The Ypres Salient - CWGC

Almost every aspect of the Third Battle of Ypres remains surrounded by controversy: these include its origins (political and military), purpose and conduct, fighting conditions, consequences and casualties. Fought at a time when the French Army was seriously weakened (though beginning to shows signs of recovery) in the wake of the disastrous Nivelle offensive in the spring of 1917 and in the gloomy shadow of the Admiralty's profound anxieties about losses to Allied shipping by German U-boats - the offensive, as presented by its champion Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, seemed to offer some tantalising prospects of important strategic benefits. Indeed in the course of the bitter fighting, especially in late September and early October, genuine tactical successes raised real hopes in the Commander-in-Chief of possible breakthrough and encouraged him to persist in driving his armies forward.

Assault on Passchendaele 12 October-6 November: A single soldier makes his way through the remains of trees, mud and water in what was the battlefieldBut the onset of atrocious weather conditions, added to the resilience of the German defenders, made further significant advances well-nigh impossible. The decision to continue the offensive after 4 October is, with hindsight, regarded as imprudent, but given the context of the immediately preceding successes and the vital need to engage the German Army to the full on the Western Front, Haig regarded himself as having no other option. This decision condemned attackers and defenders alike to endure battlefield conditions which were little less than 'a stinking swamp' and which in turn have come to epitomise all that was worst about Western Front warfare. The debate about the battle continues and remains a fruitful source for the scholarly pursuits of contemporary military historians.


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