The 2019 WFA Tayside tour to the Western Front takes a look at the less visited and less examined parts of the British and Empire campaign that took place at the beginning and end of the Great War. First, the period before both sides went to ground in the trenches in September 1914, and second the final months when troops left the trenches behind and stormed the German positions in the “100 days” push to victory and on to the armistice in November 1918.
This was open country warfare where even the cavalry had a part to play. In 1914 the 250,000 strong, professional army of the BEF faced a new form of warfare. In 1918 after years of attritional trench warfare the battle hardened, combined arms force of almost three million fought the Germans to a standstill before hurling them back and onto surrender.
The Great Retreat refers to the period when the BEF retreated before a much bigger German army, names like Mons, Le Cateau, the Aisne and the Marne bear witness to that time. After the French victory on the Marne the Germans dug in and the Western Front’s trenches came into being. The Retreat was itself a feat of arms but a great cost, largely seeing the end of Britain’s professional soldiery. It’s also said that Germany lost the war in September 1914, but it took another three years of trench warfare for them to be convinced! It’s a fascinating story to follow, but a less-well known path for most visitors.
Following the final German onslaught in the spring of 1918, Foch devised a plan of constant, largescale attacks all along the allied front beginning in July on the Marne. At Amiens and attack in what Ludendorff calls “the black day of the German Army”, allied troops excelled themselves. The old Somme battlefields were recaptured. Attacks in Flanders followed and the Second Battle of Arras saw the fortified Drocourt-Queant line broken, paving the way in September and October when the fearsome Hindenburg Line is breached with huge advances. The allies prove to be a formidable combined arms force. All the infantry lessons learned in previous bloody battles, logistics, tanks, air power, and artillery all working together in the most powerful force ever assembled.
Final advances across the Sambre and Selle rivers and the Sambre Canal lead to the Germans suing for peace in November by which time the British have arrived back in Mons, where it all started for them four years before.
All members and non-members are welcome to join us.
Details can be found at the branch website www.wfatayside.co.uk