The Battle of the Lys (April 1918) is one of the least well known British battles of the First World War, coming as it did between the first major German offensive of 1918 (on the Somme) and the Allied victories later in the year. There is thus a tendency for general histories to dismiss it in a few lines, skipping from the crisis of March 1918 to the Allied counterattacks and the final victorious 100 days.
Operation Georgette was the second major German offensive of 1918. The crisis for the Allies began with Operation Michael, the German offensive on the Somme that in two weeks came close to splitting the British and French armies. When this attack eventually stalled the Germans moved north, launching Operation Georgette, an attack on the British lines south of Ypres. The initial aim was to reach the vital railway junction of Hazebrouck, a move that would have threatened the entire British position in Flanders. As on the Somme the Germans made major advances in the first few days of the battle, combining their excellent artillery with the new stormtrooper tactics with an attack on a weak and for a long time quiet part of the front to almost achieve their main objectives. At one point the Allies were seriously considering flooding vast areas of land around Dunkirk to prevent the Germans from breaching the British and Belgian line.
This is a good clear account of the battle, supported by a good selection of eyewitness accounts, although these are overwhelmingly from the Allied point of view. Baker also examines the reasons for the initial German strengths, looking at the key strengths of the German army of 1918 and the weaknesses of the initial Allied positions, and the reasons for their eventual failure. Here he suggests that a combination of a number of key defensive successes, combined with the general lack of mobility of the German army played the main part in the eventual British victory on the Lys.
This is an excellent study of a vital but often neglected battle, and should be of great value to anyone interested in the fighting on the Western Front.
1 - The Road to the Lus
2 - The Lys Sector and Preparations for Battle
3 - The First Day
4 - The German Attack Develops
5 - 'There is no wall'
6 - 'La bataille d'Hazebrouck est finie'
7 - 'Tannenberg'
8 - The Death of 'Georgette'
9 - Kemmelberg
10 - Retrospectives
Appendix I: Phases of the Battles of the Lys
Appendix II: Place-names
Author: Chris Baker
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military