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Webmatters : The First Battle of Ypres: Zandvoorde 30th October 1914

Ypres 1914

Zandvoorde

30th October 1914

During the night of the 29th/30th October 1914 the Germans reorganised themselves replacing the 6 Bavarian Reserve Division in the front line and bringing up their heavy artillery (260 heavy pieces that the British could not match; or the French come to that).

The British still had no idea that a new army under General Max von Fabeck had been ranged against them and although noise of transport had been heard through the night, many commanders thought that, following their own steadfast stand during the 29th, that the Germans were retiring.

Reality was quite different and the German order of the day read :

“The breakthrough will be of decisive importance. We must and will conquer, settle for ever the centuries-long struggle, end the war and strike the decisive blow against our most detested enemy. We will finish the British, Indians, Canadians, Moroccans and other trash, feeble adversaries, who surrender in great numbers if they are attacked with vigour.”

Indian troops were fighting at Hollebeke, but the first Canadians to arrive in France — Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry — would not reach the Continent until 21st December.

In theory the most detested enemy ought to have been the French against whom Germans had fought many a war and were considered far more dangerous. The British shared royal ties and a military partnership with Germany that stretched back to Marlborough and Wellington — invariably against the French.


Household Cavalry Memorial at Zandvoorde
Household Cavalry Memorial at Zandvoorde

At 0600 hours on the 30th October the Germans began bombarding the junction between the British and the French near Broodseinde. For the next three hours the 1st Bn KRRC, 2nd Bn South Staffordshire Regiment and the French 135e Régiment d’Infanterie held the line. The German infantry rarely getting even as far as the little barbed wire that was available.

If this had been intended as a diversion to draw reserves away from von Fabeck’s troops facing Geluveld it failed.

At about 0700 hours Fabeck’s heavy artillery opened up on the trenches in front of Zandvoorde. These were held by the 1st and 2nd Life Guards of the 7th Cavalry Brigade. Situated on the forward slopes of the hill the makeshift trenches were soon devastated and although the four hundred or so defenders hung on for an hour they were quickly overwhelmed when the Germans launched their infantry assault with over a Division of men.

Orders for retirement were given but it was too late and a squadron of each Life Guard Regiment as well as the Royal Horse Guards machine guns were cut off and killed or captured.

As the 7th Cavalry Brigade pulled back to a line in front of Klein Zillebeke, the Germans very warily took possession of Zandvoorde. It would remain in German hands until the last months of the war.

Although reinforcements were brought up to steady the new position, nothing could be done to assist the 1st Bn Royal Welch Fusiliers who were the right flank unit of 7th Division. Like the troopers of the Household Cavalry, they were in trenches fully exposed to the bombardment and worse, the only way to retire was over open ground.


Memorial to the Royal Welch Fusiliers
The RWF Memorial at Zandvoorde

Once Zandvoorde had fallen their own flank became exposed and the Germans managed to infiltrate a farm right behind them. Raked by close range shrapnel shells the battalion fought on until they too were overwhelmed. Lt Colonel Henry Cadogan was killed with almost a hundred of his men, fifty-four were taken prisoner leaving just eighty-six unwounded men at roll call that evening.

Fortunately the 2nd Bn Royal Scots Fusiliers and 2nd Bn Green Howards had just enough time to form a defensive party on their flank which gave reserves enough time to shore up the gap that had formed in the line.

Despite efforts using the reinforcements to recover some of the lost ground the weight of the German numbers told against the defenders and the position of the Scots and Green Howards became ever more perilous, as they were now situated at the apex of a triangle that jutted out towards the Germans.

The situation was untenable and early in the afternoon orders were sent out to both battalions to pull back about a kilometre to a new line behind Zandvoorde. Although suffering heavy losses, they had gained such a mastery over their area of the battlefield that when they did pull back the Germans showed no inclination to chase them.

 

Hollebeke

As the battle for Zandvoorde began to calm, following its capture, the Germans looked towards Hollebeke, the next village to the south on the British line.

Just after noon the German artillery turned its attention on the 3rd Cavalry Brigade’s trenches defending the village and proceeded to pummel them as it had those of the Household Cavalry earlier in the day.

Once again the cavalrymen were forced to retire and this time as there was no reserve line they had to simply take whatever cover they could find as the II Bavarian Corps launched its infantry assault.

The cavalry assisted by two battalions of the Indian Corps (57th Rifles and 129th Baluchis) were forced back to a new position in-line with the 3rd Cavalry Brigade on their left, creating a curve running in front of Klein Zillebeke, Sint Elooi and Oostaverne.

Further south, despite a heavy assault by Württemberg regiments, the British line at Messines and Wijtschate held.

Fortunately for the Allies the Germans failed to press their attacks with the same ardour as the nigh untrained Student reserves had done earlier in the month. Certainly German losses had been extremely high as well but they had the advantage in numbers — or at least that is what we know now. At the time the Germans may well have thought that the British should have been able to mobilise its own Territorial Reserves and have them on the battlefield.

In August 1914 the French had blundered into massive German formations refusing to believe that Germany could have already put its reserves onto the battlefield (because the French couldn’t). Now, a few months later the Germans were wary of being sucked into a bloody situation because they feared the ability of the British to deploy its reserves (because Germany could do just that).