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The Battle of Passchendaele
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THE ROAD TO WAR -
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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 at Passchendaele.
 
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”!
The 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 enemy.
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.
Horses 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!
   
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