18/8/1917 Third Ypres: mud

British and French forces are attacking to the north of Ypres. Despite the recent unrest in their army, the French have made the best progress but neither of the Allies are doing very well. Unseasonal rain has turned the ground into a quagmire, making it difficult for the troops to move forward.

Because of the waterlogged nature of the ground, the Germans have built pillboxes for themselves rather than relying solely on trenches. The British had hoped to attack these with tanks, but the mud has made it impossible for them to get beyond their own lines.

The Allies make some gains, though they lose some of these to German counter-attacks. In view of the terrible weather conditions they now call a temporary halt to the offensive, hoping that a break in the rain will allow the ground to dry out somewhat, at which point the attacks can resume.

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Mud (WW1 World War One Ieper 1917)

Escorting German prisoners (Wikipedia: Battle of Langemarck (1917))

16/8/1917 Third Ypres: more failed attacks

Despite the bad weather, the British are continuing with their offensive in Flanders. Canadian troops have been making diversionary attacks at Lens but today the main British attacks resume on the Gheluvelt Plateau north of Ypres (with secondary attacks elsewhere).

The British fare little better than when they attacked on the 10th. They manage to storm the village of Langemarck but are unable to make further progress. The mud and the German defences make Haig‘s dreams of a breakthrough impossible to realise.

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Crossing the Yser Canal (Radcliffe on Trent WW1: 3rd Battle of Ypres 1917)

10/8/1917 Third Ypres: mud and the Germans block British progress #1917Live

Bad weather has forced a halt to the British offensive in Flanders. Now conditions are deemed to have improved sufficiently for the attacks at Ypres to resume. The British are now attempting to clear the Germans off the Gheluvelt Plateau. However the going is hard. Shellfire since the start of the battle has disrupted the drainage system of the battlefield while heavy rainfall has turned the ground into a quagmire. The mud makes it difficult for the soldiers to move forward but it also makes it harder to use artillery: the muddy ground yields to the guns’ recoil, meaning that they have to be retargeted after each shot. The gunners also must waste time cleaning their shells, which inevitably arrive from the depots covered in slime. Misty weather prevents aerial observation of the German positions and mud reduces the explosive power of the shells.

The British make some progress but German resistance is dogged. Their artillery is situated on a reverse slope, making it difficult for the British to target without effective aerial observation. They use it to isolate British troops as they move forward, with counter-attacks by infantry then recovering much of the lost ground.

This battle is meant to be one in which the Germans will be worn down, an attritional struggle where the aim is to inflict more casualties on the enemy than he can inflict back. But the British are suffering high casualties in the battle, while on the German side a staff officer notes that his men appear to be suffering less than they did at the Somme.

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British soldiers (The A-to-Z of Yeovil’s History: Sidney George Hawker)

17/7/1917 Narungombe: a British advance in East Africa thwarted

The war in German East Africa should be coming to an end. The Germans here are heavily outnumbered and completely cut off from Europe. British Empire forces have overrun the colony’s coast but the Germans have retreated inland. Now the British attempt to follow them, under orders from London to eliminate Germany’s last overseas colony as soon as possible.

This is not purely a white man’s war. The British are fielding troops from India and their various African possessions alongside European and white South African soldiers. They have also forcibly recruited a vast corps of Africans to serve as bearers in slave-like conditions. The German army meanwhile is mainly locally recruited Askaris, with a small number of European officers.

British forces attack the Germans today at Narungombe. The Germans here are outnumbered but Lettow-Vorbeck, the overall German commander is racing to reinforce them. The fighting is confused, with brush fires reducing visibility. The Germans inflict heavy losses on the British but Lieberman, the local commander, fears being overwhelmed. He orders a withdrawal, which comes as something of a surprise to the British.

When they join forces Lettow-Vorbeck is furious that Lieberman did not wait at Narungombe for his arrival. Nevertheless the battle has so battered the British that for now they must abandon any further plans to advance.

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Askaris (Delville Wood)

13/7/1917 Britain retreats from Ramadi #1917Live

British forces have been attacking the Turkish position of Ramadi in Mesopotamia. Conducted under the unforgiving glare of a burning sun, the attacks have been a failure, with the Turks refusing to be dislodged. Now the British retreat back to their base in Dhibban on the Euphrates, upriver from Baghdad. Along the way they are harassed by pro-Turkish Arab irregulars.

British forces end up taking more casualties from the heat than from enemy gunfire, with many men succumbing to heat stroke and thirst. The failure to take Ramadi brings home the folly of campaigning here in the heart of summer. It will be the autumn before Maude makes any further attempt is made to take Ramadi.

11/7/1917 Ramadi: Britain’s failed attempt to advance upriver from Baghdad #1917Live

The tide of war ebbs and flows in Mesopotamia. Last year the Turks were triumphant, causing the surrender of Townshend‘s army at Kut-al-Amara. Since then the British have recaptured Kut and advanced upriver to drive the Turks from Baghdad.

Now in the searing heat of the Mesopotamian summer Maude makes the odd decision to send troops up the Euphrates to attack the Turkish force occupying Ramadi. The extreme temperature makes it impossible for the British to march from Baghdad to Ramadi, even at night, so they are instead transported by truck.

The British attack today in the early morning. They may have hoped that the Turks would be demoralised after their previous losses. Unfortunately the men at Ramadi put up stout resistance and do not yield to British assaults. The British attack fails and the men find themselves trapped in the open, unable to retreat until night falls, suffering terribly from enemy gunfire but more so from the burning intensity of the sun.

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Map (Wikipedia)

27/6/1917 A new British commander in the Sinai desert

British and Commonwealth forces have advanced across the Sinai desert but have been blocked form advancing into Palestine by the Turkish defenders of Gaza. Now British leaders in London decide that they have had enough of Murray, the local British commander. He is removed from command and replaced by Edmund Allenby, after South Africa’s Smuts declines the role.

Allenby previously served in the Boer War. More recently he was based on the Western Front, where he was the local commander at Arras. Considerable initial gains were achieved at Arras before the battle degenerated into the usual attritional meat-grinder. British leaders are hoping that he will be able to replicate his success in his

Allenby has been directed to advance into Palestine and seize Jerusalem by Christmas, but he is not being provided with any extra men to do this. His army is much stronger than that of the Turks but his task is not an easy one. The Turks are defending a strong position and have easy access to the waters of Palestine. For now at least Allenby’s men are stuck in a desert and face grave problems keeping themselves supplied, particularly with water. Nevertheless he begins to survey the situation and make plans for an advance north.

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Edmund Allenby (Wikipedia)