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Title: The Battles in Flanders From Ypres to Neuve Chapelle
Author: Dane, Edmund
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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THE BATTLES IN FLANDERS



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~HOW THE WAR BEGAN~ By W. L. COURTNEY, LL.D., and J. M. KENNEDY

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~THE CAMPAIGN OF SEDAN~ By GEORGE HOOPER

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~FROM HELIGOLAND TO KEELING ISLAND~ By ARCHIBALD HURD

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  PUBLISHED FOR THE DAILY TELEGRAPH
  BY HODDER & STOUGHTON, WARWICK SQUARE,
  LONDON, E.C.



THE BATTLES IN FLANDERS

FROM YPRES TO NEUVE CHAPELLE


BY

EDMUND DANE


HODDER AND STOUGHTON
LONDON    NEW YORK    TORONTO
MCMXV



PREFATORY NOTE


Ever since the middle of November last there has been on the West
front in the present war what many have called and considered a
"deadlock." In the account which follows of that part of the campaign
represented by the battles in Flanders the true character of the
great and brilliant military scheme by means of which, and against
apparently impossible odds, the Allied commanders succeeded in
reducing the main fighting forces of Germany to impotence, and in
defeating the purposes of the invasion, will, I hope, become clear.
The success or failure of that scheme depended upon the issue of the
Battle of Ypres. Not only was that great battle the most prolonged,
furious, and destructive clash of arms yet known, but upon it also,
for reasons which in fact disclose the real history of this struggle,
hung the issue of the War as a whole. No accident merely of a despot's
desires caused the fury and the terror of Ypres. It was the big bid of
Prussian Militarism for supremacy. Equally in the terrible and ghastly
defeat it there sustained Prussian Militarism faced its doom.



CONTENTS


CHAPTER                                                 PAGE

   I. THE CRISIS OF OCTOBER                                9

  II. HOW THE CRISIS WAS MET                              20

 III. THE EVE OF YPRES                                    34

  IV. THE BATTLE OF YPRES--FIRST PHASE                    44

   V. THE BATTLE OF YPRES--SECOND PHASE                   58

  VI. THE BATTLE OF YPRES--THE CRISIS                     81

 VII. THE BATTLE OF YPRES--FINAL PHASE                   104

VIII. THE BATTLE ON THE YSER                             120

  IX. THE WINTER CAMPAIGN                                144

   X. NEUVE CHAPELLE                                     169



CHAPTER I

THE CRISIS OF OCTOBER


At the beginning of October there had arisen in the Western campaign a
crisis with which it needed the utmost skill and resource of the
Allied generals to grapple.

Both the nature of this crisis, and the necessity of reticence
concerning it at the time, ought to be made clear if we are to
appreciate either the momentous character of the Battle of Ypres, or
the profound effect which that glorious feat of the Allied arms has
had upon the fortunes of this War.

Into France at the beginning of the War the Germans threw their mighty
Expeditionary Force of twenty-eight army corps, disposed into eight
armies acting in co-operation. With the circumstances under which that
line of armies, in part held on the French fortified frontier, was
compelled to turn from Paris to the valley of the Marne and was there
defeated, I have dealt in "The Battle of the Rivers." For the reasons
there set out the original objective, the seizure of Paris, was seen
by the Germans when the army of General von Kluck reached Creil, to
have become impossible until the French fortified frontier was in
their hands. Their armies were directed upon the Marne with that aim.
In the manoeuvre they exposed the vulnerable point of their line,
its right flank, to the powerful onset, which General Joffre, who had
foreseen the situation, at once launched against it.

Defeated on the Marne, the Germans lost the military initiative--the
power to decide upon their movements and to compel the enemy to
conform to them. To the soldier the initiative is the practical
embodiment of military superiority. It is the first great step to
victory. In every war the struggle has been to seize and to hold it.
More than in any war has that been the motive in this. Campaigning
with armies, not only vast in point of numbers, but dependent upon a
huge, varied, and costly machinery of destruction, transport, and
supply, has made victory more than ever hang upon this power to direct
their complex organisation to the desired end.

All that the initiative implies. It can therefore be no matter of
surprise that Germany's long preparations were without exception
designed to seize the initiative at the outset, and to hold it if
possible. In that event the whole force of the German Empire would
with the least wastage and in the shortest possible time be applied to
the accomplishment of its Government's political aims. From the Great
Main Headquarters Staff down to the strategical railways, the depots,
the arsenals, and the military workshops, the German military system
was planned to combine swiftness with complete co-operation, and
provided the German commanders discovered the ability properly to
control and direct the machine, not merely the seizure of the
initiative, but the retention of it seemed assured. In that case,
however long and bitter the conflict, the outcome could never have
been in doubt. Applied, in accordance with the plans of the German
Staff, first on the West, and then on the East, the initiative, seized
at the beginning and held to the end, must have given the armies of
Germany the victory.

The Battle of the Marne was of vital importance in two respects. In
depriving the Germans of the initiative, it snatched from them the
chief advantage of their preparations. From that time their
organisation had to be adapted not to fulfil their own designs but to
meet the designs of their opponents. The difficulties in detail
consequent upon this change need not be exaggerated. They were great.
From the German point of view the whole problem of carrying on the war
was altered, and for the worse.

Again, the defeat on the Marne brought the Germans face to face with a
contingency which most of all they had hoped to avoid. Their plans had
been drawn on the assumption of being able to employ practically their
total active force, first on the West front and then on the East. They
had never calculated on the necessity of having to divide that force,
and to employ one half of it on the West, and the other half of it on
the East _at the same time_.

With the defeat of the Marne, however, that necessity came into view.
It meant, unless by some means the necessity could while time yet
allowed be overcome, elimination of the condition mainly essential to
success in the war--unity of the active force of the Empire.

These two changes, loss of the initiative, and necessity for a
division of forces, were changes which the Germans had, if they could,
at all costs to wipe out, and it is but stating truly and without
exaggeration the problem which during the later weeks of September
confronted the German Staff, to say that it was the problem of
bringing the last man and the last gun then available to bear on the
West for the purpose of regaining the lost power of the offensive. If
such a strength could be brought to bear in time, then the initiative
might be restored, division of force avoided, and the probable course
of the war shifted once more on to its original lines.

It was because considerations such as these lay at the back of it,
that the Germans, quite contrary to their traditions and training,
went to the almost incredible labour of constructing across France
from the Aisne ridge to Lorraine, that phenomenal line of more than
150 miles of deliberate fortifications and entrenchments. The risk
involved in the Marne operations had, we now know, not been
unforeseen. Nor were the consequences of failure, if it proved a grave
failure, miscalculated. Indeed, the very precautions taken to prepare
this line from the Aisne to Lorraine prove that they were not. That
line, and that line alone, offered the probability of restoring the
lost advantages, and of parrying the effects of the disaster.

Enabling the Germans to hold their front and to bar the advance of the
Allies with the minimum of force, that line at the same time was to
have aided them--and this was its chief design--to throw the largest
possible masses westward from their flank, pivoting on Noyon. By that
movement they might cut the main Allied armies off from Paris.

The scheme had the merit at once of boldness and of simplicity. For
success it depended on bringing their fresh masses forward with the
utmost rapidity. To that end the German military machine was worked to
its fullest capacity. Thus began the new and enormous movement of
Landwehr army corps into France.

In part the German scheme was frustrated by the attack carried out by
the British army in the Battle of the Aisne, and in part by the delays
due to the very magnitude of the preparations. Unless attempted on a
great scale a scheme of this character had better not be attempted at
all. Since the success or failure of Germany in the war plainly hung
upon it, the effort _had_ to be on a great scale. Of Germany's corps
of Landwehr, by far the greater number were embodied during these
weeks of September. It may seem to the uninitiated a simple matter to
call up, embody, and make ready for the field a million and a half of
men, or thereabouts. But even with a military mechanism like that of
the German Empire, it is a complicated business. That all this was
done in fact in rather less than three weeks is nothing short of
marvellous.

Because it was done, however, was the reason of the crisis at the
beginning of October.

Within the same later weeks of September General Joffre had been able
to throw against the German flank from Noyon to the Somme the powerful
French army commanded by General Castleneau. He was thus in a position
to forestall the German design. On the other side German army corps
had by extraordinary forced marches arrived from Belgium just in time
to ward off the thrust of this French army against Laon, a thrust
which would have crippled the whole German defence and a thrust which
the battle of the Aisne was fought to assist. The fighting from Noyon
to the Somme was deadly. On the German side losses were not regarded.
The purpose of these troops was, cost what it might, to hold the
ground until the main reinforcements came up. They suffered appalling
losses. Nevertheless, though at a heavy sacrifice of life, the
immediate objective, that of preventing a French advance along the
valley of the Oise, was accomplished. The German resistance was
undoubtedly very brave. To begin with, thanks alike to the superiority
of their artillery, and to the _élan_ of their recent victory, the
French advanced with some rapidity. The Germans were driven out of
Compiègne. Their hastily thrown-up trenches were found filled with
dead, many slain by the terrible concussion of the French high
explosive shells. As the French advanced these trenches were filled
in.

Meanwhile, packed into every available train and by every available
railway, the masses of the new German formations were being rushed
westward. Immediately they detrained they were hurried into the
fighting line. In the face of these increasing numbers the French
advance along the valley of the Oise was held.

From the defensive the Germans passed at once to the counter-offensive.
In great strength they launched an attack from Noyon and towards
Roye. The front swayed. In the end, however, the French line from
the Oise to the Somme remained firm.

It must then have been seen that the German outflanking scheme, thus
anticipated, had become, on the lines first laid down, impracticable.
The result was the great attack on Rheims.

It is clear now that when the attack was decided upon, the Germans
believed the army of General Castleneau to consist not of fresh
troops, but of the reserve of the main French army. Acting upon that
belief they concluded that a vigorous assault upon Rheims ought to be
successful. If successful the assault would accomplish all that the
outflanking scheme promised. In any event it would prevent the French
from massing further forces to the north of the Somme. With the German
reinforcements still coming forward, the outflanking scheme could be
tried again at the point where the French line at that time ended.

The attack upon Rheims failed because the German hypothesis upon which
the attack had been founded was in fact false. The army of General
Castleneau _did_ consist of fresh troops, and _not_ of the reserves of
the main French army.

After the attack upon Rheims came the attempted German turning
movement north of the Somme through Albert. Here, however, the Germans
found themselves unexpectedly confronted by yet two other French
armies under the command of Generals D'Armade and Maudhuy. Their great
plan for re-seizing the initiative consequently still hung fire.
General Joffre had been at work to good purpose. The result was to
extend the fighting front from the Oise to the great northern
coalfield.

All this while the Russian pressure on the East front had been growing
and that prospective but fatal division of German forces was
threatening to become more inevitable.

All this while, too, in order eventually to avoid that division more
German reinforcements were pouring west.

As it stood at the beginning of October the position was thus: at
Antwerp there was the Belgian army; at Ghent, under the command of Sir
Henry Rawlinson there was the 7th British division of infantry, and
the 3rd brigade of cavalry; there were some, though not many, British
troops at Dunkerque; there were a few French troops at Bethune.
Practically, however, between Ghent and the terminus of the French
front west of Lens there were no Allied forces. Here was a gap of
nearly 60 miles. If through that gap the Germans could push their way
in strength, they could

    (1) Separate the Belgian army and the British troops in Belgium
    from the rest of the Allied armies;

    (2) Reach the coast and cut the most direct communications with
    England;

    (3) Pursue their outflanking scheme by turning the right of the
    French line.

For the Germans the necessity for carrying out that scheme had day by
day become more urgent. The opportunity at last seemed to lie to their
hand. They proceeded to seize it.

Now let us turn to the other side. If General Joffre could close this
gap and extend his line directly northwards to the coast, he would

    (1) Save a considerable slice of territory and coast from German
    occupation;

    (2) Keep open the most direct communication with England;

    (3) Both defeat the German outflanking scheme, and himself
    outflank the enemy;

    (4) Impose on the Germans the necessity, arising from such a
    position, of constant counter attacks, and so waste their
    strength;

    (5) Hold them ineffective on the West whatever might happen on the
    East;

    (6) Compel them to meet Russian pressure on the East out of their
    further reserves, and thus ensure at once the division of their
    forces, their more rapid exhaustion, and the victory of the Allies
    in the war.

Such were broadly the issues which at the beginning of October last
hung in the balance. Every appearance seemed to favour the German
chances. General Joffre was then raising yet another (the tenth)
French army. Even, however, at the utmost speed it could not be
organised and equipped under a further fortnight. The Germans,
however, had on their side begun their movement. Through the wide gap
between Ghent and Bethune they were already pouring a great mass of
cavalry, screening the oncoming of their main masses. They had
launched their final assault upon Antwerp. It looked as if for them
the moment had arrived.



CHAPTER II

HOW THE CRISIS WAS MET


General Joffre is a great man. So much is known now to all the world.
But this war was not a month old before every military man was aware
that the head of the French Staff, a galaxy of brilliant men, was a
star of the first magnitude.

The greatness of Joffre as a general lies not so much in his
simplicity, about which many stories are told, nor yet in his strength
of character, his incorruptible honesty, or his unshakable fortitude.
It lies in the force of his intellect which, joined to his character,
makes his judgment unerring. He is marked off because he foresees, and
foresees truly. It has been stated that his plans for the Battle of
the Marne were drawn up and completed on August 27. Quite possibly
they were. The movement which then substituted the Sixth French Army,
that of General D'Armade, for the British on the extreme left of the
Allied line, argues a clearly settled purpose and plan.

All the movements just stated in the briefest outline were parts of a
settled purpose and plan. Is it likely that, the situation being what
it was at the beginning of October, General Joffre was at a loss to
meet it? He was not at a loss. At least he was not at a loss for
ideas. The difficulty was the means.

Three French armies were already fastened on the flank of the German
position. To fill the gap between Bethune and the coast it was
essential to find three others, and at once. He had only one.

Time here was everything. Ever since the Germans had grasped the
necessity of re-seizing the initiative at all costs, it had been a
race against time. Their military railways and their organisation,
carefully elaborated through years to meet just such a contingency as
this, was pitted against the resources of a great military genius. It
was the brain of one man against a system.

And the man won and the system lost.

To any ordinary mind it might have appeared that the situation of the
Allies in that first week of October was well-nigh hopeless. To a
great mind, however, difficulty is the measure of opportunity. General
Joffre visited Sir John French at the British head-quarters. The
result of that interview is stated by Sir John French in his dispatch
of November 20:

    Early in October a study of the general situation strongly
    impressed me with the necessity of bringing the greatest possible
    force to bear in support of the northern flank of the Allies, in
    order effectively to outflank the enemy and compel him to evacuate
    his positions.

    At the same time the position on the Aisne, as described in the
    concluding paragraphs of my last despatch, appeared to me to
    warrant a withdrawal of the British Forces from the positions they
    then held.

    The enemy had been weakened by continual abortive and futile
    attacks, while the fortification of the position had been much
    improved.

    I represented these views to General Joffre, who fully agreed.

    Arrangements for withdrawal and relief having been made by the
    French General Staff, the operation commenced on October 3, and
    the 2nd Cavalry Division, under General Gough, marched for
    Compiègne en route for the new theatre.

    The Army Corps followed in succession at intervals of a few days,
    and the move was completed on October 19, when the First Corps,
    under Sir Douglas Haig, completed its detrainment at St. Omer.

    That this delicate operation was carried out so successfully is in
    great measure due to the excellent feeling which exists between
    the French and British Armies; and I am deeply indebted to the
    Commander-in-Chief and the French General Staff for their cordial
    and most effective co-operation.

In a word, the British Commander-in-Chief, seizing the nature of the
difficulty, knowing its causes, and realising how much turned upon it,
stepped forthwith into the breach. With Sir John French, as with
General Joffre, to decide was to act. "Early in October" the decision
was taken. On October 3 began the carrying of it out. What difference
in time is there between "early in October" and October 3? No
difference.

Thus while the Germans still imagined themselves opposed on the Aisne
ridge to those British troops who, dug into their almost invisible
entrenchments, had for nearly a month successfully withstood the
repeated and furious attacks of the flower of the Prussian Army twice
or more than twice as numerous as themselves, the British had silently
ebbed away. Their places were taken by French troops of the reserve,
and the Germans remained no wiser for the change. And the British
travelled through Paris, and by roundabout routes, as it seemed to
them, through north-west France, and very few remained wiser for their
journey. Nor after long successive hours in crowded railway carriages
followed by detrainment at a place altogether strange did any but a
very few of the British even know where they were going to or for what
purpose. All they knew was that they were going somewhere to meet the
Germans.

No move in the campaign was more unexpected or more daring than this.
It affords but one more proof of how false is the assumption that the
element of surprise has been banished from modern war.

The secrecy of it was only less remarkable than its boldness. With an
Intelligence Service supposed to be second to none, the German Staff
were left without even a suspicion of it until it had been
accomplished.

The importance of the move was that it made General Joffre's scheme
for the military envelopment of the Germans immediately feasible.
There was now but one more thing to do, and that was to withdraw the
Belgian army from Antwerp in order that they should complete the
Allied line.

That it is true involved the evacuation of Antwerp. Quite apart from
the fact that the Belgian Army, reduced by the casualties and the
hardships of their heroic campaign, were no longer sufficient in
numbers properly to garrison that great fortress, their withdrawal
served a purpose more valuable even than its defence. Many no doubt
are much more readily impressed by the evacuation for the time of a
great fortified city than by what they consider a mere military
scheme, the value of which is a matter of opinion. In this instance,
however, the carrying out of the scheme meant the assurance of victory
in the war. The evacuation of Antwerp was advisable on the principle
that the greater comprehends the less.

After the transfer of the British forces from the Aisne, and the
removal on October 8 and 9 of the Belgian troops from Antwerp to the
Yser, there were on the German flank from Noyon to the sea six Allied
armies. Taking them in the order of position from south to north they
were: the army of General Castleneau; the army of General D'Armade;
the army of General D'Urbal; the army of Sir J. French; the army of
General Maudhuy; and the army of King Albert.

Let it be remembered that in addition to the twenty-eight army corps
of the German Expeditionary force as at first constituted, there were
at this time either in or on their way to France twenty-one Reserve
and Volunteer Corps, making the enormous total of forty-nine. That,
independently of casualties and wastage, gives, on the German war
footing, an aggregate of 2,940,000 of all arms. Undoubtedly the
casualties and wastage had even up to this time been very heavy. It is
reasonable and moderate to put it roundly at nearly 900,000 men,
two-thirds of those losses being casualties in battle. Even that,
however, left approximately 2,000,000 combatants. Besides, the
casualties and wastages had been largely made good by fresh drafts.

When we bear in mind the vital consequence to Germany of the plan for
re-seizing the initiative which the German Staff were endeavouring to
carry out, there is nothing in the least surprising in their hurrying
into France reinforcements and drafts of such magnitude.

The position in brief was that the total German force in France had
been brought up to at least a million men above the immense, and as it
was supposed crushing, strength of the initial Expeditionary Force,
and that, too, despite the losses incurred.

Many of the facts relating to this war are so wholly without parallel
that not a few people, unaware of the true vastness and menace of the
military system of modern Germany, find it hard to give them credence.
As nearly as possible, however, the figures of the forces sent from
Germany into Belgium and France will be found to be these:

    Original Expeditionary Force
    (25 Active and 3 Reserve Corps)                  1,680,000

    Fresh drafts to supply losses (approximately)      450,000

    Additional Reserve Corps                         1,260,000
                                                     ---------
    Total                                            3,390,000

The problem of dealing with such a force, and of dealing with it when
the total strength that could on the side of the Allies then be put
into the field against it was in round figures a million less, is a
problem quite unlike anything in war since in 1814 Napoleon fought the
memorable campaign which preceded his abdication and exile to Elba.[1]

          [1] This statement is based on the following facts which at
          this date (the beginning of October) summarises the then
          immediately prospective situation as regards numbers:--

             Total German forces sent into or about to
               be sent into France and Belgium              3,390,000
             Less casualties and wastage approximately        900,000
                                                           ---------
             Net German forces                              2,490,000

             Allies:--
             Nine French armies, reinforced to
               full strength                     1,080,000
             10th French army (in formation)       120,000
             British (including forces at Ghent)   145,000
             Belgians                               40,000
                                                ---------
                                                            1,385,000
                                                            ---------
                                                            1,105,000

          The disparity of course was afterwards redressed. It took,
          as it proved, some twenty days before all the additional
          German forces could be sent West, and on the other hand the
          embodiment of French Reservists was proceeding at the same
          time, but the possibility, not to say the probability, that
          the Germans would get in first, constituted the crisis.

Nobody will venture to say that, having such a superiority in numbers
at their command, and occupying besides a strongly fortified line of
front, enabling them further to economise their strength in one
direction while they threw it with greater weight in another, the
Germans were not fully warranted in thinking that the success of their
scheme was assured, and that if it was assured, the French having shot
their bolt in the Battle of the Marne, and shot it in vain, there was
an end to all intents of the struggle on the West.

How was General Joffre to grapple with this vast enigma? By meeting
the Germans on traditional lines of tactics? It was impossible.
Besides, in the face of modern arms traditional tactics are out of
date. They survive only in popular tradition, and in the criticism
based upon it.

The only way on the Allied side at once to secure and eventually and
fully to reap the advantages won at the Battle of the Marne was to
complete and to solidify the military envelopment which would render
the whole of this gigantic force of invaders for all the purposes of
the invasion impotent. It was plain, too, that the immediate purpose
of the Germans was now to straighten out their front across France. If
the reader looks at a map he will see that the fortified line held by
the enemy from the Argonne to the Aisne, would, if continued to the
north-west, touch the French coast near to Havre. With such a
straightened front not only would the Germans have the Channel ports
in their possession, but they would be free either to advance, if they
had the power, or to retreat if they chose. What is more, they would
then be able to advance or to retreat as a whole. In such a position
it is clear their advance would have enormously greater momentum, and
their retreat be an operation of far greater safety. Moreover, their
front would be shorter, and in consequence stronger.

When, therefore, I speak of General Joffre's scheme of military
envelopment, I mean by it the difference, and it is a vast difference,
between the position of the Germans were their front straightened out
and their position in an angle. Placed in an angle their armies were
for all the purposes of their campaign paralysed, and except to
counter-attack, which after all is no more than a defensive tactic,
they could do nothing. Besides, in such a situation counter-attack is
a necessity. It is an axiom confirmed by all experience that troops in
such a situation cannot maintain their position merely by a passive
defence.

If from this situation there was for the Germans but one outlet, that
of wheeling round their flank until it came into line with the rest of
their front, it followed that their pressure would inevitably be
greatest on the extremity of the radius, that is on the part of it
nearest the coast, and it was manifest that no effort possible would
be spared by them to apply that pressure before the line of the Allies
here could be formed, or at all events before it could be made firm.

To the British army therefore in this scheme was assigned a post which
was at once a post of honour and of danger. Strangely enough some of
the greatest and most striking facts in this war appear to have been
overlooked. Among them is the fact that this military envelopment, or
outflankment, meant to the Germans, if they could not prevent it, both
the ruin of their hopes of victory in France, and the certain loss of
the war. Clearly then it was to be expected that every ounce of
strength and of energy they could command would be put into the
struggle.

We can well understand, though the public, perhaps happily, remained
in ignorance for the time, the anxiety that prevailed, except it would
seem at the head-quarters of the French Staff. There the
characteristic calm does not appear to have been disturbed. Following
his custom, the French commander-in-chief went usually to bed at nine
o'clock, and rose at 5.30, save when duty took him, as it did take him
at times, to places in the fighting line. He gave his instructions,
knowing that if carried out, as they would be if possible, the result
would be right. A mighty worker and the very personification of the
commanding quality of decision, he never swerved by a hair's breath
from his plan, foreseeing all its consequences and judging justly of
its effects.

He judged justly of its effects because he relied upon essentials. On
the one hand the Germans had a huge superiority in numbers. They had
also at this time a superiority in heavy guns. On the other hand the
Allies held the superior position. Further, they had a decisive
superiority in field guns; not a numerical superiority, but one based
on the greater power and accuracy of the "75" gun as compared with the
German converted "77" gun. In 1899 just after the German Government
had completed rearmament of its artillery with the "77," the French
brought out the "75," the first really practicable quick-firing field
gun until then known. This invention revolutionised modern gunnery. To
meet it the Germans were forced to "convert" their "77" into a
quick-firer. Their gun, however, remained distinctly inferior and
out-classed. Neither in muzzle energy, muzzle velocity, nor
consequently in range was it any match for the French weapon. Leading
the way as they always have done in artillery improvements, the French
had evolved, besides, a novel system of "fire discipline," for using
this gun scientifically and with the maximum of effect. That system
had already justified itself by striking results. In no small degree
it was the "75" gun which had crushed the German resistance on the
Marne. In no small degree, too, it was the "75" which had ruined the
German attack upon Rheims. The "75" had withered the attempted turning
movements from Noyon, and north of the Somme with the breath of death.
Clearly, apart altogether from its strategical conception, sound and
great at once as that conception was, General Joffre's plan of
military envelopment was inspired by the aim of giving the widest
effect to this superiority in gun-power. Here again is one of the
facts of the war which has not been estimated at its right value, and
has misled many critics of the Western "deadlock."

Now the German Higher Command well knew that in field artillery they
were out-classed. The "75" has a muzzle energy of 333 foot-tons as
compared with the 241·7 foot-tons of the German "77." The French
artillerists also had solved the problem of the "universal shell,"
that is of a projectile combining the effects of a high explosive
shell with those of a shrapnel shell. With the Germans this problem
was still in the stage of experiment. In order to off-set such marked
disadvantages the German Government had gone in largely for heavy
howitzers. When the war broke out they had undoubtedly a superiority
in that class of weapon. The French scheme of rearmament with
howitzers had only begun. This was perhaps one reason for the German
precipitancy. Upon their superiority in heavy howitzers they now
largely relied for their second contemplated "drive."

Artillery, however, is not the final word. Nor was this placing of the
British Force on the northern wing of the German armies in any sense
an accidental choice of location. It was certain that the German
attack, initiated with their heavy cannon, would be driven home, if it
could be driven home, by assaults in mass formation from their
infantry. The necessity then was for a force which could be relied
upon in any event to stop such rushes. That force was pre-eminently
the British army. The British army were a body of expert riflemen.
They were more. They, and they alone, were armed with a rifle capable
of firing 15 rounds "rapid." Delivered by troops who can keep cool
under the experience, 15 rounds "rapid" will stop the densest rush
ever organised. The British army had shown themselves able to do it.
They formed the element of the Allied forces which in a case like this
could, if it were humanly possible, save the situation.

It will be seen, therefore, that the scheme of the Allied generals
though it seemed to lack spectacular magnificence, was business, and
was in every sense and emphatically _war_.



CHAPTER III

THE EVE OF YPRES


The plan of the Allied commanders, at once original and bold, was
decided upon at that conference at the British head-quarters on the
Aisne. From the first in this war the French Intelligence Service has
shown itself excellent. The French Head-quarters Staff has not only
been well and reliably informed of the enemy's preparations and
movements, but promptly informed. In this instance the prospective
movements were a matter of almost certain inference. Given the motives
of the German Government, and the military principles favoured by the
German Staff, both quite well known, and what they would do and how
they would try to do it, was a conclusion that a general much less
sagacious than Joffre might safely draw. The exact extent and
character, however, of the German preparations, and the degree to
which those preparations had been advanced was definite information of
a valuable kind.

It is apposite here to note its effect. On September 9 the Belgians
made a sortie in force from Antwerp, and on the following day
recaptured Malines and Termonde. In consequence of this part of the
German reinforcements, three army corps, which were on the march from
Liège and had already reached the French frontier, had to be recalled.
That army became engaged in the first attack upon Antwerp. The object,
their diversion, had been gained. When, after discovering that an
attack upon Antwerp was hopeless without heavy siege guns, they
finally reached the front in France, the purpose for which they had
been dispatched, that of attempting to outflank the Allies to the west
of Noyon, had become impracticable.

We know now that the German Government had determined to avenge this
disappointment by the capture of Antwerp. That, however, for the
reasons already stated was fully expected. The siege employed another
German army from September 25 to October 9. True, the Germans had the
satisfaction of occupying the city, and of such political effects and
impressions as that occupation produced. On the other hand there can
be no sort of doubt that had those troops, thrown through the gap
which then existed between Ghent and Bethune, seized Calais, and been
able hold to the line from the coast to Bethune, the military effect
would have been twenty times more serious. Instead of doing that the
German Government swallowed the bait of Antwerp, only to discover when
too late, and when they had let the critical days pass, that the hook
was the British army at Ypres, which during a month's furious fighting
in the effort to retrieve their error cost the Germans over 300,000
casualties, and what was worse, the wreckage of their Western
campaign.

Before entering on a description of the operations which, in fact,
during the later weeks of October and the first two weeks of November
decided the future course of the war, it is advisable to have in mind
a clear picture of the terrain of this mighty and memorable conflict.

If the reader looks at a map of France he will see that from the
outlet of the Somme, the coast of the English Channel takes a sudden
bend to the north, and that not far from Calais it swerves sharply
round again to the east. If from near the mouth of the Somme we draw a
line running north-east, that line, roughly parallel to the line of
the coast from the point at which the shore bends round near Calais,
will mark approximately the boundary of a difference in the height of
the country above sea level. South-east of this line the country is
considerably higher. North-west of it the country is as a whole
low-lying and flat. In fact the line may be called an inland coast
divided from the sea by a stretch of flats having an average breadth
of some twenty-five miles. The eastern area of these flats is the Pas
de Calais; the western area Flanders.

This inland coast line, geographically the northern edge of the
plateau whose central and highest part is the chalk downs of
Champagne, presents numerous sinuosities. Its course, that is to say,
is a succession of capes and bays. In far-off times when in fact it
was the sea coast, it must have presented a contour not unlike that of
the present coast of Devonshire.

Formed of alluvial deposits and reclaimed little by little, the flats
lying between this inland coastline and the sea are a very fertile
tract. They gradually became the seat of a numerous population; and
then, owing alike to proximity to the sea and to the number of the
navigable waterways, the earliest and most important seat of industry
and commerce on the Continent of Europe. The ancient capital of this
country, the centre of its trade and the seat of its government when
it formed an independent Dukedom, was Ypres. In the eighteenth century
was made the discovery that underlying or contiguous to this area was
one of the largest of the European coalfields. That discovery changed
large parts of the flats by degrees into modern industrial districts.

The point to be kept in mind for present purposes is that
geographically Flanders is one area, though now situated politically
partly in France and partly in Belgium. Its two chief centres of
population and industry are Ghent and Lille, both seats of the cotton
trade, for like Lancashire in England, this Lancashire of the
Continent is engaged mainly in the textile industry and in
coal-mining. Lille is close to and in fact situated in one of the
larger bays of the inland coastline already spoken of.

Nearly midway between Lille and the coast at Dunkirk there is a
feature it is important to notice. The otherwise uniform flatness of
the country is here broken by a range of low hills shaped like a
crescent moon. This range of hills lies to the south of Ypres. From
Kleine Zillebeke on the east to the Mont de Cats on the west the ridge
is not more than ten miles in length. Ypres is situated within the
crescent.

The feature is important to notice because of the streams which here
take their rise. From the higher level of inland country there flow
north-east the Scheldt, and north-west the Somme, and the lower
courses of those rivers mark what may be called the natural outer
boundaries of this flat area. From the hills south of Ypres again rise
the Aa, the Yser, and the Lys. The first two flow outward towards the
coast; the Lys bending first round to the south and then to the east,
falls into the Scheldt at Ghent.

From Dunkirk eastward the country is protected against inroads of the
sea by dykes. This part of it is below sea level. At Nieuport, the
outlet of the Yser, there are locks which permit the outflow of the
river at low tide, but bar the inflow of the sea at high tide. For a
thousand years Flanders, owing to its natural fertility, has been the
scene of a developed agriculture. Characteristic of it are the great
substantial old farmhouses usually built round a square courtyard,
places marked by the proverbial Flemish cleanliness and by the equally
proverbial Flemish plenty. Practically every acre of the country was
under cultivation. The only exceptions were the woods situated round
the old châteaux and country houses, evidences of the general wealth.
In addition to these there existed one or two not very extensive
tracts of ancient forest.

Round Ypres, more especially to the east and north, these woods and
pleasaunces formed an almost continuous ring. In the fourteenth
century Ypres was a great industrial city with something like 200,000
inhabitants. During the struggles against first Spanish and then
Austrian domination, and in the destructive wars of the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries, it steadily lost its importance. The
population dwindled. At the outbreak of the present war the number of
inhabitants was not more than 20,000. The old city offered
nevertheless many evidences of its former consequence and wealth.
There was the monumental and famous Cloth Hall, one of the finest
Gothic buildings in Europe. Erected by Baldwin, Count of Flanders, and
adorned with statues of the forty-four Counts, it had a façade 462
feet in length, noble alike in design and in proportions. A
conspicuous feature of the building was its central and massive square
tower. In the Middle Ages Ypres was a fortress. From the top of the
tower the view extended on every side over a wide extent of country.
The sea and the coastline to the north, and the higher land across the
Lys to the south came equally within the prospect. Conversely from
outside Ypres the tower formed a notable landmark, seen rising above
the horizon many miles away.

In old days the Cloth Hall was a great mart where, to merchants from
every part of Europe, Flemish manufacturers displayed their fabrics,
the then unrivalled wonders of the loom. In modern times, trade having
departed save for an almost local industry in lace and linen, the
Cloth Hall had become a museum and gallery of art. Under the
public-spirited and careful government of the present Royal Family of
Belgium, the building, one of the cherished monuments of the country,
was in 1860 lovingly restored.[2]

          [2] Mr. N. E. Monckton Jones, formerly tutor in Modern
          History in the University of Liverpool, in a letter to the
          _Observer_, thus describes the impression made by the
          first sight of the building: "Turning perforce with the
          street at right angles, we passed into a narrower, more
          winding, one with more old gabled houses, and here and there
          a fine sculptured moulding or portal. Then of a sudden we
          were at the Place, and the Cloth Hall in all its full glory
          before us. It was not the size of the building nor its
          richness that halted us so abruptly and made us all eyes for
          the moment. It was, I think, the arresting dignity of it, a
          dignity built up of fine and simple lines and the mellow
          contentment of age. Many buildings in other towns were
          statelier, more ornate, more imposing, but from the pointed
          arcade below to the long line of the great roof the Hall
          told of a fine sense of proportion, of reserve. Its builders
          did not aim at outdoing other men, but they knew what they
          needed, and would have it seemly, and by sheer reiteration
          of a simple plan well conceived they made homely simplicity
          glorious. The Cloth Hall expressed the self-respect of
          burghers who had won their rights two centuries before Magna
          Carta."

Besides the Cloth Hall, however, and the fine cathedral dedicated to
St. Martin, the former importance of Ypres was shown in its wide and
elegant streets, bordered by antique Flemish mansions, abodes of an
old world tranquillity, and with interiors like pictures. The most
pleasantly situated perhaps of all the Flemish cities, Ypres was a
favourite place of residence, an urban cameo set amid woods and hills
of broad and sweeping yet softened outline, round about it a ring of
peaceful villages, and the private seats of old-time and settled
wealth.

If this was the ancient capital of Flanders, the scene on the farther
side of the crescent of hills across the valley of the Lys presented
the most striking of contrasts. In that direction the background of
the picture was a forest of tall chimneys--the great city of Lille
overhung by its cloud of smoke. The foreground was an apparent tangle
of railways, roads, canals, brickworks, industrial villages, mills,
dyeworks, machine shops, the multitudinous aspects in short of
industry as it exists to-day, superposed upon the ancient Flemish
features of the countryside--its spacious farms, its sluggish rivers,
and its everlasting flatness.

For with the growth of commerce the rivers had been linked up with a
network of canals, and over these, with joints represented by scores
of bridges, had been spun a webwork of railways branching in all
directions into sidings. Lille itself is but the centre of half a
hundred industrial villages and smaller towns, the heart of a huge
ganglion of commerce and manufacture.

Farther south we come to the coalfield. Of the discovery of the
coalfield all this modern activity is the outcome. There the industry
changes in character. Cotton mills give place to ironworks and blast
furnaces. The face of the country is dotted with great mounds of
"spoil." Its general aspect is grimier. In all directions it is cut up
by narrow, badly-paved and rutty lanes, tracks leading mostly from the
pits and works to the villages of the pitmen and ironworkers. To the
tangle of canals and railways and railway sidings there is added this
third tangle of foot and cart tracks, made for the most part as
haphazard and as convenience directed. Through this maze of ways and
byways the only guiding lines are the usually straight and excellent
French main roads which sweep across the country from town to town
with an imperial disregard of local obstacles. The plan and purpose of
the main roads is largely military, and has come down from the days of
the Roman occupation.

Such in brief are the main features of the country. As will be seen in
the following pages, their bearing upon the operations of the war is
of the first importance.



CHAPTER IV

THE BATTLE OF YPRES--FIRST PHASE


The main body of the British forces arrived in French Flanders on
October 11. It will be recalled that in his dispatch Sir John French
states that the movement from the Aisne began on October 3. Why, it
may be asked, were eight days taken to complete this transfer if it
was so urgent?[3]

          [3] In the French official review of the first six months of
          the war it is stated that: "Field-Marshal Sir John French
          had, as early as the end of September, expressed the wish to
          see his Army resume its initial place on the left of the
          Allied armies. He explained this wish on the ground of the
          greater facility of which his communications would have the
          advantage in this new position, and also of the impending
          arrival of reinforcements from Great Britain and from India,
          which would be able to deploy more easily on that terrain.

          "In spite of the difficulties which such a removal involved
          owing to the intensive use of the railways by our own units,
          General Joffre decided, at the beginning of October, to meet
          the Marshal's wishes, and to have the British Army removed
          from the Aisne."

Well, in the first place the withdrawal of the British forces from the
Aisne had to be carried out in detail. To have effected the withdrawal
in mass would at once have aroused the observation and suspicion of
the enemy. Next the forces thus withdrawn in detail, and in detail
replaced by French troops, had to be massed at a convenient place
secure from hostile intelligence hunters. Finally this main body of
the British army had to be sent forward to the new line of front as a
whole. Thus it was that the 2nd Army Corps, under the command of
General Sir H. Smith-Dorrien, detrained at Bethune on the same day,
October 11, that the 3rd Army Corps under the command of General
Pulteney detrained at St. Omer. These towns are some twenty miles
apart. Coincidently with the detrainment of the infantry and the guns,
the 2nd and 3rd Divisions of the British cavalry advanced under the
command of General Allenby and occupied the little town of Aire, which
lies nearly half-way between them. By this move a front was formed
from near Lens, where the French line ended across the country
north-westward to the coast. The gap, so far as outflanking the Allied
forces was concerned, was closed.

In the latter part of September, as a prelude to their scheme, the
Germans had occupied Lille. An occupying force which they had left
there on their advance towards Paris had been driven out by the
British. They now detached for the seizure of the city the 19th Active
Corps and the 7th Reserve Corps. In the face of this overwhelming
strength the British troops in Lille, part only of a division from
Dunkirk, had no alternative but to retire. It was a bitter day for the
inhabitants of Lille which witnessed the departure of these defenders,
welcomed only a little while before with every demonstration of public
joy.

Besides these two German army corps who, based on Lille, began at once
to drive westward towards Boulogne, a powerful mobile column,
consisting of four divisions of cavalry, supported by horse artillery
and three brigades of Jaegers, crossed the Lys, and passing to the
south of Ypres, made a dash through Bailleul for Hazebrouck, covering
at once the flank of the main advance from a possible attack from
Dunkirk, and carrying out a turning movement against such French
forces as were then supposed to be holding Bethune. These German
troops, the two army corps and the flying column, though mustering in
all more than 150,000 men, were only the vanguard of the mass intended
to be thrown forward. It is clear that their expectation was that of
attack from Dunkirk on the one side and from Bethune on the other. The
flying column advanced to Hazebrouck, and the cavalry occupied the
Forest of Nieppe to the south of that town without opposition.

Meanwhile the Belgian army, which had evacuated Antwerp two days
before on October 9, was on its way westward along the coast covered
by the British troops under the command of General Sir Henry
Rawlinson. All the probabilities appeared to be that both the Belgian
army and these British troops would be cut off.

We may judge then of the surprise of these German forces when, along
the line of the Aa, they came suddenly up against this massive wall of
the British army supposed to be on the Aisne. Sir John French,
however, had not transferred his army to Northern France in order to
stand on the defensive. The wall of British troops was in rapid
movement. On this same day, October 11, the British cavalry dashed
across the Aa, swept the German horse through and out of the Forest of
Nieppe, and drove them as far as the Mont des Cats. There the Germans
attempted, at the end of a flight of some fourteen miles, to make a
stand. In the attack upon the Forest of Nieppe the British cavalry of
the 6th Division had carried out to the north a movement which
threatened the German force from the rear. When this was discovered
the German retreat became a flight. Reaching the Mont des Cats their
horses were blown, but they were compelled to defend that position if
possible because the Jaegers, evacuating Hazebrouck under cover of
their cavalry, had thrown themselves into Meteren and Bailleul. This
cavalry fight, in which on both sides more than 20,000 men took part,
though relatively, perhaps, but one of the minor episodes of the war,
was, in fact, of its kind colossal. It was a clash of sabre against
sabre, man to man. In numbers the Germans had an advantage of about
three to two, and that advantage ought to have been decisive, but
apart from the fact that their mounts hard ridden across country, were
winded, the superiority of the British was so marked that they had not
hesitated earlier in the campaign, and with success, to attack the
German horse when the enemy had a proportion of two to one. In cavalry
fighting skill, spirit and cohesion count for more than numbers.

The defeat of the German cavalry in this action was decisive. It was
not that they did not fight with bravery. They did. Broken in one
charge they were rallied by their officers for another. Some four
times in succession in the battle among the hills they attempted to
recover.

While the British cavalry were carrying out their brilliant drive, the
3rd Army Corps advanced east from St. Omer to Hazebrouck. In the
meantime also the 2nd Corps had taken up a line of positions along the
canal from Bethune to Aire. Next day (October 12) the 2nd Corps moved
forward to Merville, a little town south-east of the Forest of Nieppe.

The plan of the British operations may be briefly stated. Taking
Givenchy, a village two miles west of La Bassee, as the pivoting
point, it was intended to swing the line round until it reached the
Lys. In this movement the British front would swing through a quarter
circle, that is, from north-west to north-east. The British cavalry
would be on the outer, or left wing; the inner, or right wing, at
Givenchy would be hinged on to the French positions. In this way the
country between the Lys and the sea would be cleared of the enemy, and
the Allies envelopment carried from Givenchy past Lille, so that that
important place could no longer be used by the Germans as a base for
overrunning the country to the coast.

There was a further aim. This was to seize, if possible, the railway
junction at Menin, ten miles north of Lille. The move would both
embarrass the German occupation of Lille, and hamper the enemy in any
attempt to throw troops in force over the Lys.

On the other hand, the immediate purpose of the Germans is equally
clear. Not strong enough, as they judged, to risk a pitched battle;
their right wing exposed by the defeat of their cavalry; and the
probability owing to this unexpected appearance of the British army
now being that the Belgians from Antwerp and the British troops from
Ghent would get through, they determined to obstruct the British
movement by guerrilla tactics, and until their main forces came up to
defend in detachments the numerous and almost contiguous villages of
the country, taking advantage of its network of canals and railways,
and of its tangle of roads and cross roads. It is difficult to imagine
what is in military language called a "close" country more difficult
to operate in than this, one of the most densely populated areas of
the world. The German scheme was to treat the civilian inhabitants
with ruthlessness, wasting and plundering as they retired.

Manifestly, the success of the British movement would depend upon its
energy. The Germans were fighting to gain time. Not stopping,
therefore, at Merville, the 2nd Corps fought forward directly towards
Lille by way of Laventie, in the valley of the Lys. Laventie, about
ten miles west of Lille, is the centre of a dense semi-urban
industrial district. Concurrently the 3rd Corps advanced eastward from
Hazebrouck towards Bailleul. Seven miles to the south-west of Ypres,
that place lies on the southern slope of the crescent of hills already
referred to. Some scattered advance posts of the enemy were met with
in intermediate villages, and were driven in. The Germans had taken up
a position along the ridge from Berthen, between the Mont des Cats and
Mont Noir on the north through St. Jans Cappel and Bailleul, and on
the main road to Armentières. About two miles in advance of this line
they held in force the villages of Fletre and Meteren, which they had
fortified and barricaded.

The British attack began at daybreak on October 13. It was a day of
rain and fog, one of those fogs which, in autumn, cover these flats
with an almost impenetrable mist. Such conditions rendered movement
over the low-lying sodden country slow. On the other hand, as against
the British troops moving to the attack the conditions put the German
guns out of action, and, what was not less material, they concealed
the movements of the Allied cavalry. For by this time the French
horse, under the command of General Conneau had arrived, and the plan
of battle was that the French cavalry should assault and turn the left
of the German position at Nieppe, on the main road from Bailleul to
Armentières, thus cutting off the enemy from Lille, while the British
cavalry attacked Berthen. In the meantime, the main assault would be
delivered by the infantry against Bailleul, the centre of the hostile
position.

Throughout the 13th the fighting raged round Fletre and Meteren. Both
places were taken. Meteren was stormed in an onset which at nightfall
drove the Germans who were holding it in a ragged rout to Bailleul.
General Pulteney decided at once to follow up this advantage. An
advance on Bailleul was immediately begun. All this while the cavalry
on both wings had been active. At daybreak on October 14 the British
horse broke into Berthen, and despite a bitter resistance drove the
Germans out, and began to roll up their flank on that side. The French
cavalry had got astride of the Armentières road. Realising that their
whole force was in danger of being rounded up, the Germans took the
chance offered by darkness, intensified by heavy rain, to beat a
precipitate retreat. When the British infantry reached Bailleul, they
found the town evacuated.

These operations opened up the way to Lys, and the 3rd Corps advanced
on October 15 to the line of that river extending from Armentières to
near Laventie. They thus came into line with the 2nd Corps, which,
driving the Germans off the main road from La Bassee to Estaires, an
important road junction on the Lys two miles above Sailly, had pushed
on to Fournes. At that place, four miles east of Neuve Chapelle, and
not more than seven from the centre of Lille, they cut the German
communications between Lille and La Bassee.

Thus, at the end of four days, the British were both at Armentières
and at Fournes, within seven miles of Lille, and formed with Laventie
as the base of it, a front of almost a right angle, the apex pointing
westward. At the same time the cavalry had received orders to continue
their drive from Berthen across the country and down the valley of the
Lys towards Menin.[4] In those four days the Germans had been driven
back some twenty miles. Decidedly the surprise provided for them by
the British army had been anything but agreeable.

          [4] On reaching Warneton, on the Lys, ten miles above Menin,
          the cavalry found the place strongly held by the Germans,
          who at the entrance to the town had constructed a high
          barricade loopholed at the bottom so that men could fire
          through it from a lying position. This formidable obstacle
          was encountered by a squadron of our cavalry. Nothing
          daunted, they obtained help from the artillery, who
          man-handled a gun into position and blew the barricade to
          pieces, scattering the defenders. They then advanced some
          three-quarters of a mile into the centre of the town, where
          they found themselves in a large "place." They had hardly
          reached the farther end when one of the buildings suddenly
          appeared to leap skywards in a sheet of flame, a shower of
          star shells at the same time making the place as light as
          day and enabling the enemy--who were ensconced in the
          surrounding houses--to pour in a devastating fire from
          rifles and machine guns.

          Our cavalry managed to extricate themselves from this trap
          with a loss of only one officer--the squadron
          leader--wounded and nine men killed and wounded; but,
          determining that none of their number should fall into the
          enemy's hands, a party of volunteers went back and, taking
          off their boots in order to make no noise on the pavement,
          re-entered the inferno they had just left, and succeeded in
          carrying off their wounded comrades.

In these four days the British line had been pivoted round from St.
Omer to Armentières. However looked at, the feat alike in its
swiftness and its energy is remarkable. The numbers engaged on each
side, roundly some 150,000 men, had been about equal. Reinforced on
the way from the Aisne by fresh drafts from England, the British army
had the support of that French cavalry which in combination with our
own had rendered such brilliant service at the Battle of the Marne.
The German troops were among the best of the enemy's forces, and the
operations had shown that, even with the defensive advantages offered
by this exceptionally "close" country, they were, on a footing of
equality in numbers, no match for the Allies.[5]

          [5] "On the 15th the 3rd Division fought splendidly,
          crossing the dykes with which this country is intersected
          with planks, and driving the enemy from one entrenched
          position to another in loopholed villages, till at night
          they pushed the Germans off the Estaires-La Bassee road, and
          establishing themselves on the line Pont de Ham-Croix
          Barbée."--_Dispatch of Sir John French of November 20,
          1914._

          An episode of the fighting is thus described in an officer's
          letter published in the _Daily Telegraph_: "The enemy are no
          match for us in this kind of fighting, and we enjoyed
          thoroughly the work of hunting up the Germans, whom we shot
          down like rabbits. When we reached the outskirts of the wood
          we came under a terrible artillery fire from the enemy's
          guns, which were only 800 yards away. I withdrew my men
          under the cover of a ditch.

          "I took eight men and again moved to the outskirts of the
          wood, where I found a perfectly flat turnip field stretching
          away towards the enemy. About 300 yards out I saw a line of
          our infantry lying flat on the ground, and made my way
          towards them. No sooner did we leave the cover of the wood
          when the enemy's guns opened up on us.

          "It seemed impossible that my little party could escape.
          Three were almost immediately hit, but we others kept on and
          reached the line lying in the open. Half a platoon were
          extended at five paces. To my horror I found all were dead
          or wounded except about three, who were keeping perfectly
          still. I found the Subaltern Lieutenant B---- on one knee,
          with one hand resting on the ground just in the attitude of
          a runner who is waiting the signal for the start of a race.
          He was stone dead. A shrapnel bullet had pierced his head.

          "The man next him, who was badly wounded in the thigh, told
          me they were ordered to support the firing line, which was
          200 yards ahead, and had only advanced 300 yards from the
          wood when the entire line was struck down as if by
          lightning."

As the Belgians had during the opening weeks of the campaign followed
out a system of tactics admirably and skilfully adapted to the
populous and settled character of the terrain over which the fighting
then took place, so the Germans now attempted to resort to similar
tactics. They tried to contest the ground foot by foot. They
endeavoured to turn every farmhouse into a stronghold; to barricade
with the debris of buildings every road; they threw garrisons into
every works; they loopholed the houses of and placed hidden machine
guns in every village; they gathered for a rally behind every canal.
The country was swept by fire and devastation.

None of these efforts availed. Nor are the reasons why they did not
avail far to seek. Such tactics were wholly at variance with modern
German military training. The training aimed at a crushing movement in
masses; the tactics to be successful, demanded alertness and
initiative. So sudden a change in method and so complete a break with
tradition meant, at any rate, that the mass of these German forces
were but indifferent practitioners; they might know much of the
abstract science but they knew little of the practical art of war. In
one thing only were they thorough. They made up for their defects in
practical military skill by their energy in plunder and
destruction.[6]

          [6] Dr. Ludwig Tasker, of the R.A.M.C., from the rear of the
          British line at this date wrote: "Some of the villages are
          nothing but masses of ruins. We are covering ground passed
          over by the Germans. They have not left a cupboard or a
          drawer alone. We respect all property, and when we go where
          the Germans have been we tidy the things up so that the
          place looks very much better by the time the people return.
          Day after day the same thing goes on here--fighting,
          fighting, fighting, collecting the wounded, and burying the
          dead."

They were opposed besides in the British army to troops with whom
alertness and initiative were valued as among the highest of military
qualities. Those troops also were expert riflemen. Though standing on
the defence under such conditions the Germans ought, like the Belgians
at the outset of the war, to have inflicted far heavier losses than
they themselves sustained, in fact, owing to the sweeping energy of
the attack, their losses were out of all proportion the heavier.
Through the defeat at Meteren and the drive of the Allied cavalry
towards the Lys, their right flank had been turned, and the result was
that they had been "bunched up" by the British in the tangled
industrial district to the west of Lille.

Bodies of them still held out at Aubers and at Herlies, two contiguous
villages to the south-east of Laventie, but both those places were on
October 16 attacked by the troops of the British 2nd Army Corps. This
fighting went on amid streets obstructed by barricades, followed by
hand to hand combats in the houses. The Germans had now brought up a
mass of fresh forces, including their 14th Army Corps, additional
battalions of jägers, and four divisions of cavalry. Notwithstanding
these reinforcements both Aubers and Herlies were on October 17
carried by storm. In the assault upon Herlies the Lincolns and the
Royal Fusiliers, under the command of Brigadier-General Shaw,
displayed an undaunted gallantry.

On October 16 the Belgian army from Antwerp reached the Yser, and the
British troops covering their retreat had arrived to the east of
Ypres. Next day four divisions of the French cavalry drove out of the
Forest of Hoethuist, north of Ypres, a German force which attempted to
cut in between the Belgians and the British. Concurrently, the British
line west of Lille was extended down the valley of the Lys as far as
Frelingheinthree miles of suburbs from Laventie to Bois Grenier and
Radinghem, the latter place not more than five miles from the centre
of the city.

Such broadly was the situation. The German attempt to overrun western
Flanders had not failed merely; it had collapsed.



CHAPTER V

THE BATTLE OF YPRES--SECOND PHASE


It is true that no line of demarcation divides the operations which
resulted in the advance of the British army from St. Omer to Lille,
and the operations which followed. Technically they are all one, for
the fighting was continuous. At the same time it is advisable for the
sake of clearness to consider those operations rather in the nature of
a prelude, and the main Battle of Ypres as extending from October 17
to November 15, when the defeat of the Germans was complete.

On October 17 the Allied forces were: the Belgians, who occupied the
line of the Yser from Nieuport to Dixmude; two divisions of French
territorials, the 87th and the 89th, who had also arrived on October
16 and were at Vlamertynghe and Poperinghe; the French cavalry, who
held the ten miles of country between Dixmude and Ypres; the British
troops under the command of General Rawlinson, who held a line to the
east of Ypres extending from Poelcappel through Gheluvelt to
Zandvoorde; the British cavalry under the command of General Allenby,
who had pushed down to the valley of the Lys towards Werwick, three
miles above Menin; and finally, the main body of the British force,
the 3rd and the 2nd Army Corps, holding a line to the west of Lille
from Le Ghier to Herlies, and from there south-west, through the
village of Violaines, just outside La Bassee, to Givenchy.

We may anticipate here by saying that on October 19 the detrainment of
the 1st British Army Corps, under the command of General Sir Douglas
Haig was completed at St. Omer; that on the same date the 10th French
Army, under the command of General Maudhuy, reached the line between
Ypres and Dixmude; and that on October 20 the first of the Indian
troops, the Lahore Division, also arrived at the front.

There were now three armies, the Belgians, the French, and the
British, the latter consisting, with the Indians, of four Corps. The
10th French army included a division of Marines from Brest, and a
Corps of Moroccans and Senegalese. This was the force, equivalent,
with the two bodies of British and French cavalry, to some 320,000
men, on which fell during the ensuing four weeks, the weight of an
attack by eighteen German army corps mustering in the aggregate nearly
1,080,000 of all arms.

These German forces included:

    The troops of General von Deimling liberated by the evacuation of
    Antwerp, among them a division of Marines;

    The army of the Duke of Wurtemberg, comprising the 22nd, the 23rd,
    part of the 24th, the 26th, and the 27th Reserve (Landwehr) Corps;

    The army of General von Fabeck, consisting of four Corps and one
    division;

    The army of the Crown Prince of Bavaria, comprising the Prussian
    Guards, the 4th, 7th, 13th, 14th and 19th Corps; the 18th Reserve
    Corps; and the 1st Bavarian Reserve Corps.[7]

          [7] Some of these German army corps were not complete. A
          French Army Bulletin issued in November last stated that
          north of the Lys, on October 30, the Germans had fourteen
          army corps and four corps of cavalry.

The gathering together of this vast mass of combatants does not appear
to have been completed until October 23 or 24. Such delay as occurred,
though in fact the massing was carried out at remarkable speed, sprang
not from the embodiment of fresh formations, nor from any difficulty
in sending them westward from Germany. In order to make up this force
which was intended to be another spear head, the Germans had creamed
the whole of their fighting front in the West. Having before them the
example of the transfer of the British army from the Aisne, they had
taken a leaf out of the book of the Allies. All save the best of their
Reserve Corps had been distributed along their front. These new levies
released the more reliable and seasoned men alike of the Active army
and of the Landwehr, and the importance of the Battle of Ypres is,
apart from other consequences, that it broke or destroyed the best of
the remaining troops of Germany.

To begin with, the weight of the German counter-offensive was thrown,
not against Ypres, but against the British positions to the west of
Lille. Their objective was to secure La Bassee, the little mining town
on the northern edge of the coalfield, some eight miles to the
south-west of Lille. This point it is now clear they intended to make
the immediate pivot on which to swing round their northern front. As
the British positions at this time stood, communication between Lille
and La Bassee by the main road was cut. There is another point it is
insistent to notice. La Bassee lies at the end of one of the
promontories of the inland "coastline." It was already held by the
Germans and the spur had been strongly entrenched.

Yet another reason dictated the plan. One of the evident objects of
the British operations was to push down the Lys and seize the crossing
and railway junction at Menin. That would not only have gravely
embarrassed the German occupation of Lille, but would equally have
embarrassed a development of their attack between the Lys and the
coast.

Menin, of course, could only be seized and held before the main mass
of the German forces came up. Accordingly, Sir John French on October
17 directed Sir Henry Rawlinson to move from his position east of
Ypres and attack the place. The distance from the British line then at
Gheluvelt to Menin was not more than five miles. No doubt the move
would have left the country to the east of Ypres for the time being
open. The importance, however, of occupying Menin appeared fully to
justify the taking of such a risk. Sir Henry Rawlinson moved forward
to the attack, but it was not pressed. Concerning this matter Sir John
French says in his dispatch:

    Instructions for a vigorous attempt to establish the British
    Forces east of the Lys were given on the night of the 17th to the
    Second, Third, and Cavalry Corps.

    I considered, however, that the possession of Menin constituted a
    very important point of passage, and would much facilitate the
    advance of the rest of the Army. So I directed the General Officer
    Commanding the Fourth Corps to advance the 7th Division upon
    Menin, and endeavour to seize that crossing on the morning of the
    18th.

    The left of the 7th Division was to be supported by the 3rd
    Cavalry Brigade, and further north by the French Cavalry in the
    neighbourhood of Roulers.

    Sir Henry Rawlinson represented to me that large hostile forces
    were advancing upon him from the east and north-east, and that his
    left flank was severely threatened.

    I was aware of the threats from that direction, but hoped that at
    this particular time there was no greater force coming from the
    north-east than could be held off by the combined efforts of the
    French and British cavalry and the Territorial troops supporting
    them until the passage at Menin could be seized and the First
    Corps brought up in support.

    Sir Henry Rawlinson probably exercised a wise judgment in not
    committing his troops to this attack in their somewhat weakened
    condition; but the result was that the enemy's continued
    possession of the passage at Menin certainly facilitated his rapid
    reinforcement of his troops and thus rendered any further advance
    impracticable.

    On the morning of October 20 the 7th Division and 3rd Cavalry
    Division had retired to their old position extending from
    Zandvoorde through Kruiseik and Gheluvelt to Zonnebeke.

Proving abortive, this effort must have served to some extent at all
events to disclose to the enemy the British general's intentions, and
must in consequence have been of material assistance in deciding upon
his dispositions. In justice to Sir Henry Rawlinson it is necessary to
point out that his position was by no means an easy one to maintain.
As Sir John French states:

    A very difficult task was allotted to Sir Henry Rawlinson and his
    command. Owing to the importance of keeping possession of all the
    ground towards the north which we already held, it was necessary
    for him to operate on a very wide front, and, until the arrival of
    the First Corps in the northern theatre--which I expected about
    the 20th--I had no troops available with which to support or
    reinforce him.

    Although on this extended front he had eventually to encounter
    very superior forces, his troops, both Cavalry and Infantry,
    fought with the utmost gallantry, and rendered very signal service.

The army of the Crown Prince of Bavaria was at this time opposed to
the British between the line of the Lys and Lille, and it was along
the ten miles between La Bassee and Frelinghein, amid a mass of almost
continuous industrial villages, that the clash of the great battle
began. Outnumbered by nearly three to one, the British troops were
subjected to an incessant series of desperate assaults. It was clear
that the rapid success of the British operations during the preceding
week, as well as the collapse of the German projects, had stung the
enemy to fury. The attacks began against Herlies and Aubers, villages
north of the La Bassee spur, and themselves built along the tops or
straggling down the slopes of two minor promontories. Beaten off with
heavy loss to the enemy, these attacks were, regardless of the
punishment received, renewed both by day and by night. The villages
were reduced by the German artillery to ruins. Amid these ruins,
however, and in the trenches cut for the defence, the British troops
held out. In repulsing one of these attacks the Royal Irish, with
magnificent dash, and burning to give the enemy a real taste of their
quality, fought across the spur to Le Pilly, driving the Germans
before them like as though their advance was that of a column of
irresistible demons. In Le Pilly they entrenched themselves. They had
gone so far forward, however, in the impetus of the pursuit that they
were cut off from communication with the rest of the British force.
They fought until their last cartridge was used up. For more than
thirty hours they held out, surrounded by masses of Germans on all
sides. Sheer famine at the finish compelled them, and their gallant
commander, Major Daniell, to surrender.

Instead of diminishing, the German attacks increased in violence.
Every successive repulse seemed only to add to the rage of their
commanders. For four days and nights these onsets followed one upon
another. To describe these but a little while before peaceful suburbs
of Lille, now cut and blown into wreckage and swept by the fire and
hurricane of war, as a hell is to put it mildly. The days and nights
were days and nights of dismal darkness and rain. Foiled in the effort
by a frontal attack to drive the British once more across the Lys, the
Germans, now supported by the arrival of additional masses, developed
their assault to the east and north of Ypres. On October 20 they
captured Le Gheir, but were on the same day driven out of the place
again with heavy loss. This important crossing of the Lys is the most
direct route from Lille to Ypres.

In view of the heavy attack which by this time had been launched
towards the flank position of the 3rd Army Corps at Le Gheir, the
British cavalry were dismounted and put into the fighting line to fill
the gap of some four miles still existing between Le Gheir and
Zandvoorde to the south of Ypres. Throwing aside the sabre for the
rifle and bayonet and the spade, the cavalry promptly dug themselves
in, and proved as valiant in the trenches as they had time and again
shown themselves in the saddle. They were a thin line of less than one
man to the yard. Thin as it was, however, it turned out to be a line
of steel.

On October 20 the 1st British Army Corps reached Ypres from St. Omer.
They had covered the intervening twenty-five miles in one long day's
tramp. It had been intended to send them in co-operation with the
French cavalry forward to Thourout, and possibly on to Bruges. This
scheme had to be abandoned.

On October 22 the battle became general from La Bassee to Dixmude.
Following upon a terrific bombardment, a powerful column of the enemy,
debouching from La Bassee, attempted in mass formation to rush the
trenches held by the Wiltshires and the Manchester Regiment at
Violaines. The attack never got home. The mass of the enemy, something
like 6,000 strong, thrown into confusion by the deadly fire from the
trenches, broke and fled. They were rallied and reformed from
supports. A second time the assault was launched. It met with no
better fortune.

In the meantime an attack in enormous force had been hurled against
the positions held by the 3rd British Army Corps. This attack, one of
the bloodiest episodes of the battle, also failed. The Germans,
nevertheless, had got across the Lys at Warneton and at Comines, two
miles farther down stream, and, forming behind the railway, which here
runs on an embankment along the valley to the north of the river,
advanced in overwhelming force upon Messines and Houthem. Though
offering a desperate resistance, the British cavalry were forced to
retire as far as Hollebeke and Wytscheate. Part of the Indian troops,
the 7th Division, sent to their support, delivered a brilliant flank
attack on the Germans from Wulverghem. The Germans held the ground
they had gained, but their onset was paralysed.

The British front had now been dented in. In consequence it became
necessary to reform it. The line was withdrawn. From Givenchy the
positions extended to the high road running from Violaines through
Neuve Chapelle to Armentières, and then through Armentières across the
Lys to Wytscheate. This is, in fact, the main road from La Bassee to
Ypres.

Disposed along a line from Bixschoote through Langemarck on the north
of Ypres, the troops of the British 1st Army Corps were attacked by
the whole strength of the army of General von Fabeck. The resistance
opposed to these enormous odds was heroic. Time and again the attacks
made in mass formation were beaten back. Upon the Prussian commanders
the frightful losses suffered by their troops, who fell not man by
man, but by ranks and companies, appeared to make no impression. A
combined infantry and artillery attack drove the French cavalry across
the Ypres and Nieuport canal. The British line had then to be retired.
Under heavy fire the Cameron Highlanders dug themselves in at Pilkem
on the canal two miles to the north of Ypres. At the end of a day of
awful carnage the Germans at this point made a last desperate effort.
They got at length up to the line of the trenches, hastily made to
meet the exigencies of the moment. It came to the bayonet, with this
comparative handful of British heroes against a mass of foes maddened
by their losses. The Highlanders fought like lions. At the cold steel
the Germans were no match for them. Nothing but their dauntless
courage and their military superiority saved them from being totally
wiped out. Out of that terrible fray the remnant of them retired,
bloodstained and with bloodstained arms, but fierce and unconquerable,
opposing a sullen front still to the enemy who, having at a fearful
price won the position, had been too punished to follow up the
advantage.

These trenches at Pilkem, it is interesting to note, were the nearest
point at which during any part of the battle the Germans approached to
Ypres. The enemy, however, did not enjoy his dearly-bought advantage
long. At daybreak an attack upon the Germans was made by the Queens,
the Northamptons, and the King's Own Rifles. The enemy had occupied
the night clearing the trenches of the dead, mostly their own dead,
with which they were choked. For so prompt a counter-attack they were
evidently not prepared. In the cold grey of this October dawn they
suddenly saw these lines of khaki detach themselves from the mist. It
was like a bad dream, but it turned in a flash into a fiery reality.
The British infantry were into them with the bayonet. Led by General
Bulfin, who had proved on the Aisne that he was the man for a tight
corner, the British brigade were out to retake those trenches. Of
British bayonet work these German troops had already seen enough.
There was a scene, as they endeavoured to rally, of mad rage and
confusion; the shouts and curses of their officers mingling with the
roar of conflict, and the clash of steel on steel in the savage work
of thrust and parry. German reinforcements were hurried up. The line
of fighting men, their own troops in retreat, the British pressing on
the rear, met the reinforcements as they advanced. With this fresh
mass to deal with, the British troops in turn were forced backwards.
They fought with a bulldog tenacity, and once more the Germans gave
way. By the end of the day, despite repeated attacks upon them, the
British were masters of the position.

Even now the weight of such a battle as this was severe, and yet it
was to go on for another twenty-six days. On October 22 General Joffre
visited the British Head-quarters. The result was the arrival on this,
the 23rd of October, of the 9th French Army Corps. This reinforcement
was sorely needed. On the east of Ypres the line was drawn perilously
thin. From Zandvoorde round to Peolcappel it was held only by the 7th
Division of infantry under Major-General Capper, and by the 3rd
Cavalry Division, commanded by Major-General Byng. The cavalry, like
the rest of the British mounted force, had gone into the trenches, or,
rather, into hastily-made lines of fire-cover. Somewhat remarkably,
the Germans had not been quick to discover the relative weakness of
this part of the front. So far they had thrown the weight and fury of
their attack against the north and south. Their mistake undoubtedly
arose from the bold tactics adopted by the British Commander-in-Chief.
On the east of Ypres he had kept up a show of counter-attack. The 7th
Division had, on the 21st, made a bound forward to Passchendeale, on
the way to Roulers. This, following upon the movement towards Menin,
had evidently led the enemy to suppose that here was the strongest
part of the British line. In plain language, the enemy had been most
successfully "bluffed." As a consequence, the Germans opposite the 7th
Division remained on the defensive, and there was gained a respite, if
a bitter and incessant bombardment can so be called, of nearly two
days. The interval was beyond estimate valuable. It enabled the 9th
French Army Corps to take up part of the vastly too extended position
held by these British forces, who had been spaced out over some six
miles of country at the rate of considerably less than one man to the
yard--a single line without reserves of any kind.

Following upon their arduous march from Ghent, during which, covering
the retreat of the Belgian army, they had fought a rearguard action
for the greater part of the way, the 7th Division had, since October
17, been almost incessantly engaged. Even the toughest of British
troops--and these were among the toughest toughs in the army--would
feel the worse for wear after such an experience. It had indeed
approached "the limit"--as the limit was understood before the Battle
of Ypres.

Picture the situation. These British and French troops in their
hastily made trenches had not only masses of the enemy in front of
them--masses thrown forward in dense columns of attack, which at all
hazards they had to break--but the roar of battle in their rear, and
from minute to minute they could not tell how the fortune of battle in
their rear was going. They could only hope that their comrades, too,
were "sticking it." Overhead was the almost incessant flight and
ear-splitting explosions of shells, an indescribable din. To right and
left flared the burning ruins of houses and villages. An acrid smoke
rolled over the awful scene, darkening the grey sky with its lowering
pall. In this pallid light and amid the contending thunders of the
cannon, a monstrous chorus from hundreds of iron throats, the
grey-green ranks of the enemy would suddenly swarm out of their
trenches, and their savage yells mingling with their volleys, would
try to dash across the intervening space, 200, sometimes not more than
100 yards. To reach the British trenches was a matter not of minutes;
it was a matter of seconds. How were such rushes to be stopped? The
only way was for these British infantrymen to sit tight and give them
fifteen rounds "rapid"--fifteen rounds in less than as many seconds,
rounds in which every bullet found its billet. The hostile mass came
on trampling over its dying and its dead, but it was ragged and it
grew more ragged with every one of those successive blasts of death.
Then it became a mere torn remnant, then it wavered. Its fury was
gone; its courage was gone; the driving power of its ruthless officers
was gone; the fear of disciplinary punishment was gone; all were
swallowed up in the instinctive love of life. A lightning rush back to
cover to avoid that devastating hail of lead swept every protester off
his feet. From first to last such an episode would be measured in time
by minutes. Into those minutes, however, seemed crowded an eternity of
experience. In circumstances like these the sole thought of the
soldier is his individual duty. He feels with an absorbing intensity
that the issue depends upon him doing it even to the death. In that
feeling lies the glorious "joy of battle."

All round Ypres was ringed with these contending fires. The heaviest
pressure of the German attack, however, was still on the sector of the
front between Armentières and La Bassee. It was plainly hoped that if
success attended this onset, the retirement of the whole of the
British, French and Belgian forces to the north of it must follow, and
strategically that must have been the result, for if the 2nd British
Army Corps had given way, neither Ypres nor the line of the Yser could
have been held. In the accounts which have been given hitherto of the
battle, attention has mostly been directed to its later stages when
the attack developed against Ypres from the east, but the vital combat
which went far to secure the eventual victory was the death grapple
between the 2nd Army Corps and the masses of Prince Ruprecht's Army
thrown against them west of Lille. These troops of the 2nd British
Army Corps had been fighting almost day and night since October 11,
that is up to this time for twelve days, and it had been impossible to
afford them any relief.

Along this sector of the front the 2nd and 3rd Corps of the British
Army were opposed to eight corps of Germans. That immense superiority
in numbers enabled the enemy to keep up an unbroken succession of
assaults by a system of reliefs. Costly in life to the enemy though
such tactics were, he was evidently convinced that under this strain
the British must inevitably break. The fighting raged through this now
desolated area of ruined houses and wrecked roads. Roofless, with
great gaps torn in their walls by shells, the smashed remains of
furniture mixed up with fallen and broken beams, splintered doors, and
battered stairways, often the scenes of bitter hand-to-hand duels, the
houses bordering the streets littered and obstructed by
window-shutters shot-riddled and blown off their hinges, piles and
fragments of bricks, slates and glass, the shapeless remains of
chimneys and other flotsam of ruin. In face of the hostile pressure
the British line had had to be drawn back on to the lower ground of
the valley. This withdrawal, however, had tightened up and
strengthened it, and the whole position was without question saved
through General Smith-Dorrien making that necessary and prudent move
in the right time.[8]

          [8] The German attack against the Lincolns in the village of
          Herlies and the retirement of that corps is described in a
          letter from Corporal E. Clark to Major Haggard, Chairman of
          the Veterans' Club. Corporal Clark says: "... We found
          ourselves surrounded in the shape of a horseshoe, the enemy
          firing at us from all angles. We just got the order to
          retire when a shell struck the trench in front, a piece
          catching me on the nose and burying me, but I managed to
          crawl out nearly blind, and started to retire under a
          murderous rifle fire. No one could realise what it was like
          unless actually there. Men were crawling about like ants
          trying to reach safety, but it was only luck for those that
          did. I managed to get to a wood, where I found a number of
          wounded, and waited until the firing cooled down, when we
          chanced it over the river, getting there as best we could,
          the Germans shelling the bridge the whole time, also a
          railway cutting, in which we got for shelter."

How the Devons at a decisive point of the line covered this retirement
and beat off a furious German attack is told by one of the officers of
the corps. He says:

    On the night of October 22, we advanced a bit and dug ourselves
    more or less in by dawn, and soon after light we saw great masses
    of German infantry emerge from woods and hedges some 1,000 yards
    to our front, and advance to attack us. We opened fire on them,
    and killed dozens. This was answered by the Germans with a
    tremendous shell fire from their heavy guns. The Devons were
    perfectly wonderful; not a man left his trench. All day long the
    battle raged, and you never saw such an inferno. By night the
    place was a mass of fire, smoke, dead, and dying. All night they
    attacked us. Sometimes they got right up to our trenches, only to
    be hurled back by the Devons' bayonets. Dawn broke on the 24th
    with the same struggle still going on, and it continued all day
    and night, and all through the 25th. We never slept a wink, and by
    night we were absolutely done. No humans could have done more.

    The men were perfectly splendid, and repulsed every attack, with
    great loss to the enemy. We were relieved at 1 a.m. on October 26,
    and as we marched back a mile into billets all the troops cheered
    us frantically. General Smith-Dorrien sent a wire congratulating
    us on our splendid fight. We heard officially from Divisional
    Head-quarters that there were 1,000 dead Germans in front of our
    trenches. The whole place was littered with their dead.

On October 24 the Indian troops under the command of General Watkis
were sent to Lacon, three miles in the rear of the front, as a
reserve. In the evening of that day, a day like those preceding it of
dismal rain, the Germans made an exceptional effort. With the
advantage of the bad and failing light, which it was probably hoped
would confuse the British rifle fire, a thing they had now learned to
dread, they delivered a massed assault in enormous force. The attack
was made simultaneously by three columns directed one against the
trenches held by the Wiltshires above Givenchy; the second against the
trenches held by the Royal West Kents; and the third against the
position of the Gordons at the farther end of the line near
Fauquissart. The first two attacks failed completely. The third had a
temporary success. The Gordons, with odds which no skill with the
rifle could overcome, were driven from their trenches. This was
undoubtedly the chief point of the German onset. While the struggle
was going on the Middlesex regiment had been ordered up to support.
They arrived nearly as soon as the Germans had seized the position.
Darkness had now come on. Shaken by their heavy losses, the Germans
were not prepared for this practically instantaneous counter-attack.
They did not know what was behind it. The Middlesex regiment appeared
to spring at them out of the ground. Though elated at their victory
they were exhausted. For aught they could tell other forces were at
the back of these. The fight was fierce but brief. The end of it saw
the enemy flying back into the night to escape the deadly bayonets
wielded with what seemed almost superhuman energy. The attack added
another blank to Prince Ruprecht's record.

In the meantime persistent attacks had been kept up on the position of
the 3rd Corps along the railway from Laventie to Armentières, as well
as on the line held by the Cavalry Corps along the hills from
Wytscheate to Zandvoorde. It was the evident intention of the Germans
to seize this ridge as dominating the British position in Ypres. Along
this sector they were massed in great strength. Shortened, however, as
it now was the front held. The struggle round the village of Hollebeke
was to the last degree desperate. The line, however, of the Indian
troops along the high road from Armentières to Wytscheate still
menaced this German attack in flank, and materially helped the Cavalry
Corps to hold its ground.

In view of this failure of the onslaught from the south, the enemy on
October 25 renewed his attack in strength against the line of the 1st
British Army Corps to the north of Ypres, and combined it with yet
another onset south of Ypres against the trenches held by the Cavalry
Corps. It was deemed prudent to reinforce part of the line here from
the Reserve of French Territorials. Those of the cavalry whom they
replaced were withdrawn and concentrated at Zillebeke to the north of
the Zandvoorde ridge.

Apparently the losses and the confusion arising from the defeat of the
great assault of the evening before (October 24) made it impossible
for the Germans to renew their efforts on this day (October 25)
against the front from Armentières to La Bassee. Their only success in
the fighting of the 25th was the capture of the trenches held by the
Leicestershire Regiment whom they had managed to overwhelm.

We now come to a lull in the battle. It had gone on along the southern
sector of the front since October 17, and along the whole front since
October 22. During the last three days more especially the Germans had
exerted their total strength. They had incurred a terrible sacrifice
of life, and so far the only result, a miserable result for such a
price, had been the slight retirement of the British line to the west
of Lille, and a foothold across the Lys to the south of Ypres.

It is not surprising therefore that for the time being they ceased
their attacks while they moved up additional forces. These were not
merely to repair losses but to add to the mass and momentum of the
onset. None of the objects sought by this battle had been gained, nor
did any one of them appear to any nearer of attainment.

The position from the German side is reflected in the army order which
on October 26 Prince Ruprecht issued to his troops. Copies of it were
afterwards found on dead German officers of his army. "You have been
fighting," he told them, "under very difficult conditions. It is our
business now not to let the struggle with our most detested enemy drag
on longer. The decisive blow has still to be struck."

The Kaiser at this time came to Courtrai and Thielt to supervise the
massing of his legions, and went round their billets and cantonments
making a succession of speeches. Everything was done to fortify their
determination, and heighten their ardour. A general army order was
issued reminding them that "the thrust against Ypres" was of decisive
importance. On October 29 the mighty mass of a front extending from
Lille to the coast was judged to have been refitted and in every
respect ready for the final and irresistible blow.

On his side Sir John French had made use of the interval to reform and
tighten his line. The comparatively weak spot to the east of Ypres was
stiffened, and if this lull was necessary to the enemy it proved of
equal advantage to the Allies, and opposed to the enemy's intended
final blow a new set of difficulties.



CHAPTER VI

THE BATTLE OF YPRES--THE CRISIS


The critical phase of the great battle began on October 29. Its
feature is that not only was the mass of the German force now at its
maximum, but that the weight of the attack shifted from the part of
the British front between La Bassee and Armentières to the centre of
the British line to the south and east of Ypres. It is this phase
which has been commonly called the Battle of Ypres. Except, however,
as a phase, it is in no sense distinguished from the earlier fighting.

On the third day (October 31) the struggle to the east and south of
Ypres reached its crisis. From that date, notwithstanding that efforts
and desperate efforts continued to be made by the enemy, his defeat
was in truth assured. He had shot his bolt, and shot it in vain.

To the strategical reasons which induced the Germans to throw the
chief force of their attack in the first place against the right of
the British line to the west of Lille, reference has already been
made, and those reasons are sufficiently clear. The reasons which
induced the Germans to shift it to the south and south-east of Ypres
are not so obvious. Indeed, the only acceptable explanation is that
their severe defeat on October 24 caused such discouragement that the
plan of forcing the right of the British position was given up as
impracticable.

In order to reach Ypres from the south it was necessary to win the
ridge, while to reach Ypres from the east it was necessary to
penetrate the almost continuous belt of woods. These woods presented
an obstacle which made the organisation of the huge mass attacks, in
favour with the reigning school of German tacticians, almost out of
the question. Sir John French as we have seen took advantage of these
features of the country skilfully to economise his force, and at the
same time to conceal that fact and mislead the enemy. The Germans it
is evident had by October 26 found out their mistake. They discovered
that west of Lille they had been running their heads against a stone
wall, and deceived by the aspects and features of the country, had
been neglecting what they now considered had been a comparatively easy
entrance.

When they changed their plans, however, they made yet another
mistake--that of thinking or rather of presuming that the British
dispositions would remain unaltered.

Through the woods to the east of Ypres there is one great main road.
Beginning at Menin--that town is just on the Belgian side of the
French frontier--this broad, well-paved highway runs nearly straight
as an avenue into Ypres.[9] The distance is ten miles. From Ypres the
great road is continued towards the coast until at Furnes it joins on
to the great road which runs along the coast from Ostend through
Nieuport, Dunkirk, and Gravelines to Calais.

          [9] There is only one slight bend in this road, that at the
          hamlet of Hooge, a mile and a half out of Ypres, but this
          bend proved, as will be seen, of considerable tactical
          importance.

The importance of Menin lay in the fact that not only do several lines
of railway branch out from that place southwards into France,
including the railways to Lille, which is not more than ten miles
away, but that it was the starting-point of this great road. Ypres
again is the starting-point of a converging great road to Dunkirk. It
may be remarked generally that the great main roads of Flanders run
across the country from inland to the sea, and not along the country
parallel with the sea. There are certain nodal points in this road
system. In West Flanders, Ypres is the chief of those points. If we
study the disposition of the Allied forces at this time with reference
to the lines of communication, it will be seen both that they barred
access to Ypres, and that west of Lille they were astride of, and
therefore rendered useless to the enemy, the main line of railway from
Lille to Calais. On that line Bailleul, Hazebrouck, and St. Omer are
alike situated. The German advance, checked and thrown back by the
unexpected appearance of the British from the Aisne, was an advance
intended both to master the main line of railway, and the road system.

For a distance of some three miles the avenue from Menin to Ypres runs
through the belt of woods. Six miles from Menin and four from Ypres it
passes through the village of Gheluvelt, cresting there the ridge of
hills. A mile to the east of Gheluvelt, and five miles from Menin, a
road branches off the main avenue to Werwick on the Lys, and, on the
opposite side of the avenue here there is a cross-road of no great
consequence, save that it serpentines northward through the belt of
woodland until it joins the main road from Ypres to Bruges. Trivial,
therefore, as a public way, this cross-road was of considerable
military value, since it gave access to some five miles or more of the
woods.

It may be added that just by these cross-roads, east of Gheluvelt,
there is a small outer ridge or rise called the hill of Kruyseik,
after the village of that name lying in the hollow, and that over the
main crest at Gheluvelt, and between that point and Ypres there is
another rise or ridge. Behind this, on the side towards Ypres, lies
the village of Zillebeke. Across the hills, again, to the south of
Ypres and between that city and the Lys, there are two somewhat zigzag
minor roads. The first of these passes through the village of
Zandvoorde, and the second through the village of Hollebeke. Then
further west we come to the main road running due south from Ypres to
Armentières. Along this road, some two and a half miles out of Ypres,
is St. Eloi, and two miles farther on Wytscheate.

These topographical details may appear minute, but they have to be
understood because they show that, to get into Ypres from the south
and south-east, the Germans had as lines of attack these four routes:
the main avenue from Menin; the road through Zandvoorde; the road
through Hollebeke; and the road through Wytscheate and St. Eloi; and
it will be found that in fact their attacks were made along those
lines.

Shrewdly foreseeing such a development of the battle, Sir John French,
on October 27, unified the immediate command of the troops on his
eastern front by adding them to the 1st Army Corps. They were
redistributed in order to meet the probable weight of the coming
assault which was almost certainly to be looked for along the main
avenue from Menin. The line, in fact, was tightened up.

The 7th Division was disposed along a line some two miles in length
from Zandvoorde to the Menin avenue, and held the Hill of Kruyseik.

The 1st Division continued the line from this point northwards and
along the outer or eastern fringe of the belt of woods to near the
village of Reytel.

The 2nd Division continued the line, also along the outer fringe of
the woods, to Zonnebeke.

Altogether these troops, some 50,000 strong, occupied a front of about
six miles. It was an exceptionally strong position, affording among
other things first-rate shelter for the guns. Bearing in mind,
however, that they were preparing to meet an assault from nearly ten
times their own number, supported by an enormously superior strength
in artillery, no precaution could be neglected.

The dispositions just outlined were made only just in time. At
daybreak, on October 29, the attack began. The three divisions, all of
them seasoned veterans, had hardly dug themselves in when a terrific
bombardment opened. Since their trenches were practically invisible,
this bombardment proved more noisy than harmful. It was the prelude to
the advance along the Menin road of an enormous German column. Flank
and supporting columns advanced at the same time along the road to
Zandvoorde, and the minor roads north of the main avenue to Reytel and
Zonnebeke. The attack was pressed along almost the whole front with
the greatest determination. Its principal object was to secure the
Kruyseik Hill, and with it the road junction east of Gheluvelt. By
weight of numbers, and despite heavy losses--the terms used with
regard to German losses in this battle may appear to be exaggeration,
but in fact they are not--the enemy succeeded in capturing the
Kruyseik Hill. That was about two in the afternoon, after a struggle
lasting nearly eight hours.

With the capture of the hill, they were able to assault the British
line north of the Menin road in flank, and at this point they broke
it. Elsewhere, however, along the front their onset had been
disastrous. When close to the British lines they wavered under the
almost unbroken fire from the trenches, General Sir Douglas Haig gave
the order for a general counter-attack. Looking only for a "passive
resistance," the Germans were taken wholly by surprise. They tried to
rally, but in vain. The shock threw their columns into confusion, and
their whole front gave way. In the impetus the British troops rushed
and retook the Kruyseik Hill by storm. In the captured trenches across
the main road to the north of it a body of the enemy, though raked by
fire in front and in flank, held out until nightfall, when nearly the
whole of them had been killed or wounded. The trenches were recovered,
and the survivors taken prisoners.

Beaten in the attempt to advance from Menin, the enemy the same night
renewed the battle in an endeavour to retake Le Gheir on the Lys and
to break the front at that point. The attack proved a total failure,
though the British position was here astride of the river, and
consequently from the tactical standpoint weak. At midnight a huge
column of 12,000 men was hurled against the trenches held at Croix
Marechal by the Middlesex Regiment. They came on with the greatest
determination. Part of the trenches fell into their hands. The
Middlesex, however, with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders who had
been hurried forward to their support, began a counter-attack. This
fight, one of the bitterest episodes of the battle, went on through
the night. The scene lighted up luridly and fitfully by star shell and
flares, by the flashing volleys of the rifles, and by the explosions
from minute to minute of shrapnel, was at once weird and awful. The
Germans were raked by a destructive fire from both flanks. As fast,
however, as they fell others rushed into the trench line from their
rear. So for nearly four hours the slaughter and the combat went on.
At any price the enemy appeared resolved to hold this advantage. But
towards daybreak the British infantry, having steadily closed in,
rushed forward. The line of trenches, now choked with German dying and
dead, was recaptured at the point of the bayonet. Fighting to the last
gasp, not more than forty uninjured Germans were taken prisoners. The
rout of the great column was driven back upon the hostile lines beyond
the railway.

While this struggle to the death was taking place at Croix Marechal,
the enemy was gathering his forces for another onslaught of
unparalleled magnitude. It began at dawn on October 30, and was an
effort to fight across the hills by way of Zandvoorde and Hollebeke.
In this there were employed five German army corps, aggregating nearly
300,000 men. Opposed to them along this line were the British troops
of the 7th Division and the Cavalry Division, less than a tenth of
their number. The advance along the Menin road and through the woods
having turned out to be too difficult, the Germans were now at last
trying this way. Once more the onset was supported by a mighty
bombardment, and once more the bombardment did comparatively little
damage. What told was the weight of numbers. The attack came forward
in two enormous masses. That thrown against Zandvoorde comprised three
army corps, the 13th and 15th Prussians, and the 2nd Bavarians. That
thrown against Hollebeke comprised two corps. A special Army Order had
been issued telling the troops that the Kaiser considered the success
of this attack to be of vital importance to the issue of the war, and,
indeed, for the reasons already shown, it was. Of course and
conversely its failure affected the issue of the war not less vitally.

Forward and up the southern slopes of the ridge these masses,
fortified by the Imperial order, swarmed in numbers that appeared to
be countless, for to the eye even 100,000 men looks a multitude
innumerable. The British gunners, pushing their guns forward daringly
for greater effect, lashed them with a storm of shrapnel; the thin
line in the British trenches shot them until the rifles were red hot.
They went down not in hundreds, but in thousands. Still they came on,
crushing under their boots dead and dying indifferently. It was the
supreme manifestation of the Will to Power; the climax of the
War-lord's method of making war. Such numbers could not be finished in
the time. When those in front wavered under the swishing lash of
leaden death, those behind pushed them on. They surged onwards like
the waves of a rising tide. Doubtless this sounds mere imagination. It
is, however, but the feeblest reflection of the truth. There was
nothing for it except, while time yet allowed, for the 3rd Cavalry
Division, who were holding the trenches on the ridge east of
Zandvoorde, to decamp, and to decamp in a hurry. Likely enough, the
Germans were astonished to discover the comparatively contemptible
handful who had offered such a daring defence. The woods just to the
rear of the British trenches aided the escape of these heroes.
Relatively their casualties had been few. With the nimbleness of
Redskins they disappeared among the tree trunks as the grey-green
flood of the enemy, seeing their retreat, surged forward in a last
rush and with a roar of triumph, sending after them a hail of in the
main futile bullets. Through the woods of the mile of intervening
valley to the Kleine Zillebeke ridge, the British raced from one cover
to another, keeping up a lively fire from every point from which the
enemy on the main ridge were in view. This seems to have given the
impression that the little valley was crowded with skirmishers, a
gentry for whom the Germans had by now imbibed a wholesome respect.
They halted accordingly on the Zandvoorde ridge to reform.

This pause was fatal, and it is not too much to say that at that
moment the issue of the battle lay upon the knees of the gods. The
pause enabled Sir Douglas Haig to re-establish his line. The fateful
moment had passed, and the grey-faced Emperor waiting anxiously in
Courtrai for the news that was to make him master of Europe was little
conscious that the scale of fate had gone down against him.

Yet it had. The British line was re-formed from Gheluvelt along the
Kleine Zillebeke ridge to the Ypres and Lille canal at the point where
alongside the Ypres and Lille railway it enters the deep cutting in
which both canal and railway are carried across the main ridge of
hills. The strength of this position lay in the fact that behind it
was an area of woodland nearly two miles in depth. Along the bottom of
the valley or depression separating these woods from those on the
opposite slope lay a space of cleared land. This afforded a good field
of fire. On the other hand, the woods on the opposite slope made it
impossible to organise an attack in the immense mass in which the
Germans had swarmed over the cleared top of the ridge they now held.

The position now taken up by the British troops was, therefore,
strong, and had been chosen with a good judgment and a practical eye.
Besides that, the line was stiffened. It was intended to hold this
position "at all costs." In the front trenches were the troops of the
1st Division and the 4th Brigade. The 2nd Brigade formed an
immediately supporting line. A battalion was placed in the woods as a
reserve.

The Germans, however, did not forthwith press their advance, but
contented themselves, for the time being, with making good their
position on the main ridge. This, as already pointed out, was a fatal
mistake. To render the British line more secure, and to strengthen its
weak point--that nearest the canal--three infantry battalions and a
cavalry brigade were transferred from the 9th French Army Corps.

We now come to the concurrent German attack against Hollebeke. The
British trenches at Hollebeke were held by the 2nd Cavalry Division;
those on the right to the south-west and towards Messines by the 1st
Cavalry Division. This comparative handful of men had had to be spaced
out over four miles of country. They were but a single line, less than
a man, on the average, to every two yards, and yet they had to face
the onset of two army corps of the best troops of Germany!

Since the front towards Hollebeke was too narrow for the employment of
such a mass of the enemy with effect, and since, too, this attack was
in fact a turning movement destined to assist the chief thrust through
Zandvoorde, the onset here forked, one tremendous column pressing
north towards Hollebeke and the other west towards Wytscheate.

It might well be supposed that with their weight of numbers the
Germans would have walked, or rather have romped, over the barrier.
Instead of that the cavalry of the 2nd Division held on to their
trenches, defeating assault after assault from daybreak until
afternoon. They were at last, spent with the conflict, forced to give
way. Meanwhile Sir John French had reached the front. At a glance he
took in the crisis of the position. Two regiments of the 3rd Cavalry
Division were rushed along the line to the 2nd Division's support. Two
battalions of the 7th Indian Division were also held to meet the
emergency. At the same time the London Scottish Territorials and four
battalions of the 2nd British Army Corps were ordered forward to Neuve
Eglise for the like purpose. During the lull in the battle already
referred to, from October 27 to October 29, Sir John French had placed
the Indian Army Corps in the positions on the right of his line to the
west of Lille, then occupied by his 2nd Army Corps. The latter were
exhausted by fourteen days of continuous hard fighting. They were now
available as a general reserve. The value and the necessity of this
precaution is too manifest to need emphasis.

Re-formed as the line now was a little beyond Hollebeke, it continued
the front across the ridge from the Ypres and Lille canal to near
Messines. This section of the front was important for two reasons. In
the first place it barred the Germans off the main road from Lille to
Ypres. In the second place it prevented the enemy from turning the
position of the troops commanded by Sir Douglas Haig by cutting their
communications with Ypres. That, of course, formed one of the
objectives of this attack. Another was to obtain the command both of
the main road and of the Ypres and Lille railway. At Hollebeke and
even now just beyond it the British were astride the railway line.

With objects like these in view it is easy to infer that the onset was
pressed with all the vigour at the enemy's command. He had on this
section alone nearly 500 guns. These, both supporting and in the
intervals between his massed infantry attacks, poured upon the
trenches and behind them in order to keep reinforcements at bay,
constant squalls of shrapnel. Because less than 5,000 men were here
resisting more than 100,000, and continued to resist them all that day
and all through the succeeding night, and all through the next day and
all through the following night also, and because at the end of that,
in truth, indescribable time, though the storm of the hostile guns
never ceased, and infantry attack after infantry attack drove forward,
only to melt into bloody confusion and wreck before the terrible power
of the magazine rifle handled by resolute and veteran soldiers, it
must not be supposed that the energy and the ferocity of the enemy
were less than both had often before proved to be. The Germans had
never fought with greater determination. Their defeat arose from the
attempt to ride rough-shod over this apparently feeble line of defence
by sheer weight of numbers. The British fought not merely with skill,
but with the skill of masters. The Germans, confident in their
seemingly crushing strength, fought without patience, and with the
clumsiness of amateurs. They aimed at a speedy and a showy triumph. In
spite of all their military apparatus and machinery, and of their
precision in drill, they fought, in fact, like a mob, and like a mob
in such circumstances their losses were frightful. Not only the
defects of their military system--its exaltation of the machine, and
its depression of the man--were here exposed, but the still worse and
superimposed defects of their latest ideas of tactics. Ignoring the
realities as distinguished from the mere appearances of modern war,
these ideas were the ideas of fantasy. To train men as an army, to
employ them in battle as a mob, and, as a result, to look for victory,
is of all notions the nearest akin to dementia.

A conflict with these odds, and with this outcome has never before
occurred in modern war. Nothing like it, indeed, has occurred in war
since Leonidas and his Spartans defended the Pass of Thermopylæ. This
fight was the Thermopylæ of modern times. It is no fanciful
comparison. There was the same heroic devotion and military brilliance
on the one side; there was the same use of a vast army as a mob on the
other. In spirit and in method the military systems of ancient Persia
and of modern Prussia are by no means as far apart as the distance in
time might lead us to suppose. The story of these heroes of the
British cavalry ought to be remembered as long as in any part of the
world there is a man of British stock who cherishes a love for the
islands of his origin, and can thrill to the splendours of their
story.

Of the onset made by the Bavarian Army Corps against Wytscheate a
correspondent of the _Daily Telegraph_ contributed an admirable
record. This witness states:

    The perilous stroke smote the British line just south of Ypres,
    and, as luck would have it, was adequately lit up by a silver
    moonlight. The dense masses of Bavarian infantry sprang up with
    one accord. Their pale uniforms and bayonets were lit up by the
    ghostly light, and formed a strange and terrifying picture, for
    the attacking line stretched far, and was supported by numerous
    small columns in reserve. The sight of this concerted advance in
    the night was highly picturesque and impressive, but it failed to
    shake the nerves of our stalwart cavalry.

    Exposing their flank to sheets of fire from the neighbourhood of
    Ypres, the Bavarians pressed bravely forward, but all the while
    the steady rattle of the defenders' rifles from the trenches swept
    one rank away after the other. As fast as the German soldiers fell
    fresh groups pressed into the gap, and forced the line onward, but
    the toll of death shattered the constancy and corporate existence
    of an army corps.

    At one point or more our line was pierced by the surging mass of
    the assailants, and a partial retirement took place for a mile or
    more in the dark. But the enemy's strength was sapped, and a
    comparatively weak counter-attack made in the grey of the morning
    by fragments of regiments and fragments of squadrons, collected
    hastily by the firmness of surviving officers, and backed by some
    infantry supports hastily thrust forward, was successful in
    recovering the greater part of the lost ground. As reinforcements
    arrived on the scene next day, and as our artillery concentrated
    its bombardment on the spot, the whole position was restored, and
    the attack of an army corps was definitely foiled by about
    one-fifth of its numbers.

October 31 was the crisis of the battle. During the night of October
30 the German flood, lashing in vain against the trenches held by the
cavalry across the ridge, swirled in ponderous weight against those
held by the 11th Division Infantry at St. Yves, near the point where
the British front crossed the Lys. The front here broke under the
pressure. The breach, however, was only momentary. With a heroism
beyond praise, Major Prowse instantly led the Somersets in a
counter-attack. That intrepid corps, despite the enemy's ferociously
tenacious resistance, drove him out. It was a bayonet fight, and a
bayonet fight at its worst. The sturdy west countrymen, however,
proved more than a match for any Prussians. They swept into the combat
with the smash of a sledge-hammer added to the keenness of a
high-speed tool, and wrought havoc. Against such a spirit and prowess
numbers were unavailing.

All through that night, while the thunder of the conflict was heard
and its flare seen fifty miles away, the enemy smashed at this section
of the front. But it was a front of iron. Weighing his words, Sir John
French says in his dispatch:

    I am anxious to bring to special notice the excellent work done
    throughout this battle by the Third Corps under General Pulteney's
    command. Their position in the right central part of my line was
    of the utmost importance to the general success of the operations.
    Besides the very undue length of front which the Corps was called
    upon to cover (some twelve or thirteen miles), the position
    presented many weak spots, and was also astride of the River Lys,
    the right bank of which from Frelinghein downwards was strongly
    held by the enemy.

    It was impossible to provide adequate reserves, and the constant
    work in the trenches tried the endurance of officers and men to
    the utmost. That the Corps was invariably successful in repulsing
    the constant attacks, sometimes in great strength, made against
    them by day and by night is due entirely to the skilful manner in
    which the Corps was disposed by its commander, who has told me of
    the able assistance he has received throughout from his Staff, and
    the ability and resource displayed by Divisional, Brigade, and
    Regimental leaders in using the ground and the means of defence at
    their disposal to the very best advantage.

    The courage, tenacity, endurance, and cheerfulness of the men in
    such unparalleled circumstances are beyond all praise.

So far, then, we have this result: that neither the attack through
Zandvoorde, the turning movement against Hollebeke and Wytscheate, nor
the supporting attack against St. Yves had achieved its object.

Stopped in their advance through Zandvoorde, alike by the strength of
the Allied position on the Kleine Zillebeke ridge, and by the
reinforcement of the line, which, after this experience made them
judge a frontal assault totally impracticable, the Germans determined
to turn this barrier by reverting, on October 31, to their first
scheme of an advance along the main avenue from Menin. This, indeed,
was in this direction the only practicable way through the woodland
belt.

When, at daybreak, their intention became evident, General Moussy, in
command of the reinforcement sent the previous day from the 9th French
Army Corps, tried to anticipate it by a counter-attack. He pushed
forward to the south-east of Gheluvelt. There, however, in face of the
great strength of the enemy he was brought to a standstill. Along the
great road from Menin the Germans advanced in a mass of enormous
depth, which was in truth a human battering ram. By this means they
meant to smash through into Ypres despite any resistance that could be
offered, and despite any losses. The battle developed at this point as
a struggle at very short range. It swayed now this way and now that,
as attack was followed by counter-attack. At length the pent-up mass
of the enemy broke through, and swept along the road. The line of the
1st Division of Infantry at Gheluvelt was broken. Gheluvelt was taken
by the Germans; the flank of the 7th Division along the Kleine
Zillebeke range was exposed; the Royal Scots Fusiliers, remaining in
their trenches, were surrounded. The way open through Gheluvelt and
the main road, the enemy rushed up a great force of guns and began
shelling the British positions in enfilade right and left.
Concurrently an attack was begun from Zandvoorde along the main road
leading across the intervening valley, and through the woods past
Kleine Zillebeke. The 7th Division were driven back through the woods
towards Ypres. It looked this time as though the German thrust had
gone home. The situation was assuredly critical. Sir John French
earlier in the day had come to Hooge, on the Menin road. There, when
the troops fell back, he found himself in the thick of the fighting.
But he had taken his measures. Advancing along the Menin road the
Germans exposed the flank of their huge column. This was their
vulnerable point. The British general at once threw upon it all the
force he had within striking distance to the north of the avenue. The
1st and part of the 2nd Division of the 1st Army Corps, some 27,000
men, were swung against the German flank in a mighty counter-attack.
The manoeuvre turned the tide of battle. It was one of those bold
flashes of resource which mark off great commanders from mediocre
commanders. The enemy's advance was immediately arrested. Thereupon
the retiring British troops rallied. Thus held in front and attacked
in flank, the German masses, crowded together in a space too small for
their numbers, were destroyed wholesale. Their resistance, though
fierce, was brief. The onset broke them. Into and through the woods
south of the Menin road they fell back, confused and routed, upon
Zandvoorde. Gheluvelt was retaken. Here, to cover the retreat, a large
body of the enemy attempted, behind hastily thrown up barricades, to
hold out. The gunners of the 42nd Brigade R.F.A. blew the barricades
to pieces. Then the Worcestershires rushed the village with the
bayonet.

The result of this signal success was that the front was restored
nearly to the line it had occupied at the beginning of the day. Many
of the enemy still remained in the woods. The 6th Cavalry Brigade was
given the work of hunting them out. "They advanced," says Sir John
French, "with much dash, partly mounted and partly dismounted; and
surprising the enemy, succeeded in killing large numbers and
materially helped to restore the line."

If the chance of victory passed from the German arms with their fatal
hesitancy on the preceding day, this crushing defeat of their main
attack made efforts to retrieve their fortunes hopeless. The attacks
against Hollebeke and round Messines continued all through this day,
and as already said, through the following night. They were wasted.
The hammering went on too against the front down to Givenchy. Though
by one of their battering-ram assaults the enemy had driven the Indian
troops out of and to the west of Neuve Chapelle, the hope of piercing
the front was not realised. The Indians, probably thought an easy
proposition by comparison, turned out also to be stuff too tough to be
broken. The Gurkhas and the famous Corps of Sappers and Miners were
brilliant, and justly won the honourable mention given them in the
Commander-in-Chief's dispatches.



CHAPTER VII

THE BATTLE OF YPRES--FINAL PHASE


In its final phase the great battle lasted for another eleven days.
Holding now the main ridge of hills from Zandvoorde to near Wytscheate
on the Ypres-Lille road, a distance of five miles, and in possession
of the village of Hollebeke, or rather of its site, the Germans appear
to have decided that the effective direction for their attack was
through Wytscheate and the sector of the Allied front following the
Lille road from near Wytscheate through the village of Messines to
Armentières. And this decision on their part was without question
strategically sound. Could they have carried it out, they would not
only have compelled the British forces to fall back from the west of
Lille, but to evacuate Ypres. They would have won the battle. Moreover
the victory must have been decisive, for on the north it would have
cut off an important part of the British and French forces, together
with the Belgians, from the remainder of the Allied line, and on the
south it would have turned the flank of that line. The mistake, a
fatal mistake, lay in not having made this the real objective from the
first, and in wasting force and incurring defeat, with its inevitable
demoralisation, in attempts to break through into Ypres across the
belt of woods on the east and the south-east.

There the only lines along which attacks in great strength could be
thrown were roads running into Ypres like spokes into the hub of a
wheel, but the farther in any one of these attacking columns moved,
the more were its flanks exposed. The precaution against flank attack,
advance in echelon, was made by the character of this woodland belt
out of the question. We have seen that, appreciating these
capabilities of defence, the British Commander-in-Chief had crushed a
gigantic onset. It is manifest now that the Germans had believed that
by weight of numbers they could prevail over the difficulties, and the
chances those difficulties gave of holding this sector with a
comparatively small force, but that had merely involved them in
enormous losses, a risk inseparable from their tactics.

Having now realised their mistake, they attempted to throw an immense
wedge of troops against the two miles of British line between
Wytscheate and Messines. Here again, however, they found themselves
anticipated. The front was no longer held merely by a single rank of
cavalry. The bemudded, dirty, unshaven ragged, and almost
unrecognisable yet victorious survivors of that band of heroes had
been relieved. Part of the 16th French Army Corps, General Conneau's
cavalry, a division of the Indian Army Corps, and a part of the
British 2nd Army Corps were on or behind it. Sir John French was
taking no unnecessary risks. To these troops, some 50,000 in all,
therefore, he added as a reserve units of the Territorials recently
arrived from England. It was certain that they would have to meet
German forces four if not five times as numerous, and it was certain
that those German troops would fight to the last gasp.

The Germans lost no time. Their attack against Wytscheate and Messines
was made concurrently before daybreak. They had taken advantage of the
darkness to carry out mass movements which could not be sighted from
aeroplanes. The onset was both heavy and sudden, and it formed
probably the greatest night operation on record. Darkness, it was now
held, afforded the best protection against British rifle power. As
this was an attack which had to succeed at all costs, the enemy took
the heavy punishment inflicted by a furious resistance. A proportion
of these German troops were lads of 17 and even younger. They had been
used to fill up the gaps left by casualties, and mingled with the
older men drove forward on the order of their officers and faced death
at the muzzles of British rifles and the massed guns of the British
Horse Artillery by hundreds. Both Wytscheate and Messines fell into
the enemy's hands. At the same time with the evident object of
arresting the movement of reserves assaults were made along the
British line to the south of Messines past Armentières and along the
valley of the Lys. This part of the attack was, of course, no more
than strategical. For the purpose it was useless. Round both
Wytscheate and Messines the enemy found himself confronted by quite
unexpected forces. He could make no further advance from either. So
costly indeed had been his attack upon Wytscheate, that the French
infantry, launched upon a counter-attack with the aid of a British
cavalry force, cleared him out of the place at the point of the
bayonet.

It was during the fighting on this day, a Sunday, that there occurred
the episode which earned for the London Scottish Territorials the
special acknowledgment of the Commander-in-chief. Transported in motor
omnibuses from the base at Boulogne to Ypres, where, on arrival, they
were quartered for the night in the Hôtel de Ville, they had been sent
forward in the first instance to Neuve Eglise, and then to Messines to
support the front line. This was during the crisis of the German
attack on October 31. The battalion fought its way forward from
Messines to a position east of the Ypres-Lille main road. There, under
heavy fire, it dug itself in, and for five hours repulsed a series of
determined assaults. Resolved at any price to be rid of these fellows
in kilts who had thrown themselves right athwart the line of advance
upon Messines, the Germans, at two o'clock in the morning of November
1, renewed the onset with a crushing superiority of numbers. While the
battalion was resisting the attack in front, another force of the
enemy developed an attack in flank. Others, getting between the first
and second British lines of trenches opened an assault from the rear.
These set on fire an adjacent house. The flare from this building lit
up the combat and the bayonet charges in which the companies of the
reserve dashed into and defeated the Germans who had got round the
position. By their gallantry the reserve prevented the battalion from
being surrounded.

Unable to carry the position by assault, the Germans now tried to wipe
out the battalion by an enfilade fire from machine guns. This had now
at length made retirement imperative. The corps had to cut its way out
with the bayonet. Inevitably the losses were heavy. The striking fact,
however, is that the first unit of the Territorial Force which had
taken part in battle had saved itself in a situation and in a manner
which would have done honour to the most famous and veteran regiment
in the Service. Indeed there are few episodes in British military
annals more dramatic or more brilliant. Naturally this episode, apart
from its immediate military effect, attracted great attention because
it afforded a proof of the quality of the Territorial Force, a proof
which that Force has since amply upheld.

The effect of the delay opposed to the German advance by this unlooked
for and obstinate resistance was serious. Without question it upset
their plans and prevented the attacks upon Wytscheate and Messines
from being, as they had been designed to be, simultaneous. The result
was both that the attack upon Wytscheate failed to stay, and that the
attack upon Messines effected nothing more than the occupation of the
ruins of that village. That trifling outcome needless to say was not
the German aim.

The upshot of the German operations for this day proved for all
practical purposes negative. On November 2 the effort to break through
was renewed. Wytscheate was once more attacked and carried. This time
the place was set on fire, and as night fell at the end of the short
dim November day the burning ruins cast round a mighty glare, lighting
up the fierce and repeated bayonet charges with which time and again
the French infantry threw back the efforts of the enemy to make
headway.

Meanwhile, finding that strong forces of the Allies had been ranged
against them, the Germans to the south of Messines tried to open up a
road for their columns with an artillery fire of great intensity. On
the other side the British and French ranged a powerful force of guns
in a wide arc, and concentrating the fire of these towards one
comparatively limited fire-zone on the German front, moved that
fire-swept area up and down the hostile line. The effect may be
compared to playing the point of a ray of sunlight focussed through a
burning glass. In face of such a fire no advance could be along this
section attempted. The Germans had to retire their troops out of range
to save them from annihilation.

And this in effect was the defeat of their scheme. Next day (November
3) the attack was towards Hollebeke, in combination with another
attempt to debouch from Wytscheate. The diversion was tantamount to a
confession of failure.

In face of it Sir John French knew that he had definitely won the
battle. His first step was to issue an Army Order thanking the troops.
Every word of this historic document is justified. It ran:

    I have made many calls upon you, and the answers you have made to
    them have covered you, your regiments, and the Army to which you
    belong with honour and glory.

    Your fighting qualities, courage, and endurance have been
    subjected to the most trying and severe tests, and you have proved
    yourselves worthy descendants of the British soldiers of the past
    who have built up the magnificent traditions of the regiments to
    which you belong.

    You have not only maintained those traditions but you have
    materially added to their lustre.

    It is impossible for me to find words in which to express my
    appreciation of the splendid services you have performed.[10]

          [10] To the 2nd British Army Corps Sir John French issued on
          the same date a special Army Order in these terms: "The
          Field Officer Commanding-in-Chief has watched with the
          deepest admiration and solicitude the splendid stand made by
          the soldiers of the King in their successful effort to
          maintain the forward position which they have won by their
          gallantry and steadfastness.

          "He believes that no other army in the world would show such
          tenacity, especially under the tremendous artillery fire
          directed against it.

          "Its courage and endurance are beyond all praise. It is an
          honour to belong to such an Army."

But though in truth decided, the battle was not yet over. The Germans
refused to accept defeat. They now adopted different tactics. These
were a tremendous bombardment of the British lines alternating with
repeated attacks. The latter were not as before directed against one
or two decisive points of the front, but distributed all round and
included the part of the front to the north of Ypres. There four
hostile army corps were employed. The attacks were not only made with
smaller masses and more numerous, but they were delivered both by day
and by night and almost without cessation. It was, in fact, a tactic
of wearing down. This went on for six days and nights without
cessation. The struggle was marked by many remarkable episodes due to
the fact that the Germans, conscious of defeat, now fought with
redoubled bitterness and with much of the spirit of bravado and
revenge.

One instance of this was the extraordinary attempt to carry a French
trench by a charge of cavalry. This, of course, was no better than
suicide. "Every horse," says "Eye Witness," in recording the affair,
"was killed, but those riders who were not hit continued the charge on
foot. The last survivors were slain on the very parapet of the
trench."

At another point, where the bodies of a company of Germans enfiladed
by machine-gun fire lay as they had fallen in a regular row, a second
body of the enemy advanced at nightfall, and along the line of corpses
dug themselves in.

By dint of these attacks, and while the British troops were
strengthening their line, turning their hasty pre-cover into trenches
of systematic make, with zigzag communication ways, and supports
trenches and "dugouts" in the rear, the Germans in many places
advanced their positions so close that the occupants of the trench on
one side were within earshot of those on the other. It became the
enemy's practice to bring up heavy artillery in the night, to shell a
British position, and while the troops were sitting tight under the
bombardment to "dig in" close by.

This closeness of the opposing entrenched positions in many places led
to repeated night raids; a form of activity in which more especially
the Indian troops proved adepts. An Indian night raid, which recovered
a line of trenches the enemy had taken, is thus described by those who
witnessed it:

    In the afternoon it began to rain heavily, and the rain continued
    to fall as the night darkened. British troops in the trenches,
    knowing of the massing of the enemy, were keenly on the alert
    amidst the most depressing circumstances, and none were allowed
    the comfort of a sleep.

    But, all unknown to them, behind a thin line of trees some short
    distance to the rear, there silently gathered together many
    hundreds of figures, which, by reason of their lithe, gliding
    movements and their practical invisibility might have passed for a
    mysterious aggregation of spirits from some other sphere. Not a
    word was uttered, and such orders as were issued seemed to pass
    down the long lines as the wind whispers through the grass.

    Shortly afterwards a score of these grey figures detached
    themselves from the larger body and stealthily, like Red Indians
    on the trail in an enemy's country, moved up to and beyond the
    advanced line of the British trenches. Down these, under the
    breath, was passed the word, "The Indians are going out," and the
    already alert Tommies craned their heads forward into the misty
    night to watch events.

    The score of ghostly figures suddenly disappeared from their view,
    and, python-like, crawled noiselessly to the first German trench.
    Here were the German look-out men.

    What happened there exactly is not known. There was no shout or
    sudden cry, but in a few minutes the British soldiers saw one of
    the score reappear like an apparition and go back to his comrades
    in the rear. Then the hundreds waiting there filed past the
    trenches just as silently as had the advanced party before them,
    and also disappeared in the direction of the German lines.

    For five minutes there was perfect quiet. Then came a few shots,
    followed by a wild splutter of musketry, intermingled with cries
    and groans.

    Three or four light-balls were thrown in the air, and by their
    means the British troops could see, some 600 yards to their front,
    a mass of wild and struggling men, the gleam of steel, and the
    whirling rush of the rifle-butt. It was the Pathans at their
    deadly work. For ten minutes they hacked and slew amongst the
    half-awake and wholly-bewildered Germans, who had laid down in
    serried ranks to await the order for the night assault on the
    British trenches.

    The score of Pathans who had gone out in advance had silently
    slain the German pickets, and the main body had thus been enabled
    to get right amidst the sleeping foe unchallenged. The slaughter
    was terrible, and only ended when the Germans, thoroughly aroused
    to their peril, bolted and ran. Then their swarthy assailants,
    glutted with their night's work, came back briskly, but just as
    silently, to their original post.

    The threatened German attack had been turned into a bloody defeat.
    For hours afterwards the furious Germans poured a hail of shrapnel
    and shell into our trenches, in the hope of obtaining some revenge
    for their terrible punishment.[11]

          [11] Account sent by Mr. Hodson, Correspondent of the
          Central News, and published in the _Daily Telegraph_. The
          trenches taken were filled in.

Besides this a variety of ruses were resorted to. Men dressed in
French or British uniforms stole singly through the British lines to
cut field telephone wires. Others employed themselves as
eavesdroppers. Germans dressed in imitation uniforms of the British
staff more than once appeared and tried to give false orders.[12]

          [12] "Eye Witness," writing under date November 13, 1914,
          says: "One remarkable and absolutely authentic case
          occurred. A man dressed in a uniform which resembled that of
          a British Staff officer suddenly appeared near our trenches
          and walked along the line, asking if many casualties had
          been suffered, and stating that the situation was serious
          and that a general retirement had been ordered. A similar
          visit was reported by several men in different trenches, and
          orders were issued that this strange officer was to be
          detained if again seen. Unluckily he did not make another
          appearance."

On the main ridge to the south-east of Ypres, the Germans massed a
number of batteries with which they tried to rake the British lines.
The ridge, however, was an exposed position, and both the French and
British guns were concentrated upon it with marked effect. Describing
this "Eye Witness" states:

    The south two villages (Kortewilde and Kostzelhoe) which the enemy
    had captured and their line on the ridge close by were heavily
    bombarded by the British and French artillery. From the high
    ground to the west the effect of this cannonade could be seen to
    some extent, though the villages under fire were partially
    obscured from view by the smoke of the bursting shells, and
    resembled the craters of volcanoes belching fire and fumes. At one
    place the gaunt wreck of the old church tower and the blackened
    remains of a few houses round it would emerge for a moment only to
    be again blotted out in the pall of smoke. The long straggling
    villages, when they became temporarily visible, seemed to melt
    away and assume odd and fantastic shapes as the houses crumbled
    and the blocks of masonry were thrown hither and thither by the
    blasting effect of lyddite and melinite.

There can be no doubt the change in tactics was due in part to the
fact that owing to the shock of defeat a continuance of the mass
attacks had become for the time impracticable. Of the feeling, at any
rate, on the part of some of the enemy the following extract from a
German soldier's diary picked up on the battlefield throws a certain
light:

    2ND NOVEMBER.--Before noon sent out in a regular storm of
    bullets by order of the major. These gentlemen, the officers, send
    their men forward in the most ridiculous way. They themselves
    remain far behind safely under cover. Our leadership is really
    scandalous. Enormous losses on our side, partly from the fire of
    our own people, for our leaders neither know where the enemy lies
    nor where our own troops are, so that we are often fired on by our
    own men. It is a marvel to me that we have got on as far as we
    have done. Our captain fell, also all our section leaders and a
    large number of our men.

    Moreover, no purpose was served by this advance, for we remained
    the rest of the day under cover and could go neither forward nor
    back, nor even shoot.

    It is simply ridiculous, this leadership. If only I had known it
    before! My opinion of the German officers has changed. An adjutant
    shouted to us from a trench far to the rear to cut down a hedge
    which was in front of us. Bullets were whistling round from in
    front and from behind. The gentleman himself, of course, remained
    behind.

    Still in the trenches. Shells and shrapnel burst without ceasing.
    In the evening a cup of rice and one-third of an apple per man.
    Let us hope peace will soon come. Such a war is really too awful.
    The English shoot like mad. If no reinforcements come up,
    especially heavy artillery, we shall have a poor look-out.

    The first day I went quietly into the fight with an indifference
    which astonished me. To-day, for the first time in advancing, when
    my comrades right and left fell, felt rather nervous, but lost
    that feeling again soon. One becomes horribly indifferent. Picked
    up a piece of bread by chance. Thank God! at least something to
    eat.

    There are about 70,000 English who must be attacked from all four
    sides and destroyed. They defend themselves, however,
    obstinately.[13]

          [13] Given in the British official narrative.

As the effect of this week of day and night wearing down work, it was
apparently on November 10, judged that the British were ripe for the
enemy's last effort--the attack of the Prussian Guard. This, preceded
by the most intensive artillery fire the Germans had yet achieved,
began on November 11 soon after daybreak. They had clearly, in regard
to the massing of their guns, taken a leaf out of the book of the
French and British artillerists, and they tried against the entrenched
positions north and south of the Menin-road, the effect which had been
successfully used against them at Messines. The way having thus been,
as it was supposed, opened up, 1st and 4th Brigades of the Prussian
Guard rolled forward.

The line of attack lay diagonally across part of the British front,
and on it was turned the united fury of field guns, machine guns and
rifles. It has been affirmed by all who saw the onset that the Guard
stood against this terrible hail like rock. The grey-green mass, at
the outset some 20,000 strong, moved forward in close formation, and
almost as though on parade. As one man fell another stepped into his
place. Their losses were enormous, but the mass kept its formation and
its momentum. At three places despite the desperate resistance of the
British they broke the line, and penetrated into the woods. There,
however, the British reserves, brought up for the counter-attack, fell
upon them. In a bayonet fight with a brigade of Irishmen, the Guards
met not only their equals, but their superiors. Those who held
together were driven back, enfiladed by the fire of machine guns. The
rest broke into scattered bodies; these when rounded up fought to the
last where they stood. Only a miserable remnant of this mass of brave
men reached the lines of the enemy.

That was the supreme effort and the end. On the farther side of
Belgium beyond the sight of the beaten army flared the monstrous pyres
of paraffin-soaked timber in which, tied together, four by four, and
standing upright, the bodies of the unfortunate German slain were
burned by tens of thousands. Such was the aftermath of this mighty
tragedy.



CHAPTER VIII

THE BATTLE ON THE YSER


As we have seen, the gigantic Battle of Ypres presented four phases.

During the first phase, from October 11 to October 17, the British
Army, pivoting upon Givenchy, drove the Germans from Hazebrouck to
Lille.

During the second phase, from October 18 to October 24, the Germans,
resuming the offensive, hurled the weight of their attack against the
sector of the British front to the west of Lille. The British
positions had meanwhile been extended round Ypres to the south and
east, and the line of the Allies formed as far as the coast.

The third phase was marked by the effort of the enemy, now enormously
reinforced, to break through into Ypres from the south-east, aided by
a turning movement from the south. The fighting during the three days,
October 29 to October 31, formed the crisis of the battle. It has been
stated in the French Army Bulletin summarising the operations from
October 21 to November 15, that the Emperor of Germany, who had at
this time taken up his head-quarters at Courtrai, "announced that he
wanted to be in Ypres by November 1, and every preparation had been
made for the proclamation on that day of the annexation of Belgium."

In the fourth and final phase of the battle the Germans tried to
pierce the Allied line between Ypres and the Lys through Wytscheate
and Messines. That defeated, the great mass assault was made against
Ypres from the east by the Prussian Guard on November 11.

While German infantry attacks continued to be made until November 15,
they were no more than the sullen efforts of a baffled but still
bitter foe. The stress of the fighting lasted from October 11 to
November 11, that is exactly one month. For a second time in this
Western campaign there had been in a great pitched battle, a trial of
strength, and for a second time the forces of Germany had, as on the
Marne, gone down.

It is important to keep these phases of the Battle of Ypres in mind.
They throw light on the battle which was concurrently, from October 17
to October 31, being fought on the Yser.

From its source in the hills west of Ypres to the sea the whole course
of the Yser does not exceed 20 miles. It is a stream, however, of a
quite exceptional character. Running through a tract of country for
the most part below sea level, it is more like two streams flowing in
the same direction, and connected by winding cross channels. On a
smaller scale the like effect may be seen in the channels on stretches
of flat shore at ebb tide. The Yser was of course nothing more
originally than a network of such channels running through the mud
flats, and though all this part of the Lowlands was more than a
thousand years ago finally reclaimed from the sea, the waters
continued to flow along the ancient beds. They have been connected
besides by canals. In the Middle Ages when Ypres was a great centre of
trade, and one of the most populous cities of Europe, these canals
were busy arteries of commerce. The country between Ypres and the
coast, one of the most fertile tracts in the world, was at the
outbreak of this War full of quaint and picturesque memorials of its
former importance. In modern days, and more especially under the wise
and beneficial rule of the present Royal House of Belgium, it was a
picture of peaceful and settled wealth.

On the Yser half-way between Ypres and the sea was the old town of
Dixmude, with a church and a hôtel de ville which were masterpieces of
Gothic architecture. Towards the coast, where the line of sand dunes
has in part covered the ancient dykes, the river takes a sharp bend to
west. A tract about two miles wide and three miles long is thus
enclosed on the east between the river channels on the one side and
the sea on the other. This was occupied by the little sea-side
residential places, Lombartzyde and Westende. Nieuport lay on the west
bank of the river a mile or more inland. The Yser here becomes one
channel, deep enough to be navigated by shipping of moderate draught.
It was crossed at Nieuport by five bridges, Between them lay the
series of locks dividing the tidal part of the Yser from the inland
reaches. The locks were those used to regulate the river overflow at
low tide while keeping out the sea when the tide was at flood.

There are two points of some importance on the west bank of the Yser
between Dixmude and Nieuport--the villages of Pervyse and Ramscappel.
Both are on the main road connecting the two towns. Five miles farther
to the west lies the town of Furnes, already mentioned as the meeting
place of the great road from Ypres with that running along the coast
from Ostend through Nieuport and on to Dunkirk and Calais. The great
roads, and indeed most of the main roads and canals in this part of
Flanders are carried along embankments. Before the war these were
mostly bordered with trees, affording in winter shelter from the cold
winds which sweep over the country from the North Sea, and welcome
shade in summer. It was a land of deep repose, and for nearly 100
years and until the coming of the Goth, nothing save the mellow chime
floating distantly from some tall and noble spire reared in far off
days by pious hands, had broken in upon its dreaming.

General Joffre issued the first orders directed towards his great
scheme of military envelopment on September 11. This promptitude was
essential. When in the first phase of the battle of Ypres the British
drove the Germans back upon Lille, the strategical effect was to tear
in the German front a gap from Lille to beyond Thourout, a distance of
nearly thirty miles. The Germans had to mass their forces at Lille in
order to keep their hold on that place.

Through the gap thus made the French pushed forward four divisions of
cavalry, two divisions of their Territorial troops, and a division of
marines, 6,000 strong. Already, however, on October 15, the Germans
had, north of the gap towards the coast, two army corps, and these
were in the course of the next two or three days reinforced by two
others. The objective of these troops was to seize Nieuport and the
crossing of the Yser.

The Belgian Army reached Nieuport from Antwerp on October 16. That
army was, however, not immediately fit for further service. In these
circumstances the line of the Yser from Nieuport to Dixmude was held
by the French cavalry and marines, while the 1st division of British
infantry was thrown forward to Bixschoote, with the 2nd division in
support. Later along the Yser and round Ypres, where after November 20
they relieved the British, the French forces on this part of the front
were brought up to five army corps. At this date in mid October,
however, all that could be opposed to the German mass aggregating
240,000 men detailed to seize the crossings of the Yser, were these
French cavalry, one division of marines, and two divisions of British
infantry, not 45,000 in all.

The first German thrust against Nieuport was made on October 17, and
it must inevitably have succeeded had it not been that the enemy came
within range of and were enfiladed by the fire of a British flotilla.
This equivalent to a destructive attack in flank wrecked the attempt.
The shells of the warships raked the German lines as far inland as
Dixmude.

The Germans realised that at Nieuport, in face of the guns of the
British ships, they could not succeed. They made ready, in
consequence, to throw their attack against Dixmude. For that purpose
they waited until their whole force could come up. Their first attempt
had been made with two army corps only. The respite enabled the
Belgian army to be refitted. Both sides meanwhile proceeded to dig
themselves in. In this region the water level is not more than two
feet below the surface. No sooner were the trenches cut than the water
oozed in. These conditions were aggravated by days and nights of heavy
and almost incessant rain. A dense mist overhung the country. The
nights, too, were now becoming bitterly cold. On the side of the
Germans the numbers were large enough to afford reliefs. They were not
large enough on the side of the Allies. The Belgians passed days and
nights in the trenches under these conditions without respite. It was
an effort of endurance that has never been paralleled. But for their
unconquerable spirit these heroic men could not have come through such
an ordeal. They were defending, however, the last few square miles of
their country and they were defending that last bit of territory from
foes whose pitiless cruelty they had seen in butchery and outrage.
Behind them they had the memory of a happy freedom. Before them lay
only the prospect of submitting for ever to the odious tyranny which
had laid some of the fairest towns and districts of Belgium in ruins.
In that mudded and warworn army there was a fire no hardship could
subdue.

On October 21 opened the great German drive. It was directed alike and
at once to the seizure of Ramscappel so as to compel the Belgians to
evacuate Nieuport; against Dixmude; and farther south against the
British positions at Bixschoote. The latter point was as far as natural
conditions were concerned the easiest crossing of the three. There is
here only one channel of the Yser with a line of canal on either side
of it. The three attacks were made simultaneously because they brought
into play the vast German superiority in numbers.

The enemy had massed along this front a great weight of guns,
including the heavy pieces used in the attack on Antwerp, and his plan
was to draw west of the Yser an impenetrable curtain of fire while he
constructed pontoon bridges. There were difficulties. First the river
channels were in flood. Secondly they were commanded by the French and
Belgian guns. Thirdly and along their length they were under the cross
fire from the warships. This acute spasm of the battle, lasting
without a moment's respite for three days and two nights, was
therefore in one of its main features a gigantic artillery duel.

Pontoon bridges constructed by the Germans were destroyed by the
French gunners or by the shells from the warships time and again. More
than once the bridges were struck and wrecked when they were crowded
with troops and these miserable men, thrown in a struggling mass into
the water, were drowned by hundreds. Time after time the Germans
endeavoured to bridge the river, or rather the network of rivers
before the effort at length succeeded.

Then from Ramscappel the Belgians were forced to retire. Once across
the river with a considerable force of infantry, cavalry, and guns,
the Germans seized Pervyse, and pushed forward to Furnes with such
speed that the small Belgian reserve force there, surprised by them,
had to quit hastily. A surprise, however, was also in store for the
Germans. A division of French Algerian troops, who had been sent
forward by forced marches to reinforce the Belgian resistance, were
already close at hand. They reached Furnes shortly after the German
advance force had established themselves there. The attack was as
impetuous as it was unexpected. The Turcos cleared the Germans out of
the place at the point of the bayonet. Enemy reinforcements, however,
hurried up. In turn the Germans tried to carry the town by storm. The
struggle went on from street to street and from house to house. Again
and again the Germans were driven out. Again and again they rallied
and renewed the fight. As night came on the French commander called
upon his men for a supreme effort. It was victorious. Broken by this
onslaught, the Germans were not only chased out of Furnes but pursued
to Ramscappel and driven out of that village as well. Behind them
their bridges over the Yser had in the meantime again been destroyed.
Mr. A. Beaumont, special correspondent of the _Daily Telegraph_, who
reached Furnes the following day, has recorded that:

    The roads from Ramscappel to Pervyse, and from Pervyse to Dixmude
    were lined with the enemy's dead. Many of the fugitives tried to
    escape by the fields and canals, and their bodies are still found
    in great numbers. As in many other places in the north, quite a
    number of these Germans are very young, apparently under eighteen,
    or else more than fifty years of age.

    King Albert of Belgium desired in person to honour the French
    troops who had helped to reconquer the village (Ramscappel), and
    an impressive ceremony was held a few days later. The King passed
    in review the survivors of the gallant companies of Turcos and
    Chasseurs in the little square. They were assembled at eight
    o'clock in the morning, and drawn up in a square in the presence
    of a French general. The King arrived in a motor-car and alighted
    at once. Three buglers, who had gone through it all, sounded the
    call, and the commander of the troops moved forward to salute
    them. The King likewise raised his hand in a long and silent
    salute. Then, accompanied by the General in command he passed down
    the lines, after which the troops in turn defiled in his presence.
    The buglers did their best, but their shrill notes were not in
    accord; yet tears came to the eyes of many spectators of this
    scene, and not the least moved among them was the King himself.
    The General then rode forward, and in a loud voice said: "The King
    desires me to transmit to you his hearty congratulations for your
    splendid conduct at Ramscappel; this is an honour of which your
    commander is justly proud."

Of the attack on Dixmude an account was sent by a German who took part
in it to _Vorwärts_. He relates:

    We lay for four whole days without anything to eat or drink. Day
    and night the earth trembled with the reports of the guns. No
    sleep was possible. Behind us lay a field of roots. Creeping down
    the bank in order not to be seen by the enemy, we managed to get
    some of them. We sucked up the night dew on the grass in order to
    slake our thirst. After four days we had to give up the position
    in order to attack the enemy from another side.

    Next day it began to rain, and we stood up to the knees in water,
    and replied to the fire of the enemy until the evening came. All
    was quiet for a time. But the cannons continued their work. We
    watched by turns while the others sat in the water, and, leaning
    against the trenches, tried to sleep. A terrible picture faced us.
    Dixmude was in flames, and the whole sky was blood-red. The
    enemy's shells exploded with such a report that we thought our
    ears would burst, and the light was so strong that you could read
    a paper by it. Dealing death and destruction, the shower of lead
    sped through the night air over our heads. In the morning the sun
    rose a fiery red.

    It was the death signal for many of us, for Dixmude had to be
    stormed. At two o'clock we received an order for the attack. We
    left our firing places, and at once came under fire. By short
    rushes we approached the strongly held trenches of the enemy. Air
    and earth shook with the reports of the guns, for the enemy were
    firing from at least twenty batteries. Many of us were torn in
    pieces. Amidst it all, the rifles and the machine guns made their
    peculiar noise. It was a veritable field of death. Right and left
    of me comrades fell. We reached a small ditch and blazed away, and
    there a bullet hit my rifle, glanced off, and went through the
    head of the man next to me.

    At last we came within 200 metrès of the enemy's position. Their
    fire grew fiercer, but our rage was the greater. Then the enemy
    received reinforcements, and brought up three machine guns, which
    they trained on us. The top of my helmet was shot away, and the
    bullets pierced my spade.

    Next came shells such as we had never seen before. The sand
    spurted up as high as a house. One shell made a hole at least two
    yards deep in the ground. The black smoke rendered it almost
    impossible to see anything. These were the shells of the British
    Fleet which had taken part in the battle. In the middle of a field
    near us eight horses were suddenly torn into shreds by one. What
    was that? It was a bugle signal, "Fix bayonets." In a minute we
    rushed forward another 100 yards. Then we took a breathing-space.
    What was that? I could neither see nor hear, for I was hurled back
    three yards with my head against a tree. For a moment I lost
    consciousness, and when I came to I knew that I had not been hit.
    I rushed forward to join my comrades. I will not tell you anything
    about the bayonet charge, for it was a slaughter. Twice we were
    driven back, but at the third attack we won. When you heard about
    the victory did you not cry "Hurrah"? But we thought upon the
    terrible sacrifices that had been made, for many lay dead. I was
    hit in the pursuit of the enemy, but I need not describe what it
    looked like in the enemy's trenches. The men lay one over another.

At Bixschoote the Germans succeeded in capturing part of the British
trenches held by the 1st Division. These, however, were wrested from
the enemy in a brilliantly executed counterattack. To the troops for
this service the Brigadier-General in command issued a special order
of congratulation. This document gives a clear summary of the
operation:

    The 2nd Infantry Brigade (less 2nd Battalion Sussex Regiment left
    at Beesinghe) was allotted the task of reinforcing the 1st
    Infantry Brigade, and re-taking the trenches along the
    Bixsencote-Langemarck road, which had been occupied by the enemy.

    In spite of the stubborn resistance offered by the German troops,
    the object of the engagement was accomplished, but not without
    many casualties in the Brigade.

    By nightfall the trenches previously captured by the Germans had
    been re-occupied, about 500 prisoners captured, and fully 1,500
    German dead were lying out in front of our trenches.

    The Brigadier-General congratulates the 1st L.N. Lancashire
    Regiment, Northamptonshire Regiment, and the 2nd King's Royal
    Rifle Corps, but desires specially to commend the fine soldierlike
    spirit of the 1st L.N. Lancashire Regiment, which, advancing
    steadily under heavy shell and rifle fire, aided by its machine
    guns, was enabled to form up within a comparatively short distance
    of the enemy's trenches.

    Fixing bayonets, the battalion then charged, carried the trenches
    and occupied them, and to them must be allotted the majority of
    the prisoners captured.

    The Brigadier-General congratulates himself on having in his
    brigade a battalion, which, after marching the whole of the
    previous night without rest or food, was able to maintain its
    splendid record in the past, by the determination and
    self-sacrifice displayed in the action.

    The Brigadier-General has received special telegrams of
    congratulations from both the General officer Commanding-in-chief
    1st Corps, and from the General officer commanding 1st Division,
    and he hopes that in the next engagement in which the brigade
    takes part the high reputation which the brigade already holds,
    may be further added to.

In truth the immediate impetus of the German onset had exhausted
itself in the violent and costly efforts put forth. After an interval
of not more than six hours Dixmude was retaken, and the Belgians,
advancing from Nieuport, took and entrenched themselves in
Lombartzyde. Despite its frightful cost in life, the second attempt to
get across the Yser had tragically failed.

After reorganising the Germans began the third great attempt on
October 9. This was even more determined and more wasteful of life
than the second. Again it was persisted in for three days. The scenes
were a repetition of those of the week before, if anything, they were
still more terrible, for the resistance was as unflinching as the
attack was bitter. On the evidence of men who had taken part in the
battle, Mr. Frederick de Bathe, special correspondent of the
_Daily Telegraph_, wrote:

    The Germans tried nineteen times to cross the Yser at one point;
    on each occasion they were repulsed by the Belgian and French
    troops, which were massed upon the opposite bank.

    It is said that the enemy lost whole regiments. A wounded German
    officer who was taken prisoner affirms that of his regiment, which
    went into action 2,000 strong, only eighty were left unscathed.
    While claiming that the Belgian and French had suffered big
    losses, he admitted that these were nothing in comparison to those
    sustained by the Germans. He added that it was not a battle, it
    was butchery! A peasant, who came through the German lines,
    reports that the enemy have no time to bury their dead singly, but
    are obliged to have them carried away in three-wheeled farm carts
    by the country people in loads of twenty to twenty-five, and
    removed to the rear of their positions for burial.

    The cross-fire from the British Fleet prevented the Germans from
    advancing along the coast, obliging them to throw pontoon bridges
    over the Yser. The pontoons sank time after time with their human
    burden, shattered by the shells of the Allies. It is no
    exaggeration to state that the Germans on the Yser alone up to
    date have lost 75,000 men killed and wounded, and this does not
    include the prisoners, who have been numerous. Over 8,000 of the
    enemy's wounded who were being brought to Bruges and Courtrai, via
    Thourout, were abandoned on Sunday last, and were obliged to make
    the ten-hour journey on foot.

    The churches of Thourout and in the neighbourhood, as well as all
    the farms which are still standing, are crammed with wounded.
    Hundreds of German wounded are streaming in day and night
    throughout the region behind the enemy's lines. In certain places
    close to the Yser between Nieuport and Dixmude the ground is
    literally covered with corpses of men and horses. The shrapnel
    from the British Fleet has caused more than three-parts of the
    slaughter in this particular direction. The scene is indescribable.

Three times the Germans fought their way over through the cross fire
of the Allied guns, ashore and afloat, and three times they were
thrown back. The enemy's expenditure of ammunition was as prodigal as
his expenditure of men.

Then began a systematic destruction which has had no parallel in
modern war. The Germans set themselves to batter the country into
ruins, they bombarded and wrecked not only Nieuport, Dixmude, and
Ypres, but every village and hamlet within range of their guns. Of
this, after having seen its effect, Mr. E. Ashmead-Bartlett said:

    This part of Belgium, perfectly flat, is studded with picturesque
    old Flemish homes. Almost every village of any size possesses
    buildings of historic or architectural interest. The old church of
    Dixmude was one of the finest buildings of its kind in the
    countryside, and so also was the Hôtel de Ville. What remains of
    these buildings would not be worth the while to cart away as old
    bricks.

    As a machine of pure destruction the Kaiser's army is unique. I
    doubt whether any other army in the history of the world has had
    the knack of laying waste a whole country so completely. They wipe
    out everything.

    These towns and villages play no part in the defence of the Yser.
    They are merely shell-traps, where no general would think of
    placing his men.

    As a revenge on an innocent civil population, who thus lose their
    hearths and homes, and are now refugees all over France, Holland,
    and England, the plan succeeds admirably. On the other hand, the
    defence is materially aided, because the fire is taken off the
    troops in the trenches and on the long trains making their way to
    the front with food, ammunition, and supplies of all kinds. I do
    not believe the line of the Yser could have been held had the
    Germans scientifically supported their infantry attacks with this
    tremendous volume of shell fire, with which they have laid low
    Dixmude, Pervyse, Nieuport, and fifty other smaller towns and
    villages.

The crowning act, however, of this "revenge," deliberately indulged in
that the attention of the world might be drawn off the crushing
disasters suffered by German arms, was the ruin of Ypres. That act of
vandalism was not, it is necessary to remember, done during the battle
or for any military purpose. It was begun after the battle, and when
the issue, and with it the future history of Europe, had been for ever
changed. Of what that ruin was there has been drawn by Mr. Luigi
Barzini a picture of enduring reality. He was one of three civilians
who visited Ypres while this bombardment was going on. His description
appeared in the _Daily Telegraph_ of December 2, 1914.

    At a turn of the road, the town appeared in the distance--two
    mutilated campaniles, a ruin of massive towers, and the ancient
    belfry, with its vague bluish carvings. In the dull, declining
    day, the trees at the edge of the plain seemed like a dark mist.
    They formed, as it were, a sombre border of cloud on the horizon,
    and above the network of branches rose the remains of the
    bombarded town, pale and sinister, with something unreal and
    death-like in their mutilated aspect--phantasms of a massacred
    glory.

    At short intervals the air was shaken by the bombardment, and,
    urged by the wind, two clouds of white smoke fled between the
    trees and vanished amidst their branches. Two flashes of livid
    light burst on high, and for an instant the top of the towers
    disappeared in a cloud. The destructive fury of the German guns
    still continued to strike the heart of Ypres. The road had been
    converted into a desert.

    We had left behind us towns and villages crowded with troops,
    immense parks of carts and motor-lorries scattered over the
    meadows, extensive encampments at the edges of the road, in which
    the innumerable piles of arms seemed like black sheaves crowned
    with points, the general quarters of divisions and brigades
    denoted by standards. Then, having passed Vlamertynghe, about
    three miles from Ypres, we came upon the sinister solitude of a
    modern battle.

    There was no other voice, no other sound, than the boom of cannon
    and the crash of shell. But the flashes of the explosions seemed
    to render all the more evident, more profound, and more
    significant the terrible silence of the town and the fields. It
    was the silence of resignation, fear, and agony. The sound of our
    footsteps upon the muddy pavement of the suburb echoed amidst the
    little houses--the first houses of Ypres.

    Not one building remained intact. The hurricanes of steel had
    battered and penetrated them all.

                     *      *      *      *      *

    At one side of the street three wounded men were waiting for
    succour, having remained where they had fallen a few minutes
    before. They were poor inhabitants who had possibly been compelled
    by the need of obtaining food to come forth from some cellar. They
    did not call for assistance; they did not say a word, they did not
    even complain. Pale, stunned, suffering, and mute, they merely
    looked. The danger seemed to impose silence; there is an
    unconscious desire not to be heard, not to be discovered by the
    invisible and monstrous will to massacre which is in the air.
    Under the bombardment one had the vague impression of being
    searched for by death.

    There were three of us, and we walked in Indian file along the
    wall towards the famous Grande Place, which only a few days ago
    afforded one of the most precious and complete visions of the arts
    of the world.

    The route was not always easy. We had to avoid the holes which had
    been dug by the projectiles, to clamber over heaps of ruins,
    extricate ourselves from the labyrinths of innumerable fallen
    telephone wires, and every time we heard the voice of a shell we
    stopped immediately and irresistibly. We ceased to move with a
    strange and involuntary suddenness, like the automatic figures of
    the Three Kings in a Flemish clock when the last stroke of the
    hour sounds. Then, when an explosion had taken place, our
    mechanism was again set in motion, and we proceeded.

    A little forest of red crosses arose on the edge of the road in a
    glade; they marked a group of fresh graves in which lay
    inhabitants who had come out of their places of refuge only to
    meet with death. In the tragic silence any noise seemed to be
    enormously exaggerated.

                     *      *      *      *      *

    Long vistas of ruins were open at every side street--demolished
    walls, beams fallen from roofs or stretching across between one
    house and another, and broken doors. The stricken houses had
    launched their walls against the opposite buildings, and remained
    open, empty, unrecognisable.

    Having thus traversed the Rue d'Elverdinghe, which seemed as if it
    would never end, we entered the famous square, and for an
    indefinable time remained there at the corner, nailed as it were
    to the ground, stupefied and moved, full of admiration and grief
    and reverence, incapable of expressing our feelings, overcome by
    the grandeur and the sadness of that which we saw, intimidated by
    something that was both prodigious and sacred.

    We seemed to be disturbing the solemn mystery of an august end.

    The life of seven centuries, which was still palpitating
    yesterday, was being extinguished in a solitude of horror in the
    pallid twilight of a winter day.

    Gigantic and solemn above the mournful crowd of crumbling houses
    towered the monumental piles--torn, battered, devastated, but
    erect and still proud. Undermined by the blows of the shells,
    showing long cracks, breached and broken, the noble stone walls of
    the Halles, the Hôtel de Ville, and the Cathedral of St. Martin
    remained standing, indescribable in death, still stretching
    towards the sky their proud towers without bells and without
    pinnacles, hollowed at their bases as though by blows of a
    monstrous axe.

                     *      *      *      *      *

    We pointed to things with vague gestures, without being able to
    find words, and forgetting even to bend our backs when we heard
    the lamenting voice of the shells. None of us had ever seen Ypres,
    and together with the discouragement, caused by the vision of
    irreparable ruin, there was created in us the marvel of a
    revelation.

    For the love and devotion of innumerable generations there had
    kept intact on the earth a wonderful corner of the twelfth
    century, and we, arriving in front of this marvel, whilst it was
    dissolving, surprised the dream at a moment when it was vanishing
    for ever.

    All the rest of the world was plunged in the barbarism of the
    Middle Ages when the Flemish peace had Ypres for its centre. It
    was the wealthy and serious merchants of Ypres who created the
    Halles, the market of the world, the capital of business, the
    incomparable seat of commerce, the parliament of rulers and of
    people. Dante had not then been born, and already the Halles of
    Ypres were a century old.

    The love of Ypres gave to the Halles and to the old Grande Place a
    perennial youth. Ypres adored these eloquent and austere witnesses
    to her past, which told the story of her ancient power. She
    protected, defended them, never permitted the weight of centuries
    to do them any injury. Oppressed by famine and pestilence, the
    people of Ypres rebelled, sacked, and burned; but the Halles
    remained. The people of Ghent arrived in arms, their Allies the
    English arrived; they besieged Ypres, entered and laid waste; but
    the Halles remained. The Iconoclasts sacked the town, but the
    Halles remained. The Duke of Alba's troops arrived and persecuted
    Ypres--then fallen into decay--but the Halles remained. Alexander
    Farnese conquered the town and abandoned it to the excesses of his
    soldiery; but the Halles remained. Four times in one century the
    French took Ypres, but the Halles remained. They remained because
    the most brutal troops were conquered by their age and their
    potent grace. There was no passion, no ferocity that could resist
    such imposing severity and harmony. A respectful circle was
    formed, and the torch and the sword were lowered before that
    splendour of the past.

    But the butcher of ancient glories has come; the blind Teutonic
    cataclysm has fallen upon unarmed and tranquil Ypres, and the
    portentous life is now extinct. There remains nothing but the
    gigantic ruins, isolated walls, the corpses of monuments which
    preserve a sublime expression of disdainful power.

                     *      *      *      *      *

    The bells have fallen. The last hour they chimed was seven in the
    morning of Sunday, November 22.

    At a quarter past seven the belfry received its first mortal
    wound.

    But the first night, according to ancient usage, from the tumult
    of the august tower there descended upon Ypres--not yet completely
    deserted--the notes of the horn of the night watchman, who hour by
    hour sent to the four cardinal points the announcement that all
    was well!

    All around the gabled houses are abandoned in their last agony.
    They are those pointed houses, dwellings of a distant epoch, which
    give an ineffable impression of familiar calm and patriarchal
    life, buildings with faces inexpressibly benevolent, paternal,
    sweet and grave. Through the broken windows our gaze penetrates
    into corners which recall certain interiors of Flemish art.

    In these interiors, until yesterday, close to the windows, with
    their little leaded panes, the placid ladies of Ypres wove in
    traditional calm their arabesques of lace. Their agile and sapient
    fingers produced white, flowery patterns that were as light as
    foam. For Ghent had taken from Ypres the industry of its linens,
    England that of its cloths, Paris that of its damasks, but no
    country had had the power, the placidity, the patience, and the
    taste to imitate its lace. Here the old industry lived, modest and
    silent.

    The mediæval city slept its great sleep amidst the tumult of the
    outside world as if the Kasteelgracht and the Majoorgracht, the
    wide canals which encircle it and were its gates, were enchanted
    and had isolated it from swift innovations.

                     *      *      *      *      *

In the war between Germany and the Halles of Ypres, in the war between
Germany and the Library of Louvain, between Germany and the cathedral
of Rheims, it is not possible to remain neutral.



CHAPTER IX

THE WINTER CAMPAIGN


The first purpose of the Allies' scheme of military envelopment was to
arrest and eventually to break the German offensive. Even after their
losses in the battle of Ypres and the concurrent Battle on the Yser,
the Germans still had on the West a superiority in numbers. The shock
of those defeats was bitter. That is sufficiently proved by the
proclamation which soon afterwards the Emperor of Germany issued to
his troops. A cruel hour, he told them, had struck for them and for
the Fatherland. He exhorted them to meet it with a greater
determination. For a time Germany became a land of mourning. The
German newspapers of this date, the later part of November, appeared
day by day with pages of private obituary advertisements. The dream of
conquest, except as regarded Belgium, was shattered, and it was
realised that even to keep that country as a reward of what were
called the sacrifices made, Germany would have to face a struggle to
the death with Powers whose united superiority was now only too
manifest.

That mood, however, soon passed, and feeling, directed at the outset
of the war against Russia, was with a redoubled intensity excited
against England. The reasons are not far to seek. Extraordinary
efforts had become necessary, not only on the East to repair the
disaster of the Battle of the Vistula, and to furnish General von
Hindenburg with the forces for his great "drive" towards Warsaw, but
to make good the wastage on the West.

It is a recognised axiom among military men that for such a scheme as
the Germans had in view in France, the lowest superiority in numbers
necessary is a proportion of four to three. Even that assumes equal
training and equipment, and equal skill in leadership. The last
factor, skill in leadership, which is in war the most difficult to
estimate beforehand, is, at the same time, as this struggle has
proved, tremendously important. In regard to it the odds were heavily
against the Germans. The Battle of Ypres, it has become evident, was
on their part a series of bad mistakes--mistakes which were not seen
until too late. After the defeat at Reims Count von Moltke was removed
from his place as Chief of the Staff and Baron von Falkenheyn
appointed. The strategical scheme of Baron von Falkenheyn was sound
and bold enough if Antwerp had not got into the way of it, and if,
too, the tactical blunders of Ypres had not ruined its execution.

Besides defects in leadership, the Germans had to face the striking
comparative deficiency of their field artillery, and the fact that
their gunnery had not turned out so practically sound as that of the
French. It followed that to resume the offensive they must have a
superiority of even more than four to three. They had begun with a
superiority of two to one. Yet through the unexpected skill in their
opponents' leadership they had been foiled and had had their
initiative wrested from them. In view, however, of the demands of the
campaign on the East, this necessary weight of numbers they could not
on the West supply. One resource was to make it up by an appeal to the
spirit of the army. That took the form of an unusually liberal
distribution of rewards for individual valour.

The Battle of Ypres had at one and the same time brought the second
German plan of a Western offensive to the ground, and ensured the
accomplishment of General Joffre's envelopment scheme. There was
nothing now before the German Staff, therefore, but to attack that
envelopment scheme while it remained, as they thought, still in its
inceptive stages. If we turn to the day-to-day record of the
operations as disclosed in the official reports we shall at once see
that there was on the part of the enemy a series of attempted wedging
movements. They tried by wedging to break the Allied front
simultaneously at Roye and at Arras. This, had it been successful,
would have forced out the section of the Allied front lying between
those points, and have broken up the Allied position. The movement was
not successful. Another movement of this kind was tried between La
Bassee on the one side and the Yser on the other. This time the
Germans did get a foothold on the west side of the Yser. They were
driven out of it, however, by the Belgians cutting the dykes and
flooding the country all along the lower course of the river. When the
flood burst upon them large numbers of the enemy caught in their
entrenchment diggings were drowned.[14] Many of their guns could not
be recovered. A third of these wedging attempts was made between La
Bassee and Arras. Though they led to desperate fighting, these efforts
proved barren of result.

          [14] A correspondent of the Paris _Gaulois_, describing
          the annihilation of a brigade (nearly 9,000) Wurtembergers
          by the floods on November 4, wrote:

              "At midday, the Wurtembergers, in formidable numbers,
              had succeeded, under the protection of their artillery,
              in crossing the Yser on planks.

              "After a week's fighting the river was choked with
              sunken boats, trunks of trees, bodies of men, and
              carcasses of horses. It was over a veritable bridge
              of corpses that the enemy passed.

              "Meanwhile the Allied troops had taken up a position a
              little in the rear, some regiments remaining in position
              to cover this movement. Massed on the left bank of the
              Yser, the enemy's infantry prepared to attack. Some caps
              skilfully arranged over empty trenches drew the German
              artillery, which wasted its shells on the decoy. Then
              the Wurtembergers advanced, and were astonished to find,
              instead of bodies of the enemy, nothing but a few caps.
              Just then a loud rumbling noise was heard in a westerly
              direction. The noise gradually became clearer,
              resembling the rush of the tide. Suddenly a flood of
              seething water burst upon the astonished Germans. Trees
              and corpses were carried on the current, which swept
              everything before it. Cries of rage and terror came from
              the German lines. It was too late. Down came the
              torrent, and in a few moments the enemy's trenches were
              filled. The terrified herd of Wurtembergers fled to the
              high ground, to get clear of the inundation, but from
              the heights the Allied artillery poured volleys of
              shrapnel into them. The enemy was taken between water
              and fire. Those who escaped drowning succumbed to our
              bullets or shells. A few came to our lines, thus evading
              death by captivity. This was the end of the Wurtemberg
              brigade."

Let us turn to the side of the Allies. For them the first necessity
was to solidify their front. If they could do that they would:

    (1) Hold these German armies so that they would be able neither to
    advance nor to retreat whatever might be the developments of the
    war on the East front. That meant that the Germans must fight with
    divided forces, and feed the struggle on the East out of their
    last reserves.

    (2) Bring into fullest play the Allies' superiority in field guns,
    and by imposing on the enemy the necessity of constant
    counterattacks, eliminate in the end his advantage in numbers. The
    effects of this elimination would be that his power in any event
    of resuming the offensive would progressively disappear, and that,
    as the process proceeded, the advantage in numbers would pass to
    the Allied side, and eventually make an Allied offensive both
    practicable and successful.

Now it is quite certain on the events which have since taken place
that the German Headquarters Staff clearly recognised these
possibilities. Not only is that shown by the heavy losses they
incurred in the wedging battles, which lasted from the middle of
November to early part of February, but in the adoption of tactics,
designed, as their relative strength in numbers fell, to economise
their force. In short, not being able to change the features of the
situation, they made a virtue of necessity by trying as far as they
could to convert their front into an impregnable barrier of defence,
and concurrently doing their utmost to increase the Allies' losses.

Evidently both these means were calculated to delay the accomplishment
of the Allied scheme. If at the same time there could be set on foot
in the Allied countries the legend, not that the Germans had failed
in their great invasion project, as they had, but that they were
successfully withstanding an attempt of the Allied forces to push them
back, then public opinion in the Allied countries might grow tired of
the struggle, and at the finish withdraw from it, leaving Belgium in
German hands. The Government of Germany well knew that in England more
especially, where the misconception of military operations was
profound, operations would be estimated on the, for the immediate
purposes of this campaign, entirely false basis of a movement of
the front from place to place. The object of the Allied commanders,
and the conditions of a successful Allied advance would, in all
probability, be alike misunderstood. Experience has shown that these
calculations were only too well founded. The nearer the Allied scheme
approached to accomplishment, the more energetic became the efforts to
propagate the notion that it was a failure.

The German plan of defence, which may be dealt with first, had then,
apart from political calculations, two main features. The first was
the fortification along their front of advantageous points in such a
manner that they could be permanently held. The second was an
elaboration of the tactics of trench warfare.

From Ypres southwards to the spur of Notre Dame de Lorette near Arras
the German front followed approximately the "inland coastline" already
spoken of, and the only break in it geographically of any consequence
was the valley of the Lys, the flat stretch lying between the hills
south of Ypres and the spur at Aubers south-west of Lille.

On the promontories of this "coastline" the enemy proceeded to fortify
themselves. They did the same at other points along their front and
notably on the ridge across Champagne, and on the hills to the
south-east of Verdun, as well as on the eastern spurs of the Vosges.
Simultaneously in the trench warfare they revived grenade throwing,
and the use of the trench mortar, expedients which had disappeared
from military operations for 200 years. These devices were accompanied
by systematic sniping. As skill with the rifle is not a strong point
with the German army, a prismatic telescopic sight was invented. This
reduced sniping practically to a mechanical trick. If the object fired
at was centred on the prism a hit became a certainty--wind permitting.
Sapping and mining were also persistently carried on, and the front
became for mile after mile a monstrous network of pits, barbed-wire
entanglements, electric alarm traps, and obstacles of every sort. In
short, what the Germans lacked in comprehensive military skill they
made up in laborious detail.

If now we glance at the activity of the Allies, we find that the
hardest part of their work was that of solidifying their line in order
in the first place to make it invulnerable against German
counter-attacks. Those counter-attacks were, as we have seen, to begin
with heavy. In support of them the advantage which the enemy then had
in howitzers was utilised to the full. During the first weeks of the
winter campaign the Allied troops had to hold trenches for the most
part hastily made in the stress of battle, and hold them both against
this prodigal bombardment with heavy German shells, and through bitter
conditions of wet and cold. To reach their trenches along the flooded
area in Flanders men had in some places to cross stretches of country
on planks, the targets in coming and going for the enemy's shrapnel.
The weather, too, was sometimes so severe that the water in the men's
drinking bottles turned to ice. The trenches were frozen puddles.

Writing at this time the French "Eye Witness" said:

    From the sea to the Lys the operations to the north of the Lys
    have become terribly difficult. The liquid and cold mud from which
    the men suffered invaded the breeches of the guns, so that they
    could no longer fire, and they had to fight with the butt-end of
    their rifles and with their fists. Our soldiers, according to the
    expression of one of their leaders, have become blocks of mud. The
    attempt has been successful to provide for them when they leave
    the trenches a proper bath and a complete change of linen, which
    they appreciate very much. Their unalterable good humour enables
    them to endure with the best possible grace the rough life which
    is imposed upon them.

A vivid impression of Flanders at this time (the end of November) has
been recorded by Alice and Claude Askew, who as members of Dr. Hector
Munro's Red Cross Ambulance Corps went to the front to distribute
woollen comforters, cigarettes, coffee and chocolates:

    Up at Furnes the cold was terrible. The picturesque old town has
    been shelled twice, but as yet no great damage has been done, and
    the doctors and nurses working up at the Field Hospital--once a
    college--are hoping that their hospital may be spared, for this
    hospital, with its hundred beds and capable band of workers, is
    doing splendid service.

    The patients are so cheerful. Those who are well enough smoke--how
    the soldier loves his "fag" and how lightly they take their
    injuries.

                     *      *      *      *      *

    Mr. Seeker was operating in the theatre--a patient had just been
    brought in from the trenches and immediate operation was
    necessary. A few oil lamps supplied the only illumination; the
    room was in complete shadow save round the operating table.
    Outside the wind howled and moaned, and firing could be heard in
    the distance. We felt very close to the naked heart of war.

    The drive back to Dunkirk a few hours later was a strange drive.
    The road has been broken and battered by the passing of countless
    military wagons, trodden down by marching feet, it has become a
    furrow, the plough of war has been over it. On either side gaunt
    trees lift up gaunt boughs; their branches look like skeleton
    fingers pointing to the sky, and they look like grim sentinels;
    the water is half frozen in the dykes.

    The whole thing seems unreal--the torn road--those blurred lines
    of men--the distant gun fire. The effect is that of a dream. We
    have seen the grim and terrible side of war--the bleeding side.

    The moon--a pale sickle moon--shines out of the dun sky--the cold
    becomes more intense every moment--more freezing.

By continuous labour, however, the entrenchment system developed bit
by bit into a vast underground military town. The fire trenches were
connected by zigzag communication ways with supports trenches in the
rear. From the latter opened the "dug-outs" which were the dwelling
places of the men on trench duty. Made and furnished out of the
wreckage of towns and villages, some of the "dug-outs" had doors and
windows. Here and there the appointments of these underground quarters
included desks and long-case clocks. Trench pumps were installed, and
the troops provided with sheepskin coats. Entrenchment kitchens, too,
were fitted up. The work of improvement went on in fact without a
pause.

By day, where fighting was not in progress, these mazes of trenches
seemed unutterable desolations of deserted silence. No sign of
movement betrayed the thousands who were in them. At night, however,
they were scenes of incessant activity. It was by night that
entanglements were laid and defences strengthened. At night took place
the changes and reliefs. From their billets in the cellars or lower
stories of a ruined farm, the smashed windows barricaded with planks
and sandbags, or from quarters in some deserted village or abandoned
works, the reliefs moved across a country totally without lights, felt
their way along lanes and roads pitted into craters by shells;
navigated on planks and temporary bridges, ditches, streams, and
canals; or crept under the shelter of partly demolished walls, until
the rear communication ways into the trenches were reached. In this
manner nearly all movements close to the firing line was made.

Acknowledgment too high can never be paid to the devotion and valour
of the men who, through the weeks of an unusually dreary and bitter
winter, both withstood the fury of the German attacks, and patiently
day by day and night by night, solidified the barrier which was to
consummate the enemy's ruin. Dangerous though it was the work may well
have appeared unheroic. To some interpreters of public opinion at home
it did appear unheroic. The soldiers' devotion, however, is a devotion
to duty. This was, in his dispatch of November 20, well expressed by
the British "Eye Witness."

    It is difficult to do justice amid comfortable surroundings to the
    fortitude of those who day and night support the rigour of life in
    the trenches. It is true that everything is done for them which
    foresight and experience can suggest. It is true that by universal
    admission the rations are unlimited in amount and excellent in
    quality. But no attention and care can make trench life in winter
    anything but an extreme test of soldierly fortitude.

    It is a small thing that it is dangerous, for danger is the
    condition of a soldier's life; but it is monotonous, it is damp,
    it is insanitary, it is intolerably cold, and it is a strain upon
    the nerves. This war, more than any other, is one of unrecorded
    heroisms.

Not only the British army, however, but the French and the Belgian
armies had unshaken confidence in their leaders, and with good reason.
In time the entrenched front became completely organised, a system of
settled communications linked up by telephone wires in every
direction. The French trenches formed a seemingly endless labyrinth.
In Flanders along the Yser rats, driven out of their usual haunts and
starving in the desolated country, took up their abode with the men in
the dug-outs, and became domesticated and friendly.

To many whose ideas of war remained based on the marches and
counter-marches of earlier campaigns it was puzzling to see armies of
hitherto unheard of magnitude thus fortifying themselves against each
other. Taken together the combatants numbered millions. Their diggings
stretched over more than 500 miles of country. A vast amount of labour
is needed to complete a modern entrenched post, yet such posts were to
be counted along these lines not by thousands but by tens of
thousands.

It has been stated that in face of the hugely multiplied power of
modern firearms, and of the destructiveness of modern high explosives
as used now in war, there is no alternative save for the fighting
hosts of the present day to dig themselves in, and thus to remain
locked in a deadly embrace. The explanation is crude. Like the
astonishment called forth by this spectacle because it was
unprecedented, the idea that all this represented merely a "deadlock"
sprang from failure to grasp the realities of this gigantic struggle.

At the back of every operation of war there is a strategic purpose. In
this instance, so far from there being no strategy in the so-called
impasse, it was wholly dictated by strategy. So far from there being
no manoeuvres in it, it was nothing else, from the beginning, but a
mighty series of manoeuvres. They were modern manoeuvres, not ancient,
but that is all.

To every student of this campaign with a knowledge of military
affairs, the strategy on both sides which brought about this situation
has been clear. Let it be remembered that entrenchment economises
force. The proposition presented to General Joffre was that of
arresting and breaking the offensive of an enemy not only superior in
numbers, but with traditions which led him to cling to and cherish the
offensive as his chief instrument of victory. General Joffre therefore
knew that the Germans would struggle to regain the offensive until
their power to do so became too exhausted to keep up the effort. He
knew further that in the position in which he had succeeded in placing
them they must make that effort at a disadvantage, and that that
advantage must grow rather than diminish. For these reasons it was
that the labour of entrenching was undertaken by the Allied troops. No
part of that labour was thrown away.

In enclosing the Germans in an entrenched front he so economised his
force that it became, though less in number, equal to that of the
enemy in power. The simple proof of that is that the Germans were
unable to break the barrier. They did their utmost to break it. Their
success or their failure in the war depended upon being able to break
it. They sacrificed at Ypres, on the Yser, and in later battles more
than half a million of men in the endeavour to break it. It remained
firm against every assault.

Nor was the loss of life the only loss. These battles has led to a
vast, and as it proved, wasteful expenditure of ammunition. Since the
barrier could not be broken, the question now was how to render the
envelopment scheme abortive by inflicting on the Allies losses which
would delay or make impossible the offensive on the part of the Allies
to which the scheme was designed to lead. Expedients to that end had
to be devised more effective than the fire of heavy howitzers. They
must also be less costly expedients. Thus hand grenades and trench
mortars reappeared, and mechanical sniping. The reserve of shells with
which Germany had begun the war was used up. Such munitions had to be
employed more sparingly. Besides, owing to the scarcity of copper
resulting from the British naval blockade, both the cost and the
difficulty of manufacturing shells had immensely increased.

The German ordinary grenade was nothing more than the small iron bomb
which had been used during the campaigns in Flanders in the
seventeenth century. It was now filled with a charge of guncotton, and
hurled into the hostile trenches by hand. Another variety had attached
to the globe a short iron stump. This enabled the grenade to be stuck
on to the muzzle of a rifle, and fired into the opposing trenches when
the distance was too great to allow of the use of hand bombs. The
trench mortar fired in the same way an iron globular bomb about a foot
in diameter. The bomb was stuck on to the muzzle of the mortar by a
short iron stump projecting from it, and filled with a heavy charge of
nitro-glycerine, was fired at a high angle, so that it might fall
right into a hostile trench and by the tremendous force of the
explosion wreck it.

These projectiles, grenades and mortar bombs, were now turned out of
the German arsenals in huge quantities. They were both much cheaper
than shells, always a primary consideration in German warfare, and the
mortar bombs required no copper driving bands.

In addition to these expedients mines were resorted to. Several blind
saps--tunnels slightly below the surface--driven towards a hostile
line of trench would be connected by a cross tunnel, and in this just
in front of the trench the mines would be laid. At the moment chosen
for attack they would be exploded from the German position by
electricity, and a rush made to occupy the craters so formed. Yet
another ruse was to drive an open sap--a narrow zigzag cutting--to a
point commanding a hostile trench, and there instal a machine gun. For
daring in these operations military distinctions were freely bestowed,
and it is not surprising that in carrying them out many of the enemy
displayed an audacious cunning.

When, however, we consider that the British and Belgians alike were
much more expert riflemen, and that all three Allies as time went on
steadily emphasised their ascendancy in artillery, the failure of
these efforts of German perseverance to make up for the German want of
military genius, was, it is not difficult to see, inevitable. The
British troops improvised hand grenades out of army jam or beef tins.
In grenade throwing they speedily became expert. Every German device
was countered and improved upon. Parties engaged in mining met each
other underground, and fought it out hand to hand. To diminish the
losses arising from rifle and artillery fire, the larger German
operations in this stage of the campaign were their night attacks. In
these night battles the country before plunged in total darkness would
suddenly present the spectacle of flights of star shells and flares,
mingled with the play of searchlights, and the lurid flash of guns and
rifles.

Attack and counter-attack, varied in every interval of clearer weather
by artillery duels, went on during week after week. The lines round
Ypres and to the west of Lille, more especially about La Bassee,
remained among the main scenes of German activity.

Round Ypres the shot-torn and shell-ploughed woods became those
melancholy and unapproachable "zones of the dead" where the German
slain lay unburied, and many of the wounded had been left miserably to
perish.

    Frequent allusion has been made (the British "Eye Witness" wrote
    on November 20) to the losses of the enemy. Round Ypres we are
    continually finding fresh evidence of the slaughter inflicted. On
    November 15 one of our battalions, upon advancing discovered a
    German trench manned by seventeen corpses, while there were
    forty-nine more in a house close by. Next day a patrol discovered
    sixty dead in front of one trench, and fifty opposite another. In
    fact, all the farms and cottages to our front are charnel houses.
    The significance of such small numbers lies only in the fact that
    they represent the killed in a very small area.

    According to prisoners the German attempts to take Ypres have
    proved costly. One man stated that there were only fifteen
    survivors out of his platoon which went into action fifty strong;
    another reported that of 250 men who advanced with him only
    nineteen returned.

    It is believed that one Bavarian regiment, 3,000 strong, which
    left Bavaria for the front on October 19, had only 1,200 men left
    before the attack made along the Menin-Ypres road on November 14,
    when it again suffered severely. The plight of some of the units
    of the new formations is even worse. One regiment of reserve corps
    having but 600 men out of 3,000.

    If the period since the beginning of the war is considered the
    numbers are greater. For instance of the 15th Corps one regiment
    has lost sixty officers and 2,560 men, and another has lost 3,000
    men. These figures include casualties of every kind--killed,
    wounded, and missing.

By dint of persistence the Germans succeeded in establishing on the
west bank of the Yser a bridgehead at a point known as the Ferryman's
Hut. They lost it, however, on November 27.

    The action (says the French official account) was particularly
    brilliant. Several German trenches were carried in succession.

    The operation was one of the most arduous and difficult tasks
    which our troops have accomplished. The object was to drive from
    the left bank of the Yser the Germans who had succeeded in
    establishing themselves there for a length of over a mile.

    The difficulty in the attack lay in the fact that the canal was
    bordered by marshes which could not be crossed, and the only way
    of approach was along the bank and on a very narrow front.
    Moreover, the right bank, where the enemy had taken up his
    position, dominated the left bank, which was exposed to a
    machine-gun fire. The assault on the Ferryman's hut was delivered
    by a detachment of 100 volunteers from the African battalions.

    Our men fought knee deep in the water in a downpour of rain. The
    Germans displayed the greatest courage, and our men had to kill
    one officer and fifteen men who refused to surrender.

    In the ferryman's hut itself, which had been turned into a little
    fort, there were fifty-three lying dead, two of whom were
    officers. They had been killed by our 8·6 shells. Close by was the
    wreckage of their searchlight and their machine guns.

Across the Yser the Germans had tried to push their outposts westward
as far as possible. Mr. A. Beaumont, special correspondent of the
_Daily Telegraph_, gathered the story of one of these expeditions
which reached a ruined village:

    Amid the ruins the church alone was standing, though the belfry
    was demolished. A score of Germans on outpost duty had taken
    shelter in the church for the night. They found the sexton, an old
    man of more than seventy, and mercilessly flogged him because he
    would not or could not tell them where the enemy was.

    He crept out into the fields, found a French company concealed in
    some trenches, and told them his story. There was an instant rush
    of picked men into the village, the church was surrounded. The
    Germans taken by surprise hid in the choir, but to light up the
    place the old sexton found a bundle of straw, to which he set
    fire. As he held it up the Germans were slain on the spot.

The efforts of the Germans were directed not only towards gaining a
crossing over the Yser, but to driving the British out of the valley
of the Lys. This it has already been noted was geographically a weak
point in their front. Down the valley of the Lys, besides, lay the
railway junctions of Menin and Courtrai, vital to the maintenance of
their positions alike between the Lys and the sea, and from Lille to
Arras. South of Ypres they had at length succeeded by sapping and
mining in getting possession of the Kleine Zillebeke ridge, though
they had been unable to capture it in the battle. At the same time
they tried to push the British line westward from Lille. Repeated and
desperate attacks were made on the British posts at Cuinchy and
Givenchy. Cuinchy they captured. Later, however, the place was
retaken, and with it a large depôt of German bombs and hand grenades.
On January 25 the enemy, advancing from La Bassee in two powerful
columns, made a furious effort to take Givenchy. Five assaults were
delivered against that place. The first attack was in the nature of a
surprise.

Unexpectedly in the cold and misty dawn the mass, brought up with
secrecy during the night, surged from the German trenches. The British
trenches were not more than 100 yards away. Across this space, ankle
deep in mud, the attackers ploughed their way despite severe losses.
The British trenches were taken, though not without a stiff fight. The
resistance enabled the British supports to be called out. Charging
into Givenchy village the Germans found themselves confronted at the
end of the main street by these additional troops. The fire lasted
only seconds. Without further ado the British dashed in with the
bayonet. The clash was desperate. It was a melee of man to man. Not
only bayonets were used. Many Germans were knocked out by British
soldiers' fists. The remnant who could not get out of the village in
time sought refuge in the houses. They were hunted out. One man broke
into a house where eight Germans had sheltered themselves, bayonetted
four, and made prisoners of the others.

With the defeat of this attack the British regained the trenches lost.
The later attacks of the enemy never got home. A determined struggle
was all this while being waged to the south of La Bassee in the area
of the brickfields. At one point the Germans broke through the British
line. Early in the afternoon, however, a combined French and British
counter-attack drove them back. Here, too, there was hand to hand
fighting.

From October onwards La Bassee remained one of the hottest corners in
the war. Perched on an inland promontory which had been elaborately
fortified, the German front here formed a salient. It was an important
part of their plan to pierce the Allied front at this point. To carry
out that plan they made repeated attacks in great force. That these
attacks failed was due to the remarkable fighting qualities of the
troops opposed to them. About this struggle, of vital importance in
its bearing on the campaign, many stories have been told. The two
following, both authentic, illustrate the spirit which inspired our
men, British and Indians alike:

    In one trench which had become in the course of the fighting more
    or less isolated, forty of our men continued to hold firm until
    every one of them was either killed or wounded. Eventually there
    were only three left capable of firing, and these three continued
    to hold the enemy at bay. In the meantime word had been brought to
    those in rear that their ammunition was nearly exhausted, and
    seven men, the strongest available, were selected to bring up as
    much ammunition as they could carry. These latter found the three
    wounded survivors still standing amid the bodies of their dead and
    disabled comrades and still firing steadily. The support, slender
    as it was, came in the nick of time, for at that moment the
    Germans launched another assault, which, like the previous ones,
    was beaten off, and the position saved.

    A very striking instance of resource and presence of mind was
    shown by a private (Indian) since been promoted from the ranks in
    recognition of his services. He and another were instructed to
    creep out of the trench they were defending in order to make
    observations of a German trench 200 yards away. They advanced,
    creeping in the dark, with about forty yards laterally between
    them. When they had covered half the distance a brilliant German
    searchlight was suddenly flung over the space which divided the
    two trenches. The flood of light left one of the two fully
    exposed, while just avoiding with its outer rim his companion.

    Concealment was useless for the man so exposed, and he was
    quick-witted enough to realise that no ordinary resource would
    save his life. He at once rose to his feet, and, in view of the
    British trench, advanced, salaaming to the German trench. Its
    occupants, taken aback by so unusual an advance, ceased fire. He
    still advanced, and, approaching quite close to the trench, was
    allowed after some dumb show to enter. A dialogue followed. The
    Germans, anxious to define his status, mentioned several Indian
    nationalities. He shook his head until the word Mussulman was
    mentioned. Then he nodded vigorously. A moment later his
    questioners mentioned the British. He drew his hand across his
    throat with a lively gesture of disgust. The Germans, encouraged
    by this indication, gave him some rations and a blanket.

    He spent the night with them. Next morning, by the use of his
    fingers, he indicated to a superior officer who had been sent for
    to deal with so novel a case, that there were twenty-five other
    Mussulman in his trench, whom, if released, he could certainly
    bring in. The Germans, completely deceived, gave him a final cup
    of coffee, and set him on this promising errand. He rejoined his
    friends, who had long since given him up, with a report of far
    more than local interest.

These acts of valour are but typical of a thousand like them. By such
devotion to the soldier's ideal--his duty--by a courage, a morale, and
a disciplined fortitude which have never been surpassed in any armies
at any time, the first and essential part, the foundation, of the
Allied generals' scheme, the most brilliant and daring stroke of
strategy till then attempted in war, was accomplished. The Germans
were held as in a vice.



CHAPTER X

NEUVE CHAPELLE


All through the winter campaign the enemy had been incessantly trying
to sap and mine forward, and not only at La Bassee but right across
the valley of the Lys to the hills south of Ypres.

He was anxious to make this gap secure. It was the key of his position
along the line from Noyon to the sea.

The construction of the Allies' entrenchment barrier was but the first
stage of their great plan. At once after that barrier had been made
the second stage was entered upon. The second stage was that of
drawing one by one the enemy's teeth in the shape of the carefully
fortified promontories and ridges, selected by him with an eye to
their defensive possibilities. As in the entrenchment stage this was
gone about methodically. Neither time was lost, ammunition wasted, nor
lives thrown away.

Guns were massed against the position picked out for assault. They
were massed without being seen. The present day gunner does not trust
to the eye. He uses his gun with mathematical precision. This system
the French artillerists had reduced to an exact science. At a given
time these guns opened at the same instant, and on a preconcerted plan
swept the position with a squall of fire. In this tornado everything,
entanglements and obstructions, were cut to pieces; trenches crumbled;
concrete redoubts were split into ruins. Amid the hurricane of lead
nothing could live. Having swept the position the guns drew a curtain
of fire behind it while the infantry advanced to the attack.

More than once it happened that the French infantry charged up to and
captured trenches after this treatment without losing a man. None were
left to oppose them. In fact, however, no assaults were made until the
"lie" of the enemy's trenches and defences was thoroughly known.

The first German "tooth" drawn under this system was their
fortification on the spur at Vermelles, four miles to the south of La
Bassee. That was on December 7. After that fangs were one by one
extracted all round the hostile front.[15]

          [15] Other examples are the Spur at Notre Dame de Lorette
          near Arras; the ridge north of Beausejour in Champagne; the
          Crete de Combres at Les Eparges on the Meuse; the Bois de
          Pietre on the Moselle; and Hartmannsweilerkopf in Alsace.

One of these fangs was the German position on the spur at La Bassee.
Along the south side of this spur early in February the Irish Guards
and the Coldstreams turned the enemy out of his defences among the
brick stacks there, and made the position useless to him save for
purposes of defence.

Affairs having reached this stage the plan of assault was decided upon
by Sir John French on February 19. It was to be carried out by the
British First Army, under the command of Gen. Sir Douglas Haig, with
the support of a large force of heavy artillery, a division of cavalry
and some infantry of the general reserve.

The attack was to be directed against Neuve Chapelle. Holding attacks,
that is practically feints, were to be made at the same time by the
Second Army against La Bassee from the south and by the 4th Army Corps
and the Indian Army Corps to the north.

The German position at La Bassee formed a buttress of the line which
they had been striving to draw across the valley of the Lys. Their
line from La Bassee across the flats of the valley as far as the hills
south of Ypres had become a maze of diggings and entanglements, and
was deemed to be impregnable. It was important to break this barrier.
For five months at enormous cost the enemy had fought to build it up
and to maintain it.

The village of Neuve Chapelle lay about half way between the spur of
La Bassee on the south and the Lys on the north. The distance between
the promontory on the one side and the river on the other is some
eight miles. Neuve Chapelle was on the flat. From La Bassee round
behind Neuve Chapelle the "inland coastline" curves, forming a bay
completed near the villages of Fournes and Aubers by another
promontory known as the Haut Pommeau. The distance from La Bassee to
Fournes as the crow flies is five miles. Beyond Fournes again the
"inland coastline" bends round sharply, and describes a much greater
bay in which is situated the city of Lille. Eastward of Neuve Chapelle
on the slope of the higher land is the Bois de Biez, and this with the
hamlet of Pietre it was one of the British objectives to seize.

With these places in British hands the German hold on both Lille and
La Bassee would be rendered precarious.

Now let us look, in its general aspects, at the British tactical plan.

A massed force of guns, including batteries of heavy howitzers, was at
a given time (7.30 a.m. on the morning of March 10) to open on the
German line of trenches, extending across the flat country and
half-a-mile or so to the west and in front of Neuve Chapelle. Behind
these trenches ran the main road from La Bassee to Armentières. For
thirty-five minutes the guns were to keep up their squall of fire. By
that time it was calculated the German trenches would be knocked to
pieces; the entanglements and obstacles cut through; and the defending
troops either killed, wounded, or demoralised. At the end of the
thirty-five minutes the infantry of the First Army were to rush the
position. Meanwhile, the artillery was to alter the range and sweep
with a like squall of fire Neuve Chapelle and the German second line
of defences to the north and south of the village. Then the infantry
were to advance to this second line. In turn the artillery were now to
sweep the area beyond the village, and to throw a curtain of fire
along the slopes of the higher land. While this was being done the
infantry were again to advance from Neuve Chapelle on to the slopes
more particularly towards the Bois de Biez and Pietre, while the guns
further extended their range.

It will be seen that the infantry rushes had to take place between the
artillery squalls. The latter had of necessity to be regulated by a
time table. It was an application on a large scale of the tactics
carried out in Champagne and round Arras, Roye, and at Les Esparges.

Both the massing of the guns and that of the troops intended for this
operation was carried out alike with secrecy and success. The
batteries during several days preceding the battle had taken up their
allotted positions without the Germans becoming aware of it. From the
German lines the guns of course were out of sight. The troops had been
massed in the first instance at points in the rear. From these they
marched during the night before the battle to the British line of
trenches. It is remarkable that the movement of these hosts remained
undetected. Amid the unrelieved darkness of the ruined country they
set out along the shell-pitted roads, regiment after regiment, brigade
following brigade. They moved as silently as possible, as silently as
only British troops can when silence is called for. At ten o'clock on
the evening of March 9 this march began. Through devastated and
deserted villages passed the subdued tramp of these legions, men from
every part of the British Isles, regiments famous for valour on many a
field.

Behind the British lines the corps halted along the roadsides. After
their march they were served with hot coffee. They extended for mile
after mile--Highlanders and Riflemen; Territorials and Indians; a
magnificent army, and in immediate command of it one of the ablest and
most resolute of British generals.

Still, apparently, the Germans suspected nothing. No outward sign of
alertness was to be observed along their line. The soughing of the
bleak night wind of March alone broke the silence. Then one by one the
regiments moved by single files through the communication ways down
into the trenches till these were filled with men. From the enemy's
front there was yet no alarm, though their trenches were at many
points less than 100 yards away.

Towards morning there comes out of the darkness a dull boom. A pause
and then another. After a further pause a third. The guns are
registering the range.

And now the faint light of dawn begins to break and the white wall of
sandbags which marks the German front can be dimly made out, with here
and there dark patches where the bags used are blue. Thousands of eyes
watch it for evidence of movement. There is none.

From a prisoner afterwards taken it was learned that a German captain,
hearing what he thought were unusual sounds, and seeing the British
trenches opposite crowded, telephoned the alarm to the artillery.
According to this story he was told there were no orders to open fire,
and advised to mind his own business.

So at last day broke, and the hands of watches approached 7.30. With
the inevitableness of fate the minutes sped. The signal time was
reached.

The guns--hundreds of guns--spoke at the same instant in an
overpowering crash of intensified thunder. The earth shook as though
smitten. The German line appeared as if swept by an earthquake. It
became a line of ceaseless explosions. Shells crashed upon it from
minute to minute in thousands; the guns went at it at top speed. The
wall of sandbags was tumbled and breached in all directions. Amid the
spurting fires and the acrid smoke the bodies, or fragments of the
bodies of men were hurled into the air. Some of these ghastly
fragments were even blown into the British trenches. Back to the
British trenches also wafted the sickly fumes of lyddite and
cresolite. Shells whistled past only a few feet above the heads of the
British infantry. The storm of shrapnel chopped the enemy's
entanglements to pieces. The high explosives left his trenches
shapeless. His laboriously made fortifications had been literally
blasted out of being.

From behind a ragged wrack in the sky where aeroplanes were sailing,
the sun came out, making still darker the cloud of smoke and dust
hanging like a black pall over the German entrenchments. Where the
sunlight touched them the British trenches flashed into rows of
gleaming bayonets.

For the allotted thirty-five minutes the rain of fire went on. It
paused as it had begun, on the instant. The momentary silence was as
stunning as the uproar. It was the signal. The whistles blew for the
charge.

The British infantry told off for the attack swarmed out of their
trenches. There were five brigades of them: in the first line on the
right to the south of Neuve Chapelle, the Garhwalis of the Meerut
division of the Indian Army Corps; in the centre opposite Neuve
Chapelle, the 25th; on the left to the north of Neuve Chapelle, the
23rd; in the second line the 22nd and the 21st.

The leading regiments of the 25th, the Lincolns and the Berkshires,
cleared the space to the enemy's trenches with a rush. The German
entanglements here had been chopped by the shells into mere litter. To
reach the wreckage of the wall of sandbags was a matter of seconds.
The enemy's trenches proved to be full of dead and dying. Such
survivors as there were, paralysed with fright, surrendered. Then the
two battalions swung one to the right, the other to the left and swept
in both directions along the line. Against the Lincolns a remnant of
the Germans still showed fight. The Lincolns went into them with the
bayonet. Though desperate while it lasted, the struggle was brief. The
men left alive surrendered. Against the Berkshires two German officers
fought a machine gun, and continued to fight it until bayoneted.

In the track of the Lincolns and Berkshires came the Royal Irish
Rifles and the Rifle Brigade. While the Berkshires and Lincolns were
rounding up the prisoners, the Royal Irish and the Rifle Brigade moved
forward towards Neuve Chapelle.

On the right the Garhwalis had equally rushed the German front. There,
too, it had been a hand to hand finish, but soon over.

On the left, however, it was not the same story--not by any means the
same story. The 23rd Brigade was made up of the Scottish Rifles, the
2nd Middlesex, the Devons and the West Yorkshires. Against the part of
the German line they were told off to attack the guns had not done the
work thoroughly. The enemy's mass of entanglements here followed a dip
in the ground; and the shells had mostly missed.

Let it here be said that an accident of this kind is always liable to
happen. It does not of necessity imply remissness on the part of the
gunners, and involve blame. Difficulties like this will crop up in
carrying out the best scheme of tactics. Indeed no great battle has
ever yet been fought in which the unexpected has not been encountered,
and had on the instant to be provided for.

At the same time, in a scheme of attack of this kind it is, apart from
accidents, the underlying assumption on which the whole is reared that
every part of the area under fire shall in the first instance be
equally and fully swept. If that be not done then the infantry have
imposed upon them a task which no men ought to be asked to face, and
which deliberately they would never be asked to face. That was the
position in which the Scottish Rifles and the 2nd Middlesex, two
battalions who are among the flower of the army, found themselves.
Rushing forward, they in a flash saw before them in this hollow the
German entanglements standing almost intact. The work in front of them
was the impossible.

Imagine the tragedy of it. They were swept by the fire of machine
guns, by rifle volleys discharged from second to second, and showers
of shrapnel. To go back would have thrown the whole plan of assault
into confusion. It might mean the loss of the battle.

On the other hand, it was impossible to re-range the British
batteries. The guns were now thundering out their rafale upon Neuve
Chapelle and the German second line. In Neuve Chapelle and along that
line were the enemy's local reserves. These or part of these, if there
were any break in the rain of fire, would charge forward to reinforce
their first line. They were there for the purpose.

Part of the Scottish Rifles got through. The entanglements in front of
them had been wrecked. They reached the section of the German trenches
which was their objective and overpowered the defenders. The other
part was held up by the barbed wire. Then began a frantic struggle to
smash through the webwork with the butts of rifles, to stamp it down,
or to crawl through it. The effort was in vain. The bomb-throwers of
the company dashed round in the track of their comrades who had
already reached and captured the adjacent German trench. Through this
trench they reached that still held and daringly bombed the Germans
out of it. Meanwhile the others, forced to lie down, were sprayed both
by the machine guns and by the enemy's shrapnel. A subaltern and 150
men were all who later answered to the roll-call.

The 2nd Middlesex fared no better. The instant they surged into the
open two machine guns, one at each end of the section of the German
trench they were to take opened upon them. Under this fire they had to
clear a space of more than 120 yards. It was strewn as they raced
forward with their dead and wounded. To them also the startling truth
was revealed that the enemy's entanglements were still almost
undamaged. Like the Scottish they tried to stamp and tear their way
through. The effort was speedily seen to be a waste of life. They lay
down amid the hail of bullets. A second time, and then a third they
tried to break through. A message, however, had been got through to
the guns. Relaid on to the German trench the artillery this time cut
the entanglements through and the position, aided by a bombing party,
was carried.

Such was the attack upon the German first line. But for this disaster
to part of the 23rd Brigade, the casualties in this phase of the
battle would have been comparatively slight.

The 25th and the Garhwalis completed their work before the time
allotted for the fire squall against the village and the enemy's
second line had expired. When this tornado began Neuve Chapelle was,
although damaged, still standing. When the shell storm ceased, it had,
save for the broken walls of the church, totally disappeared. This
fair-sized place, which formerly had had some 3,000 inhabitants, was
now pounded into shapeless ruins. The shells had fallen as elsewhere
upon the cemetery. Tombstones had been blown about in all directions;
graves torn open; coffins ploughed up and scattered in splinters
together with the bones they had enclosed. In the churchyard had been
posted a German detachment intended to defend that approach to the
village by rifle and machine-gun fire from behind the gravestones.
Most of these men lay among their gruesome surroundings dead or
wounded. The whole village and its immediate neighbourhood was wrapped
in smoke and dust.

Into this the moment that the guns had ceased the Rifle Brigade
dashed. The German defence had been smashed. Some of the enemy
continued to snipe from behind bits of wall, broken tombstones, or the
wrecks of carts. Among the ruins of a few outlying houses which had
escaped complete destruction others put up a fight with machine guns
and potted at the British from window spaces. They were speedily
disposed of. The rest, bewildered by the blast, were collected from
the cellars and dug-outs in which they had sought refuge, coming up
with their hands above their heads.[16] From the opposite direction
the village had been stormed by the 3rd Gurkhas of the Indian Brigade.
On the way they had got in with their kukris among a German detachment
who attempted with machine guns to defend a group of houses by the
cross roads at the south end of the place. The two corps, Riflemen and
Gurkhas, old comrades in former fights, and each now equally dirty and
blood-bespattered, cheered each other with enthusiasm.

          [16] The correspondent who sent to the London News Agency a
          picturesque story of the battle (published in the _Daily
          Telegraph_ of April 19, 1915), says: "Many strange incidents
          were observed. In one cellar a portly German was found
          dancing about in an agony of fear, screaming in a
          high-pitched voice in English: 'Mercy! Mercy! I am married'
          'Your missus won't thank us for sending you home!' retorted
          one of the men who took him prisoner, and his life was
          spared. A Rifle Brigade subaltern, falling over a sandbag
          into a German trench, came upon two officers, hardly more
          than boys, their hands above their heads. Their faces were
          ashen grey; they were trembling. One said gravely in good
          English: 'Don't shoot! I am from London also!' They, too,
          were mercifully used."

The artillery tornado against Neuve Chapelle and its environs had been
timed to last for half an hour. It began at 8.5 a.m.; it ended at 8.35
a.m. At the same instant the infantry advance against this second
German line had swung out with a sledge-hammer energy. Within
twenty-five minutes the village of Neuve Chapelle was in the British
hands.

Thus in the centre this second wave of the onset had been crushingly
successful. It was not immediately successful on the flanks. On the
left flank, since the 23rd Brigade had been held up on the German
first line, the troops of the 25th, who had captured the village, had
to face north in order to enfilade the enemy still holding out against
the 23rd. It was through this pressure as well as through the
redirection of the guns, that these Germans still on that part of the
first line were about eleven o'clock in the morning dislodged.

Meanwhile, through the gap in the enemy's first line which had been
cleared by the 25th Brigade, the Devons, part of the 23rd, had come
on, and attacked on the German second line of defence, an orchard,
triangular in shape and bounded along each face by a road, which the
Germans had fortified. This, one of the strong points of the German
second line, the Devons carried by storm. Later, when the Middlesex
got through, they occupied the position.

Both the village of Neuve Chapelle and its environs over a
considerable area north and south presented a network of German
diggings, and before any further advance could be made it was
essential that the whole of these should be in our hands. It was
supposed that this area had been completely and thoroughly searched by
the shell fire. Unfortunately, as in the instance of the fire directed
against the German first line, that proved not to be the case. Just to
the south of Neuve Chapelle there is a junction of roads. The main
road which runs almost straight as a ruler from La Bassee to Estaires,
meets at this point the main road to Armentières. The two highways
join at a rather acute angle, and in that angle there was a group of
houses. This position the Germans had elaborately strengthened. Among
the British troops it had earned the name of "Port Arthur." Remarkably
enough some 200 yards of the German trenches at this place had been
missed or practically missed by the fire storm. The attack here was
assigned to the 22nd Brigade (British) and the 21st Brigade (Indian).
The corps who faced the almost untouched length of German trench were
the 59th Garhwalis, one of the finest battalions of the Indian Army.
They met with the same experience as the Scottish Rifles, a frightful
fire of machine guns, added to repeated rifle volleys. Some of these
dauntless and wiry warriors managed to tear or wriggle through the
entanglements and went into the Germans with the bayonet. They were
overborne by numbers, but fought to the last man.

While this was going on the Leicesters, the entanglements in front of
them having been cut, had on the right of the Indian troops carried
the opposing German position, though under a cross fire from the enemy
still holding out against the Garhwalis. They wheeled round to left
and bombed the Germans out. Meanwhile the Seaforth Highlanders had
been brought up for an attack upon the enemy from the opposite flank,
and this was supported by a frontal attack from the 3rd (Territorial)
Battalion of the London Regiment. The charge of the "terriers" formed
one of the brilliant episodes of the battle. "Port Arthur" was at last
finished, and the whole mass of German reserves who had for months
inhabited this maze of diggings and fortifications, supposed to be
impregnable, were either killed, wounded, prisoners, or on the run.

So much were the survivors on the run in fact, that the British troops
were able to form up for the third swing in the advance without any
opposition worth speaking about. Indeed, Sir John French states in his
dispatch that the 21st Brigade formed up in the open without a shot
being fired at them.

It was now about 1.30 in the afternoon. The part of the British line
which needed to be strengthened for the further work in hand was the
right wing. The 23rd Brigade needed to be reinforced, and in view of
the more extended front which had to be covered as the advance
proceeded, more troops were necessary. Not only was the front to be
covered wider, but the further work on hand would probably turn out
the stiffest. This work was an advance towards the slopes on the east
and the seizure of decisive positions there.

Concurrently with the British infantry attack on the German second
line the artillery had been searching this ground and the slopes, and
although the Germans had been rushing up reinforcements and these were
beginning to appear in the woods the curtain of fire made it out of
the question for them to move farther forward.

Obviously it was all-important that the British line should be
reformed and reinforced for the further advance before enemy
reinforcements could be massed.

The 4th Army Corps and the Indian Army Corps had therefore been
ordered up in the forenoon. There was a delay in their arrival.
Apparently it arose from bad roads. Whatever the exact cause the delay
meant that recovering from their initial demoralisation, the Germans
had organised several strong points of opposition. One of these points
was a bridge on the little river Les Layes, which runs across the
flats from just outside Neuve Chapelle to Armentières, where it falls
into the Lys. At this bridge the 25th Brigade found themselves held
up. The approaches were a nest of machine guns. The third stage of the
British advance did not begin until 3.30 in the afternoon. Two good
hours had been lost.

Not merely were the 25th Brigade held up, but the Indian troops of the
Reserve, advancing towards the Bois de Biez, found themselves
enfiladed by the fire of this German position. The Gurkhas indeed
reached the wood, and entered it. They were under a cross fire,
however, from front and flank, and in the end had to retreat. In the
direction also of the Pietre road the 21st Brigade met with greatly
superior opposition, and like the 25th could got get forward. This was
the situation at nightfall. The British troops dug themselves in along
this new line.

At daybreak on March 11 the battle was renewed with an attempt by the
Germans to shell the British from their new positions. During the
night the enemy had brought up strong reinforcements and posted them
in the woods and on the plateau. Their positions were energetically
bombarded. Two German regiments in the Bois de Biez suffered heavily.

The enemy launched a counter-attack. Their columns were broken by the
British fire. In pursuit of these beaten forces the British attack was
renewed by the 4th Army Corps and the Indian Corps. The Germans,
however, had also on their side established a new line. It was found
necessary to deal with this as with the others, by a squall of
artillery fire. But meantime the weather had changed. Rain and mist
made accurate observation and reliable ranging out of the question.

That night further German reinforcements arrived. They were Saxons and
Bavarians, mainly from Tourcoing. Before dawn on March 12 the German
artillery opened upon Neuve Chapelle. Then in the dim light of
breaking day two immense grey columns of German infantry were seen
coming out of the woods towards Neuve Chapelle, one on the north-east,
the other on the south-east. What is more they came on in mass
formation. The British trenches, needless to say, had as usual been
made as nearly as possible invisible. In that uncertain light the line
even at quite a short distance away could not be made out. The
Bavarians attacking from the south-east were still in column of route.
An officer rode in their midst on horseback. Finding that they were
close to the British line the charge was sounded. The mass came on in
the closest formation. One minute they had uttered a cheer, the next a
score or more of machine guns opened upon them. As though struck by
lightning, the mass went down as it seemed, together. It changed into
a writhing rampart of dead and wounded. Along it men still unhit,
could be seen digging themselves in for sheer life, and even using
corpses as a shelter.

It was a terrible and ghastly spectacle, the result of a terrible and
ghastly blunder. Hardened as they were, even the British troops were
sickened by it. From out of the heap wounded Germans crawled towards
the British lines. Some of the British went out and helped them in.

The attack from the north-east was also a failure. Whether it was the
fate of the Bavarians or not, the heart went out of it. At the
beginning it was violent, but it utterly petered out.

These crushing repulses were again followed by a renewal of the
British onset. It was directed against the village or rather the group
of houses on the ridge known as the Moulin de Pietre. Through a
sweeping "curtain" of German fire the British infantry stormed the
enemy's trenches with grenade and bayonet. Nothing could stand against
their tenacity. They held on to their new positions until nightfall.
It was found, however, that to keep these positions in face of the
enemy's strength was a game not worth the candle. The line was
therefore withdrawn and consolidated.

This work occupied the night, so that when the morning of March 13
dawned the Germans found the British firmly entrenched east of Neuve
Chapelle. The bombardment which the enemy at once opened from the
Aubers ridge did very little damage. This, the fourth day following
upon three days of hard and continuous fighting, was the most trying
of all. The men were by this time in the last stage of fatigue. The
devotion of the British soldier, however, is not readily fathomed.

Such was the battle of Neuve Chapelle. It cost the lives of nearly
2,500 British heroes, and casualties to nearly 9,000 others, while
1,751 were listed as missing. The losses of the enemy were some
18,000. In his dispatch Sir John French says: "The results attained
were, in my opinion, wide and far-reaching." Not only did the British
attack breach a part of the German front which had been elaborately
fortified, and prove the power to breach it, and at a cost to the
attacking force actually less than the force defending, but it set
back in a decisive manner a scheme which the Germans had for six
months been striving regardless of cost to carry through--the barring
of access to the valley of the Lys. That valley is the military main
road into Belgium, and as already pointed out, it is along it that
there lie the railway junctions vital to the German position between
the coast and the Aisne, and vital consequently to their whole
position on the West. From their point of view, too, this much more
than the crossing of the Yser is the way to the coast. The struggle,
therefore, for mastery of the valley of the Lys represents a most
important phase of the war.

As to the losses in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle it is now clear that
they were due mainly to two things--the parts in the German first and
in the German second line of defences which escaped the effect of the
artillery "rafales"; and the late arrival of the reserve on the first
day. If the artillery sweep in each instance was not perfect, it is at
once just and necessary to point out that the flatness of the country
rendered ranging far from easy, and that in each instance the section
missed was comparatively but a very small bit of the line under fire.

We are now in a position to sum up the military results gained in the
operations briefly told in this story. They were, as will be seen, of
the utmost importance. Had the British troops not been transferred
when they were from the Aisne, the whole course of the Western
campaign, and with it the whole course of the War, must have been
changed. With the vast superiority in numbers which, as events proved,
the Germans were able to put into the field even before the end of
October, a superiority aggregating nearly a million men, they would
have been able, round the incompleted left flank of the Allies, not
only to place themselves between the French and British forces and the
coast, but, it is practically certain, to place themselves between the
Allied armies and Paris. They would have gained an unspeakable
strategical advantage, and possibly also, as a consequence, a
succession of decisive victories.

As it was, by the employment of the British troops to extend the left
wing of the Allied line, this strategical scheme of the enemy was
nipped in its first stages. Not only that, but it enabled the Allied
generals completely to turn the tables. In place of enveloping the
Allied armies as they had proposed, the Germans found themselves
enveloped. To escape from this situation, which they well knew meant
carrying on the War East and West with inevitably divided forces, a
condition which eliminated their main chance of victory, they were
forced to fight the first battle of Ypres. Despite their immensely
greater numerical strength, they lost it through a succession of
tactical blunders. To that has to be added the brilliant resource
shown by Sir John French, and never more brilliantly than in the
crisis of the battle on October 31.

Enabling the Allies to maintain their envelopment, the first battle of
Ypres, both definitely checked the German offensive on the West,
defeated their attempt to re-seize the strategical initiative, pinned
down and by degrees wasted their main forces, and what perhaps is most
important of all, ensured the necessity on their part of a division of
forces between the two fronts. It is absolutely true to say that the
later weeks of October were the chief crisis of the War. Only it may
be when the events of this War fall in the course of time into a more
just perspective shall we appreciate all we owe to the men who fought
through that campaign.

To deal with the later and second battle of Ypres is beyond present
scope. This little book will have served its purpose if, bringing into
light the strictly historic truth of momentous and arresting events
which may determine the destiny of Europe for ages, it has revealed at
the same time the noble courage and the grand endurance of the British
soldier, and has shown the majesty with which, like his fathers, he
can do battle for his country.


_Printed in Great Britain by Wyman & Sons Ltd., London and Reading._





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