Murder At Passchendaele
What were the British thinking?
275,000 casualties. The British Army had 275,000 casualties. This Battle of Passchendaele was one of the costliest battles for the British during the First World War. 31st of July 1917 was the day that the British had decided it's fate. Why would the British choose to fight a battle where they knew many soldiers would fall? The British offensive in Flanders had aimed to drive the Germans away from the essential Channel Ports and to eliminate U-Boat bases on the coast (Metcalf).
How Did The Battle Start?
In 1916, Sir Douglas Haig, A British General, wanted to direct a great British attack that would take Germany down.
He had two objectives ~
1. Take control of German submarines in Belgium. This will then lead to the German threat in the English channel, the North Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean to be removed.
2. To boost the declining morale of the French. During this time, the French had recently lost a battle and the soldiers had decided to refuse to fight anymore. (Larkin, pg 31)
Many had advised Haig to not go through with his plan. His plan did not even have the support of the British Prime Minister. However, the prime minister soon agreed to Haig's plan due to the fact that the Allies did not come up with a better one. (History Learning Site)
The British Orders Canadians To Fight
The British knew that this battle would not be won without the loss of so many of their own men. That is why they decided to not involve their own men. They sent in Australian and New Zealand troops into a suicide mission instead of sending their own troops. When Haig realized that he was losing the battle he ordered Canadian troops to come and win the battle. Once the Canadian troops had arrived in mid-October 1917, they were left in shock. (Metcalf) Bloodshed. The field had been turned into a swamp due to the excessive amount of rain. The stench of death was everywhere. The mud swallowed guns, artillery, railways, cars and soldiers. The food had spoiled and the water had gone foul. Sir Arthur Currie, Canadian Military Commander, had argued with Haig to not allow Canadians to fight in this battle. He did not wish for Canadian's to die this way. However, Haig did not listen. He had ordered Canadians to fight in this battle no matter the consequences. (Larkin, pg 31)
There were many challenges that both parties of the battle had to face. Many refer to this battle as "The Battle In The Mud". A main challenge that the soldiers had to face was the field conditions. The rain had turned the land into a swamp. It took longer periods of time to get to places because of the amounts of mud. This caused the soldiers to be in the sights of the enemy for longer than they have to be. The Germans had also released mustard gas; which is a poisonous gas that can be extremely fatal. Mustard Gas was first introduced during the Third Battle of Ypres which is also the battle of Passchendaele. German airplanes had machine-gun fire. On high grounds, machine guns were reinforced with concrete and was able to withstand just about any artillery fire. (Larkin, pg 31) The British forces had to hold out against many challenges in order to win the battle.
Harry Patch, the last remaining soldier from the First World War, had also fought in the Battle Of Passchendaele. He had stated that "War is a calculated and condoned slaughter of human beings."
Winning Over Passchendaele
On November 6th British had captured Passchendaele Village in just 3 hours. Haig's next objective was Passchendaele Ridge. (Larkin, pg 31) On November 10th, the British had launched their final assault. Finally, after months of torture the British troops had successfully been able to capture Passchendale Ridge. British troops had secured their positions and moved the German offensive eastward. (Canada At War) They had gained 6000 km of territory by the end of the battle. The battle had come to an end but there was no celebration. There were too many soldiers that had either fallen or were fatally injured.
Many criticized Haig for his plan. While others came rushing to his defence. A few of the points that were made in his defence were:
~"Haig could not have known that the weather would have played such a major part in the battle.
~The input of the newly arrived German troops from the Eastern Front was not part of Haig's planning and nor could it have been.
~The dangers of German submarine activity had to be eliminated whatever the risk.
~A British success would have gone someway to improving the morale of the French army that had mutinied in that year - an ally supporting an ally.
Haig argued that any German loss of men was of greater importance than British loss as the Allies could sustain more losses as America had joined the war by the end of Passchendaele." (History Learning Site)
The Importance Of Passchendaele
Many may not have agreed with Haig's plan but winning control over Passchendaele would open many doors for the Allies. Once conquered, it would weaken the German lines which would allow us to capture German submarine bases on the Belgian coast line. Winning this battle would even increase the morale of the French. The only problem was the amount of casualties that there would be. This battle had one of the most casualties in all of the first world war. Although the Allies could afford the amount of casualties, the loss had immensely decreased the morale of the British. Passchendaele is considered to be the worst battle that the British had been in during the first world war... (Metcalf)
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- Larkin, C.W. World War 1. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.