The 1915 Campaign, Andrew Rawson

The 1915 Campaign, Andrew Rawson

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The 1915 Campaign, Andrew Rawson

The 1915 Campaign, Andrew Rawson

The general image of the fighting on the Western Front is of a series of unimaginative frontal assaults, repeating the same failed tactics time after time. The picture we see here is quite different. Although most of the attacks discussed in this book failed horribly, that wasn't due to a lack of effort. Both sides introduced new weapons – poison gas is the most famous, but this period also saw the introduction of the Mills grenade and the Stokes mortar on the British side and the flame thrower on the German. The idea of British generals being callous and too willing to carry out attacks is also undermined here, with the generals repeatedly saying that they wouldn't be ready for a major attack until 1916, but political and French pressure forcing them to launch attacks.

Sadly there are clear areas where no real improvements took place, most importantly in communications. The inability of senior officers to keep track of what was going on in an attack is a constant theme, with fleeting chances of a breakthrough missed and the limited successes that were achieved often lost because nobody could get the news back to the British lines.

The combat descriptions are a bit dry, although this isn't really the author's fault. This was a period of fairly similar failed attacks on the German lines, which have to be narrated at regimental or brigade level, so you get a fairly repetitive series of accounts of futile assaults, many of which reached the German lines, before eventually being forced to retreat. There are also a series of accounts of German attacks on the British lines, but these produce the same result – initial successes that can't be exploited. The same is often true of more detailed accounts of Western Front battles, but the wider scope of this book means that we move on before getting bogged down in too much detail.

The book finishes with a set of well thought out conclusions, examining the performance of the BEF in 1915 and the first half of 1916. I found myself agreeing with most (if not all) of their conclusions. Overall this is a good account of this grim period.

1 - A Long Winter - November 1914 to February 1915
2 - Carry Them Off Their Legs - Neuve Chapelle Begins, 10 March 1915
3 - A Mere Waste of Life - Neuve Chapelle Continues, 11 to 13 March
4 - A Cloud of Green Vapour - The German Gas Attack, 22 to 24 April
5 - Hang On At All Costs - Ypres Salient, 25 April to 3 May
6 - The Whole Countryside is Yellow - Ypres Salient, 4 to 25 May
7 - Anything for an Inch of Cover - Battle for Aubers Ridge, 9 May
8 - Come On We Are Ready For You - Battle of Festubert, 15 to 25 May
9 - We Must Do Our Utmost - Givenchy, Hooge and Planning for Loos
10 - The Biggest Balls Up Ever Known - I Corps at Loos, 25 September
11 - They Died With Faces to the Enemy - IV Corps at Loos, 25 September
12 - A Field of Corpses - XI Corps, 26 September
13 - They All Seemed to Melt Away - Loos, 27 September to 13 October
14 - Don't Be Downhearted - November 1915 to March 1916
15 - Smiling Over the Parapet - April and May 1916
16 - Inconclusive Sideshows - June and July 1916

Author: Andrew Rawson
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 272
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2015

British Expeditionary Force - The 1915 Campaign

Andrew Rawson's narrative and over sixty new maps provide an unique insight into the British Army's experience during those difficult days of 1915 and early 1916.

By Andrew Rawson

The 1915 Campaign is a brilliant and detailed account of the BEF's actions during the battles of 1915 and early 1916,

Each major battle and minor action is reconstructed in graphic detail and given equal treatment through the compiling of information from the Official History and printed histories, resulting in a balanced view of the most-talked-about side of the campaign - the British side. Together the narrative and over sixty new maps, that chart the day-by-day progress of each battle and action, provide an unique insight into the British Army's experience during those difficult days of 1915 and early 1916, The incredibly brave men who made a difference are commemorated those who led the attacks, those who faced overwhelming counter attacks and those who were awarded the Victoria Cross.

The 1915 Campaign, Andrew Rawson - History

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The British Expeditionary Force &ndash The 1915 Campaign is a thorough account of the BEF's actions during the battles of 1915 and early 1916, starting with the success at Neuve Chapelle in March and the nightmare gas attack at Ypres in April. It follows their back-to-back failures at Aubers and Festubert before the British used gas at Loos in September and the minor engagements of the early months of 1916.

Each major battle and minor action is reconstructed in graphic detail and given equal treatment through the compiling of information from the Official History and printed histories, resulting in a balanced view of the most-talked-about side of the campaign &ndash the British side.

Detailed throughout are the reasonings behind each battle and the objectives, and there is discussion about how the infantry, the artillery, the cavalry and engineers worked together, often learning new techniques after bloody mistakes, with insights into the successes and failures of each attack.

Together the narrative and over sixty new maps, that chart the day-by-day progress of each battle and action, provide an unique insight into the British Army's experience during those difficult days of 1915 and early 1916, as it came to terms the art of the offensive. Where possible the brave men who made a difference are commemorated those who led the attacks, those who faced overwhelming counter attacks and those who were awarded the Victoria Cross.

Through this wide-ranging, up-to-date and balanced account of this catastrophic conflict, the the real 1915 campaign experienced by the British Army and how its brave soldiers fought hard to achieve their objectives is explored.

The book finishes with a set of well thought out conclusions, examining the performance of the BEF in 1915 and the first half of 1916. I found myself agreeing with most (if not all) of their conclusions. Overall this is a good account of this grim period.

Read the complete review here.

History of War

As reviewed on ARRSE

ARRSE - Cynical

This title provides descriptions of the 1915 battles of Neuve Chapelle, Second Ypres, Aubers Ridge and Festubert, as well as a comprehensive study of the fighting during the battle of Loos - the biggest offensive by the British Army in 1915 - plus the early battles of 1916.

Each major battle and minor action is reconstructed in detail and given equal treatment from the Official History and printed histories, resulting in a view of the British aspect of the conflict. The day-by-day progress of each battle is charted, providing an interesting insight into the British army's experience during 1915 and early 1916, as it learnt valuable offensive lessons in the art of trench warfare.

The text includes interesting anecdotes from divisional and regimental histories. There are more than 60 new maps of all the actions, 17 monochrome illustrations and index.

Military Modelling Magazine - Stuart Asquith

ANDREW RAWSON has over forty books to his name, including eight Pen and Sword &lsquoBattleground Europe&rsquo travel books and three History Press &lsquoHandbook&rsquo reference books. He has edited the minutes of the Second World War conferences and the top-secret correspondence between George C. Marshall and Dwight D. Eisenhower. He books include covering Poland&rsquos struggle in the twentieth century, Auschwitz Extermination Camp and wartime Krakow. He has also written a ten-part series on the Western Front campaigns between 1914-18. He has a master&rsquos degree with Birmingham University&rsquos history department.

Новые: самая низкая цена

С самой низкой ценой, совершенно новый, неиспользованный, неоткрытый, неповрежденный товар в оригинальной упаковке (если товар поставляется в упаковке). Упаковка должна быть такой же, как упаковка этого товара в розничных магазинах, за исключением тех случаев, когда товар является изделием ручной работы или был упакован производителем в упаковку не для розничной продажи, например в коробку без маркировки или в пластиковый пакет. См. подробные сведения с дополнительным описанием товара

A Long Winter

By 22 November 1914, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was exhausted after five weeks of continuous fighting in the Ypres Salient. It had been reduced to holding a short front, stretching 21 miles from Wytschaete, south of Ypres, to Givenchy, on the La Bassée canal. The wet winter weather made it difficult to do anything more than survive and trench activity was reduced to sniping, shelling and the occasional raid.

On 30 November King George V landed in France for a six day visit. He visited various Army units, he spoke to the President of France, Raymond Poincaré, and the President of the Council of Ministers,¹ René Viviani. He met Generals Joseph Joffre and Ferdinand Foch and the French army and corps commanders cooperating with the BEF. The king also met King Albert I of the Belgians, whose troops were holding the coastal sector.

The king heard how the troops were digging in but there were few tools, a lack of sandbags to shore up the trenches and a shortage of timber to build dug-outs. The engineers were busy supervising the work and mapping the front line while the troops manned, and named, trenches, strong-points, farms and woods.

It was clear that the war was not going to be over by Christmas, as some had suggested when it began in August. It was also obvious that the front was going to be static for some time. So steps were taken to make life easier for the soldiers. Rotation schedules were drawn up so everyone spent a similar time on the front line, in the support trenches and in the rear area. Units were equipped with new weapons, the men received clean uniforms, and warm clothing arrived at the front. Roads were improved and new tracks were added. Billets were built so the men could sleep undercover, and baths and laundries were set up to help them keep clean. Even entertainments and sporting events were organised to keep the men occupied while they were resting.

But the stabilisation of the front brought many problems, not least the shortage of transport needed to move food, water, ammunition and stores. Tens of thousands of sandbags were required to shore up the trenches and miles of communication cables had to be laid. The Royal Engineers took over from the Ordnance Department and set up new parks for stores and workshops to repair equipment. The Army Service Corps also opened depots and workshops for a growing fleet of motor vehicles and horse drawn transport.

The BEF’s sector at the end of 1914

Simply getting everything the soldiers needed to live was a big enough problem, let alone providing supplies to defend themselves. Artillery ammunition was always in short supply because quantities had been based on usage in the Boer War. It was soon clear that it was inadequate and it would take months before the munitions factories could match demand.

The winter of 1914–15 was a time of invention as the soldiers looked for better ways to fight their enemy. While knives and bayonets were supplemented by cudgels and knuckle dusters, the Indian Corps took the lead when it came to experimenting with ranged weapons such as trench mortars and grenades.

Grenades were desirable because they could be thrown along trenches or into dug-outs without exposing the thrower. The weekly supply in November 1914 was only 70 hand grenades and 630 rifle grenades. Trench warfare required more hand grenades so Field Marshal French asked for 1,000 per week, a figure achieved in March 1915. In the meantime, homemade devices were made, though they were sometimes more dangerous to the thrower than the target.

The jam-pot bomb was made by filling a tin with shredded guncotton and nails. A detonator and fuse were added while a plug of clay sealed the container. Captain Battye of the Royal Engineers² filled a serrated cast-iron cylinder with ammonal and a wooden plug held the detonator and fuse in place. The hairbrush grenade simply had a slab of guncotton fastened to a bat-shaped piece of wood. Ten different grenades were also sent from England for testing. They were the Hale’s Service and Hale’s Mexican patterns, the Light and Heavy Royal Laboratory patterns, the Light and Heavy Double Cylinder patterns, the Hairbrush, the Pitcher, the Ball and the Oval grenades.

Matches and cigarettes were used to light the fuse until a French-made friction lighter was introduced but none worked when it rained. Only Nobel fuse igniters, found in French coal mines, worked in damp conditions. The arrival of the first batch of Mills bombs³ in March 1915 solved the problem because the spring-loaded trigger worked whatever the weather.

Mortars provided the infantry with short-range indirect fire but the first batch of experimental weapons sent from England were inaccurate and dangerous. A number of designs made from brass and steel tubes in workshops near the front were equally likely to explode unexpectedly. Even catapults were used to project hand grenades further than they could be thrown they too were unsafe.

On 30 November 1914 General Joffre reported that the Germans were withdrawing divisions along the French front and he issued orders to take advantage of the situation. A week later he told General Foch and Field Marshal Sir John French that the Tenth and Second French armies should attack at the La Bassée canal and the Oise River while the Fourth French Army advanced across the Champagne region. The BEF and the rest of the French armies would simultaneously probe the Germans lines.

General Joffre specifically wanted the BEF to make a night attack between Messines and Warneton, while the Eighth French Army attacked between Hollebeke and Wytschaete. So Field Marshal French issued instructions to II and III Corps to capture Messines and Warneton on 14 December. The French would capture Wytschaete as 3rd Division pushed on with the ‘utmost determination’. Then 5th Division would ‘convey the impression that an attack is going to be delivered’ towards Spanbroekmolen and Messines. Finally III Corps would ‘make demonstrations against the enemy with the object of holding him to his trenches’ south of Messines.

The vague orders and the lack of artillery preparation meant the attack was doomed. The French did not take Wytschaete and Brigadier General Bowes’ 8 Brigade came under fire when it left the trenches at 7.45am. Lieutenant Colonel Dundas’ 2nd Royal Scots captured the first trench only to come under machine gun fire because Major Baird’s 1st Gordons had been pinned down in no man’s land. A hedge woven with barbed wire blocked the way and Captain the Hon. Bruce was one of many hit, as he led the Royal Scots through the single gate. The survivors found water in the trench beyond and Lieutenant Robson-Scott was mortally wounded trying to find another trench. The 4th Middlesex and the 2nd Suffolk took over the front during the night but further action was cancelled because the French had failed to take Wytschaete.

General Joffre asked Field Marshal French for more help and the BEF’s General Headquarters (GHQ) issued Operation Order 1, which called for attacks all along the front on 17 December. Again there was insufficient ammunition and over 1,000 casualties were suffered during the handful of raids.

Many units were brought back up to strength over the winter months but there was always a shortage of trained men. Virtually all the Reservists had been sent to France and Flanders by the end of 1914. Some of the Special Reservists and the older soldiers were unfit or reluctant, causing problems until they could be removed. Meanwhile, the returning convalescents, who had been wounded in early battles, had combat experience and were eager to get back at the Germans.

By Christmas Day 1914 the BEF had grown to eleven divisions and five cavalry divisions⁴ so two army headquarters were opened to divide responsibility. General Sir Douglas Haig was promoted to head First Army and General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien took over Second Army. Meanwhile, Field Marshal French had the British Cavalry Corps and the Indian Cavalry Corps in reserve.

Christmas Day was also a special day for the soldiers because they all received a present from Her Royal Highness Princess Mary. Some had a box of cigarettes while others received tobacco and a pipe. On parts of the front ‘the troops came out of their trenches, kicked footballs about, exchanged cigarettes and other small articles and – more curious still – lent one another implements for reinforcing each other’s wire entanglements.’ After burying their dead, they returned to their trenches to sing carols and for a short time they forgot they were at war.

On 25 January, Lieutenant General Sir William Robertson replaced Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Murray as Chief of the General Staff while Major General Edward Perceval replaced Major General Henry Wilson as his sub-chief. Robertson and Wilson faced many challenges concerning how to manage the expanding Expeditionary Force.

At the end of December, 27th Division arrived in France and 28th Division⁵ followed a couple of weeks later. Twenty-two Territorial Force infantry battalions and six Yeomanry cavalry regiments had also been attached to the Regular Army divisions in France. The Canadian Division⁶ landed in France on 15 February 1915 and the North Midland Division⁷ arrived at the end of the same month, it was the first of many Territorial Force Divisions to join the BEF.⁸

But the men still fought the weather rather than each other, as rain and thawing snow turned the battlefield into a quagmire and filled the trenches with water. The men spent too long standing in cold water and many suffered from trench foot, a painful condition which led to blisters, gangrene and amputations if left untreated.

The German artillery began shelling the Indian Corps’ trenches at dawn on 20 December 1914 and ten small mines detonated around Givenchy at 9am. German infantry captured the trenches either side of the 1st Manchesters and some advanced 300 metres towards Festubert.

Cuinchy and Givenchy in January 1915

GHQ ordered Major General Richard Haking to send two of 1st Division’s infantry brigades to the area to make a counter-attack and they were ready to advance by noon. 3 Brigade were pinned down by machine gun fire as they squelched through the deep mud towards the pocket near Festubert. 1 (Guards) Brigade experienced similar difficulties as the 1st Manchesters evacuated Givenchy the village was later retaken. A fleet of London buses carried 2 Brigade to the area but it was dark before they were ready to counter-attack.

The Germans began the New Year by capturing a machine gun post along the railway line, on the south bank of the La Bassée canal on 1 January. The 2nd KRRC failed to seize the post later that evening, as did the 1st Scots Guards the following morning. The position was retaken on 10 January but it was only held for forty hours.

On 25 January a deserter warned of an imminent attack around Givenchy and a mine exploded under the 1st Coldstream Guards⁹ only thirty minutes later. Captain Campbell’s trench was overrun but the railway embankment position held, as did Lieutenant Viscount Acheson’s garrison in the Keep strongpoint, east of Cuinchy. The 1st Scots Guards also refused to budge in the Brickstacks but reinforcements were unable to retake the lost trenches. Minenwerfers¹⁰ bombarded the Keep on the morning of 29 January but Captain Villiers’ men held on until the 1st Northants arrived.

Early on 1 February, the Germans captured a 2nd Coldstream Guards outpost on the railway line.¹¹ The Irish Guards bombers were unable to move along the trenches while the same trenches funnelled Lieutenant Blacker-Douglass’ men into a death trap as they moved over the top. Blacker-Douglass was killed and Captain Long-Innes was injured but Company Quarter Master Sergeant Carton refused to withdraw his men until dawn.

Lieutenant Colonel Pereira of the Coldstreamers argued against attacking until a short barrage by siege guns had been organised. Captain Leigh-Bennett dropped his handkerchief at 10.15am and Private White ran forward hurling rocket grenades at the head of the Coldstreamers. Lieutenants Graham and Innes led the 1st Irish Guards and Lance-Corporal Michael O’Leary shot five Germans at the first barricade. He then moved forward ‘intent upon killing another German to whom he had taken a dislike’ at a second barricade he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

The Brickstacks, 6 February

The 2nd Division took over the Brickstacks sector and Brigadier General Lord Cavan was instructed to prepare for an attack with 4 (Guards) Brigade. The guns opened fire at 2.15pm on 6 February and the bombers left their trenches fifteen minutes later. No man’s land was pitted with clay pits but Second Lieutenant Cottrell-Dormer’s 3rd Coldstream Guards captured some of the brick stacks. Lieutenant Musgrave was killed as the 1st Irish Guards charged forward but the first line of brick stacks were seized in a record four minutes.

The Irish Guards continued beyond the brickfield, to a trench with a better view, and the Coldstreamers moved alongside Major Foulkes’s engineers then fortified the brick stacks. A German counter-attack the following day failed and one large party approached the British line shouting ‘Don’t shoot, we are engineers’ the Guards were not fooled.

The line had held but there was evidence the Germans were digging more tunnels through the clay and packing explosives into underground chambers so they could blow up trenches. A call was put out to gather together professional miners and tunnellers who could be organised into tunnelling companies. The first group arrived at the end of February and were immediately put to work digging under the German lines.

Plans for a Combined Offensive

Spring was approaching and it was time to consider how to attack with the limited resources available, while the Germans were heavily committed to the Eastern Front. General Joffre wanted to attack as soon as the weather permitted but he knew his guns were short of ammunition, particularly high explosive shells.

The War Councils in London and Paris were discussing Gallipoli, a new theatre of operations in the Eastern Mediterranean but General Joffre and Field Marshal French did not want troops and ammunition sent elsewhere. Joffre was particularly anxious to get rid of the salient north-east of Paris and wanted to continue operations in the Champagne while preparing attacks across the Artois plateau and east of Verdun.

Generals Haig and Smith-Dorrien were informed of the plans on 8 February and while Second Army’s seizure of the Messines Ridge was the best tactical option, First Army’s capture of the Aubers Ridge was the strategic favourite. It could be co-ordinated with the French operation on the Artois plateau and together they could threaten the important railhead at Lille.

General Haig was asked to prepare an attack on 15 February, but a letter from Joffre dictating what the French wanted arrived at GHQ the following day. Tenth French Army was planning to capture Vimy Ridge and he wanted the British to advance towards La Bassée. His long term plan was to cut the railways supplying the German salient between Arras and Rheims.

Although Field Marshal French had agreed to take over the rest of the Ypres Salient, he was unable to do so because 29th Division was heading for Gallipoli. Instead he chose to attack with First Army. But after visiting General Louis de Maud’huy of Tenth French Army, General Haig reported that ‘our proposed offensive action must be considered an entirely independent operation’.

1 The Prime Minister’s full title.

2 Of the 21st Company Sappers and Miners.

3 Service pattern No. 5 grenade.

4 Over one third of them were Indian troops two infantry and four cavalry divisions.

5 It too was formed from units recalled from overseas garrisons.

6 The first of four Canadian Divisions to serve on the Western Front.

7 Later numbered the 46th (North Midland) Division.

8 Around one third of the units serving in France and Flanders by the end of February 1915 were Territorial Force units.

10 Minenwerfers were German trench mortars.

Chapter 2


On October 15, Lieutenant-General Sir Charles Monro took over Allied operations. After a brief inspection, he told British high command they needed to withdraw. Lord Kitchener, the Minister of War, opposed this until he visited Gallipoli in person. Seeing the men freezing in water-logged trenches, trapped by Turkish gunfire, he accepted Monro’s advice.

Lieutenant-General Sir William Birdwood, given responsibility for the evacuation, faced a challenging task. Troops had to be withdrawn without giving the Turks an opportunity to capitalize on an Allied weakness and overrun those who remained.

He began with the ANZACs. On December 13, troops began withdrawing silently by boat under cover of darkness. Guns were rigged to keep firing after their owners had gone, tricking the Turks into thinking the soldiers were still there. By December 18, half the 80,000 ANZAC troops had been removed without the Turks noticing. By the morning of December 21, all the ANZACs had gone.

Withdrawal of the remaining troops began in the New Year. By January 7, Field Marshal Liman von Sanders, the German commanding the Turks, realized what was happening and decided to attack.

19,000 British troops remained to endure the heaviest artillery bombardment of the Gallipoli campaign. At dusk, the Turks charged the remaining British positions and were cut down in a hail of gunfire. Further waves of Turkish troops refused to attack. The German commander’s plan had failed, and the British had bought themselves time.

The last British troops left Gallipoli at 0445 on January 9. The ammunition and stores they could not take with them were destroyed in a massive explosion.

Around 115,000 Allied soldiers were evacuated from Gallipoli. 252,000 had been lost. The campaign ended with smoothness and efficiency, but everything else about it was a disaster.

Martin Marix Evans (2002), Over the Top: Great Battles of the First World War.

The Learning Process : The Bef's Art of War on the Western Front, 1914-18

The men who went to war in August 1914 fought completely differently to those who survived until the Armistice on 11 November 1918. This is a study of the bloody learning process the British Expeditionary Force had to go through on the Western Front.

The development of the tactics is explained as is the impact new weapons and ammunition had on the battles. The challenges presented when the Germans changed their defensive tactics or upgraded their fortifications is also looked at.

Each battle and campaign is studied in turn, starting with the first lessons learnt by the Old Contemptibles who served 1914 and the rigid attack plans of 1915. Next comes the rapid evolution of infantry and artillery plans during the Somme campaign in the summer of 1916 and the changes made to accommodate the tank in the autumn.

The important developments in combined arms warfare, and the German reactions to it, are followed through as the 1917 campaigns of Arras and Ypres are discussed. The year ends with a look at the Tank Corps' successes and problems which were highlighted at Cambrai.

The year 1918 starts with the huge German offensives across the Somme, the Lys and on the Aisne. The strategic mistakes made before the battles, and the tactical decisions made during them, are looked at in turn.

Finally, we see how the art of combined arms warfare matured during the offensives of July and August 1918, culminating with the breaking of the Drocourt-Queant Line and the Hindenburg Line in September.
show more

The 1915 Campaign, Andrew Rawson - History

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(click here for international delivery rates)

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Other formats available - Buy the Hardback and get the eBook for £1.99! Price
The Passchendaele Campaign 1917 ePub (83.4 MB) Add to Basket £4.99
The Passchendaele Campaign 1917 Kindle (181.8 MB) Add to Basket £4.99

This is an account of the British Expeditionary Force&rsquos battles in the summer and autumn of 1917. It begins with the Allied plan to free up the Flanders coast, to limit German naval and submarine attacks on British shipping. The opening offensive began with the detonation of nineteen mines on 7 June and ended with the capture of the Messines Ridge. The main offensive started with success on 31 July but was soon bogged down due to the August rains. Three huge attacks between 20 September and 4 October had the Germans reeling, but again the weather intervened and the campaign concluded with futile attacks across the muddy slopes of the Passchendaele Ridge. Each large battle and minor action is given equal treatment, giving a detailed insight into the most talked about side of the campaign, the British side. There are details on the planning of each offensive and the changing tactics used by both sides. There is discussion about how the infantry, the artillery, the cavalry, the engineers and Royal Flying Corps worked together. Over sixty new maps chart the day-by-day progress of each battle and action. Together the narrative and maps provide an insight into the British Army&rsquos experience during this important campaign. The men who made a difference are mentioned those who led the advances, those who stopped the counter-attacks and those who were awarded the Victoria Cross. Discover the Passchendaele campaign and learn how the British Army&rsquos brave soldiers fought and died fighting for their objectives.

Superb overall account following the fortunes of the entire BEF through the Summer and Autumn of 1917.

Highly commended. 10/10

The Great War magazine, November 2017 – reviewed by Mark Marsay

A very useful account of how the fighting progressed, giving the reader a very good grasp of what happened on the ground each day.

An excellent reference.

Stand To! Western Front Assc No.110

The publication of Andrew Rawson’s comprehensive account of the 3rd Battle of Ypres of 1917 not only fits in well with much of the literature published to commemorate the centenary of the British offensive in Flanders, but also serves as a meticulous record of the major engagements and minor actions which made up this pivotal battle.

Read the complete review here.

Historical Researcher, Heathcliffe Bowen

The publication of Andrew Rawson’s comprehensive account of the 3rd Battle of Ypres of 1917 not only fits in well with much of the literature published to commemorate the centenary of the British offensive in Flanders, but also serves as a meticulous record of the major engagements and minor actions which made up this pivotal battle. In gathering detailed records of many aspects of the offensive from the British viewpoint, backed up with impressive maps of every stage of the battle, Andrew Rawson has produced a work which will be of interest to all those who wish to study the experience of the British Expeditionary Force in this controversial campaign.

Heathcliffe Bowen MA

From the outset of the book, Regimental abbreviations are provided as a constant reference as one reads the detail in the book. An excellent introduction in the book sets the scene, putting into context the various work that has been done on the battle, including the Military Operations in France and Belgium, as well as various Divisional Histories. In turn, he makes clear that a comprehensive study of the campaign would be twice the length of the book. To that end, he had to judge at what level of detail to pitch information in so far as there is nothing new to learn if it is 'too shallow', but also it came become overwhelming if it is in 'too much detai'l. The author has succeeded in both aims brilliantly again.

The book is complimented by great photographs. All are so very poignant, but a particular favourite shows a light railways carrying men and material to the front line. Another shows a team of horse struggling to haul an 18 pounder gun through the mud. What is also useful is the size of these photographs, each taking up half a page. Too often, books try to cram in too many photos to the extent that they lose impact due to a smaller size.

The book finishes with the conclusions of the campaign as well as the tactics and weapons. He reminds us that the British Expeditionary Force had only advanced 4 1/2 miles by the time the campaign closed. The Germans still held the Belgian ports.

Jon Sandison, Freelance

Conclusions on the campaign and an index round off the text of this excellent publication.

Freelancer, Stuart Asquith

An in-depth account of the campaign that has come to symbolize the horrors of the Western Front. Excellent account supported by first rate maps through the body of the book and an evocative photo-plate section – Highly Recommended.

Read the complete review here.


If you're looking for a good introduction to the battles in and around Ypres then look no further.

Read the complete review here.

A Wargamers Needful things

ANDREW RAWSON has over forty books to his name, including eight Pen and Sword &lsquoBattleground Europe&rsquo travel books and three History Press &lsquoHandbook&rsquo reference books. He has edited the minutes of the Second World War conferences and the top-secret correspondence between George C. Marshall and Dwight D. Eisenhower. He books include covering Poland&rsquos struggle in the twentieth century, Auschwitz Extermination Camp and wartime Krakow. He has also written a ten-part series on the Western Front campaigns between 1914-18. He has a master&rsquos degree with Birmingham University&rsquos history department.

A State of War Exists – 28 June to 22 August

Diplomacy and Mobilization, 28 June to 1 August

After four decades of diplomacy and politicking between the European powers, the situation exploded on 28 June 1914 when Gavrilo Princip assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie, in Sarajevo. The government retaliated by arresting 5,500 Serbs and organizing attacks on Serb communities. A month of negotiating known as the ‘July Crisis’ followed between Austria-Hungary, Germany, Russia, France, and Britain.

Austria-Hungary believed Serbian officials were implicated in the attack and an ultimatum was given to Serbia to provoke a war and end their meddling in the Bosnian region. The ten demands were intentionally unacceptable and when Serbia only agreed to eight, Austria-Hungary declared war on 28 July.

The British Government ordered the Home Fleet to their war stations the same day, as their test mobilization came to an end. The following day the British Army’s General Staff put precautionary measures into force, putting Regular Army troops on standby and recalling everyone on leave. The Belgian Government placed its army on a ‘reinforced peace footing’ the same day.

The political situation was also intensifying. The British Ambassador in Berlin had been asked to give assurance of Great Britain’s neutrality if Russia attacked Austria. Sir Edward Grey, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, refused to entertain the proposal.

Matters took a turn for the worse on 30 July when Russia mobilized her four Southern Armies. Germany responded by threatening to mobilize unless Russia stopped. The situation deteriorated when Austria-Hungarian artillery began shelling the Serbian capital, Belgrade. The following day both Austria and Russia mobilized all their forces, forcing Germany to warn of an ‘imminent danger of war’ as it introduced martial law, suspended civil rights and called up six classes of the Reserve.¹ Germany’s ultimatum to Russia demanded she immediately cease mobilization or Germany would mobilize on both frontiers. Turkey also began mobilizing her troops.

Grey asked both France and Germany if they would respect Belgian neutrality and while France said it would, Germany did not give a direct reply. So far the British Government had not committed itself and when France and Germany ordered a general mobilization on 1 August, it was still free to decide whether to get involved in a European war or stay neutral.

The British and French General Staffs had made a peacetime plan for deploying a British Expeditionary Force to France. They agreed four infantry divisions, one cavalry division and one cavalry brigade² would cross the English Channel and concentrate between Avesnes and Le Cateau in northern France. They would be able to advance on day sixteen after mobilization, a few days after the French were ready.

The British General Staff suggested moving troops as quickly as possible to the embarkation ports, cancelling the imminent annual summer training and deploying Territorial Force units to guard the railways. But the government waited until the ultimatum to Germany expired at midday on 1 August. The following day Regular Army manoeuvres and Territorial Force training were cancelled but still no mobilization orders were issued. The Cabinet consulted Parliament the following day, confident in the knowledge that the Home Fleet was at its war station, ready to meet any threat posed by the German Fleet in the North Sea or the Channel.

No Turning Back, 2 to 4 August

The German Minister in Brussels presented a note to the Belgian Government on the evening of 2 August. It explained that the German Government believed French forces intended to march through Givet to Namur, to the Meuse River. The move would violate Belgian neutrality and Germany wanted free passage for her troops so they could counter it. Although the content of the note sounded feasible, it had been written on 26 July and then sent to the German Minister in Brussels three days later with instructions not to open it until instructed. The Belgian Government had only been given twelve hours to reply but they stated they would resist any French or German troops crossing their borders. Belgium also declined French help while mobilizing her own army.

On 2 August German troops crossed the French border at four points and entered Luxembourg. Germany’s deployment plan, Aufmarsch 1, was a development of the 1905 Schlieffen Plan.³ It called for seven armies to rapidly conquer France whilst one army delayed the Russians. The idea behind the plan was that the armies could defeat France and be transported east before the Russians completed their mobilization.⁴ A single army crossed their eastern border with Russia on the same day.

First contact with London was made when King Albert telegraphed King George V to ask for Great Britain’s diplomatic intervention. On 3 August Grey visited the House of Commons which approved his decision not to become involved in the Serbian situation. They decided the fleet could be used to help France but also agreed Great Britain would stand by her promise to guarantee Belgium’s neutrality. However, there was no resolution.

Grey then read out the German note to the Belgian Legation and explained that a German attack was imminent, if it had not started already. As a result the House agreed to mobilize the Territorial Force and the Naval Reserves, confident their reserved approach to the European situation had conserved the unanimity of the nation. It had also achieved the goodwill of neutral countries.

But events were moving fast on mainland Europe as the British politicians and military leaders conferred. When Germany declared war on France on the evening of 3 August, Italy, a member of the Triple Alliance,⁵ declared her neutrality. The following morning Germany declared war on Belgium and two cavalry divisions and several brigades of infantry were crossing the border within hours.

On the afternoon of 4 August, the British Government ordered the mobilization of the Regular Army and the Foreign Office issued a statement the following morning:

‘Owing to the summary rejection by the German Government of the request made by His Majesty’s Government for assurances that the neutrality of Belgium will be respected, His Majesty’s Ambassador at Berlin has received his passports and His Majesty’s Government have declared to the German Government that a state of war exists between Great Britain and Germany as from 11pm on the 4 August.’

The Siege of Liège, 4 to 16 August

While the British Government was making its final decisions, the situation in Belgium and along the French frontier was developing quickly. By the night of 3 August it was clear the Germans intended to cross the Belgian border the following morning. The Belgian plan was to use one division to delay the German advance in front of Liège’s fortifications while four divisions advanced to the River Gette,⁶ screened by the army’s cavalry division.

German cavalry did cross the Belgian frontier on 4 August only to find the River Meuse bridge north of Liège had been blown up while Belgian troops were waiting along the river bank. Two regiments headed north and forded the river at Lixhe, 10 miles north of the city, and when the Belgians retired behind Liège’s ring of forts they followed.

General Otto von Emmich’s demands for free passage through Liège were refused, because General Gérard Leman was sticking to King Albert’s orders to ‘hold to the end with your division the position which you have been entrusted to defend’. So six German infantry brigades prepared to attack while a cavalry corps assembled on standby. After an attempt to kidnap Leman failed, Emmich ordered a night attack towards the town and citadel while demonstrations were made against the outer forts.

The attack was a disaster. The two brigades to the north and north-east lost their way and while most battalions fell back with heavy losses, one battalion entered the town and was captured. The central column fell back after a tough fight and had to be stopped by Major-General Erich Ludendorff, Second Army’s Deputy Chief of the General Staff.⁷ One column to the south fell back with heavy losses while the second panicked and units fired on each other in the dark.

Ludendorff made sure the attack was renewed the following morning and the centre column advanced within a mile of Liège before making a dash for the citadel. The discovered that the Belgian garrison had withdrawn, leaving the fortress troops behind to face the German guns.

While the German Cavalry Corps worked round the west side of the fortress, the German artillery shelled Fort Barchon into submission on 8 August. Fort d’Évegnée and Fort de Lantin surrendered on 11 August, their garrisons incapacitated by fumes. Then the crunch came when huge 420mm howitzers came into action on 12 August and began battering the remaining forts. Fort de Chaudfontaine, Fort d’Embourg, Fort de Fléron and Fort de Pontisse fell on 13 August and Fort de Boncelles and Fort de Liers surrendered the following day. Then on 15 August a shell hit one of Fort de Loncin’s magazines and 12 tons of munitions exploded, killing most of the fort’s garrison. Fort de Flémalle and Fort de Hollogne surrendered the following morning, bringing the siege to an end.

Making Plans, 5 to 9 August

On 5 and 6 August British Cabinet Ministers, including Field Marshal Lord Horatio Kitchener,⁸ met leading members of the Armed Forces to discuss the disposition and employment of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). They agreed that two corps, each of two divisions, would immediately move to the agreed assembly area around Le Cateau and Avesnes. The question was, where could they sail to? They could not sail to Antwerp because part of the Scheldt River was Dutch, and Holland was a neutral country. Ostend was also ruled out because the BEF could get separated from the French if the Germans kept advancing through Belgium. So the decision was delayed until the French had been consulted.

The ministers and generals also discussed how to protect Great Britain’s coast. One brigade of 4th Division was already at Colchester and could deploy along the Suffolk and Essex coast. Another brigade would deploy along the Norfolk coast while the third brigade would cover the Lincolnshire and Yorkshire coasts. Five cyclist battalions were also sent to the east coast.⁹ Two brigades of 6th Division would remain in Ireland while the third moved to the Edinburgh area to cover Scotland’s east coast.

The meeting also agreed three resolutions. Firstly, four infantry divisions and the Cavalry Division would begin to embark first while a fifth division would follow as soon as possible. Secondly, troops would be recalled from South Africa.¹⁰ Thirdly, two Indian divisions would be moved to Egypt to protect the Suez Canal while the Indian Government would be urged to send a division to German East Africa to capture Dar es Salaam.¹¹

Field Marshal Sir John French was appointed Commander-in-Chief, British Forces in the Field and his command was split into two corps Lieutenant General Sir Douglas Haig with I Corps and Lieutenant General Sir James Grierson with II Corps Major General Edmund Allenby was appointed commander of the Cavalry Division.¹²

When the generals said the Territorial Force units were already en route to their annual training camps, the Cabinet delayed embarkation until 9 August to allow them to return to depot. Otherwise the Army was ready and its whole mobilization plan was carried out according to the ‘War Book’. Every last detail for organization and deployment had been worked out. Each unit had been issued with a set of general instructions for mobilization and a set of specific orders for deployment. It meant officers knew what was expected of them when the order was given.

Deployment to France, 9 to 19 August

The rail network also had a strict timetable to work to and 1,800 special trains travelled across Great Britain and Ireland in only five days eighty trains carried troops into Southampton Docks on the busiest day. Each train load was planned to carry a complete unit or part of a unit complete with its transport so everyone could march as soon as they arrived at their destination.

Ships were allocated to carry either personnel, horses and vehicles, motor transport or stores and an average of thirteen ships a day sailed for Havre, Rouen and Boulogne. They sailed day and night, leaving port as soon as they were loaded, as Royal Navy ships protected the Channel. Troops on the mainland embarked at Southampton while 5th and 6th Divisions moved to the Irish ports of Belfast, Dublin and Cork. Some motor transport and fuel sailed from Avonmouth, near Bristol while the rest were loaded at Liverpool. While frozen meat was delivered to Liverpool, other stores and supplies were loaded at Newhaven, East Sussex. A few details sailed from Glasgow.

The ‘War Book’ did its job as the mobilization of nearly 100,000 men and the assembly of 120,000 horses¹³ went ‘according to plan’.

Early French Moves, 6 to 20 August

The French Army had spent many years studying their deployment plans. They were based on an advance into the ‘lost provinces’ of Alsace and Lorraine which had been annexed following the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. They had made many alterations and they were on their 17th revision by August 1914, hence the name Plan XVII.¹⁴

But despite all the forward planning, Field Marshal Joseph Joffre had to change them because they did not include an attack through Belgium. On 2 August Joffre choose new concentration areas for Fourth and Fifth Armies, extending the left wing north to cover the threat. The following day General Sordet was ordered to move his Cavalry Corps east of Mézières, ready to enter Belgium.

The French Army was not due to complete mobilization until 18 August but General Joffre decided to make a preliminary attack with his right according to the original plan. On 6 August the Army of Alsace crossed the frontier only to run into large forces around Mulhausen,¹⁵ so General Pau was forced to withdraw.

The same day Sordet’s cavalry crossed the Belgian border with King Albert’s consent, heading east towards Neufchâteau before turning north towards Liège. Joffre’s plan was to delay the German columns moving west across Belgium but Sordet fell back towards the Meuse when it was clear the Belgian Army had withdrawn from Liège. His cavalry had discovered little and had caused no disruption.

By now it was clear the Germans were advancing through Belgium. Joffre ordered General Lanrezac to advance from the Charleville-Mézières area on 12 August ‘to oppose any attempts of the enemy to cross the Meuse between Givet and Namur’. Fifth Army marched north along the Meuse and stopped German cavalry crossing near Dinant three days later.

The combined forces of First and Second French Armies advanced towards Mulhouse again on 14 August but events to the north changed everything. The following day the Belgian Army reported 200,000 German troops were crossing the Meuse 10 miles north of Liège, next to the Dutch border. Joffre was also about to find out that the German centre was advancing through Metz, Thionville and Luxembourg, towards the French centre.


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