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Why hold the Ypres salient?

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  • Why hold the Ypres salient?

    I do not understand why the Allies refused to yield the Ypres salient to the Germans and pull back to a straight line southwest of Ypres.

    The salient -- a bulge in the lines pushing into German territory -- measured about nine miles wide and five miles deep. The Germans held the high ground and the Allied soldiers suffered their wrath below. Every Allied operation was clearly visible to the enemy. Shelling could come from any direction: front, side or even the rear. It was difficult to dig in, because one would hit water at about 18 inches down. Soldiers were left manning their positions, often knee-deep in mud. On a normal day, the Allies suffered hundreds of casualties, or thousands per day when the fighting was "hot."

    Generals discussed the idea that they could evacuate the salient like a collapsing bag, pulling all of the soldiers back to a line behind Ypres. It would have straightened the line, meaning it would take fewer men to hold the line there. It would also have lessened the German advantage of holding the high ground at Ypres down the Messines Ridge. And ultimately, there would have been fewer casualties.

    Why, then, did the top brass decide to hold the salient and Ypres at all costs?

  • #2
    Originally posted by Jeff Simmons View Post
    I do not understand why the Allies refused to yield the Ypres salient to the Germans and pull back to a straight line southwest of Ypres.

    The salient -- a bulge in the lines pushing into German territory -- measured about nine miles wide and five miles deep. The Germans held the high ground and the Allied soldiers suffered their wrath below. Every Allied operation was clearly visible to the enemy. Shelling could come from any direction: front, side or even the rear. It was difficult to dig in, because one would hit water at about 18 inches down. Soldiers were left manning their positions, often knee-deep in mud. On a normal day, the Allies suffered hundreds of casualties, or thousands per day when the fighting was "hot."

    Generals discussed the idea that they could evacuate the salient like a collapsing bag, pulling all of the soldiers back to a line behind Ypres. It would have straightened the line, meaning it would take fewer men to hold the line there. It would also have lessened the German advantage of holding the high ground at Ypres down the Messines Ridge. And ultimately, there would have been fewer casualties.

    Why, then, did the top brass decide to hold the salient and Ypres at all costs?
    Here's my go on it.

    Why it was held, even though Ypres was flat, and like you said the Germans could see every move. Bad territory to defend right?

    Well, I think partly it had to do to the proximity to the Channel, and thus to England, and too London. As the Bombing ranges of bombers were primitive in the beginning perhaps they thought they could keep England from being bombed.

    Also, I think it had to do with the Belgians and keeping them in the war. The Belgian army held the coastline between Ypres and the Channel. I think The Brits thought if they didn't give a good effort towards Antwerpt then the Belgians would surrender. After all the Gents declared war on the reason that they were defending Belgian independence.

    Perhaps also, the Gents might have been afraid of an evacuation back to England and a connection with the Channel. Similar to a Dunkirk thing, if hit the fan. Propaganda, morale, and support of the war by the Gent population and the Belgians also have to be considered.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by 45Colt View Post
      Here's my go on it.

      Why it was held, even though Ypres was flat, and like you said the Germans could see every move. Bad territory to defend right?

      Well, I think partly it had to do to the proximity to the Channel, and thus to England, and too London. As the Bombing ranges of bombers were primitive in the beginning perhaps they thought they could keep England from being bombed.

      Also, I think it had to do with the Belgians and keeping them in the war. The Belgian army held the coastline between Ypres and the Channel. I think The Brits thought if they didn't give a good effort towards Antwerpt then the Belgians would surrender. After all the Gents declared war on the reason that they were defending Belgian independence.

      Perhaps also, the Gents might have been afraid of an evacuation back to England and a connection with the Channel. Similar to a Dunkirk thing, if hit the fan. Propaganda, morale, and support of the war by the Gent population and the Belgians also have to be considered.
      Yep. Some good points there. I think also that in a war where gains were often measured in hundreds of yards or a mile or two, retreating was a sign of weakness, especially when retreating from friendly territory. Verdun seemed to also be a victim of this thinking.
      Matthew 5:9 Blessed are the cheesemakers

      That's right bitches. I'm blessed!

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Rojik View Post
        Yep. Some good points there. I think also that in a war where gains were often measured in hundreds of yards or a mile or two, retreating was a sign of weakness, especially when retreating from friendly territory. Verdun seemed to also be a victim of this thinking.
        Ya, good call Aussie. For some reason during this war Armies were perverted over the idea of not letting 1 meter of ground go to the enemy even though it would have been to their strategic benefit.

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        • #5
          strategic withdrawal

          It is worth noting that the Germans made a successful strategic withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line southeast of Ypres. They used every defensible position they could find and built a very strong line before pulling the troops back. Suddenly, the British found themselves out of contact with the enemy.

          I can't say this would apply at Ypres. There weren't any defensible positions to which the Allies could fall back.

          The Allies may also have known that Ypres was a hard nut to crack, historically speaking; the British themselves had unsuccessfully besieged Ypres in the Hundred Years' War. Keeping that in mind, the generals may have maintained that Ypres was an impregnable base from which to launch offensive maneuvers. Just a thought.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Jeff Simmons View Post
            It is worth noting that the Germans made a successful strategic withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line southeast of Ypres. They used every defensible position they could find and built a very strong line before pulling the troops back. Suddenly, the British found themselves out of contact with the enemy.
            Yes, but even after the withdrawal the Germans were still in occupied territory. Politically it was not as damaging (or not damaging at all as the Germans were fighting on multiple fronts) as evacuating friendly territory.

            There was also the notion that the salient could be used as a jumping off point for an attack to drive back the German right wing, and this was played out in the tragedy of the 3rd Ypes.
            Matthew 5:9 Blessed are the cheesemakers

            That's right bitches. I'm blessed!

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            • #7
              If you can't find any logic in why one side did something, blame politics.

              Pruitt
              Pruitt, you are truly an expert! Kelt06

              Have you been struck by the jawbone of an ASS lately?

              by Khepesh "This is the logic of Pruitt"

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              • #8
                Generals vs. front-line soldiers

                With the exception of Gen. Herbert Plumer, I don't think the commanders way in the back and far from enemy fire truly understood the horrors of the salient. The Allies were losing hundreds of men daily. I read somewhere that for a lieutenant -- usually held in high regard by the men in his unit -- had a life expectancy of 2 1/2 weeks in the salient. To this day, 55,000 Allied soldiers who went through the Menin Gate and out to the battlefield remain missing in action. There is also an estimate that there are more than 100,000 unmarked graves (Archaeology Magazine) in the salient.

                I think that if every staff officer had to do a fortnight's tour in the fire trenches, they would have been more likely to favor a withdrawal. I guess I look at things through the eyes of the common foot soldier rather than those of the commanders and politicians.

                This is just my opinion, of course. Everyone has given good explanations so far.

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                • #9
                  Ypres was the last unoccupied Belgian city and it's importance was symbolic, if anything. As a piece of ground, it was practically indefensible and it was only through sheer will (stubborness?) that it was held at all.
                  "Take the risk of thinking for yourself, much more happiness, truth, beauty, and wisdom will come to you that way." - Christopher Hitchens

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by globetrotter View Post
                    Ypres was the last unoccupied Belgian city and it's importance was symbolic, if anything. As a piece of ground, it was practically indefensible and it was only through sheer will (stubborness?) that it was held at all.
                    I like the way you think.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by globetrotter View Post
                      Ypres was the last unoccupied Belgian city and it's importance was symbolic, if anything. As a piece of ground, it was practically indefensible and it was only through sheer will (stubborness?) that it was held at all.
                      That Ypres was the last unoccupied Belgian city is a misconception,there were also Veurne,Poperinge,...

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                      • #12
                        small piece of land

                        We're only talking about withdrawing from a salient that was about nine miles wide and five miles deep. I can't see how it would make a lot of difference whether that land was held or not. The situation with the channel ports would, most likely, have remained the same, and a big piece of Belgium would have remained occupied by the Allies. To put one's troops through such hell for such an insignificant expanse of beet and hops fields seems abusive. I detail the life of a soldier in the Ypres salient and beneath the Messines Ridge in my book, "Wipers: A Soldier's Tale From the Great War."

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                        • #13
                          If the British had retreated from it, I doubt the Germans would have occupied it.

                          Pruitt
                          Pruitt, you are truly an expert! Kelt06

                          Have you been struck by the jawbone of an ASS lately?

                          by Khepesh "This is the logic of Pruitt"

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                          • #14
                            good point

                            Pruitt, I think you've made a solid point; it is, in fact, doubtful that the Germans would have had any interest in occupying the salient. Why leave the high ground that they held? And they would have remained in artillery range without moving in.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Jeff Simmons View Post
                              With the exception of Gen. Herbert Plumer, I don't think the commanders way in the back and far from enemy fire truly understood the horrors of the salient. The Allies were losing hundreds of men daily. I read somewhere that for a lieutenant -- usually held in high regard by the men in his unit -- had a life expectancy of 2 1/2 weeks in the salient. To this day, 55,000 Allied soldiers who went through the Menin Gate and out to the battlefield remain missing in action. There is also an estimate that there are more than 100,000 unmarked graves (Archaeology Magazine) in the salient.

                              I think that if every staff officer had to do a fortnight's tour in the fire trenches, they would have been more likely to favor a withdrawal. I guess I look at things through the eyes of the common foot soldier rather than those of the commanders and politicians.

                              This is just my opinion, of course. Everyone has given good explanations so far.
                              one should not exagerate the losses of Passendale,which have gained a mythical importance
                              British yearly losses on the Western Front:
                              1914:96000
                              1915:297000
                              1916:645000
                              1917:778000
                              1918:843000
                              highest monthly losses on the Western Front
                              1)march 1918 173721
                              2)april 1918:143160
                              3)august 1918:122272
                              4)october 1918:121046
                              5)april 1917:120070
                              6)october 1917:119808
                              7)september 1916)115056
                              8)september 1918:114831
                              Source Axis History Forum:view topicphp?t=69350

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