Gas attack on British Front

British Headquarters (France) Tuesday.

The activity which the enemy developed against the centre of our salient, north-east of Ypres, during Sunday last was of very much greater significance than the average “incidents” which have marked the daily course of the war in this front for several weeks past.

It is difficult, indeed, to determine the real objective of the Germans in this case, but, from the conditions under which the attack was commenced, it seems pretty clear that something in the nature of a surprise was hoped for. At any rate, colour is lent to this idea by the want of vigour which marked the attempt to press home the assault.

During the small hours of Sunday morning when the troops in the trenches would naturally be at the lowest ebb of their capacity for resistance, the Germans released a great volume of gas. The weather was peculiarly suited to this method of onslaught, the wind being a light breeze from the north.

But the dense, deadly smother was seen creeping over the ground by our lookouts and instantly the order to “stand to” and put on gas helmets went down the trenches.

Then the artillery began to pump shrapnel and high explosive shells into poisonous fog to search the ranks of any assaulting columns that might be massed behind the asphyxiating curtain. The rush seems to have spent itself even before it reached the paraphet, behind which rifles and machine guns were already spitting a wavering glare upon the dissipating wreaths of gas.

The enemy guns quickly echoed the thunder of our own batteries and until dawn the deafening duel continued. There was a lull as morning broadened clear and blue and frosty. Then a large squadron of aeroplanes belonging to the second wing went sweeping in while at regular intervals along the undulating front to where it melted into violet distance, great sausage-shaped observation balloons soared slowly till they had trailed out the full tether of their leashes.

It was indeed an ideal moment for airmen, a view which the enemy manifestly shared, for while the elusive shapes of the British machines were vanishing into the pale gold of the sky above the sun rise, a fleet of enemy aircraft danced upwards like a flight of gauze midges and very soon the zenith became dotted with hovering balls of woolly vapour.

It was as pretty a spectacular aerial battle as could be conceived, although impossible to follow in detail.

I learnt that our machines delivered 26 distinct attacks of which 17 are claimed to have been successful. Three enemy aeroplanes were brought to earth behind the German lines, one of them swooping down in flames. Although several of our machines were winged, the entire fleet returned, and no casualties occurred among their gallant occupants.

Apparently the success of this aerial journey deeply vexed the Germans, for while the church bells were rippling out their silvery call to early Mass, the enemy guns spoke again.

A great artillery “strafe” was kept up in a desultory fashion throughout the rest of the day and far into the night, the sullen roar of 17in howitzers heading the terrible diapason, which was irritatingly rounded up by the sharp splutter of the 77s.

Our own guns were busy, contributing their full share to the match, and succeeded in registering some new batteries with results which it may be confidently hoped rendered this tactically purposeless outburst rather expensive to the enemy.