The Year 1915 Illustrated/Battle of La Bassée

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AFTER the battles of the Marne and the Aisne the aim of the British and French armies was to outflank the German right and join up with the Belgian armies in Antwerp. With this object in view the British forces on the Aisne were transferred early in October to the neighbourhood of Bethune, with the object of bringing the greatest possible force to bear in the support of the Northern flank of the Allies. By 11th October, Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, commanding the Second Corps, had reached the line of the canal between Aire and Bethune, and during the following days an attempt was made to drive the Germans from La Bassée and Lille. The Third Corps, under General Pulteney, had detrained at St. Omer and marched to Hazebrouck. On the 12th it advanced eastward towards the line ArmentièresWytschaete, with the object of getting astride the Lys, and so joining up the Ypres and La Bassée sections of the front. Unfortunately for the Allies the whole offensive on the La Bassèe – Armentières front was doomed to failure. The Germans had been strongly reinforced and were able to hold the position they had taken both at Lille and La Bassée. In the desperate fighting which took place on October 13th, the 5th Dorsets lost their commanding officer, Major Roper, and 400 men, and on the 14th, Major-General Hubert Hamilton, of the 3rd Division, was killed by a shell.

By October 20th the offensive had passed into the hands of the enemy and the Allied forces were called upon to resist one of the strongest thrusts since the war commenced. The magnitude of the German forces can be best conjectured from the fact that the German Staff were able to attack almost simultaneously at four points – there was the main advance along the coast, the attempt to pierce the Ypres salient, and the offensives at La Bassée and Arras. In all these engagements the Allies were greatly outnumbered. Along a line of battle little short of a hundred miles their total strength was only about half-a-million, whilst the Germans must have numbered three times as many. The main attack at La Bassée lasted ten days, from the 22nd of October to the 2nd of November, and the general result was a complete failure of the German offensive, and the withdrawal of the Allies to a line running east of Givenchy to Neuve Chapelle. It was during this engagement that the Indian Corps, under the command of Sir James Willcocks, received their baptism of fire and achieved great distinction.