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)

25/8/1917 Ypres: the siege of Fray Bentos reaches its conclusion

A British tank, nicknamed Fray Bentos by its crew, has been stuck in a shell-hole since a failed attack on German lines near Ypres on the 22nd. The tanks has come under repeated attacks by the Germans, but the stranded crew have been able to repel them. They have also used their guns to disrupt disrupt counter-attacks on their British comrades.

Nevertheless, conditions in the tank become increasingly desperate. Daytime temperatures within Fray Bentos rise to over 30 degrees and the men have exhausted their drinking water; they are now making do with water from the tank’s radiator. Two of the crew have been killed by the Germans and several of the rest are injured.

Captain Richardson, the tank’s commander, decides that his men have done enough. In the small hours of this morning they abandon their vehicle and slip back unmolested to the British lines, where they are feted for their bravery under enemy fire.

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Diorama (Ebob Miniatures Eblog: Siege of Fray Bentos)

22/8/1917 Ypres: tanks v. mud, the Siege of Fray Bentos

Mud and the resistance of the enemy are frustrating British efforts at Ypres, but Haig still hopes that a determined effort will allow his men to smash through the German lines. More attacks are launched today, this time along the now devastated road that runs from Ypres to Menin. The attack founders in the Flanders quagmire. Small gains are made but some 3,000 men are lost.

The attack’s failure happens despite the deployment of tanks to support the infantry. The muddy ground is unsuitable for heavy armoured vehicles. In one incident 7 of 8 tanks advancing towards a German-held strongpoint become bogged down and have to be destroyed. The last tank, nicknamed Fray Bentos after the tinned meat product, continues on but finds itself stuck in a shell crater after German bullets injure the driver. Under fire from the enemy, the tank’s occupants are unable extricate their vehicle. They are now trapped in No Man’s Land.

As night falls Fray Bentos is besieged. German troops approach the vehicle and try to force their way in. For now the tank’s crew are able to repel the enemy but their future remains uncertain. They are too far ahead of their infantry to expect help from that quarter and any journey back to British lines would be one fraught with danger.

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Swarming Germans (The Telegraph: The siege of Fray Bentos at the Battle of Passchendaele)

Diorama (Ebob Miniatures Eblog: Siege of Fray Bentos)