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Battle of the Lys (1918)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Battle of the Lys
Part of the Western Front of World War I
Map of German Lys offensive 1918.jpg

Map of German Lys offensive, 1918
Date7 – 29 April 1918
Flanders, northeast France

50°42′20″N 2°54′00″E / 50.70556°N 2.90000°E / 50.70556; 2.90000
Result Allied Powers victory
 German Empire
Commanders and leaders
  • 26 divisions
  • 9 more divisions later
Casualties and losses
  • 118,300–119,040
  • 118 guns
  • 60 aircraft
  • 86,000–109,300
  • 8 aircraft

The Battle of the Lys (Portuguese: Batalha de La Lys) from 7 to 29 April 1918, was part of the 1918 German offensive in Flanders during World War I, also known as the Spring Offensive. It was originally planned by General Ludendorff as Operation George but was reduced to Operation Georgette, with the objective of capturing Ypres, forcing the British forces back to the channel ports and out of the war. In planning, execution and effects, Georgette was similar to (although smaller than) Operation Michael, earlier in the Spring Offensive.

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • ✪ The Battle of La Lys - Operation Georgette I THE GREAT WAR Week 194
  • ✪ Photos of German Soldiers and Allied POWs During the Battle of the Lys (1918)
  • ✪ Battle of Lys
  • ✪ 1918 Bataille de la lys - Tournant de la guerre
  • ✪ Ypres-Lys Operation, October 30 - November 4, 1918, 91st Division


If I were to make sensational newspaper headlines about some of this week’s activity, I wonder how they’d read? Hm... “the betrayal of an ally” or “an Emperor’s humiliation!” Yeah, those are pretty good. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to the Great War. Last week, Operation Michael, the first phase of the German Spring Offensives, came to an end. The Germans took huge amounts of territory and prisoners, but dangerously extended their lines and failed to take Amiens. Britain’s offensive in Palestine to take Amman also failed and they retreated back across the River Jordan. Germany began phase two of its attacks in the west this week. Haste continued to be the top of German Quartermaster General Erich Ludendorff’s plans. He could not give his enemy a chance to take the offensive. At the beginning of this week, Operation Erzengel – Archangel – began. It had originally been a diversion to support Operation Michael, but now it was to reduce the salient their advance had created. The primary objective was the high ground east of the Oise-Aisne Canal. The attack ended the 9th after good progress had shortened their lines 7km. As we saw last week, Ludendorff no longer had the manpower for St. George One, his operation in Flanders, but St. George Two would go ahead on a reduced scale - this would be Operation Georgette. On April 9th, Ludendorff’s 53rd birthday, on which the Kaiser gave him as little statue... of the Kaiser, yep, it began with the Battle of the Lys against the British and Portuguese. The overall objective (Gilbert), was to cross the Lys River, overrun the southern Ypres salient, and drive to the coast between Calais and Dunkirk. The main objective was Hazebrouck railway junction. The attack was on a 16km front and British intelligence had wrongly guessed it was coming at Vimy Ridge, so it was - like the beginning of Michael - an immediate success, causing the Allies to retreat. 6,000 Portuguese troops were taken prisoner and a 6km gap was opened in British lines. Those Portuguese had been in the lines way too long and were to have been rotated out that very morning, so this was really unfortunate timing for them. This was, though, where Portuguese soldier Anibal Milhais - known as Soldier Million - covering the retreat, began building his legend, holding off the Germans so intensely with his Lewis gun that they went around him and he was behind enemy lines for three days. Also, 2,000 tons of mustard gas was shot on the British, incapacitating 8,000 men, many blinded. By the second day (Undone), the British sent in Herbert Plumer’s 2nd army - he’d just returned from Italy. The Germans still had some day one problems, though. Their left wing had been held fast at Givenchy. Also, they had serious difficulty bringing forward artillery. “The soft, wet ground made the tanks, along with all other heavy equipment, road bound. When the tanks started breaking down along the few and relatively narrow avenues of approach, they blocked the advance of the accompanying artillery. The stalled tanks had to be blown in place before the supporting guns could be moved up. This experience could not have done much to ameliorate Ludendorff’s blind spot for the tank.” (German offensives) On the 10th, the British were driven from Messines, which they took last summer, and on the 11th, British Commander Sir Douglas Haig gave his famous special order of the day (Gilbert), “There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man; there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end.” Noble words, but there were doors in that wall, and “A World Undone” says Haig was discussing with US President Woodrow Wilson a possible removal of British armies from France via the channel ports. On the 11th, the Germans took Armentieres, though on the left they were still held up at Givenchy and Festubert. By the end of the week, they were within 8km of Hazebrouck, behind which lay those channel ports, but I have to say that the British retreat was not a rout. It was in fact a controlled retreat. That same day, Ludendorff met with his staff to consider a new attack on Amiens for the 20th. The Allies had had an important staff meeting of their own. Last week on the 3rd, they met and agreed to strengthen Ferdinand Foch’s authority as overall commander. Haig, who had supported Foch’s rise to the position two weeks ago, was now no longer interested. Since the French had taken over parts of his line and British troops were arriving from Egypt and Mesopotamia, he saw no need any longer to be directed by anyone. But on the 14th- next week - Foch is given title of General in Chief of the Allied Armies. In no uncertain terms, he is Haig’s boss. April 6th marks one year since the United States joined the war. President Wilson made a speech in Baltimore, saying that (Chronology) “the reasons for the war are more clearly disclosed than ever before... we know what the war must cost... if need be all we possess.” Wilson goes on to point out Germany’s terms to Russia with the Brest-Litovsk Treaty from a month ago. Russia, if you remember, had to give up 700,000 square kilometers of territory and 50 million people, in addition to vast sources of raw materials. Wilson says this is Germany acknowledging that it’s not justice, but dominion they seek. And by Germany he means “her military leaders who are her real rulers... her statesmen give lip service to peace... the real test of their justice and fair play appears in their action in Russia... The German idea is a world empire of gain and commercial supremacy.” He then says he “does not wish to judge harshly and is still ready to discuss an honest peace, but German proceedings in Russia have given him his answer and he accepts the challenge. Only one answer is possible and that is force... force without limit.” One of the Central Powers leaders had, though, at least thought about possible peace. Last year, in March, I talked about what would become known as the Sixtus Affair. This was when AH Emperor Karl had written detailing his willingness to make a separate peace with the Allies, abandoning Germany. He wrote a letter that went to the British and French Prime Ministers on the subject, and he and his Foreign Minister Count Czernin had even met with two Princes representing the allies as intermediaries to negotiate. Karl’s letter stated that he supported French claims to Alsace-Lorraine, and agreed in principle to the restoration of Belgian independence. Now this never came to anything because France got a new Prime Minister who wasn’t interested, and anyhow, Italy wasn’t even mentioned, and that was kind of a big deal for Austria’s war. And this was all secret too, right? But now, Count Czernin gives a speech attacking current French PM Georges Clemenceau as being the main obstacle to peace. This made Clemenceau pretty angry and so he published Karl’s letter from last year. This blew up big time, since you can imagine how thrilled Germany was to find out that Karl had been plotting to abandon them. In fact, there was now even worry that Germany might occupy Austria-Hungary. Czernin got Karl to send his “word of honor” to the other three Central Powers that the letter was never supposed to be seen by the French government, that Belgium was not even mentioned, and Clemenceau was lying about Alsace-Lorraine. Czernin even tried to persuade Karl to step down as emperor, but in the end, it is Czernin himself who resigns, two days from now on the 14th. This was an enormous embarrassment for Karl and the end result was Austria becoming even more dependent on Germany. Czernin is succeeded by Count Burian von Rajecz. But Karl’s empire was really fragmenting by now anyhow. The Allies certainly encouraged that. On the 8th, the Conference of Nationalities Oppressed by Austria opens. This was set up by the Allies in Rome. Even the Italian government, with all its earlier hopes of winning Austrian land on the Dalmatian Coast, now accepted the Southern Slavs’ right to future independence. Another empire, though, was trying to take someone’s independence. Marching tow#ard the Caucasus, on the 6th, the Ottomans occupied Ardahan. The Armenians withdraw toward Novo-Selim, hoping to check the Turkish advance on Kars, but by the 9th, the Turks are marching on Batum and Kars. “Among the men at the front, there is no doubt they were facing a renewal of the war with the Turks, but the newly established rulers of Transcaucasia still continued to believe in a peaceful solution and their intervention deprived the troops on the frontier of their last chance of serious resistance.” And as the week ends, Russia protests to Germany about Germany’s landing of troops in Finland last week, and also to consuls in Moscow about last week’s British and Japanese landing in Vladivostok. Wilson makes a speech against the Germans, the Germans launch a new and so far successful offensive in Flanders, and Emperor Karl’s old plans now blow up in his face. Well, I’m about 100% certain he didn’t expect that to happen. I do wonder, though, why neither Clemenceau nor any other allied leaders published the letter earlier. It certainly sowed discord among the Central Powers. You know what, though? There was a very long-term result of Karl’s hope for peace and the role he played in trying - even in secret - to bring it about in 1917 and 1918. In 2004, he was beatified by Pope John Paul II. The Pope said this of Blessed Karl of Austria, “To his eyes, war appeared as something appalling... His chief concern was to follow the Christian vocation... also in his political actions. For this reason, his thoughts turned to social assistance. May he be an example for us all, especially those who have political responsibilities in Europe today.” If you forgot how the Portuguese ended up in this war, you might want to check our Portugal special right here. It’s great and there is a bit more about the Battle of La Lys in there. Our Patreon supporter of the week is Gustavo Loyola. Obrigado, Gustavo and to all the fans around the world who support this show. Don’t forget to subscribe, see you next time.



Strategic developments

The German attack zone was in Flanders, from about 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) east of Ypres in Belgium to 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) east of Béthune in France, about 40 kilometres (25 mi) south. The front line ran from north-north-east to south-south-west. The Lys River, running from south-west to north-east, crossed the front near Armentières in the middle of this zone.[1] The front was held by the Belgian Army in the far north, by the British Second Army (under Plumer) in the north and centre and by the British First Army (under Horne) in the south.[2]


Tactical developments

The German attacking forces were the Sixth Army in the south (under Ferdinand von Quast), and the Fourth Army in the north (under Sixt von Armin). Both armies included substantial numbers of the new stosstruppen, trained to lead attacks with the new stormtroop tactics.[3]

The British First Army was a relatively weak force; it included several worn-out formations that had been posted to a "quiet sector". This included two divisions of the Portuguese Expeditionary Corps, which were undermanned, lacked almost half of their officers, had very low morale and were set to be replaced the day of the German attack.[4]

German plan of attack

The German plan was to break through the First Army, push the Second Army aside to the north, and drive west to the English Channel, cutting off British forces in France from their supply line which ran through the Channel ports of Calais, Dunkirk and Boulogne.[5]


Battle of Estaires (9–11 April)

The German bombardment opened on the evening of 7 April, against the southern part of the Allied line between Armentières and Festubert. The barrage continued until dawn on 9 April. The Sixth Army then attacked with eight divisions. The German assault struck the Portuguese Second Division, which held a front of about 11 kilometres (6.8 mi). The Portuguese division was overrun and withdrew towards Estaires after hours of heavy fighting.[a] The British 55th Division, to the south of the Portuguese in a more defensible position, pulled back its northern brigade and held its ground for the rest of the battle, despite attacks from two German reserve divisions. The British 40th Division (to the north of the Portuguese) collapsed under the German attack and fell back to the north.[8]

Horne committed his reserves (First King Edward's Horse and the 11th Cyclist Battalion) to stem the German breakthrough but they too were defeated.[9] The Germans broke through 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) of front and advanced up to 8 kilometres (5.0 mi), the most advanced probe reaching Estaires on the Lys. There they were finally halted by British reserve divisions.[10] On 10 April, the Sixth Army tried to push west from Estaires but was contained for a day; pushing north against the flank of the Second Army, it took Armentières.[11]

Battle of Messines (10–11 April)

British 55th (West Lancashire) Division troops blinded by poison gas during the battle, 10 April 1918
British 55th (West Lancashire) Division troops blinded by poison gas during the battle, 10 April 1918

Also on 10 April, German Fourth Army attacked north of Armentières with four divisions, against the British 19th Division. The Second Army had sent its reserves south to the First Army and the Germans broke through, advancing up to 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) on a 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) front, and capturing Messines. The 25th Division to the south, flanked on both sides, withdrew about 4 kilometres (2.5 mi).[12] By 11 April, the British situation was desperate; it was on this day that Haig issued his famous "backs to the wall" order.[13]

Battle of Hazebrouck (12–15 April)

On 12 April, the Sixth Army renewed its attack in the south, towards the important supply centre of Hazebrouck, another 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) to the west. The Germans advanced some 2–4 kilometres (1.2–2.5 mi) and captured Merville. On 13 April they were stopped by the First Australian Division, which had been transferred to the area. The British Fourth Division defended Hinges Ridge, the Fifth Division held Nieppe Forest and the 33rd Division was also involved.[14][15]

Battle of Bailleul (13–15 April)

From 13–15 April, the Germans drove forward in the centre, taking Bailleul, 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) west of Armentières, despite increasing British resistance. Plumer assessed the heavy losses of the Second Army and the defeat of his southern flank and ordered his northern flank to withdraw from Passchendaele to Ypres and the Yser Canal; the Belgian Army to the north conformed.[16]

Retirement from Passchendaele Ridge

On 23 March, Haig had ordered Plumer to make contingency plans to shorten the line along the Ypres Salient and release troops for the other armies. On 11 April, Plumer authorised a withdrawal of the southern flank of the Second Army and ordered the VIII and II corps in the Passchendaele Salient to retreat the next day into the Battle Zone, behind outposts left in the Forward Zone of the British defensive system. The divisional commanders were ordered that the Forward Zone must be held and that the Germans must not be given the impression that a withdrawal was in progress. At noon on 12 April, the VIII Corps ordered the infantry retirement to begin that night and the 59th Division was withdrawn and transferred south, to be replaced by part of the 41st Division. The II Corps had begun to withdraw its artillery at the same time as VIII Corps on the night of 11/12 April and ordered the 36th and 30th divisions to conform to the VIII Corps withdrawal which were complete by 13 April, without German interference; VIII Corps HQ was transferred to reserve.[17]

During 13 April, General Headquarters (GHQ) discussed the retirements in the Lys valley, which had lengthened the British front line and Plumer agreed to a retirement in the Ypres Salient to the Mt Kemmel, Voormezeele (2.5 mi (4.0 km) south of Ypres), White Château (1 mi (1.6 km) east of Ypres) to Pilckem Ridge defence line but ordered only that artillery ammunition be carried to the rear; the 4th Army reported on 14 April, that the British were still occupying the Passchendaele Salient. The next day was quiet in the salient and the withdrawal of the II Corps and XXII Corps divisions was covered by the outposts in the original front line and artillery, which was divided into some active batteries which fired and a greater number of batteries kept silent, camouflaged and not to fire except in an emergency.[b] Plumer gave orders to begin the retirement by occupying the line before the night of 15/16 April, while maintaining the garrisons in the outpost line and holding the Battle Zone with a few troops as an intermediate line. During the night of 15/16 April, the outpost line garrisons were to be withdrawn behind the new front line at 4:00 a.m. and the intermediate line in front of the Battle Zone was to be held as long as possible, to help the troops in the new line to get ready.[19]

On 16 April, patrols went forward during the morning and found the area between the old and new front lines to be empty, the Germans still apparently in ignorance of the retirement; one patrol captured a German officer scouting for observation posts who did not know where the British were. Only in the late afternoon did German troops begin to close up to the new line and the British troops in the Battle Zone easily repulsed the German infantry, the 4th Army diary recorded that patrols discovered the withdrawal at 4;40 a.m. that afternoon.

Battle of Merckem (17 April)

On 17 April, the Belgian Army defeated an attack from Houthulst Forest (The Battle of Merckem) against the 10th and 3rd Belgian divisions from Langemarck to Lake Blankaart by the 58th, 2nd Naval and the 6th Bavarian divisions, with help from the II Corps artillery. The Germans captured Kippe but were forced out by counter-attacks and the line was restored by nightfall. On the afternoon of 27 April, the south end of the outpost line was driven in when Voormezeele was captured, re-captured and then partly captured by the Germans; another outpost line was set up north-east of the village.[20]. Belgian losses were 619 killed, wounded or missing. The Germans lost between 1922 and 2354 men of which 779 prisoners.[21]

British gunners with 18 pounder at Saint Floris Battle of the Lys 1918
British gunners with 18 pounder at Saint Floris Battle of the Lys 1918

First Battle of Kemmel (17–19 April)

The Kemmelberg is a height commanding the area between Armentières and Ypres. On 17–19 April, the German Fourth Army attacked and was repulsed by the British.[22]

Battle of Béthune (18 April)

On 18 April, the German Sixth Army attacked south from the breakthrough area toward Béthune but was repulsed.[23]

Second Battle of Kemmel (25–26 April)

French marshal, Foch, had recently assumed supreme command of the Allied forces and on 14 April agreed to send French reserves to the Lys sector. A French division relieved the British defenders of the Kemmelberg.[24]

From 25–26 April, the Fourth Army made a sudden attack on the Kemmelberg with three divisions and captured it. This success gained some ground but it made no progress toward a new break in the Allied line.[25]

Battle of the Scherpenberg (29 April)

On 29 April, a final German attack captured the Scherpenberg, a hill to the north-west of the Kemmelberg.[26]



More French reinforcements arrived in the latter part of April, the Germans had suffered many casualties, especially among the stoßtruppen and attacks toward Hazebrouck failed. It was clear that Georgette could not achieve its objectives; on 29 April the German high command called off the offensive.


In 1937 C. B. Davies, J. E. Edmonds and R. G. B. Maxwell-Hyslop, the British official historians gave casualties from 9–30 April as c. 82,000 British and a similar number of German casualties. Total casualties since 21 March were British: c. 240,000, French: 92,004 and German: 348,300.[27] In 1978 Middlebrook wrote of 160,000 British casualties, 22,000 killed, 75,000 prisoners and 63,000 wounded. Middlebrook estimated French casualties as 80,000 and German as c. 250,000 with 50–60,000 lightly wounded.[28] In 2002 Marix Evans recorded 109,300 German casualties and the loss of eight aircraft, British losses of 76,300 men, 106 guns and 60 aircraft and French losses of 35,000 men and twelve guns.[29] In 2006 Zabecki gave 86,000 German, 82,040 British and 30,000 French casualties.[30]


  1. ^ This action was one of the greatest defeats ever suffered by Portuguese forces. The Portuguese Expeditionary Corps had been reorganising so that the Second Portuguese Division of General Gomes da Costa was to have four brigades at full strength and all the artillery of the corps and the First Portuguese Division, which would contain two depleted brigades and be withdrawn. The Second Division had a total of c. 21,000 men, of whom 17,000 were infantry, a deficit of 6,139 men; the division lost c. 7,000 casualties.[6] Despite the defeat, acts of remarkable bravery were shown by some Portuguese soldiers; Aníbal Milhais (nicknamed "Soldier Millions") repulsed two German assaults single-handedly with a Lewis gun, while covering the retreat of Portuguese and Scottish troops.[7]
  2. ^ XXII and II corps divisions were the 30th, 36th, 41st, 6th and brigades of the 49th and 21st divisions.[18]


  1. ^ Edmonds, Davies & Maxwell-Hyslop 1995, pp. 154–155.
  2. ^ Edmonds, Davies & Maxwell-Hyslop 1995, pp. 159–163.
  3. ^ Edmonds, Davies & Maxwell-Hyslop 1995, p. 155.
  4. ^ Edmonds, Davies & Maxwell-Hyslop 1995, pp. 159–160.
  5. ^ Edmonds, Davies & Maxwell-Hyslop 1995, pp. 149–155.
  6. ^ Edmonds, Davies & Maxwell-Hyslop 1995, pp. 147–148, 168.
  7. ^ Rodrigues 2013, p. 19.
  8. ^ Edmonds, Davies & Maxwell-Hyslop 1995, pp. 156, 165–174.
  9. ^ Edmonds, Davies & Maxwell-Hyslop 1995, p. 174.
  10. ^ Edmonds, Davies & Maxwell-Hyslop 1995, pp. 174–197.
  11. ^ Edmonds, Davies & Maxwell-Hyslop 1995, pp. 193, 200–204.
  12. ^ Edmonds, Davies & Maxwell-Hyslop 1995, pp. 204–209.
  13. ^ Edmonds, Davies & Maxwell-Hyslop 1995, pp. 222, 249–254.
  14. ^ Edmonds, Davies & Maxwell-Hyslop 1995, pp. 254–281, 305–329.
  15. ^ Becke 2007, pp. 63, 71.
  16. ^ Edmonds, Davies & Maxwell-Hyslop 1995, pp. 284–329.
  17. ^ Edmonds, Davies & Maxwell-Hyslop 1995, pp. 113–114, 245, 275.
  18. ^ Edmonds, Davies & Maxwell-Hyslop 1995, p. 326.
  19. ^ Edmonds, Davies & Maxwell-Hyslop 1995, pp. 299–300, 319, 316, 326.
  20. ^ Edmonds, Davies & Maxwell-Hyslop 1995, pp. 337–338, 342, 443.
  21. ^ "100 jaar geleden: de eerste Belgische overwinning" (in Dutch).
  22. ^ Edmonds, Davies & Maxwell-Hyslop 1995, pp. 341–368.
  23. ^ Edmonds, Davies & Maxwell-Hyslop 1995, pp. 357–363.
  24. ^ Edmonds, Davies & Maxwell-Hyslop 1995, pp. 409–428.
  25. ^ Edmonds, Davies & Maxwell-Hyslop 1995, pp. 428–440.
  26. ^ Edmonds, Davies & Maxwell-Hyslop 1995, pp. 442–452.
  27. ^ Edmonds, Davies & Maxwell-Hyslop 1995, pp. 482–483, 487–490.
  28. ^ Middlebrook 1978, pp. 347–348.
  29. ^ Marix Evans 2002, p. 81.
  30. ^ Zabecki 2006, p. 349.



  • Baker, Chris (2011). The Battle for Flanders: German Defeat on the Lys, 1918. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military. ISBN 978-1-84884-298-4.
  • Becke, Maj A. F. (2007) [1934]. History of the Great War: Order of Battle of Divisions, Part 1: The Regular British Divisions (Naval & Military Press, Uckfield ed.). London: HMSO. ISBN 978-1-84734-738-1.
  • Edmonds, J. E.; Davies, H. R.; Maxwell-Hyslop, R. G. B. (1995) [1937]. Military Operations France and Belgium: 1918 March–April: Continuation of the German Offensives. History of the Great War Based on Official Documents by Direction of the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence. II (Imperial War Museum & Battery Press ed.). London: Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-89839-223-4.
  • Henriques, M. C.; Leitão, A. R. (2001). La Lys, 1918 ("Batalhas de Portugal"). Lisboa: Prefácio. ISBN 978-972-8563-49-3.
  • Marix Evans, M. (2002). 1918: The Year of Victories. London: Arcturus. ISBN 978-0-572-02838-1.
  • Middlebrook, M. (1983) [1978]. The Kaiser's Battle (Penguin reprint ed.). London: Allen Lane. ISBN 978-0-7139-1081-0.



Further reading

External links

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