The Second Battle of Passchendaele, 26 October-10 November, was the final phase of the wider Third Battle of Ypres (often known as Passchendaele). After a brief period of success in late September and early October (Menin Road Ridge, 20-25 September 1917, Polygon Wood, 26-27 September and Broodseinde (4 October), the rains that had plagued the early days of the battle returned. The battles of Poelcappelle (9 October) and First Passchendaele (12 October) both ended in costly failure, with the attacking troops ending the day back at their starting point.
If Haig had called a halt to the battle at the start of October, it may have been judged a minor success. However, the period of success had apparently convinced him that the crucial breakthrough was imminent – one more push, and the British would break through the German lines. Passchendaele Ridge was seen as the key to that success, or at least as a suitable finishing point for the battle.
Having used up his British divisions early in the battle, and then the Australian and New Zealand Divisions, Haig now turned to the Canadian Corps. Its commander, General Sir Arthur Currie, was reluctant to get involved in the bloodbath at Passchendaele, but felt unable to refuse Haig’s request. He predicted that the planned attack would cost him 16,000 casualties.
The first attack, on 26 October, involved the 3rd and 4th Canadian Divisions. It had rained on every day since 19 October, and the Canadian assault quickly bogged down. The 4th Division was eventually forced to retreat to within 100 yards of its starting point.
The attack was renewed on 30 October, with similar results. Once again the two Canadian divisions made small advances at heavy costs – the 78th Canadian Brigade lost half of its strength during the day. However, Canadian patrols did reach the village of Passchendaele, where they found the Germans preparing to retreat.
The village was finally captured by the 1st and 2nd Canadian Divisions on 6 November. The final action of the battle came on 10 November, with an attack designed to straighten out the line. Even after this final action, the Germans still held the northern end of the Passchendaele Ridge. Currie’s Canadians had suffered 15,634 casualties.
The battles around Passchendaele critically weakened the British army. It had a similar impact on the German divisions present on the Western Front in 1917, but the German victory in Russia was about to free up a new German army. In the spring of 1918 these fresh divisions would come close to breaking the British lines.
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