18 November – Today in German History

1916

  • Battle of the Somme Ends. On November 18, 1916, British Commander in Chief Sir Douglas Haig calls a halt to his army’s offensive near the Somme River in northwestern France, ending the epic Battle of the Somme after more than four months of bloody conflict. With the French under heavy siege at Verdun since February, the Somme offensive was Haig’s long-planned attempt to make an Allied breakthrough on the Western Front. After a full week of artillery bombardment, the offensive began in earnest on the morning of July 1, 1916, when soldiers from 11 British divisions emerged from their trenches near the Somme River in northwestern France and advanced toward the German front lines. The initial advance was a disaster, as the six German divisions facing the advancing British mowed them down with their machine guns, killing or wounding some 60,000 men on the first day alone: the single heaviest day of casualties in British military history to that point. The failure of the advance was credited variously to the complete lack of surprise in the timing of the attack, incompetence on the part of Haig and the British command–namely, their failure to conceive that the Germans could build their trenches deep enough to protect their heavy weapons or bring them up so quickly once the artillery barrage had ended, and the inferior preparation of the British artillery, for which the infantry paid a heavy price.

1940

  • Hitler furious over Italy’s debacle in Greece. On November 18, 1940, Adolf Hitler meets with Italian Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano over Mussolini’s disastrous invasion of Greece. Mussolini surprised everyone with a move against Greece. His ally Hitler was caught off guard since the Duce had led Hitler to believe he had no such intention. Even Mussolini’s own chief of army staff found out about the invasion only after the fact.

1943

  • Britain’s Royal Air Force bombed Berlin with little success. 440 bombers were used in the raid that resulted in 131 Berliners being killed and nine British bombers were shot down and 53 aircrew members were killed.
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