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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

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)