Webmatters Title
Webmatters : The Second Battle of Ypres April 1915
Rough Map of Area

Ypres 1915

General Smith-Dorrien sacked

The French overall commander of the area was Général Ferdinand Foch (later to become supreme commander in 1918). Throughout the battle he kept pressing on his subordinate Général Putz the importance of attempting counter attacks, but with insufficient artillery support, none, of what seemed to be a number of half hearted attempts, came to anything much.

His counterpart, General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien came to realise that unless the French made some sort of real effort at their end of the line to push the Germans back and away from the canal there was little that his men could do, apart from contain them in front of Ieper.

With a new French offensive about to take place in Artois in which General Haig’s 1st Army would be taking part, neither Général Joseph Joffre or the BEF’s Commander in Chief, Sir John French wanted to commit more reserves in men, and certainly no more artillery rounds, than were deemed vital.

On 27th April 1915 following a lack of any great movement by the French and the high rate of casualties amongst the British in assisting a number of French no shows, Smith-Dorrien wrote a letter to his GOC.

He explains the general situation and the good work that had been done by the British in maintaining and holding the Germans back from the breach caused by the French retreat.

Then he starts to look at the stark realities of holding an extended position which was too easily open to attack, in particular if the French continued to give ground to his west at Lizerne.

If the French are not going to make a big push, the only line we can hold permanently and have a fair chance of keeping supplied, would be the GHQ line passing just east of Wieltje and Potijze…

…although I am preparing for the worst, I do not think that we have arrived at the time when it is necessary to adopt these measures.

There had always been a lot of animosity between Smith-Dorrien and his Commander in Chief (who had never wanted him in his army) and the letter gave Sir John an opening in effect to be simply vindictive.

That afternoon Smith-Dorrien received an open order (In other words everyone could read it) stating that he was to hand over the operations around Ieper to General Plumer.

All but the first thing that Plumer was tasked to carry out was to look at plans for moving to a better line of defence – in effect what Smith-Dorrien had been saying.

Général Foch was now forced to admit that because of the plans for the Artois offensive there would be no further French reinforcements and Plumer ended up having to retire anyway. By the 3rd May the British had taken up their new positions.

The Germans however had one more push in them.