The Ypres Salient - CWGC


The Battle of Poelcappelle, 9 October 1917

Haig's decision to prolong the Flanders offensive remains a source of controversy; encouraged by the scale of German casualties at Broodseinde and reports of lowered enemy morale he sought quickly to renew the attack to secure the Passchendaele Ridge. Plumer's Second Army would again be responsible for the main assault, supported by simultaneous attacks by Fifth Army formations to the north. Crucially, weather conditions were unfavourable Men of the 16th Canadian Machine Gun Company holding the line in a landscape of mud and water-filled shell holes, November 1917and fatally compromised both preparations and offensive operations. Aspects of the ensuing fighting conformed to the classic imagery of Western Front trench warfare in which the dominant elements of mud and rain generated a degree of misery for participants which is almost impossible to describe.

On the evening of 8 October assault troops, severely hampered by the heavy going and drenching cold rain, laboured to their starting lines on the eight mile attack frontage. At zero-hour, 5.20am the following morning, exhausted and under strength British and Australian units attacked in atrocious conditions behind a ragged and inaccurate barrage. At the centre of the attack Brigades of the 66th and 49th Divisions met ferocious machine-gun fire from the undestroyed German pillboxes and shell hole defences on the forward slopes. 49th Division attackers, having floundered through the morass of the flooded Ravebeek, were additionally impeded by belts of barbed-wire and forward movement halted at 9.30am. 66th Division, supported by 2nd Australian Division, made better progress before being checked at about 10am. Around midday fierce German defensive fire forced British withdrawals and, by afternoon, survivors were back on their start lines.

Despite considerable casualties, practically none of the day's objectives were attained. This did not prevent Plumer, later that evening, loyally informing GHQ that II Anzac Corps' modest achievements justified the continuation of the next offensive operation planned for 12 October.


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