The British Offensive at Neuve Chapelle begins. Allied losses amount to 12,800 in two days. Some of the blame falls on the poor quality and lack of British shells, initiating the ‘Shell Crisis’.
Second Battle of Ypres begins. First use of poison gas by Germany.
BATTLE OF NEUVE CHAPELLE:
Early March 1915 saw the British offensive of Neuve Chapelle, when the British broke through the German lines. It was the first deliberately planned British offensive of the way. However, the offensive could not be sustained – delays slowed operations down, there were communications failures and infantry-artillery cooperation broke down. These factors led to the Germans being able to bring up reinforcements and dig a new front line. This was followed by a German counter-attack, which failed but which caused the British to use most of their artillery ammunition. The British offensive was soon postponed and then abandoned.
40,000 allied troops took part in the battle, including an Indian division (the Meerut division). There were 7,000 British and 4,200 Indian casualties.
The battle marked a new point in the understanding of trench warfare, in that attack could be mounted if planned and also disguised to provide at least local surprise. Whilst the battle of Neuve Chapelle has no strategic effect, it did demonstrate that the British were capable of mounting an organised attack. However, one of the significant factors was the usage of 30% of the field gun ammunition on the first day of the battle and it was the run down of artillery supplies that led to the offensive being called off. At this point in the war, munitions supplies had not been fully organised. The poor quality of the munitions and the supply problems initiated the “Shell Crisis”, which, coupled with the failure of the assault on the Dardanelles led to the fall of the Liberal government under Herbert Asquith later in the year.
SECOND BATTLE OF YPRES:
The Second Battle of Ypres was the only major attach launched by the Germans on the Western Front in 1915. German efforts and attention were during this year focussed on the Eastern Front, and the offensive, starting in April, was designed as a means of diverting Allied attention from the Eastern Front. It was also the first time chlorine gas was used on the Western Front.
The first chlorine gas attack took place on 22nd April, against French troops. The gas was reported to have affected some 10,000 men, half of whom died within 10 minutes of the attack. Two days later, a second chlorine gas attack took place against Canadian troops. Under cover of the gas on both occasions, the Germans advanced and allied forces withdrew towards the town of Ypres. However, fierce fighting meant that although the German attack gained ground, the major objective of Ypres itself was not taken. The German failure to take Ypres led to the Germans choosing to demolish it, through constant bombardment. Gas continued to be used throughout May, together with ground attacks. As a result, the Allied Forces had withdrawn into a narrow salient around the town itself. Allied losses during the Second Battle of Ypres were estimated at 69,000, with the Germans estimated as losing 35,000.
The use of gas was condemned on the Allied side – however, this did not prevent the development of their own form of gas warfare, with the first British release of gas in September 1915 during the Battle of Loos.