Primary Documents - German Report of the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, 10-13 March 1915

Indian troops praying.  Indian troops served in great numbers at Neuve Chapelle. Reproduced below is a German magazine account of the Battle of Neuve Chapelle launched as the first major British spring offensive of 1915 from 10-13 March.  Whereas British reports tended to stress the alleged success of the operation in seizing Neuve Chapelle - click here to read Count De Souza's report to this effect - the reality was that the British suffered heavy losses for relatively little material gain: approximately 12,000 casualties in all.

The German report reproduced below naturally placed much emphasis on British losses incurred during the attack, and emphasised the stern resolve of German soldiers to repulse the attack.

The author of the article also alleged that American ammunition was used by the British (America was at that time a neutral power), and that Indian troops deserted in sizeable numbers to the German side; and finally that the British used German prisoners-of-war as cover for their advance.  No proof was however offered for any of the charges.  As was common on both sides at the time, the chief aim was to score propaganda points at home.

German Magazine Commentary on the Battle of Neuve Chapelle by Margarete Munsterberg, 10-13 March 1915

(Translated from the popular Berlin periodical, the Kriegs-Rundschau)

The battlefield of Neuve Chapelle and Givenchy - about 7 or 8 kilometres broad - is bounded on the north by the railroad Merville-Laventie-Armentieres, on the south by the Canal d'Aire a la Bassee and is crossed by two main highways, from Estaires to La Bassee, and from Bethune to Armentieres.

Through this territory, in a south-westerly direction, flow the rivers Lawe and Louane, which, supplied by a multitude of brooks and small rivulets which issue from ponds, empty into the Canal d'Aire a la Bassee.

In a north-easterly direction the Lys with its tributaries flows through the battlefield, and farther on joins the Defile.  The character of the whole region follows from this great abundance of water; it is almost perfectly flat and does not rise any higher than 19 metres, and about 21 metres in the south near Givenchy.  Isolated groves and hedges break the monotony of this land upon which the exceedingly fierce battles of March 10th-14th were fought.

As early as October 29, 1914, our infantry regiment had stormed Neuve Chapelle, and until March 10th we were undisputed masters of the place.  At the beginning of March, however, when the foggy weather began and observation from the air was impossible, our opponent succeeded, around March 10th, in carrying out movements of troops, unnoticed by us.

As appeared through reports in English newspapers, he concentrated no less than two army corps, consisting of two English divisions, two Indian divisions and Canadian troops, besides very strong artillery, a part of which was French, for a joint attack upon our positions.  The attack surprised us greatly, but found us by no means unprepared, so that one Jager battalion and one infantry regiment were able for the present to repel the attack of the English.

These, however, directed an overwhelming artillery fire - about ten to twelve grenades (frequently of American origin) to one metre of the trench - against our lines of defence, which were completely buried.

In spite of these unfavourable conditions, the English attack was warded off twice, and again and again the enemy started new strong artillery fire.  Contemporaneous with this attack upon Neuve Chapelle, the English started a further attack upon Givenchy; an English infantry division advanced against two German battalions, but was repulsed with enormous losses through the fire of our infantry and artillery.

The English, advancing in great masses, were mowed down in sections.  Meanwhile the fight over Neuve Chapelle continued.  Here Indian troops rushed ahead - and seemingly unarmed.  In the preceding days numerous Indians had deserted to our lines, hence our troops believed that in this case they were again dealing with deserters and so did not shoot.  This sin of omission was thoroughly avenged; for close before our positions the Indians began to throw hand grenades and attacked the garrison of our trenches with knives.

Through these attacks by very superior numbers on March 10th, our troops in the trenches suffered severely, so that reserves had to be brought forward.  These gathered under terrible English fire and advanced against the English with contempt of death.  Although they did not succeed on this day in throwing the opponent out of the positions taken by him, nevertheless they were able to prevent a further advance of the greatly superior enemy forces and to hold the new positions against all attacks of the opponent.

On March 11th in the forenoon strong German artillery fire was directed against the enemy positions, and the attacks of the enemy were repulsed, although he succeeded in invading Neuve Chapelle at isolated points.

After more reserves had reached us on March 12th in the forenoon, we did the attacking; and the burning desire to settle with the hated English accelerated the steps of each soldier.  We succeeded in gaining ground at several points and in throwing the opponent back on Neuve Chapelle.  The complete re-conquest, however, of the place Neuve Chapelle itself, which was constantly under heavy enemy fire, would have required needless sacrifices, and for this reason we limited ourselves to attaining the general lines previously held by us.

The strategic plan of the enemy to break through had failed with enormous losses, and the English found themselves forced to give up their plans.  But the great moral success of the fighting round Neuve Chapelle and round Givenchy lies in the repulse by comparatively weak German troops, of his attempt to break through which was undertaken with such great masses.

Although the opponent succeeded in winning slight tactical successes and in gaining territory, these successes are quite out of proportion to the enormous losses, particularly of officers, which were characterized as "heavy" even by the enemy himself.

The papers have brought details, taken from letters and reports of officers, about the English method of warfare, which have been made known to the German troops as official warnings.  According to these, in the battles round Neuve Chapelle, 250 Englishmen, in German cloaks and helmets, lured a band of German soldiers toward them, only to shoot them down from a short distance.  German prisoners were used, as it were, as cover by the English during their advance.

Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. I, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923

"ANZAC" was coined in 1915 from the initials of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.

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