World War One, Passchendaele
The third major battle of Ypres, also known as the Battle of Passchendaele, took place between July and November, 1917. General Sir Douglas Haig, the British Commander in Chief in France, was encouraged by the gains made at the offensive at Messines in June 1917. Haig was convinced that the German army was now close to collapse and once again made plans for a major offensive to obtain the necessary breakthrough.
The opening attack at Passchendaele was carried out by General Hubert Gough and the British Fifth Army with General Herbert Plumer and the Second Army joining in on the right and General Francois Anthoine and the French First Army on the left. After a 10 day preliminary bombardment, with 3,000 guns firing 4.25 million shells, the British offensive started at Ypres a 3.50 am on 31st July.
The German Fourth Army held off the main British advance and restricted the British to small gains on the left of the line. Allied attacks on the German front-line continued despite very heavy rain that turned the Ypres lowlands into a swamp. The situation was made worse by the fact that the British heavy bombardment had destroyed the drainage system in the area. This heavy mud created terrible problems for the infantry and the use of tanks became impossible. Eventually Sir Douglas Haig called off the attacks and did not resume the offensive until late September.
Attacks on 26th September and 4th October enabled the British forces to take possession of the ridge east of Ypres. Despite the return of heavy rain, Haig ordered further attacks towards the Passchendaele Ridge. Attacks on the 9th and 12th October were unsuccessful. As well as the heavy mud, the advancing British soldiers had to endure mustard gas attacks.
Three more attacks took place in October and on the 6th November the village of Passchendaele was finally taken by British and Canadian infantry. The offensive cost the British Expeditionary Force about 310,000 casualties. Sir Douglas Haig was severely criticised for continuing with the attacks long after the operation had lost any real strategic value.