We’ve fallen a little behind on our World War I series. Over the next few months, we’re going to work to get caught-up to the calendar.
For the better part of a year and a half, the British General Staff had tinkered with the plan. The lessons of failed offensives and technological innovations had repeatedly changed Sir Douglas Haig’s tactics but not his overall strategy. On June 18th, 1917, the commander of the British Expeditionary Forces signed off on the most ambitious amphibious attack since Gallipoli – an invasion behind the German line via the beaches in Belgium.
Massive newly designed landing crafts would drop off 13,500 British troops, tanks, artillery and even a motorized machine-gun unit. Coupled with a joint British/Belgian/French offensive from Ypres, Haig had envisioned a quick strike behind the fearsome new Hindenburg Line, driving deep the behind German front to sow confusion, forcing what the British believed were weary German defenders to abandon their fortified trenches. For a commander who was already earning the gruesome moniker of “Butcher” for his seemingly callous disregard for British lives, Haig appeared invested in finding a solution to the trenches short of yet another frontal assault.
The offensive had been silently built up for months, hence the codename of Operation Hush. Yet for all of the supposed secrecy, within 24 hours of the offensive’s approval, the Germans would know exactly what the British intended – and would counter it.
Since the earliest days of the Great War, Britain had obsessed over the opportunities that the Belgian coast provided their armies. As early as October of 1914, First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill had advocated for a naval landing behind the recently occupied Belgian front. Even officers as relatively cautious as the British Expeditionary Force’s first commander, Sir John French, backed the concept until it was shelved for the similar Gallipoli operation. Continue reading