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The battle of Broodseinde, 4 October 1917, was the last of three successful “bite and hold” battles launched by General Herbert Plumer during the middle phase of the third battle of Ypres. That battle had opened with an ambitious attempt to push the Germans back along a long stretch of their line. That effort had failed in the mud. Plumer’s Second Army had then taken over from the Fifth Army. Plumer believed in making limited advances in attacks on shorter stretches of the line, stopping once a pre-determined point had been reached and digging in ready to repulse the inevitable German counterattack.
His first two attacks, at Menin Road Ridge, 20-25 September 1917 and Polygon Wood, 26-27 September, had gone entirely to plan. A creeping barrage had protected the advancing troops while standing bombardments had isolated the German troops under attack. Both attacks had seized their objectives and then held off German counterattacks.
Both sides were planning an attack on 4 October. When the British bombardment began, it caught a number of German units out in the open preparing for their own attack (amongst them the 4th Guard and 19th Reserve Divisions). The British attack contained divisions from Britain, New Zealand and Australia. As at Menin Road Ridge and Polygon Wood, the British attack achieved its main objectives and then halted to dig in.
Although these attacks are normally described as small scale battles, the casualty figures demonstrate the real scale of the fighting. The Germans suffered 10,000 casualties and lost 5,000 prisoners. On the Allied side the Australians suffered 6,432 casualties, the New Zealanders 892 and the British 300. The battle was recorded as a “black day” in the official German history of war.
This series of three victories seems to have encouraged Haig to believe that a breakthrough was possible. Instead the dreadful rains that had plagued the first part of the Ypres offensive returned. 25mm of rain fell on the two days before the next planned attack (battle of Poelcapelle, 9 October). Once again the British attack would bog down in the mud.
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