The Story of the Great War, Volume V (of 12) - Neuve Chapelle, Battle of Ypres, Przemysl, Mazurian Lakes
by Francis J. Reynolds, Allen L. Churchill, and Francis Trevelyan
1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

E-text prepared by Robert J. Hall


Neuve Chapelle Battle of Ypres Przemysl Mazurian Lakes


P. F. Collier & Sons, New York



























* * * * *



During the greater part of the winter of 1914-15, the fighting along the western front had been almost constant, but had resulted in little that either side could justly assert to be a success. The rigors inevitable in such a mode of warfare had become almost beyond human endurance, and commanders on both sides looked forward to a more active campaign.

An immense amount of ammunition had been stored by the French in and around Perthes in anticipation of a forward movement; and, by the second week of February, a quarter of a million men of the French army had been assembled near that place. They were opposite a section of the German trenches which was about twelve miles long, extending from Ville-sur-Tourbe in the Argonne to the village of Souain. Early in the year this section had been held by only two divisions of Rhinelanders. These two divisions had suffered severely from the heavy gun fire which the French had directed against them by means of the successful work of the French aviators. The French infantry also had done effective work in the short rush which they had been making, gaining on an average about twelve yards a day. Following the concentration of French troops, the German commanders brought up reenforcements to the number of 80,000. Some of these were taken from La Bassee, and others from a contingent which had been intended for a northern offensive movement.

Because of the chalk formation of the soil in this section of the front, the excessive moisture of this season of the year drained rapidly, leaving exposed an undulating section on which were small forests of fir trees. The nature of the ground made it an easy matter to move troops even in winter. General Joffre took advantage of this fact, and assembled a quarter of a million men against the German lines in Champagne. This caused the German commanders to mass troops just in front of Perthes. The concentration continued until there were 220,000 German soldiers packed there in close formation. The French attacked, and quickly a rain of more than a hundred thousand shells fell upon the Germans.

The Germans sought to reply by bringing up twenty-two batteries of heavy guns and sixty-four field batteries; but the French gunners kept command of the field. In the twenty days' battle—from February 16 to March 7, 1915—the French won scarcely a mile of ground; but they found and buried 10,000 German dead. The French staff estimated that 60,000 German soldiers had been put out of action. The German staff admitted they had lost more men in this action than in the campaign in East Prussia against the Russians, where fourteen German army corps were engaged. The French lost less than 10,000 men.

In the last week of February, 1915, it had been learned by General Joffre that General von Falkenhayn of the German forces had withdrawn from Neuve Chapelle, and the section north of La Bassee six batteries of field artillery, six battalions of the Prussian Guard, and two heavy batteries of the Prussian Guard. These had been withdrawn for the purpose of checking the supposed French advance at Perthes, as already narrated. Hence, it was known that the English, in command of Sir Douglas Haig, at Neuve Chapelle, were opposed by a thin line of German troops who were making a demonstration of force for the purpose of concealing the weakness of their line.

The British officers in the region of Neuve Chapelle received complete instructions on March 8, 1915, in regard to an offensive which they were to start on the 10th. These instructions were supplemental to a communication which had been sent on February 19 by the British commander in chief to Sir Douglas Haig, the commander of the First Army. Neuve Chapelle was to be the immediate objective of the prospective engagement. This place is about four miles north of La Bassee at the junction of main roads, one leading southward to La Bassee, and another from Bethune on the west to Armentieres on the northeast. It is about eleven miles west of Lille. These roads formed an irregular diamond-shaped figure with the village at the apex of the eastern sides, along which the German troops were stationed. The British held the western sides of this figure.

The land in this part of France is marshy and crossed by dykes; but, to the eastward, the ground rises slowly to a ridge, on the western border of which are two spurs. Aubers is at the apex of one; and Illies at the apex of the other. Both of these villages were held by the Germans. The ridge extends northeast, beyond the junction of the spurs, from Fournes to within two miles southwest of Lille. Along the ridge is the road to Lille, Roubaix, and Tourcoing, all of which are among the chief manufacturing towns of France. The occupation of the ridge was a necessary step to the taking of Lille; and Neuve Chapelle was at the gateway to the ridge. If the Allies could take Lille they would then be in a position to move against their enemy between that point and the sea.

The River Des Layes runs behind Neuve Chapelle to the southeast; and, behind the river, a half mile from the straggling village, is a wood known as the Bois du Biez. Almost at right angles to the river, on the west, the main road from Estaires to La Bassee skirts Neuve Chapelle. There is a triangle of roads north of the village where there were a few large houses with walls, gardens, and orchards. At this point the Germans had fortified themselves to flank the approaches to the village from that section. These trenches were only about a hundred yards from those of the British. The Germans had machine guns at a bridge over the river; and they had another post established a little farther up at the Pietre mill. Farther down the stream, where the road into the village joins the main road to La Bassee, the Germans had fortified a group of ruined buildings which was known as Port Arthur. From there was a great network of trenches which extended northwestward to the Pietre mill. There were also German troops in the Bois du Biez, and in the ruined houses along the border of the wood.

The German trenches were in excellent positions, but were occupied by only a comparatively few soldiers; it was the German plan to keep large bodies of troops in reserve, so that they might be sent to any sector where the need seemed most likely. They have asserted they had only four battalions in the front line here; but that statement is denied by the British.

The British plan of attack embraced a heavy bombardment to demoralize their enemy and prevent reenforcement. This was to be followed by an infantry attack. It was expected that the Germans would be surprised to such an extent it would be impossible for them to make much resistance. Units of the First Army were to make the main attack, supported by the Second Army. The support included a division of cavalry. Among the large force of heavy artillery for the opening bombardment were a number of French guns manned by French artillerymen.

* * * * *



Three hundred and fifty guns at short range began a most terrific bombardment March 10, 1915, at 7.30 a. m. It is said that the discharges of the artillery was so frequent that it seemed as if some gigantic machine gun was in action. Shortly after this bombardment started, the German trenches were covered by a great cloud of smoke and dust and a pall of green lyddite fumes. The first line of German trenches, against which the fire was directed, became great shapeless furrows and craters filled with the dead and dying.

This was the condition all along the line except on the extreme northern end where the artillery fire was less effective, owing, it was said, to a lack of proper preparation by the British staff. This terrific artillery fire was continued for thirty-five minutes; and then the range was changed from the first line of German trenches to the village of Neuve Chapelle itself. Thereupon the British infantry advanced and made prisoners of the few Germans left alive in the first line. The men found unwounded were so dazed by the onslaught which the guns had made upon their position that they offered no resistance. The bombardment had swept away the wire entanglements; and the British had only the greasy mud with which to contend, when they made their dash forward.

Where the wire entanglements had been swept away, the Second Lincolnshire and the Berkshire regiments were the first to reach the German trenches. These regiments then turned to the right and left, and thus permitted the Royal Irish Rifles and the Rifle Brigade to go on toward the village.

In order to understand the infantry attack in detail it is necessary to know the manner in which the British troops were distributed before they made their dash at the ruined trenches of the Germans. Two brigades of the Eighth Division, the Twenty-fifth to the right and the Twenty-third to the left, were due west of Neuve Chapelle. On a front a mile and a half long to the south of them was the Meerut Division, supported by the Lahore Division. The Garhwal Brigade was on the left and the Dehra Dun Brigade was on its right. In the first attack the Twenty-third dashed to the northeast corner of the village, the Twenty-fifth against the village itself; and the Garhwal Brigade charged on the southwest corner.

The trenches opposite the Twenty-fifth were taken with practically no fighting. The Germans who had manned them were either killed or too dazed to offer resistance. As has already been told, the Second Royal Berkshires and the Second Lincolns took the first line of trenches in front of them, and opened the middle of their line to permit the Second Rifle Brigade and the First Irish Rifles to dash on to the village. The British artillery range was lengthened, thereby preventing the German supports from interference with the well-defined plan of the British. Into the wrecked streets of Neuve Chapelle swung two battalions of the Twenty-fifth Brigade. The few of their enemy who offered resistance were soon overpowered—being captured or slain.

These men of the Twenty-fifth Brigade found terrible scenes of destruction. The village had been knocked literally into a rubbish heap. Even the dead in the village churchyard had been plowed from their graves by the terrific bombardment.

The Garhwal Brigade captured the first line of trenches on the right, and the Third Gurkhas, on the southern outskirts of the village, met the Rifle Brigade. Then it dashed on to the Bois du Biez, passing another rubbish heap which once had been the hamlet known as Port Arthur.

The attack on the left, however, resulted less successfully for the British forces. As indicated above, the preparation for the bombardment at this part of the line had been inadequate for the purpose which the general in command had sought to achieve. Thus on the northeast corner of Neuve Chapelle the German trenches and the wire entanglements in front of them had been damaged but little. The British forces on this part of the line included the Second Devons, the Second West Yorks, the Second Scottish Rifles, and the Second Middlesex, known as the Twenty-third Brigade. The Scottish Rifles charged against intact wire entanglements which halted them in the range of a murderous rifle and machine-gun fire. With daring bravery the Scots sought to tear down the wire with their hands; but were forced to fall back and lie in the fire-swept zone until one company forced its way through an opening and destroyed the barrier. The regiment, as a result of this mishap to the plans of the commanding general, lost its commander, Colonel Bliss, and fourteen other officers.

The Middlesex, on the right, met with the same obstruction and lost many of its men and officers while waiting for the British artillery to smash a way through for them. This the artillery did when word had been carried back telling of the plight of the infantry.

The Twenty-fifth Brigade, to the south, had the good fortune to turn the flank of the Germans north of Neuve Chapelle. Then the entire Twenty-third Brigade forced its way to the orchard northeast of the village, where it met the Twenty-fourth Brigade, which included the First Worcesters, Second East Lancashires, First Sherwood Foresters, and the Second Northamptons. The Twenty-fourth Brigade had fought its way through from the Neuve Chapelle-Armentieres road. As soon as this had been accomplished by the British, their artillery proceeded to send such a rain of shrapnel fire between the village and the Germans that a counterattack was quite impossible. This gave the victors an opportunity to intrench themselves practically at their leisure. The plans of the British commander had embraced a forward movement when the troops had reached this point, but they had not included a means of keeping communication with the various units intact. The telegraph and telephone wires had been cut by the shot and shell of both sides; and there was no opportunity to repair them until it was too late to take advantage of the demoralization of the Germans. Moreover, the delay of the Twenty-third Brigade had so disarranged the plans of the British that it is doubtful if they would not have failed in part even if the means of communication had not been destroyed. Nevertheless, Sir John French wrote: "I am of the opinion that this delay would not have occurred had the clearly expressed orders of the general officer commanding the First Army been more carefully observed."

There was also an additional delay in bringing up the reserves of the Fourth Corps. Thus it was not until 3.30 p. m. that three brigades of the Seventh Division, the Twentieth, Twenty-first, and Twenty-second Brigades were in their places on the left of the Twenty-fourth Brigade. Then the left moved southward toward Aubers. At the same time the Indian Corps, composed of the Garhwal Brigade and the Dehra Dun Brigade, forced its way through the Bois du Biez toward the ridge. Strong opposition was met with to such an extent, however, that the Thirty-ninth Garhwals and the Second Leicesters suffered severe losses on reaching a German position which had practically escaped the heavy artillery fire. A German outpost at the bridge held the Dehra Dun Brigade, which was supported by the Jullundur Brigade of the Lahore Division, in its attack farther to the south on the line of the River Des Layes. The First Brigade of the First Corps was rushed forward by Sir Douglas Haig; but it was dark before these troops arrived. Another fortified bridge, farther to the left, checked the Twenty-fifth Brigade; and machine-gun fire stopped the Twenty-fourth Brigade, this fire being from the German troops at the crossroads northwest of Pietre village. The Seventh Division was held by the line of the Des Layes, and the defense of the Pietre mill.

By evening the British had gone forward as far as their artillery fire had been effective; and it was found necessary for them to stop to strengthen the new line which they had established. They had won Neuve Chapelle. They had advanced a mile. They had straightened their line, but they could go no farther.

On the following day, March 11, 1915, the British artillery was directed against the Bois de Biez and the trenches in the neighborhood of Pietre. The Germans, however, had recovered from the surprise of the great bombardment, and they made several counterattacks. Little progress was made on that day by either side. On that night, March 11, the Bavarian and Saxon reserves arrived from Tourcoing, and on the morning of March 12 the counterattack extended along the British front. Because of the heavy mist, and the lack of proper communications, it was impossible for the British artillery to do much damage. The defense of the bridges across the Des Layes kept the British forces from the ridges and the capture of Aubers. The best that the British seemed to be able to do was to prevent the German counterattack from being successful.

An attempt to use the British cavalry was unsuccessful on March 12. The Second Cavalry Division, in command of General Hubert Gough, with a brigade of the North Midland Division, was ordered to support the infantry offensive, it being believed that the cavalry might penetrate the German lines. When the Fifth Cavalry Brigade, under command of Sir Philip Chetwode, arrived in the Rue Bacquerot at 4 p. m., Sir Henry Rawlinson reported the German positions intact, and the cavalry retired to Estaires.

The attack of the Seventh Division against the Pietre Fort continued all the day of March 12, as did the attempt to take the Des Layes bridges from the Germans, who were valiantly defending their second line of trenches in the Bois du Biez. Probably the fiercest fighting of that day fell to the lot of the Twentieth Brigade, composed of the First Grenadiers, the Second Scots Guards, the Second Border Regiment, and the Second Gordons, with the Sixth Gordons, a Territorial battalion. This brigade fought valiantly around Pietre Mill. Position after position was taken by them, but their efforts could not remain effective without the aid of artillery, which was lacking. The Second Rifle Brigade carried a section of the German trenches farther south that afternoon, but an enfilading fire drove the British back to their former position.

It was evident by the night of March 12 that the British could not gain command of the ridge and that the Germans could not retake Neuve Chapelle. Hence Sir John French ordered Sir Douglas Haig to hold and consolidate the ground which had been taken by the Fourth and Indian Corps, and suspend further offensive operations for the present. In his report General French set forth that the three days' fighting had cost the British 190 officers and 2,337 other ranks killed; 359 officers and 8,174 other ranks wounded, and 23 officers and 1,728 other ranks missing. He claimed German losses of over 12,000.

The British soldiers who had been engaged in the fighting about Neuve Chapelle spent all of March 13, 1915, in digging trenches in the wet meadows that border the Des Layes. On the following day the two corps that had fought so valiantly were sent back to the reserve.

The German commanders, in the meantime, had been preparing for a vigorous counterattack. They planned to make their greatest effort fifteen miles north of Neuve Chapelle, at the village of St. Eloi, and trained a large section of their artillery against a part of the British front, which was held by the Twenty-seventh Division. The preparation of the Germans was well concealed on March 14 by the heavy mist that covered the low country. The bombardment started at 5 p. m., the beginning of which was immediately followed by the explosion of two mines which were under a hillock that was a part of the British front at the southeast of St. Eloi. The artillery attack was followed by such an avalanche of German infantry that the British were driven from their trenches. This German success was followed up by the enfilading of the British lines to the right and left, with the result that that entire section of the British front was forced back.

That night a counterattack was prepared. It was made at 2 a. m., on March 15, by the Eighty-second Brigade, which had the Eightieth Brigade as its support. The Eighty-second Brigade drove the Germans from the village and the trenches on the east. The Eightieth Brigade finished the task of regaining all of the ground that had been lost except the crater caused by the explosion of the mines. Among the regiments that made a most enviable record for themselves in this action were Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, the Fourth Rifle Brigade, the First Leinsters, the Second Cornwalls, and the Second Royal Irish Fusiliers. The "Princess Pat's," as the Canadian troops were known in the home land, were the first colonial soldiers to take part in a battle of such magnitude in this war. Their valor and their ability as fighting men were causes of great pride to the British.

Before leaving the Neuve Chapelle engagement and what immediately followed it, it is well to give a brief survey of the actions along the line that supported it. To prevent the Germans from taking troops from various points and massing them against the main British attack, the British soldiers all along that part of the front found plenty of work to do in their immediate vicinity. Thus, on March 10, 1915, the First Corps attacked the Germans from Givenchy, but there had been but little artillery fire on the part of the British there, and the wire entanglements stopped them from more than keeping the German troops in the position which they had held. The Second Corps, on March 12, was to have advanced at 10 a. m. southwest of Wytschaete. The fog that prevailed on that day, however, prevented a movement until 4 p. m. Then the First Wiltshires and the Third Worcesters of the Seventh Brigade began a movement which had to be abandoned when the weather thickened and night fell.

The attack on L'Epinette, a hamlet southeast of Armentieres, was much more successful on the same day. The Seventeenth Brigade of the Fourth Division of the Third Corps advanced at noon, with the Eighteenth Brigade as its support. It advanced 300 yards on a front a half mile in length, carrying the village, which it retained in spite of all the counterattacks.

The work of the artillery was not confined to the main attack, for it was very effective in shelling the Quesnoy railway station east of Armentieres, where German reenforcements were boarding a train for the front. The British artillery fire was effective as far as Aubers, where it demolished a tall church spire.

The work of the aviators, from March 10 to 12 inclusive, deserves special mention. Owing to the adverse weather conditions, it was necessary for them to fly as low as from 100 to 150 feet above the object of their attack in order to be sure of their aim. Nevertheless they destroyed one of the piers of the bridge over the Lys at Menin. This bridge carried the railroad over the river. They also wrecked the railway stations at Douai, Don, and Courtrai. The daring of the British aviators even took them over Lille, where they dropped bombs on one of the German headquarters.

To summarize the fighting about Neuve Chapelle, it may be said that the British had advanced something more than a mile on a three-mile front, replacing the sag which had existed in their line by a sag in that of the Germans. The British had not won the ridges which were the key to Lille, but they had advanced their trenches close to those ridges. The entire moral effect was a gain for the British; but even that and the gain in advancing the front had been obtained at a too great sacrifice of the life of their men. The words of the Germans in characterizing the tremendous bombardment of the British were: "That is not war; it is murder."

The belief in the supposed superiority of the German artillery was so shaken in the minds of the General Staff as a result of the fighting on the Neuve Chapelle front that they shortly after issued an order to try a series of experiments on animals with asphyxiating gases.

* * * * *



There was very little activity on the western front after the fighting at Neuve Chapelle and St. Eloi until the beginning of a renewal of the campaign between La Bassee and the sea. The importance of success in this region was appreciated by both sides. The Germans north of the Lys planned to cross the Comines-Ypres, Yperlee, and Yser Canals, capture Ypres, take all of the ridge of the Mont-des-Cats, and then continue west and take Dunkirk, Calais, and Boulogne. The Allies in their plan included an advance south of the Lys on two sides of Lille, the taking of the Aubers Ridge, and the turning from the north the German salient at La Bassee. This much of the Allies' plan was to be executed by the British. The work of the French was to drive the Germans from the vicinity of Lens and threaten La Bassee from the south and west. The reasons for making these plans are obvious. The German salient was a source of much danger to the joining of the British and French armies, and the possibility of the Germans forcing their way through to Boulogne meant a possibility of a cutting off of the entire British army and the French and Belgian forces between Ypres and the sea near Nieuport. However, if La Bassee was isolated and the Aubers Ridge taken by the British, the chances that the Germans could retain Lille were materially lessened; and if the British got Lille they might start to drive their enemy from Belgium.

During the lull in the fighting on land, to which reference has been made, there was much activity in the air. Reconnaissances and raids were of almost daily occurrence. A Zeppelin dropped twenty bombs on Calais, slaying seven workmen at the railroad station on March 18, 1915. Three days later another, or possibly the same Zeppelin, flew over the town, but this time it was driven away before it could do any harm. "Taubes" bombarded the railroad junction of St. Omer and made a similar attack on Estaires on March 23. Four days after another attack was made on Estaires, and on the same day, March 27, the German airmen did some damage to Sailly, Calais, and Dunkirk. The next day a "Taube" made an attack on Calais, Estaires, and Hazebrouck. A Zeppelin closed the month's warfare in the air for the Germans by making a dash over Bailleul.

Aviators of the Allies, too, were busy. One of their aerial squadrons proceeded along the coast on March 16 and attacked the military posts at Ostend and Knocke. These aviators had as one of their main objective points the German coast batteries at the latter place. But the squadron was seen from a German observation balloon at Zeebrugge, and a flock of "Taubes" made a dash for their enemy's craft. The Germans were not as skillful airmen, however, and they found it necessary to retire. Five British aviators made an attack on the German submarine base at Hoboken, southwest of Antwerp, and destroyed a submarine and wrecked two others. This raid was made without injury to the aviators, the only accident being the necessity of one of the aircraft to descend, which it did, only to find it had landed on Dutch territory and must be interned. The excellence of the Allies' flying was not confined to the English. Belgian and French airmen, as well as British, flew almost constantly over Ostend, Zeebrugge, Roulers, Aubers, and such other places as German soldiers and their supplies were in evidence. The Belgian airmen dropped bombs on the aviation field at Ghistelles on March 27, and on the following day a Zeppelin hangar was destroyed at Berchem-Sainte-Agathe, near Brussels. On March 30, 1915, ten British and some French aviators flew along the coast from Nieuport to Zeebrugge and dropped bombs on magazines and submarine bases. The last day of the month saw the destruction of the German captive balloon at Zeebrugge and the death of its two observers. The Belgian aviators on the same day threw bombs on the aviation field at Handzaeme and the railroad junction at Cortemarck, and, south of Dixmude, the famous birdman, Garros, fought a successful duel in the air with a German aviator.

An aviator of the Allies flew over the aerodrome at Lille on April 1, 1915, and dropped a football. The Germans hastened to cover. When the ball bounced prodigiously as a result of being dropped from such a height, the Teutons thought it was some new kind of death dealer, and remained in their places of safety. In fact, they remained there quite a few minutes after the football had ceased to bounce. When they finally emerged most cautiously and approached the object of their terror, they read this inscription on it: "April Fool—Gott strafe England."

Though the antiaircraft guns, or "Archibalds," as the soldiers called them, were not especially effective except in keeping the flyers at such a height that it was not easy for them to make effective observations, a "Taube" was brought down at Pervyse, and near Ypres another was damaged on April 8. But on April 12 a German flyer inflicted some loss on the Allies' lines and escaped without being even hit. On the following day, presumably emboldened by that success, German aeroplanes threw flares and smoke balls over the British trenches east of Ypres, with the result that the soldiers of King George were subjected to a severe bombardment. All things considered, however, the Allies had ground for their belief that they more than held their own in the air.

Afloat the Allies continued to maintain the supremacy which had been theirs. The French and British battleships held the left of the Allies' line. Their great guns proved their effectiveness on the Germans who were advancing from Ostend on Nieuport. They repeatedly bombarded the position of the kaiser's men at Westende, east of Nieuport. The Germans had trained one of their mammoth pieces of artillery against that town presumably because it held the sluices and locks which regulated the overflowing of the Yser territory. If the means of flooding the land could not be seized, the next best thing to do was to wreck them.

The Belgians, in the meantime, assumed the offensive, their left being protected by the Allied fleet and the French forces in the neighborhood of Nieuport. These troops captured one of the smaller forts east of Lombartzyde on March 11, 1915. There was also fighting at Schoorbakke, north of the Yser loop, where the German trenches were shelled by French artillery. This was on the eastern border of the inundated section. After destroying the German front in the graveyard at Dixmude, the French artillerists battered a German convoy on its way between Dixmude and Essen on March 17, 1915. By March 23 the east bank of the Yser held a Belgian division. In fact, from Dixmude to the sea the Allied troops were advancing.

The Germans, however, advanced south of Dixmude. On April 1, 1915, they shelled the farms and villages west of the Yser and the Yperlee Canals, and took the Driegrachten farm. Thereupon the Germans crossed the canal with three machine guns. Their plan was to proceed along the border of the inundated district to Furnes. But the French balked the plan by shelling the farm, and the Belgians finished the work by driving the Germans back to Mercken on April 6, 1915.

In the meantime, from March 15 to April 17, 1915, the bombardment of Ypres was continued, destroying most of the remaining buildings there. Engagements of importance had not as yet started on the British front. The British had a supply of shrapnel, and the British and French cannon, as well as the rifle- and machine-gun fire, held the Germans in check until they had time to perfect their plans for a vigorous offensive. Nevertheless the British needed a much larger supply of ammunition before they could start on a determined campaign, which was so much desired by the troops. One of the German headquarters, however, was shelled effectively by the British on April 1, 1915, and on the following day mortars in the trenches did considerable damage in the Wood of Ploegsteert. A mine blew up a hundred yards of the trenches that were opposite Quinchy, a village to the south of Givenchy, on April 3, 1915. To offset this the Germans bombarded the British line at that point. They also shelled Fleurbaix, which is three miles southwest of Armentieres, on April 5, 1915. The British on the same day wrecked a new trench mortar south of there. On April 6, 1915, the German artillery began to be more active both north and south of the Lys, and the British retaliated by shelling the railway triangle that was near Quinchy. German soldiers were slain and others wounded when a mine was exploded at Le Touquet, on the north bank of the Lys. One of the kaiser's ammunition depots was blown up near Quinchy on April 9, 1915, and his men were driven from their trenches in front of Givenchy by mortar fire.

The comparative quiet along the front was broken by the fight for the possession of Hill 60, which became famous because of the rival claims as to victory. The mound, for it was little more, getting its name on account of its height—sixty meters—was of importance only because it screened the German artillery which was shelling Ypres from the bridge to the west of Zandvoord. British trenches had been driven close to this hill by the Bedfords, whose sappers tunneled under the mound and there prepared three mines. At the same time the Germans were tunneling to plant mines under the Bedfords' trench. In this underground race the Bedfords won on the night of April 17, 1915, when they blew three big craters in the hill, killing almost to a man all of the 150 Germans who were on the little rise of ground. The Bedfords then dashed forward to the three craters they had opened up and took a quarter of a mile of the German trenches.

The Germans were apparently unprepared for the attack which followed the explosion of the British mines, with the result that the British had to overcome little resistance, and had ample opportunity to prepare a defense from the bombardment that followed. The next morning, April 18, 1915, the German infantry in close formation advanced on the hill. This infantry was composed of Saxons, who continued on for a bayonet charge in spite of the downpour of lead that the British rained upon them. But the Bedfords had been reenforced by the West Kents and about thirty motor machine guns. The machine guns raked the charging Saxons in front, and shrapnel tore their flank. Only their dead and dying remained on the hill; but the German commanders continued to send their men against the British there, who were subjected to a murderous cross-fire, the hill forming a salient. As a result of their persistence the German troops managed to get a foothold on the southern part of the hill by 6 p. m. In the meantime a battalion of Highlanders and the Duke of Wellington's regiment had been sent to reenforce the Bedfords and the West Kents. The Highlanders made a desperate charge, using bayonets and hand grenades on the Germans who had gained the southern edge of the hill. The Germans were driven back.

The Duke of Wuerttemberg, the German commander, presumably believing his troops had not only held what they had taken, but had advanced, announced that another German victory had been gained in the capture of Hill 60. Sir John French also sent out a message, but in his report he set forth that Hill 60 was held by the British. Because there had been similar conflict in official reports all too frequently, it seemed as if a tacit agreement was made among the neutrals to determine who was telling the truth. This resulted in making what was a comparatively unimportant engagement one of the most celebrated battles of the war. As soon as Duke Albrecht of Wuerttemberg discovered his mistake he did what he could to make good his statement by attempting to take Hill 60 without regard to sacrificing his men. Sir John French was just as determined to hold the hill. So he moved large numbers of troops toward the shattered mound, the British artillery was reenforced, and the hastily constructed sandbag breastworks were improved with all possible speed.

The Germans then attacked with gas bombs. Projectiles filled with gas were hurled upon the British from three sides. The East Surrey Regiment, which defended the hill in the latter part of the battle for it, suffered severely. Faces and arms became shiny and gray-black. Membranes in the throats thickened, and lungs seemed to be eaten by the chlorine poison. Yet the men fought on until exhausted, and then fell to suffer through a death struggle which continued from twenty-four hours to three days of suffocating agony.

The German artillery kept up its almost incessant pounding of the British. In short lulls of the big gun's work the German infantry hurled itself against the trenches on the hill, using hand grenades and bombs. The fight continued until the morning of May 5, 1915, when the wind blew at about four miles an hour from the German trenches. Then a greenish-yellow fog of poisonous gas was released, and soon encompassed the hill. The East Surreys, who were holding the hill, were driven back by the gas, but as soon as the gas passed they charged the Germans who had followed the gas and had taken possession of the hill. Notwithstanding the machine-gun fire which the Germans poured upon them, many of the trenches were retaken by the Surrey soldiers in their first frenzied rush to regain what they had lost because of the gas. The battle ended when there was no hill left. The bombardment and the mines had leveled the mound by distributing it over the surrounding territory. The British, however, were accorded the victory, as they had trenches near where the hill was and made them a part of the base of the salient about Ypres.

That town has been likened to the hub of a wheel whose spokes are the roads which lead eastward. It is true that one important road went over the canal, at Steenstraate, but practically all of the highways of consequence went through Ypres. Thus the spokes of the wheel, whose rim was the outline of the salient, were the roads to Menin, Gheluvelt, Zonnebeke, Poelcapelle, Langemarck, and Pilkem. And the railroad to Roulers was also a spoke. Hence all of the supplies for the troops on the salient must pass through Ypres, which made it most desirable for the Germans to take the town. It will be remembered that they had won a place for their artillery early in November, 1914, which gave them an opportunity to bombard Ypres through the winter. On February 1, 1915, a portion of the French troops which had held the salient were withdrawn and their places taken by General Bulfin's Twenty-eighth Division. Thus, by April 20, 1915, that part of the Allies' front was held as follows: From the canal to east of Langemarck was the Forty-fifth Division of the French army, consisting of colonial infantry. On the French right, to the northeast of Zonnebeke, was the Canadian division, under the command of General Alderson, consisting of the Third Brigade, under General Turner, on the left, and the Second Brigade, under General Currie, on the right. The Twenty-eighth Division extended from the Canadian right to the southeast corner of the Polygon Wood. This division comprised the Eighty-third, Eighty-fourth, and Eighty-fifth Brigades in order from right to left. The next section of the salient was held by Princess Patricia's Regiment of the Twenty-seventh Division, which division, under the command of General Snow, guarded the front to the east of Veldhoek along the ridge to within a short distance of Hill 60, where the Fifth Division, under the command of General Morland, held the line. The greater part of the German troops opposite the salient were from Wuerttemberg and Saxony.

* * * * *



What is called the second battle of Ypres began with a bombardment of the little city on April 20, 1915. The rain of shells continued on through April 22, 1915, on the evening of which the British artillery observers reported a strange green vapor moving over the French trenches. The wind was blowing steadily from the northeast. Soon the French troops were staggering back from the front, blinded and choking from the deadly German gas. Many of their comrades had been unable to leave the spot where they were overtaken by the fumes. Those who fled in terror rushed madly across the canal, choking the road to Vlamertinghe. A part of the Zouaves and Turcos ran south toward the Langemarck road, finally reaching the reserve battalions of the Canadians. Ere long the Canadians caught the deadly odor also.

But the work of the gas did a much more valuable thing for the German troops than causing the agonizing death of many hundreds and sending thousands in headlong flight. It made a four-mile-wide opening in the front of the Allies. And the Germans were quick to take advantage of that opening. They followed the gas, and were aided in their advance by artillery fire. The French were forced back on the canal from Steenstraate to Boesinghe. The Canadians had not suffered so much from the gas as the French soldiers, but their flank was too exposed for them to do much effective work against the onrushing Teutons. The attempt to rally the Turcos failed. The Third Brigade could not withstand the attack of four divisions, and was forced inward from a point south of Poelcappelle until its left rested on the wood east of St. Julien. There was a gap beyond it, and the Germans were forcing their way around its flank. Because the entire First Brigade of Canadians had been held in reserve it could not be brought up in time to save the situation. Two of the battalions, the Sixteenth and Tenth, were in the gap by midnight. They charged and recovered the northern edge, and the guns of the Second London Division, which had been supporting the French in the wood east of St. Julien. But the British could not hold all they retook, and were forced to abandon the guns because the artillery horses were miles away. So parts of the guns were made useless before the Germans had them again.

Then another counterattack was made by the First and Fourth Ontarios of General Mercer's First Brigade. The Fourth Ontario captured the German shelter trenches and held them for two days, when they were relieved. The Third Canadian Brigade held its position in spite of being opposed by many times their numbers and almost overcome by the gas fumes. The Forty-eighth Highlanders, who had had to withstand the gas, rallied after their retreat and regained their former place in the front. The Royal Highlanders kept their original position. Yet there was every indication of a rout. The roads were clogged by the night supply trains going forward and the rush of men trying to escape from the deadly gas. The staff officers found it impossible to straighten out the tangle, and the various regiments had to act almost as independent bodies, It was not until early the following morning, April 23, 1915, that the first reenforcements of British soldiers appeared to fill the breach. These men, for the most part, were from the Twenty-eighth Division, and had been east of Zonnebeke to the southeast corner of Polygon Wood. So great was the pressure at the section where the break had been made in the line that troops were taken from wherever available, so that the units in the gap varied from day to day. For the men had to be returned to their original positions, such as remained available, as soon as possible. This composite body of troops has been called Geddes's Detachment.

The Germans had captured Lizerne and Het Sas, and Steenstraate was threatened by them. They bombarded with heavy artillery, located on the Passchendaele ridge, the front held by the Canadians, the Twenty-eighth Division, and Geddes's Detachment, on April 23, 1915. The severest fighting was on that part of the front held by the Third Brigade of Canadians. Many men had been killed or wounded in this brigade, and those who survived were ill from the effects of the gas. Furthermore, no food could be taken to them for twenty-four hours. Moreover, they were subjected to a fire from three sides, with the result that they were forced to a new position on a line running through St. Julien. Finally the Germans forced their way around to the left of the Third Brigade, establishing their machine guns behind it.

A terrific artillery attack was started by the Germans on the morning of April 24, 1915, and this was followed by a second rush of gas from their trenches. It rose in a cloud seven feet high and was making its attack on the British in two minutes after it started. It was thickest near the ground, being pumped from cylinders. And it worked with the same deadly effect. The Third Brigade, receiving its second attack of this sort before it had recovered from the first, retreated to the southwest of St. Julien, but soon after regained most of their lost position. The Second Brigade had to bend its left south. Colonel Lipsett's Eighth Battalion, however, held fast on the Grafenstafel ridge, remaining in their position two days in spite of the gas of which they got a plentiful supply.

By noon of April 24, 1915, the Germans made an attack on the village of St. Julien and that part of the allied front to the east of the village. Thereupon the Third Brigade retreated about 700 yards to a new front south of the village and north of the hamlet of Fortuin. But what remained of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Battalions was forced by circumstances to remain in the St. Julien line until late that night. Colonel Lipsett's Eighth Battalion at Grafenstafel, in spite of its left being unsupported, held its position which was of great importance to the British front. For, had that part of the front been lost, the Germans in an hour could have worked their way back of the Twenty-eighth Division and the entire eastern sector.

In the meantime the French on the western section of the front made a counterattack from the canal with partial success; but were unable to drive the German troops from the sector entirely. The Teutons took Steenstraate; but their victory there was marred by the fact that the Belgian artillery smashed the bridge behind them. By this time the British reenforcements began to arrive in fairly large numbers. The Thirteenth Brigade of the Fifth Division was placed to the west of Geddes's Detachment, between the Pilkem road and the canal. Territorials who had arrived from England only three days before, the Durham and York Brigades of the Northumbrian Division, supported the Thirteenth Brigade. The Tenth Brigade of the Fourth Division were rushed to support the Third Brigade of Canadians who were south of St. Julien. Other British troops were sent to relieve the tense situation at Grafenstafel.

An attempt to retake St. Julien was made early on Sunday morning, April 25, 1915, by General Hull's Tenth Brigade and two battalions of the Durham and York Brigade. The British worked their way to the few Canadians who had continued on the former front when the main British force had been driven back. There they were checked by the German machine gun fire. The British lost many men here and the efforts to save the day resulted in such a mixture of fighting units that there were fifteen battalions under General Hull, as well as the Canadian artillery.

At Grafenstafel the Eighth Battalion of the Durham Brigade were bombarded with asphyxiating shells before the German infantry attack. The fighting on this section of the front was fierce throughout the afternoon, but finally the British were forced to retire. At Broodseinde, the extreme eastern point of the allied front, the Germans made a desperate attempt to take the salient, using asphyxiating and other bombs again and again on the men of the Twenty-eighth Division of the British. King George's men, however, repelled the attacks with severe loss to the Teutons, taking many prisoners.

The French on the left, beyond the Yperlee Canal, prevented the advance of the German troops; and, farther to the left, the Belgians checked three attacks in which asphyxiating gas was used, south of Dixmude. Thus it may be seen that the Germans had met with no success worth while, when Sunday, April 25, 1915, closed, so far as the ends of the salient were concerned; but in the center the British situation was so critical that the Second Canadian Brigade, reduced to less than 1,000 men, was once more called into action on the following day. On the same day, April 26, 1915, the Lahore Division of the Indian army was marched north of Ypres. The point of the salient was pushed in on that day at Broodseinde, but the German success there was short-lived. The brigade holding Grafenstafel was attacked fiercely by the Germans. The Durham Light Infantry was forced from Fortuin behind the Haanabeek River. The Teutons made several attacks from the St. Julien district against the section between the Yperlee Canal and the southern part of the village. By this time Geddes's Detachment was almost exhausted, they, with the Canadians, having withstood the heaviest fighting at the beginning of the battle; and most likely saved the Allies a most disastrous defeat. The detachment could stand no more, and the various units of which it was composed were returned to their respective commands.

But the salient was growing smaller as a result of the repeated hammering of the Germans; and that exposed the allied troops to a more deadly fire from three sides. It was evident that the Allies must make a counterattack. General Riddell's Brigade was sent to Fortuin and with the Lahore Division on its left was told to retake St. Julien and the woods to the west of the village. Beyond the Yperlee Canal, on the left, the French made an assault on Lizerne, supported by the Belgian artillery; while the French colonial soldiers poured on Pilkem from the sector about Boesinghe. On the right the allied troops were lined up as follows: the Connaught Rangers, Fifty-seventh Wilde's Rifles, the Ferozepore Brigade, the 129th Baluchis, the Jullundur Brigade, and General Riddell's battalions. The Sirhind Brigade was held in reserve.

The German artillerymen apparently knew the distances and topography of the entire region and poured a leaden hail upon the allied troops. The Indians and the British in their immediate neighborhood charged in short rushes, losing many men in the attempt to reach the German trenches. Before the Germans were in any danger of a hand-to-hand struggle, they sent one of their gas clouds from their trenches and the attack was abandoned, the British and Indians getting back to their trenches as best they could. In this action the British gave great praise to their comrades from India. Riddell's Brigade was stopped in its attack on St. Julien by wire entanglements; and, though the outlaying sections of St. Julien were captured, the brigade was unable to hold them; and the Germans continued to hold the woods west of the village. Nevertheless the British front had been pushed forward from 600 to 700 yards in some places.

By that night, the night of April 26, 1915, the allied front extended from the north of Zonnebeke to the eastern boundary of the Grafenstafel ridge; thence southwest along the southern side of the Haanabeek to a point a half mile east of St. Julien; thence, bending around that village, it ran to Vamhuele—called the "shell trap"—farm on the Ypres-Poelcappelle road. Next it proceeded to Boesinghe and crossed the Yperlee Canal, passing northward of Lizerne after which were the French and the Belgians.

The work of the allied aviators on April 26, 1915, deserves more than passing consideration in the record of that day's fighting. They dropped bombs on the stations of Courtrai, Roubaix, Thielt, and Staden. They discovered near Langemarck an armored train with the result that it was shelled and thus forced to return. And they forced a German aviator to the ground at Roulers.

The Lahore Division with the French on their left attacked the Germans on April 27, 1915, but they met with little success because of the gas which the Teutons sent into the ranks of the attacking party. But the German troops had lost so heavily that they did not seem to be inclined to follow up their apparent advantage. Incidentally the Allies needed a rest as well. Hence there was little fighting the next two days. On April 30, 1915, however, General Putz attacked the Germans with so much force that they were hurled back an appreciable distance near Pilkem. Seven machine guns and 200 prisoners were taken, and the 214th, 215th, and 216th German regiments lost more than 1,000 men. On the same day the London Rifle Brigade, further east, drove back a German forward movement from St. Julien.

West of the Yperlee Canal, however, it soon became known to the commanders of the allied forces that the Germans were in such a strong position that it would be impossible to dislodge their enemy until much greater preparations had been made. In the meantime the communications of the Allies were in danger. Hence Sir John French on May 1, 1915, ordered Sir Herbert Plumer to retreat. The wisdom of this order, the execution of which contracted the southern portion of the salient, was seen when the Germans again attempted to force their way through the allied front by the use of gas. The attempt this time was made between Zonnebeke, on the Ypres-Roulers railroad, and Boesinghe on the Yperlee Canal on Sunday, May 2, 1915. Though the British had been supplied with respirators of a sort, these means of defense were not as effective as they should have been nor as adequate as what was provided later. The Germans, however, suffered large losses in this attack because, as soon as the wall of gas began to approach the British trenches, the men there fired into it, well knowing from past experience that the Germans were following the gas. In this manner many of the Teutons were slain. The Allies adopted other tactics which were quite as effective. On seeing the gas approaching, the soldiers in some parts of the line proceeded to execute a flank movement, thereby getting away from the gas and subjecting the Germans to a deadly fire from a direction least expected.

Between Fortuin and Zonnebeke and south of St. Julien the allied line broke, but the supports with two cavalry regiments were rushed from Potijze, a mile and a half from Ypres on the Zonnebeke Road, and regained the lost ground. By night the Germans decided to discontinue their attempt to advance and left their dead and wounded on the field.

* * * * *



The Germans had only stopped the struggle for a breathing spell. On the following morning, Monday, May 3, they made an attempt to force the allied position back again. This attempt was made on the British left, west of the Bois des Cuisenirs, between Pilkem and St. Julien. The Germans cut their wire entanglements and, leaving their trenches and lying down in front of those protecting places, they were ready to advance; but, before they could start forward, the artillery of their enemy did such effective work that the Teutons returned to their trenches, and gave up an attack at that point. But they made an assault against the northern side of the salient which had by this time become very narrow. A German bomb wrecked a section of the British trenches, and the defenders of that part of the line had to go back of a wood that was a little to the northwest of Grafenstafel, where they were able to stop the German onrush.

The Belgians were bombarded with asphyxiating gas bombs beyond the French lines south of Dixmude. The Germans charged the Belgian trenches only to be cut down by machine-gun fire. That night, the night of May 3, 1915, an attack was made on the British front; but it was stopped by the artillery.

Sir Herbert Plumer in the meantime had been executing the order he had received from Sir John French, and shortened his lines so they were three miles less in length than before starting the movement. The new line extended from the French position west of the Ypres-Langemarck Road and proceeded through "shell-trap" farm to the Haanebeek and the eastern part of the Frezenberg ridge where it turned south, covering Bellewaarde Lake and Hooge and bent around Hill 60. This resulted in leaving to the Germans the Veldhoek, Bosche, and Polygon Woods, and Fortuin and Zonnebeke. This new front protected all of the roads to Ypres, and, at the same time, it was not necessary to employ as many soldiers to hold this line. Moreover the defenders of it could not be fired upon from three sides as long as they held it. In some places the British and German trenches had been no more than ten yards apart, but the difficulty of evacuating the British position was completed in safety on the night of May 3, 1915. The work included the taking with them 780 wounded. Sharpshooters were left in the trenches, however, and they maintained such an appearance of activity and alertness that the Germans kept on shelling the trenches all of the following day.

The attempt of General Putz to force the Germans back across the Yperlee Canal on May 4, 1915, was stopped by a combination of machine guns, asphyxiating gas and fog. Then the French spent the next ten days in tunneling to Steenstraate. Their tunnels toward their objective point were through that territory between Boesinghe and Lizerne. On May 5, 1915 the Germans made a careful advance on the British front under the cover of fog and a heavy bombardment, to find only that the British position had been changed. But they intrenched opposite the new alignment, and brought up their big guns. Then they used poisonous gas again with the result that the British retreated and the Teutons followed, in spite of the many men who fell because of the accurate work of the British artillery. The greater part of this action took place around Hill 60, and some of the British trenches to the north of the hill were captured by the Germans. They then penetrated toward Zillebeke to the supporting line. Up to midnight the Germans seemed to be victorious; then, however, the British drove them from the hill only to be driven away in turn by the use of asphyxiating gas. On the following day the Teutons held Hill 60 and some of the trenches north of it.

Asphyxiating gas also had been used in an attempt to break the British front on the left, on both the north and south sides of the Ypres-Roulers railroad. Though this attack failed, the Teutons were ready to make as near superhuman efforts as possible because they knew that the French were getting ready for a decisive action in the Arras territory, which would have the aid of a British attack south of the Lys. Hence it was to the advantage of the Germans to force Sir John French and General Foch to retain most of the British and French soldiers north of the Lys. On May 8, 1915, they turned their artillery on that part of the British front that was near Frezenberg. It destroyed the trenches and killed or wounded hundreds of the defenders. After three hours of this, the Germans commenced an attack on that part of the British front between the Ypres-Menin and the Ypres-Poelcappelle highways, the greatest pressure being brought to bear along both sides of the Ypres-Roulers railroad.

The British fought bravely, but it was impossible for them to hold out against the avalanche of lead. First the right of a brigade went to pieces and then its center and the left of another brigade south of it were forced back. Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry held fast. The Second Essex Regiment also made some little success for their side by annihilating a small detachment of Germans; but that was more than offset by the breaking of the center of another brigade, after which the First Suffolks were surrounded and put out of the fight. Finally the Germans pushed their way on to Frezenberg. Sir Herbert Plumer realized by the middle of the afternoon that a counterattack was necessary. He had held two battalions in reserve along the Ypres-Menin Road. He also had five battalions with him and reenforcements in the form of a brigade of infantry had arrived at Vlamertinghe Chateau, back of Ypres. He sent the First Royal Warwickshires, the Second Royal Dublin Fusiliers, the Second Surreys, the Third Middlesex, and the First York and Lancaster Regiments into the break in the line with the result that Frezenberg was retaken. This victory was short-lived, however; for the German machine-gun fire was too fierce for the men to withstand. The British retired to a new front which ran north and south through Verlorenhoek. The Twelfth London Regiment, on the left, though it lost many men, managed to get to the original line of trenches. Next the British were menaced from the north and east. Great bodies of Teutons rushed from the woods south of the Menin highway, when others rushed down the Poelcappelle Road and took Wieltje, which is only about two miles from Ypres.

The fighting continued all night, but shortly after midnight the British charged with the bayonet and retook Wieltje as well as most of that section to the north of it which they had lost. Early on May 9, 1915, the fighting was continued, and, in the afternoon, the Germans charged from the woods in a vain attempt to take Ypres after a severe bombardment of the British trenches. An attacking party of five hundred was slain north of the town. On the eastern side of the salient there were five distinct attacks. An attempt to capture the Chateau Hooge was made early in the evening, only to result in heaping the ground with German dead. The day closed with 150 yards of British trenches in the hands of the Germans; but they had been taken at a fearful cost to the kaiser's men.

The Germans began the next day, May 10, 1915, by shelling the British north and south of the Ypres-Menin road. They followed the cannonade with a cloud of asphyxiating gas. They then started for the opposing trenches. Many of them, the British allege, wore British uniforms. The British had by now been equipped with proper respirators and could withstand a gas attack with comparative ease. When the Germans were in close range they received a rifle and machine-gun fire that mowed them down almost instantly. Those who had not been shot fell to the ground to escape the leaden hail. But escape was not for them. Shrapnel was poured upon them, and nearly all of the attacking troops perished.

Another gas attack was made between the Ypres-Menin road and the Ypres-Comines canal. There two batteries of gas cylinders sent forth their deadly fumes for more than a half hour. The cloud that resulted became so dense that it was impossible for the British in the opposite trenches to see anything; so they were withdrawn temporarily; but the troops to the left and right kept the Germans from following up this advantage and the trenches were saved to the British. When the gas had passed away the men returned to their former position. North of the Menin road, however, the Germans were successful in driving the Fourth Rifle Brigade and the Third King's Royal Rifles to a new position, the trenches which the British occupied having been battered by shell fire to such an extent that some of the occupants were buried alive. Hence the British here retreated to a new line of trenches west of the Bellewaarde Wood where the trees had been shelled until they were part of a hopeless entanglement rather than a forest.

The next day, May 11, 1915, was started by the Germans hurling hundreds of incendiary shells into the already ruined town of Ypres. They also fired almost countless high-explosive shells into the British trenches. The British big guns replied with considerable effect. One of the German cannon was rendered useless by the fire of the Thirty-first Heavy Battery, and several howitzers were damaged by the North Midland Heavy Battery. The German cannonade was especially effective near the Ypres-St. Julien road. The Teutons, however, did not confine their work to the artillery, for they made three assaults on the British trenches south of the Menin road. This part of the line was held by Scottish regiments, who, though they were forced out of their trenches, regained them with the aid of other Scots who were supporting them.

By now it was apparent to the British commanding officers that they must still further lessen the projection of their salient. So on May 12, 1915, the Twenty-eighth Division was sent to the reserve. It had experienced continuous fighting since April 22, 1915, and had suffered severe losses. It had only one lieutenant colonel. Captains were in command of most of its battalions. The First and Third Cavalry Divisions took its place. They were under the command of General De Lisle. From left to right the new line was held as follows: The men of the Twelfth Brigade, the Eleventh Brigade, and a battalion of the Tenth Brigade of the Fourth Division guarded the new front to a point northeast of Verlorenhoek. Next came the First Cavalry which held the line to the Roulers railroad. From the railroad to Bellewaarde Lake the Third Division held the line. From the lake to Hill 60 the Twenty-seventh Division had its position. The British admitted that this new position was not strong, because it lacked natural advantages, and the trenches were more or less of hasty construction.

The Germans started a heavy bombardment of the cavalry on May 13, 1915, when the rain was pouring in torrents and a north wind was adding to the discomforts of the British. The fiercest part of this attack was on the Third Division. Some idea of the fierceness of the bombardment can be gained when it is known that in a comparatively short space of time more than eight hundred shells were hurled on a part of the British line which was not more than a mile in length. In places the British were buried alive. In spite of the destructive fire, the North Somerset Yeomanry, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Glyn, charged the Germans who were advancing on their trenches under cover of the bombardment. The charge was effective, and the Teutons were driven headlong toward their own trenches. But the German artillery had the range of the Seventh Brigade on the right, and poured upon it such a fire that it retreated several hundred yards, leaving the right of the Sixth Brigade exposed. As soon as possible the British made an attempt to remedy the defect in their line, and found it necessary to make a counterattack. In this counterattack very satisfactory results were obtained by the use of the Duke of Westminster's armored motor cars. The British regained the lost ground, but they found it impossible to retain it, for the Teuton's heavy artillery had the range of the position so accurately that no man could live there. The result of the day's fighting was a farther pushing back of the line of the British so that it bent backward from Verlorenhoek and Bellewaarde Lake. In addition to being forced back, the British suffered a large loss of men, especially officers.

The infantry on the left had been fiercely attacked on this same day; but it managed to keep from being driven from its position. One of the defenders of this part of the line was a territorial battalion, the London Rifle Brigade. There were only 278 men in the battalion at the beginning of the day, it having suffered severe losses previously. By night ninety-one more had been lost. Four survivors, under command of Sergeant Douglas Belcher, and two hussars whom the sergeant had added to his squad, held that part of the line in the face of repeated attacks. These plucky men not only made the Germans think the front was strongly defended there by using quick-firing methods, but they undoubtedly saved the right of the Fourth Division. Another especially gallant piece of work on the part of the British was done by the Second Essex, the reserve battalion of the Twelfth Brigade. With a bayonet charge they drove the Germans from Shelltrap Farm, which was between the Langemarck and Poelcappelle highways, and, though it was held by first one side and then the other, the British had it at the close of the day in spite of the bombardment it received.

The French met with better success on the British left. Under the command of General Putz they made an attack on Het Sase and Steenstraate. The sharpshooters of the Zouaves and Algerians took a trench in front of the latter place and entered the village. They fought on to the canal by the end of that day, which was May 15, 1915. More than six hundred Teuton dead were counted after that engagement. At the same time the Zouaves captured Het Sase with great ease, because the artillery had rendered its defenders useless for more fighting. The Germans, however, were not inclined to give up the town so easily. They bombarded Het Sase that night, using asphyxiating shells. Nothing daunted, the Zouaves put on their respirators and drove off with hand grenades and rifle fire the Germans who followed in the wake of the poisonous shells. On the following day it was said that the only Germans left alive on the left side of the Yperlee Canal were either wounded or prisoners. The French had destroyed three German regiments, taken three redoubts, and captured four fortified lines and three villages. In this connection it may not be amiss to note that the French reported that, on May 15, 1915, the German Marine Fusiliers who were attempting to hold the Yperlee Canal concluded it was the better part of valor to surrender. Before the Germans could relinquish their places they were shot down by their comrades in the rear.

Fighting along the line of the salient continued with more or less vigor for nearly ten days, but, until May 24, 1915, there were no engagements that had much out of the ordinary. On that date, however, the entire front from Bellewaarde Lake to Shelltrap, a line three miles in length, was bombarded with asphyxiating shells. This was followed by a gas cloud that was sent against the same extent of trenches. The wind sent the cloud in a southwesterly direction, so that the deadly fumes got in their work along nearly five miles of the front. It is asserted that the cloud was 40 feet in height, and that the Germans continued to renew the supply of gas for four and a half hours. It had little effect wherever the British used their respirators, for they managed to stay in their positions without undue inconvenience. Those who suffered the most from the gas cloud were the infantry of the Fourth Division on the left. The cloud which had followed the asphyxiating shells was in turn followed by a severe bombardment from three sides—the east, northeast, and north. The principal attacks were made in the neighborhood of Shelltrap, the British front along the Roulers railroad, and along the Menin road in the vicinity of Bellewaarde Lake. In those places the British were pushed back at least temporarily; but counterattacks were delivered before nightfall, and the greater part of the lost ground regained. Thus, to the disappointment of the Germans, their extra effort, with all the means of warfare at their disposal, had resulted only in reducing the salient at an enormous cost in lives on both sides, but the gain had been for the most part temporary.

Before leaving the consideration of the second battle of Ypres it may be well to estimate what has been gained and lost by both sides. In the attempt to wear down their opponents one side had inflicted as much of a blow as the other, to all intents and purposes, for there had been an almost prodigal waste of human life and ammunition. The distinct advantage that Germany had gained was in pushing back and almost flattening out the prow of the British salient, and they had demonstrated the superiority of their artillery. Britain, on the other hand, had lost no strategical advantage by the change of her line. The knowledge that Germany had a superior artillery acted as a stimulant in making the British provide a better equipment of big guns. But the British had demonstrated the great superiority of their infantry over that of Germany. In fact there was comfort to be derived by the friends of each side as a result of the second battle of Ypres. The fighting had to stop, as far as being a general engagement was concerned. There were other parts of the front in western Europe which were becoming by far too active for either the Germans or the British to neglect them. Hence it is necessary to leave Ypres and the brave men who fell there, and consider what was being done elsewhere.

* * * * *



During the time in which the foregoing actions had been taking place, there was activity on the part of the Allies and the Germans in other sections of the great western front. It is true that not much was accomplished in Alsace in either April or May; for the fighting in the plains had been for the most part what may be termed trench warfare. The most important engagement had been the effort to take and hold Hartmannsweilerkopf, the spur of the Molkenrain massif, which controls the union of the Thur and the Ill. The top of this rise of ground, it will be remembered, had been won by the Germans on January 21,1915; but the heights west of it and their slopes were in the possession of the French, who desired to add the spur to their possessions. For this purpose the French artillery bombarded it on March 25, 1915, and continued their work on the following day, March 26, 1915, when the Chasseurs stormed the height, and, after fighting for six hours, gained the top and captured 400 prisoners. But the Germans had no intention of giving their opponents such a hold on the control of the valley of the Ill, so there were many counterattacks.

While the Germans were attempting to retake the summit, the French were making desperate efforts to drive the Teutons from the eastern slopes. The Germans were temporarily successful, but their success was short-lived, for the French retook the top on April 28, 1915. During the next month, May, both sides made claims of success; but what each actually possessed was as follows: The French had the top and all of the western portion; the Germans possessed the summit ridge, and the east and northeast portions. But, until the French held the entire mountain, they could make little use of it in controlling the Ill Valley.

The fighting in the other part of the Vosges had to do principally with the valley of the Fecht. The stream runs from Schlucht and Bramont east, and proceeds past Muenster and Metzeral. On its right bank is the railroad from Colmar to Metzeral. The heights in the upper part of the valley were held by the Chasseurs Alpins; and they desired to take both towns. Throughout the month of April the French were fairly successful on both banks of the river. The spur above Metzeral to the northwest was taken by them. The ridge between the two valleys was captured by the French on April 17, 1915. The fighting here was continued throughout May, 1915.

The next scene of activity was north, where there was a wooded plateau between the Moselle and the Meuse. Here the Germans had a salient which was long and quite narrow. The point of this salient was at St. Mihiel, the other side of the Meuse. This point was well protected by the artillery at Camp des Romains, which controlled the section for ten miles in any direction. To the north of the salient there was a railroad from Etain to Metz. There was another line twenty miles to the south. This ran from Metz to Thiaucourt by the Rupt de Mad. The village of Vigneulles was about in the center of the narrow part of the salient, and on the road to St. Mihiel. There was a better road to the south through Apremont. A strategic railroad had been built from Thiaucourt by Vigneulles to St. Mihiel, down the Gap of Spada, which is an opening between the hills of the Meuse Valley. The plateau of Les Eparges is north of Vigneulles. The plateau is approximately 1,000 feet above the sea level, and forms the eastern border of the heights of the Meuse. There was high land on the southern side of the salient, along which ran the main road from Commercy to Pont-a-Mousson. Within the salient the land was rough and, to a considerable extent, covered with wood.

The French did not plan to make an attack on the salient at its apex. The artillery at Camp des Romains would be too effective. The French plan was to press in the sides of the salient and finally control the St. Mihiel communications. The southeastern side of the salient, at the beginning of April, 1915, extended from St. Mihiel to Camp des Romains, thence to Bois d'Ailly, Apremont, Boudonville, Regnieville, and finally to the Moselle, three miles north of Pont-a-Mousson. The northwestern side was marked by an imaginary line drawn from Etain in the north past Fresnes, over the Les Eparges Heights, and thence by Lamorville and Spada to St. Mihiel. The place of most importance, from a military point of view, was the Les Eparges plateau, which controlled the greater part of the northern section of the salient. The taking of this plateau would naturally be the first step in capturing Vigneulles. But the Germans had converted Les Eparges into what had the appearance of being an impregnable fort, when they took it on September 21, 1914. Their trenches lined the slopes, and everything had been made secure for a possible siege. The French in February and March, 1915, however, had taken the village of Les Eparges and a portion of the steep side on the northwest. But of necessity they made progress slowly, because they were in such an exposed position whenever they sought the top. They had planned an assault for April 5, 1915, and, in a heavy rain, with the slope a great mass of deep mud, the French gained some territory. This they were unable to hold when the Germans made a counterattack on the following morning, April 6, 1915. That night the soldiers of the republic forced their way up with the bayonet, taking 1,500 yards of trenches, by the morning of April 7, 1915. Thereupon the Germans brought up reenforcements, which were rendered useless by the French artillery, which prevented them from going forward to the battle line. The German artillery used the same tactics, with the result that the French reenforcements were kept out of the fight. After the cannons had completed their work, both sides were apparently willing to rest for the remainder of the day. But on the morning of April 8, 1915, two regiments of infantry and a battalion of Chasseurs forced their way to the top, which they took after an hour's hard fighting. That pushed the Germans back to the eastern slope. Then the battle was fought on during the remainder of the day, which found the French, at its close, in possession of all except a little triangle in the eastern section.

Some idea of the conditions confronting those who attempted the ascent may be gained when it is learned that fourteen hours were required by the hardy French troops to go up to relieve their comrades who gained the top. This relief was not sent until the following day, April 9, 1915. On that day the Germans in the little triangle were driven off or slain. One of the sudden and dense fogs of the region appeared later and made a cover for a German counterattack. The French were at a disadvantage, but they quickly rallied, and, the fog suddenly lifting, they employed a bayonet charge with such good effect that the Germans were driven off with large losses. The importance of this achievement to the Allies is not likely to be overestimated. The height of Les Eparges dominated the Woevre district, and its capture by the French was one of the most heroic feats of the war. The Germans placed as high a value on the height for military purposes as the French. They had spent the winter in adding to what nature had made nearly perfect—the impregnability of the entire sector. They intrusted its defense, when an attack seemed likely, only to first-line troops, the Tenth Division of the Fifth Corps from Posen holding it when the French made their successful attack. To gain the height it was necessary for the French to climb the slimy sides, which were swept by machine-gun fire. The Germans knew the exact range of every square foot of the slopes. There was no place that offered even a slight shelter for the attacking force. The weather was at its worst. Yet, in spite of the many difficulties which seemed insurmountable, the French soldiers had won the most decisive engagement in this part of the campaign.

It is true the Teutons occupied the lesser spur of Combres; but that gave them little or no advantage, for no attack could be made from it without subjecting the attacking party to a leaden hail from St. Remy and Les Eparges. But the German salient still remained, and the French continued their pressure on it. They pushed forward in the north to Etain, and took the hills on the right bank of the Orne, which hampered their enemy in his use of the Etain-Conflans railroad. They closed in on the reentrant of the salient to the north—Gussainville; and they used the same tactics in regard to Lamorville, because it dominated the Gap of Spada; and to the north of it they exerted a pressure on the Bois de la Selouse. The engagements on the south of the salient were fought desperately. The part of the top which falls away to the Rupt de Mad was held by the French. That section is covered with a low wood, which develops into presentable forests in the region toward the Moselle Valley to the east. The Teutons had taken every advantage of the ground in constructing their fortifications, and the French found a hard task before them. They proceeded against their opponents in the Bois d'Ailly, the Forest of Apremont, the Bois de Mont-Mare, the village of Regnieville, and the Bois le Pretre. Though each success was not large, the entire effort was effective in pushing in the southern side of the salient. This brought the soldiers of the republic to within about four miles of Thiaucourt, which, with the control of Les Eparges, threatened St. Mihiel.

The French heavy artillery shelled the southern front of the trenches at Metz on May 1, 1915. The great desire to take Alsace and Lorraine, however, was set aside early in the month. The plight of Russia at this time made it imperative for the Allies to make a great movement on the western front to prevent as much as possible the pressure on the czar's line. Hence the campaign which seemed to be planned by the French was abandoned for a larger opportunity. This was the advance of the Tenth Army in the Artois over the plain of the Scheldt in the direction of Douai and Valenciennes, thereby threatening the communications of the entire Teuton line from Soissons to Lille. Hence the French started a vigorous movement against Lens, while the British sought to take Lille.

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse