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)

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)

20/9/1917 3rd Ypres: a limited assault on the Menin Road #1917Live

Fighting at Ypres continues in fits and starts. The weather has improved somewhat, making it easier for the British. Plumer, the new local commander, is staging a series of limited offensives, though Haig continues to dream of a breakthrough. Today the British attack on a wide front straddling the Menin Road from Ypres. Artillery blasts German front line positions, with the guns then being retargetted to hit enemy forces staging counterattacks.

Plumer’s men make modest gains, advancing on average less than a kilometre. But this is deliberate, with the attack intended to seize and hold territory and then force the Germans to fight at a disadvantage. Now after the initial gains both sides attempt to reorganise their defences and take the best possible positions.

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British troops resting in a trench (Wikipedia)

Wounded Australian troops (Wikipedia)

4/5/1915 Ypres: the line shortens

Fighting at Ypres continues. The Germans have continued to deploy gas to devastating effect, killing many Allied soldiers but failing to make a breakthrough. Allied counter-attacks have tried to recapture lost ground but without much success. Many on the British side feel that the French are not pressing attacks in their part of the line with sufficient vigour. There may be some truth to this. Joffre is planning his own offensive in the Artois region and so is committing the bare minimum of forces to the Ypres sector. Foch, the local French commander, does not have the men to strike back hard at the Germans. But the British too are keeping troops back for their own planned offensive, so they should not be too judgemental.

German gains on the 22nd of May have left many of the British and Canadian forces in the Ypres salient in an exposed position. Smith-Dorrien, the British commander at Ypres, fears that a renewed German thrust could leave his men cut off. He proposes a withdrawal to a shorter and more defensible line. French, the senior British commander on the Western Front sees this as indicating a failure of nerve on Smith-Dorrien’s part. He relieves Smith-Dorrien of his command, replacing him with General Herbert Plumer. Plumer promptly orders a withdrawal to a shorter and more defensible line.

image source (Webmatters: Carte de Route)