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Webmatters : Battle of Aubers Ridge May 1915
Rough Map of Area

Aubers Ridge

Haig’s Plan

Although a date for the combined Franco-British offensive had yet to be set, General Sir Douglas Haig commanding the British First Army began organising his troops in April.

The original plan put forth by Field Marshal Sir John French had been for an assault to the south of Neuve Chapelle towards La Bassée, but General Haig had come to the decision that an additional attack to the north of Neuve Chapelle would pincer out a considerable part of the German line.

The attack would therefore be aimed at the ridge running through Aubers. The word ridge conjures a vision of something that can easily be seen, Vimy rises to 145 metres, Notre Dame de Lorette is even higher. Aubers however is in French Flanders. The word means the flooded ground.

The land is flat and the ridge has an altitude of a mere 20 metres. With trees and houses cluttering the countryside the modern visitor could be forgiven for not even realising that the ground goes up at all. Sitting on the top of this blip on the landscape the Germans were offered a handsome advantage in view over their enemy’s lines.

 

The attacking forces

South of Neuve Chapelle the Indian Corps took over part of the line held by I Corps which used its own 47th (London) Division on the right of its line towards the canal at Cuinchy. This re-shuffling of units allowed the 1st Division to concentrate over a width of just over a kilometre with the 2nd Division immediately in reserve.

To the left (and north) of 1st Division, the Indian Corps had its Meerut Division covering 750 metres in the assault zone and the remainder of its line held by the Lahore Division.

Looking towards Fromelles

Looking towards Fromelles – the ridge is little more than a slight rise

North of Neuve Chapelle the IV Corps also reorganised its front to allow the 8th Division to concentrate on a width of 1400 metres astride the road between Sailly sur la Lys and Fromelles. Behind and in reserve was the greater part of the 7th Division.

All three Corps would assault the German lines and the attack would then be pressed home to the Aubers Ridge – 3 kilometres away. I Corps and the Indian Corps would attack the German line on a front of about 2 kilometres between Chocolat Menier Corner (so called because of an advertising hoarding) at Richebourg and the outskirts of Neuve Chapelle. IV Corps would advance on its 1400 metre front towards the area known as Rouge Bancs just short of the village of Fromelles.

The objective of these two assaults (separated by 6 kilometres) was to pincer out the dozen or so German battalions holding the intermediate ground. Having achieved this, the second phase of the operation was to continue the advance to the far side of the La Bassée to Lille Road.

To achieve any of this one thing was vitally important: that the artillery could demolish the German defences.

At Neuve Chapelle a surprise had been gained by having a short preliminary bombardment and this was considered to be the best method for the coming battle. A bombardment of forty minutes was nigh on all that the artillery could provide in any case. Shells were at a premium, and shells which exploded when they were supposed to were becoming all the more rare.