Known in some accounts as the Battle of Wijtschaete, the confrontation along the Ypres-Comines Canal in 1940 is still hardly remembered in this country and, apart from the battle honours displayed proudly on the colours of the regiments who took part – many no longer in existence, very little has been written about the four days which probably saved the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) from almost complete destruction. This is quite surprising, given the pivotal nature of the battle, for without the sacrifice of the battalions on the canal there would probably have been no evacuation from Dunkerque on the scale to which we have become accustomed, and the war may well have taken on a different outcome.
Although there was fighting north of Ypres along the Canal Van Ieper Naar De Ijzer, where 151 Brigade and the 3rd Division were deployed, the actual Battle of the Ypres-Comines Canal took place to the south, where the three divisions of General der Infantry Viktor von Schwedler’s IV Korps were pitted against three British brigades along the disused canal which runs from Comines in the south to Ypres in the north.
The book looks in detail at the order of battle of the British and German units engaged and focuses on the four British brigades that fought on the canal. The mainly territorial 143 Brigade was positioned in the south, 13 Brigade was in the middle and 17 Brigade held the northern end of the line up to Zillebeke Lake. Apart from the 12/Lancers and a few tanks from 3/RTR, Ypres itself was largely defended by 150 Brigade. Major General Franklyn’s instructions were to hold the line for as long as possible to allow the remainder of the BEF to strengthen the Dunkerque Perimeter.
With over 150 contemporary and modern black and white photographs, ten maps, and visits to eight CWGC Cemeteries, the book enables the battlefield tourist to explore the area and undertake three car tours together with two short walks. Visitors will no doubt wish to combine a visit to the First World War sites around Ypres with the fighting along the canal in 1940, recognizing many places that were fought over in both wars.
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