Battle of La Bassée
|Battle of La Bassée|
|Part of the Race to the Sea on the Western Front (World War I)|
Neuve Chapelle to La Bassée area, 1914
|United Kingdom||German Empire|
|Commanders and leaders|
| Sir John French,
|Crown Prince Rupprecht|
|2nd Cavalry Brigade
|The Fourth Army
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of La Bassée was fought by German and Franco-British forces in northern France in October 1914, during reciprocal attempts by the opposing armies to envelop the northern flank of their opponent, which was sometimes known as the Race to the Sea. The German 6th Army took Lille before a British force could secure the town, while the 4th Army arrived and attacked the exposed British flank at Ypres. The British were driven back; the German Army occupied La Bassée and Neuve Chapelle. Around 15 October, the British recaptured Givenchy. However, they failed to reach La Bassée. Meanwhile, the German troops received reinforcements, and retook the initiative. Thanks to the arrival of the Lahore Division of the Indian Corps, the British held off the further German attacks until early November, when both sides focused their interest on the battle of Ypres, so that the battle around La Bassée died out and the line stabilised.
The British II Corps held a line from Arras–Armentières. The Germans had attempted to break through this line up until the 29 October, even though it was not as strategically vital as Ypres, covering the Channel Ports. British artillery broke up attacks and machine-guns prevented the German infantry from making noticeable gains. At one point, German infantry did succeed in creating a gap between 8th Brigade of the 3rd Division and the Jullundur Brigade of the Lahore division. The 15th Sikh and 1st Gordon battalions suffered heavily as both were inexperienced. The Sikhs in particular showed complete disregard for their own safety under shellfire. The Gordons had lost 80% of their pre-war regulars since the Battle of Le Cateau and had been sent drafts of reservists. The 4th Middlesex of 8th Brigade restored the front by counter-attack in the evening.
The state of II Corps was such that Smith-Dorrien asked the French for help. De Maud'huy also moved up his units to Givenchy and taking over the line enabling 5th Division to free three battalions for a reserve. Maud'hy agreed this, as the towns loss would mean the Germans could create a gap between the two armies. Conneau's Cavalry Corps contributed nine batteries, 5,000 cyclists, a dismounted battalion of 600 men and 300 men from a Chasseur battalion. On 26 October the Germans launched an attack on the junction between the 3rd Division and the 5th Division at Neuve-Chapelle. The Germans captured the town and reduced the 2nd Royal Irish to 20 officers and men, using the siege howitzers which had proved potent against the Belgian fortifications. Despite the destruction of the Irish and the loss of four guns, the battalions on each flank held and a counter-attack was organised at dusk by five companies from mixed battalions, which restored the line and retook most of the village, although the Germans remained in the northern edge.
The next day the British II Corps began an attack towards Neuve-Chappelle but a German attack, mounted at the same time, swept through the remaining British battalions, destroying the 1st Queens' Own West Kents. The 20th and 15th brigades along with the Lahore division stopped the attack with difficulty. After the fighting, 7th Brigade in 3rd Division was nearly worn out. Opposite the 3rd Division at Neuve Chapelle were 24 German battalions, the entire German 14th Division of VII Corps. On 28 October, the 7th Brigade, assisted by 14th Brigade and a battalion lent by the 6th Division, attempted to seize the town and establish a front to the east of it. Mist, faulty communications, exhausted officers all conspired to make coordination impossible. Only two companies of the 47th Sikhs, and the 20th and 21st companies of the Sappers and Miners advanced on the village and took the village in hand-to-hand fighting. The German counter-attack destroyed the Sikhs, who lost 289 men. The Sappers lost all of their officers and one-third of their men. Smith-Dorrien had never intended valuable sapper units to be used in any attacks, but they were committed through several misunderstandings and poor communications.
The British II Corps was practically disbanded and most of its battalions were distributed to I and III Corps. From 12–31 October the 3rd Division lost 5,835 casualties with the 8th and 9th brigades reduced by about 50%. On 31 October II Corps had only 14,000 men of the 24,000-man establishment. About 1,400 men were inexperienced drafts. Smith-Dorrien returned to England on 10 November while Willcocks, merging the Indian Corps with the remaining II Corps, assumed command. The Germans admitted 6,000 casualties during the battles with Smith-Dorrien's II Corps. Once installed in II Corps trenches, their replacements, the Indian Corps under Willcocks, came under heavy shellfire. Owing to poor tactics of remaining in trenches instead of retreating further back temporarily they suffered needless casualties. By 3 November 1,989 casualties had been incurred. Owing to indiscipline c. 65% of the casualties of the Indian Corps were self-inflicted wounds. Incidents were not always punished by court martial. Willcocks, unwilling to rely on the Indians, asked for and received four battalions from 14th Brigade.
The II Corps had c. 14,000 casualties, from 12–31 October the 3rd Division had 5,835 losses and the 5th Division nearly as many and the Indian Corps up to 31 October had 1,565 casualties.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Battle of La Bassée.|
- Rickard, J. Battle of La Bassée, 10 October – 2 November 1914
- Edmonds, J. E. (1922). Military Operations France and Belgium, 1914 Mons, the Retreat to the Seine, the Marne and the Aisne August–October 1914 (1st ed.). London: Macmillan. OCLC 58962523. Retrieved 4 January 2014.