Battle of St Julien, 24 April – 4 May 1915
Impelled by the momentum of unexpected success, German attacks on the much reduced northern sector of the Salient were renewed in the early morning of 24 April. Following an intense bombardment and the release of cloud gas on the exposed apex of the readjusted Allied line, Canadian and British forces withstood repeated enemy assaults on their positions. The defenders, with only the most makeshift protection against the gas, were steadily driven back and by the afternoon the Germans were past St Julien.
The pattern of fighting established in the previous two days was repeated. A whole series of desperate British counter-attacks, notionally in conjunction with delayed and often ineffective French support sought to dislodge the Germans from their newly won ground. This list of tragic actions included 10th Brigade's attack on Sunday 25 April and two major attacks by the Lahore Division (the first supported by 149th Brigade) on 26 and 27 April. The costly failures of ensuing British counter-attacks moved General Smith-Dorrien to recommend a withdrawal to a more tenable line.
Ever sensitive to criticism, Sir John French replaced Smith-Dorrien and appointed General Plumer as overall commander of British troops in the Salient. Plumer saw the logic of a better defensive line though a move back was postponed following Foch’s plea to Sir John French on 28 April not to give ground. The failure of a French counter-attack eastward from the Yser canal-line on 1 May finally convinced the British of the necessity of falling back. Amidst continuing German pressure, including another gas attack on 2 May, the remaining battle-weary British forces were withdrawn from forward positions to take up new defensive lines to the east of Ypres by 3/4 May.
Campaign map Army structure Terminology