The Ypres Salient - CWGC


‘Third Ypres’ ground to a halt without a defining victory; the lack of available reserves as much as the winter weather, atrocious battlefield conditions and continued resolute enemy resistance put paid to further British offensive actions after 10 November. Battle of Pilckem Ridge 31 July-2 August: Stretcher bearers struggling in mud carry a wounded man to safety near Boesinghe on 1 AugustIn over three-and-a-half months fighting (113 days up to and including 20 November) the British and Dominion forces advanced around five miles at a cost of approximately 250,000 casualties. Over 50 British Expeditionary Force Divisions fought in the eight distinct ‘battles’. By the campaign’s end no strategic breakthrough had been achieved; despite the most desperate efforts to obtain a secure winter position in the last attacks even the northern end of the main Passchendaele-Westroosebeke ridge remained in German hands.

After the broad-fronted opening attack of 31 July (with its grand and distant strategic objectives) British assaults progressively slowed; fronts of advance narrowed and strictly limited gains became ever more modest. In the process the Salient became a killing ground – where the protagonists fought and lived in the foulest of conditions; incessant British attacks drew in equally determined German resistance. There is no doubt that the German Army was seriously damaged by the British Expeditionary Force’s three month slog eastwards from Ypres. An estimated 200,000 German casualties stemmed from repeated British attacks that may not have been consciously initiated as ‘attritional’ actions, certainly, due to their prolongation, appear so in retrospect as nothing less. But in the process of seriously damaging the principal enemy (the German Field Army) in the decisive theatre of operations (the Western front) the BEF was itself considerably harmed.

Additionally, in the absence of a glorious consummation, the battles of ‘Third Ypres’ resulted in the creation of a perilously vulnerable salient around Passchedaele, as a forward extension of the larger Ypres Salient; the considerable difficulties posed for the defence of the new forward positions were soon clearly acknowledged by the British High Command. This verdict was accurate; during the German Spring offensive in April 1918, the territory gained on the uplands east of Ypres, so hard earned by months of selfless sacrifice, was readily relinquished in a matter of days.

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