26 October 2017

10 facts about the Second Battle of Passchendaele

Thursday 26 October marks 100 years since the Second Battle of Passchendaele began in 1917. Here are 10 facts about the battle.

 Second Passchendaele - 12 October - 6 November. A line of infantry IWM E(AUS) 1222

Assault on Passchendaele 12 October - 6 November: a line of infantry seen from the rear marching to a forward area along a muddy corduroy track strewn with debris at Westhoek. IWM E(AUS) 1222

  • The Second Battle of Passchendaele was the final phase of the Third Battle of Ypres – a major Allied offensive in Flanders, Belgium, which later became known simply as ‘Passchendaele’.

  • The village of Passchendaele stood on vital high ground overlooking the battlefields around Ypres, where British Empire forces had been fighting since July 1917 in an attempt to push back the Germans and break through their defensive lines. After failing to capture the village in early October, British command planned a further attempt which began on 26 October.

  • Due to the exceptionally wet weather and extremely muddy conditions, it was difficult to bring forward enough artillery to support the attack. Engineers and working parties constructed miles of wooden roads and tramways behind the lines to help bring guns, supplies and men to the frontlines.
  • After heavy casualties in previous efforts, fresh troops were needed. They included the Canadian Corps, which had gained a formidable reputation after its successes at Vimy Ridge and Hill 70 earlier in 1917.
  • The battle began at 5.40am on 26 October, with artillery shells raining down on the German positions while the infantry advanced: the Canadians at the centre of the attack facing Passchendaele, British and Australian units to their left and right. Progress was slow in the deep mud, but the attackers made modest gains and held on against German counter-attacks.
  • On the evening of 26 October, Prime Minister David Lloyd George committed British troops to be sent from the Western Front to Italy to help shore up the Italian Army after a major defeat to Austro-Hungarian and German forces at the Battle of Caporetto.
  • On the morning of 30 October a second effort was launched to capture Passchendaele. Again the attackers met with heavy German resistance, and the ground gained was still short of the final objectives.
  • At 6am on 6 November a third attack began. Advancing from assembly positions in No-Man’s Land, the Canadian infantry rushed and outflanked German pillboxes. In the ruins of Passchendaele village, troops fought fiercely at close-quarters with bayonets. The German positions were overwhelmed and more than 500 prisoners were captured.
  • A final advance began on 10 November, with British and Canadian troops attacking into a heavy rainstorm to secure ground to the north of the village and consolidate their positions.
  • Further attacks were considered, but with British troops being sent to Italy and others preparing for an upcoming attack to the south at Cambrai, the Second Battle of Passchendaele was brought to a close. It marked the end of the Allied offensive in Flanders. Both sides had fought in awful conditions and suffered heavy casualties, but the British Army remained vulnerable and had only advanced around half-way towards its initial objective of the German-controlled railway hub at Roulers.
  • The CWGC commemorates in Belgium some 76,000 servicemen of the British Empire who died during the Third Battle of Ypres (31 July to 10 November). More than 11,280 died during the Second Battle of Passchendaele (26 October to 10 November 1917), of whom 3,700 belonged to Canadian forces. Commemorated at Passchendaele New British Cemetery are more than 2,100 servicemen of the British Empire of whom 500 remain unidentified. More than 650 of the headstones bear the maple leaf of Canada, while others show the badges of Australia, British, New Zealand and South Africa units.