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Lecture 5

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Western University
History 1810E
Margaret Mc Glynn

History 1810E Monday January 20 Lecture 5 Westerners Outline: I. Grand Strategy II. The 2 Battle of Ypres III. The Somme IV. Vimy Ridge 1. Grand Strategy • By December 1914, the Western front had solidified into one large, defensive position (from England to the Swiss border), but this alone didn’t mean there couldn’t be a peaceful settlement and hundreds of thousands of lives had to be sacrificed • For the first 6 months of the war (August 1914 – December), the casualties on both sides were enormous. o The Allies (French, British, Belgians) had lost about 1 million men (about 400,000 were killed) o The Germans lost about 750,000 (about 200,000 were killed) • No government went to war wanting to lose 1 million men in the first 6 months (it is not cost effective) • The grand strategy was to bring the war to a successful conclusion with minimal lives lost. • Geography: o The Westerners believed that the war could only be won on the Western front. o The Easterners (anyone else outside of Western Europe) believed that the war could only be won away from the Western front. • Douglas Haig: Was promoted to Commander in Chief of the British Expeditionary Force o He was in charge of all British armies on the Western front (including the Canadians) o To open war anywhere else would be taking troops away from him on the Western front o He believed the Western front (France and Belgium) was the only place where the war could be decided – anywhere else was a ‘side show’  As long as the Germans occupied France and Belgium, the war could not be won. • William Robertson: Chief of the Imperial General Staff (senior soldier in the entire British Empire) o He is the only individual to have risen from the lowest rank in the British army (a Private) to Field Marshall • Neither Haig nor Robertson were particularly creative and didn’t tend to think outside of the box • Canada didn’t really have a position in the debate between Easterners and Westerners o The vast majority were on the Western front, so by default they were Westerners nd 2. The 2 Battle of Ypres • Ypres is the last corner of Belgium still in Allied hands • When Canadian troops got to Ypres, it had been relatively quiet and there was no indication that anything unusual would happen anytime soon • There was a sudden outbreak in April 1915 of small arms fire (not necessarily unusual), but shortly after, there was a greenish/yellow cloud drifting over the lines. The small arms fire increased ten-fold (a sign something big was going on). o This was the first chemical gas attack (chlorine) of the First World War. • German troops were pushing south as much as 3 miles into Allied lines. o This left the Canadian division entirely exposed (they had to defend the trench at the front and now the left hand side). o If the Germans could continue to press south, they would take the city of Ypres and possibly complete their conquest of Belgium. o The only thing that stood in the Germans’ way was this division of Canadians. • This was one of the most confusing engagements of the First World War: o The Canadians had to re-orientate themselves, take over the lines that the French had evacuated (tripled the amount of position they had to hold), all while gas attacks were going on o Gradually, the Germans pushed the Canadians further and further south o The line finally held and the Canadians were able to hold on, and the German advance ran out of steam (ending the 2 Battle of Ypres) • This was an enormous missed opportunity for the Germans – they were very close to knocking Belgium out of the war, and a German victory at Ypres could have won them the war in April of 1915 • Some Canadian commanders didn’t do very well (and were replaced shortly afterwards), but overall they performed remarkably well o Usually the only reason they retreated or gave up ground was because there was no one left who could fire a rifle o The division had about 18,000 at the beginning of the battle, but about 1/3 (6,000) were dead, wounded, or missing after the battle • How was a poorly trained, very unexperienced division, able to halt one of the premier fighting forces on the Western front? o The fact that the Canadian division wasn’t very well trained was to their benefit – if they knew more about military tactics, they would have realized they were in an impossible situatio
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