ST. QUENTIN, BATTLE OF, 1918. This is the name commonly given to the first phase of the great offensive of the Germans in 1918, by which they hoped to gain a military decision before the inflow of American reinforcements, the exhaustion of their food supplies under the stranglehold of the British Navy, and the obvious weakening of their allies could definitely turn the scales against them. The strategic conditions under which the offensive of March 21, 1918, was launched on the front north and south of St. Quentin are recounted under WORLD WAR, and the succeeding phases in the articles Lys, BATTLE OF THE; CHEMIN DES DAMES, BATTLE OF THE, and MARNE, SECOND BATTLE OF THE.
At 4.3o A.M. on March 21, 1918, the sudden crash of some 6,000 German guns heralded the breaking of a storm which, in grandeur of scale, of awe and of destruction, surpassed any other in the World War. By nightfall a German flood had inundated forty miles of the British front ; a week later it had reached a depth of nearly forty miles, and was almost lapping the out skirts of Amiens, and in the ensuing weeks the Allied cause itself was almost submerged. These weeks rank with that of the Marne in 1914 as the two gravest crises of the World War. In them Germany came desperately near to regaining that lost chance, and best chance, -of victory, which she had forfeited in early September, 1914. Why, when the Allies had made so little visible impression on the German front in two years of constant offensive, were the Germans able to tear a huge hole in the Allied front within a few days? Why, as this breach so far exceeded in size the dream-aims of its Allied forerunners, did it fail to obtain any decisive results? In seeking the answer to these "whys" lies the prime historical interest of the battle of St. Quentin, 1918.
The opposing line on this front was held, except for a few miles in the north, by the III. (Byng) and V. (Gough) British Armies respectively. The front of the III. Army extended from just south of the village of Gavrelle to half a mile north of Gouzeaucourt (261- m.), and on March 21 was held by io divi sions in line and seven in reserve. The V. Army front (42 m.), extended on a recent relief of the French (see WORLD WAR), ran from the right of the III. Army to the village of Barisis, a little south of the river Oise, between the forests of Coucy and St. Gobain. On this extended front there were I 1 divisions in
line and three in reserve.
The motive of this plan, devised by Ludendorff, now the directing brain of the German war-machine, was that the main strength of the German effort should be exerted north of the Somme—with the aim of driving the British Army back towards the coast and of cutting it off from the French—while the Somme and the XVIII. Army guarded the Germans' southern flank. This plan was radically changed in execution because Ludendorff gained rapid success where he desired it little and failed to gain success where he wanted it most.
To mystify the enemy as to the frontage selected for the main attack, subsidiary operations were prepared all along the Allied front, in Flanders, Champagne and the Argonne. From March 14 onwards the crown prince's army group was to bom bard the enemy's headquarters on his front and make a show of bringing up reinforcements, and Gallwitz's army group was to carry out an attack on Verdun up to the point of engaging his infantry. The forming up for deployment of the attacking armies was begun on March io, the divisions being organized in groups normally in a depth of three lines. The first or assault line was made the strongest, and was moved close up to the front on March 20. The second line of divisions was some three to five km. in rear, and the third seven to ten km. behind the second line ; the third line was to be held in reserve under the higher command, and was only to be used as the operations developed.