10 March 1915
The Battle of Neuve Chapelle

by Count Charles de Souza

The battle of Neuve Chapelle was an action in which, through a surprise attack. the British reconquered the position which the Germans had occupied in October and powerfully organized in front of the British pivot at La Bassee. This position formed a salient in the British line, and in order to preserve the integrity of that line (in other words to make it stronger), it was necessary to take the village of Neuve Chapelle -- which had been once before attacked unsuccessfully (October 28th). The former attempt had failed because it had been made with inadequate means. This time the operation was carried out by two army corps, the 4th Corps and the Indian Corps, which were swiftly and secretly concentrated on the line Rue d'Enfer-Richebourg St. Vast, their forward movement being covered and supported by the fire of 350 guns, British and French.

The Germans were surprised, outnumbered, outflanked on both sides, and, after a stubborn struggle, they were ousted from the position. The victory was complete and would have been more satisfactory had it been less costly. The British casualties exceeded 2,000 out of 50,000 men engaged on that occasion. This was due to the impetuosity of the new troops and of some officers who misunderstood the object of the attack, advanced too quickly and too far, and thus uselessly exposed their men to the effects of the severe counterblows which the Germans, with their accustomed thoroughness, did not fail to deliver. There also was confusion in the matter of bringing up re-enforcements. The position, however, remained in the possession of the British, although their opponents did all they could to recapture it -- a fact which when contrasted to the previous engagement makes it clear that the enemy was inferior both on the defense and the attack.

The French offensive in Champagne, which synchronized with the battle of Neuve Chapelle, was a more lengthy and methodical affair; it had also a totally different object. It started at the beginning of February and reached its climax at the date of Neuve Chapelle; it was carried out ostensibly to relieve the "pressure" exercised at the time by the Germans on the Russians in East Prussia and Suwalki; and for that reason it may be characterized as the first attempt at a coordination of movements between the two fronts. Locally it yielded good results; it displayed once more the offensive qualities of the French troops and gave them good practice in the newly adopted methods of artillery preparation and the combination of infantry and artillery assaults on a large scale; but its primary object was not attained, simply because it was sought on a wrong assumption. Hindenburg's contemporaneous move in East Prussia was a false one, meant mainly to distract the attention of the Russians from another sector of their front.

It was part of the enemy's plan to exaggerate the number of their forces in that quarter, and they succeeded so far as to lead the Allies to believe that strong German units were being withdrawn from the Western front. It was computed in many quarters that Hindenburg had fifteen army corps with him in East Prussia, whereas he could not have had more than a third of that number.

Nevertheless, General d'Esperey's movement in Champagne was brilliant. The artillery bombardment was heavy and effective. Strong hostile positions were stormed between Souain, Perthe and Beausejour, and the French made many captures, the Germans admitting in their communiques that their losses in that part of France were greater than those they had suffered in East Prussia, which were computed by themselves at 15,000.

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Last Updated: April 16, 1996.

Created: 21 April 1996, 10:39:57 Last Updated: 21 April 1996, 10:39:57