Apocalypse at Ypres

October 20, 1914: Apocalypse at Ypres

One of the greatest battles in history, the desperate struggle at Ypres in October-November 1914 was the climactic fight of the “Race to the Sea” – an all-out German push to break through the Allied line and capture Calais and the other French ports on the English Channel, thus dividing the Allies, threatening to outflank the French forces from the north, and maybe even setting the stage for an invasion of Britain.

Reflecting these huge stakes, the First Battle of Ypres (so-called to distinguish it from at least two subsequent battles) was conducted on an epic scale, bringing together more men and more firepower than some whole wars did in the previous century. Including the armed clashes to the north on the River Yser and south to Armentières, it involved about a million men on both sides, including around 600,000 German soldiers, 250,000 French, 100,000 British, and 65,000 Belgians.

The losses were staggering. From October 12 to November 12, 1914 the British sustained 56,000 casualties, including 8,000 killed, 30,000 wounded, and 18,000 missing (of whom perhaps a third or more were also killed). While it’s harder to find precise numbers for the other combatants, the Germans suffered around 135,000 casualties across all categories, the French 85,000, and the Belgians 22,000. Assuming that one fourth of the casualties were fatal, as in the case of the British, it seems safe to assume that around 75,000 soldiers lost their lives at the First Battle of Ypres.

The First Phase: Langemarck 

After the prelude at La Bassée, Armentières, Messines, and the Yser, the main battle of Ypres commenced on October 20 and lasted about three weeks. In this time the nondescript, low-lying countryside of Flanders, its farms and grazing land separated by neat hedges and crisscrossed by drainage canals under a gray sky, was converted into hell on earth by three huge but ultimately unsuccessful German assaults – one at Langemarck beginning October 20, the second at Gheluvelt beginning October 29, and the finale at Nonneboschen (the Nuns’ Woods) on November 11 (above, a German nighttime barrage).

The first German push at Langemarck began just as the British Expeditionary Force was arriving at Ypres, while to the north the Belgians fought desperately to hold off German forces along the Yser, with the help of French reinforcements organized as the new Détachement d'Armée de Belgique under General Victor Louis Lucien d'Urbal, composed of the II Cavalry Corps under de Mitry, a brigade of French marines, and the 87th and 89th Territorial Divisions (still en route). 

As fighting raged across the entire Flanders front, British Expeditionary Force commander Sir John French, still unaware of the huge forces arrayed against the Allies, ordered the British I Corps (including the 1st and 2nd Divisions) to attack east of Ypres with the intention of liberating the Belgian city of Bruges. The move was to be coordinated with a French advance to the south. However this goal proved to be unrealistic to say the least; Henry Wilson, the British liaison to the French Army, sardonically observed, “Bruges for all practical purposes is as far as Berlin.” 

The plan failed to survive contact with the enemy, as the British divisions, including the 7th Division holding the southern flank, slammed into five German divisions from the new Fourth Army advancing in the opposite direction. The British dug in but the Germans, determined to break through, sent wave after wave of infantry against the shallow, unfortified British trenches, advancing in close formation against machine guns and massed rifle fire. The result was an appalling massacre, with both sides sustaining very heavy casualties, but the Germans suffering most of all, as some regiments lost over 70% of their strength.

The Germans eventually succeeded in forcing the British back, capturing Langemarck on October 22, but the cost was out of all proportion to the gains. William Robinson, a volunteer dispatch driver with the British Army, recalled shocking scenes: “The enemy seemed to rise out of the ground and sweep towards us like a great tidal wave, but our machine guns poured steel into them at the rate of six hundred shots per minute, and they’d go down like grass before the scythe… The Germans were climbing over heaps of their own dead, only to meet the same fate themselves.” 

In the same vein Alexander Johnston, a mid-ranking officer, wrote in his diary: “Two of the crack shots in the Regiment were able to methodically pick off Germans one by one, who were lost in the fog and did not know where they were, as they loomed out of the mist at about 50 yards range, and in this way alone disposed of over 100 of them!” And an anonymous British nurse recorded several officers’ account in her diary: “They said there were 11,000 Germans dead, and they were using the dead piled up instead of trenches.” 

According to the “myth of Langemarck” which took hold in German memory, the Reserve divisions were composed of inexperienced, untrained college students who went to their deaths singing patriotic songs, and the battle was remembered as the “Kindermord bei Ypern,” or “The Massacre of the Innocents at Ypres.” Recently historians have cast doubt on the truth of this story (it seems most of the Reservists were older working-class men) but the “Kindermord” became a vital part of Nazi propaganda, dwelling on the tragic bravery of idealistic German youth, who died happily defending the Fatherland.

Reality wasn’t always so heroic. A German soldier from Alsace, Dominik Richert, was unapologetic about ducking out of battle with a friend when he could: 

Then we hid in the cellar of a house which had been stocked with food by its inhabitants.  In one corner sat a woman and a girl of about twenty. They were very afraid of us. By using gestures we were able to explain that they did not need to be afraid of us. We spent three pleasant days together… On the evening of the third day we heard footsteps crashing down the stairs. It was a lieutenant… “You damned cowards get a move on out of here!” he yelled at us.

Even when they weren’t fighting, soldiers on both sides endured rain, cold, hunger, lice, and rudimentary living arrangements, causing morale to plummet. In a letter to his wife another German soldier, Paul Hub, described their billets near the front line: “If there isn’t any straw then you just fall asleep on the bare floor. We never take our clothes off. Lots of houses are being shot to pieces, set alight and burning. It was a terrible sight when night came… Maria, this sort of war is so unspeakably miserable.”

Attack on Dixmude 

While the main thrust of the first German offensive attack around northeast of Ypres, the Germans were also advancing against the Belgians and French positions behind the River Yser. On the far northern end of the front, the defenders were assisted by shallow-draft monitors from the Royal Navy which bombarded the advancing German Ersatz 4th Division, directed by artillery spotters in a balloon tethered further west on the Belgian coast. 

The Germans tried to soften up the defenses with an unrelenting artillery bombardment along the entire Yser front. As village after village went up in flames, Philip Gibbs, a British war correspondent, described seeing:

an astounding and terrible panorama, traced in its outline by the black fumes of shell-fire above the stabbing flashes of the batteries. Over Nieuport there was a canopy of smoke, intensely black, but broken every moment by blue glares of light as a shell burst and rent the blackness. Villages were burning on many points of the crescent, some of them smouldering drowsily, others blazing fiercely like beacon fires… 

To the south the Germans captured a bridge across the Yser at Tervaete on October 21, but the Belgians prevented them from crossing in force. Meanwhile French marines were fighting tenaciously to hold Dixmude against two German divisions, outnumbering the French by around six to one. From October 23-24 the Germans mounted fourteen separate assaults on Dixmude, but failed to capture the city, again encountering incredibly fierce resistance and sustaining heavy casualties. One German soldier, Kurt Peterson, described the fighting at Dixmude in a letter to his parents: “We all lay like logs on the ground and all about us death hissed and howled. Such a night is enough to make an old man of one… We have had enough of war. One is not necessarily a coward because one’s whole nature revolts against this barbarity, this gruesome slaughter.”

As German guns pounded the Belgians and French positions along the Yser, on October 24 the Germans succeeded in driving the Allies back north of Dixmude, and it became increasingly obvious that there was a real chance of a German breakthrough. Now at the suggestion of the French General Ferdinand Foch, Belgium’s King Albert decided to use his last, most drastic defense: they would open the dikes and flood the plains along the Yser.  

See the previous installment or all entries.

Warner Bros.
Pop Culture
Jack Torrance's Corduroy Jacket from The Shining Can Be Yours (If You've Got $12,000 to Spare)
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy … but at least he's stylish. In a 60-year career full of memorable performances, Jack Nicholson's role in The Shining as Jack Torrance—the husband, father, and blocked writer who convinces his family to move to an empty ski resort for the winter so that he can finally finish writing the great American novel, then slowly descends into madness—remains one of his most iconic, and terrifying, characters. Now, via Italian auction house Aste Bolaffi, director Stanley Kubrick's former assistant and longtime friend Emilio D'Alessandro is giving fans of the brilliantly nuanced psychological drama the chance to own a piece of the movie's history, including the burgundy corduroy jacket that Nicholson wore throughout the movie.

According to the item's listing, the jacket was chosen by Oscar-winning costume designer Milena Canonero "after Jack Nicholson insisted it should be worn by his character, Jack Torrance, and a small number of it were made for the shooting of the film." It's a perfect accessory for a variety of activities, including shooting the breeze with a cocktail-serving ghost or chasing your family through a hedge maze in the middle of a snowstorm. Just be ready to pay a pretty penny for it: the bidding starts at €10,000, or just north of $12,000.

The jacket is one of many pieces of original Kubrick memorabilia going up for sale: props from A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, Eyes Wide Shut, and Full Metal Jacket are among the other items up for grabs (for the right price), as is a rare cut of The Shining featuring a never-released scene. "These cuts, given by Kubrick to D'Alessandro, are particularly rare because the director notoriously burned all the leftovers at the conclusion of the editing," according to the listing.

You can browse the entire auction catalog, here.

[h/t IndieWire]

5 Things We Know About Deadpool 2

After Deadpool pocketed more than $750 million worldwide in its theatrical run, a sequel was put on the fast track by Fox to capitalize on the original's momentum. It's a much different position to be in for a would-be franchise that was stuck in development hell for a decade, and with Deadpool 2's May 18, 2018 release date looming, the slow trickle of information is going to start picking up speed—beginning with the trailer, which just dropped. Though most of the movie is still under wraps, here's what we know so far about the next Deadpool.


The tendency with comic book movie sequels is to keep cramming more characters in until the main hero becomes a supporting role. While Deadpool 2 is set to expand the cast from the first film with the addition of Domino (Zazie Beetz), the return of Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead, and the formation of X-Force, writer Rhett Reese is adamant about still making sure it's a Deadpool movie.

"Yeah, it’ll be a solo movie," Reese told Deadline. "It’ll be populated with a lot of characters, but it is still Deadpool’s movie, this next one."


Fans have been waiting for Cable to come to theaters ever since the first X-Men movie debuted in 2000, but up until now, the silver-haired time traveler has been a forgotten man. Thankfully, that will change with Deadpool 2, and he'll be played by Josh Brolin, who is also making another superhero movie appearance in 2018 as the villain Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War. In the comics, Cable and Deadpool are frequent partners—they even had their own team-up series a few years back—and that dynamic will play out in the sequel. The characters are so intertwined, there were talks of possibly having him in the original.

"It’s a world that’s so rich and we always thought Cable should be in the sequel," Reese told Deadline. "There was always debate whether to put him in the original, and it felt like we needed to set up Deadpool and create his world first, and then bring those characters into his world in the next one."

Cable is actually the son of X-Men member Cyclops and a clone of Jean Grey named Madelyne Pryor (that's probably the least confusing thing about him, to be honest). While the movie might not deal with all that history, expect Cable to still play a big role in the story.


Although Deadpool grossed more than $750 million worldwide and was a critical success, it still wasn't enough to keep original director Tim Miller around for the sequel. Miller recently came out and said he left over concerns that the sequel would become too expensive and stylized. Instead, Deadpool 2 will be helmed by John Wick (2014) director David Leitch. Despite the creative shuffling, the sequel will still feature star Ryan Reynolds and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick.

“He’s just a guy who’s so muscular with his action," Reynolds told Entertainment Weekly of Leitch's hiring. "One of the things that David Leitch does that very few filmmakers can do these days is they can make a movie on an ultra tight minimal budget look like it was shot for 10 to 15 times what it cost,"


No, this won't be the title of the movie when it hits theaters, but the working title for Deadpool 2 while it was in production was, appropriately, Love Machine.


The natural instinct for any studio is to make the sequel to a hit film even bigger. More money for special effects, more action scenes, more everything. That's not the direction Deadpool 2 is likely heading in, though, despite Miller's fears. As producer Simon Kinberg explained, it's about keeping the unique tone and feel of the original intact.

"That’s the biggest mandate going into on the second film: to not make it bigger," Kinberg told Entertainment Weekly. "We have to resist the temptation to make it bigger in scale and scope, which is normally what you do when you have a surprise hit movie."


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