Ypres Salient map highlighting Ypres.German signal to release gas

22 April: 17.00

The huge German 42cm siege gun called “Dicke Bertha” in German and “Big Bertha” in English.

One of the signals for the release of the gas, to be followed by the German infantry attack on the French front line was a shell fired onto Ypres from the 42cm “Dicke Bertha” or “Big Bertha” siege gun located in the Houthulst Forest, north of Ypres. (The Houthulst Forest can be seen on the map in the top left hand corner.)

As the sunny afternoon drew to a close fighting was still going on in the Hill 60 sector south-east of Ypres. Suddenly, at 5.00pm, a new and furious bombardment of Ypres started up by “Big Bertha” and other heavy German long-range howitzers. The villages in front of Ypres were heavily shelled.

3D map showing the bombardment of the town of Ypres by the German heavy artillery from 17 Apri 1915.

An account by a British soldier, who was resting in Ypres and out of the line at the time of the German attack, described the scene in the town:

“We ran out into the street and discovered that the town was being heavily bombarded; the Germans were showering the road running along the eastern bank of the canal with projectiles. The road was littered with dead and dying horses and destroyed wagons. The enemy's aim was obviously to hinder any forward movement of ammunition. Terrified women and children fled into the fields around the town, where many lost their lives.” (1)

German Field Guns Silent

The German field artillery, however, was strangely silent. If this was really a bombardment prior to the launch of a German infantry attack on the Allied line, the British would have expected the field artillery to join with the heavy German guns and fire onto the Front Line sectors. Instead, the Front Line reas were not being shelled.

The ominous reason for the absence of a German field artillery bombardment smashing down onto the French Front Line and disturbing the gentle south-westerly breeze blowing across those trenches would soon be revealed...

Next>> The gas valves are opened

Acknowledgements & Notes

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German “Big Bertha” gun bombards Ypres

(1) Der Völkerkrieg, V. Band, p. 165

Photograph of Big Bertha 42cm howitzer in action courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.