Ypres Cloth Hall Bombarded
Roger Hudson examines a 1915 photograph of the medieval Cloth Hall in the Belgian city of Ypres following heavy German shelling.
Second Ypres began in April 1915, the only major German attack that year on the Western Front. Rather than capture the town the Germans decided to destroy it by artillery bombardment. The civilian population of 17,000 was evacuated and the Cloth Hall together with St Martin’s Cathedral behind it were soon unrecognisable. The shelling served to divert attention from preparation for the first gas attack of the war, on April 22nd, on French troops to the south of the town. The chlorine killed 5,000 within ten minutes. The Germans were taken by surprise at their success, did not exploit it and were halted by a British counter-attack. The Canadians to the north of Ypres were attacked with gas on April 24th, but the Germans suffered big losses, too. The salient had to be shrunk in May and higher ground given up, but the line held. By the end there had been 59,000 British losses compared with 35,000 German.