The 2nd battle of Ypres was the first battle on the Western front in which was gas was used. On April 22nd the Germans conducted a short bombardment of French Algerian troops and the Algerians could see fog bank of greenish yellow clods drifting towards them from the German lines. The Germans had opened up 5,700 canisters which contained 168 tons of chlorine gas and watched to see it's effect on the French troops.
The Germans had lost their 1914 gamble of trying to knock France out of the war before Russia could come fully into the conflict and in 1915 Eric von Falkenhyan was commissioned with the launching of the only major attack on the western front that year. German forces were mainly directed to wearing down and trying to take Russia out of the war on the Eastern Front in 1915.
The attack on Ypres was intended to achieve two objectives, the first being to divert allied focus from the Eastern Front and the second being to test the new gas weapons. The success of the gas on the Algerian troops was almost complete and when the Germans advanced with their experimental gas masks on, they found almost no resistance. The French Algerian troops had either died from the attack, had fled or were unable to resist. The Germans crossed 4 miles of French trenches and took 2,000 prisoners. They had created a 7 mile gap in the French lines and were able to march right through it but not expecting this degree of devastation they had made no plans to follow-up the opportunity and were halted after 3 kilometres when a panicked counter attack by the British second army, under General Smith-Dorrien, manage to stabilize the line.
On the 24th of April the Germans repeated their brief artillery barrage and then launched another gas attack, but this time it was on the Canadian troops located just north-east of Ypres. This time the Canadians were aware that gas might be used in an attack and although not ready, they were able to inflict heavy casualties on the advancing Germans. They resisted German attacks until May 3rd when British relief forces arrived. The Canadians had lost 1000 dead with 5,975 causalities overall. The fighting continued to groan on with terrible losses to both sides with no conclusive results. The Germans did capture territory and managed to reduce the allied salient around Ypres but had missed that initial opportunity to take advantage of the complete breakthrough they could have made on the first day of the gas attack. More slaughter lie in wait with gas becoming a weapon that both sides would use.
DULCE ET DECORUM EST
By Wilfred Owen
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
April 22 - May 25th, 1915
|War:||World War I||1914 - 1918|
|Forces:||8 Infantry Divisions||7 Infantry Divisions|
|Casualties:||Canada & Allies||Germans|
|Casualties - 70,000||Casualties - 35,000|
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