chapter  4
11 Pages

The War in 1915: Badly Planned Disasters

The muddled state of war aims in 1915 corresponded to the muddled state of the war itself. Germany had failed to carry its plan to the intended conclusion but still held the strategic initiative in the east and west. In particular, Falkenhayn had the advantage of a reserve of manpower which, thanks to the central position of Germany and to the railway system, he could deploy where he wanted. Brusilov’s success in September led Falkenhayn to fear that AustriaHungary was too weak to resist Russia by herself. So he moved his reserve from west to east, using a chlorine gas attack at Ypres on 22 April to cover the withdrawal of eleven divisions and to test the effectiveness of poison gas as a weapon. Gas had not been used on the Western Front before, and the Algerians and French reservists who were its first victims broke and ran. The BEF, including the 1st Canadian Division, stood its ground on the second day and, at the cost of 2,000 lives, plugged the gap [Doc. 7]. Because the gas attack was experimental and the Germans intended to stay on the defensive in the west, they were not ready to exploit their initial success. The Allies quickly improvised gas masks, and poison gas became a feature of the new warfare, limited because of its dependence on the wind and terrain but increasingly part of the dehumanized environment of the Front and always deadly to the unwary [Docs. 13 and 17].