THE THIRD BATTLE OF YPRES
The Slaughter at Passchendaele
|By early 1917 the Germans had defeated every allied army opposed to them, except the British. But Field Marshal Haig was undaunted. The BEF would attack again on the Ypres front.|
|WOOD, TOM. Gunner, Royal Field Artillery (795226), 23 yrs, son Mr. K. Wood, Ling Park, Nessfield, fatally gassed and died 11 November 1918.
Tom was sent home from the front after being gassed in 1917 and died on the last day of the war, because Tom was in the Royal Field Artillery it is not possible to find exactly when he was gassed in 1917 because all the records from the Royal Artillery archives were destroyed in the Blitz in 1940. More than likely he would have been a casualty from…
Eighty years after it ended, the 3rd Battle of Ypres still casts a dark shadow over British attitudes to the Great War. It is remembered as Passchendaele, a name that evokes ghastly Images or British soldiers dying in a nightmarish landscape of mud and slime. Nearly 300,000 British troops died in Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig’s remorseless offensive which was already the subject of bitter controversy before it finished. David Lloyd George was one of the first, and certainly not the last, to condemn it as futile butchery.
Haig planned 1917 as a year of attrition, which would pave the way for a decisive victory over Germany in 1918. History proved him correct; but the doggedness with which he pursued the attrition battle into the autumn has left an indelible question mark over his generalship. The strategic objective was to break through towards the Flemish coast and capture the German naval bases at Zeebrugge and Ostend. The other objective was based on simple calculation: the Allies had 14 million soldiers and the Central Powers had 9 million, while the Allies also had another 9 million men in reserve and the Central Powers only 3 million. If the Germans could be worn down a major battle in 1917, Haig’s reasoning dictated, their army would break under the pressure and the war would be over.
The holocaust at Verdun, followed by General Robert Nivelles disastrous offensive, broke the back of the French army, leaving the British to bear the burden of in the Western Front. Haig’s army was a very different one to the Kitchener volunteer force of 1916: while it lacked the passionate enthusiasm of the army that attacked the Somme, it was a far more professional organisation that deserved a better fate.
The bombardment opened on l8th of July: 3,091 guns, one for every 6 yards of front, firing 4.25 million shells. It was the heaviest barrage yet seen in the war. With mind-numbing force it blasted the German front line into oblivion, but it also pulverised the drainage system throughout this low-lying area. The infantry went over the top on 31st July at 03:15. The rain, which was to figure so powerfully in the battle, began that morning, an incessant downpour that filled the shell craters and would not drain away.
The first day of 3rd Ypres in made so little progress that General Sir Hubert Gough, commanding the 5th Army, wanted to call it off. But after a necessary pause Haig resumed the offensive on the 16th of August in the battle of Langemark. The weather cleared up but the Germans fought with great tenacity from a network of ferro-concrete strong points, which were impervious to anything, accept a direct hit from a heavy gun. The assaulting troops vainly tried to bypass them and bomb their rear entrances, but interlocking machine-guns and concentrated shelling smashed every attack.
The second phase began on 14 September, when General Sir Herbert Plumer’s 2nd Army began a five-day bombardment of the high ground crossed by the Menin road. The subsequent assault gained its limited objective and by the end of the month a third major attack captured Polygon Wood. But now the rain returned with a vengeance. Passchendaele is a village between Ypres and Roulers, standing on a low ridge which. Haig insisted on capturing in the autumn He believed that another fierce battle, although costly, would cripple the German army and despite bad weather and the already terriblepasch8condition of the ground, the orders were issued. Throughout October Haig fed his men into a meat grinder of a battle: craters filled lip-to-lip with feted mud and slime were captured and recaptured The incessant shelling continually disinterred the bodies of the dead, and the salient’s hellish appearance was seared into the memories of the survivors.
The Numbers Game
Passchendaele was finally captured on 6 November, and the battle was halted four days later. In the numbers game, the British forces had sustained nearly 300,000 casualties and the Germans about 250,000. British losses were felt more keenly, as to this point in the war the British Empire had suffered far fewer casualties than any other major power. This contributed heavily to the bitter memory of 3rd battle of Ypres.
The Germans, who had begun the battle confident of holding the line, bad certainly managed to regain most of the ground. But their losses were irreplaceable, and civilian support for continuing the war collapsed in the summer or 1917. The Reichstag voted for peace and only ruthless political control by the army leadership was keeping Germany fighting. The 3rd Battle of Ypres maintained the military pressure on Germany at a time of increasing internal chaos. By 1918 the German leaders knew they had to end the war quickly before they had their own Bolshevik revolution.
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