Corporal Hitler and the Great War 1914-1918: The List Regiment

By John F. Williams | Go to book overview
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4

WEST FLANDERS 1914

Impossible they say? - Nothing is impossible! We are soldiers and must be able to die!…

- 54th Reserve Division Goc, 30 October 1914 1

The English are already surrounded on three sides; we'll now close off the fourth, and with that the war will be over!

- Major Herrgott, 6th BRD Staff, 30 October 1914 2

Since it lasted a month, the battle (or more properly 'campaign') known to the British as First Ypres and to the Germans, misleadingly and for publicity reasons, as Langemarck seems more like a logical, if scaled-down, forerunner of the great attritional Western Front campaigns of 1916-17 than does any of the classic two-day battles of the Napoleonic era. Yet for those accustomed to reading of the Western Front battles of 1916 and 1917, the first battle for Ypres is scarcely recognizable as a Great War battle at all. In the first place, it was no slugfest dominated by artillery with attacking troops constantly thrown at near impregnable position. The trenches of 1914 were hastily constructed, largely improvised and puny compared with post-1915 structures, and often changed hands in the fighting. As for the artillery, both sides were hamstrung by a shortage of still-serviceable guns and stockpiles of shells that were almost exhausted. In fact, First Ypres was the final act of the war of movement of 1914, forming, in the words of the British official history, 'the continuation and final phase of the “Race to the Sea”', a race in which 'the Allies “were always twenty-four hours and an army corps behind the enemy”'. 3

While neither side could honestly claim victory from First Ypres, this did not stop either from claiming one. Since both sides went into the fighting with aggressive intentions, this fact alone further demarcates it from the ghastly attritional campaigns of the middle period of the war. In these, as is only too well known, one side invariably sought, either by design or by compromise once hopes of a breakthrough were abandoned, to 'wear down' the other by attacking his strongpoints. That this only succeeded in wearing out the attacking

-50-

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