Page 359 - The-History-of-the-Lancashire-Fusiliers-1914-1918-Volume-I

Basic HTML Version

CHAPTER XIV
1918 (Continued). THE GERMAN ATTACKS IN THE NORTH
AND ON THE AISNE. THE SUMMER UP
TO THE END OF JULY.
"LYS," "ESTAIRES," " HAZEBROUCK," "FIRST KEMMEL," "BETHUNE,"
"SECOND KEMMEL," "AISNE, 1918"
(Maps
I , 2
&
3)
1st, 2nd, 1st/5th, 2nd/5th, 1st/7th, 1st/8th, lOth, 11th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th
and 19th Battalions
THE German offensive which was launched on 21St March, 1918,
achieved a spectacular victory in its captures of prisoners, material
and ground. But it had not gained any strategically decisive
objective; nor had it succeeded in separating the French and
British Armies and thus perhaps opening a way to the Channel.
Ludendorff had originally considered, as an alternative to the
Somme attack, a plan for an offensive in the north, between the
Vimy Ridge and Ypres,
An
advance in this area would threaten
the British bases of Calais and Boulogne-and possibly the English
coast as well. Moreover, the left of the British front was badly
served as regards railways, and a comparatively short thrust into it
would leave it with only one lateral line. This plan was rejected for
various reasons, including the fact that in most years the ground
in the low-lying valleys of the River Lys and its tributaries did not
dry up sufficiently for military operations to take place over it till
May, whereas Ludendorff wished to open his attack in March. In
1918, however, the spring had been unusually free from rain; and
the country between Ypres and La Bassee was much drier than
usual by the end of March. The British front had been to a large
extent denuded of troops in order to stem the German flood on the
Somme, and it was held in many places by divisions which had
already passed through a stern and exhausting ordeal in the south.
The German High Command, unable to make progress in a decisive
direction on the original front of its attack, determined therefore
to deliver a fresh blow across the River Lys. Their intention became
evident towards the end of March and in the early days of April,
when air reconnaissances reported an increasing movement of
troops, transport and guns by road and rail towards the line west of
Lille. Many straws of confirmation came in, including a map
captured on a German officer by the 55th Division (of which Captain
G. Surtees, M.C., 2nd/5th Lancashire Fusiliers, was the staff officer
responsible for intelligence). This not only showed that the position
of divisional headquarters was accurately known to the Germans,
3
26