The Spring Offensive was Germany’s last attempt to defeat the Allies on the Western Front. It was masterminded by First Quartermaster General Erich Ludendorff, who was effectively in command of the German army. In the aftermath of the Russian Revolutions, Russia had signed an Armistice with Germany. This meant that Germany could now transfer its troops from the Eastern to the Western front. However, the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917, so Germany had to try and win total victory before the Americans would arrive in Europe.
Ludendorff’s plan was to split the British army from the French in the Somme region and then turn north to eliminate the British line. The strategy was only based on tactical and psychological calculations. Indeed, Ludendorff hoped that the British troops, who were trained in trench combat, would be vulnerable in a mobile war.
The first operation of the Spring Offensive, codenamed “Michael”, began on 21st March 1918. Sixty German divisions, from three armies, attacked along an 80-km front from Arras to St Quentin. At 4.20am, 6,473 German guns and 3,582 mortars bombarded the Allied lines for five hours. The ‘stormtroopers’ then advanced and penetrated the battered Allied defences. In Arras the British 3rd Army resisted and halted the advance but further south, the 5th Army, overwhelmed by the heavy artillery fire, was forced to retreat northward. The German armies crossed the Somme and advanced towards Paris. They engaged in shelling Paris with their “Big Bertha” cannons from their position, some 80 miles from the French capital.
Ludendorff mistakenly thought the British to de defeated and decided to reinforce the offensive in the south to cut off the communication roads to the French lines. By 5th April 1918, the Germans had captured 3,100km² (the biggest gain of territory on the Western Front by either side since 1914). However, they had captured no positions of value, and had failed to isolate the British army from their French allies. In the following months, attempts to break the Western Allies were renewed, repeating the strategy of Operation Michael.
Operation Georgette started on 9th April 1918 and was followed by Operation Blücher on 27th May 1918 at the Chemin des Dames. It was a diversion to attract French reserves away from Flanders. Operation Gneisenau started on 9th June 1918 on the Matz but was also inconclusive and lastly, Operation Marneschutz-Reims, launched on 15th July 1918, did not achieve the desired total victory. The Allies, led by the French, launched a counterattack on 18th July 1918.
The Germans had advanced 40 miles into the Allied lines and had taken 1,000 guns and captured 70,000 prisoners. However, the German Spring Offensive was a failure, due to command errors. The German army only achieved tactical successes. They lacked the necessary reserves and supplies to cope with the casualties they suffered. The troops were exhausted and demoralized. Also, they were stretched out on a front 120-km longer than in March 1918. The Allies had also lost heavy casualties but could cope better with the losses as General John Pershing sent thousands of fresh American troops to the Western Front.
Casualties: the Allies suffered 200,000 casualties during Operation Michael alone, including 70,000 men taken as prisoners of war; the Germans suffered nearly 1 million casualties throughout the Spring Offensive.
The Battle of the Lys is also known as “The Lys Offensive” and “The Fourth Battle of Ypres”. It was part of the 1918 German Spring Offensive in Flanders. The battle marked the start of “Operation Georgette”, the second Spring Offensive. The aim was to capture the town of Ypres and the surrounding high ground around Messines. Eight German divisions of 100,000 men were in position for the offensive.
The 1st and 2nd British Armies were separated by the natural barrier of the River Lys. The 1st Army, in the south, was commanded by General Horne and the 2nd Army, in the north, was commanded by General Plumer. The Germans had planned to attack first the 1st British army and to capture railways and supply roads to cut off the 2nd Army at Ypres.
The Portuguese Expeditionary Corps, commanded by General Gomes da Costa, were at Neuve Chapelle. Some of the troops of the 2nd Division had been sent to the rear for a period of rest and 20,000 men remained on the front. General Horne agreed to move the Portuguese division to the rear of the front as well. They started to pack during the night of the 8th April 1918. They were taken by surprise by the German assault. The German attack was preceded by a 2-day artillery bombardment. At 4.15am on 9th April 1918, the German fired a barrage of gas and explosive shells. The Portuguese were blinded and cut off from the British troops. The German infiltration tactics of ‘stormtroopers’, or ‘Stroßtruppen’, proved very efficient and they captured 6,500 Portuguese. Horne’s 1st Army had to pullback to cover the gap created by the Portuguese. The 55th British Division managed to halt the advance of the German army. On the first day, the Germans achieved a breakthrough of about 5 miles into the Allied line, on 10 miles of front, and reached Estaires.
From the 10th April, the British were in a precarious position. Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig issued his “backs to the wall” order:
‘There is no other course open to us but to fight it out! Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the walls, and believing in the justice of our cause, each of us must fight on to the end.’
Haig asked General-in-Chief Marshall Ferdinand Foch for full scale reinforcements. Foch did not agree at first. He moved French units to the Lys and sent the 5th and 33rd British Divisions and the 1st Australian Division on 14th April 1918.
On 10th April 1918, the German launched another attack to capture Messines. On 12th April 1918 the German planned to capture Hazebrouk, a key Allied logistics centre. However, on 14th April, the 1st Australian Division halted the advance. The Germans advanced still and took Mount Kemmel on 25th April 1918 and captured the high point Scherpernberg on 29th April 1918. With the arrival of the French and Australian reinforcements, the attack had begun to stall and Ludendorff call of the attack on 29th April 1918. Despite the arrival of their troops from the Eastern front, the German could not cope with such heavy losses, whereas the arrival of the American troops meant that the Allies could cope well with heavy losses on the battlefield.
Casualties: 120,000 German men were killed, wounded or missing; 7,000 Portuguese casualties, including 400 men killed and 6,500 taken as prisoners of war; 82,000 British and French men were killed and 32,000 were missing.
Christopher was born of James and Margaret Atter of Windybrow, Melton Mowbray. His elder brother James Edward was also killed during the war.
Bank House, 1911 - Christopher is sat at the front in the centre.
Christopher attended Oakham School between 1910 and 1914. His school achievements are listed below:
In his sporting career, the Oakhamian Magazine made comments upon his rugby prowess.
Winter 1913 Rugby review: ‘A sturdily-built out-half and a strong runner. Tackles well and goes down to the ball to stop rushes. Has a good idea of cutting through, but frequently spoils good openings by sticking too closely to the ball.’
Christopher left school prematurely before the start of Form 6 to go and serve in the war. He enlisted on 14th August 1914 and went to RMC Sandhurst in November 1915. He joined the 1st Battalion Leicestershire Regiment, 71 Brigade, 6th Division on 18th July 1916 as a Lieutenant.
Leicestershire Regiment badge.
His battalion left for France on 19th July 1916. He was a platoon commander in C Company. He was wounded during the war. He took part in the Battle of Saint Quentin and was killed in the German offensive on 21st Match 1918. Thrirteen other Rutlanders dies on that day. His Commanding officer wrote: "His company was sent forward to assist a battalion that was holding a front system of trenches. The company had much heavy fighting and that evening returned to a Reserve Line, having lost every Officer except one (later killed) and the greater portion of the men. The Company did most gallant work, and stopped the enemy rush to a great extent, and caused the enemy heavy losses."
Christopher was killed on 21st March 1918. He was 19.
Roll of honour in the Oakhamian Magazine, Summer term 1918, Vol.34, no.2
Christopher is remembered on bay 5 of the Arras Memorial and in Oakham School chapel.
Harry was born in Llanelli, Wales, to Frederick George and Sarah Ann Gough. Harry was educated at Llandovery School and Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. He played rugby and hockey for the University. He obtained a BA in Natural Science in 1902. He became an Assistant master at Neuenheim College, Heidelberg, Germany until 1904 then at Lancaster Grammar School for seven years.
Harry was a member of staff at Oakham School between 1911 and Spring 1915. He was a Science Master and was involved in the Debating Society, the Games’ Committee and the Officers’ Training Corps:
Harry married Martha Reid Fullerton of Shelfield, Ramilton, County Donegal, on 22nd August 1912 at Rutland square in Dublin. Their daughter Kathleen was born on 21st May 1913 and their son Henry in 1917. He was gazetted Second Lieutenant to the Oakham School O.T.C. in Winter 1914.
Oakham School Rugby XV 1914 - Harry is standing fourth from left.
He left the school in Spring 1915 to join the 17th Welsh Regiment as a Lieutenant. His battalion was sent to France on 2nd June 1916.
Welsh Regiment badge.
Harry was promoted Captain on 1st July 1916. He became a Major and Acting Lieutenant Colonel. He fought at Welsh Ridge, Bourlon Wood and was injured on 13th April 1918 by shell splinters. He died of wounds at a Casualty Clearing Station on 22nd April 1918. He was 38.
Roll of honour in the Oakhamian Magazine, Summer term 1918, Vol.34, no.2
Harry was awarded the Military Cross. The London Gazette on 24th July 1917 reported that he received the Military Cross “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He has done splendid work when in charge of parties recovering mines. He was also instrumental in rescuing eight men from a demolished cellar. This work was accomplished under heavy fire, and occupied several hours.”
He was awarded a Bar to his Military Cross for his actions at Bourlon Wood, “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He led his company in the most gallant manner, and was largely responsible for the success of the operations. He set a splendid example to his men.” (Gazette, 1st February 1918).
Harry was awarded a Bar to his Military Cross, reported in the Gazette, 1918.
Harry is buried in grave I.C.22 at Arneke Military Cemetery. He is remembered in Oakham School chapel.
Evan was born to Evan Hanbury and his wife, of Manor House, Braunston. His father was a Trustee to Oakham School.
Evan attended Oakham School between 1895 and 1896. Unfortunately we do not have any record of his achievements at Oakham School.
After school, Evan was educated at Cheam where he was Captain of rugby and Eton where he played cricket and rugby and was junior Keeper of the School Fires. He went to new College, Oxford, where he was Master of the Drag. He won the Billington Cup and the Inter-university Challenge Cup in 1907. He obtained a BA with Honours. He became a director in the family firm of Trumans, Hanbury and Buxton’s Brewery. He married Sophia Olive Jacobson in 1912. They had one son, James, in 1914.
He was commissioned in the Leicestershire Yeomanry.
Leicestershire Yeomanry badge.
He joined the Regiment in August 1914. He was a Major. His battalion took part in the Second Battle of Ypres. Evan was wounded in 1916 and repatriated home. He returned to France and was attached to the 14th Battalion The Machine Gun Corps.
The Machine Gun Corps badge.
Evan fought at the Battle of St Quentin. He was reported wounded and missing near Hamel on the Somme on 23rd March 1918 during the German Spring Offensive.
Evan was killed on 23rd March 1918. He was 30.
Roll of honour in the Oakhamian Magazine, Easter term 1919, Vol.35, no.1
Evan was mentioned in Sir Douglas Haig’s dispatch on 18th April 1918.
Evan is remembered on panel 6 at the Pozières Memorial, in Braunston, in Oakham Castle and in Oakham School chapel.
The memorial in Braunston.
John was born of Reverend Canon Thomas F. Jerwood and Dorothea E. of Little Bowden Rectory, Market Harborough. His brother, Reverend F.H. Jerwood, was Chaplain at Oakham School.
John is standing next to Basil Vaughan Wood.
John attended Oakham School between 1899 and 1909. His school achievements are listed below:
Oakham School Cricket 1st XI 1906 – John is sitting front left.
Oakham School Cricket 1st XI 1907 – John is sitting second row far left.
Oakham School Cricket 1st XI 1908 – John is sitting in the centre.
Oakham School Cricket 1st XI 1909 – John is sitting in the centre.
Oakham School Rugby 1st XV 1906 – John is standing fourth from right.
Oakham School musicians in 1906 - John is standing second from left.
The Easter term 1908 Entertainment group - John is sat on the left.
In his sporting career, the Oakhamian Magazine made comments upon both his cricket and rugby prowess.
Summer 1906 Cricket review: ‘A lucky rather than good batsman; he can hit hard on the off but is very weak on the leg side; is a useful change bowler, and as a rule, safe in the field’.
Summer 1907 Cricket review: ‘Played one good innings, viz., against the Past, but otherwise did little as a batsman: his bowling seems to have left him altogether; a safe field.’
Summer 1908 Cricket review: ‘A vigorous and fairly consistent batsman, and sound field; he might have put himself onto the ball oftener; and so given his regular bowlers more rest’.
Summer 1909 Cricket review: ‘Fell off unaccountably as a batsman and this particular was a pronounced failure; he bowled with success on some occasions and was to be relied on not to give away runs in the field.’
Winter 1905 Rugby review: ‘Should prove a reasonably good half-back when he has finished growing; at present much too slow in setting his three-quarters going; he must also learn to take his passes on the run.’
Winter 1906 Rugby review: ‘Three-quarter; he has done very well in his new position and should prove a great success there another season; he is an excellent kick and a good collar, but his catching of the ball is not yet safe enough.’
Winter 1907 Rugby review: ‘The strongest defensive player in the three-quarter line. He must consider his partners more and not hand on to the ball so long; a fine kick.’
Winter 1908 Rugby review: ‘The mainstay of the three-quarter line; he is a strong, though not particularly speedy, runner and a really good kick; his defence has been beyond criticism.’
After school, John obtained a BA at Jesus College, Cambridge. He stroked Head of River (Lent) in 1910 and 1911, and Head of River (May) in 1912. At Henley he rowed in the Final Heat Grand Challenge 1910, and stroked in the Ladies' Plate again at Henley 1912. He became a School master at Winton House School, Winchester. He married Cecilia Mary and had a son, John Michael who went to Oakham School. He came back to school on 19th December 1912 to play in the Rugby match School vs OO (lost 24-9) alongside Charles Caldwell Sills. On 11th October 1916, he came back to school to lecture to the O.T.C. on “The Duties of an Officer”.
He enlisted as a Private in the Artists' Rifles on 14th August 1914. He was then commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in September 1914 and went out to France on 15th May 1915. In August 1916, he was promoted to Captain, and in November 1917, to Major in the 10th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry attached to 6th Battalion, Prince Albert’s Somerset Light Infantry, 43 Brigade, 14th Division.
Durham Light Infantry badge.
John was twice wounded and once invalided home. He was killed in action, probably by a bullet, near Cerisy, on the 21st March 1918, the first day of the great German Spring Offensive.
John died on 21st March 1918. He was 28.
Roll of honour in the Oakhamian Magazine, Christmas term 1918, Vol.34, no.3
He was awarded the Military Cross in 1917 for gallantry and devotion to duty. "For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He maintained his position, regardless of withdrawals on his right and left and of the fact the enemy had penetrated the line on both his flanks. He displayed a coolness and fearlessness which inspired all ranks with confidence."
The Military Cross.
He is remembered on panel 68 at Pozières Memorial of the missing, on the war memorial at Little Bowden and on the Oakham School chapel.
Donald was born in Oakham to Reverend William Fitzroy and Anna Helen Neilson of Lyddington, Uppingham. His younger brother Malcolm Arthur also died in the war.
Donald attended Oakham School between 1901 and 1902. His school achievements are listed below:
After school, Donald went to Door House, Westgate where he stayed between 1903 and 1908. He then went to St Bee’s, Cumbria between 1908 and 1911. He gained an Open Scholarship to Keble College, Oxford. He enlisted as Second Lieutenant in the 1st Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment, 62 Brigade, 21st Division on 15th August 1914. He was promoted to Captain. His battalion fought in France from December 1914 and was involved at Mametz Wood, the Battle of Loos, Hooge, Givinchy, Delville Wood, Cambria, Neuve Chapelle, the Battle of the Somme and the German attacks of 21st-28th March 1918.
Lincolnshire Regiment badge.
Donald was killed in action at Wytschaete, near Kemmel Hill, in the Battle of the Lys on 15th April 1918. He was 25.
Roll of honour in the Oakhamian Magazine, Summer term 1918, Vol.34, no.2
Donald received the Military Cross and collected his medal from the King in January 1917: “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. When in charge of a company he met an enemy breakthrough by forming a defensive flank and checked it. With much cheerfulness and courage he organised several bombing attacks, and held his original trenches intact. Subsequently during the retirement, he was conspicuous for good leadership, carrying out difficult operations with complete disregard for personal danger. Later, he held an exposed forward position completely isolated from his brigade, and the stubborn resistance he made was of incalculable value to the success of the operation.” (London Gazette, 29th December 1916).
Donald was awarded a Distinguished Service Order for his actions during the German attacks of March 1918. The Times Newspaper DSO list for the 26th July 1918 reports: “When in charge of a company he met an enemy break through by forming a defensive flank and checked it. With much cheerfulness and courage he organised several bombing attacks, and held his original trenches intact. Subsequently, during the retirement, he was conspicuous for good leadership, carrying out difficult operations with complete disregard for personal danger. Later he held an exposed forward position completely isolated from his brigade, and the stubborn resistance he made was of incalculable value to the success of the operation”.
Donald's DSO in The Times Newspaper, 1918.
Men under his command said of him: "He was a man of great worth and charm. It would have been as hard to upset the balance of his character as the serenity of his temper." "Nothing could depress him, and no circumstances arose with which he was not able to deal. He was always in the thick of the fight, and never spared himself in any way. His death will be a terrible loss to the division and the nation." "He had before him a career of great promise, and the charm of his personality, the strength of his character, and the high level of his ability would have carried him a long way."
He is remembered on panel 35 at the Tyne Cot Memorial, on the memorial in Lyddington, on St Bees School memorial, on the memorial at Stroke Dry and in Oakham School chapel.