12th April – The Day Of Crisis.

Allied & German Strategies For The Day.

The Allied strategy for the 12th was to contain the Germans primarily by using existing troops already committed to the battle. The decision was to “patch and mend” the line using the bare minimum of resources necessary, whilst buying time for the construction of a new line of defence about a mile to the rear by  fresh troops being moved up of the 1st Australian Division.

The German strategy during the morning of the 12th was to focus the main effort on the drive to Hazebrouck. At noon General Ludendorff issued orders to re-focus the maximum effort away from Hazebrouck eastwards against Bailleul and beyond. The new objective was the line of the Flanders hills, which ran in a north easterly direction behind Bailleul towards Messines and onwards to Ypres.

The Outcome Of The Day.

The Germans punched two large salients into the Allied lines; two bulges on either side of the village of Vierhouck in front of Hazebrouck. The northern salient was approximately 3 miles deep by 5 miles wide, and the southern salient approximately 2 miles deep by 7 miles wide.

The Germans failed in their objectives of reaching either Hazebrouck or Baillieul.

Conversely, the allies succeed in their objective by holding the line, whilst work continued on creating the new defensive line to the rear.

 

Major Events.

Moving from right to left across the battlefield from the British perspective:

  • XI Corps Sector.
  • Morning & noon. The Germans repeatedly attack XI Corps, who are holding the right of the line.
    • Against XI Corps, the Germans had 2 notable successes:
    • Morning; 5 am. The 68th IR (68th Infantry Regiment of the 16th Division) break through the line held by the 152nd and 153rd Brigades at Pacaut. In an hour they advance 2000 yards into the British positions & almost reach Robecq, thus creating the shape of the major part of the southern salient by mid-morning of 12th April.
    • Towards 1 pm; infantry of the 18th Reserve Division break into the northern end of Locon, but are held, thus creating the “right shoulder” at the bottom end of the southern salient.

 

12th April – Morning

  • Morning & afternoon. The arrival of the 5th Division. To counteract attacks on XI Corps, the fresh “full sized” 12 battalion strong 5th Division (fresh from Italy) move in wholesale & take over the left and centre of XI Corps’ position, relieving the remains of the 50th Division & taking-over some of the ground held by the 61st Division. This in turn enables the 61st and 51st Divisions to combine and consolidate defences over a narrower front.
  • 8 am to 11 am. The arrival of the Guards. The fresh 4th Guards Brigade (31st Division) move up and take over from the exhausted remains of the 149th Brigade (50th Division). They establish and hold key positions at the centre of the battlefield (Vierhouck) against repeated attacks.

 

  • XV Corps Sector.
  • 11 am to 2 pm. The Germans attempt to exploit a gap between the left wing of 4th Guards Brigade & the right wing of the 87th Brigade, almost breaking into Vieux Berquin.
  • 7 am; the main German attack centred on the join of 29th & 31st Divisions. Six German Divisions launch an attack aimed at the front line positions in the centre of the battlefield being held by the reduced units of the 29th, 31st and 34th Divisions. The Official History records “their principal effort being made by a fresh division, the 81st Reserve, against the 86th Brigade (of the 29thDivision)”.
    • 8 am to noon. The Germans advance up the line of the Meteren Becque; splitting the 86th and 92nd Brigades. Near Ferme Du Bois, they also succeed on splitting the 92nd and 93rd Brigades, inflicting serious losses through enfilade fire.
    • Noon to 6:30 pm. The line becomes untenable, and the mass retirement of the 29th, 31st and 34th Divisions begins. By 6:30 pm these Divisions are all holding the “end of day” line in front of Vieux Berquin, Merris & Bailleul.
  • 5 pm.; the 33rd Division save Meteren.  A large gap is punched in the line between the join of the 31st and 34th Division at the site of the “12th April end of day line”; the Germans threaten Meteren. The 19th Brigade, 33rd Division, plus machine gun companies of the 33rd Division and also XXII Corps’ Reserve Battalion are rushed into the line and successfully seal the gap, thus saving Meteren from capture.

13th April – Evening

(Photograph: Bleu to Vieux Berquin. Circa 1915.)