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Futile charges in no man’s land
1915 on the Western Front
Indecisive battles along entrenchments on the Western Front continued in 1915, marked by the first large scale use of chemical warfare at the second battle of Ypres in April and May. About 10,000 men were affected by gas. Half died within 10 minutes.
The year began and ended in bitterly cold, mud-filled trenches. Soldiers endured artillery bombardments, appalling tactical blunders, futile charges on enemy positions, periods of stalemate, high death rates and atrocious conditions.
Soldiers who marched to war often with romanticised notions of heroism on the battlefield found themselves in hellish trenches floundering knee-deep in mud, human excrement and rotting bits of their comrades. Heroism had no role to play as artillery shattered dreams of glory.
An attempt to take pressure off by opening a new front at Gallipoli failed. More than 130,000 Turkish defenders and soldiers from Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand and other Allied nations would die before the assault on the edge of Asia was abandoned.
By the end of the year more than 200,000 men had been killed or wounded in the Western Front trenches.
On the Eastern Front, the toll was much higher. The Austro-Hungarian army was decimated and its remnants melded into the German forces attacking Russia. The year was marked by advances and retreats where freezing cold was as deadly as steel projectiles.
The Eastern Front would kill about 3.5 million men and more than 2 million civilians. Military-related casualties in eastern Europe and the Balkans have been estimated at 15 million.