Main content

Operation Michael

In interviews recorded by the BBC and the Imperial War Museums, men recall their devastating experiences in the wastelands of the Somme during Spring 1918.

The return of the major series tracking the development of the First World War, presented by Dan Snow. After 40 episodes looking at the war through interviews in the sound archives of the IWM and the BBC with those who experienced it, this week's five programmes explore the beginning of the end: the first months of 1918.

The year didn't begin well for the British. After a few months of relative quiet over the winter, British soldiers experienced the massive onslaught of the first German Spring Offensive in March 1918. In the first programme, in interviews recorded by the BBC in 1964 and the Imperial War Museums in the 1980s, men recall their devastating experiences of shelling, retreat, serious injury and imprisonment in the wastelands of the Somme during Operation Michael.

Programme 2 captures airmen's recollections of the loss of the last of the great flying aces at this point in the war. In April 1918 the Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen, was shot down, and there's a tone of respect, of fair play even, which runs through the British officers' testimonies. The third programme looks at the state of British morale at this point in the war, and it's on issues like this that oral history reveals quite a different picture to contemporary accounts. The men talk openly and honestly about how they felt about their reluctance to serve as new drafts, or to return to the front if they'd been wounded: they now knew what they were up against. Programme 4 explores the impact of Spanish Flu through the recollections of both soldiers and the nurses that tended to them, and in the final programme, 'Enter America', Dan looks at the varied reactions to the long-awaited arrival of US troops in large numbers in the summer - from the French women throwing flowers at the men on parade, to the war-weary and unimpressed British soldiers. For German soldiers who talked to the BBC in 1964, it could mean only one thing: the end was coming.

Available now

15 minutes