Left: A map showing the battlefield to the north of Ypres. The division was advancing southwestwards
On the 22nd of October 1914 the 45. Reserve Division was busy fighting its way towards Bixschoote. Moving southwestwards on the right flank of the division the Reserve Jäger Bataillon 17 marched on Luyghem. Next to them the Reserve Infanterie Regiment 210 approached Merckhem and on the left flank the R.I.R. 212 struggled against a well emplaced defence to the north of Bixchoote, along the road to Steenstraat. The R.I.R. 209 was kept in reserve at this stage.
Right: Gefreiter Hermann Wentzel, wounded at Bixschoote. Wentzel's documents illustrate the chapter.
The division started the attacks along its front at 07:00 after a short artillery preparation. The day would see little progress at high cost.
At 15:30 the Jäger along with the II./ R.I.R. 210 had pushed hard enough to draw the British reserves northwards. The R.I.R. 210 made the most of the situation and launched its final assault on Merckem. With loud "Hurrahs" the companies rushed forward. They were met with a withering fire but made it into the village leaving their path of advance strewn with their dead. The British withdrew to the west, crossing the Ypres Canal and taking up already prepared defensive positions there.To their right the Jägers were also pressing home their attack. Under cover of their field artillery they had moved closer to the village and now lay ready to attack. The assault was met with intense fire from the village.Successive waves of attackers stumbled forwards through the fields but were forced to halt and take cover
Communication to the rear was lacking and the gunners had not moved their barrage forward. To advance the Jägers would have to proceed into their own artillery fire.The situation was critical. The troops were lying out in the open under the direct fire of the British infantry and artillery. To stay put would have meant certain death. To go back would mean losing the little ground they had gained and the retreating troops would have offered a superb target to the British. The only way was forward and at 19:00 they stormed the burning village. Luck was with them as the German artillery had finally redirected their fire. The troops broke through the defences and hastily formed assault groups which continued to chase the British towards the the Ypres Canal in the west where they took up position at Drei Grachten. Between Lugyhem and Drei Grachten the British positions on the Yser were protected by a maze of hedges and water filled ditches. The German pursuers running headlong into this area were met with bullets from all directions. Unable to move forward the Germans broke off the attack and returned to the village. Shots were exchanged well into the night
On the left flank, numerous attempts to advance towards Bixschoote had ground to a halt. At the beginning of the afternoon Oberst von Basedow of the R.I.R. 212 had already engaged his last reserves but found himself in a hopeless situation. Approaching the town from the North he had launched a number of assaults, all of which were met with murderous fire from the edge of the village. As the losses piled up von Basedow was left with not enough men to continue the attack.
The divisional reserve, the R.I.R. 209, was sent forward and went into action right away to the relief of the exhausted remnants of the R.I.R. 212. The British fire increased, small arms fire and shrapnel tearing through the German infantry who never the less struggled forward. The III./ R.I.R. 209 lost half its effective force in the first push. The II./ R.I.R. 209 moved forward to reinforce it and with a last rallying call the companies broke through the defensive line and entered the village.
Hermann Wentzels Iron Cross award certificate, awarded two years after his wound.
The rest of the attackers poured through the gap including the R.I.R. 211 which had joined the attack. At 18.30 the men of six regiments, R.I.R. 210,211,212,213,215,216, were to be found within the town limits, officers trying desperately to regroup their men. The confusion was not helped by the onset of darkness and British artillery fire. A piquet of approx 120 men continued through the village and set up a defensive line facing the British, whose counterattack came at 01.00 and swept the piquet back into the village.
Artillery had been pounding Bixschoote all night long and the burning houses and explosions cast an eerie light over the troops. Just what happened that night is still unclear. The splintered units, lacking most of their officers, managed to turn a victory into a route.
Wentzel was wounded by artillery in the back and left foot. The left foot was amputated. In this entry his wound is mentioned, as is his participation in the combat at Bixschoote. Between the 15th of Actober and the 11th of November 1914 the R.I.R. 212 was to loose 52 officers and 1669 men (!)
The commander of the 45. R.D. seems to have assumed that the arrival of the corps reserve (R.I.R. 211) meant he could leave the village in its hands and withdraw his regiments (R.I.R. 209 and 212) to regroup.When the remnants of the R.I.R.209 were ordered to withdraw the R.I.R. 212 assumed the orders were meant for them as well and withdrew at the same time.The other regiments, who had been swept along in the attack but were not actually meant to be there, left to rejoin their 46 R.D. at St. Jeanbach and Kortebeek. The R.I.R. 211 however only had a few elements in Bixschoote itself, most of the regiment being in position to the east of the town.
There were hardly any officers left. Contact with higher command had broken down completely and not only British, but also German artillery was shelling the town. Confusion, misunderstandings, exhaustion and frayed nerves led to the town changing hands once again in the early morning as the Germans marched out... leaving no one to guard what had been gained. The British were alert enough to occupy the town as soon as the Germans had left, capturing or killing the last exhausted stragglers
Gefreiter Wentzel's award document for the Front Fighter Cross.
The complete page of the Militaerpass in which the battles, wound and hospitals are entered.