Gas and Second Ypres

E20 of Collected Articles


At end of March a Boche prisoner revealed to the French their preparations for a gas attack though gas had been tried on the Russian front in January and there were rumours that it had been used later on the French Champagne front. Mid April another prisoner gave details of cylinder dimensions, the chlorine gas and men being trained to use them. French and British feared this was a bluff as unlikely under the Hague Convention prohibiting use of poison gas, Germany being a co-signatory. The Boche claimed on 15 April the British were using gas against their troops.

On 22 April, at about 1700 hrs, the wind finally changed direction to begin gently blowing south-westerly. The cylinder taps were opened and a cloud of greenish-yellow gas was released from Langmarck towards Steenstraat, some 6 km away. Enveloped were French Territorial and Algerian Divisions. Those soldiers not dying from the poison broke and ran. Canadians trying to fill the void were forced back to Kitchener’s Wood. They temporarily recaptured it in an audacious attack that night but were shelled out with St. Julian being captured on 24 April. North of the village at Kerselaar is their monument at Vancouver Corner.

At Frizenberg (on right of the Salient) Boche attacks began on 24 April with its capture on 8 May. Hooge Chateau was also captured in May but fighting over it continued into July with the 30th had the Boche first using flamethrowers. Polygon Wood was taken on 3 May aided by the release of gas.

Hill 60 on the extreme left at Zwarte-teen was created by the soil excavated from the nearby cutting of the Ypres-Comines rail track. As an important observation post for the Boche, the British drove mine shafts under it, the mines being blown at 0705 on 17 April and it captured. On 1 and 5 May the Boche released gas but the attacks were repelled. On 7 May they finally recaptured it, holding it until June 1917 until the battle for the Messines ridge.

Overall the Salient featured throughout the War and the constant fighting there gave it it’s fearsome reputation particularly at Third Ypres in 1917. Chlorine poison gas at Second Ypres marked the end of the misguided innocence that war was still a chivalrous pursuit.

Briefing for the KCL Coalhole ‘Ride’ at Ypres, Belgium on 28/09/12