Title - Battle of the Lys (Hazebrouck), 11th-13th April 1918

Just four days after the German Michael offensive on the Somme had been brought to a halt, a second offensive - Georgette - was launched to the north. At 4.15am on 9th April, an intense bombardment of high-explosive and gas shells burst over British and Portugese positions on a 10-mile (16km) front south of Armentieres. At 8.45am, upwards of 8 German divisions swept forward through thick fog and smoke. By nightfall, the line had been advanced by as much as 4½ miles (7km) where the Germans had established a bridgehead north of the River Lys at Bac St. Maur.

The following morning, the offensive front was extended north as far the Ypres-Comines canal. As German troops south of Armentieres continued to push north and west, British divisions still weakened from the Somme offensive were sucked into the battle.

After the fierce engagement in front of Ayette on 27th March, the 11th Bn. East Lancashire Regt. (Accrington Pals) was reorganising and training at Bailleul-aux-Cornailles when on 10th April it received orders to embus. At 5am on the following day - the day on which Haig issued his famous "backs to the wall" order - the battalion debussed near the village of Vieux Berquin, alongside its sister battalions from 92nd and 93rd Brigades (31st Division). At 11.15am, 92nd Brigade was pushed forward to dig-in on a line behind the village of Doulieu. The East Lancashires were kept in reserve, 1,000 yards (900m) behind the forward positions held by the 10th and 11th East Yorkshires (Hull Commercials and Hull Tradesmen). 93rd Brigade, which had first been ordered to move into a position to support 92nd Brigade, was at 2pm given orders to make a counter-attack on the left of the 11th East Yorkshires. The attack, made by 13th York and Lancasters (1st Barnsley Pals) and 18th Durham Light Infantry (Durham Pals) in failing light at 7pm and without artillery preparation, caught the enemy completely by surprise and succeeded in re-taking la Becque and la Rose Farm.

Situation at dawn on 12th April 1918, 29k

Overnight, the 11th East Yorkshires moved forward to relieve units of 40th Division and to re-establish contact with 93rd Brigade at Farm du Bois. The front was already under threat. Reports of large numbers of enemy troops moving through Neuf Berquin on the evening of the 11th had seen the East Lancashires ordered forward to form a defensive flank facing south; the battalion held the position until relieved by 29th Division during the night.

At daybreak on the 12th, 29th Division held the ground between 92nd Brigade and the Neuf Berquin - Vieux Berquin road. To the west of the road, the line was held by the newly-arrived 4th Guards Brigade of 31st Division.

At about 7.30am, enemy shelling began along the entire front held by the two divisions. By around 9am, a gap had opened up between 92nd Brigade and 29th Division as casualties rapidly mounted from an enemy field gun firing at a range of less than 1,000 yards (900m). At the same time, the right battalion of 93rd Brigade began to retire as enemy troops pressed forward, closely supported by mobile trench mortars and light artillery. With both flanks in danger of being turned, the two forward battalions of 92nd Brigade were forced to start withdrawing to the north-west at 10am.

The withdrawal under heavy shelling and machine gun fire was made all the more difficult by the waterways and hedges that divided the landscape; several men drowned in attempting to cross the deep and broad ditches. After allowing the 10th East Yorkshires to pass through their lines, the East Lancashires moved to cover the withdrawal of the brigade by extending their own front to the left. Lt. Harold Wilton was later awarded the Military Cross for leading his company to the battalion's left flank under point blank artillery fire and a hail of bullets from rifles and machine guns. The fire from Wilton's company was so effective that the enemy was forced to consolidate. At 11.30am, the battalion received orders to withdraw to a line on the right flank of the 10th East Yorkshires running west from Haute Maison.

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