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)

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)

26/9/1917 3rd Ypres: Britain storms Polygon Wood #1917Live

The British are staging a rolling series of limited attacks at Ypres. These are meant to attritional, inflicting more damage on the Germans than the Allies are taking, but casualties are heavy on both sides. Since the recent assault on the Menin Road and the fighting that followed, some 20,000 losses have been suffered by British and Australian forces. German losses are about the same.

Now the British shift focus to attack Polygon Wood (so named for its curious shape on the map). Again the British are helped by relatively dry weather conditions and good preparations. British and Australian troops push into the wood (or what is left of it) and establish themselves on more easily defended positions from which German rear areas can be observed. The Germans launch vigorous counter-attacks but are unable to dislodge the British from their gains. Casualties on both sides are heavy: well above 10,000 men each.

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Australian troops advance (Wikipedia)

Australian troops wearing respirators (Wikipedia)

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)