Although the German Fourth and Sixth Armies had thus far failed to penetrate the allied line, the German Supreme Command believed that a fresh push would bring victory. Gathering together units released from other fronts, Falkenhayn created Army Group Fabeck, commanded by veteran of the Franco-Prussian War General Max von Fabeck and comprised of six infantry divisions, whose mission was to attack along the British line from Ploegsteert Wood to Geluveld. Continued pressure along the front from the two German armies would prohibit allied transfer of reserve troops. The attack came as a surprise to the British. Before a preliminary attack against Geluveld commenced on 29 October, Sir John French reported to Secretary of State for War Lord Kitchener that the Germans were incapable of launching any further attacks despite the interception of Group Fabeck’s plans. British aerial reconnaissance on 28 October, however, reported a large movement of German troops astride theMenin Road.
Battle of Geluveld: 29 to 31 October 1914
Province: West Flanders
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Summary: A preliminary move on 29 October, the 54th Reserve Division, strengthened by a brigade of Bavarian reservists, struck west of Becelaere. The thin lines of the Coldstream Guards and the Black Watch were nearly overrun because the enemy suddenly appeared out of the dense fog. Both sides committed reserves as the fighting spread south of the Menin Road and against the British 20th Brigade. The intense struggle continued all day, with high losses on both sides until darkness and a heavy rain chilled the engagement.
The next day Fabeck unleashed his battalions with deadly consequences as German divisions south of the Menin Road attacked reinforced positions with deadly accurate fire that covered the landscape with grey-clad bodies. Fabeck’s men were even more successful farther south, where they drove Allenby’s 2nd and 3rd Cavalry Divisions back three kilometers.
Dawn on 31 October broke in a miserable rain. The German 30th Division pressed the attack on Geluveld from the south. They were ultimately stopped but retained a small orchard from which they could enfilade units to the north. At 10:00, sixteen battalions of German infantry moved forward toward thinly held British lines. Field batteries fired into the shallow trenches of the 1st Queens Regiment and set on fire the village behind them. While the Queens attempted to retire, they discovered that the reserve companies supposed to be 500 meters to their rear in Veldhoek were gone; the Germans surrounded and captured all but a dozen men of the battalion. Dense German artillery fire stopped the 1st Gloucestershire Regiment’s counterattack. Farther south the 105th Saxon Regiment completely overwhelmed the diminished ranks of the 1st Loyal North Lancashire and the 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers Regiments. The way toYpres was open.
North of the road, British units already well below strength started to disappear. The initial bombardment from the 54th Reserve Division had so weakened the 2nd Welsh Regiment that it withdrew. On their left the second assault at 10:00 forced the 1st South Wales Borderers back through most of Geluveld and onto the château grounds, where they established a position near the church.
Brigadier FitzClarence, upon hearing of the loss of Geluveld, rode forward and ordered the last reserves – three companies of the 2nd Worcestershire Regiment, led by Major Edward Hankey, borrowed from the 2nd Division – to counterattack from what later became known as Black Watch Corner in Polygon Wood. The 350 men moved out at 13:00, crossed a small creek, and halted momentarily in a belt of trees. Redeployed in two lines and fully exposed on open ground for the last 1,000 meters, they advanced ‘at the double’ through enemy artillery fire to a small protective wood, where they fixed bayonets. The surviving 250 men charged into a host of 1,200 Germans in and about the château, inducing panic in the young recruits, who were more interested in finding loot or water. After rescuing the Borderers, who were still firing from the château stables, they re-established the line along the sunken Geluveld-Kortekeer road. Enfiladed by the remaining Germans in the village, one company proceeded to occupy the church and churchyard, despite the flames and falling timbers of the burning houses. Some house-to-house fighting took place, but German artillery denied the occupation of the center of the village. Two weeks later FitzClarence was killed; his body was never found and he is commemorated on the Menin Gate.
South of the road a mixed unit including the 1st Gloucesters halted the Saxon advance, which was then routed by well-placed high explosive shells from the 54th Battery RFA. Extremely heavy fighting continued throughout the day, with the result always in doubt. That night British forces, needing to conserve their remaining resources, abandoned Geluveld to form defensive lines 500 meters farther west. Divisions of the French XVI and XX Corps arrived to man the line along Messines Ridge, freeing Allenby’s cavalry for BEF reserves. Paris newspapers declared that ‘the fate of Europe was decided’ on 31 October 1914.