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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: February 2013

Chapter 8 - The year of victory

Summary

It is January 1918, the last year of the war, and the 1st Division has been in France for twenty-one months. Since the collapse of Russia late last year Germany has been redeploying forces to strengthen her western armies. In the spring she plans to launch a massive blow, driving a wedge between the British and French, then crushing each in turn. It is a last, desperate and reckless attempt to finish the war before the arrival of the Americans tips the balance irreversibly against her. On the other side of no-man's-land the BEF faces a manpower shortage brought about by the heavy losses of Third Ypres and a slowing in the flow of reinforcements. The crisis forces Haig to slash the establishment of his British divisions. The reshuffling of units creates considerable turmoil, which could not have occurred at a worse time as Haig and the new French commander, General Ferdinand Foch, anxiously await the German blow.

The 1st Division avoids disbanding any of its battalions, yet it too is struggling and its personnel shortfalls are only partially offset by the unification of the AIF divisions in a single corps. In many ways this year will be its toughest of the war. Between New Year and the abrupt end to hostilities the division experiences activity patterns not experienced since 1916. Of the 315 days of this campaign season almost two-thirds (215 days) is spent in the line facing the Germans, and although its attacking days amount to the same as 1917 (nine days), it will have precious little time in between to recover. The remaining time will be roughly divided between training (54 days) and administration (46 days), although its periods of rest amount to just three and a half weeks (25 days), the least for any year of its service. On top of this, 1918 is its bloodiest year with 11 494 battle casualties (1736 fatalities, 9601 wounded and 157 missing). The lack of rest and limited training opportunities, combined with extended periods holding the line and heavy casualties, explain why the 1st Division is fast approaching exhaustion even as its repute surges to new heights.