If there is one place that you can discuss the fighting throughout the four years of the First World War that place is Ypres or Ieper to give it its Flemish name.
Join one of our Expert guides on a tour of the Ypres Salient to follow the battles and see how they developed. The following are just a few of the many sites that we have visited during past tours: -
and many, many, more ...
Just over 100 years ago a four year struggle began for the control of a piece of ground to the east of the small Belgium city of Ypres when the German Imperial Army and the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) clashed in October 1914. That clash lasted for just over a month, from the 19th October to the 11th November 1914, and was to lead to the formation of a bulge into the German frontline; a bulge which we now know as the Ypres Salient.
It is generally accepted that the first British shots of the war rang at the small hamlet of Casteau when the 4th (Royal Irish) Dragoon Guards made contact with the advance guard of German Imperial Army at approximately 07.00 hrs on 22nd August 1914. The following day the two Armies clashed at Mons and thereafter began the Great Retreat as the BEF withdrew before the advancing German hordes. The German offensive was finally check along the River Marne and then the two opposing forces pushed northwards trying to out flank each other all the way the North Sea in what has subsequently become known as the 'Race to the Sea'.
On 7th October 1914 elements of the German Army arrived in Ypres; they requisitioned supplies, emptied the city's coffers of 62,000 Francs and spent that night in the city. The next day the infantry moved off in the direction of Dickebusch whilst the cavalry headed towards Vlamertinghe; having 'passed through Ypres' they continued to probe in their efforts to out flank the French and Belgium forces in the area.
Just a few days later, on 14th October 1914, the first British and French troops arrived in the city. The British were General Rawlinson's IV Corps that had been covering the withdrawal of the Belgium Army from Antwerp. This consisted of the 3rd Cavalry Division and the 7th Division. Initially the 7th Division deployed to the east of the city to form a defensive screen, whilst the 3rd Cavalry Division deployed to the south of the city along the Messines Ridge. General Byng's Cavarly Corps soon arrived south of the city and the 3rd Cavalry Division moved to the north of the city to cover the area between the Forét d'Houlthust and Zonnebeke between the French and the 7th Division.
By 18th October 1914 the eastern approaches of Ypres were being held by General Rawlinson's IV Corps; the 7th Division supported by the two Cavalry Brigades of the 3rd Cavalry Division. The Messines Ridge and further south was being covered by General Byng's Cavalry Corps although as yet these two Corps had not properly tied in their defences. To the north of the city the French were deployed to the left of the IV Corps.
The First Battle of Ypres is considered to have begun on 19th October and lasted through until 22nd November 1914. It was the last of the major meeting engagements that formed the Race to the Sea. In the fighting both sides sustained very heavy casualties and the Germans came the closest they would come throughout the war to capturing the city. They nearly succeeded in breaking through the British defences along the Menin Road and were only held by a last ditch defence at Nonne Boschen near Hooghe. On 22nd November 1914 the weather closed in and the fighting came to a halt. The bulge in the German line to the east of Ypres that resulted became known as the Ypres Salient.
The Second Battle of Ypres began on 22nd April 1915 when the German Army launched the first major gas attack on the Western Front during the First World War. This initially came in against the French positioned along a 6 kilometre (4 mile) stretch of the northern edge of the Salient between the Ypres-Yser Canal and Langemarck. The day had been warm and sunny, but it was not until 17.00 hrs that the wind turned towards the French frontline. As the wind turned the Germans launched this devastating and frightening new development of modern warfare by opening the valves on 5,730 cylinders of chlorine gas that had been dug-in to the parapet of their trenches. The resulting cloud of green poisonous gas drifted slowly across the battlefield towards the uncomprehending waiting French soldiers of the 45th Algerian Division and 87th Territorial Division. The French were totally overwhelmed and the flank of the British line was thrown wide open. In the wake of the gas the Germans advanced and a desperate battle to close the open flank began. The Canadians, who had only days before taken up positions in the frontline for the first time, initially bore the brunt of this fighting and they managed to secure the vulnerable flank. Just two-days later, however, they too were subjected to a gas attack.
St Eloi and Mount Sorrel — The actions at St Eloi and Mont Sorrel, aka Hill 62, by the Canadians in 1916 make a fascinating battlefield study examining the actions and reactions of the CEF as they are pushed of the high ground and strive valiantly to capture that high ground back. Their dogged determination epitomises their hardy resolve and was a major building block in the development of the Canadian Army.
The Third Battle of Ypres — On 31st July 1917 the British launched their offensive aimed at driving the Germans back from the city towards the Belgium coast. It was hoped to capture the port of Ostend thereby denying its use to the U-Boats of the German Navy. The first day was successful in the northern sector but torrential rain soon halted the advance. The offensive then became bogged down in the mud of Flanders until the weather changed again. On 21st September Lord Plumer's Second Army took over the offensive and the adoption of his 'bite and hold' tactics got the British moving forward once more. Bite after bite seemed to work until mid-October when the rains came again during the ANZAC attack on Passchendaele. What followed has gone down in history as one of the most horrific battles in modern warfare. It was during the Third Battle of Ypres that Captain Noel Chevasse was awarded his second Victoria Cross
The German Spring Offensive and the Last Hundred Days — The 1918 German Spring Offensive or Kaiserschlacht (Kaiser's Battle) drove the Allied Armies back in the Ypres Salient to much the same line they had held before the Third Battle of Ypres. The last Hundred Days saw the Allies turn the tied of the War and drivbe the enemy back towards the Fatherland. On the Ypres Salient the War finished in much the same place that the Allies had gained in 1917, Passchendaele.