Ypres Salient map highlighting the area of the gas cloud attack.German account: from the reserve into battle

22 April 1915: 17:30

The German soldier who wrote this account was in a reserve position with the four companies of his battalion (about 800 men) in a small wood. They were about three to four kilometres behind the German front line trench, close to the heavy artillery battery positions. The exact location is not given in the account.

His battalion had been out of the line at rest when the day of the attack arrived. Instead of being in the front line to make the initial assault, he found that his battalion was, in his words, in the 'unenviable role' of divisional reserve. Evidently he would rather have been in the thick of the fight in the front line.

German infantry on the march.(2)

At 4pm (British time: German time was one hour ahead) his battalion was ordered to 'Stand To'. It was one hour before the attack was due to be launched from the German front line. The following extract describes the scenes witnessed by this soldier:

“The sun was still quite high in the sky as we moved forward to the new battalion position assigned to us. It was a strange feeling to quick-march in broad daylight through villages and fields which were within the firing zone of the enemy's guns. Previously we had only passed through these areas at night and in silence to prevent ourselves from being seen and fired on.

We saw a heavy gun battery moving forward to a small hill only 200 metres behind our trench line. The meadows were full of dead cattle and bits of equipment left from the fighting of previous battles. Mixed in with the thunderous roar of our artillery we could also hear rifle fire.

In the distance in front of us we saw red and white flares shoot up into the sky at short intervals. That was the sign that our troops had broken through the enemy line.

Moments later I was rushing breathlessly through a soggy field to a wood and the position where the battalion was supposed to stop and wait for further orders. However, instead we were told to carry on moving forward and so we continued our advance towards the noise of the battle.” (1)

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(1) Der Völkerkrieg, V. Band, p. 163

(2) Sketch from Geschichte des Reserve-Infanterie-Regiments Nr. 209