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The “Third Battle of Ypres”
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THE ROAD TO WAR -
Kent
 
The “Third Battle of Ypres”
 
The “Third Battle of Ypres” was initially preceded by the greater “Battle of Messines Ridge” which proved very successful for the British allowing them to occupy the South -Eastern part of this area. However before Messines, General Haig had proposed that only if the attack was successful then the Gheluvelt Plateau could be seized and taken which was only a forward advance of an unbelievable seven hundred yards.
British machine-gunner firing at the enemy
Then after the battle General Plumer wished to wait for three days to enable his supporting artillery, ready and able and placed in position. But for General Haig he was again frustrated at this waiting and considered it a military delay and wanted to move ahead and ordered General Gough, the Commander of the British 5th Army to take over from General Plumer and prepare for an assault on the vital Gheluvelt Plateau.
General Gough asked for time to do this, although the time was given to him by Haig, but Gough took longer than the three days, during that time the opportunity for the Germans was given so they strengthened their troops on the plateau, and the opportunity so near by the British to gain the high ground...was lost!
General Haig had been given expert advice as it was below sea level, that the area that the planned battle was to begin soon was only be prevented from flooding by the ditches and dykes. It was very likely that this area would be flooded if a bombardment were to commence as it could destroy the dams, dykes and result in widespread flooding of the area in which they proposed to attack in. This was totally ignored by Haig and he commenced the battle by a continued bombardment of the German Lines, this was supposed to be a short and decisive battle and be won by the British before the enemy could reinforce their soldiers.
The result being once again a complete and utter misery for the troops and failure by the High Command, as everything turned into a quagmire of water and mud, so deep in fact as to halt the movement of troops, artillery weapons, vehicles and horses which were to supply the troops with desperately needed ammunition and food...could not be made!
 
Men and horses tens of thousands slogged through the Mud!
Haig, it is argued that why did he not insist to halt the attack until the weather became better for his troops? It was obvious that there could be no breakthrough what so ever, but he insisted that it could be achieved, despite all the evidence against this attack. Once again he continued to demand that the battle commence at Langemarck, North of Ypres.
General Gough of whom Haig had specifically chosen as a very tough General, he himself advised Haig to cease the attack as it was futile.
Haig persisted and would continue the attack and not heed the warnings given to him by his closest Generals and advisors, despite the most horrific losses of young “Boys” he continued the battle until 26th.August…after three weeks he agreed to halt the battle.
Other battles, that was fought and became victorious for the Allied troops was – The Battle of Menin Road, 20th September, which became the first of Battles of the three…
The Battle of Polygon Wood and The Battle of Broodseinde, was a chance win for the British and Commonwealth troops, not only was the weather good but the Germans had misjudged the fact that they had kept too many troops in the front line trenches.
At the moment that the Australian Divisions had commenced their attack on the German front line, the Germans did exactly the same launching their attack on the Australian’s. Despite severe losses this battle became a victory as too did the others!
The weather on 5th October began to deteriorate with the rain starting again, despite this and previous problems due to adverse weather conditions, Haig decided to launch another attack on the Passchendaele Ridge.
ANZAC soldiers wait for the order to attack!
He was greatly encouraged by the previous successes, so he gave the order for the Anzac troops to storm the village on 9th October. As the order was given the weather again worsened to gale force winds and heavy rain with storms. This was going to be a very difficult and hard slog for the Anzacs to reach the German front lines, as Haig realized that the wire had not been cut by the artillery bombardment, and the Germans had replaced their tired out soldiers with new support troops which found the bunkers and pill boxes relatively dry to rest in and prepare for the coming onslaught.
The first day was a complete failure with disastrous results for the Allied troops.
As the attack continued, Haig and his Generals realized the ammunition, and more importantly that the artillery shells were running out fast. As speedily as they were being fired, thousands of these high-explosive shells just buried themselves in the liquid mud of the battlefield and sunk, failing to detonate anywhere near the German front lines.
By the time 12th October had come, Haig ordered another push and carried on with the attack despite the weather had changed to heavier rains and bitter cold. It was going to be another failed attack in which the soldiers would have to struggle with full back-packs and weapons towards the Germans in the knee and waist deep liquid stinking mud. The overall situation was beyond words as it became horrendous for the soldiers advancing, many did fall from the duck boards into the craters filled to the brim with water, in this disgusting stinking mixture of dead horses blown apart by German shells and their fellow soldiers who had sank straight to the bottom days and weeks before, now decomposing and bloated...and were never found!
Such was the horror of…Passchendaele...!

Soldiers struggle across the duckboards to their front lines
It wasn’t until November, that the Canadians, under General Currie, refused to continue the advance of the ridge until the weather conditions had greatly improved for his men. But another ordered slog through the mud once again they were able to reach the ruins of Passchendaele village and take it, in a hope that, as Haig had pointed out, if they could hold the village then they would have a stronger grip and control the salient with Currie’s Anzac and British troops.
The battle for this ridge and salient was at this stage in the war a complete disaster for Haig, as he now realised with the amount of incredible losses that it was futile to continue any further attacks on it...He then gave his consent to end the battle. His previous orders given for this battle was made with greatly hoped for anticipation of a complete victory, but as can be seen by the final death toll and casualties...it became once again another complete disaster!
On the first day, alone, the battle results were horrific, the attack by the Anzacs had cost the lives 3, 199 men killed from the Australian 3rd Division, with over 7, 000 casualties...within 24 hours! Once Haig had made his decision to end the battle, he and his Generals would have to face the final death toll of this, for their incompetence and unbelievably bad decision making. For all of these had been sheltered all through these battles and protected far from the front lines. It would be as in every battle during WW1that these Generals decided...that the “boy’s” the “cannon fodder” would be the only ones to pay the ultimate price!
The final and horrendous toll that this battle alone took... incurred over 275, 000 casualties, of which
70, 000 were killed. The original gains and objectives hoped for had not been accomplished at all!
The “Mud and Blood” of the battle ground…being drained out.
General Sir Douglas Haig... has been the man “blamed” and “scorned” for his actions in - The Battle of the Somme and The Battle of Passchendaele, for the deaths of a whole generation of young ...boys and men, from Britain and its Commonwealth countries. For whatever reason or reasons he was clearly unable to learn anything from his previous experiences and previous battles that he planned, conceived and carried out.
In later years, much research had been done about him and those of his fellow Generals with many new revelations being found and published, some in his favour and certainly against him. But the blame was not his alone, he was certainly responsible for his undeniably bad judgment and management of the two battles mentioned, and clearly underrated the strength and determination of the German Army.
But the fact remains today as it did nearly 100 years ago, that the blame definitely lies somewhere and it seems to directly point to the Generals as they are all accountable for their actions and the horrific loss of so many of their men!
Langemark cemetery…under the shrubs in an area of only 20mts x 10mts is a mass grave of over 24, 834 German dead, killed during the battle of “Third Ypres”
 

British and Allied graves after the “Third Ypres”
   
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