The Battle of Pilckem Ridge, 31 July - 2 August 1917
Tasked with securing the Passchendaele-Staden Ridge, Gough's Fifth Army was given the responsibility for assaulting the German occupied uplands to the north-east and east of Ypres.
The opening battle of ‘Third Ypres’ was preceded by weeks of tremendous and barely concealed preparations. The artillery bombardment, of unprecedented scale, culminated in a stunning crescendo at the moment of assault, 3.50am, 31 July. In mist and semi-darkness, British infantry advanced behind a precise and deafening 'creeping barrage', across a battlefield dramatically illuminated by bursting shells and flares. Widespread early progress was made across the shattered German outpost lines. Notably, in the north, XIV Corps got across the Pilckem Ridge and, in the centre, XVIII and XIX Corps troops rapidly closed on the Steenbeek; by 8am St Julien was occupied by the 39th Division. Further south II Corps, pressing up the Gheluvelt Plateau through the shell-thrashed woods either side the Menin Road, were slowed (and later halted) by difficult ground, unbroken wire, unsuppressed pillboxes and heavy German shelling. In the early afternoon, after the onset of persistent drizzle, the advanced troops at the centre of the attack met increased German resistance and progress halted. In increasingly heavy rain determined German counter-attacks forced a British withdrawal; but these counter-thrusts were held and the line of advance consolidated.
Despite being ordered that evening to continue the attack, the relentlessly wet conditions brought Gough's first assault to an end. During the following two days the newly advanced positions were held in appalling conditions by desperate fighting in the face of ferocious German counter-attacks and shelling. The battle saw considerable gains but no glimpse of breakthrough and Gough was compelled to renew the attack as soon as the weather conditions allowed.
Campaign map Army structure Terminology