Ypres, First Battle of 1914
Ypres, First Battle of (1914)
an offensive operation of World War I, carried out by the German Fourth Army and the right wing of the Sixth Army against the Belgian and British armies and the French army group of General A. Dubail (later the French Eighth Army). The battle took place between October 20 and November 15.
By October 20, the German command had concentrated 17 infantry and eight cavalry divisions in a 70-km sector extending from Nieuport (Nieuwpoort) to La Bassée. This force delivered its main strike near the city of Ypres; a secondary attack was launched along the Yser River, with the objective of capturing the ports of Dunkerque and Calais, thereby disrupting the flow of supplies to the British expeditionary force. The Allied forces comprised 15½ infantry and 11 cavalry divisions.
The German offensive in the Ypres area, which began on October 20, was not successful. On the secondary axis, German forces broke through the Belgian defense between October 22 and 24, forced the Yser River, and captured a considerable portion of its left bank. On October 25 the Belgian command, lacking the necessary forces for a defense, decided to open the sluices of the river and flood the low-lying left bank of the Yser, after evacuating its own troops. By October 31, the sector between Dixmude (Diksmuide) and the sea, an area 12 km by 5 km, was flooded; on November 2 combat along the Yser ground to a halt, except for a minor conflict over Dixmude, which fell to the Germans on November 10.
The German command shifted its offensive to the area southeast of Ypres, bringing in General M. Fabeck’s newly created main attack force of 7½ infantry and two cavalry divisions and nearly 70 heavy artillery battalions. This force was positioned between the flanks of the Fourth and Sixth armies, in the Wervik-Delemont sector. On October 30, Fabeck’s troops went on the offensive and, after throwing back the British, slowly advanced toward Ypres. The British, supported by the French Eighth Army, established a new defensive front 5 km southeast of Ypres, which halted the German offensive by November 3.
The German offensive was hampered by rain and fog, the swampy terrain, and widespread illness, which resulted in heavy losses. Local fighting continued until November 15, but the German command remained unable to break through the Allied front, even though nearly 30 infantry divisions had been directed against the Allies’ 29 divisions.
The first battle of Ypres culminated in the Race to the Sea, which ended the period of maneuvering in the Western European theater. A continuous positional front was now established from the English Channel to the Swiss border.