By early 1915, the lines in northern France had become static and the trench warfare that WWI is known for had commenced. Many soldiers and officers found themselves not only green, but found their senior leadership green in the tactics of the trench as well. New ideas had to be considered and new tactics developed to break the enemy lines for any offensive to succeed. The British First Army, under the command of the often maligned General Douglas Haig, was given the task of taking the immediate German positions, Neuve Chapelle and finally Aubers ridge. The First Army was made up of British, Canadian, and Indian troops.
Although the battle is not often associated with the major battles of the First World War, it is highly significant in the analysis of the planning, technology, and tactical advances of the time. The battle exhibited major breakthroughs in four key areas.
- The German lines were mapped extensively by aerial reconnaissance by a British air arm that was in its infancy. This allowed;
- Detailed maps to be distributed to the ground forces which contained phase lines and timed intervals for movements which were co-ordinated with;
- Air support in the attack and;
- Heavy artillery preparation of targets in advance with the lifting and shifting of fires in time with infantry movements. More rounds were sent skyward in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle than in all of the Boer War.
Battle of Neuve Chapelle
These innovations paid off at first with Haig taking the immediate objective of the German line salient and then the village of Neuve Chapelle. However, the attack bogged down soon thereafter, well before reaching the final objective of the Aubers ridge. A competent German counter-attack was partly the cause, but unforced errors also came into play. There were several tactical explanations for the halt that are common to many battlefields;
- Poor weather on the second day limited aerial observation and support which contributed to;
- Poor communications that kept the leadership from knowing where things were progressing properly and where they weren’t which led to;
- Bad tactical intelligence that led some areas to be allotted more troops than needed and others less than needed which led to;
- The fog of war where things tend to freeze on the senior decision level, but local fighting goes on, but is uncoordinated with the larger picture.
The battle was a limited tactical win for the British, but at a heavy cost of approximately 12,000 casualties. In the longer term Neuve Chapelle became the professional template for a new set of tactics that would become prevalent for the rest of the war.
Map credit – New York Times “Current History”. The European War, Vol. 2 No. 2, May 1915.
Downloaded from http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/15479
Motorcycle Ride Recommendation
This is a great ride when you are going somewhere else in France. It is only 60 miles from Calais and can be seen on the way to the south of France, Paris or Belgium with only a minor detour. From Calais, head to Neuve Chapelle, then take the following circular ride of the area. This is not a spectacularly scenic ride, but you get to ride along the British front line from Neuve Chapelle to Fleurbaix (with a British Cemetary in Fauquissart), then see the Aubers ridge objective, then down to the pivot point in the line at La Bassee.