Who's Who - Otto von Below
One of the more capable German field commanders of the First World War, Otto von Below (1857-1944) - a cousin of Fritz von Below (reported variously as his brother), who also operated as a field commander during the war (causing some confusion among British military intelligence) - served on numerous fronts during the war, beginning the conflict on the Eastern Front, and also serving in the Balkans, in Italy, as well as on the Western Front.
However, Below's wartime career began in East Prussia. There he commanded I Reserve Corps at the Battles of Gumbinnen and the First Battle of the Masurian Lakes. He also fought at the Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes in February 1915, briefly commanding Eighth Army from November 1914 (taking over from General von Francois).
Success in East Prussia led to further postings in Courland, Salonika and on the Western Front (where he led the Sixth Army around Lille in April 1917). However his reputation chiefly stems from a notable success at Caporetto in October and November 1917, where he commanded the Austro-German Fourteenth Army.
His successful adoption of 'infiltration' tactics at Caporetto earned him command of Seventeenth Army on the Western Front. Pitting him against the manifestly stronger British in March 1918 - during the great German push of that spring, the Kaiserschlacht Offensive - the German High Command apparently expected von Below to pull another rabbit out of the hat, as at Caporetto.
Alas for Below his reputation preceded him; his success as a fighting commander at Caporetto served only to alert British Third Army military intelligence of imminent likely attack wherever he was stationed; preparations were consequently undertaken.
Below was expected to overrun Arras during March 1918; his inability to do so led to the failure of the German campaign to capture the Somme that same month.
Ending the war from October 1918 in command of First Army, Below oversaw the retreat of the Germans from Reims to positions preparatory for a last stand defence of German territory.
"Wipers" was the British nickname for the Belgian town Ypres.
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