Life as a British soldier at the Battle of Passchendaele?
by: Ethan Chung
The Battle of Passchendaele, also known as the Third Battle of Ypres, was one of the most significant battles of WWI in the eyes of the my fellow British soldiers. Our Canadian comrades had pushed the German forces back about 5 km. Our general, General Sir Douglas Haig, was planning a full on attack. He devised a plan to advance along the English Channel, capture Passchendaele Ridge, and push the Germans back 40km to the submarine ports on the Belgian coast. This plan was not a plan that the men and other Canadian soldiers agreed with. It was a very risky strategy that was a complete disaster from the start. The artillery from the enemies had destroyed all the drainage systems, which made the push up the channel very difficult. The best way to describe the battlefield was a sea of mud and stagnant water that was filled with blood and the bodies of the dead. The Canadian General, Sir Arthur Currie, protested against the assault on the harbour. General Currie had predicted almost 16,000 casualties, but he really had no say in the matter.
The soldiers and I remember this battle as the battle that happened under conditions that most people could not describe in any form of language. Walking in battle was almost impossible, even though we were probably a couple 100 meters apart. On the other side, our German enemy stayed relatively dry in their heavily constructed, interlocking pillbox trenches.(1) We could only imagine how it was over on German side. All of us were cold, wet and practically walking in a river of blood, mud, and water that was always above our ankles. Guns were not the only things that killed soldiers during the war. There were many diseases in the trenches that caused soldier to die or become weak. These diseases included trench foot, diarrhea, dysentery and other diseases.(4) Everyday we would be fighting in a marshland of craters and fluids that weren't even describable.
This battle was had one of the most ambitious goals. Haig wanted to push the enemies back 40km, when the farthest anybody had ever pushed the enemy back was about 12km. He General Currie was against this assault, but he did not have much control over the proposal. Instead, the General was meticulously planning the attacks. He planned the attacks so that there would be a series of attacks instead on one large attack. We launched our first attack at dawn of October 26 during a cold rain. The Allies had taken only about 700m and over 2,500 dead after 3 days.(1) We attacked again almost 1 week later and liberated the village of Passchendaele. Our final attack took place the morning of November 10th. We had finally captured and secured Passchendaele Ridge. This was not the outcome General Haig had hoped for. He had hoped to have completely capture Passchendaele and reach the Belgian ports, but this goal was obviously and unrealistic achievement.
GENERAL HAIG'S FAILURE
On March 21, 1918, the enemy Germans had launched an attack and we were not able to hold our position for much longer.(2) We were forced to retreat. The General had almost lost almost all the land that our Canadian brethren had given their lives for in the past 98 days of fighting. His reputation was partially redeemed when he and the French gathered millions of men and recovered some of the land that General Haig had lost. After this event, the rest of his men, including myself, were in awe as our proud General was made a fool for his failure.
In the end, this battle was "a struggle in horrendous conditions"(1) with equipment and tanks disappearing under the sea of mud. Deaths were considered "contemptible waste of human life" (1) with about 260,000 German dead, 448,000 allies dead, 15,654 Canadian dead, and many more injured.(3) This was only a few hundred less casualties then General Currie had predicted. The battle was 98 days long and covered only a few kilometers with unanticipated events occurring after. Our General Haig is now a man that lives in controversy and is arguably one of the best and worst Generals in the war for failing to hold Passchendaele Ridge after Canada had left. These are the reasons why I think that the battle of Passchendaele was one of the most interesting battles in the war.
(1) Humprys, Edward. Great Canadian Battles: Heroism & Courage through the Years. London GB: Arcturus, 2008. 170-73. Print.
(2) "Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig: World War I's Worst General." History Net Where History Comes Alive World US History Online Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig World War Is Worst General Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2015.
(3) "Common Menu Bar Links." Passchendaele – Canada’s Other Vimy Ridge. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2015.
(4) "Conditions & Dangers on the Battlefront - WWI - Verdun & Passchendaele." Conditions & Dangers on the Battlefront - WWI - Verdun & Passchendaele. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2015.
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