The French Counter Attack At Matz I THE GREAT WAR Week 203
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The French Counter Attack At Matz I THE GREAT WAR Week 203

August 27, 2019


I start every episode with a hook, right? Something that hasn’t happened before in
the war, or some really big news or event. Well, this week, it’s definitely something
that hasn’t happened so far during the war – this week two of the Central Powers fight
each other in the field. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to the Great War. Last week, the weeks long war between the
Ottomans and the Armenians came to an official end in the Caucasus, but the Ottomans were
still on the move. The Third Battle of the Aisne also came to
an end over on the Western Front, with the Germans at the Marne River just a few dozen
miles from Paris, but German Quartermaster General Erich Ludendorff was going to attack
again straight away. With Operation Gneisenau. Ludendorff had not been able to take Reims
and the woods beyond Soissons with his last attacks, so this one was to attack at the
River Matz, beyond Soissons to the west. By now, he had a real urgency to broaden the
mouth of the salient created by the attacks of late May and push the Allies back to the
point that they could not threaten the single railway line the Germans had to carry supplies
and men toward the Marne. This attack was really hastily put together,
though, to the point where many of the French thought it was just a diversion from some
other secret plan. Still, even with the knowledge that the attack
was coming – I said last week that the French had cracked the German radio code – and when
it was coming, it was initially a huge German success. Another Bruchmuller designed artillery barrage,
and with well-rested and experienced troops that had fought during Operation Michael ten
weeks ago going into action again. Those weren’t the reasons for the initial
success, though. Once again, as they had two weeks ago, the
French commanders disregarded General Philippe Petain’s orders for defense in depth and
concentrated all their forces around the forward lines, where they were eaten up by the German
artillery. At midnight on the 9th, as the Germans were
about to launch what is known as the Battle of Matz, the forewarned French began a huge
artillery barrage of their own ten minutes before the German one began, but the German
one was far more intense, and featured 15,000 tons of gas shells – mustard gas, phosgene,
and diphenyl-chloro-arsine. When the German infantry came on at 0430,
they advanced nearly 10 km and took 8,000 prisoners, attacking on a 40km front from
Montdidier to Noyon, and pushing the French back almost to the Aronde River. On the 11th, though, the French counterattacked
west of Soissons. Charles Mangin was the architect of this. Now remember, he had been fired from the French
Army after the disastrous Nivelle Offensive last year, and his nickname among the press
and politicians is “the butcher” for his embrace of all-out aggressive war, which could
– and did – lead to huge casualties. French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau had
recalled him, however, after Ferdinand Foch became Supreme Allied Commander. This day, I suppose he was the right man for
the job, as his men burst from the fog and caught the Germans on open ground without
any prepared defenses. Mangin’s men also had 150-200 tanks with
them. The Germans were beaten so suddenly and so
totally that Ludendorff called off the offensive after just four days. Like the other German offensives so far this
spring, this operation did not produce any operational gains that could lead to big strategic
results, but unlike the others, this one had produced no tactical gains either The Germans
still had the same immediate problems at the end of the week that they had had at the beginning,
and their situation may have been worse than a month ago. They now held a salient with a 100km perimeter,
vulnerable to attack from all sides and incredibly difficult to supply. There was some other Allied action of note
on the Western Front this week. The night of June 10th, the Australians attacked
between Sailly-Laurette and Morlancourt, advancing nearly a km and taking 233 prisoners and 21
machine guns (Story). The night of the 14th, British and Scottish
troops won roughly similar gains near Hinges. Some of the troops attacked were from the
German 18th Division, the first German division to enter Belgium at the beginning of the war
nearly four years ago. I don’t know how many of General Von Kluck’s
original force was still there, but that’s a long time. The Americans were still fighting the Germans
for control of Belleau Wood. On the 11th, an American assault captured
two thirds of the wood, but at a heavy cost in casualties. German counterattacks fail to dislodge the
Americans. Other Central Powers were planning offensives
as well. Austria-Hungary had been planning a new offensive
for a couple of months. Svetozar Borojevic von Bojna, now a Field
Marshal, did not think this was a good idea, but Emperor Karl and General- and former army
Chief of Staff – Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf were adamant about it. They thought they could grab some more Italian
land and then get bigger spoils when the Central Powers won the war. Borojevic didn’t think they were going to
win it, but he followed orders. He planned to attack across the Piave River
toward Venice, but Conrad wanted an attack from the Asiago Plateau. He convinced Karl to do both and preparations
had been in the works for a couple months to attack June 11th. Borojevic said he wouldn’t be ready until
at least the 25th, and they settled on the 15th. Borojevic also said that if they were going
do this two-pronged attack, he would need reinforcements, and they also didn’t have
enough shells for a big attack. And it’s true that though the Austrian army
may have looked good on paper, that wasn’t the case in actuality. Sure, Russia was out of the war, so Italy
was the Empire’s main front and they could keep most of their troops there, but their
infantry divisions were down from 12,000 to sometimes only half that. Mark Thompson writes in “The White War”
that around 200,000 Hungarian soldiers had deserted in the first three months of 1918. “By late April the men were starving. Bread and polenta were very scarce and often
mixed with sawdust or even sand. Meat practically disappeared… Salt was only a memory… The men grew so weak during May that they
could only walk with difficulty… Such was the condition of the men who were
sent against the Italians in June.” (White War) They had 23 divisions on the Asiago Plateau,
15 on the Piave, and 22 in reserve. They did slightly outnumber the opposition,
but that opposition had air and firepower superiority. The Piave attack would come first, and then
Conrad’s force would attack from the north. Borojevic openly criticized the lack of men
and supplies to his troops, pretty unusual for him, but as the week ended he did his
duty and got his men ready for a heavy assault. And yet other Central Powers were fighting
this week… against other Central Powers. Now, on the 12th, the Germans occupied Tiflis,
the Georgian capital. This was on the surface no big deal because
Georgia had declared itself a German protectorate. But that was done so Germany could try and
secure the Baku oil reserves before the Ottoman army could reach them. Ottoman Minister of War Enver Pasha and German
General Hans von Seeckt were now in Batum to solve the mounting Turco-German tensions,
but on the 10th, advancing units of Vehip Pasha’s Ottoman army ran into two German
companies and Georgian militia on the road to Tiflis across the Khrami River Valley. They skirmished, and the Ottomans pushed back
the Germano-Georgians and took a bunch of prisoners. That’s right, Ottoman and German soldiers
fought each other. So on the 11th, German High Command threatened
a withdrawal of all German troops, personnel, and government officials from the entire Ottoman
Empire if the advance through Georgia did not stop and all the prisoners were released. Something was going to have to change. German political machinations were not confined
to the Caucasus either. We saw last week that they hoped to get a
German monarch on the Finnish throne. This week comes the actual debate in the Finnish
Diet over a new constitution. Under this, Finland would be a constitutional
and hereditary monarchy. The King could decide foreign policy but could
not make war without the diet’s consent. Executive power is the king’s, the diet
makes legislation, but the king has absolute veto, though a 2/3 majority in the Diet can
overrule this. Foreigners may be employed in military service. There are a few other things related to Swedish
and Finnish speaking citizens. However, this constitution does not quite
have a majority to pass the diet as the week ends, failing 16 to 15. And the Austrians are about to attack in Italy,
the Germans have attacked and failed in the west, the Germans and Ottomans have fought
each other in the Caucasus… oh, and American socialist leader and five time Presidential
Candidate Eugene Debs was arrested this week for making an antiwar speech. He will be sentenced to ten years in prison. So the Central Powers now fought each other
in the field, basically over oil; Austria is going to launch an offensive that it’s
best military leader thinks it can’t win in a war he thinks they won’t win; and the
French have recalled a General known to everyone as “the butcher”. After four years, modern war really stinks
of desperation. If you want to learn more about Svetozar Borojevic
von Bojna, one of the best Austro-Hungarian commanders of this war, you can click right
here for our episode about him. Our Patreon supporter of the week is David
Adams. Your support on Patreon ensures this project
and we are thankful for every dollar we receive. Don’t forget to subscribe, see you next
time.

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  1. I'm surprised the 2nd Reich was so aware of the importance of oil when the generals of the 3rd Reich seemed to be oblivious.

  2. You'd think all of the Central Power's and Allies' strategic reserves of stupidity would have been used-up by this point in the war, however…

  3. Earlier this week I saw a post about WW1, but I didn't read it because I didn't want to be spoiled for Thursday.
    WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH ME?

  4. NO mention of the sinking of Szent István, the most advanced Austro-Hungarian dreadnaught which was the first recorded sinking of a battleship by a camera.

  5. Quick addition – on June 10th the SMS Szent István was sunk by Italian motor boats. An interesting operation and one that helped establish the MAS as a major part of Italian naval operations.

  6. Many Victoria crosses were awarded to British Indian Military personnel fighting the First world war. Peculiar British recruitment pattern lead to depopulation of whole villages in Punjab especially. They merit the attention of Great War team, if not much, then like Fifi and TuTu of Tanganyika.

  7. Ehy Indie, lets do an episode on Emilio Lussu, italian soldier and later politician and author in ww1! Great Show!

  8. Just a matter of interest what happens when the war is over in terms of the number of weeks, move to WW2 or something?

  9. When I started watching this show, the western front was going nowhere. Now the front lines are moving, and there are Americans in the war!

  10. Eugene Debs sentence to 10 years and for a speech and America is still known as the country of the free

  11. Is it possible that you make a similar series about the second world war? 80 years after the start is coming soon so it would be cool if you did that

  12. 6:36 and food and supply superpiority. Amazing how long they kept on resisting the italians, under these conditions.

  13. Borojevic should have have been chosen as chief of staff at the beginning of the war. He was a way more competentand realistic general than Hötzendorf…trouble had always accured where Hötzendorf planed something :/

  14. Here's a part of the speech that lead to Debs arrest read by Mark Ruffalo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuGp-0G1p4M

  15. Does anyone know if german bomber crews were equipped with parachutes in 1918? It's something I've been wondering for a long time…

  16. Oh boy. Is there a betting pool on who will win world war 1?

    Because I have 2$ on the allies winning the war.

  17. Dude, Scottish troops are British! You could say, British divisions, some of whom were Scottish, attacked etc. Of course, there were English, Irish and Welsh divisions, all serving in the British Army.

  18. Was arguing with someone who kept excusing the bad generals of WW1 saying they couldn't help it and didn't have hindsight… They had years of hindsight to look back on, and explicit orders to maintain a defense in depth, which they ignored! I don't think you can excuse something like that.

  19. British and Scottish troops? As far as I'm aware, Scotland is part of the UK and has been for several hundred years. What is it with Youtube historians not understanding that England, Scotland, Northern Ireland (and Ireland at times) and Wales are collectively the United Kingdom aka British. Refering to each of these individually unless prior to unification is factually incorrect. It's like someone refering to Vermont as the entire United States.

  20. 10 years in prison for opposing the war? Wouldn't have guessed that could happen in the land of the free. Who is this Debs? Think we need a special episode on him.

  21. Really enjoying the episodes you created. Pretty soon, I’m really looking forward for August is the beginning of the hundredth day offensive to the treaty of Versailles. The final showdown of the Kaiser Reich. Really hoping what you guys will do after covering all WW1 related materials.

  22. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugene_V._Debs#/media/File:Debs_Canton_1918_large.jpg Eugene Debs speaking in Ohio shortly before his arrest. He stood for President in 1920 while still in jail, polling nearly a million votes.

  23. One key to victory for Italy deserves attention- mobile reserve divisions, Diaz's stroke of genius. 13 divisions and 6000 trucks, equidistant 3-4 miles behind the front all along the 370 mile front, ready to go where and when Diaz needed them. At Monte Grappa under the able defensive commander Giardino and his 4th Army, this would prove vital.

  24. This is getting exciting… the Season Finale must be just around the corner!
    All humor aside, the stupidity of modern war is all to real by this point to everyone but those in charge…

  25. It amazes me that 8 km is significant game in this war I understand that this was a static War for the most part but it just baffles me hearing that

  26. Baron Svetozar Boroević pl. Bojna was one of the greatest Croatian and Habsburg military commanders ever

  27. Was this action at Belleau Wood the famous "Lost Battalion"? Is there enough material on it for a special? I'm intrigued by their story thanks to the Sabaton of the same name (and in turn I learned of Sabaton through the Great War) and I'm looking to get the DVD of a movie about it.

  28. Question for Out of the Trenches:
    What were the main types of artillery used during the First World War? Could/were they be used as a way of breaking the enemy's lines? Could they be used to break a stalemate or would it just make it worse? What were the common anti-artillery tactics? Were there special units designed to target enemy artillery? Thank you and keep up the amazing work!

  29. An episode on Eugene Debs would be great if you've not already done so. Wilson's crackdown on dissent was appalling, especially given his earlier stance on the war. Makes Joe McCarthy look benign.

  30. My Grandfather was one of those 200,000 who deserted in the first three moth of 1918 from the Austria Hungarian army. They said he ate a lot of "Palacsintas" a Hungarian Crepe.

  31. indee "i start every episode with a hook. right?" well, thats better than starting every episode with a right hook…..

  32. Hi Indy, I love your content and the week-by-week analysis of the war. Do you know of a channel or historian who does this with WW2, or are you eventually planning on doing this?

  33. Arrested for anti war speech? Was freedom of speech not a thing? Why didn't people get arrested and jailed for ten years during the Viet Nam war?

  34. I don't usually say this, but in regards to the Austrian Army that was starving to death that was sent against the Italians; get those men some meth!

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