Battle of Cambrai Nov. 20 – Dec. 7, 1917
Basics • WHO? Britain vs. Germany • WHAT? British offensive against Germany • WHEN? Nov./Dec. 1917 • WHERE? Cambrai (France) • WHY? To defend against German advances • HOW? • Tanks! Lots and lots of tanks! (476) • 1000+ guns
Those darn tanks… • Were a surprise to the enemy, but no real advantage was gained • First time tanks were used in significant force (350+ tanks were used) • Initially, tanks were good for element of surprise, but Germans thought that tanks were easily destroyed, and thus, didn’t use tanks until much later • However, they often malfunctioned and were difficult to control
What happened? • British tanks surprised Germans, pushing them back over 3 miles • British forces could not follow up on this initial attack, so Germany regained their ground • Result? Stalemate – no decisive victory
First Battle of Ypres Oct. 19-Nov.22, 1914 Belgium, Britain and France (+others) vs. Germany (+others)
WHY YPRES? (“ee-pray”) Strategically located along the roads leading to the Channel ports in Belgian Flanders, the Belgian city of Ypres had been the scene of numerous battles since the sixteenth century. With the German failure at the Battle of the Marne in September 1914 and the subsequent Allied counter attacks, the “Race to the Sea" began.
What happened? • Germans were advancing into Belgium, pushing the Allied Forces back • Belgium had little choice and decided to open the waterway, flooding the area between the Allies and the Germans • Germany would have a strong attack, but would be met with a strong counter-attack from Allied Forces. • Fighting halted when winter came • In the end, Britain won the area and would defend it through the rest of the war
Second Battle of Ypres April 21-May 25, 1915 France, Britain, Canada vs. Gemany
WHY? • Divert attention from Allies • Test chlorine gas • German army gave up its attempts to take the town, choosing instead to demolish it through constant bombardment
Chlorine Gas • 5,700 canisters containing 168 tons of chlorine gas were released at sunrise on 22 April against French Algerian and territorial division troops • A veil of greenish-yellow mist could be clearly seen rolling across from the German front lines to the French positions • Covering four miles of trench lines, the gas affected some 10,000 troops, half of whom died within ten minutes of the gas reaching the front line. Death was caused by asphyxiation. Those who lived were temporarily blinded and stumbled in confusion, coughing heavily. 2,000 of these troops were captured as prisoners of war.
Quote: • Lance Sergeant Elmer Cotton, described the effects of chlorine gas in 1915. • It produces a flooding of the lungs – it is an equivalent death to drowning only on dry land. The effects are these – a splitting headache and terrific thirst (to drink water is instant death), a knife edge of pain in the lungs and the coughing up of a greenish froth off the stomach and the lungs, ending finally in insensibility and death. The colour of the skin from white turns a greenish black and yellow, the colour protrudes and the eyes assume a glassy stare. It is a fiendish death to die.
Continued warfare… • The Germans released a second batch of chlorine gas two days later, on 24 April, this time directed against Canadian troops situated north-east of Ypres and again prefaced by a sharp artillery bombardment
Continued warfare… • Fighting renewed around Ypres on 8 May and continued until 13 May, and then again from 24-25 May, with repeated use of gas attacks. Still the Allied lines held, although German forces secured additional high ground to the east of the town from 8-12 May.
Results • Losses during the Second Battle of Ypres are estimated at 69,000 Allied troops (59,000 British, 10,000 French), against 35,000 German, the difference in numbers explained by the use of chlorine gas. The Germans' innovative use of gas set the trend for the rest of the war. • Germans were halted – Allies “won” • In Flanders Fields was written
Third Battle of Ypres(Passchendaele) July 31-Nov.6, 1917 Britain, Canada (France) vs. Germany
Germany didn’t attack first! • Haig had long mulled the idea of launching a major offensive in Flanders. It was his preferred choice for 1916, although in the event the Battle of the Somme took precedence that summer.
“Final Great Battle” • Goal: destroy German submarine bases • Why? Rumours that Russia would leave the war meant that if Germany attacked Russia, they would gain a lot of land • It started with artillery bombardment and NO element of surprise, which led Germany to hold off British and French forces
Raining on the Parade • British attempts to renew the offensive over the course of the next few days were severely hampered by the onset of heavy rains, the heaviest in 30 years, which churned the Flanders lowland soil into a thick muddy swamp. • Tanks found themselves immobile, stuck fast in the mud. • Soldiers found their mobility severely limited. • The force of the preliminary bombardment had itself destroyed drainage systems
Baby steps • Small movements forward, rather than expending all efforts at once • The Allied attackers were nearing exhaustion as German reserves released from the Eastern Front were poured into the ridge. • Germans made full use of mustard gas (as opposed to chlorine gas in The Second Battle of Ypres), which resulted in chemical burns.
Results • British and Canadian forces captured Passchendaele ridge