London 1918, the Armistice and Regimental histories
The First Seven Divisions - Prussian Guard Attack in 1914
Being a Detailed Account of the Fighting from Mons to Ypres
Author: Ernest W. Hamilton
THE PRUSSIAN GUARD ATTACK
From November 8th to 11th there was little fighting. It had been apparently
realized at length by the German commanders that the troops they were at present
employing were incapable of breaking the British line, but at the back of that
admission there was evidently still the belief that the task was possible,
provided the troops employed were sufficiently good. Accordingly the Prussian
Guard was sent for. Pending the arrival of that invincible body there was a lull
in the ceaseless hammer of battle; and in the meanwhile the weather changed for
the worse. By the time the Prussian Guard was ready for its enterprise, that is
to say by November 11th, it was about as bad as it could be. A strong west wind
was accompanied by an icy rain, which fell all day in torrents. Luckily the wind
and rain were in the faces of the enemy, a factor of no little importance.
The battle of November 11th may be looked upon as the last attempt but one of
the Germans to break through to Calais during the 1914 campaign. The actual last
serious attempt was on November 17th. On the 11th the cannonade began at
daybreak and was kept up till 9.30. In violence and volume it rivalled that of
October 31st. The entire front from Klein Zillebeke to Zonnebeke was involved,
the enemy's design being—as on the 31st—to attack all along the front
simultaneously so as to hamper and cripple the British commanders in the use of
the very limited reserves at their disposal.
The newly-arrived troops were the 1st and 4th Brigade Prussian Guard, and some
battalions of the Garde Jäger, in all fifteen battalions, and to these was
entrusted the main attack on the key of the position, i.e., along, and north of,
the Menin road.
The Prussian Guard attacked through Veldhoek, and in their advance displayed the
invincible courage for which they have ever been famed. Such courage,
however—though sufficiently sublime from the spectacular point of view—cannot
fail to be expensive, and the losses among these gallant men were prodigious. It
was afterwards said by a prisoner that they had been deceived by the silence in
our trenches into thinking that the bombardment had cleared them, and so came on
recklessly. However, in spite of their losses, by sheer intrepidity and weight
of numbers, they succeeded in capturing all the front line trenches of the 1st
Brigade, who were astride the Menin road between Veldhoek and Hooge. In three
places large bodies of the enemy succeeded in breaking through, and in each case
their success furnished a subject for reflection as to the why and the wherefore
of battles. For, having succeeded in doing that which they had set out to do,
they stood huddled together in the plainest uncertainty as to how next to act, a
point which was speedily settled by the arrival of our reserves, who fell upon
the successful invaders and promptly annihilated them. One party of some 700
were accounted for to a man by the Oxfordshire Light Infantry, led by Col.
Another party which had broken through in the Polygon wood was similarly dealt
with by the Highland Light Infantry under Col. Wolfe-Murray, an operation during
which Lieut. Brodie won the Victoria Cross for exceptional gallantry. This was
the second Victoria Cross to fall to this battalion,  which had indeed never
failed in any situation which it had been called upon to face. Gen. Willcocks,
in subsequently addressing the battalion, alluded with pride to "the magnificent
glory" with which it had fought, and concluded with the remarkable words: "There
is no position which the Highland Light Infantry cannot capture."
The nett result of the day's fighting was that the enemy gained some 500 yards
of ground, which, from the military point of view, advantaged them nothing, and
the gaining of which had cost them some thousands of their best men. The
barrenness of the advance made cannot be better illustrated than by the fact
that it was the last step forward of the invading army, till the asphyxiating
gas was brought into play in the spring of 1915.
On the 12th the 1st Brigade, which had borne the brunt of the Prussian Guard
attack, was taken back into reserve. It will be conceded that it was about time.
This gallant Brigade, 4,500 strong in August, was now represented as follows:
1st Scots Guards: Captain Stracey and 69 men.
Black Watch: Captain Fortune and 109 men.
Camerons: Col. McEwen,
Lieut. Dunsterville and 140 men.
1st Coldstream: No officers and 150 men.
The 6th Cavalry Brigade was now reinforced by the arrival of the North Somerset
and Leicestershire Yeomanry Regiments. This strengthening was sorely needed, the
brigade having been practically without rest since its arrival in Flanders. By
the irony of fate the Hon. W. Cadogan, the Colonel of the 10th Hussars, was
killed on the very day when these reinforcements arrived.
With this addition to its strength the brigade was now required to find 800
rifles for its line of trenches along the Klein Zillebeke ridge, and in addition
to furnish a reserve of 400, who—when not required—lived in burrows in the
railway cutting at Hooge. Within a week, however, the reserve became a luxury of
the past, and the brigade was called upon to find 1,200 rifles for the trenches.
On November 17th we come to the last serious attempt of the enemy, during the
1914 campaign, to break through to Calais by way of Ypres. This final effort can
be dismissed in a few words. It was made south of the Menin road by the XV.
German Army Corps, and it took the form of two infantry attacks, one at 1 p.m.
and another at 4 p.m.; and it failed utterly, the Germans leaving thousands of
dead and wounded on the ground just in front of our trenches, to which they had
been allowed to approach quite close.
The signal failure of this last spasmodic effort, and the subsequent passivity
of the enemy, points with some significance to the conclusion that the position
to which we had now been driven back along the Zillebeke—Zonnebeke ridge was
impregnable, and was recognized as such by the enemy.
The 6th Cavalry Brigade and the 2nd Grenadiers were the most prominent figures
in this victory of November 17th. In the course of the second attack the 10th
Hussars and 3rd Dragoon Guards allowed the enemy to come within a few yards of
their trenches before they opened fire and mowed them down in masses. The 10th
Hussars, however, again suffered somewhat severely in officers, the Hon. A.
Annesley, Captain Peto, and Lieut. Drake being killed. The newly-arrived North
Somerset Yeomanry, under Col. Glyn, behaved with the coolness and steadiness of
veterans, and contributed in no small degree to the repulse of the enemy's
The 2nd Grenadiers received the highest praise from Lord Cavan for their part in
this day's fighting. This battalion had now lost 30 officers and 1,300 men since
the beginning of the campaign, and on the following day it was sent back into
reserve to recoup and reorganize.