Slide show remembering those lost at the first battle of Ypres 1914
First Battle of Ypres
The First Battle of Ypres (19 October – 22 November) was a First World War battle fought around Ypres, in western Belgium during October and November 1914. The battle took place as part of the First Battle of Flanders (French: Première Bataille des Flandres German: Erste Flandernschlacht), in which German, French, Belgian and British armies fought from Arras in France to Nieuport on the Belgian coast, from 10 October to mid-November. The battles at Ypres began at the end of the Race to the Sea which involved attempts by the German and Franco-British armies to advance past the northern flank of their opponents. North of Ypres the fighting continued in the Battle of the Yser (16–31 October), fought between the German 4th Army and a largely Belgian force.
The fighting has been divided into five stages, an encounter battle from 19–21 October, the Battle of Langemarck from 21–24 October, the battles at La Bassée and Armentières to 2 November, coincident with more Allied attacks at Ypres and the Battle of Gheluvelt (29–31 October), a fourth phase with the last big German offensive which culminated at the Battle of Nonne Bosschen on 11 November then local operations, which faded out in late November. J. E. Edmonds, the British Official Historian, wrote that the II Corps battle at La Bassée could be taken as separate but that the battles from Armentières to Messines and Ypres, were better understood as a battle in two parts, an offensive by III Corps and the Cavalry Corps from 12–18 October), against which the Germans retired and an offensive by the German 6th and 4th armies from (19 October – 2 November), which from 30 October took place mainly north of the Lys, when the battles of Armentières and Messines merged with the Battles of Ypres.[a]
Attacks by the BEF, Belgians and a new French Eighth Army in Belgium made little progress beyond Ypres and then the German 4th and 6th armies took small amounts of ground at great cost to both sides, during the Battle of the Yser (16–31 October) and further south at Ypres. Falkenhayn then tried a limited offensive to capture Ypres and Mount Kemmel, from (19 October – 22 November). Neither side had moved forces to Flanders fast enough to obtain a decisive victory and by November, both were exhausted, short of ammunition and suffering from collapses in morale; some infantry units refused orders. The autumn battles in Flanders had quickly become static, attritional operations, unlike the battles of manoeuvre in the summer. French, British and Belgian troops in improvised field defences, repulsed German attacks for four weeks. From 21–23 October, German reservists had made mass attacks at Langemarck, with losses of up to 70 percent to little effect.
Warfare between mass armies, equipped with the weapons of the Industrial Revolution and its later developments, proved to be indecisive, because field fortifications neutralised many classes of offensive weapon. The defensive use of artillery and machine-guns had dominated the battlefield and the ability of the armies to supply themselves and replace casualties, prolonged battles for weeks. The German armies engaged 34 divisions in the Flanders battles, the French twelve, the British nine and the Belgians six, along with marines and dismounted cavalry. Falkenhayn reconsidered German strategy over the winter, because Vernichtungsstrategie and a dictated peace against France and Russia had been shown to be beyond German resources. Falkenhayn intended to detach Russia or France from the Allied coalition, by diplomatic as well as military action. A strategy of attrition (Ermattungsstrategie), would make the cost of the war too great, until one enemy negotiated an end to the war. The remaining belligerents would have to negotiate or face the German army concentrated on the remaining front, which would be sufficient to obtain a decisive victory.
For other Battles of Ypres, see Battle of Ypres.