The Lys

The First Battle of Kemmel

On 16 April 1918 Méteren and Wijtschate fell and the Germans came to the foot of Mont Kemmel.

At dawn on 17 April 1918 the Germans launched a thunderous assault from Houthulst Forest against the Belgian Front Line at Merkem and Kippe. Just in front of the village they succeeded in breaking through and for a tantalising moment for the German High Command it looked as though they were going to achieve what all sides had been attempting since those heady days of glory in 1914 - the ability to out flank and roll up the enemy's line.

The Belgians, however, were fighting for the last few kilometres of their country and were not going to be so easily dealt with. They tenaciously held the remainder of their front line and counter attacked with such vigour that they drove the Germans back and re-established their front line.

The Belgians took nearly 800 prisoners and 60 machine guns. Most of the Belgian casualties were from their 3rd Division who have a monument just outside Kippe. They however inflicted three times as many casualties on the assaulting Bavarians.

3rd Division Memorial at Kippe 3rd Division Memorial at Kippe

The northern pincer movement of von Ludendorff's Operation Tannenberg had failed. Within two weeks it would become apparent that this heroic stand by the Belgian Army had thwarted Ludendorff's aspirations in Flanders. By holding the line on their own they had released British Divisions which would prove vital in the next few weeks.

South of Ieper Mont Kemmel was held in a thin defensive line by the British 19th Division.

At 08:30 hours following two and a half hours of bombardment, the German infantry attacked the British lines but were bloodily beaten off and failed to break through.

That evening the French 28th Division took over responsibility for the Front Line at Kemmel and the hill itself. They also held the rear at the Scherpenberg, a smaller hill to the north west of Kemmel and where the British had undergone training in June 1917 for the great victory at Messines - now back in German hands after the briefest of struggles.

The situation was becoming increasingly difficult for the Allies and considerations about a strategic withdrawal were put forward. Such thoughts were rebuffed by General Foch who dispatched a further 3 French Divisions to bolster the British Line.

A quiet interlude

From the 19th to the 24th April the Germans appeared to have called a halt to their attack, and new worries began in the Allied camp that a new strike was being planned elsewhere - perhaps once again on the Somme ?

In fact the Germans were merely preparing their assault on Mont Kemmel.

By the morning of 25 April the French had taken over the entire line between Bailleul (Now in German hands) and Spanbroekmolen, where the Irish and Ulster Divisions had, side by side, stormed through the German lines less than a year before.

Villers-Bretonneux Villers-Bretonneux

On 24 April away to the south the Germans launched an attack and took the town of Villers-Bretonneux to the east of Amiens on the Somme. Their victory would be short lived, for Australian troops on the 25th (ANZAC Day) retook the town and made it so much their own, that today it hosts the major Australian commemoration.

Whilst the Australians were enjoying their success on the Somme, the French were about to go through hell in Flanders.


The Second Battle for Kemmel The Second Battle for Kemmel