A ‘Virtual Battlefield Tour’ from Fields of War: Fifty Key Battlefields in France and Belgium
During the First Battle of the Marne, the hastily assembled French Sixth Army threatened Kluck’s German First Army’s exposed right flank. There ensued a steady series of troop movements known as ‘The Race to the Sea’ in which both sides attempted to turn the enemy’s flank. Generalleutnant Erich von Falkenhayn sent the German Fourth Army (Duke Albrecht of Württemberg) including Beseler’s Corps against Flanders with the aim of capturing Calais. By 14 October, the Belgians were positioned behind the Yser and its canal, and the British 7th Division and 3rd Cavalry Division, forming the new IV Corps, were around Ypres.
|OBJECTIVE||To destroy the Belgian Army and Continue westward to capture Calais|
|BELGIAN:||Six infantry divisions and one cavalry division of the Belgian Army (King Albert I) supported by French Marins Fusiliers (amiral Pierre Ronarc'h)|
|GERMAN:||III Reserve Corps (General der Infanterie Hans von Beseler)|
|RESULT||The Belgians, with French support, successfully stopped the German drive by flooding the polder.|
|BELGIAN:||3,159 killed and 16,900 wounded|
|GERMAN:||at least 9,500 killed|
|LOCATION||Ypres is 250 km north of Paris; Diksmuide is 24 km north of Ypres|
On 18 October, the Germans opened their attack with a heavy artillery bombardment along the entire Belgian line, and followed it with infantry incursions into the forward outposts at Sint Pieters Kapelle, Keiem, and Beerst. An attempt by the German III Reserve Corps to take Westende was beaten back by shellfire from three British monitors lying off the coast. Belgian reserves were largely committed over the next two days while the assaults continued - some forward positions changing hands several times. On 20 October, attention shifted to Mannekensvere, where General Beseler’s corps sent three divisions against three Belgian regiments. Despite bombardment from German 210-mm howitzers, the Belgians held the city, even recapturing Lombardsijde on 22 October.
Also on 20 October, the German 43rd and 44th Reserve Divisions started their assault upon Diksmuide against général Meiser’s brigade. On the roads leading into the city, Colonel Jacques and his 12th Regiment of the Line earned fame - and a statue in the Diksmuide town square - with his spirited defense of the approaches from the northeast, east and south. Ronarc’h’s men held the west bank of the river, north of the city. The German preliminary artillery barrage set Diksmuide on fire, while heavy winds spread the flames from house to house across the narrow streets. The cycle of infantry attack followed by artillery fire continued throughout the day. On 24 October, the Germans launched their most determined effort to take the city, launching fifteen waves of infantry after an exceptionally heavy bombardment. The German effort ultimately failed, but the casualties and diminishing supplies of ammunition were weakening the Belgian resistance.
Meanwhile at Tervate, the German Reserve Infantry Regiment Nr 26 breached the Belgian lines during the night of 21 October by crossing the river on a temporary footbridge. Belgian counterattacks were not able to destroy the rapidly expanding bridgehead.
As the Belgian Army’s situation became dire, a desperate plan was developed to flood the low land between the Yser and the rail line by opening the sluice gates to the North Sea. Engineers constructed small dams at each of the twenty-two culverts that crossed below the rail line and regulated the canal levels for eight days while the army slowly withdrew.
In a final effort the Germans again attacked Ramskapelle on 31 October, but with the water slowly rising around them and the strong Belgian resistance, they ended the offensive. Diksmuide finally fell to the Germans on 11 November in a separate assault.
View 15 Battle of the Yser: 18 to 31 October 1914 - A Virtual Battlefield Tour by French Battlefields (www.frenchbattlefields.com) in a larger map
The Statue of général-Baron Jacques de Diksmuide statue honoring the defender of the city, Colonel Jacques, is in the center of the Grote Markt, Diksmuide. (51.033217,2.864717)
The white wall Admiral Ronarc’h Memorial commemorates the sacrifice of Admiral Pierre Alexis Ronarc’h and his French Marin Fusiliers in their defense of Diksmuide during October 1914. (51.034344,2.868912)
The first Peace Gate was built after the 1914-18 war by an association of Flemish veterans but this was dynamited in 1946. The remains of the old tower now form the "Paxpoort" or "Gate of Peace". The words "Nooit meer Oorlog"(Never again War) are written on the tower in Flemish, French, English and German. The gate has become a monument to Flemish leaders who died for protesting the French dominated army and central government. The issue remains a controversial subject in Flanders. (51.032401,2.853945)
The 84-meter IJzertoren or Peace Tower holds a museum of the history of Flanders with emphasis upon the First World War. Dramatic views over the Yser battlefield can be obtained from the observation room on the 22nd floor. A stunning panoramic photograph shows what the landscape looked like in 1914 and helps locate battle sites. Each floor has exhibits on Flemish history. Open daily from 10:00 to 18:00 from April to September. (51.031675,2.8521)
The Dodengang (Trench of Death or le Boyau de la Mort) is a well-preserved Belgian trench system dramatically revealing some of the most deadly local fighting that occurred for almost four years, even until the final allied Advance of 1918. After the end of the battle of the Yser, the Germans established a machine gun position near ruined petrol tanks on the west side of the canal. The Belgians started digging a trench northwards to recapture the site, not knowing that the Germans had started digging a trench southwards. These efforts resulted in the enemies being only meters from each other. Periodic strengthening of the positions took place with the construction - usually under enemy fire - of concrete pillboxes. The area hence experienced its own little war, with the Germans on three sides of the Belgian trench line. Snipers and bombers made the trench so dangerous that Belgian troops were assigned there for only a three-day rotation. All supply and reinforcement efforts had to be conducted at night over two footbridges across strips of the flooded zone.
The visitor’s center and Dodengang is open every day from April to 11 November from 09:00 to 17:00, except during the winter when it is open only on weekends. No admission charge. (51.045964,2.843174)
The Albertina Stone marks the farthest German advance. (51.048048,2.824768)
The O.L. Vrouwhoekje Chapel formed an isolated forward position during the entire 1914- 1918 static war on this Yser Front. The roof of the original chapel can be mounted for a view of the battlefield. The ruin holds a memorial to Lt Martial Lekeux, a Belgian artillery officer and Franciscan monk, who commanded the observation post while under intense German artillery fire. (51.058697,2.832289)
Demarcation Stone marks the farthest German Advance and the start of the final Allied offensive in September 1918. (51.058658,2.832263)
A Oud-Stuivekenskerke Memorial Chapel built by the Belgian Army to commemorate the adjacent ruined chapel, which was a Belgian strongpoint during the Yser battle of 1914. The chapel holds stained glass windows portraying the king and queen and Belgian soldiers. A double row of 41 steles indicating the emblems of various military units are around the sides and rear of the chapel. (51.058867,2.832236)
5th Regiment of Lanciers Monument (51.058788,2.832273)
1st and 2nd Battalions of Carabiniers Cyclistes Monument (51.058906,2.832171)
The Château Victoria remained dry when the surrounding ground was flooded and was used as an isolated Belgian outpost used to observe German troop movements. (51.075209,2.827215)
The day after the opening of the first sluice gates in Nieuwpoort, the Germans managed to get themselves across the IJzer near Tervate using a makeshift bridge. A heroic but belated counter attack by Major Henri d'Oultremont and his 2nd Battalion 1st Grenadiers was murderously beaten off. The Grenadier Obelisk commemorates the engagement. (51.081472,2.844)
The stone Ramskapelle Franco - Belgian Memorial plaque acknowledges the role played by the French 16th Division fighting alongside the Belgian 6th Regiment and was erected by its people as a "thank you" to the French. (51.109406,2.762289)
The Ramskapelle wartime train station became a concrete observation post and it continues to mark the old railway embankment that was the front line after the flooding. (51.110686,2.767753)
The Albertina Stone marks the stopping of the German advance. (51.110873,2.767509)
The Ramskapelle Belgian Military Cemetery holds 634 Belgian war dead from the First World War in curving rows of graves. (51.114003,2.763689)
A Ramscapelle Road Military Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery with 843 burials. (51.12866,2.767809)
The King Albert I Memorial presents a mounted statue of King Albert I is surrounded by a memorial rotunda dedicated to him. A balcony around the top of the memorial offers views of the IJzer, the complex of sluice gates and canals, and the North Sea. The tower is open weekdays 1 March through 15 October from 08:45 to 12:00 and 13:15 to 18:00; 16 October through 28 February from 08:45 to 12:00 and 13:15 to 17:00. No admission charge; elevator. (51.135942,2.755787)
The Nieuwpoort Memorial to the Missing is guarded by three stone lions. The eight-meter stone records the 566 names of those who died in fighting at Antwerp in 1914 or in British actions along the seacoast in 1917 and have no known grave. Around the stone are inscribed words from Laurence Binyon’s For the Fallen, ‘They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.’ (51.136943,2.755618)
On the night of 29 October, Hendrik Geeraert, Chief Lockkeeper, crept into no man’s land with a small Belgian army patrol and opened the last of the sluice gates. The wartime gates have been replaced by their modern equivalent, but the Yser River Locks are still there. (51.13477,2.757512)
Memorial Obelisk to French 81st Division d’Infanterie (51.135916,2.757847)
The Mémorial de l'Yser or IJzergedenkteken (Belgian Memorial to the Battle of the Yser ) marks Belgium’s resistance to the German invasion of 1914. The figure of a woman at the top of the column represents Belgium defiantly clutching the Belgian crown and holding it away from the grasp of the invading Germans. (51.13428,2.757796)
This Albertina Stone memorial commemorates the opening of the Yser floodgates. The inscription in Flemish reads “Onderwaterzetting 29th October 1914”. (51.133504,2.757579)
Vladslo German Cemetery is 3 km northeast of the village of Vladslo and contains the remains of 25,644 German soldiers. The cemetery is known for a pair of kneeling figures by famed sculptress Kaethe Kollwitz, whose son was killed in the 1914 fighting and is buried nearby. The figures have come to symbolize the grief of all parents who lost a child during the war. (51.070916,2.930099)
Fields of War: Fifty Key Battlefields in France and Belgium