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Remembered Today:

Neuve Chapelle, 26-29th October 1914


krycha101

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Hi everyone...

I'm working on an article about the battle of Neuve Chapelle in October 1914 for Polish readers. There are some sources showing British, Indian and even French perspective (Edmonds, Merewether, Hamilton, Farrar-Hockley, Gardner etc.) but German participation in that struggle remains whetever "mysterious". No seperate German account is given about that battle. Der Weltkrieg mentions the name of the village once or twice, Rupprecht wrote several sentences, but gives no details, Schwink - the same. Edmonds states that some German units from 14. ID took part - mainly 16, 56, 57 i 53 regiments. Are there any German accounts, reports, memoirs, diaries etc. concerning that event? I have the history of 53rd IR but it is completely disappointing. Does anyone have access to the history of 16th Infantry Regiment (3. Westfälisches) - I wonder if this one is more informative? Thanks for any help

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You should consider Wynne's book 'If Germany Attacks...'. He translated a lot of German primary sources for this battle.

Robert

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Are you sure? I thought Wynne's book is devoted to German defensive doctrines during the WWI, especially German idea of defence-in-depth. Is battle from October 1914 (in which Germans were a purely offensive side) connected to the subject of "If Germany Attacks..." ???

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I am definite. Neuve Chapelle came as a shock, and sparked improvements in defensive measures. Wynne accessed accounts about the Jaeger and artillery formations that were involved, as well as the infantry sources.

Robert

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You might want to check out the post here, and the various related posts in the same thread. I provided quite a detailed review, with maps.

Robert

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There is probably a slight misunderstanding :). The thread is very interesting and maps are great but it concerns the British offensive in Neuve Chepelle sector in march 1915. My article is about the fight which took place between 26th and 29th October 1914. The fight for Neuve Chapelle was then a part of battle of La Bassee (according to some authors) or a part of the First Battle of Ypres. It was a struggle in which a chemical weapon was used for the first time (dianisidine or sneezing powder).

Thanks anyhow!

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Jack Sheldon's book is coming soon. That will be something. Can't wait !

Phil

me too :) What is the subject?

PS. Ok. I have found the news... ;)

So I have a question to Mr Sheldon: do you cover the battle of La Basse - Armentieres (i.e. the Offensive of Rupprecht's Six Army in the last days of October) in your book?

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Ok I have found some German accounts!

i.e.

- Wiethölter Fritz, Die 2./Pi. 7 beim Sturm auf Neuve Chapelle am 26. Oktober 1914, [in:] Ehrebuch den deutschen Pioniere,

- Buhr W., Die Geschichte des I. Westf. Pionier-Bataillons Nr. 7, Oldenburg 1938.

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  • 1 month later...

I am sorry for this one-man-monologue, but recently I've obtained German histories of 16 RI and 43 FAR. They suggest that "Stinkgranaten" (apparently Ni-shells) were used at Neuve Chapelle in 26th not in 27th October. What is more - the history of 16 IR says that its attack on Neuve chapelle in 27th October was carried without any serious artillery preperation. Unfortunately I don't have an access to R. Hanslian, Der Chemische Krieg nor U. Trumpener, The Road to Ypres. Does anyone have copies? What do they say about that event?

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I am sorry for this one-man-monologue,................................

No need to be sorry, you have highlighted a period of the war for which there seems to be very little English documentation. I am interested in what are generally known as ' The Early Battles', fought in your area, but as you know that was 1915. Most accounts have the British on the Aisne then they take up the story again at Ypres with a quick mention of 'the race for the sea'. I guess that Band 5 or 6 of the Reichsarchiv History would be the ones with that information but unfortunately, I have only Band 1 then Bands 7-9. I for one would be delighted to hear your account of these first encounters. I have a first hand account of the fighting at Vermelles and area, just south of La Bassee between French and Germans. That mentions the British taking over from the French. Again, I think that may be a little later than the period you mention.

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I can place here a short summary of events:

20 october 1914 - German 6th Army under kronprinz Rupprecht von Bayern started its "general" offensive in French Flanders (on both sides of canale de La Bassee). It was a part of wider plan of generał von Falkenhayn who wanted to make a breakthrough in Flanders and reach French sea ports of Bolougne and Calais. Three german corps were commited on the La Basse - Armentieres front namely:

- XIX (general von Laffert - 24 and 40 ID)

-XIII (Fabeck, 26 ID and 25 res. Div)

- VII Westphalian (von Claer - 14 ID and half of 13 ID)

- part of XIV Corps (elements of 29th ID)

21st October - generał von Claer advised to focus attention north of the canal in order to size the high ground at Aubers and achieve a breakthrough. Rupprecht and OHL agreed, and reinforced Gruppe von Claer with heavy artillery (several batteries of heavy guns and howitzers). That day Germans launched several heavy attacks against the Allies. Franco-British defence line was composed of:

- right wing : II Corps (Smith-Dorrien - 3rd and 5th ID)

- centre : british 19. IB covered by French Cavalry Corps (Conneau: 1, 3rd and 10th CD)

- left wing: the rest of British 3rd Corps (Pulteney) - 6th and 4th Divisions

Most German attacks made on 21st October were repulsed, but the defence area of 3rd, 19th IB and Conneau corps where in danger of collapse so generał Smith Dorrien ordered a withdrawal to the reserve line which had been built behind the original one.

23 rd October allied forces were reinforced by the first Indian troops (Jullundur Brigade of Lahore Division). Two days later french XXI Corps (Maistre) sent three batallions and took over the defence of Givenchy allowing the British to spare some battalions and used them in the fight for Neuve chapelle.

25 th October Germans focused their attention on Neuve Chapelle - small village, which was regarded as a key to the new allied posistion. The battle of Neuve chapelle started. 26 th October German threw strong forces mostly from 14th Infantry Division (general von Fleck) with the aim to capture the village. Germans even formed a special Sturmbataillone under capt. Phalant (one Pioniere coy and four infantry coys) and used it in the storms. They penetrated and saized the village but were stopped and threw back by British (then N-C was defended by elements of 7th and 8th Brigade, Indian troops and French chasseurs "borrowed" from Conneau).

Then occured the most interesting part of this story - the first recorded and undoubtful use of chemical weapon. Most books state that Germans used it on 27th October when 3000 shrapnells filled with dianisdine (sneezing powder) were used. All British contemporary accounts (i. e. written during or shortly after the war: Hamilton, Connan-Doyle, French, Merewether etc.) do not even mention the event - an apparent proof that dianisdine was by no means effective (or even relevant). Edmonds - British official historian wrote in the mid 20s about the "3000 shrapnells" but only in the... arregenda attached to the II volume of his 1914 OH.

According to the German regimental histories (16 IR and 43rd FAR) dianisidine was used on 26th October. I know that regimantal histories are sometimes incorrect, but I conclude that sneezing powder was used on 26th or 27th October (or just on both of those days). Actually it is not so important when. Important is that Ni-schells were delivered to the German 43rd Field Artillery Regiment (precisely - to the 5th and 6th Batteries which were equipped with 10,5-cm field howizers), used by this unit (on 26th, or/and 27th Oct.), and that the effect was minimal. Interestingly German regimantal histories use euphemisms such as: "Stinkgranaten" (stinking shells), "neue Munnition" etc.

Germans (Bauer, Nernst, Duisberg - "architects" of German chemical programm) were probably aware that the dianisidine was not a deadly weapon (Dianisidine used in the production of synthetic dye, causes sneezing and has irritating but not toxical effect) and regarded the attack only as a kind of a test. The conclusions were odd and different: according to Hermann Geyer - the attack was unsuccesful, not even seen by the enemy, and there was no reaction of allied press. Bauer noted in his post-war memories that it was succesful - and finally convinced Falkenhayn to continue the programm. Rudolf Hanslian called it a "tacticall success" (unfortunately I lack this source). Of course Germans knew that Niespulver (sneezing powder) was not the weapon which could make the massenwirkung (Mass effect) upon the enemy - so they changed the option. First started testing T-Granate (Tappen) then turned to the cloud of chlorine from the cylinders (F. Haber) - but this is another story...

Let's return to Neuve Chapelle...

On 27th Germans renewed their pressure (with the help of gas or without it). On the previous day they were able to size some buildings in the northern part of the village (250 men from 16. IR) and 27th October they used that "perimeter" to launch another attack which eventually led to capture the whole village and create the salient west of it. Paradoxally it was not a disaster to British, because the position in the village was exposed to artillery fire and untenable. Nevertheless Smith-Dorrien was ambitious and regarded the village as a prestigous object. On 27th October he ordered the strong counterattack to recapture Neuve chapelle. The action was really impressive but only on paper - it was extremely difficult to orchestrate the attack of several battalions from diffrent fatigued brigades of diffrent nationalities (British, Indian, French). Eventually on 28th Oct. only half of 47 Sikhs and two sappers/miners companies (used in the combat by mistake!!!) entered the village and fought hand-to-hand combat against 16 IR and some trops from 142 IR. After several hours Sikhs retreated leaving 230 dead and wounded (The other units used later piecemal lost 1500 men altogether). Several hours later ...Germans evacuated the village. Their losses were estimeted at 5000 or 6000 (16 IR lost from 23rd to 28 th Oct. almost 1000). British patrols on 29th enetred the deserted place but could not occupy it due to strong german artillery fire. Later Germans sized Neuve Chapelle once again... 2nd Corps was tired (in October lost almost 9 000 men) and unable to continue the battle (it was at the end of October replaced by Indian Corps)

Epilogue

The line in the Neuve Chapelle sector remained almost unchanged for the next 4 years. Local trench fights in the Neuve chapelle - Givenchy sector were carried all the time. In march 1915 British 1st Army started its own local offensive: captured the first german trenches and occupied the village, but could not reach their final objective (Aubers Ridge).

German chemical test at Neve Chapelle did not stop their gas-programm, but made the authorities and scientifists to change the direction. As a result - at Langemarck on 22nd April 1915 a new chapter of warfare was opened...

I hope you'll find it interesting and informative. Please forgive me some grammar/spelling mistakes, I was in a hurry and English is not my mother tongue...

Krzysztof Marcinek

Poland

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Hi Krzystof. Thank you for a fascinating account of this very early action. As I said, there is little or nothing of it in English. It does explain a small mystery for me. How the British troops reached a ' Smith-Dorrien' trench behind the village of Neuve Chapelle in 1915. This was obviously a relic of the earlier fighting. There are a couple of mentions of early and ineffectual use of chemicals but little or no detail. I believe tear gas or perhaps sneezing powder was also used against the French but I am not sure where. There is also mention by the Germans of early use by the French. Again, I think this was tear gas and was not effective. The reference is sometimes written off as propaganda.

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Germans were accused by the victors of starting the chemical hell. Nevertheless they tried to defend themselves pointing that it were the French who had used tear gas first. Most likely French army in 1914 was equipped with so called cartouches suffocantes - granades filled with some tear gas. Probably they used them in august and September 1914. Probably. No accurate places nor dates were ever given by the authors/historians. The tear gas was completely ineffective. It caused no losses, but started rumours, allegations etc. Enough for Falkenhayn and OHL to turn their attention to the "new weapon"

There was also another factor - Turpinitine - a mysteroius chemical substance allegedly used by French army. But it was rather a press gossip and no real evidence was ever given.

German attack on 26th - 27th October at Neuve Chapelle was the first recorded and undoubtful (and fully admited by Germans) - but still unsuccessful.

Interstingly - it is strange, and the question is: "what did the Germans want to achieve with "sneezing powder"?. It was a substance used for jokes not really dangerous. Did they intent to make British collapse by blowing their noses? ;)

As regards the so called "Smith Dorrien Trench" it was a part of the new defence line built by British sapper units (with the help of local civilians) at nights (as my memory serves me right it happened at 20/21 st or 21/22. The retreat to the new line was carried at night 23/24th). It run east of the village but in the course of fights 25th-28th October it was occupied by Germans and not fully retaken until March 1915.

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We have a few experts on the forum with regard to chemical weapons. Simon Jones springs immediately to mind and there are others. I am far from an expert but I believe the idea in those early days may have been to incapacitate the defenders until attackers could overwhelm them. This was before the properly constructed trench lines and impenetrable wire and before artillery had taken over as the weapon of attack and defence. In the first couple of months of open warfare it was conceivable that men in foxholes and shallow scrapes could be temporarily blinded or made helpless by sneezing while an attacker approached.

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  • 7 years later...

Can someone help me track events in November 1914 where my grandfather Nk Ami Lal 2610 of 6 Jat Light Infantry -Indian died in France probably in the battle of Festubert. I am penning a book on him and want to visit France- Neuve Chapelle in May end this year to look for more. Whom to contact?

I am second generation recipient of Jangi Inam.

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11 hours ago, H S Chahal said:

Can someone help me track events in November 1914

HS Chahal,

Welcome to the forum.  I think your question deserves its own post and to attract attention I suggest you start again with a new topic under 'soldiers' and give it the title something like ' Nk Ami Lal 2610, 6 Jat Light Infantry , kia 20/11/14' . Tracing Indian soldiers is sadly very difficult but there are a number of forum members fairly well informed on the subject I believe.

Charlie

 

PS if you haven't already found it the War Diary of the 6th jat LI is available to download for GBP 3.50 at  the Discovery National Archives site with this reference  WO 95/3942/2 . It is highly unlikely to name individual soldiers but may tell you what was going on at the time.

     5a9a960858d02_WO956JatLightInfantry.JPG.32d8ca06b8e2865c78366b406a70be44.JPG

 

PS  Jangi Inam is not something I've heard of before.  Googling give me this:  'Jangi Inams' - special pensions for 'two lives' - for the Indian soldiers and for their next generation after their death was instituted by the then British Government. The Britishers started giving this pension in 1920 and after 1947, the Indian government has reportedly been giving this pension.

This is also noted as a 'pre-Independance Gallantry award'. Were there citations to accompany such awards?

Edited by charlie962
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  • 4 months later...

ps Jonathan Ruffles' series Tommies (pid b03thc4z) has an episode dramatizing events of 28th October 1914 at Neuve Chapelle, which is quite good, and certainly not inconsistent with what has been written above.

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  • 2 years later...

Today (18 Dec 2020) is my first foray into this enlightening forum and in particular the period of late October 1915 and the battle for Neuve Chappelle.  I have only found this forum because I'm researching my great grandfather - Henry James White, who was a Company Sergeant Major in the 3rd Sappers and Miners and who won the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions during this battle after all the officers in his company had been killed or wounded.  This, however, will be posted as a new thread shortly but I thought it might be useful to mention the action at Neuve Chappelle as recorded albeit in limited detail - particularly in the final paragraph (9) - in the dispatches of Sir John French shown below:-

 

2nd SUPPLEMENT TO THE LONDON GAZETTE , 27 NOVEMBER, 1914. (Extract of Sir John French’s 4th dispatch)

On the evening of the 29th October the enemy made a sharp attack on Le Gheir, and on the line to the north of it, but were repulsed. About midnight a very heavy attack developed against the 19th Infantry Brigade south of Croix Marechal. A portion of the trenches of the Middlesex Regiment was gained by the enemy and held by him for some hours till recaptured with the assistance of the detachment from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders from Brigade Reserve. The enemy in the trenches were all bayoneted or captured. Later information from prisoners showed that there were twelve battalions opposite the 19th Brigade. Over two hundred dead Germans were left lying in front of the Brigade's trenches, and forty prisoners were taken. On the evening of the 30th the line of the 11th Infantry Brigade in the neighbourhood of St. Yves was broken. A counter-attack carried out by Major Prowse with the Somerset Light Infantry restored the situation. For 'his services on this occasion this officer was recommended for special reward. On the 31st October it became necessary for the 4th Division to take over the extreme right of the 1st Cavalry Division's trenches, although this measure necessitated a still further extension of the line held by the Third Corps.

 8. On October 20th, while engaged in the attempt to force the line of the River Lys, the Cavalry Corps was attacked from the South and East. In the evening the 1st Cavalry Division held the line St. Yves-Messines: the 2nd Cavalry Division from Messines through Garde Dieu along the Wambeck to Houthem and Kortewilde. At 4 p.m. on the 21st October a heavy attack was made on the 2nd Cavalry Division, which was compelled to fall back to the line Messines-9th kilo stone on the Warneton/Oostaverne Road-Hollebeke. On the 22nd I directed the 7th Indian Infantry Brigade , less one battalion, to proceed to Wulverghem in support of the Cavalry Corps. General Allenby sent two battalions to Wytschaete and "Voormezeele 'to be placed under the orders of General Gough, Commanding the 2nd Cavalry Division. On the 23rd, 24th and 25th several attacks were directed against the Cavalry Corps and repulsed with loss to the enemy. On the 26th October I directed General Allenby to endeavour to regain a more forward line, moving in conjunction with the 7th Division. But the latter being apparently quite unable to take the offensive, the attempt had to be abandoned. On October 30th heavy infantry attacks, supported by powerful artillery fire, developed against the 2nd and 3rd Cavalry Divisions, especially against the trenches about Hollebeke held by the 3rd Cavalry Brigade. At 1.30 p.m. this Brigade was forced to retire, and the 2nd Cavalry Brigade, less one regiment, was moved across from the 1st Cavalry Division to a point between Oostaverne! and St. Eloi in support of the 2nd Cavalry Division. The 1st Cavalry Division in the neighbourhood of Messines was also threatened by a heavy infantry column. General Allenby still retained the* two Indian Battalions of the 7th Indian Brigade, although they were in a somewhat exhausted condition. After a close, survey of the positions and consultations with the General Officer Commanding the Cavalry Corps, I directed four battalions of the Second Corps, which had lately been relieved from the trenches by the Indian Corps, to move to Neuve Eglise under General Shaw, in support of General Allenby. The London Scottish Territorial Battalion was also sent to Neuve Eglise. It now fell to the lot of the Cavalry Corps, which had been much weakened by constant fighting, to oppose the advance of two nearly fresh German Army Corps for a period of over forty-eight hours, pending the arrival of a French reinforcement. Their action was completely successful. I propose to send shortly a more detailed account of the operation. After the critical situation in front of the Cavalry Corps, which was ended by the arrival of the head of the French 16th Army Corps, the 2nd Cavalry Division was relieved by General Conneau's French Cavalry Corps and concentrated in the neighbourhood of Bailleul. The 1st Cavalry Division continued to hold the line of trenches east of Wulverghem. From that time to the date of this despatch the Cavalry Divisions have relieved one another at intervals, and have supported by their artillery the attacks made by the French throughout that period on Hollebeke, Wytschaete and Messines. The Third Corps in its position on the right of the Cavalry Corps continued throughout the same period to repel constant attacks against its front, and suffered severely from the enemy's heavy artillery fire. The artillery of the 4th Division constantly assisted the French in their attacks. The General Qfficer Commanding Third Corps brings specially to my notice the excellent behaviour of the East Lancashire Regiment, the Hampshire Regiment and the Somersetshire Light Infantry in these latter operations; and the skilful manner in which they were handled by General Hunter-Weston, Lieutenant-Colonel Butler and the Battalion Commanders.

 

 9. The Lahore Division arrived in its concentration area in rear of the Second Corps on the 19th and 20th October. I have already referred to the excellent work performed by the battalions of this Division which were supporting the Cavalry. The remainder of the Division from the 25th October onwards were heavily engaged in assisting the 7th Brigade of the Second Corps in fighting round Neuve Chappelle. Another brigade took over some ground previously held by the French 1st Cavalry Corps, and did excellent service. On the 28th October especially the 47th Sikhs and the 20th and 21st Companies of the 3rd Sappers and Miners distinguished themselves by their gallant conduct in the attack on Neuve Chappelle, losing heavily in officers and men.

 

 

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