Paschendale Sports Club

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Adagio for String

Samuel Barber


31 July - 6 November 1917

The Third Battle of Ypres

The Battle of Passchendaele, or Third Battle of Ypres was one of the major battles of World War 1.  The battle consisted of a series of operations starting in June 1917 and petering out in November 1917 in which Entente troops under British command attacked the Imperial German Army. The battle was fought for control of the village of Passchendaele near the town of Ypres in West Flanders, Belgium. 

The attack served several strategic purposes. A successful attack offered the British a chance of inflicting significant casualties on the German army.

A breakthrough in Flanders would hinder the German submarine campaign against British shipping, and also help prevent German bombers from attacking targets in mainland Britain. Whether successful or not, the attack would prevent the German Army from exploiting the serious morale problems of the French.

During the battle, British troops launched several massive attacks, heavily supported by artillery and aircraft. However, they never managed to make a breakthrough in well-entrenched German lines. The battle consisted of a series of 'Bite and Hold' attacks to capture critical terrain and wear down the German army, lasting until the Canadian Corps took Passchendaele on 6 November 1917, ending the battle.
Passchendaele has become synonymous with the misery of fighting in thick mud. Most of the battle took place on reclaimed marshland, swampy even without rain. 1917 had an unusually cold and wet summer, and heavy artillery bombardment destroyed the surface of the land. Though there were dry periods, mud was nevertheless a constant feature of the landscape; newly-developed tanks bogged down in mud, and soldiers often drowned in it.
The battle is a subject of fierce debate among historians, particularly in Britain. The volume of the British Official History of the War which covered Passchendaele was the last to be published, and there is evidence it was biased to reflect well on Douglas Haig and badly on General Gough, the commander of the Fifth Army. The heavy casualties suffered by the British Army in return for slender territorial gains have led many historians to follow the example of David Lloyd George, the Prime Minister of the time, and use it as an example of senseless waste and poor generalship.

There is also a revisionist school of thought which seeks to emphasise the achievements of the British Army in the battle, in inflicting great damage on the German Army, relieving pressure on the distressed French, and developing offensive tactics capable of dealing with German defensive positions, which were significant in winning the war in 1918.

Casualty figures for the battle are still a matter of some controversy. Some accounts suggest that the Allies suffered significantly heavier losses than the Germans, while others offer more even figures. However, no-one disputes that hundreds of thousands of soldiers on both sides were killed or crippled.

The last surviving veteran of the battle was Private Harry Patch (17 June 1898 - 25 July 2009).

Source: Wikipedia