6/11/1917 Passchendaele finally falls to the Canadians #1917Live

The British and their Commonwealth allies have been plugging away at Ypres for months now. Now at last after several failed attempts a Canadian assault captures the village of Passchendaele. This heap of ruins is of no strategic importance but its capture allows Haig to claim that victory of a sort has been achieved. The Third Battle of Ypres now winds down, with the British generals finally accepting that conditions are too poor for further offensive action.

Both sides have suffered greatly in this battle. Exact numbers are unclear but both sides appear to have taken more than 200,000 casualties since the first British attacks at the end of July. It appears to be the case that in the latter stages of the fighting as many as one in four of the British dead died not from enemy gunfire but by drowning in mud.

images source (Wikipedia: Battle of Passchendaele)

27/10/1917 Fighter pilot Arthur Rhys-Davids fails to return #1917Live

Just over a month ago Arthur Rhys-Davids took part in the unequal struggle that saw German ace Werner Voss shot down after battling seven British fighter pilots. Since then Rhys-Davids has been sketched by William Orpen, who plans to paint a portrait of the flier.

Today Rhys-Davids is promoted to lieutenant. He heads off on a routine mission over enemy lines but he does not return. He appears to have fallen victim to German fighter pilot Karl Gallwitz. His body is not recovered.

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Portrait of Arthur Rhys-Davids, by William Orpen (Wikipedia)

27/10/1917 La Malmaison: a French offensive on the Chemin des Dames #1917Live

The main Allied effort on the Western Front is taking place at Ypres, where British-led forces are battling the Germans and mud. The French are playing a supporting role in that battle, but they are also carrying out their own offensives elsewhere. In the Chemin des Dames sector over the last few days they have been carrying out a local offensive with limited objectives. Advancing behind a creeping barrage, French troops managed to seize the German-held village of La Malmaison, despite the failure of many of their tanks in the soft ground. German counter-attacks have failed to dislodge the French, who have been able to advance further in the following days. French casualties were not light but appear to have been greatly exceeded by those of the enemy.

For the French commanders this limited success is a further indication that the dark days of the mutinies are now behind the French army. For the Germans meanwhile the battle is disconcerting. They begin to plan a withdrawal to more readily defended positions. Ludendorff also decides that the aggressive French posture means that it would be foolhardy for him to send more men to exploit the recent successes at Caporetto on the Italian front.

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French troops after the battle (La Croix: 1917 Année cruelle, année charnière)

map (Wikipedia: Battle of La Malmaison)

26/10/1917 Canadians take their turn being killed at Passchendaele #1917Live

At Ypres, a recent British and ANZAC attempt to advance on Passchendaele has failed. Now the Allies attack again. The British and the antipodeans have been so battered by previous efforts that now it falls to the Canadians to take the leading role. But the Canadians are no more able to advance on Passchendaele than their predecessors. Even without the guns of the Germans, it has become extremely difficult to move across the water-sodden battlefield and the attacks make minimal progress.

An attack by Belgian and French forces to the north of the Ypres salient is somewhat more successful. The Germans are pushed back and several of their pillbox defensive positions captured. The Belgians and French prepare to push on tomorrow. The Canadians and British meanwhile lick their wounds and plan to renew their advance on Passchendaele in the near future.

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Mud (Copwick: images of Poelcapelle and the Passchendaele battle site)

12/10/1917 ANZAC forces cut to pieces in failed attack on Passchendaele #1917Live

The British attack on the 9th at Ypres was an unfortunate failure, with virtually no ground taken. This somehow appears not to have been understood by senior commanders, with Plumer (the local commander) telling Haig (the British Western Front commander) that good positions were taken from which to advance on Passchendaele. Now the next attack takes place, an attempt mostly by Australian and New Zealand troops to take this ruined village.

The attack is a failure. Mud and the German defenders prevent any major gains; at the end of the day’s fighting the New Zealanders are roughly 90 metres closer to the village and have taken terrible casualties in the process. German losses are great too, thanks to Allied artillery and German counterattacks to recover lost positions. But although he is shaken by the scale of losses his men have been enduring, Ludendorff is now increasingly confident that the line can be held until the weather becomes so bad that further offensives are impossible.

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New Zealand artillery fires from shell-holes (Wikipedia: First Battle of Passchendaele)

The morning after (Wikipedia: First Battle of Passchendaele)

9/10/1917 Poelcapelle: an Allied attack at Ypres fails #1917Live

The latest attack at Ypres takes place today, an attempt to further extend the Allied position with Poelcapelle at the centre of their crosshairs. The last few attacks have been relatively successful, with ground gained and significant casualties inflicted on the Germans (albeit also at considerable cost to the Allies).

Good weather played a significant role in previous successes. Now however the weather has broken. British airmen find it harder to observe and guide down artillery on German positions. The infantry find if extremely difficult to move forward across an increasingly muddy battlefield. Mud also makes it difficult to keep the guns firing. And the tanks find themselves unable to manoeuvre in the morass into which they are to advance.

The result is that the British and their Commonwealth allies suffer terrible casualties and make almost no gains. The only real success today happens on the British flank, where French troops trudge through the mud behind a slowly creeping barrage, achieving their limited objectives with relatively few casualties. Overall this is a day of failure, though British commanders may at least take some satisfaction from the knowledge that the Germans too have suffered great losses in containing the attack.

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Mud (Copwick: images of Poelcapelle and the Passchendaele battle site)

4/10/1917 Broodseinde: more Ypres attrition #1917Live

After their recent attacks on Polygon Wood and the Menin Road the British now launch another of their bite-and-hold attacks. This time, with a large part being played by Australian and New Zealand troops, the aim is a general extension of the Ypres salient, centred on the ridge of Broodseinde.

The Allies attack without a preliminary artillery bombardment, catching the Germans on the hop and taking many prisoners. German counterattacks are held off and in some areas the Allies even advance beyond their objectives. So well have the men done that Plumer, the local commander, considers pushing more men forward to exploit the gains, but in the end caution prevails.

Nevertheless, for all the Allied successes today, casualties suffered have been great (but not as great as those of the enemy). And the weather is beginning to break, suggesting that it will not be easy to repeat recent gains in the future. Haig, the British Western Front commander, begins to look beyond the front line towards Passchendaele, a German-held village that he thinks would be an ideal target for the next stage of the battle.

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British troops moving up before the battle (Wikipedia: Battle of Broodseinde)

map (Wikipedia: Battle of Broodseinde)