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The Battle of Passchendaele

Listed under Battlefields in Flemish, Belgium.

  • Photo of The Battle of Passchendaele
  • Photo of The Battle of Passchendaele
  • Photo of The Battle of Passchendaele
  • Photo of The Battle of Passchendaele
  • Photo of The Battle of Passchendaele
Photo of The Battle of Passchendaele
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One tiny town, Passchendaele, Flanders, was at the centre of this battle, and by the end of it there was nothing worth wining left. One of the major battles of the Ypres campaign, Passchendaele is known to some as Third Ypres. It took place between June and November 1917 and in this offensive the Allies (mainly Britain, France, Canada, Australia and South Africa) aimed to push a hole in the German army’s Ypres line and push them off Belgium’s coastline.

For many men the overwhelming experience of the Western Front was mud and corpses and the line at Passchendaele was no different, as despite improved weather this land was pretty marshy to begin with. The British policy to flatten everything with artillery fire before letting their infantry onto the field did nothing to improve the quality of the ground of no man’s land and the rains at the end of August drowned everything in mud, from men to tanks. Men carried 45kgs worth of kit and walked precariously on duck boards towards the front under fire, it was easy enough to fall into a shell hole and drown before anyone could get you out. Like in so many battles in Flanders the Germans withstood the initial bombardment in well dug trenches and this became yet another battle of attrition, where men’s lives equalled truly miniscule gains in ground.

Unlike the Somme the first strokes of this battle favoured the British; the mines they had laid went off as planned in trenches newly repopulated in the sudden artillery silence killing about 10,000. Waves of infantry assaults followed and the first line of trenches were taken on the first night. The Allied mistake in this battle was not driving forward. In July consolidated German forces started using cruel mustard gas and though the Allies continued to move forward sporadically they began to lose more and more men.

The first battle of Passchendaele proper, as in for the town itself was on the 12th of October.

Canadian corps entered what was left of Passchendaele on the 30th of October and by the 6th of November the Germans were pushed off the high ground. The final score when it comes to casualties was almost half a million from the Allies and around 265,000 from the Germans after Allied generals kept pouring more and more men at the line hoping the Germans would run out before they did fighting as they were on the Eastern Front as well. By the end of fighting there was literally nothing left to take, everything had been flattened and the British didn’t have enough troops left to make proper use of their win and the all ground they took was won back by the Germans in 1918 offences.

There are more than 12,000 graves in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery at Ypres. The Menin Gate Memorial nearby is a monument to the men of the whole Ypres campaign and has a Hall of Memory listing the names of around 55,000 men who died without graves, many inauspiciously in the mud.

Written by  Anthony Harrison.

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