Year
1918

Battle of the Lys begins

On this day in 1918, German troops launch “Operation Georgette” the second phase of their final, last-ditch spring offensive, against Allied positions in Armentieres, France, on the River Lys.

On March 21, 1918, the Germans under Erich Ludendorff, chief of the general staff, launched their first major offensive on the Western Front in more than a year, attacking the Allies in the Somme River region of France and training their huge guns on Paris. The Allies managed to halt Ludendorff’s exhausted armies by the end of March, however, thanks in part to a fresh influx of several thousand American soldiers. By the time Ludendorff shut down attacks on April 5, the Germans had gained nearly 40 miles of territory.

Ludendorff’s focus now switched to the Flanders region of northern France, aiming to push the British troops back against their ports along the English Channel, forcing them into a corner. Thus on April 9, after a four-and-a-half hour long bombardment of British forces in Armentieres, 14 German divisions attacked along a 10-mile front to begin the Battle of the Lys. As at the Somme, the ferocious German advance quickly drove the British back, punching a hole 3.5 miles wide through the British line. They also made quick and bloody work of a Portuguese division taking part in the battle, sending four divisions against the single Portuguese unit and taking some 6,000 prisoners. To make matters worse, the Germans unleashed 2,000 tons of poisonous gas–including mustard and phosgene gas–against the British at the Lys, incapacitating 8,000 (of whom many were blinded) and killing 30.

Despite the initial success of Operation Georgette, the British defensive positions in Armentieres were better prepared and more tenacious than those at the Somme, and the Germans managed to advance only 12 kilometers by the time Ludendorff closed down the operation on April 29. By this time, morale on both sides of the line was at a low point, due to heavy losses, but neither was ready to give in. The Germans looked to the next stage of their offensive, against the French at the Aisne River, as the Allies readied their defenses, each side believing that the outcome of the First World War hung in the balance.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Statue of Saddam Hussein toppled on April 9, 2003

Baghdad falls to U.S. forces

On this day in 2003, just three weeks into the invasion of Iraq, U.S. forces pull down a bronze statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad’s Firdos Square, symbolizing the end of the Iraqi president’s long, often brutal reign, and a major early victory for the United States. Dramatic ...read more

Nazi Germany invades neutral Norway

During World War II, Nazi Germany invades neutral Norway, surprising the Norwegian and British defenders of the country and capturing several strategic points along the Norwegian coast. During the invasion’s preliminary phase, Norwegian Fascists under Vidkun Quisling acted as a ...read more

At Appomattox, Virginia, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrenders his 28,000 troops to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, effectively ending the American Civil War. Forced to abandon the Confederate capital of Richmond, blocked from joining the surviving Confederate force in North Carolina, and harassed constantly by Union cavalry, Lee had no other option. In retreating from the Union army's Appomattox Campaign, the Army of Northern Virginia had stumbled through the Virginia countryside stripped of food and supplies. At one point, Union cavalry forces under General Philip Sheridan had actually outrun Lee's army, blocking their retreat and taking 6,000 prisoners at Sayler's Creek. Desertions were mounting daily, and by April 8 the Confederates were surrounded with no possibility of escape. On April 9, Lee sent a message to Grant announcing his willingness to surrender. The two generals met in the parlor of the Wilmer McLean home at one o'clock in the afternoon. Lee and Grant, both holding the highest rank in their respective armies, had known each other slightly during the Mexican War and exchanged awkward personal inquiries. Characteristically, Grant arrived in his muddy field uniform while Lee had turned out in full dress attire, complete with sash and sword. Lee asked for the terms, and Grant hurriedly wrote them out. All officers and men were to be pardoned, and they would be sent home with their private property--most important, the horses, which could be used for a late spring planting. Officers would keep their side arms, and Lee's starving men would be given Union rations. Shushing a band that had begun to play in celebration, General Grant told his officers, "The war is over. The Rebels are our countrymen again." Although scattered resistance continued for several weeks, for all practical purposes the Civil War had come to an end.

Robert E. Lee surrenders

In Appomattox Court House, Virginia, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrenders his 28,000 troops to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, effectively ending the American Civil War. Forced to abandon the Confederate capital of Richmond, blocked from joining the surviving Confederate ...read more

Billy the Kid convicted of murder

After a one-day trial, Billy the Kid is found guilty of murdering the Lincoln County, New Mexico, sheriff and is sentenced to hang. There is no doubt that Billy the Kid did indeed shoot the sheriff, though he had done so in the context of the bloody Lincoln County War, a battle ...read more

Tornado reduces Oklahoma town to rubble

The town of Woodward, Oklahoma, is nearly wiped off the map by a powerful tornado on this day in 1947. More than 100 people died in Woodward, and 80 more lost their lives elsewhere in the series of twisters that hit the U.S. heartland that day. The storm occurred when a cold ...read more

Confederate General Lee surrenders

Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrenders his army to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. For more than a week, Lee had tried to outrun Grant to the west of Richmond and Petersburg in Virginia. After a ten-month siege of the two cities, the ...read more

Honda wins World Green Car award

On this day in 2009, the Honda FCX Clarity, a four-door sedan billed as the planet’s first hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicle intended for mass production, wins the World Green Car award at the New York Auto Show. The first FCX Clarity cars came off the assembly line at a Honda ...read more