BACKS TO THE WALL


Starting on 21 March 1918 the Germans launched a series of attacks designed to win the war before the Americans arrived in great numbers. The first attack saw the Germans capture large amounts of territory around the Somme area, but were finally halted before Amiens on 5 April.

Douglas Haig
Field Marshal Douglas Haig

The second German assault, the Battle of the Lys, commenced on 9 April, and by 11 April 1918 had worried the British Commander-in-Chief, Field Marshal Haig, so much that he issued his famous, so called, 'Backs to the wall', special order of the day. It must have seemed very possible to Field Marshal Haig that the Germans might have broken through to the Channel ports, thereby cutting off supplies and effectively knocking the British out of the war. His special order of the day read as follows:

TO ALL RANKS OF THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE AND FLANDERS

     Three weeks ago today the enemy began his terrific attacks against us on a fifty-mile front. His objects are to separate us from the French, to take the Channel Ports and destroy the British Army.

     In spite of throwing already 106 Divisions into the battle and enduring the most reckless sacrifice of human life, he has yet made little progress towards his goals.

     We owe this to the determined fighting and self-sacrifice of our troops. Words fail me to express the admiration which I feel for the splendid resistance offered by all ranks of our Army under the most trying circumstances.

     Many amongst us are now tired. To those I would say that Victory will belong to the side that holds out longest. The French Army is moving rapidly and in great force to our support.

     There is no other course of action 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 wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end. The safety of our homes and the Freedom of mankind alike depend upon the conduct of each one of us at this critical moment.
D. Haig
F.M.
Commander-in-Chief
British Armies in France
General Headquarters
     Thursday, April 11th, 1918