- Allied & German Strategies For The Day.
The Germans continued the strategy adopted during the afternoon of the 12th. The emphasis was now focussed on pushing forwards with the inner wings of the Sixth & Fourth armies. Hazebrouck was no longer the main objective.
The Sixth Army’s main objectives for the day were the capture of Strazeele, Meteren & Bailleul. The objective of the Fourth Army was to capture the high ground between Bailleul and Neuve Eglise. The main objective was now the line of low hills that included Bailleul and Neuve Eglise.
The British strategy remained unchanged from that of the 12th, with the objective of completing the new main line of resistance by the close of the day.
The outcome of the day.
The Germans launched two major attacks during the 13th; one on an axis through Vieux Berquin and Merris (in the general direction towards the east of Hazebrouck) and another across the portion of front between Bailleul and Neuve Eglise. Both met with only limited success. In both cases the defending British positions were driven back in places, but the line was held thereby frustrating German ambitions of making a decisive break-through. Finally, by the end of the 12th, the new defensive line was in place with Major-General Walker (1st Australian Division) taking charge of the front at 9am on the 13th.
The German official history dourly noted that “the battle on 13th April was not fought under a lucky star”. By the end of the 13th the British had managed to move enough forces in front of Hazebrouck to establish a solid defensive barrier.
The British Official history recalls that an officer of the Alpine Corps after the war wrote the following to a British officer:
“To us, the 13th April 1918 was a disappointment. We were accustomed to definite success in obtaining our objectives every where, in Serbia, in front of Verdun, in Romania and Italy. For the first time, on this 13th April, we succeeded in gaining only a few hundred metres of ground. I think I must say that defenders on the British front in April 1918 were the best troops of the many with whom we had crossed swords in the course of the four and a quarter years.”
Moving from right to left across the battlefield from the British perspective:
- I Corps Sector.
- No change on this front; all German attempts defeated by fire.
- Left of XI Corps sector & right of XV Corps sector.
- 6:30 am to 6 pm – the “Defence Of The Nieppe Forest
- 6:30 am until noon. Holding back the main German attack; the stand of the 4th Guards. Four plus German Divisions of the 6th Army attack the Nieppe Forest towards Hazebrouck, but make little progress until late afternoon. This is the tactical incident referred to in the official history as “The Defence Of The Nieppe Forest” and is the first of the two major German attacks of the day.
- This sector directly covered Hazebrouck; an area lying approximately between Merville and Merris, centred on Vieux Berquin. This was held by the left wing of 95 Bde (50th Division), 4 Guards Bde (31st Division), remnants of 86th and 87th Bde (29th Division) – holding less than 1,000 yards – and also 92nd Bde (31st Division) with remnants of 92nd and 93rd Brigades attached as composite battalions.
- The 4th Guards Brigade with 12/KOYLI (attached pioneers of the 31st Division) take the worst of this prolonged assault. At the height of the fighting the greater part of three German Divisions attacked the 4,000 yard front held by 4Th Guards & adjacent units.
- Late afternoon; fall of Vieux Berquin & Merris. The Germans start to make progress by breaking into Vieux Berquin and, with enfilade fire, put tremendous pressure onto adjacent British positions. They also capture Merris.
- Morning until 6 pm; the Australians build a new main line of defence. The Australian 1st Division moves into line to build a fresh dam in front of Hazebrouck .
- 6 pm; the Australians take command. Orders are issued for Major General Walker (1st Australian Division) to take over command of the line from 9 am on the 13th. Orders for the withdrawal of most of the battered British Divisions are also issued, and the withdrawal plan commences.
- Left of XV Corps & right of IX Corps sectors.
- Morning & afternoon; the attack on Neuve Eglise. The refocused attacks against the line of the Flanders Hills around Baillieul against the left of XV Corps’ front & the right of IX Corps’ front continue, but ultimately fail. The greatest effort is made by the Germans in the sector covering Neuve Eglise,. Here the greater part of four German divisions attacked an area held by portions of three severely weakened British Brigades; the 75th, 100th & 148th, and succeed in gaining a foot hold in Neuve Eglise. This is the second of the two major German attacks of the day. Poor communications between the attacking German X Reserve Corps & XVIII Reserve Corps of the 4th Army results in elements firing on each other. Also, concentrations of British artillery are particularly effective at breaking-up attacks before they achieve momentum.
- The 34th Division, reorganised during the night of the 12th to comprise five front line brigades, was heavily attacked by elements of six German divisions – the major attack being that of the German 117th Division against the 102nd Brigade. This attack broke down when, luckily for the British, artillery of the adjacent German 214th Division shelled advancing infantry of the 117th.
(Photograph: Vieux Berquin. Circa 1910.)