|German Troops Crossing a Canal, 27 May 1918 (IWM Photo)|
Despite the disappointing results of Operations MICHAEL and BLUCHER, Ludendorff never wavered from his insistence that the defeat of the British Army was the primary aim of his offensives. While the planning proceeded for the diversionary operations in the south, planning proceeded for the death-stroke against the British. The preliminary plans for HAGEN (another attack in Flanders) and WILHELM (effectively a renewal of MICHAEL were complete by May 17th Three days later Ludendorff made the final decision that HAGEN would be the main attack.
Open preparations for the WILHELM attack would continue as a deception operation. But OHL also informed Army Group Crown Prince Rupprecht that any attack in the northern sector could not be launched before late June. In the meantime, Army Group German Crown Prince, commanded by the Kaiser's son, Crown Prince Wilhelm, would conduct Operation BLÜCHER in the French sector. That attack would proceed from the Chemin des Dames ridge line south to the Vesle River, with the intent of making the Allies think Paris was under threat and forcing them to redeploy their reserves from the north.
|British Artillery Retreating, 27 May 1918|
Launched on 27 May 1918, the BLÜCHER attack once again achieved initial overwhelming success. In fact, it was too successful. Rather that halting the offensive at the line of the Vesle, as the plan called for, Ludendorff was seduced by what appeared to be the opportunity for a quick and easy victory. He first continued the attack to the line of the Ourcq River, and then beyond. By the time the BLÜCHER offensive finally reached culmination, the lead units of the German Seventh Army were on the Marne River. In the process, however, OHL withdrew five of the carefully husbanded divisions for the HAGEN attack and committed those units to the BLÜCHER fight.
|Opening and Final Positions for Operation BLÜCHER|
Operation BLÜCHER resulted in more territorial gains than even Operation MICHAEL had, but once again tactical success created major operational problems for the German Army. The Seventh Army now held a huge salient with exposed and vulnerable flanks, and its front line trace had expanded from 60 kilometers to 100 kilometers. Even worse, the Germans had no good rail lines into the new salient, making it extremely difficult to supply the forces there. And finally, General Foch had not been deceived by the attack. The majority of the French reserves north of the Somme remained in position. For those reasons, the Germans had no other options than to continue attacking in the south, to improve their logistical position and to attempt to draw away some of the French reserves.
Source: "A Battle Never Fought -- Operation HAGEN, August 1918," MajGen David Zabecki, PhD, Relevance, Winter 2011