Neuve Chapelle

In early March 1915, General Sir John French, commander of the British Expeditionary Force, agreed to a plan put forward by General Joseph Joffre, commander of the French Army, to capture the heights of Aubers Ridge at Neuve Chapelle.

General Sir Douglas Haig, and four divisions of Britain's First Army, advanced along a 3km front on the morning of 10th March. At Neuve Chapelle the British were able to break through a line held by a division of the German Sixth Army. However, after three days fighting the British had gained land from the Germans totalling 2,000 yards wide by 1,200 yards deep for 7,000 British and 4,000 Indian casualties.

Count Prince Rupprecht quickly counter-attacked, and although Haig was able to retain Neuve Chapelle, he had to abandon plans to advance towards Aubers Ridge. At the end of the offensive, the British Expeditionary Force gained 2 square kilometres of land at a cost of 13,000 casualties.

Frank Brangwyn, recruiting poster (1915)
Frank Brangwyn, recruiting poster (1915)

Primary Sources

(1) Ernest Swinton, official report distributed to the British press on the offensive at Neuve Chapelle (15th March, 1915)

At 7.30 a.m. on the 10th the battle began with a bombardment by large numbers of guns and howitzers. Our men in the trenches describe this fire as being the most tremendous both on point of noise and in actual effect they have ever seen or heard. The shrieking of the shells in the air, their explosions and the continuous thunder of the batteries all merged into one great volume of sound. The discharges of the guns were so rapid that they sounded like the fire of a gigantic machine-gun. During the 35 minutes it continued our men could show themselves freely and even walk about, in perfect safety.

Then the signal for the attack was given, and in less than half an hour almost the whole of the elaborate series of German trenches in and about Neuve Chapelle were in our hands. Except at one point there was hardly any resistance, for the trenches, which is places were literally blotted out, were filled with dead and dying partially buried in earth and debris, and the majority of the survivors were in no mood for further fighting.

(2) Vera Brittain (diary, March, 1915)

There was another terrible long list - 40 officer casualties added to the already large number which have resulted from the awful battle, the dearly-bought victory, of Neuve Chapelle last Thursday and Friday. The fettered Press kept the world in the dark about it, and it was only through the long casualty lists that we are beginning to realise what it must have been. There are rumours that our losses there amount to 12,000 and the Germans' to about 20,000. Our dear ones are going out in time to be in the thick of it all.

(3) Vera Brittain (diary, 15th April, 1915)

That awful disaster (Neuve Chapelle) was no victory! It was the result of a terrible blunder. The object was to get to Lille; there was nothing to stop them and the cavalry were ready, only the infantry did not join them because - they were being fired upon by our own guns. It is too terrible - this reckless waste of life, the only thing worth having in the universe. Naturally this horrible truth does not come out in the dispatch - it would undoubtedly stop recruiting if men thought they were to enlist only to be shot down by their own guns.