10 October – 2 November 1914: the Battles of La Bassée, Armentières and Messines.The whole British Expeditionary Force is moved to Flanders from the Aisne, as part of an effort to outflank the Germans in France. On arrival it encounters German forces moving to outflank the Allies. These battles form part of a phase often, but incorrectly, referred to as the “Race to the Sea”. The battle extends northwards as further forces arrive, with the First Battle of Ypres and the Battle of the Yser taking place at the same time.
The British II and III Corps were first to arrive in Flanders after the journey from the south. The map above illustrates their place of deployment. II Corps is positioned behind French forces (blue) now holding the Lys – La Bassee Canal – Souchez line. III Corps goes further north to St Omer: there are as yet no other Allied forces in front of this Corps. British cavalry takes up a position in the gap between the two Corps, at Hazebrouck and Merville. Substantial German forces (green), mainly cavalry screens, are approaching. Contact is soon made and and develop into battles of encounter.
During 12-15 October 1914 III Corps advances to the line of the River Lys. Cavalry take up position north of Armentières and in the Flemish hills. The British 7th Division arrives at Ypres, having arrived too late for the defence of Antwerp and subsequently been ordered to withdraw westwards. As fighting eventually spreads northwards, they take the brunt of early fighting in the First Battle of Ypres.
The cautious advance by the 4th and 6th Divisions of III Corps continues on 16-18 October 1914 until they encounter considerably large German forces advancing towards them. The important town of Lille is already well inside German-held territory. This clash develops into the Battles of Messines and Battle of Armentières.
II Corps advances until it runs into enemy forces along the line Estaires – Richebourg – Festubert – Givenchy. This develops into the Battle of La Bassée.
The Battle of La Bassée, 10 October – 2 November 1914
2nd Cavalry Brigade (of Cavalry Division)
II Corps: (Smith-Dorrien): 3rd and 5th Divisions
Indian Corps: (Willcocks): Lahore Division (less Sirhind Brigade), Meerut Division and Secunderabad Cavalry Brigade
Between 16 and 19 October, II Corps advances from the red dotted to the red solid line and is now confronted by the German VII Corps.
By 23 October, the German forces have succeeded in pushing the British back to the solid red line shown above. Fromelles, Aubers, Illies, Lorgies and Violaines all fall into German hands and as things turn our remain occupied until late in 1918. There is disaster for the 2nd Royal Irish Regiment at Le Pilly, with the battalion being virtually destroyed.
II Corps’ sector has been strengthened by the arrival of the 3rd (Lahore) Division of the Indian Corps by the time a determined attack by the German 14th Division begins on 25 October 1914. It succeeds in capturing Neuve Chapelle. The red solid line is that held by the British by 2 November 1914, and that is the way is stayed until 10 March 1915.
The Battle of Armentières, 13 October – 2 November 1914
II Corps (Smith-Dorrien): 4th and 6th Divisions
3rd Worcestershire Regiment (of 3rd Division)
1st Dorsetshire Regiment (of 5th Division).
This battle included the tactical incident
> the capture of Meteren by 4th Division
The British 6th Division of III Corps faced the German attack south of Armentières from 19 October to 2 November. It was gradually forced back to the solid red line shown. Premesques, Ennetières, Wez Macquart and Radinghem all fall into enemy hands and will remain so until 1918.
The Battle of Messines, 12 October – 2 November 1914
Cavalry Corps (Allenby): 1st and 2nd Cavalry Divisions
Ferozepore Brigade (of Lahore Division)
1st Northumberland Fusiliers and 1st Lincolnshire Regiment (of 3rd Division)
2nd Essex Regiment and 2nd Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (of 4th Division)
2nd King’s Own Scottish Borders and 2nd King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (of 5th Division)
Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars
14th London Regiment (London Scottish)
The (1st) Cavalry Division pushed forward and covered the gap between III Corps down towards Armentières and the recently arrived 7th Division of IV Corps at Ypres. German forces had already reached the line of the River Lys. As the Germans continued their advance, the British cavalry, mainly fighting dismounted, fought rear guard actions whilst being pushed steadily back towards the Messines-Wytschaete ridge. Reserves were few, but a number of battalions arrived from other divisions in order to steady the line. Most famous of these was the counter attack made by the Territorials of the London Scottish near Messines on 31 October 1914.