Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Flooding of the Ijzer Plain

Flooding near Yser, 1916

My WWI tour was really wonderful. I had the fortune to see things up close and personal, in addition to learning some new information. Our second stop on the tour was what has been dubbed “The Trench of Death.” This area is part of the Ijzer Plain, and it’s a preserved line of defense for the Germans. On October 19, 1914 the area was flooded to stop the German advances.

Time for some background on this event. Allow me to pull out the nifty handout I was given and I in turn insisted on bringing back with me.

In October the Belgian Army and the German Army were in a stand off over the Ijzer Plain. The Commander-in-Chief of the Belgian armies, King Albert I, calls on his men to preserve some land for Belgium against the German invaders. So the land was passed back and forth between the two sides.

What’s important to note at this point is the geography of the region: the land in this area is only a few meters above sea level. As my tour guide explained it, the Germans didn’t have great maps with them and they thought the region was actually several more meters above sea level than it was.

On October 16, 1914 the area was partially flooded to make sure the strategy would work. On October 19, 1914 the canals from the Yser River were opened and the area was fully flooded, restricting the German movement and effectively stopping their progress to the sea. The fighting switched from a war of movement to true trench warfare. The region remained swampy for the remainder of the war.

Now at the top of this blog I mentioned “The Trench of Death” and I thought (mistakenly) that this area was preserved because of the flooding that happened in October 1914. Well, as I continue to refer to my handy flyer, I realize that the Trench of Death is completely separate. So for that reason I’m planning to wait to post about it.

So now the meat of this short blog: why does this battle matter and why is it important? This small victory allowed the Belgians to remain control of a sliver of land and made King Albert a Belgian national hero. For us today, I think this victory is important to remember and know about. I certainly hadn’t learned about it before my trip and keeping the Germans from reaching all the way to the sea certainly helps give the Allie troops some advantage during this early stage of the war.

Happy History!

My image looking out of the Trench of Death. Notice how close the river is, and imagine how easily this area could become flooded.

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