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Lys Offensive - April 1918

Tekijä: Andrew Rawson

JäseniäKirja-arvostelujaSuosituimmuussijaKeskimääräinen arvioKeskustelut
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This is an account of the British Expeditionary Force's defensive battle in Flanders during April 1918. It begins with the planning for Operation Georgette, the second German offensive of the year. The attack on 9 April penetrated up to 6 miles on a 20 mile wide front across the Lys plain but further attacks resulted in the evacuation of the town of Armentières. For three weeks First Army and Second Army fought to stem the onslaught as GHQ struggled to find reserves to help them. The situation became so desperate that Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig had to issue his famous 'backs to the walls' order on 11 April. Reinforcements stopped the Germans reaching Hazebrouck rail center but they could not stop them reaching Bailleul. The French helped stem the tide but the battle climaxed with the loss of the Kemmelberg and the Scherpenberg, the two highest hills in Flanders. Each stage of the battle is given equal treatment, with detailed insights into the most talked about side of the campaign, the British side. Fifty maps chart the day by day progress of each corps on each day. This is an insight into the BEF's experience during this campaign. The men who made a difference are mentioned; those who led the advances, those who stopped the counterattacks and those who were awarded the Victoria Cross. Discover the Cambrai campaign and learn how the British Army's brave soldiers fought and died fighting to achieve their objectives.… (lisätietoja)
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Part of a series on the history of the British Expeditionary Force in WWI. This volume covers the BEF’s response to the German Lys Offensive in 1918 (Operation Georgette). The Western Front had been bogged down in trench warfare since 1914, with the Germans retreating to strong defensive positions and the Allies conducting brutal and futile attacks. Several things happened to change this in 1918:

• The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which freed up many German divisions from the Eastern Front.
• The German development of Stosstruppen tactics. Prior to this, both sides had “reinforced defeat” – if an attack was stalled by a strongpoint, troops on either side were held in place while reinforcements were sent to the obstacle until it was reduced. Then the advance would continue along a broad front – supposedly. What actually happened is the delay gave the other side time to reinforce as well and the attack petered out. Before the war ended on the Russian Front, the Germans had successfully experimented with a different idea. Instead of a weeks-long bombardment that was supposed to cut wire but only turned the battlefield into an impassable morass and gave the enemy plenty of warning that an attack was coming, the Germans used a short but intense artillery bombardment that was followed up by “infiltration tactics”. The infantry would advance quickly and bypass strongpoints; reinforcements were sent to the area of greatest advance (“reinforcing victory”) and troops were trained to keep on the offensive without worrying about their flanks.
• The Americans had entered the war and were rapidly building up; the Germans wanted to go on the offensive before American strength became insurmountable.

Stosstruppen tactics “shocked and awed” the Allies. In places where the trench lines had remained more or less stable for years, with only a few hundred yards of blood-soaked and shell-churned ground changing hands, the Germans were able to advance almost forty miles. The BEF had to evacuate the Ypres Salient, which had been the scene of three sanguinary and futile BEF offensives. However, the large German advances were ultimately a failure; the Germans were unable to capture any really important objectives or bring them in range of artillery fire.

Lys Offensive author Andrew Rawson doesn’t discuss this background very much; he’s more concerned with the play-by-play activities of the battle. Although the BEF had experience Stosstruppen tactics before (Operation Michael, further north) they still weren’t ready for Operation Georgette. The Germans quickly overran forward positions (“the Outpost Zone”), then the main line of resistance (“the Battle Zone”) but the offensive eventually ground to a halt:

• The Germans were unable to get artillery and supplies forward. While German infantry could move cross-country and ford streams and canals, artillery and supply units were road-bound and bottlenecked at water crossings.
• The British set an unintentional booby-trap for the advancing Germans. They captured several huge supply dumps intact; however, British ammunition didn’t fit German weapons so it was of no use. What the Germans were about to loot was food and alcohol; entire German units were drunk, gorged, and ineffective at times when they should have been pushing rapidly forward.

One thing that caught my attention was the use of air support. The British had air superiority; on days when the weather was good enough to fly British aircraft were able to strafe and interdict German movement – especially at places like the water crossing bottlenecks mentioned above. I didn’t think air interdiction had become important until World War II.

Rawson provides numerous maps; in the forward he says he was inspired by Noah Trudeau’s Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage and similarly provides maps for every phase of the action. Unfortunately, I didn’t find the maps very useful. They’re too small a scale and it’s hard to relate what’s going on at each divisional level action to the overall campaign.

Just as Rawson doesn’t give much of an introduction to Stosstruppen tactics, he also doesn’t follow up on their development. Because the British and French had defeated the Stosstruppen by the skin of their teeth, their military planners assumed they would not be a problem in the future. The Germans, however, developed them into the Blitzkrieg of WWII, with Panzers substituting for Stosstrupppen infantry. Now German armored columns could advance deep into enemy territory, with supplies, artillery and infantry support also cross-country mobile on tracked vehicles.

As mentioned, numerous small-unit maps. Contemporary photographs, bibliography, and what I thought was a sparse index. Useful for the specialist but probably not for the casual reader of WWI history. ( )
2 ääni setnahkt | Jun 20, 2021 |
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Englanninkielinen Wikipedia

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This is an account of the British Expeditionary Force's defensive battle in Flanders during April 1918. It begins with the planning for Operation Georgette, the second German offensive of the year. The attack on 9 April penetrated up to 6 miles on a 20 mile wide front across the Lys plain but further attacks resulted in the evacuation of the town of Armentières. For three weeks First Army and Second Army fought to stem the onslaught as GHQ struggled to find reserves to help them. The situation became so desperate that Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig had to issue his famous 'backs to the walls' order on 11 April. Reinforcements stopped the Germans reaching Hazebrouck rail center but they could not stop them reaching Bailleul. The French helped stem the tide but the battle climaxed with the loss of the Kemmelberg and the Scherpenberg, the two highest hills in Flanders. Each stage of the battle is given equal treatment, with detailed insights into the most talked about side of the campaign, the British side. Fifty maps chart the day by day progress of each corps on each day. This is an insight into the BEF's experience during this campaign. The men who made a difference are mentioned; those who led the advances, those who stopped the counterattacks and those who were awarded the Victoria Cross. Discover the Cambrai campaign and learn how the British Army's brave soldiers fought and died fighting to achieve their objectives.

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