The Battles of Neuve Chapelle and Artois
battle in the First World War
It was a
British offensive in the Artois region and
broke through at Neuve-Chapelle but they were unable to exploit the
The battle began on 10 March 1915
. By this time, a huge influx of troops from
Britain had to some extent relieved the French situation in
Flanders and enabled a continuous British line stretching from
Langemarck to Givenchy.
ultimate aim of the battle was to cause a rupture in the German
lines which would then be exploited with a rush on the Aubers Ridge and possibly even Lille, a major
enemy communications centre. A simultaneous French assault on the
Ridge was also planned although the situation in Champagne soon led to this particular
part of the operation to be postponed.
This was to be the
first time that aerial
was to play a prominent part in a major battle with
the entire German lines being mapped from the air.
Despite poor weather conditions, the early stages of the battle
went extremely well for the British. The Royal Flying Corps
quickly secured aerial
dominance and set about bombarding German reserves and
transportation (railways) en route to defend the area. In the
center of the attack, two companies of the German Jaeger Battalion
11 (with approx. 200 men and a single machinegun surviving the
initial shelling) delayed the advance for more than six hours until
forced to retreat. Shortly after, Neuve Chapelle itself had been
secured. It was at this point that the advance ground to a halt.
Though the aerial photography had been useful to an extent, it was
unable to efficiently identify the enemy's strong defensive points.
Primitive communication also meant that British commanders had been
unable to keep in touch with each other and the battle thus became
uncoordinated and this in turn disrupted the supply lines. On 12
March, German forces commanded by Crown Prince Rupprecht
counter-attack which, although unsuccessful, did at least manage to
end any chance of further advancement; the campaign was officially
abandoned on 13 March. 40,000 Allied troops took part during the
battle and suffered 11,200 (7,000 British, 4,200 Indian)casualties.
The Germans lost around the same number. In total, the British
succeeded in recapturing just over 2 km of lost ground.
After the failure of the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, the British
Commander-in-Chief Field Marshal
claimed that it failed due to a lack of shells. This led
to the Shell Crisis of 1915
which brought down the Liberal
British government under the Premiership
of H. H. Asquith
. He formed a new coalition government
dominated by Liberals and appointed Lloyd George
as Minister of Munitions
. It was a
recognition that the whole economy would have to be geared for war
if the Allies were to prevail on the Western Front.
Indian Army in Neuve-Chapelle
The British Indian Army
significant amount of combat around Neuve-Chapelle. First they
attempt to seal the breach that the Germans (under General Erich
van Falkenhayn) had created in the British Line just south of
Neuve-Chapelle. On the 28th October 1914, the Indian Corps
initially succeeded in entering
into the village of Neuve Chapelle but were forced to retreat after
a strong German counter attack. Further fighting continued for a
week with the additional loss of 25 British and more than 500
Indians killed, with 1,450 wounded. In December 1914, the Indian
Corps moved to the Givenchy area south of Neuve-Chapelle. On the
16th December 1914, they attempted to capture a German front trench
line without success losing 54 men. This raised the total number
killed to that date to over 2,000.
The Indian Corps provided half the attacking force at the Battle of
Neuve Chapelle which started on the 10th March 1915. It was one of
the major engagements for the Indian Army on the Western Front.
of the Indian Corps participated attempted to break the German
lines at Neuve Chapelle and went on to capture Aubers.
However, a logistical failure in moving British guns within range
to cover the advance saw the Indian troops go in without covering
fire. Almost 1,000 were killed. Other equally futile attacks were
ordered that day by the British 1st Army commander, General Sir
Douglas Haig, with similar tragic results. On 25 April 1915, the
Indian Corps had its first full exposure to toxic gas
Rifleman Gobar Singh Negi
2nd / 39th Garhwal Rifles
awarded the Victoria Cross
United Kingdom’s highest award for valour. From his citation:
For most conspicuous bravery on 10 March, 1915, at
Neuve-Chapelle. During our attack on the German position
he was one of a bayonet party with bombs who entered their main
trench, and was the first man to go round each traverse, driving
back the enemy until they were eventually forced to surrender.
He was killed during this engagement.
Gobar Singh Negi was
one of 4700 solders of the Indian Army who are commemorated at the
Neuve-Chapelle Indian Memorial maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves
of Indian Army and the Indian Labour Corps are found at Ayette, Souchez and Neuve-Chapelle.
- Cassar, George. Kitchener's War: British Strategy from 1914 to
1916. Brassey's Inc. Washington 2004. ISBN 1-57488-708-4