Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

Operational Art and the German 1918 Offensives

By D T Zabecki


At the tactical level of war the Germans are widely regarded as having had the most innovative and proficient army of World War I. Likewise, many historians would agree that the Germans suffered from serious, if not fatal, shortcomings at the strategic level of war. It is at the middle level of warfare, the operational level, that the Germans seem to be the most difficult to evaluate. Although the operational was only fully accepted in the 1980s by many Western militaries as a distinct level of warfare, German military thinking well before the start of World War I clearly recognized the Operativ, as a realm of warfighting activity between the tactical and the strategic. But the German concept of the operational art was flawed at best, and actually came closer to tactics on a grand scale. The flaws in their approach to operations cost the Germans dearly in both World Wars. Through a thorough review of the surviving original operational plans and orders, this study evaluates the German approach to the operational art by analyzing the Ludendorff Offensives of 1918. Taken as a whole, the five actually executed and two planned but never executed major attacks produced stunning tactical results, but ultimately left Germany in a far worse strategic position by August 1918. Among the most serious operational errors made by the German planners were their blindness to the power of sequential operations and cumulative effects, and their insistence in mounting force-on-force attacks. The Allies, and especially the British, were exceptionally vulnerable in certain elements of their warfighting system. By attacking those vulnerabilities the Germans might well have achieved far better results than by attacking directly into the Allied strength. Specifically, the British logistics system was extremely fragile, and their rail system had two key choke points, Amiens and Hazebrouck. During Operations MICHAEL and GEORGETTE, the Germans came close to capturing both rail centers, but never seemed to grasp fully their operational significance. The British and French certainly did. After the Germans attacked south to the Marne during Operation BLUCHER, they fell victims themselves to an inadequate rail network behind their newly acquired lines. At the operational level, then, the respective enemy and friendly rail networks had a decisive influence on the campaign of March-August 1918

Topics: World War, 1914-1918 - Germany, Strategy - History - 20th century, Tactics - History - 20th century
Publisher: Department of Defence Management and Security Analysis
Year: 2009
OAI identifier:
Provided by: Cranfield CERES

Suggested articles


  1. 14,1918: Daily Reports of Operations; Important Operation Orders; Intelligence Summary.
  2. (1918). 595 Attack Orders,
  3. (1977). A Genius for War: The German Army and the General Staff, doi
  4. (1918). Accompanying and Infantry Batteries,
  5. (2000). After Clausewitz: German Military Thinkers Before the Great War, doi
  6. (1946). Armament and History, doi
  7. Army Command and General Staff College,
  8. (1989). Army War College,
  9. (1936). Artillerie im Kampf, Ludwig Voggen Reiter Verlag,
  10. (1918). Artilleristiche Rundschau,
  11. (1923). Artillery and the Lessons We Have Learnt With Regard to it in the Late War, " doi
  12. (1920). Artillery Development in the Great War, "
  13. (1919). Artillery Fire of Protection: Extracts From a German Document, "
  14. (1918). Artillery in Recent Attacks, doi
  15. (1940). Artillery in the Elastic Defense, "
  16. (1924). Artillery Statistics from the World War, " Field Artillery Journal, (translation of an article from the
  17. (1925). Artillery Tactics, "
  18. (1970). Barrage: The Guns in Action, doi
  19. (1994). Battle Tactics of the Western Front: The British Army's Art of the Attack, doi
  20. (1918). Bei einer deutschen Angriffsdivision während dreier Offensiven des Jahres
  21. (1914). British Logistics on the Western Front, doi
  22. (1988). Building the Kaiser's Navy, U.
  23. (1992). Cannae, (third reprint), United States Army Command and General Staff College,
  24. (1938). Chemin des Dames,
  25. (1987). Clausewitz's Elusive Center of Gravity, "
  26. (1985). Command in War, doi
  27. (1995). Command or Control? Command, Training, doi
  28. (1937). Cooperation Between Artillery and Tanks, " Field Artillery Journal, (translation from a French journal),
  29. (1926). Das Anwachsen der Artillerie im Weltkriege, " Artilleristische Rundschau,
  30. (1921). Das Artillerie-Angriffsverfahren beim Durchbruch im Weltkriege, "
  31. (1921). Das deutsche Angriffs-verfahren bei der Offensive
  32. (1931). Das Ehrenbuch der deutschen Schweren Artillerie, Volume I, Verlag Tradition Wilhelm Holt,
  33. (1921). Defensive Employment of the French Artillery in 1918: The Artillery of the 21st Corps in the Battle of 15th July, " Field Artillery Journal, (translation of an article from the
  34. (1918). Department of War, A Survey of German Tactics,
  35. (1918). Department of War, German and Austrian Tactical Studies: Translations of Captured Documents, Government Printing Office,
  36. (1918). Der 29.
  37. (1937). Der Bündniskrieg: Eine militärpolitisch operativ Studie des Weltkrieges, Mittler und Sohn,
  38. (1925). Der deutsche Zusammenbruch 1918, Verlag Eisenschmidt,
  39. (1918). Der Durchbruchsangriff dargetan an den Kämpfen in Jahre
  40. (1929). Der Krieg der Versäumten Gelegenheiten, Verlag für Kulturpolitik,
  41. (1918). Der Letzte deutsche Angriff. -
  42. (1926). Der Stellungskrieg 1914-1918, Mittler und Sohn,
  43. (1914). Der Weltkrieg
  44. (1929). Der Weltkrieg 1914-1918, Verlag Tradition Wilhelm Holt,
  45. (1918). Die Artillerie
  46. (1927). Die Artillerie beim Angriff im Stellungskrieg, " Artilleristische Rundschau,
  47. (1926). Die Artillerie beim Angriff im Stellungskrieg, Verlag Offene Worte,
  48. (1923). Die Artillerie in Vergangenheit, Gegenwart, und Zukunft, (translation of L Artillerie, Ce Qu'Elle a Ete, Ce Qu'Elle Est, Ce Qu'Elle Doit Etre,
  49. (1921). Die deutsche Artillerie doi
  50. (1918). Die deutsche Führung der Westfront im Frühsommer
  51. (1928). Die deutsche Kräfteverteilung während des Weltkrieges: Eine Clausewitzstudie, Mittler und Sohn,
  52. (1918). Die deutsche Offensive im März
  53. (1918). Die Fortführung der deutschen Grossoffensive in
  54. (1918). Die Katastrophe des 8.
  55. (1918). Die Märzoffensive
  56. (1954). Die operative Führung General Ludendorffs im Spiegel der Deutschen Fachkritik,
  57. (1932). Die Organisation des deutschen Heeres im Weltkriege, Mittler und Sohn,
  58. (1918). Die Schlachten im Sommer
  59. (1917). Die Tankschlacht bei Cambrai, doi
  60. (1992). Doctrine and Dogma: German and British Infantry Tactics in the First World War,
  61. (1929). Does Radio Telephony Offer a Possible Solution to the Main Artillery Problem of the Day?, "Journal of the Royal Artillery,
  62. (1988). eds., Military Effectiveness, Volume I, The First World War, Unwin Hayman,
  63. (1927). Entstehung, Durchführung und Zusammenbruch der Offensive von 1918, Deutsche Verlagsgesellschaft für Politik und Geschichte,
  64. (1922). Entwicklung der Taktik im Weltkriege,
  65. (1974). Erich Ludendorff and the German War Effort 1916-1918: A Study in the Military Exercise of Power,
  66. (1922). Evolution in Offensive Methods -Part I, " Field Artillery Journal, (translation of an article
  67. (1922). Evolution in Offensive Methods -Part II, " Field Artillery Journal, (translation of an article
  68. (1922). Evolution of Ideas in the Employment of Artillery During the War, " Field Artillery Journal, (translation of a lecture delivered at the Centre d'Etudes Tactiques d'Artillerie at
  69. (1907). Exerzier-Reglement für die Feldartillerie, Mittler und Sohn,
  70. (1908). Exerzier-Reglement für die Fussartillerie, Mittler und Sohn,
  71. (1931). Experiences in the World War, doi
  72. (1918). Extracts from Archives-Army Group German Crown Prince,
  73. (1918). Extracts from Operations Documents from July 1 to August 6,1918, pertaining to Army Group German Crown Prince: The Defensive in
  74. Extracts from the Diary of the Commander-in-Chief of the Seventh Army,
  75. Extracts from the War Diary of the Army Group German Crown Prince,
  76. (1918). Extracts from the War Diary of the Army Group of the German Crown Prince,
  77. (1918). Extracts from the War Diary, Army Group German Crown Prince,
  78. Extracts from War Diary of the Army Group German Crown Prince,
  79. Extracts from War Diary, Army Group German Crown Prince,
  80. (1976). Eye-Deep in Hell: Trench Warfare in World War 1, The Johns Hopkins
  81. (1989). Field Artillery and Firepower, The Military Press, doi
  82. (1993). Field Manual 100-5, doi
  83. (2001). Field Manual 3-0, doi
  84. (1982). Firepower: British Army Weapons and Theories of War, doi
  85. (1937). Five Decisive Days: The Germans in the Reims Offensive, "
  86. (2001). Forgotten Victory: The First World War Myths and Realities,
  87. (1991). Forward into Battle: Fighting Tactics from Waterloo to the Near Future,
  88. (1976). General Erich Ludendorff, " in The War Lords:
  89. (1958). Generalstabsdienst an der Front und in
  90. (1918). German Artillery: Batteries of Infantry Guns: Translation of a German Document, "
  91. (1920). German Field Artillery in the War, " translation of an article from the
  92. (1950). Germany's Drive to the West: A Study of Germany's Western War Aims During the First World War, The Johns Hopkins Press: doi
  93. (2002). Germany's High Seas Fleet, (reprint),
  94. (1937). Geschichte des deutschen Heeres im Weltkriege 1914-1918, Militärverlag Karl Siegismund,
  95. (1918). Headquarters, Army Group German Crown Prince,
  96. (1914). Heeres, Der Weltkrieg
  97. (1933). Heeresdienstvorschrift 300, Truppenführung, Mittler und Sohn,
  98. (1937). Hindenburg und Ludendorff als Feldherren, Mittler und Sohn,
  99. (1992). How the War Was Won: doi
  100. (1940). If Germany Attacks: The Battle in Depth in the West, Faber and Faber,
  101. (1997). In Pursuit of Military Excellence: The Evolution of Operational Theory, doi
  102. (1993). Joint Pub 3-0, Doctrine for Joint Operations,
  103. (2001). Joint Warfare Publication 0-01, British Defence Doctrine,
  104. (1991). Kaisersschlacht 1918: The Final German Offensive, Osprey Campaign Series,
  105. (1922). Kriegsführung und Politik, Mittler und Sohn,
  106. (1921). Kurzer strategischer Überblick über den Weltkrieg 1914-1918, Mittler und Sohn,
  107. (1966). Ludendorff Genius of World War I,
  108. (1993). Ludendorff Legende und Wirklichkeit,
  109. (1952). Ludendorff: Der Feldherr im Unglück, Limes Verlag,
  110. (1980). Luxury" Fleet: The Imperial German Navy, doi
  111. (1918). Measures Taken by the German Artillery for Attack Without Betraying the Intentions of the Command,
  112. (1923). Meine Erinnerungen aus Deutschlands Heldenkampf, Mittler und Sohn,
  113. (1919). Meine Kriegserinnerungen 1914-1918, Mittler und Sohn, doi
  114. (1939). Meine Tätigkeit im Weltkriege 1914-1918, Mittler und Sohn,
  115. (1935). Michael, die grosse Schlacht in Frankreich, "
  116. (1936). Michael: Die grosse Schlacht in Frankreich,
  117. (1918). Military Operations: Belgium and France doi
  118. (1940). Military Operations: Belgium and France 1917, Volume I,
  119. (1924). Mit der Artillerie durch den Weltkrieg, " Wissen und Wehr,
  120. (1990). Moltke and the Origins of Operational Art, "
  121. (1918). Notes on Tactical Employment of Field Artillery doi
  122. (1918). Notes on Tactical Organization of German Artillery,
  123. (1923). Observed and Unobserved Artillery Fire, " Journal of the Royal Artillery, (translation of an article from a 1922 issue of Artilleristische Monatshefte),
  124. (1994). Of Responsible Command: A History of the US. Army War College, doi
  125. (1988). Operational Art and the German Command System in World War I, The Ohio State University:
  126. (1997). Operational Art's Origins, "
  127. (1918). Operations: Belgium and France doi
  128. (1989). Operatives Denken bei Clausewitz, Molike, Schlieffen und Manstein,
  129. (1918). Organization of a Rolling Barrage in the German Army: Translation of a German Document, "
  130. (1988). Paris Kanonen--The Paris Guns (Wilhelmgeschütze) and Project
  131. (1995). Passchendaele and the Royal Navy, doi
  132. (2002). Periodical Articles: Fong, Giordan, "The Movement of German Divisions to the Western Front, Winter 1917-1918, " Stand To!
  133. (2002). Periodical Articles: Herwig, Holger, "Germany and the `Short-War' Illusion: Toward a New Interpretation? " doi
  134. (1985). Race to the Swift: Thoughts of Twenty-first Century Warfare, doi
  135. (1986). Red God of War: Soviet Artillery and Rocket Forces, Brassey's Defence Publishers,
  136. (1918). Reichstages, "Die Ursachen des deutschen Zusammenbruchs im Jahre
  137. (1921). Remarks on the Organization of German Artillery, " (translation of an article from the
  138. (1918). Schicksalswende, von der Marne bis zur Vesle
  139. (1925). Schiessübungen, " Artilleristische Rundschau,
  140. (1993). Selected Articles, (reprint), United States Army Command and General Staff College,
  141. (1957). Some Recollections, unpublished memoir,
  142. (1989). States: Department of the Army, United States Army in the World War 1917-1919: doi
  143. (1992). Storm in the West, "
  144. (1914). Stormtroop Tactics: Innovation in the German Army, doi
  145. (1995). Strategy and the Revolution in Military Affairs: From Theory to Policy,
  146. (1992). Surviving Trench Warfare: Technology and the Canadian Corps 1914-1918, doi
  147. (1956). Taktik und Strategie, " Wehrwissenschaftliche Rundschau,
  148. (1920). Tanks in the Great War, doi
  149. (1919). Technical Training of Artillery Officers, " Field Artillery Journal, (translation of an article from the
  150. (1918). The Army Records, Army Group of the German Crown Prince,
  151. (1991). the Army, United States Army in the World War 1917-1919: doi
  152. (1991). the Army, United States Army in the World War 1917-1919: Military Operations of the American Expeditionary Force, Volume 13, Center of Military History (reprint),
  153. (1987). The Art of War in the Western World, doi
  154. (1972). The Art of War, doi
  155. (1933). The Artillery Preparation for Attacks and the Rupture of Defensive Zones, " Field Artillery Journal, (translation from a French journal),
  156. (1961). The Conduct of War: 1789-1961, doi
  157. (1990). The Defeat of Imperial Germany,
  158. (1986). The Dogma of the Battle ofAnnihilation: The Theories of Clausewitz and Schlieffen and Their Impact on the German Conduct of Two World Wars, doi
  159. (1988). The Dress Rehearsal: Lost Artillery Lessons of the 1912-1913 Balkan Wars, " Field Artillery Journal,
  160. (1981). The Dynamics of Doctrine: Changes in German Tactical Doctrine During the First World War,
  161. (1996). The European Powers in the First World War: An Encyclopedia, doi
  162. (1924). The Evolution of Artillery in the Great War: Part I, "
  163. (1925). The Evolution of Artillery in the Great War: Part II, "
  164. (1925). The Evolution of Artillery in the Great War: Part III, "
  165. (1925). The Evolution of Artillery in the Great War: Part IV, "
  166. (1926). The Evolution of Artillery in the Great War: Part V, "
  167. (1926). The Evolution of Artillery in the Great War: Part VI, "
  168. (1926). The Evolution of Artillery in the Great War: Part VII, "
  169. (1927). The Evolution of Artillery in the Great War: Part VIII, "
  170. (1990). The Evolution of Modern Land Warfare: Theory and Practice, doi
  171. (1923). The Evolution of Tactical Ideas in France and Germany During the War of 1914-1918,
  172. (1914). The First Air Campaign:
  173. (1996). The First World War and the Birth of the Modern Style of Warfare, "The Occasional, Number 22, " British Staff College,
  174. (1998). The First World War, doi
  175. (1994). The First World War: A Complete History,
  176. (1914). The First World War: Germany and Austria-Hungary, doi
  177. (2001). The First World War: Volume L- To Arms, doi
  178. (1926). The Foundations of the Science of War,
  179. (1920). The French and German Field Artillery at the Start of the War, " Field Artillery Journal, (translation of an article in the February
  180. (1966). The German Army, Praeger, doi
  181. (1922). The German Artillery at Chemin des Dames in 1918, "
  182. (1934). The German Military Doctrine, " Field Artillery Journal, (translation of an article
  183. (1923). The German Offensive of July 15,1918 (Marne Source Book), The General Service Schools Press,
  184. (1922). The German Offensive of March 21-April 8,1918,
  185. (2001). The German Offensives of 1918, Tempus doi
  186. (1937). The German XXIII Reserve Crosses the Marne, "
  187. (1975). The Great War in Modern Memory, doi
  188. (1959). The Great War, doi
  189. (1971). The Guns 1914-1918, Ballantine Books,
  190. (1988). The Guns of Manchuria, "
  191. The Hutier Legend,
  192. (1978). The Kaiser's doi
  193. (2001). The Kaiser's Army: The Politics of doi
  194. (1987). The Killing Ground: The British Army on the Western Front and the Emergence of Modern Warfare, Allen and Unwin, doi
  195. (1918). The Last Act, Ballantine Books,
  196. (1993). The Levels of War, Operational Art, and Campaign Planning,
  197. (1984). The Ludendorff Offensives Phase 3: The Aisne, " The Marshal Cavendish Illustrated Encyclopedia
  198. (1918). The Luftwaffe: Creating the Operational Air War, doi
  199. (1997). The Luftwaffe's Way of War: German Air Force Doctrine, 1911-1945, Naval and Aviation Publishing Company, doi
  200. (1966). The March Retreat of 1918: An Anatomy of a Battle,
  201. (1918). The Modem Attack on an Entrenched Position, "
  202. (1994). The Nature of the Operations of Modern Armies, doi
  203. (1952). The Private Papers of Douglas Haig, doi
  204. (1930). The Real War 1914-1918, Little Brown and Company,
  205. (1992). The Roots of Blitzkrieg: Hans von Seeckt and German Military Reform, doi
  206. (1924). the Royal Artillery, "Artillery Fire, " (reprinted from the
  207. (1918). The Scientific Preparation
  208. (1918). The Second Battle of the Marne,
  209. (1933). The Start of the Meuse-Argonne Campaign, "
  210. (1985). The Storm of Steel: From the Diary of a German Storm-Troop Officer on the Western Front,
  211. (1964). The Swordbearers; Supreme Command in the First World War,
  212. (2002). The Unquiet Western Front: Britain's Role in Literature and History, doi
  213. (1999). The Western Front, doi
  214. (1918). Theo von, Deutsche Siege
  215. (1918). To the Last Man: Spring
  216. (1914). Topography ofArmageddon: A British Trench Map Atlas of the Western Front,
  217. (1982). Toward a General Theory of Deception, " doi
  218. (1975). Toward Combined Arms Warfare: A Survey
  219. (1914). Transportation on the Western Front, doi
  220. (2001). Truppenführung: On the German Art of War, Lynne Rienner Publishers, doi
  221. (1921). Truths from the German Front, "
  222. (1999). U-Boat: The Evolution and Technical History of German Submarines,
  223. (1997). U-Boats Destroyed: German Submarine Losses in the World Wars, Arms and doi
  224. (1936). Um Lys und Kemmel,
  225. (1955). Umfassung und Durchbruch, Huber
  226. (1992). Understanding the Prussian-German General Staff System,
  227. (1987). Understanding War: History and the Theory of Combat, Paragon House,
  228. (1921). Urkunden der Obersten Heersleitung über ihre Tätigkeit 1916-1918, Mittler und Sohn,
  229. (1923). Ursachen des Zusammenbruchs: Entstehung, Durchführung und Zusammenbruch der Offensive von 1918, Verlag von Reimar Hobbing,
  230. (1921). Von Falkenhayn zu Hindenburg-Ludendorff, Mittler und Sohn,
  231. (1930). Wachsende Schwierigkeiten: Vergebliches Ringen vor Compiegne, Villers-Cotterets, und Reims: Schlachten des Weltkriegs, Volume 33, Gerhard Stalling,
  232. (1914). War Department Document No. 905, Histories of Two Hundred and Fifty-one Divisions of the German Army Which Participated in the War
  233. (1918). War Office, General Staff, Handbook of the German Army in the War, doi
  234. (1918). War Office, General Staff, The German Forces doi
  235. (1982). White Heat: The New Warfare 1914-18, Sidgwick &
  236. (1986). Zwischen zwei Mauern: 50 Monate Westfront, Kurt Vowincker-Verlag, Berg am See:

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.