SECOND BATTLE OF YPRES
The Second Battle of Ypres took place in 1915 from April 22nd to May 25th. Ypres is a town in Belgium that saw intense fighting in World War I between the the Allied forces and German forces. The Second Battle of Ypres followed the First Battle of Ypres which occurred in October and November of 1914. The Second Battle of Ypres was significant because it is remembered today as the first use of poisonous gas on the Western Front. Germany introduced chlorine gas canisters into the battle on the first day of fighting, when they used the deadly gas against the French troops. The gas canisters each weighed 90 pounds and needed to be opened by hand, meaning that German troops had to be close to the gas as it was released on the battlefield. The gas canisters worked by using the wind to their advantage. This meant that German troops could only use the poisonous gas when the wind was blowing in the direction of the enemy lines. If the wind changed and blew back at the Germans then they risked being gassed by their own weapon. In all, the chlorine gas attack at Ypres led to approximately 6000 French casualties and numerous German casualties who were exposed to the deadly gas in the process. Chlorine gas worked by causing the soldiers to choke and struggle to breathe. The gas would cause the inside of the soldier’s lungs to become inflamed and the soldier’s would then struggle to breathe until they died. As well, chlorine gas is heavier than air and soon filled the trenches, forcing the soldiers to leave their trenches and become exposed to enemy fire. Ultimately, the German gas attack surprised even the Germans with how successful it was in its initial use, and they did not advance to the degree that they likely could have.
The Second Battle of Ypres was also significant because it saw the first time that a former colonies soldier’s defeated a European power within Europe. For example, after the German gas attack on the first day of the battle, Canadian soldiers were the primary defenders of the German flank at Ypres. Canadian soldiers defended the town of St. Julien and withstood the gas attacks by the German soldiers. Famously, Canadians urinated on cloths that they used to cover their faces when the gas attacks began to try to prevent breathing in the poison. The ammonia present in urine helped to counteract the effects of the chlorine gas. Regardless, Canadian soldiers, despite facing heavy gas attacks and German advances, were mostly able to hold back the German advance and prevent Germany from making inroads into Allied held territory. While the battle is viewed as an Allied victory, it still cost the lives of many people on both sides. German casualties totaled over 34,000, French casualties totaled about 18,000 and Canadian casualties totaled almost 6,000.
In general, the Second Battle of Ypres was a turning point in World War I warfare as it introduced the new weapon of poisonous gas and changed how war was carried out on the battlefield. As well, it saw the first time that a former colony of Europe was able to defeat a European force on European soil. Canadian soldier and physician, John McCrae, famously participated in the Second Battle of Ypres, where he wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields”. The poem is now used in days of remembrance around the world for honoring and remembering the soldiers of World War I.