The First Battle of Ypres 1914, an overview, 19 October - 22 November 1914
'First Ypres' represented the last attempt by Allied and German forces to outflank each other and force a decisive breakthrough on the Western Front in 1914. Simultaneous advances met 'head on' and a series of bitterly contested actions followed in which superior German numbers forced the Allies into the fiercest of defensive battles. The fighting (in which French support was vital to British resistance) was widespread, desperate and continuous but three critical phases of action defined its progress.
Between 21 and 24 October, whilst the British 7th Division held off repeated German assaults to the east of Ypres, British I Corps to the north-east collided with strong advancing concentrations of German troops around Langemarck. A series of determined defensive actions, in which British rifle fire wreaked havoc against repeated German mass infantry attacks, prevented an enemy breakthrough. The German offensive faltered and on the evening of 24 October preparations were made for a separate great assault on Ypres further south. This new attack between Gheluvelt and Messines, began on 29 October, culminating in a crucial action on the 31st, when the British line was broken. The initiative of local commanders and a bold attack by the 2nd Worcesters restored the situation. A third major German assault on Ypres took place on 11 November when the Prussian Guard Division advanced along the Menin Road. This potentially decisive attack was checked by British field artillery and a hastily improvised rearguard force.
Fighting along the entire front continued but in deteriorating weather conditions further German offensives were called off. The German drive to the Channel ports had failed and the Allies now held a deep salient overlooked by enemy lines. The cost in casualties of the fighting had been enormous.
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