Second Battle of Ypres, 1915
The Salient that formed around the town was held by British and Commonwealth troops during the next four years of war. In that time Ypres was to witness the first use of gas in warfare at the beginning of the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915 and the first use of flame-throwers at Hooge.
Canadian Battles in the Ypres Salient
- Ypres 1915, April 22-May 5
- Gravenstafel, Apr. 22-23
- Kitchener's Wood, Apr. 22-23
- Vancouver Corner, Apr. 23-24
- St Julien, Apr. 24-May 4
- Hill 60 Counterattack, May 4
- Frezenberg, May 8-13
- Bellewaarde, May 24-25
- Festubert 1915, May 15-25
- Givenchy 1915, June 15-16
- Hooge 1915, July 19, 30, Aug. 9
The Ypres Salient before and after the Second Battle of Ypres, April 22 - May 13, 1915.
In the first week of April 1915 the Canadian troops were moved from their quiet sector to a bulge in the Allied line in front of the City of Ypres. This was the famed - or notorious - Ypres Salient, where the British and allied line pushed into the German line in a concave bend. The Germans held the higher ground and were able to fire into the allied trenches from the north, the south and the east. On the Canadian right were two British divisions, and on their left a French division, the 45th (Algerian).
Here on April 22 the Germans sought to remove the Salient by introducing a new weapon, poison gas. Following an intensive artillery bombardment, they released 160 tons of chlorine gas from cylinders dug into the forward edge of their trenches into a light northeast wind. As thick clouds of yellow-green chlorine drifted over their trenches the French defences crumbled, and the troops, completely bemused by this terrible weapon, died or broke and fled, leaving a gaping four-mile hole in the Allied line.
German troops pressed forward, threatening to sweep behind the Canadian trenches and put fifty thousand Canadian and British troops in deadly jeopardy. Fortunately the Germans had planned only a limited offensive and, without adequate reserves, were unable to exploit the gap the gas created. In any case their own troops, themselves without any adequate protection against gas, were highly suspicious of the new weapon. After advancing only two miles they stopped and dug in.
All through the night the Canadian troops fought to close the gap. In addition they mounted a counter-attack to drive the enemy out of Kitcheners' Wood, an oak plantation near St. Julien. In the morning two more disastrous attacks were made against enemy positions. Little ground was gained and casualties were extremely heavy, but these attacks bought some precious time to close the flank.
The Battle of St. Julien
Chlorine Gas attack on the Canadian Line
The grimmer battle of St. Julien lay ahead. On April 24 the Germans attacked in an attempt to obliterate the Salient once and for all. Another violent bombardment was followed by another gas attack in the same pattern as before. This time the target was the Canadian line. Here, through terrible fighting, withered with shrapnel and machine-gun fire, hampered by their issued Ross rifles which jammed, violently sick and gasping for air through soaked and muddy handkerchiefs, they held on until reinforcements arrived.
Thus, in their first major appearance on a European battlefield, the Canadians established a reputation as a formidable fighting force. Congratulatory messages were cabled to the Canadian Prime Minister.
- 6,035 Canadian Casualties
- 2,000 Canadians Dead
Heavy losses from Canada's little force whose men had been civilians only several months before with no idea of fighting in a war - a grim forerunner of what was still to come.
John MacRae at Ypres
During the second battle of Ypres, the Canadian Army surgeon John McCrae wrote "In Flanders Fields" near here in 1915. The site of an Advanced Dressing Station, the surgeons' dug-outs can still be seen next to the cemetery.
In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
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