The Battle of Neuve Chapelle took place between the 10 th and 13 th of March, 1915. Located in northwestern France, Neuve Chapelle is north of La Bassee and west of Lille.
Sir John French’s plan was to capture Neuve Chapelle then push forwards to the village at Aubers, situated a mile east of Neuve Chapelle. If he successfully captured Aubers, his army would attack the German defenses at Lille, a major communication hub.
To accomplish these goals Sir John French had amassed 374 pieces of artillery. Douglas Haig’s First Corps were to lead the attack after a 35 minute artillery barrage. It was reported that the shelling was so intense, that it resembled machine gun fire.
The focus of the shelling was along the German frontline.The bombardment was so devastating, that when the shelling lifted, only small sections of the enemy’s trench remained.All of the entanglements were in ruin, allowing the British to rush through the opening.
Often there was hand-to-hand fighting as the British and Indian infantry made a rapid advance towards Neuve Chapelle. It took just four hours to secure the village. Nevertheless, the artillery barrage around Aubers was lacking in both scope and intensity, thus causing little dam- age to the enemy’s trench entanglements. Of the 1,000 troops that at- tacked Aubers, no one survived.
Due to the lack of artillery shells, as well as communication problems, the British were unable to maintain the extensive artillery pressure necessary to prevent the enemy from bringing up its reserves.
With the accumulated strength of its reserves, the Germans launched a counterattack on March 12. The British were able to repel the attack and hold the ground they had gained.
This battle was the first offensive undertaken by the British from static, set-piece trenches, where several military innovations were put into place, including timed lifts of artillery barrages. Other strategies newly employed were: color-coded maps marked with objectives to be taken, a concurrent aeroplane bombing sequence, and the maintenance of effective secrecy prior to the bombardment.
We started our march at 3:00 a.m. and came into action about 400 yards on the right of the Richebourg Church.
We were informed that we were to bombard Neuve Chapelle, a village that was on our left front. It had been in the hands of the Germans since October.We took a firing position and then engaged in digging a gun pit and fortifying our position as much as possible.
Our battery is preparing for the big bombardment that is to take place in a couple of days. We were joined by several other batteries and soon forces were everywhere.There were guns under almost every tree. Our giant 15 inch Howitzer was to make her debut, as well as quite a few of our new 9.2 inch guns. Communications would be critical so George and I made sure that we laid out double lines to our observing sta- tion, as well as lines to various parts of the trenches.
Large amounts of ammunition were distributed at each gun. Every preparation was made to give the Germans the biggest shock they had yet to receive at our hands.
The bombardment of Neuve Chapelle commenced at 7:30 a.m. along a four mile front. It was beyond description, listen- ing to the tons of metal going through the air from all 476 guns. Our heavy artillery, a new 18 pound gun, was to con- centrate on the enemy’s trenches in order to cut the enemy’s wire entanglement. All the batteries kept up their fierce rate of firing for three-quarters of an hour.The bombardment was only lifted around the Bois-du-Beiz area to enable our infantry
Our trenches were lined with Garhwalis, Gurkhas, and several other regiments of native troops from India. The Leicestershire Regiment made the first charge, capturing the German trenches in grand style.They were held up on the edge of an orchard outside Neuve Chappell until a regiment of Territorials’ came to their assistance.With reinforcements a horrific battle of hand-to-hand fighting ensued, especially at a spot that we later called “The Street of Hell”.
The massive scale and fierceness of the fighting was more than I can describe. We finally gained control of the village about midday.
While the Leicestershire Regiment made their charge, the natives advanced on the right and captured the trenches in front. However, they were held up by machine guns in a re- doubt that was located on the left edge of the Bois du Biez.
The Gurkhas did grand work, especially with their wicked little knives, which accounted for many slit German heads. When the Germans ran from their trenches the little Gurkhas were right after them. Many of the little chaps would climb on the backs of the big Germans and cut their throats in the style of Sweeney Todd.
The Seaforths were brought up to assist.They made a splen- did charge, which (according to our officers, and many old campaigners observing with us), was the finest sight they had ever witnessed. The Seaforths went into the murderous ma- chine gunfire as though they were going to a picnic. In spite of the enormous losses they captured the redoubt, along with its contents of Germans and the machine guns