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In December 1916, the Germans attempted to negotiate peace with the Allies, declaring themselves the victors, but, in correspondence with the United States, then still a neutral party, the Allies rejected the offer soundly. This German poster from January 1917 quotes a speech by Kaiser Wilhelm II lambasting them for their decision.

The Hindenburg Line (also known as the Siegfried Line) was a vast system of defences in northeastern France during World War I. It was constructed by the Germans during the winter of 1916–17. The line stretched from Lens to beyond Verdun.

Contents

Background

The decision to build the line was made by Field-Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and General Erich Ludendorff, who had taken over command of Germany's war effort in August 1916, during the final stages of the First Battle of the Somme. The Hindenburg Line was built across a salient in the German front, so that by withdrawing to these fortifications the German army was shortening its front. The length of the front was reduced by 50 km (30 miles) and enabled the Germans to release 13 divisions for service in reserve.[1]

The withdrawal to the line began in February 1917 and the territory between the old front and the new line was devastated by the German army.

Description

Aerial perspective map showing location of the various systems
The Hindenburg Line at Bullecourt seen from the air in 1920

The fortifications included concrete bunkers and machine gun emplacements, heavy belts of barbed wire, tunnels for moving troops, deep trenches, dug-outs and command posts. At a distance of one-km in front of the fortifications was a thinly-held outpost line, which would serve a purpose comparable to skirmishers: slowing down and disrupting an enemy advance. In addition, villages (called "Outpost Villages") immediately in front of the outpost line were sometimes fortified and used to reinforce the main defenses.

The line was subdivided into five areas, named from north to south:.[2]

  • Wotan Stellung - from near Lille to St Quentin
  • Siegfried Stellung (Note that this differs from the Siegfried Line, built along the German border with France prior to World War II) - from near Arras to St Quentin
  • Alberich Stellung
  • Brunhilde Stellung - the northern portion of the "Hunding Stellung", and went from near Craonne to near Reims
  • Kriemhilde Stellung - the southern portion of the "Hunding Stellung", and went from near Reims to near Verdun

(Note: That there was an extension of the "Hunding Stellung" further south from Verdun to Metz, called the "Michel Stellung".)

Of these areas, the Siegfried Stellung was considered the strongest.

The German command believed the new line was impregnable. However it was temporarily broken through in the Battle of Cambrai in 1917 by British and Newfoundland forces including tanks, and was successfully breached a number of times during the Allied Hundred Days Offensive in September 1918.

See also

References

  1. ^ Gilbert, Martin. The First World War (1994), chapter 16: "The intensification of the war".
  2. ^ Herwig, Holger H. The First World War: German and Austria-Hungary 1914-1918 (1999), pages 250 to 251.

External links

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