Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, April 9, 2018

100 Years Ago: The Second Ludendorff Offensive, Operation GEORGETTE, Is Launched

German Forces Advancing Toward Mont Kemmel

The second major German offensive of spring 1918 was code-named Operation GEORGETTE. Operation MICHAEL had failed to decisively end the war and the Germans had suffered very heavy losses. With fewer soldiers available the original German plan called GEORG was reworked as a smaller attack, GEORGETTE. The Germans secretly massed 36 divisions in Flanders, east of the Belgian town of Armentières. Less than 20 miles away was the vital Allied rail hub of Hazebrouck.

British Battery Firing Against the Advance

At 4.15 a.m. on 9 April 1918 more than 2,250 German guns opened fire on some 25 miles of British front held by just 12 divisions. After four-and-a-half hours of bombardment, the German infantry advanced, overwhelming much of the lightly held British front and advancing over three miles in the first few hours. Heaviest hit was the 2nd Portuguese Division, which was virtually annihilated.

The next day the village of Messines, taken at great cost the previous year, was lost, despite a counterattack by the South African Brigade. By 11 April the situation seemed desperate. German units were just a few miles from Hazebrouck and to rally his men Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, commander of British forces in Western Europe, issued an order of the day "…with our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each of us must fight on to the end."

French Reinforcements with a Tommy on Wire Detail

However, the tide was turning. Allied reinforcements were arriving and the 1st Australian Division took up positions in the forest of Nieppe to block further German advances towards Hazebrouck. In response the Germans turned their attacks on Mount Kemmel—a dominating geographical feature in West Flanders—where French reinforcements would play a critical role.

On 15 April the British were forced to reduce their line in the Ypres Salient, giving up virtually all of the gains made during the Third Battle of Ypres the previous year, but crucially holding on to Ypres itself. Mount Kemmel fell on 25 April, but it was the last German success of GEORGETTE. Fighting continued for several more days until German commanders finally called off the offensive on 29 April.

Offensive Halted at the Canal d'Aire, Robecq

This was one of the most critical periods of the war as a German breakthrough in Flanders, so close to the vital Channel ports, could have forced a British withdrawal from the continent. The British and French had held the line, but only just. British casualties were more than 80,000 and French losses were some 30,000. In 20 days of fierce fighting the German Army had again captured a large, but mostly unimportant, geographical area. They also suffered very heavy losses, and some 85,000 German soldiers were wounded, captured, or killed.

The first two German offensives of 1918 had fallen mainly on the British, but with the help of French reinforcements the Germans had been stopped. Knowing that this must have weakened the French line the Germans now prepared for a third offensive, this time against the French on the Chemin des Dames Ridge near the River Aisne. 

Source: CWGC Website

1 comment:

  1. I dimly recall Liddel-Hart having a damning analysis of this.