25 September 2017

7 facts about the Battle of Polygon Wood

Tuesday 26 September marks 100 years since the Battle of Polygon Wood began in 1917. Here are 7 facts about the battle.

 

  • The Battle of Polygon Wood was the fifth major battle by the British Army during the Third Battle of Ypres, later known as Passchendaele. It was a highly significant battle for Australian forces.
  • Polygon Wood was a significant landmark in the Ypres Salient battlefields. It had been fought over throughout the war and the trees had been all but destroyed by shellfire. The Germans recognised its importance and in 1916/1917 fortified the wood with multiple concrete block houses and thick tangles of barbed wire.
  • The Battle of Polygon Wood began at 5.50am on 26 September. Seven divisions took part, including the 4th and 5th Australian Divisions, who attacked the German lines from just south of the village of Zonnebeke to Polygon Wood.
  • At the centre of Polygon Wood was a dominating mound called the ‘Butte’. Built by the Belgian military as a firing range before the war, it had been fortified by the Germans and was used as an observation post. Resistance was heavy but Australian soldiers took the Butte and had successfully secured the wood by the end of the day. Fighting continued until 3 October, with German forces launching numerous unsuccessful counter-attacks.
  • An important factor in the success was the clear weather which allowed the Royal Flying Corps to provide support. British fighter aircraft fought with their German counterparts above no-man’s land, providing cover for observation aircraft to direct artillery and support soldiers on the ground.
  • Although the Battle of Polygon Wood is regarded as a victory for the British Army, its forces suffered more than 20,000 casualties, killed and wounded. German losses are contested, with estimates being some 13,500 casualties.
  • After the war the 5th Australian Division built its divisional memorial on the Butte in Polygon Wood. The towering obelisk overlooks CWGC Buttes New British Cemetery where more than 650 Australian soldiers are commemorated, the majority unknown. On the CWGC Menin Gate Memorial are commemorated more than 950 members of Australian forces who died during the Battle of Polygon Wood and have no known grave.

Photo credits: Members of the 13th Australian Field Ambulance sheltering in funk holes, Sep 1917. IWM E(AUS) 839

Battle of Polygon Wood. 10th Bn, Royal Welch Fusiliers, on the Menin Road, 25 Sep 1917. © IWM Q 5999