March 1915

The 10th March 1915 saw the commencement of the Battle of Neuve Chappelle by British forces of the First Army under the command of General Douglas Haig. The task of the First Army Corps was to take Neuve Chappelle and finally Aubers Ridge less than one mile to the East. The First Army Corps consisted of British and Indian forces. The whole British Army was very inexperienced in trench warfare from Senior Leadership down to the soldiers in the line.

The battle commenced at 8.05am with a 35-minute artillery barrage along the German Trenches at Neuve Chappelle. The attack by the British and Indian Infantry on a frontage of 4000-yards began immediately on cessation of the artillery bombardment. The centre successfully captured the village of Neuve Chappelle by 9.00am. The left flank had lost approximately 1000 advancing troops owing to undamaged German trenches. The right flank was in danger of being isolated and were ordered to halt and await further orders.


Communications were poor between Allied Command and the front line troops. The slowness and accuracy of intelligence was mainly because the front line telephone cables had been cut or destroyed by enemy shellfire. The Corps Commander Lt-General Sir Henry Rawlinson was aware only of the initial capture of the village but unaware of the gap on the left hand flank. Rawlinson ordered a general advance even though his support troops were unprepared. With the confusion, some of the British Artillery opened fire on friendly infantry. With the light fading in the late afternoon, the forward units were attacking without sufficient artillery support against a hardening German defence.


The Battle of Neuve Chappelle lasted 3 days, and on the 13th March 1915, the British troops repelled a German attack and immediately the BEF counter attacked. Many of their units had suffered high casualties so the British called a halt less than two hours later.                The attack was called off after the British had captured a salient 2000 yards wide and 1200 yards deep.


Following the naval bombardment of the Turkish forts during the attack in February 1915 and after some initial success, the Turkish forces proved to be of stronger opposition than was expected. The waters of the Dardanelles were thought to be heavily mined. Turkish forces had been redeployed to defend against infantry attack in the Dardanelles. The British attack ground to a halt after British minesweeping trawlers had failed to clear the mined area. Admiral Carden, the Commander in Chief of the Allied fleet in the Dardanelles, collapsed through ill health and his replacement was Rear-Admiral Robeck.’ On the12th March 1915 the Secretary of State for War Lord Kitchener appointed Sir Ian Hamilton to take command of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF). Lieutenant-General Birdwood, who commanded the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) forces based at Cairo in Egypt, suggested the army had an input to support the naval attack. The MEF consisted of the ANZAC forces of the Australian and New Zealand armies together with British and French troops.


Hamilton left for the Dardanelles on the 12th March 1915 with the MEF and arrived on the 18th March 1915. He did not have sufficient information available, due to inadequate intelligence, regarding Turkish strength or the fighting capabilities of the Turkish forces. This lack of information led him to believe the qualities and tactics of the Turkish forces were not of any consequence. This belief was to prove disastrous.


In the Dardanelles three British battleships were sunk, a further three battleships crippled but not sunk. The British had lost 2/3 of their battle fleet in the Dardanelles because the mine clearing trawlers had failed to locate and clear the mined areas. On 22nd March 1915, Hamilton and Robeck decided that the remaining fleet would sail to Alexandria to enable repairs to be carried out. In the meantime, Hamilton arranged for his force to prepare for an infantry invasion of Gallipoli. Winston Churchill was adamant that the decision was taken without Government approval or knowledge. At the time these events were happening the British War Council did not meet, nor were they to meet again for another two months.


The 21st March 1915 saw the first German Zeppelin airships appear over the skies of Paris. The Germans sent aircraft to attack Paris between August-November 1914. The 30th August 1914 saw Germany dropping four 5lb bombs on Paris, the last “bomb” being a bag of sand. Attached to the bomb was a message saying, “The Germans Army is at your gates. You can do nothing but surrender.” This message had little effect because the citizens of Paris had become used to the daily aircraft flying over the city. With the arrival of the Zeppelin airships in March 1915, bombing raids against Paris had been established.


On the 24th March 1915 the Prussian born German General Otto Liman von Sanders was appointed to command the Otterman Fifth Army. Arriving at Gallipoli on the 26th March 1915 Liman von Sanders reorganised his defences to make the most of the advantage of the high ground. The Turkish army had the experience of fighting during the Balkan Wars the previous year. They had learnt from their campaign whereas their British and French enemies lacked experience in this type of warfare. This was to be the precursor to the Gallipoli campaign.











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