Yet Haig's decision to continue into November remains deeply controversial and the arguments, like the battle, seem destined to go on and on. After a brief period of success from 1 to 19 July, the Russian offensive was contained by the German and Austro-Hungarian armies, which counter-attacked and forced the Russian armies to retreat. Heavy rain and mud again made movement difficult and little artillery could be brought closer to the front. Without the divisions necessary for a counter-offensive south of the Gheluvelt Plateau towards Kemmel Hill, Rupprecht began to plan for a slow withdrawal from the Ypres Salient, even at the risk of uncovering German positions further north and on the Belgian coast. On 16 August the attack was resumed, to little effect. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. The left wing of the attack achieved its objectives but the right wing failed completely. [32] On 14 February 1917, Colonel Norman MacMullen of GHQ proposed that the plateau be taken by a massed tank attack, reducing the need for artillery; in April a reconnaissance by Captain Giffard LeQuesne Martel found that the area was unsuitable for tanks. The area was subjected to constant German artillery bombardments and its vulnerability to attack led to a suggestion by Brigadier C. F. Aspinall, that either the British should retire to the west side of the Gheluvelt Plateau or advance to broaden the salient towards Westroosebeke. From Hooge and further east, the slope is 1:60 and near Hollebeke, it is 1:75; the heights are subtle and resemble a saucer lip around the city. Yet Haig, in his report to the War Office on the first day’s fighting, stated that the results were “most satisfactory.” The explosion of millions of shells, accompanied by torrential rain, had turned the battlefield into an apocalyptic expanse—a swampy pulverized mire dotted with water-filled craters deep enough to drown a man, all made worse by the churned-up graves of soldiers killed in earlier fighting. West of Messines Ridge is the parallel Wulverghem (Spanbroekmolen) Spur and on the east side, the Oosttaverne Spur, which is also parallel to the main ridge. Nineteen huge mines were exploded simultaneously after they had been placed at the end of long tunnels under the German front lines. Causing huge casualties for the Germans, the Allies had captured 5 miles (8 km) of some of the best defended territory in the world. Expanding the salient would make the troops in it less vulnerable to German artillery-fire and provide a better jumping off line for a resumption of the offensive in the spring of 1918. Very big artillery strikes had also destroyed the ground surface. The attack at Passchendaele was Sir Douglas Haig’s attempt to break through Flanders. From 6:00 p.m. on 31 July to 6:00 p.m. on 4 August, there was another 63 mm (2 in) of rain. You can find our Community Guidelines in full Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article. His main aim was a breakthrough to the coast of Belgium so that German submarine pens could be destroyed. In addition, according to the head of Haig’s intelligence staff, “Careful investigation of the records of more than eighty years showed that in Flanders the weather broke early each August with the regularity of the Indian monsoon: once the autumn rains set in the difficulties would be greatly enhanced.” None of these facts was disclosed by Haig to the war cabinet when he went to London late in June to secure its approval of his plans. In the moonlight, the Germans had seen the British troops when they were still 200 yd (180 m) away. The impact of the artillery bombardment had destroyed the drainage systems of the region which greatly added to the problem. [38] Loßberg rejected the proposed withdrawal to the Flandern line and ordered that the front line east of the Oosttaverne line be held rigidly. Death and injury amounts for the battle are still not decided on. More heavy artillery was sent to Flanders from the armies further south and placed opposite the Gheluvelt Plateau. There is a low ridge from Messines, 260 ft (80 m) at its highest point, running north-east past Clapham Junction at the west end of Gheluvelt plateau (​2 1⁄2 miles from Ypres at 213 ft (65 m) and Gheluvelt, above 160 ft (50 m) to Passchendaele, (​5 1⁄2 miles from Ypres at 160 ft (50 m) declining from there to a plain further north. [124], After numerous requests from Haig, Petain began the Battle of La Malmaison, a long-delayed French attack on the Chemin des Dames, by the Sixth Army (General Paul Maistre). Passchendaele lies on the last ridge east of Ypres, 5 mi (8.0 km) from Roulers (now Roeselare) junction of the Bruges (Brugge) to Kortrijk railway. [131][e], On 18 November the VIII Corps on the right and II Corps on the left (northern) side of the Passchendaele Salient took over from the Canadian Corps. [23], Ypres is overlooked by Kemmel Hill in the south-west and from the east by a line of low hills running south-west to north-east. On August 21 he told the British government that the end of the German reserves was in sight, though the struggle might still be severe “for some weeks.” By this point, nearly 70,000 men from some of Britain’s best assault divisions had been killed or wounded. [12] In November, Haig, the French commander-in-chief Joseph Joffre and the other Allies met at Chantilly. The resistance of the 4th Army, unusually wet weather in August, the beginning of the autumn rains in October and the diversion of British and French resources to Italy, enabled the Germans to avoid the general withdrawal which had seemed inevitable in early October. German counter-attacks were costly failures and on 28 September, Thaer wrote that the experience was "awful" and that he did not know what to do. The German army also unleashed mustard gas, leaving many soldiers with chemical burns. [48] Major-General John Davidson, Director of Operations at GHQ, wrote in a memorandum that there was "ambiguity as to what was meant by a step-by-step attack with limited objectives" and suggested reverting to a 1,750 yd (1,600 m) advance on the first day to increase the concentration of British artillery. The result, together with the better organization of the attack, helped to revive the spirits of the attacking troops. [113] All of the German divisions holding front zones were relieved and an extra division brought forward, because the British advances had lengthened the front line. The French First Army conformed, pushing up to the Kortebeek and St Jansbeck stream west of the northern stretch of the Wilhelmstellung, where it crossed to the east side of the Kortebeek. Counter-battery fire to suppress the British artillery was to be increased, to protect the Eingreif divisions as they advanced. The British and French commanders on the Western Front had to reckon on the German western army (Westheer) being strengthened by reinforcements from the Ostheer on the Eastern Front by late 1917. Updates? [76] Plumer continued the tactical evolution of the Fifth Army during its slow and costly progress in August. Kate and William visit war graves on the outskirts of Ypres, Belgium. Boff wrote that this narrative was facile and that it avoided the problem faced by the Germans in late 1917. On September 20, on September 26, and again on October 4, successful strokes of a strictly limited nature were delivered. The tempo of British attacks and the effect of attrition meant that although six divisions were sent to the 4th Army by 10 October, they were either novice units deficient in training or veteran formations with low morale after earlier defeats; good divisions had been diluted with too many replacements. British troops, supported by dozens of tanks and assisted by a French contingent, assaulted German trenches. As the infantry advanced over the far edge of the ridge, German artillery and machine-guns east of the ridge opened fire and the British artillery was less able to suppress them. [7] Sir Douglas Haig succeeded Sir John French as Commander-in-Chief of the BEF on 19 December. A British success would have gone someway to improving the morale of the French army that had mutinied in that year – an ally supporting an ally. Tanks got stuck in mud and some soldiers and horses drowned in it. The armies under British command suffered some 275,000 casualties at Passchendaele, a figure that makes a mockery of Haig’s pledge that he would not commit the country to "heavy losses.” Among these were 38,000 Australians, 5,300 New Zealanders, and more than 15,600 Canadians; this final figure was almost exactly the total that had been predicted by Currie ahead of the battle. German troops engaged were from the 239th, 39th, 4th, 44th Reserve, 7th, 11th, 11th Bavarian, 238th, 199th, 27th, 185th, 111th and 40th divisions. The British attacked in dry, clear conditions, with more aircraft over the battlefield for counter-attack reconnaissance, contact patrol and ground-attack operations. Read more. The land between Dixmude and the river Lys was crossed by streams and ditches that were used for drainage. [65], In Field Marshal Earl Haig (1929), Brigadier-General John Charteris, the BEF Chief of Intelligence from 1915 to 1918, wrote that. To their left were units from the French First Army led by Anthoine and to Gough’s right was the Second Army led by the victor of Messines, Sir Herbert Plumer. The farthest objective was less than 1 mile (1.6 km) deep on September 20 and was reduced still more on the subsequent strokes. In early 1916, the importance of the capture of the Gheluvelt plateau for an advance further north was emphasised by Haig and the army commanders. [47] The attack was not planned as a breakthrough operation and Flandern I Stellung, the fourth German defensive position, lay 10,000–12,000 yd (5.7–6.8 mi; 9.1–11.0 km) behind the front line and was not an objective on the first day. They argued that: Haig could not have known that the weather would have played such a major part in the battle. [94], Two regiments of the German 50th Reserve Division attacked on a 1,800 yd (1,600 m) front, either side of the Reutelbeek, supported by aircraft and 44 field and 20 heavy batteries of artillery, four times the usual amount for a division. On November 6, however, Canadian troops advanced the few hundred yards necessary to occupy the site of what had been the village of Passchendaele (northeast of Ypres, about 5 miles [8 km] from the nearest front on the salient when the offensive had begun on July 31). [48], The Fifth Army plan was more ambitious than the plans devised by Rawlinson and Plumer, which had involved an advance of 1,000–1,750 yd (910–1,600 m) on the first day, by compressing their first three attacks into one day instead of three. The area in Flanders became effectively a swamp. Boff also doubted that all of the divisions in Flanders could act on top-down changes. [44] The attack removed the Germans from the dominating ground on the southern face of the Ypres salient, which the 4th Army had held since the First Battle of Ypres in 1914.