The Great War Part 237, March 1st 1919

The Reconquest o f Western Flanders 481 Once more however the Belgians showed that their training had not slackened during their long standstill along the Yser. They used all the devices and machinery of the British Army, blanketing the enemys works with smoke thrusting through him and round him with Tanks and with following companies of bombers riflemen and trench-mortar men while dominating the Germans completely from the air and ranging massed artillery upon hostile trains supply columns and bodies of troops. Above Roulers the main Belgian forces of attack fought across the Dixm ude-Thielt railway towards the centre of West Flanders at Thourout. They stormed Corterriarck and' Handzaeme. This movement threatened to turn the enemy positions on the coast. The German rearguardat Westende, for example was fifteen miles behind the victorious forces. A retreat towards Bruges and Ghent was imposed on the enemy who drew his troops from the Yser to strengthen himself temporarily at Thou­ rout. The French Army, however severed direct com­munications between Thourout and Ghent by carrying the Hooglede upland and cutting the railway line above Beveren, from which point General Degoutte began a double turn­ing movement round Thielt and Thourout. On October 15th the main Belgian forces closed directly on Thourout enveloping it, while the French converged on the town by Lichtervelde. It was then exactly four years to the day that Western Flanders had fallen to the invader and in the night he prepared to retire being con­siderably harried by the Belgian forces remaining along the Yser between Dixmude and Nieuport who could not bear to be out of the fighting. Their proper task was merely to watch the enemy quietly ashe was being turned from the east but they became so restless that King Albert allowed them to take part in the advance. Springing over the flooded wilderness they caught and broke the enemy at Keyem Schoore and other vanished villages where they had been overwhelmed by superior strength in 1914 and they chased his rearguards from polder to Speeding the polder and dune to dune for three days retreating foe until they reached the Dutch frontier. Zeebrugge began to smoke alike volcano, the Germans setting their oil fuel and other stores on fire and sinking the vessels they were unable to remove. B y October 16th the Belgians on the right had reached the Lys, after taking Ingelmunster railway-station and on the left they were working along the coast towards Ostend. That night the German retreat quickened throughout Western Flanders, beginning with a retirement on a thirty-two-mile front to a depth of twelve and a half miles. Soon after daybreak on October 17th the infantry of the attack found so little resistance in front of them that Belgian and French cavalry were employed to reconnoitre the country. In spite of the difficulty of making speedy progress through the closed and diked iowlands and over the embanked, cobbled roads the outskirts of Bruges were attained at nightfall. Ostend was reached still more quickly by aircraft and naval forces under Vice-Admiral Sir Roger Keyes. Destroyers and seaplanes approached the coast, and at eleven oclock in the morning a British airman landed on the beach where he was greeted by thousands of the townspeople. Half an hour afterwards Sir Roger Keyes entered the harbour in a ships whaler and proceeded ashore. The enemy at the time was not clear of the town. With alight battery in the neighbourhood he opened fire on the ships sending shells upon the beach crowded with people. Four German heavy guns at Zeebrugge fired on the British destroyers and as it seemed likely that the enemy was waiting for an excuse to shell the town which in places he had mined with very long- delayed action fuses the British admiral withdrew his forces, leaving merefy four motor- launches inshore as a patrol. In the evening when all had been quiet for some hours the King and Queen of the Belgians landed in Ostend from the destroyer Termagant and in a scene of popular ecstasy, went to the town-hall return­ing to Dunkirk by sea late at night. The Belgian cavalry arrived in a gallop along the shore. Except for the secret mines, some of which did not explode for weeks the historic seaport was not seriously damaged by the enemy. The Germans wrecked the plants and broke the connections of gas elec­tricity and water services, and after dragging the Vindic­tive to the piling of the pier, they again blocked the fairway with sunken vessels so that food could not be brought by sea to the people. But the British bombing aeroplanes, that had fed the allied army on the Flanders Ridge at the beginning of the month, lowered supplies by parachute until the way was clear for food to be sent by ordinary methods. A t anytime the recovery of Ostend would have been an event of high significance. No reconquered French town com­pared with it in strategic importance. B y losing it the enemy lost his partial hold upon the narrow waters of England and his means of making short-distance bombing raids upon London Dover Sheemess and Strategic value Woolwich. The German Marine Office had of Ostend at once to prepare to send out its naval forces for desperate action between Harwich and Dover in the forlorn hope of being able to deal a stroke counter-balancing the loss of the command of the Flemish coast. The in­creased facility in traffic won by the Associated Powers aggravated the enemys peril. As soon as the Flemish fairways were cleared and the connecting railway lines freed of mines and repaired there would come anew inflexibility manoeuvring great masses of men and guns which was likely to end the war suddenly before winter in.set The German High Command appreciated fully the scope of sea-power— when it was too late. It had been wasted effort and false economy on its part to concentrate for a counter-offensive under General von Lossberg in Lorraine, and to refrain from using the lads of the youngest class in the AT THE GATE OF LILLE. M. Poincar6 President of the French Republic received by a British Guard of Honour on his arrival at Lille which he visited shortly after the recapture of the city by the Fifth British Army under General Birdwood October 17th 1918.
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