22 April - 25 May 1915

First World War

The Ypres salient saw brutal fighting throughout the First World War. It was created in 1914 when Allied forces fought the German advance to the Belgian coast to a standstill. 

In 1915, the German Army launched its only offensive on the Western Front that year against the salient. 


5 Facts About the Second Battle of Ypres

Discover more about the Second Battle of Ypres and a few highlights from our collection. 


1. It was a diversionary attack

The German attack at Ypres was a diversionary action. It concealed the movement of German forces away from the Western Front to Galicia, for the Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive that began in May.


2. The town of Ypres was evacuated

Despite heavy shelling in 1914, the population of Ypres determinedly remained in their town and local businesses profited from the influx of British and French troops. However the intense shelling that pre-empted the Second Battle of Ypres forced much of the town's civilian population to evacuate. The success of the German attack brought German artillery even closer to the town and much of it was destroyed. The remaining civilians left in May. 

Private papers

3. Chlorine gas was used for the first time

Gas was not a new weapon in 1915 but the Second Battle of Ypres was the first time chlorine gas was used and the first time it was employed on such a scale.

The first gas attack came on 22 April. It targeted a 4-mile stretch of the Allied line on the north side of the salient, held by French and Algerian troops. The shock of the gas and its effects resulted in a breach of the Allied line. 

Two days later, on 24 April, a second gas attack targeted the 1st Canadian Division. The Canadians launched a determined defence and prevented a German breakthrough. In the weeks that followed, successive attacks and counterattacks by German and Allied forces resulted in further territory lost for the Allies and high casualties on both sides. The Allies were left holding a line just outside Ypres. 


4. The battle left the Ypres salient more vulnerable

By the end of the battle, the Allies remained in possession of Ypres but the salient was constricted and valuable high ground had been lost. Casualties among British Empire forces numbered in excess of 55,000.

The Ypres salient saw heavy casualties from German artillery and attacks for the next two years. In July 1917, the Allies launched an offensive to retake the high ground and break out of the salient - the Third Battle of Ypres. 


5. Anti-gas measures were developed

The advent of the use of gas on the battlefield (the British Army employed gas at the Battle of Loos in September) prompted both sides to begin developing more effective gas protection.

Following the gas attack Ypres, Allied forces were initially provided with cotton pads to cover their mouths, soaked in chemicals or sometimes urine, and goggles. Over the course of the war, more effective respirators were developed. 

In Flanders Fields

Canadian officer John McCrae was inspired to write his poem 'In Flanders Fields' in response to the death of his friend during the fighting at Ypres in 1915. The poem was published later that year in Punch.

This is a tracing of the original poem, given to Captain Tyndale-Lea by Major McCrae on 29 April 1915.

See object record