Second Battle of Ypres

From Academic Kids

Battle before: First Battle of Ypres
Battle after:
Second Battle of Ypres
ConflictWorld War I
DateApril 22 - May 25, 1915
PlaceYpres, Belgium
France, Britain/Canada Germany
Gen. Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien Duke Albrecht of Württemberg
Britain,Canada,India 6 infantry div.
France 2 infantry div.
Germany 7 infantry div.
Britain,Canada,India 58,000
France 10,000
Germany 35,000

The Second Battle of Ypres was the first time Germany used chemical weapons on a large scale on the Western Front in World War I and the first time a colonial force (Canadians) forced back a major European power (Germans) on European soil.

The Second Battle of Ypres consisted of four separate battles:

  • The Battle of Gravenstafel - 22 to 23 April 1915
  • The Battle of St Julien - 24 April to 4 May 1915
  • The Battle of Frezenburg - 8 to 13 May 1915
  • The Battle of Bellewaarde - 24 to 25 May 1915

168 tons of chlorine gas were released on 22 April over a four mile front. Around 5,000 troops died within ten minutes by asphyxiation. The gas affected the lungs and the eyes causing respiration problems and blindness. Being denser than air it flowed downwards forcing the troops to climb out of trenches.

Initially French Colonial and Algerian troops were attacked with gas. They died there or abandoned their positions, leaving a 4 mile gap in the front line. However, the German High Command had not foreseen the effectiveness of their new weapon, and so had not sent any reinforcements to the area. German forces were unable to take advantage of this gap, and the 1st Canadian Division reinforced the gap and held that part of the line against further gas attacks until 3 May.

The winds were blowing in favour of the Germans; this meant that anything short of a full retreat would leave Allied forces in contaminated areas. The Canadians, initially held in reserve, realized the only place with fresh air would be near the German lines, as the winds would blow the gas away from there, (following the basic principles of gas warfare: infantry can only quickly occupy clean areas; therefore, the occupied areas would have to be uncontaminated.) The Canadians fought through using urine-soaked handkerchiefs as primitive gas masks, (for the ammonia in the urine would react with the chlorine, neutralizing it and allowing the soldiers to breathe.) Although the battle was considered a stalemate, the act of reestablishing the front lines in such harsh conditions earned the respective Canadian regiments some of the highest battle honors ever awarded. In addition, this was the first time colonial forces (Canadian Expeditionary Force, CEF) forced back a major European power (the Germans) on European soil. This occurred in the battle of St. Juliaan-Kitchener's Wood.

The Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary's) (C Scot R) 16th Battalion CEF received a distinctive shoulder flash for their actions in St. Juliaan-Kitchener's Woods. The shoulder title consists of a brass acorn in an oak leaf over a red felt backing with the name Canadian Scottish (the typical shoulder flash is strictly limited to the unit's name in brass.) The acorn and oak leaf are based on the heavy oak forests of Kitchener's Wood, a very difficult environment to fight through under ordinary conditions.

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