Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, March 9, 2015

100 Years Ago: The British Army About to Take the Offensive at the Battle of Neuve-Chapelle

British Troops Advancing to the Front Near Neuve-Chapelle

Tomorrow is the 100th anniversary opening of the of the British Army's first set-piece offensive action of the Great War, the Battle of Neuve-Chapelle.  The attack took the outnumbered Germans by surprise allowing the British to penetrate four lines of trenches and take the village of Neuve-Chapelle. However, they were unable to exploit the narrow breach they had created in the German lines and push on to their tactical objective (see map below) or threaten the occupied city of Lille, 12 miles distant. Lille would not be liberated until October 1918. Cavalry, contemplated to exploit the breakthrough, was never deployed.

Quick Facts

Where:    North of Paris in the Pas-de-Calais, 21 miles north of Arras, about 130 miles from Paris

When:  10–13 March 1918

Allied Units Participating:  British First Army, Including Canadian and Indian Army Formations (four divisions) Supported by Second Army Units

Allied Commanders:   General Sir Douglas Haig (First Army), General Horace Smith-Dorrien (Second Army)

Opposing Forces:  German Sixth Army (two divisions+)

German Commander:  Crown Prince Rupprecht

Casualties: 13,000 British and 12,000 German, Killed, Wounded, and Captured     

Royal Scots Fusiliers Advancing After Artillery Barrage

Memorable Aspects:

  • First attack on trenches mounted from a trench-line in the Great War and included some successes: tactical surprise, cutting of barbed wire barricades, and penetration of multiple lines of trenches.

  • First action (in a diversionary role) of Canadian forces on the Western Front.

  • Early case study of the difficulties of breaking through well-defended trenches, including congestion behind the front, coordinating artillery with the infantry advance, bringing up reinforcements, and preparing for counterattacks.

  • The battle of Neuve-Chapelle was the first indication of the shell shortage that would plague the British Army throughout 1915, which would eventually be corrected under the leadership of David Lloyd George and boost his political ascendancy.

  • In after-action analysis the British Army concluded that advancing troops needed a light machine gun, and the Lewis gun eventually proved to be the solution for this purpose.

  • General Haig afterward would persist in his hope of using cavalry to exploit breakthroughs.

Two British Gunners Killed in the Battle Near Their Gun


Neuve-Chapelle was an important part of the learning curve for the British Army, which was undergoing tremendous expansion in 1915.  The casualty figures show the incredible price that would be paid throughout the war for such learning experience by all the combatants.

Sources:  Imperial War Museum, Canadian Forces Website


  1. I appreciate the info under "Overall"
    Q: exactly how many were actually killed or injured during this engagement both sides? (not "official counts", but best known headcounts as of today, 2015)

  2. Many of the men listed as missing were probably killed in action. Also a number of the wounded also died of their wounds and would not be listed as killed unless they died in the Casualty Clearing Stations behind the lines or in the regimental aid posts. Official counts are those immediately taken after the battle. I do not believe a study has ever been done on the exact versus the official count of casualties has been done.

  3. The British gun depicted above looks really old!

  4. James, that was my impression as well. There is certainly something odd about the gun. Could it be that the barrel assembly has been rolled onto its side by an explosion nearby?


  5. Thank you for your interesting and informative blog. I have enjoyed reading it and appreciate the work you have put into it. Here is some relevant information for you to review .
    army vest sets