In the wave of devastating German offensives launched in the spring of 1918, it is Operation Michael that has captured most attention, characterised by astonishing advances and their potentially shattering impact on the British Expeditionary Force’s (BEF) Third and Fifth armies. While this offensive eventually petered out, albeit tantalisingly close to the BEF’s crucial logistic hub of Amiens, German General Ludendorff redirected the German effort north to Flanders to launch Operation
Georgette. In Flanders, the BEF front line lay alarmingly close to the vital channel ports, and the main German thrust posed a direct threat to the town of Hazebrouck, the BEF’s second key logistic hub. After four years of grinding and horrific war, all that stood between the Germans and victory was the 1st Australian Division, hastily recalled to defend the town.
This volume describes the battle to save Hazebrouck — part of what was to become the Battle of the Lys — and focuses on the role of the 1st Australian Division in halting the surging German thrust towards the town. While often neglected by history, this action was critical to the survival of the BEF and the Allied war effort in 1918 and deserves far greater recognition. The Battle of the Lys also brings the performance of the BEF divisions during Operation Georgette into sharper focus while providing a unique opportunity to reassess BEF and German performances at what was a decisive point in the First World War.