The Ypres Salient - CWGC

First Passchendaele

The First Battle of Passchendaele, 12 October 1917

Discounting the tragic setbacks of 9 October Haig remained committed to the offensive; bolstered by optimistic appraisals of the recent fighting he sanctioned the next attack to take Passchendaele scheduled for Friday 12 October.

Stretcher bearers bringing in a wounded man over muddy ground at PasschendaeleSecond Army's II Anzac Corps was again entrusted with the main thrust, supported on the right by I Anzac Corps and on the left by five British Divisions. But the malign combination of continuing bad weather and atrociously waterlogged battlefield conditions proved decisive in ruining the prospects of this attack which turned out in consequence nothing more than a hurried repeat of the Poelcappelle debacle. Having a mere two days between actions Plumer rushed his preparations: sufficient artillery could not be got forward and all the old difficulties of supply and movement reasserted themselves. Inadequate artillery support was key to subsequent failure.

Worn out by their long heavily-shelled approach march the drenched assault brigades gained their start lines in the dark early hours of 12 October. At zero-hour, 5.25am, as drizzle turned to pouring rain the impoverished British barrage offered scant protection to attackers struggling forward through the mire. 3rd Australian Division's move towards Passchendaele village, slowed first by deep mud in the Ravebeek valley, was halted by machine-gun fire from front and flanks. The New Zealanders' advance up the Bellevue spur met with disaster as men, trapped by dense belts of barbed-wire, were cruelly cut down by machine-guns within German emplacements beyond. Isolated pockets of progress were made but by afternoon survivors had been forced back to their start lines.

By the end of the day, despite advances on the northern extremity of the battlefield, the high ground around Passchendaele remained firmly in German hands: the attack, resulting in severe British casualties, failed completely in attaining its principal objective.

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