Second Battle Of Ypres

While the sideshow at Gallipoli was developing, the Germans on the Western Front attempted to relieve some of the pressure that they were under by reducing the Entente salient at Ypres. This particularly vulnerable area of the front was a kink in the line in which the defending British and French troops were surrounded on three sides.

A new weapon was about to be deployed. In a massive effort, the Germans hauled over five thousand cylinders of chlorine, weighing ninety pounds each, to the front by hand. The art of chemical warfare was not yet well developed, and so the soldiers had to open the cylinders by hand as well, relying on the wind to transport the deadly payload towards the enemy - needless to say many German soldiers became gas casualties themselves in so doing.

The gas proved to be an effective surprise. Heavier than air, the chlorine sank into the trenches of a French Senegalese formation, killing six thousand in ten minutes and forcing the troops to emerge from their trenches into heavy fire. A four mile gap opened up in the line as the Senegalese fled en masse - but the Germans, not expecting the gas to be so effective, had no reserves on hand to exploit the hole, and only tentatively advanced as night fell. The British and Canadians were on hand by then to make a hasty defence. By then the battle had taken on a life of its own, as the Germans attempted to repeat their success. Over the next month there were repeated gas attacks and assaults, which did succeed in shrinking, though not destroying, the Ypres Salient, until the battle ended in mid May, 1915. The Canadians in particular distinguished themselves despite suffering thousands of casualties, presenting a favourable image to their allies, and to the wider world.

The use of gas was not a first in warfare, but did come as a surprise to the Allied forces. They were quick to keep up with the technology however - the British would launch their first gas attack four months later. Gas protection measures were hastily developed, with the first gas masks issued to the troops in July.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 License.