The Dury, Compiegne and Abbeville Conferences were meetings held by the Allies during World War I to address a massive German attack against the Western Front in March of 1918. Since the fall of 1917, a stalemate has existed on the Western Front. However, a German victory against Russia in 1917 due to the Russian Revolution and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty freed up German armies on the Eastern Front to be used on the Western Front. During the winter of 1917-1918, approximately 50 Germans divisions in Russia were secretly transported by train to France for use in a massive, final attack. The attack that followed, Operation Michael, totally surprised the Allies, and nearly routed the French and English from the field. The meetings were held under these dire circumstances.
The Dury Conferences
The Drury Conferences (there were 2 of them) occurred on the afternoon and evening of March 23, 1918 at Dury town hall. They were initiated by General Petain, Commander of the French armies on the Western Front, who met with General Douglas Haig, his counterpart in the British Army at Haig's chateau and advance GHQ. The German attack pierced a part of the line recently taken over by the English from the French, and Haig was in desperate need of reinforcements to close the breach. He had already been promised 20 divisions from Petain, but it would take days, even weeks for them to arrive. At the afternoon meeting on March 23rd, General Haig needed more help. He asked for a reserve of twenty French divisions to center around the town of Amiens (behind the British front), and to form a line parallel with the Somme River (see attachment) to protect Haig's right flank. To this, Petain refused. In fact, the German breach of the Western Front was deep and growing, and he informed General Haig that if the British continued to retreat, he would have to break his link with them so his armies could cover Paris. General Petain received his instructions from the French War Cabinet, he informed his generals, and he was present in Dury that night to inform General Haig.
The Compiegne Conference
The Compiegne Conference was held at French GHG Headquarters on the afternoon of March 25th. It was arranged by Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau to settle a vexing command problem of the Allies. Unlike the Germans, whose allies were immediately subordinate to the Kaiser and General Ludendorff, Germany's top general, the Allies had no such arrangement, and no unified commander. With all the French command and their civilian leadership present, but only the English leader present (the English generals were missing), the decision of a unified command had to be postponed until the next day.
The Abbeville Conference
The Abbeville Conference was arranged by General Douglas Haig and took place in the afternoon of March 25, 1918. Haig had informed his superior, General Henry Wilson, of the British withdrawal and had asked him to come over from England. Haig also invited the French military leadership to the meeting, which was to start at 3pm. When General Wilson arrived that morning, he met with General Haig at B.E.F. Headquarters in Montreuil (GHQ). General Haig handed Wilson an order, which his headquarters had prepared, that authorized an immediate withdrawal of B.E.F. forces from the trenches in the direction of the Channel Ports of Calais, Dunkirk and Boulogne. The order also requested at least 20 divisions from General Petain, to cover the English retreat. General Wilson then accompanied General Haig to Abbeville early that afternoon. At 3pm they were met by Maxime Weygand and his aide. Weygand was reading the order, and understanding its significance, he asked for a handwritten copy. Although the plan meant abandoning the Western Front line as a defense and leaving a breach open to the Germans, it was the best the Allies could do under the circumstances without avoiding a wider catastrophe. Weygand left the meeting with the order, and that evening hand delivered it to General Mordacq, Prime Minister Clemenceau's military aide. The entire matter was settled the next day, at the Doullens Conference, when the two sides finally got together.
- Amery, My Political Life, pgs. 146-148
- Cooper, "Haig", Vol 2, pg. 250
- Ibid, pgs. 252, 253
- Clemenceau, "Grandeur in Misery and Victory", pgs. 33, 34
- Foch, "Memoirs of Marshal Foch", pgs. 295, 296
- Callwell,"Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson", pg. 77
- Weygand, Memoirs, pgs. 477, 478
- Amery, pgs. 147, 148
- George, "War Memoirs of David Lloyd George", Vol V, pgs. 387-389
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