Battle of Passchendaele ends
The 10th of November 1917 AD
The Battle of Passchendaele epitomises the nature of fighting on the Western Front in WWI , with casualties measured in hundreds of thousands sacrificed for little (or within a short period no) territorial gain, for what Field Marshal Haig regarded as valid strategic reasons, in horrific muddy conditions. ‘Wearing out the enemy’ by whatever means necessary was regarded as an acceptable approach to the waging of war.
With the Tsarist regime in Russia having fallen, and major problems with mutinous troops on the French side, a campaign was seen as needed to relieve pressure on the French army. The Belgian channel ports of Ostend and Zeebrugge were credible targets of undoubted strategic value, and Haig (not for the only time) felt that it was possible with a great push to win the war, in that case before the end of the year.
The summer of 1917 in Flanders was particularly wet, and the artillery bombardments and mining operations destroyed the land’s surface, creating a massive quagmire – many men drowned in mud during the three and a half months of fighting. The village of Passchendaele became the focal point of the conflict. Tanks became unusable, and troop movement difficult. In spite of this the battle was one of attack and counter-attack, German defensive withdrawals and allied thrusts against narrow target areas, though all the while major artillery bombardments continued.
Passchendaele saw heavy involvement of Commonwealth troops. On October 12, 2700 New Zealanders lost their lives around the village, the worst day in their country’s military history. It was the Canadian Corps that was instrumental in the final capture of Passchendaele on November 6, and strategic high ground north of the village four days later, when the battle is deemed to have ended. The allied line had advanced about five miles.
In the spring of 1918 redeployment of British troops left the area taken with relatively weak defences. The Germans in just a few days regained the few miles of territory they had lost during Passchendaele.
There is significant controversy about losses suffered on both sides during the battle, with an upper figure for allies and Germans of around 400,000, though a rough consensus suggests about 260,000 for each.
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