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First Battle of Ypres
Part of the Race to the Sea on the Western Front (World War I)
Race to the Sea 1914.png
The frontline at the beginning of "First Ypres"
Date 19 October - 22 November 1914
Location 50°51′51″N 2°53′44″E / 50.8641°N 2.8956°E / 50.8641; 2.8956Coordinates: 50°51′51″N 2°53′44″E / 50.8641°N 2.8956°E / 50.8641; 2.8956
Ypres, Belgium
Result Decisive Allied victory
Belligerents
United Kingdom United Kingdom

Flag of Imperial India.svg British India
France France
Belgium Belgium

German Empire German Empire
Commanders
United Kingdom John French
France Ferdinand Foch
German Empire Erich von Falkenhayn
Strength
British Army: 163,897 men[1]
Casualties and losses
British Army: 7,960 killed in action[2], 29,562 wounded in action and 17,873 missing in action
French Army: 50,000-85,000 killed, wounded and missing[2]
Belgian Army: 21,562 killed, wounded and missing[2]
19,530 killed
83,520 wounded
31,265 missing[3]

The First Battle of Ypres, also called the First Battle of Flanders (French: 1re Bataille des Flandres), was a First World War battle fought for the strategic town of Ypres in western Belgium. The German and Western Allied attempts to secure the town from enemy occupation included a series of further battles in and around the West Flanders Belgian municipality. The strategies of both the Allied and German armies are not entirely clear. The accepted and mainstream reasoning for the Ypres battle was the British desire to secure the English Channel ports and the British Army's supply lines; Ypres was the last major obstacle to the German advance on Boulogne-sur-Mer and Calais. The French strategy revolved around a desire to prevent German forces from outflanking the Allied front from the north. This was the last major German option, after their defeats at the First Battle of the Aisne and First Battle of the Marne. The Ypres campaign became the culmination point of the Race to the Sea. The opposing Armies both engaged in offensive operations until the major German offensive occurred in mid-October, which forced the Allies onto the strategic defensive and limited to counter-attacks. The battle highlighted problems in command and control for both sides, with each of the Armies missing opportunities to win a significant decision early on. The Germans in particular overestimated the numbers and strength of the Allied defences at Ypres, and called off their last offensive too early. The Battle was also significant as it witnessed the destruction of the highly experienced and trained British regular army. Having suffered enormous losses for its small size, the “The Old Contemptibles” disappeared to be replaced by fresh reserves which eventually turned into a mass conscripted Army to match its Allies and enemies. The result was a victory for the Allies, although losses were particularly heavy on both sides. The Germans called the battle "The Massacre of the Innocents of Ypres" (in German Kindermord bei Ypern) as most of the German casualties were a mixture of young inexperienced and highly trained reserves.

The end of the Battle marked the end of mobile operations until 1918.

Contents

Background

The Ypres campaign was the culmination of the first year of the Great War. After four months of heavy fighting and nearly a million German and French casualties, the Germans and Allied Armies attempted one more breakthrough operation to win a decisive victory in the year 1914. In August, the Imperial German Army implemented the Schlieffen Plan. It invaded Belgium in an attempt to outflank the large French Army forces on the German-French border, capture Paris and encircle the French via an advance to the Swiss border. Unfortunately for the Schlieffen Plan, poor German strategic planning had induced Great Britain into joining the war on the side of the Franco-Russian Entente. From the British perspective, the German invasion of neutral Belgium would meant German annexation of the Belgian channel ports which would threaten British naval supremacy in the English Channel, North Sea and Atlantic Ocean.[4] Moreover, Britain had a tradition of fighting wars on the continent to maintain the balance of power.[5] A German victory over France and Russia could not be tolerated. As a result, Britain declared war. The War Cabinet committed its British Expeditionary Force, under the Command of Field Marshal Sir John French, to guard the flanks of the French Army by advancing into Belgium and checking the German invasion. Fortunately for the Entente, the Germans underestimated the Belgian Army. Serious Belgian resistance and scorched earth policies slowed down the German advance considerably and contributing to the failure of the German plan.[6] Nevertheless, German numbers succeeded in gaining victories during the Battle of the Frontiers, forcing the Allies to abandon their original offensive strategy in the Alsace and Belgium. Owing to German failures in logistics, and the difficulty of command and control at that time, the French were able to pull their forces out of the potential trap, and redeploy them in time to defeat the Germans at the First Battle of the Marne. Unable to drive each other back, the Allied and German forces conducted a race to the sea, in an effort to outflank each other and achieve a decision.[7] The race continued north until the opposing forces reached Ypres, a city inside the Belgian border. Ypres was strategically vital. It was the last geographical object protecting the Allied-held ports at Calais and Boulogne-sur-Mer. The loss of these ports would have denied the shortest logistical supply route to Allied forces on the Western Front. Its loss would have decisive strategic consequences. For the German Army, Ypres was also vital. The collapse of its Ypres front would allow the Allied armies access to the flat and relatively traversable terrain of Flanders. Beyond the Yrpes position, the Germans had no significant defensive barrier to protect the huge Ghent-Roeselare rail network axis, vital to German strategic and operational mobility in Belgium and the entire northern flank of the their front.

Forces involved

German Army

The British foresaw their effort much the same as in the Napoleonic Wars; maintaining dominance of the seas, and financial support, whilst providing a small highly trained army to supplement the French. Unfortunately, the British Army was totally unprepared to undertake large-scale continental operations against formidable European opponents such as Germany. The German Army was the strongest in Europe in 1914, and by November 1918 had mobilised 13.2 million men (41.4 percent of the male population). In 1914, in anticipation of a short war, just 5.4 million were mobilised. A further 308,000 kriegsfreiwillige (wartime volunteers) did not wait for conscription.[8] The army itself could draw immediately on a pool of sufficiently trained men. Owing to pre-war military service, some 82 percent of German soldiers had an adequate standard of training. Of the kriegsfreiwillige, just 25 percent were trained reservists. Of the German forces at Ypres, the majority were well trained and by no means, as the myth of First Ypres implies, were the German soldiers all student volunteers.[9]

Nevertheless, German mobilisation did not go smoothly. In August 1914, the Germans activated 31 trained infantry divisions to add to the 51 active divisions. In addition, four Landwehr and six Ersatz divisions were formed. On 16 August, six new reserve corps were created. Five of them, XXII Corps (containing 43rd and 44th reserve divisions), XXIII Corps (containing 45th and 46th divisions), XXVI Corps (containing 51st and 52nd divisions), XXVII Corps (containing 53rd and 54th divisions). Attached to these were the 9th reserve division, the Marine division and the 6th Bavarian Reserve Division.[10][11]

Owing to the nature of mass mobilisation, the German Army struggled to equip its divisions. Helmets were obtained from the Berlin Police and weapons were seconded from training units. By September, weapons shortages were so acute, captured Russian and Belgian small arms were being used to equip reserve divisions. This problem would afflict the British when raising Kitchener's New Armies.[10]

French Army

British Army

Battle

The British Expeditionary Force, under the command of Field Marshal Sir John French, was redeployed north from the mobile fighting of the first two months of the war to join two divisions of reinforcements recently landed in Belgium. They advanced east from Saint-Omer, met and halted the German Army at the Passchendaele Ridge to the east of the Belgian town of Ypres. The First Battle of Ypres was preceded by the Battle of the Yser which ended when the Belgians opened the sluice gates of the river Yser to let in the sea into the low lying land to prevent further German advances [12]. Both sides dug in for trench warfare. The town of Ypres was rapidly demolished by artillery and air attack.

The Germans called the battle "The Massacre of the Innocents of Ypres" (in German Kindermord bei Ypern).[13] Eight German units consisted of young volunteers, many of them enthusiastic students, suffered huge casualties during a failed attack on a smaller but highly-experienced British force, many of them veterans of the Second Boer War. The BEF was supported for the first time by battalions from the Army of India and the British Territorial Force, whose support was essential in holding the Germans at bay. The BEF was severely weakened at First Ypres, but the battle allowed the Allies time to strengthen their lines.

In 1917, the Mons Star was awarded to those surviving British troops who had served in France or Belgium prior to the end of the First Battle of Ypres; the last surviving holder of this decoration, Alfred Anderson, died in November 2005.

Many of the German student volunteers are buried at the Langemark German war cemetery.

The future leader of Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler, claimed to have participated in this battle as a Gefreiter.

See also

References

Citations

  1. ^ Lomas and Dovey 1998, p. 6.
  2. ^ a b c Beckett 2003, p. 176.
  3. ^ German Army casualties at Ypres, 1914.
  4. ^ Steiner 1977, p. 233.
  5. ^ Sheffield 2003, p. 5.
  6. ^ Holmes 2005, p. 506.
  7. ^ Lomas and Dovey 1998, p. 22.
  8. ^ Beckett 2004 p. 35.
  9. ^ Beckett 2004 p. 37.
  10. ^ a b Beckett 2004, p. 36.
  11. ^ Beckett 2004, p. 194.
  12. ^ Battles: The First Battle of Ypres, 1914
  13. ^ First battle of Ypres, 19 October-22 November 1914

Bibliography

  • Beckett, Ian. Ypres The First Battle, 1914. Longman; 2004. ISBN 978-0582506121
  • Foley, Robert. German Strategy and the Path to Verdun: Erich Von Falkenhayn and the Development of Attrition. Cambridge University Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0521044363
  • Gardner, Nicolas. Trial by Fire: Command and the British Expeditionary Force in 1914. Pearson; London. 2003. ISBN 0582506123
  • Holmes, Richard. The Oxford Campanion to Military History. Oxford University Press. 2001. ISBN 978-0198606963
  • Lomas, David. First Ypres 1914: The Birth of Trench Warfare. Greenwood Press; 2004. ISBN 978-0275982911
  • Martin Gilbert: The Routledge Atlas of the First World War, second edition, Routledge 2002 ISBN 0-415-28508-9
  • Paul Van Pul : In Flanders Flooded Fields, before Ypres there was Yser, Pen & Sword Military, 2006 ISBN 1-84415-492-0

External links








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