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The Battle of the Ypres-Comines Canal 1940 (Paperback)

France and Flanders Campaign

Military > Battlefield Guidebooks > WWII Battlefield Guides WWI > Battles & Campaigns > Ypres WWII > Battles & Campaigns > Dunkirk

By Jerry Murland
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Series: Battleground: WWII
Pages: 154
ISBN: 9781473852570
Published: 20th November 2019



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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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Red Coat and Khaki

A worthy addition to a brilliant series of battleground guides which is becoming a highly successful series of guides. The defeat of the Allies in the Battle of France and the amazing and courageous success of evacuating over 300,000 British and French troops from the exposed beaches of Dunkirk may explain why the battles that made the Dunkirk evacuation possible have long deserved better coverage. – Most Highly Recommended.

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From the outset this is like a guide book for a little known event that happened during World War Two, and this what the Battleground series is about, it is almost on a par with the Pen and Sword Images of War series and the Your Towns and Cities series’. Both of which in my opinion are absolutely brilliant.

This book is divided into various chapters that look at the events and crisis, the brigades involved and the outcomes. It then takes a look/tour around the various sites of the battle. It really very well written and presented, the photographs in the book are clear and excellent, it’s like a battle rolled into a ball. In fact I would like to see this kind of book written about major or bigger battles because I got a lot out of reading this book about an event I knew little about. My congratulations to the author Jerry Murland and Pen and Sword Books for writing a first class book, and I hope to read more of this series at a later time.

UK Historian

A real gem of a guidebook looking at the forgotten battle of Ypres in 1940. We used it on a recent Leger Recce. Recommended!

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Paul Reed via Twitter

This is a battle early on in the Second World War about which I know precisely nothing - from the title I would have assumed it to be a Great War battle! It is amazing to think that after all the terrible battles and loss of lives at Ypres during the First World War, the same territory was being fought over in 1940. Jerry Murland's excellent book provides a minutely detailed account of this formative engagement and the consequences of its victory to allow the BEF to continue its progress. A must-read for military historians.

Books Monthly

With the basic story explained, the book moves to the heart of these Battleground guides, with 2 walking tours and a more extensive Car tour, though one which can be broken down into sections if you want to spend more time on it. The tours are well detailed, telling you not just the route, but relating it to what you will see where, and what happened to give the context to what you see. The book is well illustrated throughout, with maps and plenty of photos, both archive images and modern day pictures showing what you will see there today. Another excellent battlefield guide, and for a trip that is quite close and easy to get to thanks to the Channel Tunnel these days.

These Battleground guides are an ideal size to take with you, easy to fit in a backpack/keep in the car.

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Military Model Scene, Robin Buckland

I knew about the rearguard battles of the B.E.F. for reading about it in Sebag-Montefiore's "Dunkirk - Fight to the Last man", but nevertheless Jerry Murland's text reflects well in his narrative the close struggle that the British had to face against troops exalted by repeated victories. A text that pays homage to that sacrifice and adds another interesting volume to the "Battleground" series.

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Old Barbed Wire Blog

The fighting along the line is covered in detail throughout the book. The maps and locations are easy to find today and Murland’s use of today's road names is to be applauded and makes it very easy for the modern visitor to find the sites in question with the two suggested walking tours and a further one along the entire line by car included. Within the environs of Ieper many of these places are already well known but I wonder how many visitors are just aware of the 1940 history that took place there? Examples are many but for instance the defence of Hill 60 by 2/RSF and the fighting patrol of Roy Cholmondley towards the German gun lines located on Hill 62 by Sanctuary Wood. Ieper itself was defended by 4/Green Howards of 50 Division. Battalion HQ was at Shrapnel Corner and their line ran from Zillebeke Lake and along the Ramparts via the Lille Gate. The bridge so many cross today to reach the Menin Gate was blown by Lt David Smith of the Royal Engineers. It’s all in here.

After nearly three days holding the line the BEF were finally ordered to withdraw westwards towards Poperinghe. The following morning the Swastika flew over the Cloth Hall in Ypres.

Of all the guide books in the series Jerry Murland has written this is the one I was looking forward to the most and it delivers in spades. Ieper’s 1940 History, perhaps understandingly overlooked given the carnage of the 14-18 war, is, to paraphrase Lord Plumer when he unveiled the Menin Gate in 1927, no longer missing. It’s here.

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WW2 Talk

Featured ON THE BOOK SHELF with Neil Smith

Wargames Illustrated, November 2019

Another good guide to a battlefield which is to be expected from his author. The format follows the usual method of this series; good maps, good images and informed text. Having walked the area many times dealing with the Great War, I found many new aspects to the fighting over the same ground in WW2. Certainly I will be seeing the ground in a different way accompanied by this book on my next recce.

Michael McCarthy. Battlefield Guide

Michael McCarthy

About Jerry Murland

Jerry Murland is a retired headteacher who has written over twenty books and guidebooks coverering the events of the First and Second World Wars. His first book, Aristocrats Go To War, was published by Pen and Sword in 2010 and since then he has gone on the write a number of others, including the Battlelines Guidebooks to the Western Front, co-written with Jon Cooksey. He is currently writing an account of the Battle of the Ypres-Comines Canal 1940, part of eight Battleground Europe books which cover the France and Flanders campaign of 1940.

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