Battle of Nonne Bosschen, 11 November 1914

The battle of Nonne Bosschen was part of the wider first battle of Ypres and was the final German attempt to break through the British lines around Ypres. It was mounted by twelve and a half divisions from two army groups (Fabeck’s and Linsingen’s), under the overall command of Crown Prince Rupprecht, and involved an attack against a nine mile front, stretching from Messines to Reutel (close to Polygon Wood).

By the middle of November both the British and German armies were exhausted. The main German threat on 11 November would come from two fresh divisions, the 4th Divison and the Prussian Guards. These two divisions, with 10,000 men in twelve fresh battalions, would attack eleven tired British battalions, reduced in strength to around 4,000 men after three months of fighting, along the line of the Menin road.

The German attack was preceded by one of the heaviest artillery bombardments yet, lasting from 6.30-9.00 am. Along much of the line the advancing German troops were further protected by early morning mist, but the attacking troops had already lost their early enthusiasm and the attack was turned back by the accurate British rifle fire.

The most successful German attack was made by the 1st Guards Brigade. They were advancing towards the British 1st (Guards) Brigade, under Brigadier General Charles FitzClarence. This brigade contained battalions from the Scots Guards, Camerons and Black Watch regiments, and had around 800 men. They were outnumbered three to one by the Germans.

The advancing Germans emerged from the mist and overran the British front line, in a rare bayonet attack. However, enough resistance was offered to disrupt the German formations. Accurate British artillery fire then isolated the German Guards, preventing reinforcements from reaching them. Isolated British strong points combined with well aimed artillery fire then took any remaining momentum out of the German attack.

The 1st Food Guard Regiment retreated into Nonne Bosschen woods, the incident that gave the entire battle its name. They were then driven out of the woods by the 2nd Oxfordshire Light Infantry, ending the attack. FitzClarence then attempted to organise a counterattack to recover the British front line lost earlier in the day, but was shot and killed before the attack could begin. After his death the proposed counterattack was abandoned.

This was the last major German offensive of the battle. A series of minor attacks were mounted over the next few days, and in the official German history of the war the battle of Ypres does not finish until 30 November, but the real danger was over.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (pending), Battle of Nonne Bosschen, 11 November 1914 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_nonne_bosschen.html

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