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Remembered Today:

15 April 1915: exact position of German gas front


Aurel Sercu
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A bike ride in my area (northern end of the Ypres Salient) for me always has a WW1 destination.

Yesterday evening's ride was : following the western stretch of the German gas attack front, from (west) near Steenstrate eastward to Wijdendrift (hamlet just west of Langemark).

I have an idea more or less where the gas cilinders with chloringe gas were hidden and at 5 pm 22 april 1915 opened in the German first line :

- From Zuidschote east bank canal approx. 500 meters north of Steenstrate bridge.

- Then to just south of Stampkot Ferme (approx. 500 m northeast of Steenstrate), on the road to Diksmuide.

- Then eastward to south of the village centre of Bikschote.

- Then turning right to just south where now the Beeuwsaert-molen is.

- Then to the hamlet Kortekeer (between Bikschote en Langemark)

- And then at the hamlet Wijdendrift eastnortheast to where the German Langemark Cemetery is.

From the canal at Steenstrate to Wijdendrift one can easily follow the road by bike, knowing that the gas front cylinders were nearbij, either left or right of the road. (This is not possible from Wijdendrift to Langemark German Cemetery)

However all this is based on a sketch I post with this. Taken from "Gaskrieg ! Der deutschen Gasangriff bei Ypern", by Dr. Hanslian.

This sketch is "only" a sketch, and I hope I can assume it is correct, though not 100 %.

My question : anybody out there who has a (more) detailed and (more) accurate (trench) map of where the gas was released on 22 April 1915 ? Or a German or French of British trench map showing the First German line ? (I take it the gas was released from the First line).

That would be very helpful for my coming improved version # 2 of my bike ride. Even if it means the risk that I end up in a ditch or trying to find my way in a (corn)field. But if so, I promise to post a photo of this event. :-)

Aurel

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Aurel, I am sure the experts armed with their Linesmen will be along shortly but I have to say I envy you being able to take a bike ride from your house through so much history. I will watch developments with much interest but I really don't want you to end up in a ditch. That would be a bad thing.

Pete.

P.S. From your sketch map it looks like the Germans held the west bank of the canal between Het Sas and Steenstraat, on my Ypres League Map the line runs on the east bank from the end of the 2nd Battle; presumably the Germans only held it temporarily?

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Aurel, I am sure the experts armed with their Linesmen will be along shortly

Unfortunately, Linesman will not help very much for this period of the war as there were no official British trenchmaps for this area at this period. The only maps from a British source will be trench sketches of highly debateable accuracy and what can be found in histories, etc.

I've never seen a German trench map of this area for the pre-April 22nd 1915 line, but the French did produce them (showing just the German trenches) at and before this time so Aurel may be in luck yet.

Dave.

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P.S. From your sketch map it looks like the Germans held the west bank of the canal between Het Sas and Steenstraat, on my Ypres League Map the line runs on the east bank from the end of the 2nd Battle; presumably the Germans only held it temporarily?

They were pushed back to the east bank by the French (153rd Infantry Division (Deligny)) on 15th May 1915.

Dave

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They were pushed back to the east bank by the French (153rd Infantry Division (Deligny)) on 15th May 1915.

Dave

Thanks for that Dave. It occured to me after I'd posted that it might be a bit early for accurate trench maps to have emerged (I'm sure you've made the point before and I'm sure I've read the posts); however I wondered if the Ypres League map might help. I have a full sized photocopy but it is missing the area that Aurel is interested in, it was from this that I noticed the line between Het Sas and Steenstraat. My friend Gerry (Don Don) had a grandfather who served in this area and I am very interested in it myself. I've never been further than Essex Farm on previous visits.

I hope that some accurate maps will emerge if only to keep Aurel and his bike out of the ditches.

Pete.

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Pete,

You wrote :

"but I have to say I envy you being able to take a bike ride from your house through so much history."

Do you really think I should be envied ? Let me put it like this :

- When I get on my bike and ride 2 km (1 1/4 miles) north, then I am in the hamlet Lizerne, and think : this is where there was fierce fighting end of April 1915 between Belgian Grenadiers and Karabiniers, trying to stop the Germans from moving more westward and to push them back across the canal.

- Then I turn east for 0.5 km, I pass the Reconciliation Cross (formerly German gas attack memorial) arrive at Steenstrate and think : this is where the Germans crossed the canal that evening of 22 April.

- When I ride on the bike path west bank of the canal (1/2 mile from my house) I think : this bend is the divisional boundary line, between British Grenadier troops and north of it French troops, from where they advanced on 31 July 1917 (Battle of Pilkem). (And I cannot make a walk on the other bank, for there are lumps of concrete, of former German bunkers)

- Then I arrive at Boezinge Lock and think : my grandad was here in 1916 (and feel guilty because after I had promised to take him there when he was old, he ... died).

- When I ride to the industrial estate site on the east bank of the canal, 1 1/2 miles south east of the village centre, then I am where Yorkshire Trench is, and where we (the Diggers) spent years, for the battlefield was only 1 spade deep, and also the remains of 200 men we found (most of them fallen in July 1915).

- When I try to escape more eastward, then I get near Pilkem, and Hagebos (where Hedd Wynn was wounded), and have to cross the Steenbeek.

- When escaping southward to Ypres, then ... well, no need to explain what that evokes in my mind ...

- Westward towards Elverdinge ? Then I think : that farm over there is Chasseur Farm, that one Casablanca Farm, that one Rouge Farm, or Bleuet Farm or ... or ... or ...

Do you want me to go on ?

Never, never can I make an enjoyable bike ride with an empty head and enjoy the landscape, the birds, the maize, the ploughed fields, the sun setting.

And I do wish so much : why can't I make a bike ride in the Lake District or the Scottish Highlands ?

And you think I am to be envied ?

It is ... hell. :-)

Aurel

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Mike, Pete, Dave,

Thanks for your postings.

(Dave, yes, I was hoping that you would join.)

I have a French map indeed, but later period (summer 1915).

It is very accurate ! AND ... near the top side I can see the course of "Tranchée Ancienne". That must be the former first German line, from where the gas was released, and it matches pretty much what I can see on that Hanslian sketch.

Pete,

Yes, on 22 April 1915 the Germans crossed the canal on two locations : Steenstrate, pushing to Lizerne (some 500 meters.) There is a demarcation stone at the crossroads. And also the Lock.

Individually even more west ! I read about German soldiers walking freely and unhindered on the main road Boezinge - Lizerne, and even a farm more west (Ferme des Paratonnerres). Wondering : Why don't we push even further ?! And even more south : Ypres was hanging there like a ripe apple, ready to be picked.

But ... there were no orders to push through after the "experiment". Odd !

Mike,

Canadians ? I know that study group. I'll have a look again. (But in that western half of the gas front the Canadians were not involved.)

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Just to thank the gentlemen who have replied ... A pic ...

Illustrating that ditches are not the only obstacles I had to face ...

It already started at the beginning, the westernmost end of the gas front line.

I had to bike ride from the canal some distance north of Steenstrate bridge northeastward to Stampkot Ferme (from where IV. Army boss Archduke Albrecht von Wurttemberg was watching the "show" on that late afternoon of 22 April 1915), a farm which can be seen in the background. But not only was my ride blocked by the barbed wire, but a cow was even planning on attacking me. (Which she did, after the pic was taken, but "fortunately" she stopped at the barbed wire. We had a chat, but she couldn't give me any useful information, and all that she released was methane gas, not chlorine gas. :-)

Aurel

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Do you really think I should be envied ?

Aurel

That is a beautiful and moving description of what your bike ride makes you feel; thank you. I can understand how you feel the weight of the history all around you because you know so much about it. I still envy you because I see the Ypres salient for maybe 2 days each year if I am lucky and the more I see the more I want to see. I also envy you because you can express the impact of the landscape and it's history so well in English when I do not know a word of your language, that is brilliant. You can also be very humourous in English too, I like the scary cow photograph and the story it tells.

Pete.
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Pete,

Glad you detected the irony in it. And I can assure you : "the weight of history all around me" is not a real burden. (The burden is that many people - including my wife - don't understand me. But that doesn't bother me. :-) )

Just one thing that did not contain any humour : about my grandad, who as soon as he heard that I was moving into Boezinge (1971), asked : could you, one day, take me to Steenstrate, and the Lock on the canal, where I was for a while in WW1 ? I replied : Sure. Just some patience, when I will be settled here.

And before I could fulfil me promise, he ...

When walking on the west side of the Lock, a year or two ago, when groundworks were in progress, I found two Belgian (unspent) cartridges ... Which made me think : what if these were ...

Aurel

P.S. 1 I am not afraid of a cow. When she is behind barbed wire. :-)

P.S. 2 Taking Dave's advice, based on a French map, I have just marked the German gas front on an IGN map, more accurately. And was ready to set out half an hour ago, but my wife wouldn't let me. (And no this PS 2 has nothing to do with PS 1 !!!)

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P.S. 1 I am not afraid of a cow. When she is behind barbed wire. :-)

P.S. 2 Taking Dave's advice, based on a French map, I have just marked the German gas front on an IGN map, more accurately. And was ready to set out half an hour ago, but my wife wouldn't let me. (And no this PS 2 has nothing to do with PS 1 !!!)

Brilliant!! :-))

Roger

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P.S. 1 I am not afraid of a cow. When she is behind barbed wire. :-)

P.S. 2 Taking Dave's advice, based on a French map, I have just marked the German gas front on an IGN map, more accurately. And was ready to set out half an hour ago, but my wife wouldn't let me. (And no this PS 2 has nothing to do with PS 1 !!!)

We all understand you Aurel and that is the main thing. If it is ok I will let you know when I am next over in Ypres as I would love to see the attack cows from behind the safety of the barbed wire. You know so much about the area it is really impressive. Good to know that you have got a more accurate map for your bike ride when your wife allows you out next.

Pete.

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Thanks, Pete and Roger,

But I can't guarantee it will be the same cow ! There are so many B/W cows !

Nor that all gas cylinders in that area have released their gas.

(And that reminds me : things went "wrong" near Steenstrate. Only a few cylinders were opened by the "Stinkpioniere". Good luck for the Belgian grenadiers !)

Aurel

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Aurel, very interesting story. It must be fascinating to live in such a history-rich area!

Archduke Albrecht von Württemberg

Off topic on:

He was "only" Duke, not Archduke.

Off topic off.

Regards

Karsten

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Thanks, Karsten.

I have corrected the error in my source.

By the way, my source says that Fritz Haber ("father of chemical warfare" and maker of the chlorine gas experiment) was approx. 0.7 km (1/2 mile) farther on, beyond Stampkot Farm (direction Diksmuide), at hamlet and estaminet "Smiske" (crossroads to Bikschote). Another source (can't remember what source) says he was at Stampkot Farm too, with A. von Wurttemberg. Should someone know...

Aurel

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Hi Aurel,

I have read that as well: Albrecht von Württemberg AND Fritz Haber both took part in this first release of poison gas.

Regards

Karsten

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Please have a look here http://www.spiegel.de/einestages/chemiker-fritz-haber-wissenschaftler-an-vorderster-front-a-951359.html and please cklick on the large top photo. There will open a series of photos. The caption of photo no. 3 reads that Haber himself was at the front and supervised the gas attack.

Karsten

Karsten,that is an excellent link, thank you for posting it. And equally I don't think the correct title of Duke Albrecht is off topic; if Aurel happens to meet some of his descendents visiting the battlefield while he is out on his bike it will be useful information...... :thumbsup:

Pete.

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Pete,

Well, I may have something "interesting". I almost was a "Boezinge gas attack" myself ! NO ! I did not stumble with my bike in aditch that still contained gas cilinders ! A month or two ago I did something in my bathroom, and accidentally ... mixed bleach water and hydrochloric acid. I had to run outside, and let all window and doors open for a quarter of an hour ! And had trouble breathing myself for some time. I asked Forum member Mick what I had produced. He replied : chlorine gas !

Is Mick right ?

(If so, don't tell my wife. She doesn't know about my "experiment". Well, not that I produced chlorine gas ! :-)

Karsten,

Thanks for the information on Fritz Haber. I have no reason to believe that he was not present. I only wanted to know where he was : Stampkot Farm, where A. v. Württtemberg was, only a few meters from the gas cilinders, or half a mile farther, "Smiske". Anyway, that's only a detail.

By the way : the experiment near Steenstrate was a failure. Most cilinders for some reason were not opened by the Stinkpioniere !

Aurel

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Aurel, I am sure Mick is right; as they say on TV in the UK "don't try this at home"'; Boezinge has seen quite enough chlorine gas. I hope your wife doesn't read the forum while you are out on your bike, but your secret is safe with me.

Pete.

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  • 7 months later...

The belgian newspaper "De Standaard" is paying this weekend a lot of interest to this gas attack.

Gilbert

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Hi;

German positons at Steenstraat on 22 April 1915

regards,

Cnock

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I should have posted here, that a month or three ago, my problem was solved. I got an old trench map (Oct. 1915), where the old German first line (of before the gas attack) was marked. So I concluded : that's where the gas cilinders must have been releasing their gas. So I took my bike etc ... (Don't tell my wife !)

Coincidentally GWF member Robert Missinne (Sint Juliaan) had started his own piece of research, both of us unaware of each other. His research was a lot better, and more thorough, and as a result of his, now dozens of white flags have been installed on the line between Stampkot (Steenstrate) - Bikschote - Kortekeer - Langemark - halfway Langemark/Poelkapelle.

On April 1, in Langemark, Robert talked about the gas attack, for a large audience. It was splendid ! Someone over there in the UK should invite him ! Meanwhile you can learn ... Dutch. :-)

Aurel

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Damn it, I've just noticed that I called him 'Archduke Albrecht' in the text of our forthcoming book (though I got it right in the index) and it's too late to change it now. :doh:

Here's a more detailed map showing the distribution of F-Batterien near Steenstraat taken from Seeßelberg, Der Stellungskrieg, 1914-1918. The 'batteries' are numbered in two series either side of the Dixmuide road, with varying numbers of large commercial cylinders (große Flaschen - each containing 88lb of chlorine) and smaller purpose-made cylinders (kleine Flaschen - 44lb of chlorine each). Note the large number of batteries (all with the smaller cylinders) emplaced in an extended sap west of the road.

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