Second Battle of Ypres
Overview
 
The Second Battle of Ypres was the first time Germany used poison gas on a large scale on the Western Front
Western Front (World War I)
Following the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the German Army opened the Western Front by first invading Luxembourg and Belgium, then gaining military control of important industrial regions in France. The tide of the advance was dramatically turned with the Battle of the Marne...

 in the First World War and the first time a former colonial force (Canadians
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

) pushed back a major European power (Germans) on European soil, which occurred in the battle of St. Julien-Kitcheners' Wood.
The Second Battle of Ypres
Ypres
Ypres is a Belgian municipality located in the Flemish province of West Flanders. The municipality comprises the city of Ypres and the villages of Boezinge, Brielen, Dikkebus, Elverdinge, Hollebeke, Sint-Jan, Vlamertinge, Voormezele, Zillebeke, and Zuidschote...

 consisted of four separate engagements:
  • The Battle of Gravenstafel: Thursday 22 April – Friday 23 April 1915
  • The Battle of Saint Julien: Saturday 24 April – 4 May 1915.
  • The Battle of Frezenberg: 8–13 May 1915
  • The Battle of Bellewaarde: 24–25 May 1915


The scene of the battles was the Ypres salient
Ypres Salient
The Ypres Salient is the area around Ypres in Belgium which was the scene of some of the biggest battles in World War I.In military terms, a salient is a battlefield feature that projects into enemy territory. Therefore, the salient is surrounded by the enemy on three sides, making the troops...

 on the Western Front, where the Allied line which followed the canal bulged eastward around the town of Ypres
Ypres
Ypres is a Belgian municipality located in the Flemish province of West Flanders. The municipality comprises the city of Ypres and the villages of Boezinge, Brielen, Dikkebus, Elverdinge, Hollebeke, Sint-Jan, Vlamertinge, Voormezele, Zillebeke, and Zuidschote...

, Belgium.
Encyclopedia
The Second Battle of Ypres was the first time Germany used poison gas on a large scale on the Western Front
Western Front (World War I)
Following the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the German Army opened the Western Front by first invading Luxembourg and Belgium, then gaining military control of important industrial regions in France. The tide of the advance was dramatically turned with the Battle of the Marne...

 in the First World War and the first time a former colonial force (Canadians
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

) pushed back a major European power (Germans) on European soil, which occurred in the battle of St. Julien-Kitcheners' Wood.

Overview

The Second Battle of Ypres
Ypres
Ypres is a Belgian municipality located in the Flemish province of West Flanders. The municipality comprises the city of Ypres and the villages of Boezinge, Brielen, Dikkebus, Elverdinge, Hollebeke, Sint-Jan, Vlamertinge, Voormezele, Zillebeke, and Zuidschote...

 consisted of four separate engagements:
  • The Battle of Gravenstafel: Thursday 22 April – Friday 23 April 1915
  • The Battle of Saint Julien: Saturday 24 April – 4 May 1915.
  • The Battle of Frezenberg: 8–13 May 1915
  • The Battle of Bellewaarde: 24–25 May 1915


The scene of the battles was the Ypres salient
Ypres Salient
The Ypres Salient is the area around Ypres in Belgium which was the scene of some of the biggest battles in World War I.In military terms, a salient is a battlefield feature that projects into enemy territory. Therefore, the salient is surrounded by the enemy on three sides, making the troops...

 on the Western Front, where the Allied line which followed the canal bulged eastward around the town of Ypres
Ypres
Ypres is a Belgian municipality located in the Flemish province of West Flanders. The municipality comprises the city of Ypres and the villages of Boezinge, Brielen, Dikkebus, Elverdinge, Hollebeke, Sint-Jan, Vlamertinge, Voormezele, Zillebeke, and Zuidschote...

, Belgium. North of the salient were the Belgians
Belgians
Belgians are people originating from the Kingdom of Belgium, a federal state in Western Europe.-Etymology:Belgians are a relatively "new" people...

; covering the northern part of the salient itself were two French divisions (one Metropolitan and one Algeria
Algeria
Algeria , officially the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria , also formally referred to as the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria, is a country in the Maghreb region of Northwest Africa with Algiers as its capital.In terms of land area, it is the largest country in Africa and the Arab...

n) The eastern part of the salient was defended by one Canadian division and two UK divisions.

In total during the battles, the British Commonwealth forces were the II and V Corps of the Second Army made up of the 1st, 2nd
2nd Cavalry Division (United Kingdom)
The 2nd Cavalry Division was a regular British Army division that saw service in World War I. It also known as Gough's Command, after its commanding General and was part of the initial British Expeditionary Force which landed in France in September 1914....

 and 3rd Cavalry divisions, and the 4th
4th Infantry Division (United Kingdom)
The 4th Infantry Division is a regular British Army division with a long history having been present at the Peninsular War the Crimean War , the First World War , and during the Second World War.- Napoleonic Wars :...

, 27th, 28th
28th Division (United Kingdom)
- History :Formed in England in December 1914 - January 1915 from regular arm battalions returning from India , Singapore and Egypt . In January 1915 the division moved to France and on to the Western Front....

, 50th, Lahore
3rd (Lahore) Division
The 3rd Division was an infantry division of the British Indian Army, first organised in 1852. It saw service during World War I as part of the Indian Corps in France before being moved to the Middle East where it fought against troops of the Ottoman Empire.-Pre-Mutiny:The Lahore Division first...

 and 1st Canadian Division
1st Canadian Division
Formed in August 1914, the 1st Canadian Division was a formation of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The division was initially made up from provisional battalions that were named after their province of origin but these titles were dropped before the division arrived in Britain on October 14,...

s.

Battle of Gravenstafel (22–23 April 1915)

50.891°N 2.979°E
Today this tiny hamlet is named Gravenstafel.

Gas attack on Gravenstafel

At around 5:00 pm on 22 April 1915, the German Army
German Army (German Empire)
The German Army was the name given the combined land forces of the German Empire, also known as the National Army , Imperial Army or Imperial German Army. The term "Deutsches Heer" is also used for the modern German Army, the land component of the German Bundeswehr...

 released one hundred and sixty eight tons of chlorine gas over a 6.5 km (4 mi) front on the part of the line held by French Territorial and colonial Moroccan and Algerian
French Colonial Forces
The French Colonial Forces , commonly called La Coloniale, was a general designation for the military forces that garrisoned in the French colonial empire from the late 17th century until 1960. They were recruited from mainland France or from the French settler and indigenous populations of the...

 troops of the French 45th and 78th divisions. While this is often recognized as the first use of chemical warfare
Chemical warfare
Chemical warfare involves using the toxic properties of chemical substances as weapons. This type of warfare is distinct from Nuclear warfare and Biological warfare, which together make up NBC, the military acronym for Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical...

, poison gases were used at several earlier battles, including the Battle of Bolimov
Battle of Bolimov
The Battle of Bolimov was an inconclusive battle of World War I fought on January 31, 1915 between Germany and Russia and considered a preliminary to the Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes.- Battle :...

 three months earlier.

The attack involved a massive logistical effort, as German troops hauled 5730 cylinders of chlorine gas, weighing 90 pounds (40.8 kg) each, to the front by hand. The German soldiers also opened the cylinders by hand, relying on the prevailing winds to carry the gas towards enemy lines. Because of this method of dispersal, a large number of German soldiers were injured or killed in the process of carrying out the attack.

Approximately 6,000 French and colonial troops died within ten minutes at Ypres, primarily from asphyxiation and subsequent tissue damage in the lungs. Many more were blinded. Chlorine gas forms hydrochloric (muriatic) acid
Hydrochloric acid
Hydrochloric acid is a solution of hydrogen chloride in water, that is a highly corrosive, strong mineral acid with many industrial uses. It is found naturally in gastric acid....

 when combined with water, destroying moist tissues such as lungs and eyes. The chlorine gas, being denser than air, quickly filled the trenches
Trench warfare
Trench warfare is a form of occupied fighting lines, consisting largely of trenches, in which troops are largely immune to the enemy's small arms fire and are substantially sheltered from artillery...

, forcing the troops to climb out into heavy enemy fire.

With the survivors abandoning their positions en masse, a 4 miles (6.4 km) gap was left in the front line. However, the German High Command had not foreseen the effectiveness of their new weapon, and so had not put any reserves ready in the area. German troops started to enter the gap at 5:00 pm in some numbers, but with the coming of darkness and the lack of follow up troops the German forces did not exploit the gap, and Canadian troops were able to put in a hasty defence by urinating into cloths and putting them to their faces to counter the effects of the gas. Canadians held that part of the line against further attacks until 3 May 1915 at a cost of 6000 wounded or dead. Casualties were especially heavy for the 13th Battalion of the CEF
Canadian Expeditionary Force
The Canadian Expeditionary Force was the designation of the field force created by Canada for service overseas in the First World War. Units of the C.E.F. were divided into field formation in France, where they were organized first into separate divisions and later joined together into a single...

, which was enveloped on three sides and over-extended by the demands of securing its left flank once the Algerian Division had broken.

One thousand of these "original" troops were killed and 4,975 were wounded from an initial strength of 10,000.

At Kitcheners' Wood, the 10th Battalion of the 2nd Canadian Brigade was ordered to counter-attack into the gap created by the gas attack. They formed up after 11:00 pm on the night of 22 April with the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish
The Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary's)
The Canadian Scottish Regiment is a Primary Reserve infantry regiment of the Canadian Forces based on Vancouver Island British Columbia.The regiment is located in Victoria, Nanaimo, and Courtenay, British Columbia...

) of the 3rd Brigade arriving as they were forming, tasked to support the advance. Both battalions stepped off with over 800 men, formed up in waves of two companies each, at 11:46 pm. Without prior reconnaissance
Reconnaissance
Reconnaissance is the military term for exploring beyond the area occupied by friendly forces to gain information about enemy forces or features of the environment....

, the battalions ran into obstacles half way to the objective and drew heavy automatic weapons fire from the Wood, prompting an impromptu bayonet charge. Their attack cleared the former oak plantation of Germans at the cost of 75 percent casualties.

The Canadian actions during the Battle of Gravenstafel are commemorated with the Saint Julien Memorial
Saint Julien Memorial
The St. Julien Memorial is a Canadian war memorial and small commemorative park located in the village of Saint Julien , Belgium. The memorial commemorates the Canadian First Division's participation in the Second Battle of Ypres of World War I which included the defence against the first poison...

 in the village of Saint Julien.

Battle of St Julien (24 April – 5 May)

50.890°N 2.937°E Today this is known as Saint Juliaan.

The village of St. Julien had been comfortably in the rear of the 1st Canadian Division until the poison gas attack of 22 April, whereupon it became the front line. Some of the first fighting in the village involved a hasty stop, which included the stand of Lance Corporal
Lance Corporal
Lance corporal is a military rank, used by many armed forces worldwide, and also by some police forces and other uniformed organizations. It is below the rank of corporal, and is typically the lowest non-commissioned officer, usually equivalent to the NATO Rank Grade OR-3.- Etymology :The presumed...

 Frederick Fisher
Frederick Fisher
Frederick Fisher VC , was a Canadian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. He was the first Canadian-born man to win VC while serving in the Canadian Army. A native of St...

 of the 13th Battalion CEF's machine-gun detachment; who twice went out with a handful of men and a Colt Machine-gun and prevented advancing German troops from passing through St. Julien into the rear of the Canadian front line. Fisher was awarded the VC for his actions on the 22nd, but was killed when he attempted to repeat his actions on the 23; this was the first of 70 Canadian VCs awarded in the First World War.

On the morning of 24 April 1915 the Germans released another cloud of chlorine gas, this time directly towards the re-formed Canadian lines just west of the village of St. Julien. On seeing the approach of the greenish-grey gas cloud, word was passed among the Canadian troops to urinate on their handkerchiefs and place these over their noses and mouths.
However, the countermeasures were ineffective and the Canadian lines broke as a result of the attack, allowing German troops to take the village.

The following day the York and Durham Brigade units of the Northumberland Division counterattacked failing to secure their objectives but establishing a new line close to the village. The third day the Northumberland Brigade attacked again, briefly taking part of the village but forced back with the loss of more than 1,900 men and 40 officers – two thirds of its strength.

The 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers Battalion suffered heavily, incurring hundreds of casualties and with no respite took part in the next two subsidiary battles at Frezenberg and Bellewaarde. On 24 May the battalion was subject to a German chlorine gas attack near Saint Julien and effectively disintegrated as a fighting unit.

The German Army first used chlorine gas cylinders in April 1915 against the French Army at Ypres. French soldiers reported seeing yellow-green clouds drifting slowly towards the Allied trenches. They also noticed its distinctive smell which was like a mixture of pineapple and pepper. At first the French officers assumed that the German infantry were advancing behind a smoke screen and orders were given to prepare for an armed attack. When the gas arrived at the Allied front-trenches soldiers began to complain about pains in the chests and a burning sensation in their throats.

Most soldiers now realised they were being gassed and many ran as fast as they could away from the scene. An hour after the attack had started there was a four-mile gap in the Allied line. As the German soldiers were concerned about what the chlorine gas would do to them, they hesitated about moving forward in large numbers. This delayed attack enabled Canadian and British troops to retake the position before the Germans burst through the gap that the chlorine gas had created.

Chlorine gas destroyed the respiratory organs of its victims and this led to a slow death by asphyxiation. One nurse described the death of one soldier who had been in the trenches during a chlorine gas attack. “He was sitting on the bed, fighting for breath, his lips plum coloured. He was a magnificent young Canadian past all hope in the asphyxia of chlorine. I shall never forget the look in his eyes as he turned to me and gasped: I can’t die! Is it possible that nothing can be done for me?” It was a horrible death, but as hard as they tried, doctors were unable to find a way of successfully treating chlorine gas poisoning.

It was important to have the right weather conditions before a gas attack could be made. When the British Army launched a gas attack on 25 September in 1915, the wind blew it back into the faces of the advancing troops. This problem was solved in 1916 when gas shells were produced for use with heavy artillery. This increased the army's range of attack and helped to protect their own troops when weather conditions were not completely ideal.

After the first German chlorine gas attacks, Allied troops were supplied with masks of cotton pads that had been soaked in urine. It was found that the ammonia in the pad neutralized the chlorine. These pads were held over the face until the soldiers could escape from the poisonous fumes. Other soldiers preferred to use handkerchiefs, a sock, a flannel body-belt, dampened with a solution of bicarbonate of soda, and tied across the mouth and nose until the gas passed over. Soldiers found it difficult to fight like this and attempts were made to develop a better means of protecting men against gas attacks. By July 1915 soldiers were given efficient gas masks and anti-asphyxiation respirators.

One disadvantage for the side that launched chlorine gas attacks was that it made the victim cough and therefore limited his intake of the poison. Both sides found that phosgene
Phosgene
Phosgene is the chemical compound with the formula COCl2. This colorless gas gained infamy as a chemical weapon during World War I. It is also a valued industrial reagent and building block in synthesis of pharmaceuticals and other organic compounds. In low concentrations, its odor resembles...

 was more effective than chlorine. Only a small amount was needed to make it impossible for the soldier to keep fighting. It also killed its victim within 48 hours of the attack. Advancing armies also used a mixture of chlorine and phosgene called 'white star'.

Private W. Hay of the Royal Scots arrived in Ypres just after the chlorine gas attack on 22 April 1915.

Battle of Frezenberg (8–13 May)

50.868°N 2.950°E

The Germans had moved their artillery forward and put three Army corps opposite the 27th and 28th divisions on the Frezenberg ridge. The battle began on 8 May with a bombardment that disrupted the 83rd Brigade holding trenches on the forward side of the ridge but the first and second assaults by German infantry were repelled by the survivors. The third German assault of the morning pushed the defenders back. While the neighbouring 80th Brigade stopped the advance, the 84th Brigade was broken giving a two mile gap in the line. Further advance was stopped through counterattacks and a night move by the 10th Brigade.

After the chlorine gas attack at Ypres in 1915, Sir John French, commander of the British Expeditionary Force, explained what happened.

Battle of Bellewaarde (24–25 May)

50.847°N 2.950°E

On 24 May the Germans released a gas attack on a 4.5 miles (7.2 km) front. British troops were able to defend against initial German attacks but eventually they were forced to retreat to the north and south. Failed British counterattacks forced a British retreat 1000 yards northwards. Upon the end of the battle the Ypres salient was 3 miles (4.8 km) deep.

Aftermath

By the end of the battle the size of the Ypres Salient
Ypres Salient
The Ypres Salient is the area around Ypres in Belgium which was the scene of some of the biggest battles in World War I.In military terms, a salient is a battlefield feature that projects into enemy territory. Therefore, the salient is surrounded by the enemy on three sides, making the troops...

 had been reduced such that Ypres itself was closer to the line. In time it would be reduced by shelling until virtually nothing would remain standing.
The surprise use of poison gas was not a historical first (poison gas had already been used on the Eastern Front) but did come as a tactical surprise to the Allies.
After Second Ypres, both sides developed more sophisticated gas weapons, and countermeasures, and never again was the use of gas either a surprise, nor especially effective. The British quickly developed their own gas attacks using them for the first time at the Battle of Loos
Battle of Loos
The Battle of Loos was one of the major British offensives mounted on the Western Front in 1915 during World War I. It marked the first time the British used poison gas during the war, and is also famous for the fact that it witnessed the first large-scale use of 'new' or Kitchener's Army...

 in late September. Development of gas protection was instituted and the first examples of the PH helmet
PH helmet
The P helmet, PH helmet and PHG helmet were early types of gas mask issued by the British Army in the First World War, to protect troops against chlorine, phosgene and tear gases...

 issued in July 1915.

The Canadian Division was forced to absorb several thousand replacements shortly afterwards, but presented a most favourable image to their allies and the world. Another Canadian division joined the British Expeditionary Force in late 1915, joined eventually by two more in 1916. The battle also blooded many commanders, singling out some for praise, such as brigade commander Arthur Currie
Arthur Currie
Sir Arthur William Currie GCMG, KCB , was a Canadian general during World War I. He had the unique distinction of starting his military career on the very bottom rung as a pre-war militia gunner before rising through the ranks to become the first Canadian commander of the four divisions of the...

, and others for criticism, such as Garnet Hughes
Garnet Hughes
Major General Garnet Burk Hughes CB, DSO, was a Canadian military officer during the First World War. He was the son of Sir Sam Hughes, a Canadian politician and Minister of the Militia during the war...

.

The inadequacies of training and doctrine in the early CEF was made obvious by the antique tactics used at Kitcheners' Wood
Battle of Kitcheners' Wood
The Battle of Kitcheners' Wood was fought during World War I during the Second Battle of Ypres.-Location:The name of this oak plantation derived from the French name, Bois-de-Cuisinères, where French troops housed their field kitchens, and not in reference as is sometimes thought to the British...

 and St. Julien, though tactics in the British Colonial armies would be slow to evolve. At Second Ypres, the smallest tactical unit in the infantry was a company
Company (military unit)
A company is a military unit, typically consisting of 80–225 soldiers and usually commanded by a Captain, Major or Commandant. Most companies are formed of three to five platoons although the exact number may vary by country, unit type, and structure...

; by 1917 it would be the section
Section (military unit)
A section is a small military unit in some armies. In many armies, it is a squad of seven to twelve soldiers. However in France and armies based on the French model, it is the sub-division of a company .-Australian Army:...

. The Canadians were employed offensively later in 1915, but not successfully.

A Third Battle of Ypres, more commonly known as the Battle of Passchendaele was fought in the autumn of 1917. The battle was marked by Canadian tactical successes as a result of many innovations in organization, training and tactics in both the infantry and artillery.

Canadian honour

It was during the Second Battle of Ypres that Lieutenant Colonel
Lieutenant colonel
Lieutenant colonel is a rank of commissioned officer in the armies and most marine forces and some air forces of the world, typically ranking above a major and below a colonel. The rank of lieutenant colonel is often shortened to simply "colonel" in conversation and in unofficial correspondence...

 John McCrae
John McCrae
Lieutenant Colonel John Alexander McCrae was a Canadian poet, physician, author, artist and soldier during World War I and a surgeon during the Second Battle of Ypres...

 M.D. of Guelph
Guelph
Guelph is a city in Ontario, Canada.Guelph may also refer to:* Guelph , consisting of the City of Guelph, Ontario* Guelph , as the above* University of Guelph, in the same city...

, Ontario, Canada wrote the memorable poem In Flanders Fields
In Flanders Fields
"In Flanders Fields" is one of the most notable poems written during World War I, created in the form of a French rondeau. It has been called "the most popular poem" produced during that period...

in the voice of those who perished in the war. Published in Punch Magazine 8 December 1915, it is still recited today, especially on Remembrance Day
Remembrance Day
Remembrance Day is a memorial day observed in Commonwealth countries since the end of World War I to remember the members of their armed forces who have died in the line of duty. This day, or alternative dates, are also recognized as special days for war remembrances in many non-Commonwealth...

 and Memorial Day
Memorial Day
Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the fallen Union soldiers of the Civil War...

.

Lance Sergeant Elmer Cotton, described the effects of chlorine gas in 1915.

See also

  • First Battle of Ypres
    First Battle of Ypres
    The First Battle of Ypres, also called the First Battle of Flanders , was a First World War battle fought for the strategic town of Ypres in western Belgium...

  • Use of poison gas in World War I
  • Saint Julien Memorial
    Saint Julien Memorial
    The St. Julien Memorial is a Canadian war memorial and small commemorative park located in the village of Saint Julien , Belgium. The memorial commemorates the Canadian First Division's participation in the Second Battle of Ypres of World War I which included the defence against the first poison...

  • Third Battle of Ypres
  • List of Canadian battles during World War I

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
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