Information panels will contain a large display of photos and maps of the Kemmelberg and the 1918 German offensives, specifically operation “Georgette”. Below is a basic summary:
Operation “Georgette” was the codename for the second of five major offensives planned by General Ludendorff for 1918. By the end of 1917 the German generals were starting to realise that Germany was in a bad position and it would be difficult for them to win the war. Britain’s navy had successfully blockaded Germany and they were becoming desperately short of both food and raw materials. In 1917 Russia agreed a peace settlement with Germany releasing a large amount of soldiers and supplies for the final German effort on the western front.
This was Germany’s final chance; they were losing men and resources which they weren’t able to replace. The allies on the other hand were becoming stronger with an ever increasing amount of supplies and men coming from America. By the end of the war 2 million American troops had arrived with 2 million more in training.
By 1918 the German civilian population was also suffering and they were beginning to starve, their daily intake had been reduced to 1000 calories a day. The only solution would be a negotiated peace or a last throw of the dice to win the war. General Ludendorff believed that if he couldn’t win the war at least he could make some tactical gains with the remains of what he had left. Germany would then be in a better position to negotiate. Germany had been made offers of peace already but General Ludendorff refused them.
“Georgette” was part of that last throw of the dice; it was also one of Germany’s last major successes with the capture of the strategically important Kemmelberg. It was a fast moving series of battles in which the allied armies lost a lot of ground that had been won at great cost over the previous 3 years. It began on the 9th April 1918 and lasted three weeks ending on the 29th April 1918. The battle of the Kemmelberg was said by some French veterans to have been more intense and savage than Verdun. The total losses to the British, French, Belgian and Germans were over 190,000 of approximately 86,000 German, 76,000 British and 30,000 French and Belgian soldiers all in a very short period, but the battle is virtually unknown.
The German objectives were to try and capture the rail junctions at Hazebrook and Bailleul then continue on to the British controlled channel ports of Calais and Dunkirk thus separating the British Army from the French. The German control of Ypres would ensure protection of the German-held naval bases at Zeebrugge and Ostend. The British needed control of these ports to prevent the Germans from sinking allied supply ships.
At the time of WW1 all rail junctions were very important places as rail was the most efficient method of re-supply before the advent of decent roads and motor transport. If the ports had been lost there would be no more supplies of food, ammunition, or the possibility of extraction of the wounded and most importantly soldiers that were coming in increasing numbers fresh and fit from America. Therefore the rail junction at Hazebrook was extremely important to the re-supply of the British Army in the Ypres salient.
The first German offensive was operation “Michael” from 21st March to 5th April 1918. The principle objective was to take the rail junction at Amiens. Had either Hazebrook or Amiens been lost it would have severely weakened the British, the loss of both would have been fatal.
1918 Map of Main Railway lines in Belgium and Northern France highlighted in red. The direction of attack on the 9th April to the maximum gains achieved at the end of the Offensive on the 29th April.
A very brief Diary of Georgette 9th – 29th April 1918:
Battle of Estaires (9-11 April, 1918)
9th April. After a heavy bombardment the German Sixth Army attacked between Givenchy and Fleurbaix over-running the Portuguese at La Bassee.
10th April. The German Forth Army attacked between Fleurbaix and Frelinghien north of Armentieres.
Steenwerk, Estaires, Armentieres, Ploegsteert, Messines and Oosterverne were lost.
Although Foch still believed the attack was a diversion he cautiously moved his Tenth followed by his Fifth Army slightly north. He knew the consequences of losing the ports if he was wrong. By evening the Germans had taken 11,000 prisoners and 146 artillery pieces.
Battle of Messines, 1918 (10-11 April, 1918)
11th April. Field Marshal Haig issued to the troops his famous “backs to the wall “order.
Field Marshal Haig requested a minimum of 4 French divisions to assist General Plumer’s Second army in the need to protect Hazebrook. General Foch agreed.
Battle of Hazebrouck (12-15 April, 1918)
12th April. The Germans were within 5 miles of Hazebrook. Midday General Ludendorff ordered maximum effort on Bailleul; this gave the British much needed time to reinforce Hazebrook.
Battle of Bailleul (13-15 April, 1918)
13th April. The Germans had a bad day by failing to capture any of its objectives. The Australian 1st Division joined with the 4th Guards Brigade in front of Hazebrook. General Ludendorff’s objective was now protected by the allies so the attention was turned to the Hills of the Kemmelberg and Mont des Cats in an attempt to encircle Ypres.
14th April. Wulverghem lost. Field Marshal Foch was now supreme commander of allied forces. The French 28th, 133rd and the IInd Cavalry Corp were now under the command of the British General Plumer and were put in the defence of the Kemmelberg.
15th April. The situation had become so dire that the hard won village of Passchendaele was evacuated to shorten the line right back in front of Ypres. The shortening of the line was to release desperately needed soldiers to fight in the battle sometimes referred to as 4th Ypres.
16th April. Meteren, Bailleul, Wijtshate lost.
First Battle of Kemmel (17-19 April, 1918)
17th April. The Belgians were attacked north of Ypres between Langemark and Merckem in an attempt to split them from the British second army and encircle Ypres. It failed after a brilliant defence from the Belgians. Georgette was starting to fall apart.
Battle of Bethune (18 April, 1918)
19th April. Kemmelberg was attacked and repulsed. Exhausted, the Germans paused.
Second Battle of Kemmel (25-26 April, 1918)
25th April. The Germans last effort, Dranouter and the Kemmelberg were lost.
Battle of the Scherpenberg (29th April, 1918)
By the 29th The Germans were briefly in Locre, stopped in Voormezelee, Hellfire Corner, Potijze, Wieltje, and Merckem. General Ludendorff stopped the attack.
The Germans stayed in the region until the end of August leaving the Kemmelberg and Dranouter on the 29th August.
Every year Dranouter commemorates liberation day on the 29th August. Details on request.
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