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

Ypres 1915

Bellewaarde Ridge

8th May 1915

Following the gas attacks and subsequent fighting on the French and Canadian fronts at the end of April 1915, the newly appointed commander of the British 2nd Army, General Plumer ordered a withdrawal on the right hand sector of the Ypres salient over the night of the 3/4th May.

The PPCLI Bench

Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry’s memorial bench

This movement positioned the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry on the Bellewaarde Ridge 500 metres north-east of Hooge. The 28th Division were on their left arcing round the Frezenberg Ridge to the north of Wieltje and on to Mouse Trap Farm (Near Buffs Road Cemetery).

The battles for Gravenstafel over the preceding weeks had greatly reduced the Allied position and today it is possible to drive from one side at Hooge to the other at St Jan within a matter of minutes.

By the beginning of May 1915 the salient was in serious danger of being pinched out if the Germans made a determined effort to encircle the beleaguered position.

An important preliminary attack by the Germans to take Hill 60 (to the south at Zillebeke) on the 1st May proved to be the first defeat of a gas attack, but a subsequent assault on the 5th May succeeded in reconquering the mound.

Finally the big push came on the 8th May when three German Corps assaulted the areas of Mouse Trap Farm, Frezenberg and Bellewaarde.

Outnumbering the defenders by three to one the German’s third assault on the Frezenberg Ridge proved decisive and a hole was punched into the 28th Division’s line. Having reached Verlorenhoek they called a halt to their advance and began widening the breach to the north and south moving along the British trenches.

To the south and on the extreme left of the neighbouring 27th Division the PPCLI were holding a key position supported by the 4th Bn King’s Royal Rifle Corps.

The blanket of fire put down on their positions was so intense that the Canadians’ front line was dreadfully battered. Casualties were so extreme that Major Hamilton Gault was forced to call up the cooks and batmen to man the line. Two of their machine guns were out of action and although their steadiness met the German assault at 0900 hours with accurate fire, the right of the line began to give.

Falling back to the crest of the ridge the Canadians, with a company of the 4th Rifle Brigade, withstood everything that the Germans threw at them for the rest of the day. No further ground was given.

Aid was not long in arriving and a few kilometres to their north a gallant stand by the 2nd Bn Northumberland Fusiliers near Mouse Trap Farm stopped any further encroachment into the northern sector of the line.

For the next few days the remnants of the PPCLI and 4th KRRC held the line.

 

The end of the Battle

The 2nd Battle of Ypres was all but over. On the 24th May a widespread gas attack by the Germans on the British sector gained them Mouse Trap Farm and the Bellewaarde Ridge. The following day the 2nd Battle of Ypres was officially closed.

The Ypres Salient was now a lot closer to the town, but the Allies had hung on. The outcome of the 2nd Battle of Ypres was a little like that of the first. Without realising it the Germans had been outside Ieper with its doors wide open and a good possibility of breaking the Allied line.

For the next two years the two sides’ positions would change very little. It would all begin again on the 7th June 1917 when the largest mining operation yet undertaken would literally blow the Germans off the Messines Ridge heralding the beginning of the 3rd Battle of Ypres.

By then the British would also have experimented in gas warfare at Loos in September 1915.

Despite the protestations of barbarity — German observers were quite correct when they replied that it would not be long before the British and French replied in kind.

With the prevailing winds generally in their favour on the Western Front the British would make full use of a weapon now deemed: normal.