Saturday, October 25, 2014

October 25th, 1914

- It is a day of relative quiet along the Belgian line from Nieuport to Dixmude, and the battered Belgians take advantage of the lull to evacuate over nine thousand wounded from the battle line.  The Belgian command staff believe, however, that the Germans will inevitably resume their assault, and that the present line between the Yser River and the Nieuport-Dixmude railway will not hold.  Preparations are thus undertaken for utilizing the railway embankment as a final defensive line, as in the flat terrain of the area its height of six feet is almost towering.

- After the continuous bombardment of Dixmude yesterday, the German 43rd Reserve Division begins its assault at 1am.  Over the next five hours, fifteen separate attacks are launched, and day of vicious street fighting ensues.  In the chaos of the ruins trenches are won and lost, machine guns reaching out from buildings to strike down swathes of attackers.  Dead and wounded alike are trampled underfoot.  This evening bayonets are fixed, and hand-to-hand fighting ensues.  A detachment of about fifty Germans manages to cross the Yser bridge, but are wiped out.

- By 8am the British 1st Division has withdrawn from the front line, replaced by French territorial units.  Over the past four days of fighting, the division has suffered fourteen hundred casualties.

- The French IX Corps attempt to resume their counteroffensive this afternoon, as as they advance the British 2nd Division, returned to the line on their right flank, is to follow.  IX Corps encounters heavy resistance, and the movement of 2nd Division is delayed four hours.  Through bitter fighting, the French and British units are able to push the line forward northeastwards, and one British battalion manages to reach the Passchendaele-Becelaere which marks the high point of the ridge between the two villages.

- To the south, 20th Brigade of IV Corps hold the 'corner' of the Ypres salient at Kruiseecke, and the German artillery bombardment they endure today is made more devastating by their weak defenses.  7th Division, to which 20th Brigade belongs, has dug their trenches on a forward slope, so the Germans can see them directly and pinpoint their artillery bombardment.  Moreover, they have attempted to cover their trenches with wooden planks and earth, but this is shown to be worse than leaving trenches open to the sky, as the detonation of high-explosive shells turns the wood planks into shrapnel-like splinters.  At night a German attack seizes a quarter-mile of 20th Brigade's front, and it is only with great difficulty that it is regained.  General Rawlinson tells Field Marshal French tonight that his IV Corps is 'only hanging on by our eyelids.'  The comment does not endear Rawlinson to his commanding officer - Sir John French's attention is still on the hoped-for advance to the northeast, and does not want to hear about setbacks elsewhere on the line.

- Overnight a German attack against 3rd Division of II Corps hits the 1st Battalion, Gordon Highlanders particularly hard, and their trenches are lost.  On their flank the 15th Sikhs, one of the first Indian units to enter the line, hold their position under heavy artillery fire.  So fearless were the Sikhs that they walked about in the open as German shells fell around them - General Smith-Dorrien had to suggest to their commander that perhaps this was not the wisest of ideas.  Early this morning a counterattack retakes the lost trenches, and for the rest of the day the Germans are content to bombard II Corps' positions, though with sufficient intensity to force some enemy battalions to pull out of their trenches until nightfall.

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