14th April 1918
Royal Guernsey Light Infantry fights at Ypres
The Battle of Lys was Germany’s spring 1918 attempt to capture Ypres and push British forces out of northern France. The Royal Guernsey Light Infantry (RGLI) was sent to face the German army at Le Doulie. It suffered losses of 80%. The battle began on 9 April, with the RGLI first seeing action the following day.
A lengthy campaign
German artillery had spent the two days before the campaign bombarding British forces before moving forward. The British positions were difficult to defend, and in places they had no choice but to pull back. They regrouped at their strongest point, and held out for the duration of the first part of the German offensive, known as the Battle of Estaires.
As Germany pressed on, the British position became more desperate. Douglas Haig, Commander-in-chief of the British Army issued a directive that his forces were to keep fighting. He decreed that the battle would be won by whoever could keep going the longest.
Many amongst us now are tired. To those I would say that Victory will belong to the side which holds out the longest. The French Army is moving rapidly and in great forces to our support. There is no other course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end. The safety of our homes and the Freedom of mankind alike depend upon the conduct of each one of us at this critical moment.
Allied regrouping, and the German withdrawal
Over the next three days, the Allied lines for thinner. Haig ordered a discrete regrouping, with those at the front giving cover for a mass movement of men and munitions behind them. The allowed British troops to regroup more densely, and they easily saw off the next German advance.
German high command called an end to the campaign on 29 April. It had realised by then that it couldn’t be won.