Topic: BatzWF - Westn Front
France, 14-17 April 1918
Hazebrouck, an action during what is more generally called the Battle of the Lys in April 1918, caused when the Germans launched an extension of their offensive begun on 21 A-larch. The enemy aimed their blow between Armentieres and La Bassee, at a section of the front held by the Portuguese Corps-who they rightly assessed had little commitment to fighting for the Allies' cause. When attacked on 9 April, the Portuguese broke. A second stroke the next day, falling north of Armentieres, carried the German offensive towards Messines and placed in peril the whole of the British Front in Flanders. Also threatened was Hazebrouck, a crucial rail centre, some 30 kilometres west of Armentieres.
The defences of the Messines sector had been vacated barely a week earlier by the 1st and 2nd Australian divisions, these being sent to follow the rest of the Australian Corps towards Amiens. Even so, some Australian units which remained-artillery and tunnellers mostly-became caught up in this fighting associated with the British withdrawal. The 1st Division, under Major General Harold Walker, was hastily re-entrained and returned north. Arriving on 12 April, the Australians became part of the British Second Army reserve and took up defensive positions about eight kilometres east of Hazebrouck, extending south from Strazeele to in front of the Nieppe Forest. By dusk the next day, all retreating troops had passed through and the Australian posts were effectively_ the new front line; both the division's flanks touched with British formations--on the left the 33rd Division, on the right the 5th Division.
After an artillery barrage beginning at 6.30 a.m. on 14 April, the Germans launched their attacks. These were broken up by answering British guns, and by devastating rifle and machine-gun fire whenever the enemy ranks reached close range. Nowhere were the Australian posts seriously threatened. When the enemy attacks against the 33rd Division saw the town of Meteren fall on 16 April, the 1st Brigade (holding the left of the Australian front) was required to push out its flank in this direction, to support a counter-attack ordered to be made at dusk by the French 133rd Division but which never took place.
While the Australian front was thus extended, the next morning it was subjected to another heavy bombardment foretelling an attack to follow. The enemy were easily driven off, however, and repeated attempts to advance throughout the day were defeated before they could get underway. The next day, 18 April, the Australian Division was ordered to sideslip further north and relieve the French at Meteren. This was accomplished by inserting the 3rd Brigade (under Brig.-General Gordon Bennett), until then in reserve, on the 1st Brigade's left, and withdrawing the 2nd Brigade from the right into reserve after its positions were taken over by the 31st Division. Following this adjustment, an attempt was made by the 3rd Brigade to recapture Meteren in a two phase operation carried out over successive nights. The first phase (on 22-23 April) went smoothly, but the second was sharply repulsed-bringing casualties in the failed attempt to about 200. Nonetheless the Allied line in this area had been stabilised, and the Germans confined their efforts to seizing high ground west of Messines.
Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, pp. 142-143.
Additional References cited by Chris Coulthard-Clark:
C.E.W. Bean (1937) The Australian Imperial Force in France during the Main German Offensive, 1918, Sydney: Angus & Robertson.
Citation: Hazebrouck, France, April 14 to 17, 1918