Saturday, November 22, 2014
First Battle of the Ypres: Oct 19 – Nov 22
When WWI first broke out, many thought that it would be a fast war that would be over by Christmas. Armies happily marched to war. Hindsight of the event would reveal a war that would last 4 years and kill millions of people.
The first major battle was what came to be known as the First Battle of Ypres (yes, there was more than one Battle of Ypres). Starting October 19th and ending on November 22, this battle lasted over a month, and both the German and British strategies are unclear. The accepted reasoning for the battle was the British desire to secure the English Channel ports and their supply lines. The French strategy was to prevent German forces from outflanking the Allied front from the north.
Ypres was the last major German option after their defeats at the First Battle of the Aisne (September 1914) and First Battle of the Marne (September 1914). The Battle of Ypres became the culmination of the Race to the Sea.
After four months of heavy fighting and casualties (750,000 German and 995,000 French), the German and Allied armies attempted a breakthrough operation to win a decisive victory. Ypres was strategically vital. It was the last geographical object protecting Calais and Bologne-sur-Mer, and the loss of these ports would have denied the Allies the shortest supply route. For Germany, Ypres was also strategically important; the collapse of its Ypres front would allow the Allied armies access to the flat terrain of Flanders.
I found it interesting to learn that at Ypres the British army provided the smallest number of men. Instead of providing forces, they saw their role similar to the Napoleonic wars: maintaining their dominance of the seas and providing financial support.
This battle was made up of several smaller battles. Being hugely complex, I’m only going to summarize the conclusion. The German Army, though the best in the world, was unable to gain a decisive victory. On both sides, the commanders struggled to come to terms with the power of modern weaponry and adapting their techniques. The battle also marked the superiority of the defensive strategy over the offensive strategy. In fact, it wouldn’t be until the Hundred Days Offensive in 1918 when the Allies would no longer take the defensive position.
Ultimately, at the end of the battle both sides were at a stalemate, where they would continue until 1918. This battle brought both armies to the end of the line, the ocean where they could no longer attempt to outflank one another.
As I said, there were several battles at Ypres, and the next will be very influential as well.