Hindenburg Line

Summary

The Siegfriedstellung or Siegfried Line was a defensive position of German troops on the Western Front in northern France during World War I. It was built in five months by 500,000 workers, including German civilians and Russian prisoners of war. It was built in five months by 500,000 workers, including German civilians and Russian prisoners of war. The front line was about 160 km long and stretched from Arras to St. Quentin to Soissons. It was built to shorten the front line by 50 kilometers, thus requiring 13 fewer divisions. In exchange, a frontal salient was abandoned. The withdrawal took place in mid-March 1917.

The Siegfried position was breached on September 27, 1918. Two days later, Ludendorff called for an immediate cease-fire offer to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson.

The Allies also called it the Hindenburg Line in reference to the commander-in-chief Paul von Hindenburg. The name Siegfriedstellung alluded to Siegfried the dragon slayer from the Nibelungen saga. This legend was very well known at that time, also due to the Wagner opera Siegfried.

The Supreme Army Command had been planning a strategic withdrawal for some time. After the heavy losses of the Battle of the Somme in 1916, the front was to be shortened in order to save men and material and free it for upcoming offensives on other fronts. When the German army learned of the planned major Entente offensive in early 1917, the decision was made to shorten the front and withdraw. Otherwise, there was a threat that their own forces would be overwhelmed and the enemy would break through. During the retreat, all shelters, infrastructure and utilities were systematically destroyed and 125,000 people, residents in this region, were forcibly evacuated. The preparations for the retreat took place under the camouflage name “Alberich” from February 9 to March 15; the retreat itself lasted for three days from March 16 to 19, 1917.

In the course of the spring offensive of 1918, German troops again came within 40 to 50 kilometers of Paris at the end of May 1918, similar to the Battle of the Marne in 1914. As a result, however, this advance merely meant an overstretching of the German front lines. After the failure of the Marne-Reims offensive in mid-July 1918, the German army was finally on the defensive. First came the Second Battle of the Marne (July 15-August 6, 1918). On August 8, the Battle of Amiens began. It initiated the Allied Hundred Days Offensive. In late August and early September, German forces in the Somme section were pushed back to their initial positions before the spring offensive (Hindenburg Line) around St. Quentin. On August 8, 1918, the Hundred Days Offensive began. On September 26, 1918, the Allies simultaneously began the attack on the Siegfried Position and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

The Siegfried position was breached by British divisions on September 27, 1918. Since there were no longer any military fortifications of the German Reich to the east of it, there was since then an acute danger that the German Western Front would collapse. The Allied victory at the Siegfried position was one of the reasons why Quartermaster General Erich Ludendorff demanded the initiation of armistice negotiations and the parliamentarization of the Reich on September 29, 1918. Strategic withdrawal was the only way to respond to Allied superiority. Yet it was intended only as a provisional measure for later offensives. On November 9, 1918, the Supreme Army Command”s (OHL) insistence on an armistice was granted. The First World War was effectively over.

Sources

  1. Siegfriedstellung
  2. Hindenburg Line
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