ROAD TO WAR -
|The Battle of Passchendaele
|What was soon to happen in this battle was again another
mistake for the British High Command and for Haig himself, as he
made no allowances for the weather which in itself was to become
another enemy for the Allied soldiers!
The quagmire of “Hell” for British and Allied soldiers
|By 7th July 1916, the fine weather had deteriorated
into rain turning the chalky soil into one of just plain thick and
unbelievable thick mud a quagmire of swamps, the trenches became
knee and waist-deep in mud and water, due to these unforeseen conditions
the soldiers themselves were now again as in previous battles and
circumstances very susceptible to “Trench-Foot” Many
would live every day in severe pain and agony as their toes, then
their feet rotted away with gangrene, no medication was available,
as these men in agony were not allowed to remove their boots and
socks when under battle conditions, although many did they would
hang the soaking wet socks around there necks so they would dry
off quicker with body heat, then put them on again still damp and
wet, there was very little hope of these men recovering once their
feet began to rot away as they stood fighting, only when they collapsed
in sheer agony would they be taken to the near-by base hospital,
there with trepidation in their hearts would have to accept the
surgeons decision to amputate their feet and legs without any anesthetic…the
pain would hopefully be gone, but their lasting agony would always
be with them even when they were shipped “Home”!
agony of Gangrene.
|The main assault was planned for July 14th, but despite
the dead line and the atrocious conditions for the men, the battle
would go on. It was a partial success, but Haig had been simply
persuaded and allowed himself to be coerced by General Joffre that
the battle should continue, a “Battle of Attrition”
simply and hopefully to wear down the moral of the German forces
and there-by by some miracle,
accept a German surrender of that
area? It turned out to be completely contrary to what was initially
hoped for as the battle continued to be bogged and gradually dragged
down for the next four months.
This was to become a major battle for the British forces and divert
the Germans from attacking Verdun.
But Brigadier General Marshall did not agree. He considered that
Haig…."By self hypnosis, became convinced that the
Somme was an open-sesame to final victory. He would cut the German
army in two, and do it in one day. He would have the Cavalry Corps
under bit and ready to charge through the shell-cratered gap and
'into the blue' as proof of his intent to crush the enemy... By
February 11th his plan was tentatively set. By late April a great
part of Europe knew that the British were organizing the …Big
Push...but by then the German attack on Verdun had slackened.
When General Fritz von Below, reported that he sensed that a great
attack was coming, Falkenhayn told him it was a wonderful hope.
Having splintered his own army by throwing it against the immovable
object (Verdun), Falkenhayn couldn't imagine that the enemy would
be equally stupid”
Bean, an Australian historian was also convinced that Haig never
intended to fight a battle of attrition, but wanted to desperately
make a break-through of the German lines. Regarding this he states…
"A general who wears down
180,000 of the enemy by expending 400,000 men...has something
to answer for", and "Haig failed to break through, and,
because he failed, his literary supporters have argued that it
was never his main purpose; if that were true - which it is not
- the most comprehensible reason for his conduct of the battle
would disappear". General Haig’s losses were reaching
such proportions that they were numbering in the hundreds of thousands,
but he was still determined to carry on the slaughter. Despite
the rain and freezing conditions that the month of October brought
and the men were being subject to, he was determined to try with
all he could muster ...a battle to be won!
|He was now becoming very frustrated at this seemingly
hopeless situation, and the fact the weather had partially destroyed
the morale of his men, and that the German defences were still in
operation, despite all this, possibly his pride stood in the way
of his own realisation that this may well become a losing battle
and an unwinnable conflict! In fact despite the horrendous losses
on the Somme it did slowly wear down the enemy forces, and cause
them great and immense losses...but this was also the case for the
British and Commonwealth forces too, all fighting a battle under
all the most horrendous and tragic circumstances and conditions.
It seem s to us today from historians and the like that have examined
the structures of these battles that all these were “just
battles of mutual destruction and killing”. General Haig had
been long advised to attack the German positions at Passchendaele
Ridge, for the long awaited breakthrough in which he believed could
be accomplished, then the ports on the Flemish side which had the
dreaded submarine bases could eventually be captured, then the Ruhr
power plants to the German forces could threatened with a possible
surrender...Then the War could be won!
Great anticipation and belief on the British side but the Germans
were fully aware this could be a weak point, so they heavily fortified
this area and thus made it practically impregnable by any attacking
In December 1916, vast and considerable changes were made by General
Ludendorff, in defence of the Western Front. He was to allow his
soldiers to retreat from the front line trenches, and save them
from British artillery shelling. Then he would order to be built
stronger concrete reinforced fortified pillboxes which would replace
the old inadequate defences of previous years. The commanders were
ordered to use fire power instead of man power to hold their defence
line. This was to become an advantage for the German positions as
they would be far greater to control the front line should the British
attack and gain control of it, then reserve German soldiers would
rush to the defence of the front line and counter attack the British
and win back the land previously taken. Although this was a new
idea and would / could possibly work for the British, they took
very little notice of this, and basically ignored this possibility!
The Germans occupied the high ground around Ypres which overlooked
the town itself, in very strong positions that ranged from the East
to the North-East, in a sickle shaped ridge, a vast area of where
they could clearly see the enemy troops massing, but their machine
gun fire and artillery would certainly give them a greater advantage
over the British troops in the distance and far below. The British
troops were then obliged to live in the waterlogged and marshy positions
in the vicinity of Ypres, where under the eagle eyes of the Germans
they could watch their movements.
and Mules pull the guns through the “Quagmire of Mud”
|As the only sensible mode of transport during WW1
was horses and not lorry’s and trucks due to the abysmal muddy
conditions that were encountered, but the best chosen way of transport
to carrying supplies and ammunition to the front line troops, was
the millions of horses and mules which were transported to the battlefields
in Europe and across the continent.
Between 1914 and 1918. The
US sent almost one million horses overseas, and another 182,000
were taken overseas with American troops. This deployment, even
the enemies seriously depleted every country's equine population.
Only 200 returned to the US, and 60,000 were killed outright within
a short time on the front line. By the middle of 1917, Britain
had procured 591,000 horses and 213,000 mules, as well as almost
60,000 camels and oxen.
Britain's Remount Department spent £67.5 million on purchasing,
training and delivering horses and mules to the front. The amount
of horses and mules, it is estimated as being over 5 million ….most
were killed or died through the extreme suffering they faced!
If, through enemy fire or an artillery barrage was encountered
and the animal was injured…they would be shot, as there
was by very little means to save the animal, by very few if any
veterinary surgeons or specialists to cater for the wounds of
horses….when so many tens of thousands of soldiers needed
…urgent medical assistance!