The 60,000 men of the Portuguese Expeditionary Corps had been strung out across a sector of the Western Front 7 miles (11km) long, divided up into four sub-brigade sectors. Each sector was defended by two battalions, which each occupied a smaller sub-sector within the larger sub-sector.
Having spent nearly an entire year (11 months total) in the trenches, the Portuguese Expeditionary Corps by the spring of 1918 was a tired and worn out shadow of its former self. Up to this point the Portuguese had sustained heavy casualties on the Western Front, and since being deployed to France in May 1917, had withstood increasingly intensive German attacks. Units began to report mutinies within the ranks beginning in April 1918, at a time when such indiscipline was the last thing any Allied unit needed. Thus the decision was made to pull the PEC off the line completely, effective immediately, and replace it with British units. This process began on April 6th, with the first of the two Portuguese divisions withdrawing. The second division (coincidentally the 2nd Division) was scheduled for April 9th, but the Germans launched Operation Georgette that morning.
The attack came in the area of the Lys River, and at the time the 2nd Division had been forced to temporarily consolidate for the positions given up by the 1st Division, thus occupying & defending the entire 7 mile sector of the front by itself – twice the amount of ground than normal. Hit hard by eight German divisions the morning of April 9, 1918, the 2nd Division made a desperate defense but was quickly enveloped and overran. The Battle of the Lys was an absolute disaster for the Portuguese. They lost over 7,000 men (surprisingly the vast majority of these had been captured) and the entire division had nearly been wiped out completely, equating for 10% of all of the PEC’s casualties up to that point, and ⅓ of its forces on the front lines.
The 2nd Division withdrew from the line in such disarray, & it ceased to be an effective fighting force afterwards. The 1st Division would eventually return to the front in June, the 2nd would not.
📷: Worn out Portuguese prisoners in German custody in the Belgian town of Kemmel.