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Trial by Gas: The British Army at the Second Battle of Ypres, by George H. Cassar

Lincoln, Nb.: University of Nebraska Press / Potomac Books, 2014. . Pp. xxii, 304. Illus., maps, append., notes, biblio., index. $29.95. ISBN: 1612346901.

The Desperate Second Battle of Ypres

Prof. Cassar (Eastern Michigan) gives us a rather analytical, well written, detailed account of British and Canadian troops during Second Ypres (Apr. 21-May 25, 1915), which saw the first use of poison gas on the Western Front. He opens with some background on the British (who were not all “long service professionals,” as their ranks included many reservists and new volunteers) and the Canadians (who were almost all green volunteers). 

Cassar then, plunges into the battle with a long chapter on the early days of the fighting around Ypres. He then devotes a chapter to the German introduction of poison gas to the Western Front.  There follow two chapters covering May 1st through 7th, discussing the initial impact of gas, the partially effective British and Canadian defensive improvisations and how gas changed the fighting. In the chapters that follow, Cassar describes the nature of the fighting over the next weeks, covering the protracted battle of Frezenberg Ridge and the shorter fight for Bellewaard Ridge, along which the battle ended. 

Cassar often uses the personal experiences of individual soldiers, while ranging from very small events on the ground up through the perceptions and decisions made at the highest levels, all of which shaped the events, until the final collapse of the German effort to take Ypres. 

This is a very good account of one of the most desperate fights of the Great War, primarily flawed by a rather superficial attention to the German side; there is no analysis of the German forces engaged in the fight, which included both ersatz troops and landwehr, hardly first line personnel. 

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Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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