Yser | 16 Oct 1914

It’s a big day in Flanders.  The Allies make several important gains, and the Germans begin their advance against the Belgian last-ditch positions on the River Yser. There’s also a couple of slow-burners for the African theatre and the search for Emden.

Yser & Ypres

The Belgians have had a few days to install themselves on the Yser. Preliminary preparations have been made for their arrival. This will be their last stand, and they’re ready for it. From these positions, there is nowhere defensible to fall back to. Headquarters is at Nieuport, straddling the Yser estuary. The line currently extends out from the river in several places. Nieuport is defended by advanced positions at Lombartzyde and Westende. To the south, the line runs a mile ahead of the Yser Canal, through Schoore to Beerst, and then on to Dixmude. Dixmude has been strongly reinforced by a force of French reservists, cavalry, and the Fusiliers Marins (like Marines except not called that because France) under Colonel Jacques. Then the line passes over to the British 7th Division.

Additionally, the Royal Navy has sent three monitors, Mersey, Severn, and Humber, across the Channel. Their powerful guns will be able to give vital artillery support to the Belgians from the Yser. While on the crossing, Severn has had the narrowest of narrow squeaks. She was torpedoed by U-8, but the ship had been incorrectly identified, and the torpedo passed clean underneath the bottom of the shallow-drafted riverine vessel.

As for 7th Division, they’re still advancing rather casually towards Roulers and Menin, stopping for the night around Zonnebeke. The cavalry is in Passchendale. There’s no rush. Intelligence doesn’t report any significant German presence in front of them, and they may yet be needed to help the fighting around Armentieres.

Or is there? In the afternoon, Belgian forces come under heavy attack, and are forced to retire from the Forest of Houthulst, a highly defensible position ahead of Dixmude. It seems that reports of the German army’s absence may not be entirely in accord with the facts…

Armentieres & La Bassee

The southerly operations continue to progress, slowly but surely. The BEF secures vital crossing-points for itself on the River Lys and takes up positions to attack Armentieres. The advance up the La Bassee canal continues with the eviction of Germans from Givenchy, Violanes and Aubers town. If this advance continues, there’s a strong possibility of being able to encircle Lille by November, seize that critical railway line, and look to aid the Belgians in advancing towards Ostend and Bruges.


On the Eastern Front, German units have advanced well past the Vistula, to within seven miles of Warsaw. The fighting remains heavy and confused, and they are isolated enough for the German generals not to feel entirely comfortable.

A major troop-fleet leaves India today. It contains reinforcements for locations across the Empire. Many are bound for France, but others will be doing garrison duty at places such as Cairo, guarding the Suez Canal. A detachment of 8,000 is earmarked for a major offensive against German East Africa.

In the Indian Ocean, HMS Yarmouth strikes an important, although indirect, blow against Emden. She successfully captures and sinks one of Emden’s roaming collier vessels. Fuel is of the highest concern for Emden, and the loss of a collier ship will inhibit her later movements.

Actions in Progress

Battle of the Vistula
Battle of La Bassee
Battle of Armentieres
Battle of the Yser

Further Reading

The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. In today’s paper: Princess Mary launches a fund to provide every British soldier with a Christmas present (page 8), the German folk-tale Shock-Headed Peter is reimagined as Swollen-Headed William (page 4), and yet another spurious account of Russian victories in the East berates the Germans because “It is evident that the Germans invigorate themselves with alcohol before battle” (page 11). So what’s in all the bottles the British officers are toting around, then? Scotch mist?

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