Why was the The Third Battle of Ypres a disaster for the British?
Why did Douglas Haig decide to launch an attack at Ypres in 1917?
The British were trying to reduce the pressure off their ally, the French, whom was at the verge of collapsing after the failed The Nivelle Offensive (which also led to mutiny).
Additionally, Russians were about to leave the war since they're casualties were increasing immensely. If they leave, the Germans would have few more spare troops to attack the French.
Also, the Germans were mass producing U-boats and dreadnoughts, posing as a threat to the British in the naval race and their defence. If the British won this battle, they could breakthrough to the Belgium coastline and destroy the German navies.
Further, Haig was so confident that they'd win the war with his own long planned 'war-winning' offensive. He thought with his 'great great' plan, they were going to defeat the Germans real quick. He was also convinced that the Germans were well defeated in the last year (1916) and they were at the edge of collapsing, so British's likely to win this battle.
What was the Plan for the battle?
The main aim for this battle is to seize the control of the Belgium coast and destroy the German ships, also to break down the German army, whom Haig thought was going to collapse.
The plan was to first capture the German front lines then capture the other towns and villages of the allies in the area of Passchendaele. Last but not least, getting through to the coastline and destroy the German submarines.
The others in the government didn't quite agree to the idea but had to go with it since they don't have any plans left, and it would make them seems foolish if they change Haig, appearing as if the government did the wrong decision from the start to choose him as the one in charge.
What happened during the battle?
In the area, Germans were located on the top of the hill, allowing them to see what the British were actually planning and were well prepared for it, as what happened in the Battle of Somme.
Before the attack has began, Haig decided to bomb the German trenches for 10 days, starting from 18th July 1917. There was over 4.5 million of shells fired over to the trenches with 3000 guns. So there was not even a bit of element of surprise in the plan. As what happened in the Battle of Somme, these bombs failed to destroy the Front line of the Germans and their defences.
After the preliminary bombings, the infantry attacked on the 31st July 1917. Since there was all that bombing before the attack, it caused the soil to loosen. Also with the bad weather, they had the heaviest rain in the past 30 years, making the soil turn to thick slabs of mud. This slowed down the whole process of attacking. Some soldiers and horses even drowned in them, so many soldiers have never been found. Most of the shells were filled with mud, corpses were everywhere. This also made tanks inefficient and near impossible to mobilise. The battle was continued in August, but there was no breakthrough and was a stalemate until the end of September. In October, the British were fighting around villages of Passchendaele, which was around 11km away from their original front line. In November, Canadian troops were finally able to capture the villages.
At the end of the battle, the Allies took 5 miles of land with 325,000 casualties, which was 65,000 lives for each mile! And for the Germans, they had 260,000 casualties, which was also 65,000 less than the British.
Haig was blamed for the huge amount of casualties once again. He was critiqued of not ending the offensive while it was so clear that they were not able to win and would wound up with enormous loss. The only one thing this war was successful at was to shift Germans forces from the French, profitably gaining more time and force to recover their troops from the failed The Nivelle Offensive.
Why was the battle a disaster? What reasons are there for the failure?
There were an amount of reasons to this failure...
- The artillery bombs did not destroy the German front line
- The British didn't have plans that were good enough to actually defeat the Germans
- The British didn't give up on the attack with Haig as the commander
- He was overly optimistic that he'd win this battle
- The Germans were on top of a hill, allowing them to see all the plans of the British and allowed them to have better protection and preparation
- The initially bombardments totally killed the surprise of the attack despite Germans overlooking
- The bombardments made the soil loosen and cause it to be muddy with the drains, making the condition worse than it already was
- Passchendaele experienced the heaviest rainfall in 30 years
- The mud and shells made it near impossible to mobilise or move, drowning thousands and thousands of men and horses
- The mud made it difficult to move, making them an easy aim, causing soldiers to be shot down
- After the bombing, there was no places for the infantry soldiers to cover while trying to get all the way to the German front line, leading to many deaths
- Even if the British tried, they couldn't use see the Germans through plane ridding as the weather was so worse
Was Douglas Haig to blame for the disaster or were other reasons more important?
I think Douglas Haig was to blame mostly for the disaster, but some things were out of his control, for instance, the weather.
The weather was so unpredictable. I think it was because of the heavy rain did the condition of the earth became so difficult to pass through and it was such an inevitable event. Both sides were also affected by it and it increased the amount of loss compared.
Douglas Haig was to blame mostly for the disaster because he could've done better in planning the battle and could've been less optimistic so that the British government could find replacement for his position or even think of a better plan. Even for the plan, if they were planning to take a surprise attack on the Germans, they shouldn't have bomb them for a continuous 10 days. The day after the end of bombing, it was clear that it was impossible to break through to the Belgium coast line, he should've stopped the attack and not wast energy and soldiers and resource on it. 65,000 for a mile was too much of a sacrifice!