World War 1
By: Noah Yabrov
I doubt my other children, Irene, Victoria or Alexandra, would care about this as much as you do, so here it is; the explanation of the Third Battle of Ypres, Passchendaele, coming from the man who orchestrated it all. There was many objectives to this attack on the Germans, although not all succeeded as I initially planned or desired. These primary aspirations were to break the German morale, increase the French morale, take control of the German ports in Belgium, and cut off the railway near Ypres which was providing Germans with supplies. All of this was to be accomplished by pushing Passchendaele, but in the end was it worth it?
My own developments about seeing Passchendaele as an area to attack began in 1915 and I initially hoped that we would be able to attack in the late-summer of 1916, but that unfortunately could not happen. In the summer of 1916 another battle was being fought, one that kept me occupied and one that proved to be extremely cruel and fatal; The Battle of Somme. After postponing the thought of Passchendaele it was discussed at Allied conferences in November 1916 and then May 1917. The goals of Passchendaele were to crush the already broken German morale, inspire the French morale, alter the position of German soldiers from where French troops are located further south, take the German ports stationed in Belgium, and finally block off the railway near Ypres providing German soldiers with supplies. In addition to my opinion, British Admiral John Jellicoe announced that the way we are going, with many supply ships being sunken, the British would be unable to continue fighting into 1918. Although we had so much to gain from attacking and so much to lose from not, many were against this idea of attacking Passchendaele, the British Prime Minister included. David Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister, thought that we didn't have enough troops, the channel ports may not be obtained even if enemy lines were broken, and this push against the Germans wouldn't end the war, yet it was approved due to the lack of other ideas. General Herbert Plumer wished for the attack to be pushed up since he felt that the German morale would be weakened after we, the British, had just won the Battle of Messines, under General Plumers command, and captured the desired target, Messines-Wytschaefe ridge. He made a compelling argument, but I have had this attacked planned to start in late-summer for around two years and I wasn't about to change it now.
On July 18, 1917, the customary preliminary artillery bombardment for any major Allied offensive attack starts on the Germans. This attack is initially lead by Sir Hubert Gough along with fellow British Empire army General Herbert Plumer. Finally, after the heavy artillery attack by the Allied against the Germans they send the first push against the Germans on July 31, 1917 at 3:50am. The conditions in which the soldiers were fighting on were unbearable with the Allies at the disadvantage from both the location and the state of the land. After all the battles which occurred there and mainly due to the artillery which was fired the land was horrid, and they were only getting worse. The soldiers who ran through no man’s land were too exposed and tanks could not assist them because of the ground. The land was so muddy that not only tanks but soldiers too would get stuck in that mud. There was no drainage of the rain here, so as this battle got further into fall the conditions would only worsen but we couldn’t give up now not when it is such an important battle. By around late August to early September time I decided that Gough and his plan was unsuccessful and it was time for a change, his successor will be Plumer. Plumer’s tactics were much different than Gough’s, Plumer favors short, small gains of land rather to Gough who wished for big attacks and large ground gains which turned out to be ineffective. Also, around the time of the replacement of the leader of this attack I was receiving a lot of political assault to stop this offensive push, but I knew that I had to keep going with this attack for the good of our nation, to help the Allies to stop the evil. We keep pushing and gaining very little ground at the cost of many men. By around the start of October we had suffered over 250,000 casualties in the British, Australian and New Zealand forces for around 5.5 kilometers of advance; not good enough, it was time to assess our options. The weather conditions are becoming even worse than expected and with winter quickly approaching only two options were left with the Battle of Passchendaele; 1. Give up hard fought land and retreating to higher ground, 2. Attempting a ‘hail marry’ on Passchendaele Ridge, attempting to take it before it’s too late. To gain all the ground to Passchendaele Ridge we needed the best of the best, the most effective army we had; the Canadians. In 1917 alone they had succeeded at Vimy, Arleux, Fresnoy, and Hill 70. When the General of the Canadians, General Currie, received news that he were to send 4 divisions to be commissioned from Lens, a French city controlled by the Germans, to Passchendaele he refused only looking at how many casualties he will sustain instead of how it will help the Allies defeat the Central Powers. I of course overruled him and the Canadians arrived at Passchendaele on October 17, 1917 to find a different Ypres then they have seen in the past, this one is what they called hell. General Currie estimates that in order to win this battle the field guns and artillery must be prepared, I thought otherwise but against my better judgment he continued with his plan. Finally, at 5:50am on October 30, 1917 the Canadians are ready to attack, but the advance took very slow even with Currie’s rebuilt and replaced equipment. After 7 days of fighting, on November 6 at 6:00am the Canadians send their final assault on the Germans and eventually capturing Passchendaele village in only 3 hours’ time. I myself was remarkably impressed and ecstatic about this news, over 4 months of battling and the Canadians captured Passchendaele village. The next objective for the Canadians was the ridge, but on November 10 the Germans attacked the Canadians killing 3300. Also on November 10 I decided that it was a good time to halt the attack due to winter conditions. The Battle of Passchendaele stretched from July 31, 1917 to November 10, 1917.
Throughout this horrific battle many things were accomplished, many by the mighty Canadian troops. Before the Canadians entered the battle General Currie predicted that there would be 16,000 Canadian casualties, at the end of the battle there was 15,600 wounded or killed; 9 Canadians were awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest award in the British Empire for bravery. For armies under the control of the British Empire there were around 275,000 casualties; Brigadier-General J.E. Edmonds entered as the official recorded that 244,987 casualties to the British Empire and nearly 400,000 German soldiers were wounded or killed. The Battle of Passchendaele resulted in only around 10 kilometers gained by the Allies, to get to the ports it was 40 kilometers.
Was this battle important? Well at the time it seemed like it, it felt like this was our only option and I made this choice for the good of the British Empire. In the heat of the war, the war to end all wars, we needed to help our allies, the French, to succeed; they were in need of our assistance and this battle, The Third Battle of Ypres, was a way to support them while also assisting our own goals like getting to the nearby ports and stopping a railway. According to Admiral Jellicoe we could not continue taking the naval destruction at the hands of the Germans if we wished to continue fighting into 1918. The port found just 40 kilometers of Passchendaele in Belgium was controlled by the Germans and home to many u boats which were deadly to us, so this port needed to be stopped. Also, there was a railway near Passchendaele which was supplying German troops with ammunition and necessities, it was something we had to stop. Initially this goal was not achieved, but in 1918, after Passchendaele was complete the railway was destroyed. Attacking was important to the battle and it proved to be until the end, but at the expense of many lives; both Allied and Central. The great offensive push coordinated by myself aided the French army. The pressure on Passchendaele ensured that other German divisions must be moved to support, this leaving less opposition for the French army whom are just recovering from their own offensive incursion which resulted in many dead for no gain. Additionally, the attack on the Germans not only deflated their morale but greatly increased the French morale, terminating the revolt against the French command. Although the ports were not captured, the morale of the French improved, the Germans plummeted, and eventually the railway was eliminated; The Battle of Passchendaele seemed like at the time an extremely crucial attack which must happen.
Although many may view this as a bad thing, the Canadians proved to everyone that they were brave, heroic and honorable, so I believe that they deserve to be separated from the British Empire and become their own country. The Canadians showed both military support and government support in all aspects of the war; providing troops, ammunition, supplies. In this battle, they came in and did what no other army could do, they just kept going forward and took Passchendaele from the Germans. This was no easy feat to accomplish, yet they did it in less than a month. They have proved themselves at the time of war by being noble and supporting the British Empire with no hesitation. This act of braveness should not go unnoticed and I feel that without any doubt they should be awarded independence. Canada sported us with the best army we had at our disposal in this Great War, they deserve independence.
I am old now, I have retired from the army and feel my end is soon to come, but looking back on this battle, the Battle of Passchendaele, I am not proud of what happened. I made the decision to send so many to essentially their death, and for what? Nothing! Just a useless battle. The Prime Minister was right, this attack would not help win the war and as it seems it did not. Re-assessing the situation now I realize that there were more options to what I choose and I was close-minded about this. It seems that there are areas which I could’ve have attacked that wouldn’t have been so deadly, so useless, so devastating. Although I stand by all of these feelings today, not all was the fault of my own. The weather conditions were the worse they had been at Ypres the whole war, the worst conditions in all of Belgium. Also, this was the most rain that Northern Belgium had received in 30 years, so how was I to know that it would have been next to impossible to move in that terrain. Never less, in 1923, I still feel that this battle was unimportant and that it didn’t need to happen, especially not like how it happened. Like all of the Great War, this battle was useless and I regret it now.
Now George you know what I was thinking and I hope that you will not believe what anyone else says about me in the future; I was just trying to help. The battle itself seemed so important at the time for us to support the French, take the ports and the railway, but now I see that it was useless, unnecessary. I hope you don’t judge me about this, it was war time and I was doing everything I could to protect the citizens of the British Empire from the evil of the Central Powers.
1. "The Battle of Passchendaele." Veterans Affairs Canada. Web. 21 Feb. 2015. <http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/history/first-world-war/fact_sheets/passchendaele>.
2. "Spartacus Educational." Spartacus Educational. Web. 21 Feb. 2015. <http://spartacus-educational.com/FWWhaig.htm>.
3. "Battle of Passchendaele." The Canadian Encyclopedia. Web. 21 Feb. 2015. <http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/battle-of-passchendaele/>.
4. Christie, N. M., and S. Hickman. The Canadians at Passchendaele, October to November 1917: A Social History and Battlefield Tour. Winnipeg: Bunker to Bunker, 1966. Print.
5. G.W. Larkin, and J.P. Matresky. World War One. Markham: Fitzhenry and Whitside Limited, 1987. Print.
6. "Firstworldwar.com." First World War.com. Web. 21 Feb. 2015. <http://www.firstworldwar.com/battles/ypres3.htm>.
7. Web. 22 Feb. 2015. <http://www.anbg.gov.au/images/flags/union-jack-old.gif>.