After the signing of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty with Russia, Germany was able to withdraw its troops from the Eastern Front. It was decided to use these troops to support a massive offensive on the Western Front. The Central Powers hoped that the 1918 Spring Offensive would enable them to end the war before the United States Army became firmly established in France.
It was decided to attack Allied forces at three points along the front-line: Arras, Lys and Aisne. British soldiers became disillusioned when all the land captured during the offensive at Passchendaele. At first the German Army had considerable success and came close to making a decisive breakthrough. However, Allied forces managed to halt the German advance at the Marne in June, 1918. After suffering 168,000 casualties during the battle, the exhausted German soldiers were forced to retreat.
An attack which appears to be beginning of the great German offensive, was made against the British front west and south-west of Cambrai today.
If this battle proves to be the real German effort against the British front we must expect hard and continuous fighting. The enemy has trained his troops well in open warfare, and they are well supported by light and heavy artillery and a host of trench mortars intended to move forward steadily with the advancing infantry.
The fresh stage of the German offensive for which we have been waiting began this morning. The enemy has attacked us upon an 11 miles front in the flat, muddy country north of Lens and south of Armentieres. He has chosen this time to strike from a point where his line bulges, probably in the hope of penetrating far enough to force us to fall back from one or another of the salients which occur in our line above and below the new battlefield.
Suddenly, as we were arranging our game of football, someone noticed that an engine was arriving for our train. We bundled in, and up to the casualty clearing station. Something new. The Germans had broken through. No one who did not know the stability of trench war can realise the astonishment of the German push. Thousands and hundreds of thousands of men had died pushing the line forward a hundred yards; that had been the rule for the past two years. And here was a push of thirty miles and an army crumpled up in a day or two. French soldiers shouted at us, "What's happened to the bloody Fifth Army?" The British had lost the war. It was said not to be safe to go out because the French were so angry.
Up at the line again we became aware in the early morning mist - I remember it vividly today - of thousands of bodies, acres and acres of them, lying out on the ground, with scraps of German grey or British khaki hanging out over the stretchers. They were very few bearers, and so we loaded the train ourselves, making no distinction between England and Germans; every inch of the train was full.
The evacuation of the salient at Passchendaele need not be regretted. It would have been cause for uneasiness if we had held on here. It is regrettable, of course, especially if we reckon the lives lost last year in taking this ground as having been sacrificed for it, but to beat the Germans. This ground was incidental.
Our withdrawal from Passchendaele and the ground for which so many men of the Empire have died causes the deepest regret, but it has not discouraged the soldiers, who know that in open warfare trench positions lose their former value, and that the people will regard the sacrifice in the same sensible way.
We are now on the run again. No longer can I talk of sunshine, novels, magazines, games - men have been fighting, killing each other. I do not ask God to stop this hideous, awful warfare: I ask men to. I do not know whether it is cowardice that makes me shrink from fighting: if so I am proud of being a coward. I do not think I'm afraid of being killed - I am terribly afraid of killing. Whether I should be a common coward on the battlefield of course I do not know. No-one can who has not faced it.