Ypres Salient map highlighting the area for the gas cloud attack.German field artillery starts up

22 April 1915: 17.10

Ten minutes after the gas was released at 5.00pm, and once it had reached the French front line, the German field guns started up a bombardment of the French front line trenches. A hail of shells poured down onto the French troops, who were simultaneously being enveloped in a cloud of poisonous gas. The bombardment lasted for about ten minutes. At 5.20pm the German soldiers were under orders to leave their front line position and advance behind the gas cloud towards the French line.

The following extract has been taken from an account by a German soldier, which was published in a German newspaper, the “Kölnische Zeitung”. The soldier did not give his exact location for the article:

German troops advance.

“Before the start of our infantry attack our artillery did a particularly good job. The enemy positions seemed to me to become one single great sea of fire. Unceasing, our artillery shells exploded over the top of and in the enemy trenches, causing dreadful chaos as a result of the devastation.

Believe it or not, I can't say how long this bombardment went on for, whether it was for a few moments or for a long time. Those of us in the front-line trench weren't looking at our watches; we were transfixed by this ghastly yet beautiful spectacle. Thick swathes of pungent smoke drifted back across no-man's-land towards our trench, stinging our eyes and making us choke. We found it hard to stand firm against this accrid smoke, and yet we only had a tiny fraction of what the enemy were having to cope with. But no-one left his place. We just stood and stared.

And then all at once our guns stopped firing. In the sudden silence some soldiers held their throbbing heads. Looking at their dazed comrades they pointed to the thick clouds of smoke darkening the afternoon sky. Had it been a dream? Had the bombardment been real?

Shouts rang out with the order to start the advance and suddenly the spell of this peculiar, silent moment was broken.

Our men climbed out of the front-line trench as one and, clutching their rifles, stormed forward ...” (1)

Next>> The German infantry advances


(1) Der Völkerkrieg, V. Band, p. 172