The mist of poisonous gas that drifted across no man’s land from the German trenches opposite the Ypres salient on 22 April 1915 caused ghastly casualties and suffering among the unprepared defenders, and it opened up a huge seven-mile gap in the defensive line. It also signalled the beginning of a new and frightful era of industrialized warfare. John Lee’s graphic and perceptive reassessment of this milestone in the history of the Great War – and of the gruelling full-scale battle that followed – is one of the few full-length studies of the event to have been published in recent times.
Using graphic eyewitness accounts, memoirs and diaries as well as documentary records, he reconstructs the battle as it was experienced by the soldiers who fought on the ground. He describes in vivid detail how the battle escalated as the Germans, taken by surprise by the immediate success of their experimental use of gas, launched a series of hastily prepared attacks. And he records the Allied response – first a desperate defence, then a series of ill-conceived counter-attacks that proved very costly and, ultimately, ineffective.
At the time of the battle, tactics on the Western Front were still evolving to meet the conditions of industrialized warfare, and the outcome of the 1915 battle at Ypres was inconclusive, but the troops involved in a month of desperate defensive fighting fought as heroically as those who took part in the more celebrated battles for the salient.
As a writer, lecturer and battlefield tour guide, John Lee has established a reputation as an expert on the history of the First World War. He is an Honorary Research Fellow at Birmingham University, a National Council Member of the Army Records Society, a member of the British Commission for Military History, the Western Front Association and the Gallipoli Association. He is the author of A soldier’s Life: General Sir Ian Hamilton 1853 -1947 and The Warlords: The Campaigns of Hindenburg and Ludendorff.