Western Front 1918: The German Offensives


The Battle of Courtrai, 14 - 19 October 1918

Almost two weeks were needed to restore roads within the morass of the Flanders battleground before offensive operations could be resumed. In this period the enemy was persistently harried. By 14 October the GAF was again ready to attack. Plumerís Second Army, though initially given a flank-protection role, played a hugely significant part in the fighting; aggressive eastward thrusts, up to and across the River Lys, supported Franco-Belgian advances to the north (towards Ghent) and assisted British Fifth Armyís advance past Lille, in the south.

British Army infantry moving forward to support front line troops. Australian War Memorial, H08903. Prior to assault, Second Armyís front ran roughly north-east, from Warneton (in the south) to the boundary with Belgian forces near St Pieter in the north; the southernmost British Corps lay along the Lys, the remaining formations ranged at varying distances from the river, reflecting its near easterly course beyond Comines.

Just before Zero-hour on Monday 14 October, the British barrage opened with a deafening clamour; minutes later (at 5.35am) infantry of the three attacking Corps, surged forward through thick mist and across the sodden wire-strewn ground. Good progress was made and many prisoners taken; by evening a gain of four miles had been made. Belgian assaults on the left were equally successful and the general attack was resumed with utmost ferocity the following day (15 October) forcing a German pull-back to the Lys that evening. In subsequent pursuit actions, 16-17 October, XV Corps (already across the river) pushed rapidly eastwards while enemy counter-attacks frustrated the more northerly British attempts to establish bridgeheads on the Lys; it was not until the night of 18/19 October that 35th Division got significant numbers of troops across the waterway. Courtrai was occupied on 19 October and    II Corps formations crossed the river that night. By morning of 20 October the whole front of Second Army was across the Lys.


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