Operation Michael

March 1918

21 March – 5 April 1918 – Operation Michael

“Captured British Mark IV tank (named “Fritz”) being used by the Germans to support an attack, probably during the Spring Offensive. Note a line of German stormtroopers moving alongside in a trench.”
© IWM (Q 45348)

On 21 March 1918, General Ludendorff launched Germany’s massive Spring Offensive, “Kaiserschlacht” (Kaiser’s Battle), along the Western Front. The first phase, Operation Michael, involved thousands of troops, artillery, and poison gas, and the Germans quickly advanced deep into the British lines, causing catastrophic losses in both men and ground to the Allies. While the Canadian Corps was not directly affected by Operation Michael, the Canadian Cavalry Brigade and the Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade would soon be pulled into the chaotic fighting around Saint-Quentin.

Lt. Frederick Harvey, V.C.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-006658.

Read on below and follow the links to discover Canada’s involvement in Operation Michael.

22 March – 5 April 1918 – Villers-Bretonneux – The Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade

23 March 1918 – The Canadian Cavalry Brigade – On 23 March 1918, a mounted force of 500 Canadian and British cavalrymen was urgently improvised to counter-attack the advanced enemy positions and regain broken infantry lines on the third day of Operation Michael (Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force – 1914 – 1919, p. 369). A force of 800 Canadian cavalrymen had already been dismounted to cover the retreat of British forces since the second day of the German offensive. With the British lines now slightly stabilized, a re-mounted force was needed to provide fast-moving, mobile reinforcements (Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force – 1914 – 1919, p. 369).

27 March 1918 – Lord Strathcona’s Horse – On 27 March 1918, French troops made a series of small counter-attacks into the German offensive, re-establishing contact with British troops on their flank. While advancing on the village of Fontaine, they captured a handful of “prisoners dressed like Canadians” (Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force – 1914 – 1919, p. 369). In fact, these “prisoners” turned out to be men of Lord Strathcona’s Horse. Led by Victoria Cross-recipient Lieutenant Frederick Maurice Watson Harvey, the eleven cavalrymen had been conducting a mounted reconnaissance when they cleared Fontaine of “a greatly superior force of Germans” (Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force – 1914 – 1919, p. 369).

March – April 1918 – Canadians In the Air During Operation Michael

30 March 1918 – The Charge of Flowerdew’s Squadron

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