The battle of Langemark resulted from Falkenhayn’s directive to the Fourth German Army to break through the Belgian/French forces along the Yser and proceed to capture the Channel ports ofCalais,Boulogne, and Dunkerque. By 20 October, on a curved line from Armentières to the Yser, seven British infantry divisions augmented by five French and British cavalry divisions faced the onslaught of eleven German infantry divisions and eight German Cavalry divisions.
16b Battle of Langemark: 21 to 24 October 1914
Province: West Flanders
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Summary: On 22 October, an attempted assault by the French 87th Territorial Division of général d’Urbal’s Army Detachment of Belgium between Langemark and Steenstraat was easily dismissed in the early afternoon. The German XXIII Reserve Corps aimed its artillery at Langemark, targeting at first the church and its tall steeple, then any shelter in the village. The German batteries maintained a murderous rate of fire; trenches at this time were not the elaborate constructions that they became later in the war and thus offered little in the way of protection, especially from howitzer shells. British artillery was unable to respond adequately, shells of all calibers being in short supply. By the end of the day little remained except rubble, and the few remaining inhabitants were evacuated during the night. At dusk the German 51st Reserve Division charged southwest of Poelkapelle against the line of the 5th Brigade, British 2nd Division. They were cut down by intense rifle fire; the surge stopped only 50 meters in front of the British line. Near Kortekeer some territory was gained by the Germans, only to be reclaimed the next morning by reinforcements from the 2nd Infantry Brigade.
During the night of 23 October, the French 17th Division moved into position, relieving the British 2nd Division which went into reserve. Two battalions were called upon immediately to support the badly stretched the British 7th Division by counterattacking German elements in Polygon Wood, at the same time when events along the Yser were reaching their climax. By the end of the next day the French IX Corps took over the line from Langemark to Zonnebeke, freeing the BEF to consolidate its units in positions to the south, where an intense artillery barrage preceded the German infantry’s advance. Through the organization of staff, clerks, and cooks, the 7th Division’s commanding officer, Major-General Thompson Capper, was able to stem the tide and retain Polygon Wood. Three days of fighting reduced Capper’s division to little more than one-half of its original size, and the assaults continued.