Origins of the Salient
Ypres as a battleground: September - October 1914
The reckless German gamble to secure a quick and decisive defeat of France at the outset of war ended in failure at the Battle of the Marne in September 1914. Forced to retreat, German forces dug in on the line of the River Aisne where French and British attacks were unable to breach well sited defences and fighting approached deadlock. Seeking to regain the initiative French and German forces made progressive moves northward in vain attempts to outflank and envelop each others' armies. Repeated failures to outflank ensured the gradual extension of opposing trench lines as combatants sought cover from machine-gun and artillery fire.
In early October the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) relocated from the cramped stalemate on the Aisne to Flanders, on the extreme left of the Allied line, and was encouraged to make offensive movements within the sector La Bassée north to Ypres. These aggressive probings coincided with simultaneous German moves westward and a series of confusing encounter battles ensued in which the larger forces deployed by the Germans forced British withdrawals to an extended and thinly held line. Following the failure of German attempts in the north to force the Allied line along the coast strong German forces were concentrated against Ypres in a search for a breakthrough to the Channel ports. It was during the relentless attacks on Ypres and its outlying villages between 19 October and 22 November 1914 that the famous ‘Salient’ was created.
First occupied by units of the 3rd Cavalry Division on 13 October 1914, British troops were to remain in possession of the town for the duration of the war; in the process Ypres itself took on a powerful symbolic importance, embodying in its tragic destruction, the virtues of gallantry, endurance and individual sacrifice.
ON TO FIRST YPRES
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