“The situation at Neuve Chapelle, when morning dawned, was most unsatisfactory.” Once again Edmonds, the British official historian, shows a fine command of understatement.
It’s obvious that II Corps is not going to get anywhere near La Bassee. The ones who aren’t terminally dead are at least dead beat. On come the Germans again, and this time Neuve Chapelle is taken. Snipers and machine guns quickly install themselves in such buildings that remain in the village, most of them reduced to ruins. The British forces drag themselves back into shape, most of them now in scratch units cobbled together out of whoever happened to be sleeping next to each other.
There is a counter-attack. There is artillery support. There are reinforcements, after a fashion. The men advance to within 100 yards of Neuve Chapelle, on all sides, and there they go no further, except to fall down dead. The line sways dangerously for a while, but holds, and once again it’s time to dig for your life. Soon the Indian Corps will arrive in force and II Corps will be able to have a moment out of the line. Until then, no reasoning why, but plenty of doing and dying.
The new super-dreadnought HMS Audacious is cruising off the Irish coast when she strikes a German mine. In a cruel irony, everyone remembers what had happened to Hogue, Cressy, and Aboukir at the hands of U-9, and leaves Audacious to her fate. (Besides, the mere presence of a German mine-layer west of Scapa Flow is a minor miracle in and of itself.) By the time it becomes obvious that the culprit was a mine, it’s too late to save the ship, and she sinks at 8:45pm. All the crew are taken off by various assisting craft, including the Olympic, sister liner to Titanic. Audacious achieves the unwanted distinction of becoming the first British battleship lost in the war.
The Belgian engineers have better luck with their careful ministrations to the River Yser and its canal. All they can do now is wait as the tide comes in, again and again, and hope that the water level starts rising.
Some optimistic French sources report a successful advance on Poelcappelle today. It’s composed of a few houses here, and fifty yards or so there. Between their positions on Poelcappelle and Passchendaele Ridge, the Germans can enfilade virtually any troop movement the French want to make, and they take full advantage of it. General Dubois is not one of those optimists; he used the word “feeble” (except he said it in French), and it’s as good as any.
The BEF command structure around Ypres is rearranged, and all operations in the salient are consolidated under General Haig and I Corps. As the Germans heavily shell the new British positions on the Menin Road, Haig attempts to reshuffle his dispositions. This takes most of the day, and to an untrained eye might look something like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. Haig and Sir John French are still optimistic about the possibility of an advance towards Menin in the coming days.
The Germans probe at Armentieres, calling down yet another heavy bombardment, the British guns mostly unable to answer back due to rationing of shells. The infantry comes in and is very surprised to find the British trenches still mostly occupied and belligerent. The attack is beaten off, and bodies begin piling up in front of the wire. A hundred in this sector, fifty more in that sector.
Actions in Progress
The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. In today’s paper: The court reports on Page 3 are often a reliable source of comedy; today we find a highly amusing case, revolving around a tin of anchovy paste. Elsewhere, page 6 has reports of some early air-to-air combat between French and German fliers, page 7 boasts an advert for “Angier’s Emulsion” to cure constipation, Gamages has dropped the “Tremendous Slaughter…in Prices” slogan, and on page 13 we find a proposed resolution from the Golfers’ Club to bar anyone “of German or Austrian origin” from all golf clubs in the country until the end of the war. That’ll show the Kaiser!