Operational art and the German 1918 offensives
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.