Operation Georgette. The April Offensive 1918
On Saturday 6 April 1918 the Nationalist and Leinster Times editorial said: ‘For more than a fortnight the Germans have been on the offensive on that part of the Western Front with Amiens as the objective. Amiens is regarded as a most important strategic position so much so that French experts make no secret of the opinion that if Amiens falls to their enemy a large portion of the English channel coast will be in control of the Germans.’ By the time readers in Co. Kildare had comprehended this information Gen. Ludendorff called a halt to Operation Michael, admitting that the attempt at a breakthrough had failed ‘because the enemy resistance was beyond our powers’. By 5 April the German advance between the Oise and the Somme had come to a halt as much from tiredness and a shortage of supplies as from any resistance or counter-attacks put in by Allied forces.
The halting of the German attack came too late the save the career of the Curragh Mutiny ‘hero’ General Sir Hubert Gough, who was sacked by Lloyd George. The British premier was aware of the part his own failure to supply reinforcements to the armies in France had played in the March Retreat and needed a scapegoat before the bulk of the blame was pinned on him. The wily Welshman confided in Sir Douglas Haig that he held Gough directly responsible for the disaster that had befallen the Fifth Army. Haig defended his general but it was to no avail. Gough was sent home, never to hold an active command again.
He had hardly left when on 9 April the second German offensive, code-named Georgette was launched on a 12-mile front between the La Bassée Canal and Ypres. The attack was well-timed, for in the previous ten days a number of divisions on this front had been sent as reinforcements to the British front under attack. Fourteen German divisions (nine in the attack and five in reserve) hit the front held by four British divisions with two in reserve. By nightfall the British First Army had been driven back some three miles.
On that first day of the German Offensive Lieutenant Charles Edward Plewman, from Athy, was killed in action. Charles Plewman was an officer in The King’s (Liverpool Regiment) 7th Battalion. He was born in 1885, son of the late Edward George Plewman, Kilcoo House, Athy, and a nephew of Thomas Plewman, Justice of the Peace, in Athy. Charles had enlisted in London and was commissioned from the Inns of Court, Officer Training Corps, on 14 July 1916. He had been awarded the Military Cross for bravery, in October 1917.
The object of the attack was the British supply base at Hazebrouck and if this fell there was nothing to stop the Germans advancing to the Channel ports and cutting the British forces in two. The British put up a tremendous resistance in what became known as the ‘Fourth Battle of Ypres’ and gradually the attack was held. During the rest of April the Germans only gained another eight miles; they were finally stopped five miles from Hazebrouck, and there the attack petered out. Nevertheless, the British Army was faced with a critical state of affairs. Between 21 March and the end of April the British Army had lost 300,000 men.
After such heavy losses the British Army desperately needed men to replace the dead and wounded. British manpower was exhausted and Lloyd George looked towards Ireland to replace those lost. Lloyd George could hardly have thought of a better way of alienating nationalist Ireland than to try and force Irishmen to enlist in the British Army. ‘All Ireland will rise against you,’ John Dillon warned the British premier. Lloyd George would not listen but the Irish Parliamentary Party leader was right. Overnight the entire atmosphere in Ireland towards Britain changed.