The Battle of Langemarck, 16 - 18 August 1917
The exceptionally wet August weather turned parts of the Ypres battlefield into a quagmire, frustrating Gough's hopes for a speedy resumption of the offensive. An action against the Gheluvelt Plateau was attempted on 10 August (with few positive gains), but the main attack, following further weather related postponements, could only be renewed on 16 August. Aspects of the ensuing fighting went very seriously wrong.
Impelled by the complex timetable underlying the great 'Flanders Offensive', Gough again launched a broad-front assault designed to advance Fifth Army's line at least as far as his original objectives set for the opening battle on 31 July. In the wake of a creeping barrage eight British Divisions attacked in atrocious conditions at 4.45am on Thursday 16 August on a frontage of roughly 12,000 yards. The pattern of fighting was disappointingly familiar: limited success in the north; costly failure in the centre and south; widespread heavy casualties. Notably in the centre and south the British bombardment failed to destroy the German batteries and field defences; devastating enemy shelling and relentless machine-gun fire from numerous surviving concrete pillboxes and fortified farms exacted a terrible toll on the attackers. The tragic failures of the 16th and 36th Divisions on the open slopes of the Zonnebeke spur, and the destruction of 56th Division within the confusion of blighted woods on the Gheluvelt Plateau, epitomised the desperate ordeals endured by the assaulting troops. Mid-morning saw all progress in the centre and south halted; subsequent well organised German counter-attacks forced British withdrawals.
By early evening exhausted remnants of units were back or near their start lines. The end of the day saw no breakthrough; an advance of around 1,500 yards was made in the north; virtually no progress elsewhere. British casualties were estimated at 15,000.
Campaign map Army structure Terminology