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The Battle of Passchendaele


On November 6, 1917, British and Canadian forces captured the Belgian village of Passchendaele, effectively bringing one of the most horrifying battles of the First World War to a close. The Battle of Passchendaele, also known as the Third Battle of Ypres lasted 105 days and resulted in an estimated 275,000 casualties under British command and 220,000 German casualties. It was a nightmare for men on both sides as attested to by Canadian Private John Sudbury, “The enemy and ourselves were in the selfsame muck, degradation and horror to such a point nobody cared any more about anything, only getting out of this, and the only way out was by death or wounding and we all of us welcomed either.”

An aerial view of the village of Passchendaele before and after the Third Battle of Ypres. (Photo: ibtimes.co.uk)

The Allied offensive was originally launched on July 31, 1917 from the British-held Ypres salient in the Flanders region of Belgium. This highly contested area had previously been the site of two German-led offensives. Days into the battle, Ypres suffered the heaviest rain it had experienced in 30 years. This torrential rain turned the land into a quagmire, producing thick mud that immobilized tanks and clogged up rifles.

This clip from the movie Passchendaele gives you a good sense of the landscape and fighting during the battle. (YouTube Video Credit: Kaiser Lichen)

Constant artillery bombardments turned parts of the earth into swamps. Many men and horses drowned in the quagmire. 90,000 bodies were never identified from the Battle of Passchendaele and 42,000 were never recovered.

A stretcher-bearing party carry a wounded soldier through the mud during the Battle of Passchendaele. (Photo: ibtimes.co.uk)

While the village of Passchendaele was captured, many considered the offensive behind it to be a reckless waste of life. At the cost of nearly a quarter of a million casualties, British and Allied forces advanced only five miles from where they launched their original attack. In his War Memoirs, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George wrote, “Passchendaele was indeed one of the greatest disasters of the war … No soldier of any intelligence now defends this senseless campaign.”

A map of the battle showing the progression of the Allied frontline from July 31 to November 10, 1917. (Photo: telegraph.co.uk)

Historians today continue to debate the controversial Allied offensive. While arguments might persist over the circumstances, there can be no denying that it took an unimaginable type of courage and mindset to be a soldier during the Battle of Passchendaele. Lest we forget those heroes and the incredible sacrifices that they made.

Interact with the photos below to view images of the men who endured the horrors of Passchendaele.

(All photo credit belongs to ibtimes.co.uk)

Sources

bbc.co.uk: BBC - History - World Wars: Battle of Passchendaele.

history.com: British Victory at Passchendaele.

ibtimes.co.uk: Battle of Passchendaele centenary: Photos show the horrors of the First World War.

telegraph.co.uk: What happened at the Battle of Passchendaele?

thecanadianencyclopedia.ca: Canada and the Battle of Passchendaele.

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