Battle of Neuve Chapelle

British Army, 80,000
General Douglas Haig
General Smith-Dorrien
Sir Henry Rawlinson

German Army, 50,000
General Falkenhayn
Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria

Barrage Fire Used for the First Time by the Germans

The dearest "victory" yet won during the War was that of the British in the battle at Neuve Chapelle, beginning March 10, 1915. This engagement was otherwise noteworthy as the first in which the barrage fire was used by either side. The Allies and the Germans had rested quietly in their muddied trenches all winter long with nothing to relieve the monotony save occasional "nibbling" operations intended to straighten the lines.

Early in February, General Langle de Carey's French army in Champagne had made an attack upon the Germans at Perthes, and reinforcements had been drawn from the German trenches between La Bassee and Lille, thus weakening their defences at Neuve Chapelle. Two British army corps, numbering 80,000 men, and commanded by General Sir Douglas Haig, were ordered to attack in the expectation of breaking through the German barrier.

On the morning of March 10, 1915, the British gunners found the exact range of the German trenches. At 7 o'clock the most deafening roar of artillery yet heard on the Western front shook the earth, as 350 huge howitzers and field guns dropped their lyddite shells and bombs into the German trenches at short range. For an hour the shell fire continued and behind this the English soldiers walked in safety through No-Man's Land. The barbed wire emplacements of the enemy at one end of the line were torn like threads.

Soon a dense pall of smoke hung over the German lines. The deadly fumes of the lyddite blew back into the English trenches. In some places the troops were smothered in dust, and spattered with blood from the hideous fragments of human bodies, that went hurling through the air. At one point, the upper half of a German officer, his cap crammed on his head, was blown into one of the British trenches.

Indian Troops Seize Neuve Chapelle

After an hour's bombardment of the German trenches, the curtain of fire was extended beyond the village, to clear the way for an infantry rush, and at the same time prevent German reinforcements reaching the front. In a twinkling the Hindu troops on the right of the British line went "over the top" and stormed the German trenches in front of the village of Neuve Chapelle, finding them filled with a welter of dead or dying men. The survivors mostly surrendered. Beyond the trenches the village of Neuve Chapelle was a heap of ruins. All that remained intact in that once fair village were two great crucifixes reared aloft, one in the churchyard, the other near a chateau. Meanwhile, the machine guns were keeping up their fire from houses in the outskirts.

Scottish Troops Slaughtered Through Blunder

At the other end of {he British lines, however, disaster attended the attack. The artillery on the left wing had failed to clear the barb-wire entanglements for the rush of the Scottish Rifles. The accidental destruction of the British field telephone system, by shell fire, also added to the confusion. The Scottish Rifles charged against the barbed wire, even tried to tear it with their hands, while the murderous fire of the Germans laid them low by thousands. Out of one battalion of 750 men, only 150 answered the roll call at the end of the day.

British Division Held in the Open Five Hours

To the left of Neuve Chapelle, on the Auber Ridge, the 7th Division also came to grief. This division had been ordered to wait at the ridge until after the Eighth Division had reached Neuve Chapelle before advancing through Aubers. Seeing their plight the Germans opened a deadly fire upon that front. At last, after facing this avalanche of shells for five hours, the division was ordered to charge the German gunners. The advance was made in the face of a blazing inferno of shell fire. In this hopeless assault, the British were slaughtered by thousands.

Late that afternoon, finding further advance impossible, the survivors intrenched under the relentless German fire. At daybreak the plucky Britons returned to the attack, but were so greatly outnumbered that a retreat to the trenches was ordered. In this one engagement the British lost 13,000 men; of these, 1751 officers and men were taken prisoners.

Germans Also Lose Heavily

The battle continued throughout Thursday, March llth, the British still holding Neuve Chapelle. Under cover of a fog, on the following day, Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria led a large German force in mass formation against the British position. As the German squares emerged from the Biez Wood, they were blown to fragments by the British gunfire.

Wave after wave of Bavarian and Westphalian troops advanced fearlessly to their doom. The slaughter was almost as great as that sustained by the English troops two days before. Finally the Germans withdrew, leaving the English in possession of Neuve Chapelle.

The three days' fighting had cost England 13,000 men, and it was estimated that the German losses were 18,000, chiefly incurred in counter-attacks.

The battle of Neuve Chapelle was an action in which, through a surprise attack. the British reconquered the position which the Germans had occupied in October and powerfully organized in front of the British pivot at La Bassee. This position formed a salient in the British line, and in order to preserve the integrity of that line (in other words to make it stronger), it was necessary to take the village of Neuve Chapelle -- which had been once before attacked unsuccessfully (October 28th). The former attempt had failed because it had been made with inadequate means. This time the operation was carried out by two army corps, the 4th Corps and the Indian Corps, which were swiftly and secretly concentrated on the line Rue d'Enfer-Richebourg St. Vast, their forward movement being covered and supported by the fire of 350 guns, British and French.

The Germans were surprised, outnumbered, outflanked on both sides, and, after a stubborn struggle, they were ousted from the position. The victory was complete and would have been more satisfactory had it been less costly. The British casualties exceeded 2,000 out of 50,000 men engaged on that occasion. This was due to the impetuosity of the new troops and of some officers who misunderstood the object of the attack, advanced too quickly and too far, and thus uselessly exposed their men to the effects of the severe counterblows which the Germans, with their accustomed thoroughness, did not fail to deliver. There also was confusion in the matter of bringing up re-enforcements. The position, however, remained in the possession of the British, although their opponents did all they could to recapture it -- a fact which when contrasted to the previous engagement makes it clear that the enemy was inferior both on the defense and the attack.

The French offensive in Champagne, which synchronized with the battle of Neuve Chapelle, was a more lengthy and methodical affair; it had also a totally different object. It started at the beginning of February and reached its climax at the date of Neuve Chapelle; it was carried out ostensibly to relieve the "pressure" exercised at the time by the Germans on the Russians in East Prussia and Suwalki; and for that reason it may be characterized as the first attempt at a coordination of movements between the two fronts. Locally it yielded good results; it displayed once more the offensive qualities of the French troops and gave them good practice in the newly adopted methods of artillery preparation and the combination of infantry and artillery assaults on a large scale; but its primary object was not attained, simply because it was sought on a wrong assumption. Hindenburg's contemporaneous move in East Prussia was a false one, meant mainly to distract the attention of the Russians from another sector of their front.

It was part of the enemy's plan to exaggerate the number of their forces in that quarter, and they succeeded so far as to lead the Allies to believe that strong German units were being withdrawn from the Western front. It was computed in many quarters that Hindenburg had fifteen army corps with him in East Prussia, whereas he could not have had more than a third of that number.

Nevertheless, General d'Esperey's movement in Champagne was brilliant. The artillery bombardment was heavy and effective. Strong hostile positions were stormed between Souain, Perthe and Beausejour, and the French made many captures, the Germans admitting in their communiques that their losses in that part of France were greater than those they had suffered in East Prussia, which were computed by themselves at 15,000.

The Battles of Neuve Chapelle and Artois was a battle in the First World War. It was a British offensive in the Artois region and broke through at Neuve-Chapelle but they were unable to exploit the advantage.

The battle began on 10 March 1915. By this time, a huge influx of troops from Britain had to some extent relieved the French situation in Flanders and enabled a continuous British line stretching from Langemarck to Givenchy. The ultimate aim of the battle was to cause a rupture in the German lines which would then be exploited with a rush on the Aubers Ridge and possibly even Lille, a major enemy communications centre. A simultaneous French assault on the Vimy Ridge was also planned although the situation in Champagne soon led to this particular part of the operation to be postponed. This was to be the first time that aerial photography was to play a prominent part in a major battle with the entire German lines being mapped from the air.

The battle

Despite poor weather conditions, the early stages of the battle went extremely well for the British. The Royal Flying Corps quickly secured aerial dominance and set about bombarding German reserves and transportation (railways) en route to defend the area. By noon, Neuve Chapelle itself had been secured. It was at this point that the advance ground to a halt. Though the aerial photography had been useful to an extent, it was unable to efficiently identify the enemy's strong defensive points. Primitive communication also meant that British commanders had been unable to keep in touch with each other and the battle thus became uncoordinated and this in turn disrupted the supply lines. On 12 March, German forces commanded by Crown Prince Rupprecht launched a counter-attack which, although unsuccessful, did at least manage to end any chance of further advancement; the campaign was officially abandoned on 13 March. 40,000 Allied troops took part during the battle and suffered 11,200 (7,000 British, 4,200 Indian)casualties. The Germans lost around the same number. In total, the British succeeded in recapturing just over 2 km of lost ground.


After the failure of the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, the British Commander-in-Chief Field Marshal Sir John French claimed that it failed due to a lack of shells. This led to the Shell Crisis of 1915 which brought down the Liberal British government under the Premiership of H. H. Asquith. He formed a new coalition government dominated by Liberals and appointed Lloyd George as Minister of Munitions. It was a recognition that the whole economy would have to be geared for war if the Allies were to prevail on the Western Front.

Indian Army in Neuve-Chapelle

The British Indian Army saw a significant amount of combat around Neuve-Chapelle. First they attempt to seal the breach that the Germans (under General Erich van Falkenhayn) had created in the British Line just south of Neuve-Chapelle. On the 28th October 1914, the Indian Corps initially succeeded in entering into the village of Neuve Chapelle but were forced to retreat after a strong German counter attack. Further fighting continued for a week with the additional loss of 25 British and more than 500 Indians killed, with 1,450 wounded. In December 1914, the Indian Corps moved to the Givenchy area south of Neuve-Chapelle. On the 16th December 1914, they attempted to capture a German front trench line without success losing 54 men. This raised the total number killed to that date to over 2,000.

The Indian Corps provided half the attacking force at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle which started on the 10th March 1915. It was one of the major engagements for the Indian Army on the Western Front. Elements of the Indian Corps participated attempted to break the German lines at Neuve Chapelle and went on to capture Aubers. However, a logistical failure in moving British guns within range to cover the advance saw the Indian troops go in without covering fire. Almost 1,000 were killed. Other equally futile attacks were ordered that day by the British 1st Army commander, General Sir Douglas Haig, with similar tragic results. On 25th April 1915, the Indian Corps had its first full exposure to toxic gas warfare.

Rifleman Gobar Singh Negi of the 2nd / 39th Garhwal Rifles was awarded the Victoria Cross, the United Kingdom’s highest award for valour. From his citation: For most conspicuous bravery on 10th March, 1915, at Neuve-Chapelle. During our attack on the German position he was one of a bayonet party with bombs who entered their main trench, and was the first man to go round each traverse, driving back the enemy until they were eventually forced to surrender. He was killed during this engagement. Gobar Singh Negi was one of 4700 solders of the Indian Army who are commemorated at the Neuve-Chapelle Indian Memorial maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

War graves of Indian Army and the Indian Labour Corps are found at Ayette, Souchez and Neuve-Chapelle.