 p.m. on May 19 and proceeded towards London, where the following casualties occurred:- Killed, men, 17; women, 14; children, 6 – total, 37. Injured, men, 83; women, 49; children, 23 – total, 155. The casualties in the provinces were:- Injured, men, 2; women, 3; children, 1 – total, 6.
The Admiralty makes the following announcement:- "One of H.M. destroyers was torpedoed and sunk by an enemy submarine on 14th inst. Two men were killed as a result of the explosion."
The following Admiralty communiqué is issued:- "The seven submarines of the Royal Navy which remained in Russian waters were destroyed by order during the five days from April 3 to April 8, 1918, upon the approach of German naval forces and transports to Hango (South-West Finland). None of the ships fell into enemy hands."

In the air

Reported in the Army and Navy Gazette, 25th May 1918. On May 9 fighting in the air took place more or less continuously, but became particularly fierce towards dusk. Twenty-seven German machines were brought down and 12 others were driven down out of control. Six British machines were missing. On May 10 great aerial activity took place in the British sector after 5 p.m. and until dark. Hostile scouts were very active, and made repeated attacks on the British bombing machines. Eleven German aeroplanes were brought down in air fighting, and six others were driven down out of control. Nine British machines were missing. A British aeroplane, reported missing on May 7, returned during the day. On May 12 in air fighting six hostile machines were brought down. One British machine was missing. On May 15 a successful raid was carried out by the British on Thionville. The Carlshütte factory, alongside the railway, was hit four times. All the British machines returned safely in spite of the heavy anti-aircraft fire experienced by them when over their objectives. Early on May 16 British aeroplanes set out to bomb the factories and railway station at Saarbrücken, in Germany. On crossing the lines they encountered ten hostile scouts, and a running fight took place along the whole way to the British objectives. By the time Saarbrücken was reached twenty-five hostile machines had collected, and were attacking the British aeroplanes with the utmost vigour. In spite of these attacks twenty-four heavy bombs were dropped by the British on their objectives. Several bursts were seen on the railway and a fire was started. Having attained their objectives our aeroplanes concentrated their efforts on fighting the enemy's machines, three of which were brought down. A British aeroplane also was seen to be shot down. A British aeroplane also was seen to be shot down. The remainder of the British machines returned. Fighting was intense in the early morning and again in the evening. Thirty hostile machines were brought down and five others were driven out of control. In addition two German machines were brought down by anti-aircraft gunfire.
Two hostile machines landed behind the British lines, when their occupants were captured. Five British machines were missing. On May 18 a most successful raid was carried out by the British in daylight on Cologne, in Germany. The British bombing machines were attacked by several hostile scouts, two of which were driven down out of control. All the British aeroplanes returned. During the day twenty-one hostile machines were brought down and two others driven down out of control. Eight British aeroplanes were missing."

Reported on 1st June, the report on May actions continued:-

On May 19 three German observation balloons were destroyed by the British, and twenty-seven hostile machines were brought down and three others were driven out of control. Twelve British aeroplanes were missing. On May 20 the barracks, gasworks, and railway station at Landau, in Germany, north-west of Carlsruhe, were bombed by the British, all of whose machines returned. On May 20 12 German aeroplanes were brought down and two others were driven down out of control. One hostile machine was shot down by anti-aircraft gunfire. Four British aeroplanes were missing. On May 21 a good deal of fighting took place around British bombing machines. Sixteen German aeroplanes were brought down, and two others were driven down out of control. Three British machines were missing. Bombs were dropped by British aeroplanes on the chlorine factory at Mannheim on the Rhine, causing three large fires. At dawn on May 22 two formations set out on a long-distance raid to bomb the important railway triangle at Liege. All machines reached the objective and dropped 22 heavy bombs, causing three very large fires. In air fighting 13 German machines were brought down, and two others were driven down out of control. British machines again attacked Mannheim, in Germany, and dropped 24 heavy bombs on the chlorine factory, causing two large fires. At the same time bombs were dropped on the important electrical power station at Kreüsewald, east of Saarbrucken. All machines returned.



The number of proceedings of Courts-Martial held for the trials of officers, soldiers and civilians, and Military Courts on prisoners of war and civilians received by the Judge-Advocate-General, from 4th August, 1914, to 31st March, 1920, amounts to 309,511, made up as follows:-

Table (i) - Total Number of Procedings
Courts-Martial Military Courts  
Officers Soldiers Total (officers, soldiers). Civilians Total (officers, soldiers, civilians) Prisoners of war Civilians Total (prisoners of war, civilians) Total courts-martial and military courts
5,952 298,210 304,262 809 305,062 3,842 607 4,449 309,511

The number of proceedings of Courts-Martial on officers and soldiers at home and abroad received by the Judge-Advocate-General from 4th August, 1914, to 31st March, 1920, together with their results, is as follows:-

Table (ii)(a) - Courts-Martial on Officers and Soldiers at Home
Period General Courts-Martial District Courts-Martial Field General Courts-Martial Total Courts-Martial, officers and soldiers
Officers Soldiers Total Soldiers Officers Soldiers Total
4th Aug - 30th Sept 1914 1 3 4 629 - 33 33 666
1st Oct - 30th Sept 1915 86 121 207 19,340 - 279 279 19,826
1st Oct - 30th Sept 1916 356 43 399 27,053 - - - 27,053
1st Oct - 30th Sept 1917 435 158 593 32,692 - - - 32,692
1st Oct - 30th Sept 1918 814 63 877 32,396 - - - 32,396
1st Oct - 30th Sept 1919 599 149 748 19,037 - - - 19,037
1st Oct - 30th Sept 1920 99 193 292 6,536 - - - 6,536
Total 2,390 730 3,120 137,683 - 312 312 141,115


Table (ii)(b) - Courts-Martial on Officers and Soldiers at Abroad
Period General Courts-Martial District Courts-Martial Field General Courts-Martial Total Courts-Martial, officers and soldiers
Officers Soldiers Total Soldiers Officers Soldiers Total
4th Aug - 30th Sept 1914 4 - 4 90 1 52 53 147
1st Oct - 30th Sept 1915 68 22 90 877 17 14,743 14,760 15,727
1st Oct - 30th Sept 1916 478 63 541 721 15 30,295 30,310 31,572
1st Oct - 30th Sept 1917 735 21 756 1,058 58 32,830 32,888 34,702
1st Oct - 30th Sept 1918 839 22 861 1,284 141 41,668 41,809 43,954
1st Oct - 30th Sept 1919 842 130 972 820 159 30,357 30,516 32,308
1st Oct - 30th Sept 1920 189 9 198 476 16 4,047 4,063 4,737
Total 3,155 267 3,422 5,326 407 153,992 154,399 163,147

Memorial service at Teynham

Faversham and North East Kent News of 4th May 1918
There was a very large congregation at Teynham Parish Church on Sunday evening last (28th April), when the death of four men on active service was commemorated, viz., Privates G. Potts, E. Cheeseman, A.E. Hadlow and Lance-Corporal Joseph Ray. The Vicar read prayers and the sermon was preached by Mr. F. Honeyball. Gunner Rickards, of the Conyer garrison, took the organ and played the Dead March at the close of the service.

German escaped POWs caught at Deal

Western Gazette of 10th May 1918

Two escaped German naval men were caught at Deal shortly after Saturday midnight [4th/5th May] in an attempt to cross the Channel to Zeebrugge in an open boat.
The names of the men are Otto Honke (23) and Conrad Sandehagen (22)
Both men were dressed as sailors, wearing blue serge suits and high boots.
Honke, who spoke English fairly fluently, when arrested on the beach, stated that he and three other German sailors had escaped from Larkhill Camp, at Salisbury Plain, on April 17th, and that they had intended to row across to Zeebrugge.
When Honke and Sandehagen were searched they were found to have between them nearly a pound in English silver and an Australian shilling. They had picked out the best boat on the beach, and had hidden in it two bags of biscuits, bread, and other food, some articles of clothing, a razor, a shaving brush, and a knife. One of the men had in his possession a large bottle of water.
In appearance the men looked well and robust, as though they had had no difficulty in obtaining plenty of good food during the 18 days since their escape from the internment camp. It is believed that they have been tramping the country, hiding by day and travelling by night, although in any seafaring district they would easily have passed muster as ordinary seamen. It is not known what has become of the other two Germans with whom they escaped from Larkhill."

Two German prisoners of war who escaped from Rothwell Camp, Kettering, on Sunday night were re-captured on Monday evening by Thomas Gibson, aged 17, the son of a licensed victualler.
He had been out rabbit shooting, and was returning along the main road between Kettering and Northampton when he met two men answering the description of the escaped prisoners. He allowed them to pass, and then swung round and shouted, "Halt! Right about turn!" The men wheeled round and found themselves facing the lad and his doubled-barrelled gun.
Gibson then took up a position immediately behind them and marched them into the village of Broughton, where he handed them over to the police.

† - Hundred and Thirteenth Loss in the Kingsdown with Creekside Benefice - 5th May 1918.

Corporal, Frank BUTLER (of Newnham), Killed in Action aged 34
Theatre: France and Flanders
Memorial: Niederzwehren Cemetery, Kassel. Plot 4, Row J, Grave 8
Serving In: Machine Gun Company. Formerly (#1831) Kent Cyclist Battalion; and (#15565) The Buffs. Died of Wounds, after being taken prisoner on March 21st/22nd 1918. Body concentrated (reburied) to Kassel

Government reporting of the war questioned by ex-Director of Military Operations

Western Gazette of 10th May 1918

Ministers & The Army. Grave Accusations against the Government. Question of Confidence. Acute situation.
Major-General Sir Frederick Maurice, C.B., who until recently was Director of Military Operations on the Imperial General Staff, has sent the following letter to the Press:-

"SIR,- My attention has been called to answers given in the house of Commons on April 23rd by Mr. Bonar Law, to questions put by Mr. G. Lambert, Colonel Burn, and Mr. Pringle, as to the extension of the British front in France. (Hansard. Vol. 105, No.34, p.815). These answers contain certain misstatements which in sum give a totally misleading impression of what occurred. This is not the place to enter into a discussion as to all the facts, but Hansard's report of the incident concludes:-

Mr. Pringle: Was this matter entered into at the Versailles War Council at any time:
Mr Bonar Law: This particular matter was not dealt with at all by the Versailles War Council.

I was at Versailles when the question was decided by the Supreme War Council to whom it had been referred.
This is the latest of a series of misstatements which have been made recently in the House of Commons by the present Government.
On April 9th the Prime Minister said:-

What was the position at the beginning of the battle: notwithstanding the heavy casualties in 1917, the Army in France was considerably stronger on January 1st, 1918, than on January 1st 1917. (Hansard, Vol.104, No.24, p.1,328.)

That statement implies that Sir Douglas Haig's fighting strength on the eve of the great battle which began on March 21st had not been diminished. That is not correct.
Again in the same speech the Prime Minister said:-

In Mesopotamia there is only one white division at all, and in Egypt and in Palestine there are only three white divisions, the rest are either Indians or mixed with a very small proportion of British troops in those divisions. I am referring to the infantry divisions. (Hansard, p.1,327)

This is not correct.
Now, Sir, this letter is not the result of a military conspiracy. It has been seen by no soldier. I am by descent and conviction as sincere a democrat as the Prime Minister, and the last thing I desire is to see the Government of our country in the hands of soldiers.
My reasons for taking the very grave step of writing this letter are that the statements quoted above are known by a large number of soldiers to be incorrect, and this knowledge is breeding such distrust of the Government as can only end in impairing the splendid moral of our troops at a time when everything possible should be done to raise it.
I have therefore decided, fully realising the consequences to myself, that my duty as a citizen must override by duty as a soldier, and I ask you to publish this letter in the hope that Parliament may see fit to order an investigation into the statements I have made.- I am, Sir, yours faithfully,
F. MAURICE (Major General)
20, Kensington Park Gardens, May 6th.

Lynsted Head Master's son promoted to Major

The Faversham and North East Kent News of 11th May 1918
Mr Sydney Lorden Ackerman, a son of Mr T.L. Ackerman, headmaster of Lynsted Council School, has attained the rank of Major.

Military Cross awarded to Teynham Man

Faversham and North East Kent News of 11th May 1918
M.C. FOR YOUNG TEYHAM OFFICER. Captain R.L. Whittle, Queen's Westminster Regiment, the elder son of Mr. and Mrs. R.A. Whittle, of Teynham, has been awarded the Military Cross for gallantry on the battlefield.

Demobilisation Rehearsal

In May 1920, an account was given of the "Notes on Schemes of Demobilization of the Army and the Royal Air Force" was published and shows how early were the preparations for anticipated demobilisation. Paragraph 20 - "A further Dispersal Rehearsal was carried out at Wimbledon on 15th and 16th May, 1918, when 2,000 men were nominally dispersed. As the result of this Rehearsal, certain details of the Scheme had to be readjusted."

Teynham Wedding for Helena Mildred French

Faversham and North East Kent News of 1st June 1918 
WEDDING. The marriage took place on Saturday, May 18th, at Teynham Parish Church, of Mr George Runham Abbott, M.A., of "Cambridge," Faversham (Headmaster at the Faversham Council School) and Miss Helena Mildred French, daughter of the late Mr Charles French, and of Mrs Charles French, of Spring Grove, Teynham. The ceremony was of a quiet character owing to the recent death of the bride's father, and to the absence of her two brothers who are both on active service. The Rev W.A. Purton, Vicar of the parish, officiated. The bride was given away by her uncle, Mr James French, J.P., and was attended by her only sister, Miss Marion K. French. Miss Hylma Whittle, the organist of Teynham Church, played delightful wedding music, and accompanied by the hymn, "Thine for ever," which was sung by the many friends and guests. A reception was held at Spring Grove, and the bride and bridegroom left later for Eastbourne. They were the recipients of many lovely presents.

† - Hundred and Fourteenth Loss in the Kingsdown with Creekside Benefice - 22nd May 1918.

Private, Thomas KNIGHT (of Luddenham), Killed In Action aged 28
Theatre: France and Flanders
Memorial: Baghdad (North Gate) War Cemetery, Part I. Plot 12, Row L, Grave 13 (Headstone 1269)
Serving In: Army Service Corps. Died of Illness. Potentially smallpox and/or meningitis.

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