Indian Troops at Battle of Neuve Chapelle

Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi placed a wreath at the India Gate memorial in Delhi on Tuesday, 10 Mar 15 marking the centenary of the battle of Neuve Chapelle. This brought an end to the official denial mode in which we had been surviving as a nation as regards our troops participation in World War I. Well a bit about the battle of Neuve Chapelle.

Neuve Chapelle is a small commune in Northern France on the border with Belgium in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France. During World War I, this village was the site for the battle of Neuve Chapelle which was fought from 10 to 13 Mar 1915. This battle was fought between the British & British Indian Army commanded by Field Marshal Sir John French and  the German Army commanded by Crown Prince Rupprecht.

The plan was for the British to cause a rupture in the German lines while the French Army helped cut lines of communication including roads, railways and canals. This would have prevented the German Army from using these means to support its troops in Arras and Rheims South of Neuve Chapelle.

 Garhwal Troops at Neuve Chapelle
 Pic Courtsey

The British assault was planned using Four Divisions of the British Army against Two defending Divisions of the German Army. This battle was the first deliberately planned British offensive. It would have showed  what position warfare took for the rest of the war on the Western Front. The planning as well as the assault used the assets of the Royal Flying Corp for aerial photography - which was used to prepare accurate and detailed maps – and for bombarding the railways and German reserves.

After the artillery bombardment, the first assault was carried out by the Garhwal Brigade of the Meerut Division of the Indian Corp. Though the Indian troops faced German troops that were not bombarded, and hence fresh for battle, they forced their way through the German wire and took 200 yards of the German front trench, despite many casualties. They over ran the German troops and captured German support trenches. They proceeded further with no artillery support and captured the village along with 200 German prisoners and five machine guns. In North, the Germans also fought valiantly and were able to stop repeated British assaults.

  Pic courtsey
Although aerial photography had been useful, it could not efficiently identify strong defensive points of the German Army. Because the British Army used primitive telephone based communications,  the British commanders were unable to keep in touch with each other. This caused the battle to became uncoordinated which in turn disrupted the supply lines. Also, the infantry-artillery cooperation broke down after the telephone system failed. On 12 March 1915, German forces launched a counter-attack which failed. However, the British were forced to use most of their artillery ammunition in defence, As a result, the British offensive was postponed on 13 March 1915 and was thereafter abandoned two days later.

The battle led to improved relations with the French, because unlike earlier in the war, British commanders had shown themselves willing to order attacks regardless of losses suffered. The battle resulted in the German and French armies begining to revise their low opinion of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).

 Pic courtsey

The British had deployed 40,000 troops out of which 11,200 perished. Indian casualties were 4,200. The German Army lost 10,000 troops defending their positions.
The British Empire awarded 10 Victoria Crosses (Highest Gallantry Award of UK) during the battle. One of the awardees was 21 year old Rifleman Gabbar Singh Negi of the  2nd / 39th Garhwal Rifles. His Citation read,

“His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to approve of the grant of the Victoria Cross to the undermentioned man for his conspicuous acts of bravery and devotion to duty whilst serving with the Expeditionary Force: —

No. 1685 Rifleman Gobar Sing [sic] Negi, 2nd Battalion, 39th Garhwal Rifles.

For most conspicuous bravery on 10th March, 1915, at Neuve Chapelle.

During our attack on the German position he was one of a bayonet party with bombs who entered their main trench, and was the first man to go round each traverse, driving back the enemy until they were eventually forced to surrender.

He was killed during this engagement.

—London Gazette, 28 April 1915”

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