This Day In History: The Allies Breech the German Hindenburg Line (1918)

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On this day in 1918, during the last phase of WWI the Allies breached the defensive German line known as the Hindenburg Line. After a bombardment that lasted almost three days the Allies attacked the lines and broke through. This was a decisive moment in the war, as the Hindenburg Line was the last German line of defence in France and once it had been breached they were in full retreat on the Western front.

The Hindenburg line was called by the Germans the Siegfried Line. To the allies it was known as the Hindenburg Line after the Field Marshall of that name, The line was a heavily fortified series of lines and fortresses. It ran for many hundreds of mils and it formed a zone that was some 6000 feet deep and it was defended by barbed wire, landmines and bunkers.   The zone was designed to trap any attacker in a kill-zone. The Hindenburg line was a formidable defensive zone but it had its weak points, especially at its southern end.

Mine_crater_in_Athies_April_1917_IWM_Q_1941
Mine crater near the Hindenburg Line in 1917

The allies after the failure of the German Spring Offensive sough to break through the Hindenburg Line. This they believed would help the allies to win the war. During the Hundred Days Offensive, they focused on the Hindenburg Lines weak points.  The attacked the Germans on the 28th of August and they defeated them at Amiens. They then moved on to the Hindenburg Line and units from Britain, America, Australia, Canada and France, among others participated in the massive assault.  The attack began after a massive bombardment when some 1500 guns shelled the zone with also a million shells. The allies had by then adopted the tactic of the creeping barrage. This involved the allies advancing under the cover of shellfire. This tactic allowed the allies to capture the St Quentin Canal and from here they were able to penetrate the German lines.

A key attack on the line was led by American and Australian units, who attacked the town of Bellicourt, that had been turned into a fortress.  The town was surrounded by minefields and miles of barbed wire. The allies bombed the town intensively. It has been estimated that a shell hit the town ever two minutes of the battle and was one of the most intensive bombardments ever. After a week of vicious fighting the Germans had to withdraw and this meant that the Hindenburg Line had been breached.  After they breached the Hindenburg line the allies pressed home their advantage and made many more gains. The Germans could not re-establish another defensive line and began to retreat all across the western front. This was the beginning of the end for the Germans army and by November they had signed an armistice and had surrendered to the allies.

 

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