12 July 2017

Passchendaele - The Third Battle of Ypres

The CWGC will mark the Centenary of Passchendaele – The Third Battle of Ypres later this month. Fought between 31 July and 10 November 1917, Passchendaele was one of the bloodiest battles on the Western Front, with both sides suffering significant losses.

 

The battle was a major offensive led by the British Army, intended to break out of the Salient and put the German Army under intolerable pressure. Like the Somme Offensive of 1916, it consisted of several individual battles or phases.

At 3.50am on 31 July 1917, the battle began when 2,000 Allied guns opened up on German lines, and 14 British and two French divisions attacked along 15 miles of the front.

After capturing Pilckem Ridge and making significant progress, the advance slowed in the face of rain and fierce German resistance. In drier weather in September and October, British Empire forces achieved success with limited attacks intended to ‘bite and hold’ the German lines. South African, Australian, New Zealand and Canadian forces all played an important role.

Battle of Pilckem Ridge. A wire-carrying fatigue party of one of the Guards battalions crossing the Yser Canal by a duck board bridge. Near Boesinghe, 31 July 1917. © IWM (Q 5715)

German forces suffered heavy casualties during the battles of the Menin Road Ridge (20-25 September), Polygon Wood (26 September – 3 October) and Broodseinde (4 October). In October, heavy rain returned and turned the battlefields into a muddy morass during further fighting at Poelcappelle (9 October) and Passchendaele (12 October and 26 October – 10 November). The offensive was finally halted after the capture of Passchendaele in November.

By the end of the battle, around 500,000 soldiers across both sides were wounded, killed or missing. Fought under terrible conditions, often in a muddy quagmire, it has come to epitomise the horrors of the Western Front.

Wounded men are tended by medical staff as they lie on stretchers on the grass at a Royal Army Medical Corps advanced dressing station near Boesinghe © IWM (Q 5730)


 

Fact file

  • The youngest known casualties of Passchendaele commemorated in Belgium were just 15-years-old. They were Private Clifford Oulton, of 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles, and Private John Smith, of 14th Battalion Canadian Infantry. They were killed in November. Clifford is buried in CWGC Nine Elms British Cemetery and John is commemorated on the CWGC Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.

  • The oldest known casualty of Passchendaele commemorated in Belgium was 56-years-old. Private Guiseppe Pitello, of 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles Battalion, he died on 30 October and is commemorated on the CWGC Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.

  • In Belgium, the CWGC commemorates just over 76,000 servicemen and one women of the British Empire who died during the Battle of Third Ypres. Of those, 42,900 have no known grave and are commemorated on Memorials to the Missing.

  • The CWGC commemorates in Belgium more than 47,360 privates (the lowest rank in the infantry) who died during the battle, 52 lieutenant colonels (usually in charge of a battalion, approx. 1,000 men), and four brigadier generals (in charge of a brigade, over 4,000 men approx.).

  • The CWGC commemorates in Belgium 17 Victoria Cross winners who died during Passchendaele, 15 of whom their VCs during the battle. In total 60 VCs were awarded during the battle.

 


 

Photo credit: Men of the East Yorkshire Regiment crossing newly won ground at Frezenburg during the Third Battle of Ypres, 5 September 1917. © IWM (Q 3014)