German Offensive in West a Ruse;
Russians in East are Main Target.
The War in Verse
Special to The Great War Project
(18-20 May) Over the course of the past two weeks a century ago on the Western Front, fighting intensifies at the Belgian city of Ypres.
It’s being called the Second Battle of Ypres.
The Germans launch another assault on the British and French forces there. But this is a ruse, according to historian Michael Neiberg. The Germans mount their main attack against the Russians on the Eastern Front. But “in order to make their plans work effectively,” writes Neiberg, “the Germans decided on a limited attack in the west to disguise their real intentions.”
They hide their intentions under an enormous cloud of poison gas. “They opened the offensive with 168 tons of chlorine gas,” reports Neiberg, and the French troops on the Allied side fled “in understandable terror.” The Germans also use the gas to compensate for their troop strength at Ypres, which is significantly smaller than the Allied forces there.
This is the first battle in the war where poison gas is used on a large scale.
The plan is for the German troops to attack through the greenish-yellow lethal cloud, “but,” reports Neiberg, “lacking any kind of protection, they refused the orders or at least moved with extreme caution.”
So in the end, the Second Battle of Ypres is not decisive. It “did not produce any major gains for the Germans, but it did throw the Allies off balance and prevented them from detecting the transfer of German units to the east.”
There the German army routs the Russians and forces them into a devastating “Great Retreat.”
Neiberg points to one additional significant result of the Second Battle of Ypres. “It also led all of the great powers to increase the number of resources they put into both gas weapons and gas masks. Now that the Germans use poison gas in great quantities, the Allies “decided to follow suit.”
“The Western Front was about to receive a new and deadly threat.”