18 Jul 2017

Remembering Passchendaele

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100 years on, we remember the Great War’s Battle of Passchendaele.

Officially known as the Third Battle of Ypres, Passchendaele was infamous not only for the scale of casualties, but also for the mud. Indeed, few offensives encapsulate World War One better than the Battle of Passchendaele.

The attack at Passchendaele was Sir Douglas Haig’s attempt to break through Flanders. Haig had considered a similar attack in 1916, but the Battle of the Somme dominated the Allied offensive in that year. However, one year later, Haig launched a new offensive in Flanders, his main aim being to breakthrough to the coast of Belgium so that German submarine pens could be destroyed.

Whilst the official start date of the Battle of Passchendaele is given as the 31st of July, a ten-day artillery bombardment of German lines commenced on July 18th 1917, with 3000 artillery guns firing over four million shells. The infantry attack meanwhile followed on July 31st.  

In the early days of August, this area of Flanders was saturated with the heaviest rain the region had seen in 30 years. Sent forward to assist the attack, tanks got stuck and infantry soldiers found it difficult to move. Worsening the situation was the impact of the artillery bombardment, which had destroyed the region’s drainage systems  where shell craters created by the Allied shelling filled with water and did not allow advancing men the opportunity to hide in them.

The Buttes New British Cemetery in Polygon Wood.

Smaller battles thus ensued within Flanders – the Battle of Menin Road Bridge, the Battle of Polygon Wood and the Battle of Broodseinde, giving British forces the advantage in the territory to the east of Ypres. Buoyed by these victories, Haig became convinced that German morale was on the verge of collapse and ordered that the offensive be continued to Passchendaele Ridge.

Between 9th to 12th October, the Battle of Poelcappelle and the First Battle of Passchendaele were fought. Thwarted by the additional German forces recently arrived from the Eastern Front and the use of mustard gas, the attempted Allied breakthrough to Passchendaele Ridge failed.

In late October however, three further Allied attacks were made on Passchendaele Ridge and on November 6th, 1917, the village of Passchendaele was taken. Yet despite this victory, the Battle of Passchendaele was heavily criticised for its huge loss of life. Indeed, for the sake of a few kilometres, the British lost 310,000 men and the Germans had 260,000 fatalities.

Why not pay homage to the fallen soldiers of Passchendaele and bring the history of the Great War to life with a battlefields school trip to Ypres and Passchendaele? Visits here lend themselves perfectly to the History syllabus, particularly those studying ‘The British sector of the Western Front, 1914–18: injuries, treatment and the trenches’ (edexcel) and ‘Conflict and tension, 1894–1918’ (AQA).  Contact us for more details.

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