The Second Battle of Ypres was fought in the trenches of the Western Front 100 years ago last month. It was the second of five ‘Battles of Ypres’ throughout the war and consisted of six separate engagements beginning with the surprise German gas attack at the Battle of Gravenstafel Ridge. The other five battles were allied counter-attacks trying to regain the ground lost to the Germans; the Battle of St Julien, the Battle of Frezenberg Ridge, the Battle of Bellewaarde Ridge, the Battle of Hooge and the second Attack on Bellewaarde.
The next few years will see many 100 year commemorative anniversaries relating to the First World War as it slowly ground its way towards the Armistice of November 1918. There will be many articles and documentaries presented through print and TV media, but one of the best ways to follow the historical struggle is via battlefield maps and there are 130 original detailed British trench maps available in 1:10,000 scale of the Ypres Salient using Memory-Map software from the Memory-Map website.
The Second Battle of Ypres marked a few firsts too; the mass use by Germany of poison gas on the Western Front and the first time a former colonial force, the 1st Canadian Division, defeated the force of a European power (Germany) on European soil.
The Ypres salient bulged eastward around the town of Ypres, in Belgium. At around 5pm on 22nd April, the German Army released 168 long tons of chlorine gas over a four mile front, on the part of the line held by French Territorial and colonial Moroccan and Algerian troops. (Poison gas had been used first on the Eastern Front at the Battle of Bolimov in Russia three months earlier, but the gas liquefied in the cold and became inert.)
The 5,730 gas cylinders had been brought to the front manually and were opened by hand, relying on the prevailing winds to carry the gas towards enemy lines. Because of the haphazard method of dispersal, a large number of German soldiers were injured or killed in the process of carrying out the attack. The French troops in the path of the gas cloud suffered almost 6,000 casualties, many of whom died within ten minutes of the attack, with many more blinded. The chlorine gas, being denser than air, quickly filled the trenches, forcing the troops to climb out into heavy enemy fire.
By the end of the battle the salient had been compressed and the town itself was closer to the line. It was repeatedly bombarded with observed artillery-fire and gradually demolished.
You can follow the course of the Battle of Ypres and the Western Front by viewing 130 detailed and original British trench maps of the Ypres Salient available from Memory-Map. With Major & Mrs Holt’s Battle Map of the Ypres Salient you can find the locations of engagements and add your own photos and notes directly onto the maps. You can even compare the locations side by side with modern day maps, making it a highly recommended addition to your travelling kit if you are going on a battlefield tour.