The weather in 1918

  • The weather in 1918
    11.11.2010 17:20

    Impressions of the First World War are often tinged in shades of brown, not only from the sepia tint of the archives of photographs and flickering films but also from the images of seemingly inescapable mud.

    As the war ground to a halt in November 1918, another cool and wet autumn had once again affected military operations on both sides of the western front. Immediately before Armistice Day, rain had swept across the UK and northern Europe, and an officer writing on the morning of the cessation of hostilities noted wearily that there was ‘chilled drizzle – as usual’.

    It was in the best interests of the Allies that the weather stayed fair so that they had the best possible conditions in which to try to push eastwards before military operations were once again slowed by poor weather, which might have meant the war dragging on through another winter of stalemate.

    In early September it was indeed favourable, with high pressure often dominating to leave what one observer at the time described as ‘unprecedented dryness’ – although possibly only unprecedented compared with the years 1915 to 1917.

    However, not long after the first week of September 1918 the weather turned stormier and wetter, slowing the Allied advance but not stopping it because there were still some fine spells in between, particularly during the second and third weeks, and around the turn of the month into October.

    Moreover, the scent of looming victory no doubt made it a little easier for the troops to push on through conditions such as those on 30 September, when according to a cable there were ‘wintry winds and rains, sweeping in from the North Sea’.

    October and November brought more rain, strong winds and even sleet and snow, and a correspondent mentioned on 15 October that ‘the battle may be said to be almost as much as against the weather and the mud…’

    There was fog at times, too, although this served less as a hindrance than a help on occasions when units of tanks could burst out of the gloom onto enemy lines unobserved.

    Heavy rain continued periodically to sweep across the theatre of war into the first week of November, interspersed with thick fogs that were by now more of a nuisance, when airborne observers lost sight of retreating troops.

    Despite these setbacks, the Allied advance was sufficient to ensure the signing of the armistice in that railway carriage in the chilly, drizzly CompiègneForest on 11 November 1918. And as high pressure settled over the Continent in the following days the sun came out.

    By: Stephen Davenport