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The Battle for Flanders: German Defeat on the Lys 1918 Kindle Edition
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First impressions are good! The assessment of the lead up to the German attacks in the Spring of 1918 is well-judged and reflects Baker's sound grasp of the realities of warfare on the Western Front. When the storm bursts on the Portuguese sector he avoids casual racism and points out why they did so badly - it wasn't anything to do with national characteristics or culture, but was rather more to do with men trapped in an unpopular war, neglected by their officers, lacking proper leave arrangements and charged with defending 10,000 yards of front in the face of an awesomely powerful German assault! Though some fought well most did as badly as you would expect - and as badly as the neighbouring 40th Division - who were British! What is interesting is the superb performance of the 55th Division. It just shows what could achieved by an 'ordinary' British division when carefully trained and prepared by their commanders.
The account of the battle that follows is detailed with the familiar tale of desperate defence and heroic deeds contrasting with equally numerous panicked withdrawals and the brave counter-attacks that followed - there is no common pattern. I was though delighted to see quotes from my IWM interviews with Joe Yarwood and Harry Hopthrow! We are also granted the obligatory mention - but tragically no quote - from the shy and retiring Graham Seton Hutchinson of the valliant 33rd Machine Gun Battalion!!!
Baker's thesis is that for all the Germans' dramatic early success they utterly failed to exploit their opportunities. They had not invested in the mechanization of supply and transport functions, they lacked the light tanks or cavalry to pursue and harry the British retreat, while their artillery were slowly left behind and gradually declined in effectiveness in support of the tiring German infantry as the battle wore on.
The book then charts the turn of the tide: the slowing pace of German assaults, the arrival of British and French (sparingly used by the watchful Foch) reserves and finally the German acceptance of failure as their offensive spluttered to a halt short of any significant strategic objective. Most of all I like the fact that he is clear-cut in his assessment of the Battle of Lys as a German defeat! In the end all they had gained was another useless salient that would prove difficult to defend. And there they would remain pending the British counter-attacks later in the year - but that is another story. An excellent book.
Not so here, where Mr. Baker has shouldered the immense task of distilling an account, from primary sources, of all units on all days that they were involved. So whether you are reading this because your ancestor was British, Australian, Portuguese, Belgian, French or German and in my case a machine gun lieutenant in the 19th Division, you will find direct reference to their part in the battle. By this dedication to research, he has truly done justice to a topic which has not previously been described in this detail.
The problem I had was with the maps, which are not detailed enough to show the multitude of farms, strong points and reserve lines referred to in the text, hence dropping a star in my rating. This will be the definitive text on this conflict, and should be reissued in special edition or electronic form with the detail maps essential to support the immense research which the author has done.
For me, this stands together with Dixon's 'Magnificent But Not War' as the best coherent and fine detailed account of a wide scale conflict that I have read.
The Battle for Flanders: The German Defeat on the Lys by Chris Baker covers the second German offensive, codenamed Georgette, against British between Ypres and the La Bassee Canal.
The offensive was launched `two hours before dawn in the thick fog on a cold, raw morning' on April 9.
The German aim was to drive its forces towards the English Channel and cut off lines of supply and communication to British forces in Ypres.
Baker, a former chairman of the Western Front Association and the brains behind the Great War website The Long, Long Trail, is a man who certainly knows his stuff about this battle.
The German attack on the River Lys had been, until now, an episode of the war which awaited its historian - Baker is now that historian.
The opening chapter explains how the British Army in early 1918, depleted from two years of attrition, faced the prospect of a serious German assault for the first time since 1915.
The assault was initially successful, on a tactical level at least. The Allied Portuguese division which sustained the brunt of the attack almost ceased to exist within 24 hours of the assault.
But tenacious British resistance, especially on the La Bassee canal deprived the Germans of the greater strategic breakthrough they needed to achieve a decisive result.
Nevertheless, the German attacks continued forcing the British to withdraw from much of the Ypres salient won at such high cost the previous autumn.
This withdrawal led to a German shift in focus away from driving towards the coast and the strategic Allied railhead at Hazebrook and towards Ypres.
This shift in focus marked the death-knell of the greater strategic vision for the attack as the German eyes now squarely fell on the capture of the town.
Despite the initial territorial acquisitions, Baker convincingly argues the attack on the Lys was, for Germany, a strategic defeat of its own making.
Simply put, Germany did not have the men, time or resources needed to breakthrough the line and force the British back against the coast.
While some readers may be familiar in British attacks at Ypres and on the Somme, the German defeat on the Lys perhaps played a more significant role in why Germany failed to win the war.
This makes the book a must for anyone who wants to find out more about this relatively unknown, yet highly significant battle, in the war's final year.
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