The Battle of Ypres

The Battle of Ypres

The Battle of Ypres, along with the many other battles in this Flanders town, have become some of the best known of World War One.

Along with the Battle of the Somme, the battles at Ypres and Passchendaele in history as some of the largest and most devastating. While the town was the centre of battles before due to its strategic location, the devastation that ensued around the town and the local countryside have left lasting scars.

The land surrounding the town of Ypres was perfect for battle, being flat and containing canals and rivers that link to the coast. It was the major centre in Flanders and provided those in control of it with power over all the major roads in this region. The town also benefited from the Mesen Ridge, which lies south and rises around 500ft to provide a significant height advantage over enemies.

British troops first entered Ypres in October 1914, unaware of the German force that was advancing towards the town. However, the professionalism and experience of the British soldiers compared to the young Germans meant they took the lead when they were attacked in Langemark. Around 1,500 Germans were killed and 600 were taken prisoner.

A photo of what remained of Ypres after shelling

Devastating fighting continued both within the town and around the local area, with neither side able to capture Ypres. As a result, attempts from each side became more desperate and severe.

In the first days of November, daily shelling took place and the civilian casualties were extremely high. This set the scene for the coming years, which saw extreme shelling and the complete destruction of the town.

By the winter of 1914, the Germans had still not taken Ypres and heavy rain had resulted in serious difficulty moving around the area due to muddy roads. As a result, the first battle of Ypres slowed to a standstill.

Once this weather passed, the Germans prepared to attack once more and launched deadly chlorine gas towards the French troops. the French fled and Germany thought they had gained the upper hand, but the Canadians used urine-soaked cloths as gas masks and launched a counter-attack, retaking the land the Germans had gained.

By April 1915, the French had tried to regain the upper hand by detonating mines under the German position at Hill 60. Those who controlled the hill had an ideal view of the people and vehicles going into and out of Ypres. Britain took Hill 60 but they were rapidly replaced by the Germans following a poison gas attack. The Germans were only pushed out once more in 1918.

The hills around Mesen, south of Ypres, were also controlled by the Germans. To provide the Allied soldiers with a boost, the Allied High Command ordered an attack on Mesen Ridge. Tunnels were dug under the ridge and these were filled with explosives. On 7th June 1917, 19 mines were detonated - creating a noise that could be heard in London - and the German troops were taken by Australian and New Zealand soldiers.

Plans didn’t go so well in the north east of Ypres, particularly during the Battle of Passendaele. In October 1917, rains drenched the area for a months and conditions became almost unbearable for the troops. Trench foot became common and soldiers struggled when the battle began on 12th October. By 6th of November, the area was captured by the Allies, gaining around 900 metres, but the conditions meant it had come at great cost for both sides.

Once America joined the war, the defeat of the Germans was hastened and the last shell fell on Ypres on 14th October 1918. In and around Ypres - in areas including Hill 60, Passchendaele and Sanctuary Woods - more than 1.7 million soldiers from both sides were killed or wounded, along with an uncountable number of civilians.

MLA Citation/Reference

"The Battle of Ypres". HistoryLearning.com. 2019. Web.