The Second Battle of Ypres, an overview, 22 April - 25 May 1915
In early April 1915, following the northward extension of their lines, British troops returned to the Ypres Salient. The arrival of units of General Smith-Dorrien’s Second Army coincided with German plans to seize the high ground around Pilckem and Langemarck, which involved, notoriously, the use of poison gas.
In the late afternoon of 22 April a strong German thrust was made against the north of the Salient. This attack was supported by the discharge of chlorine gas in the direction of trenches between Langemarck and the Yser canal, manned by the two remaining French Divisions in the Ypres sector. The alarmed and helpless defenders retreated, leaving a gap of over four miles on the left flank of the nearest British forces – the Canadian Division. During the night Canadian units improvised a series of scattered outposts across the breach and secured a defensive line. Numerous counter-attacks the following day held off further German advances. A renewed German assault at dawn on 24 April, again using gas, against the Canadians was temporarily held, but the attackers surged on beyond St Julien by afternoon. The critical days following saw relentless British counter-attacks in deference to French requests to regain lost ground. The futility of such operations was eventually acknowledged and between 1 and 3 May British forces withdrew to a new line – barely three miles from Ypres. Heavy fighting continued: on 8 May the Germans seized ground on the Frezenberg Ridge, where desperate actions continued to 13 May. 24 May witnessed the largest German gas attack which, despite resolute British defence, secured ground either side of Bellewaarde Lake.
Thirty-three days of incessant fighting saw no decisive German breakthrough, though the British were left holding a much-reduced Salient even more vulnerable to German artillery bombardment.
Campaign map Army structure Terminology