Operation Michael - Conclusions


Over 75,000 British soliers had been taken prisoner, and by the standards of the time, a substantial advance across enemy ground had occurred. It was, however, of little military value given both the casualties suffered by the German crack troops and the fact that Amiens and Arras remained in Allied hands. On top of this the newly-won territory was for the most part difficult to traverse, as much of it consisted of the shell-torn wilderness left by the 1916 Battle of the Somme. Elsewhere the land had been demolished and poisoned by the scorched earth policy of the German retreat to the Hindenburg line in March 1917. It was therefore, difficult to defend their gains against Allied counterattacks.

Both sides suffered massive losses during the battle. The Allies lost nearly 255,000 men (British, British Empire, French and American losses). The British suffered 177,739 killed, wounded and missing, (90,882 of them in Gough’s Fifth Army and 78,860 in Byng’s Third Army) of these, just under 15,000 died. An unusually high proportion of those who died have no known grave. The greatest losses were to 36th (Ulster) Division (7,310), 16th (Irish) Division (7,149) and 66th (2nd East Lancashire) Division (7,023). All three formations were destroyed and had to be taken out of the order of battle to be rebuilt. Six other divisions each lost more than 5,000 men. They also lost 1,300 artillery pieces and 200 tanks. All of this could be replaced, either from British factories or from American manpower. The Germans had captured 1,200 sq mi (3,100 km2) of France and advanced up to 40 mi (64 km) but they had not achieved any of their strategic objectives. German troop losses were 250,000 men, largely specialist shock troops who were irreplaceable. German casualties, for a slightly different period of 21 March – 30 April (which includes the Battle of the Lys) are given as 348,300. A comparable Allied total over this longer period would be French losses of 92,004 plus British of 236,300, making just over 328,000. In terms of morale, the initial German jubilation at the successful opening of the offensive soon turned to disappointment as it became clear that the attack had not achieved decisive results. This was perhaps the turning point of the war.

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