Battle of Langemarck (1917)

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Battle of Langemarck
Part of the Third Battle of Ypres in the First World War
12inchMkIXRailwayGunVickersMountingWoestenAugust231917.jpg
British 12 inch railway gun at Woesten with its crew perched on it and the slogan "Not on Strike" on the barrel
Date 16–18 August 1917
Location Langemarck, Ypres Salient, Belgium
50°55′N 02°55′E / 50.917°N 2.917°E / 50.917; 2.917Coordinates: 50°55′N 02°55′E / 50.917°N 2.917°E / 50.917; 2.917
Result Indecisive
Belligerents
United Kingdom United Kingdom
France France
 German Empire
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Douglas Haig
United Kingdom Herbert Plumer
United Kingdom Hubert Gough
France François Anthoine
Flag of the German Empire.svg Erich Ludendorff
German Empire Crown Prince Rupprecht
German Empire Sixt von Armin
Strength
8 British, 2 French divisions 6 front-line divisions, 5 Eingreif divisions
Casualties and losses
16–28 August: 36,190 11–21 August: 24,000

The Battle of Langemarck from 16–18 August 1917, was the second Allied general attack of the Third Battle of Ypres during the First World War. The battle took place near Ypres in Belgian Flanders on the Western Front. The Allied attack succeeded in the north, from Langemarck to Drie Grachten ("Three Canals") but early advances in the south on the Gheluvelt Plateau were forced back by powerful German counter-attacks. Both sides were hampered by rain, which had a greater effect on the British who occupied lower-lying areas and advanced onto ground which had been frequently and severely bombarded. The effect of the battle, the August weather and the successful but costly German defence of the Gheluvelt plateau during the rest of August led the British further to revise their methods and main offensive effort, which led to the three big British successes of 20 and 26 September then 4 October.[1]

Background[edit]

Strategic background[edit]

Artillery preparation for the Second Offensive Battle of Verdun, in support of the Allied offensive in Flanders, which had been delayed from mid-July began on an 18-kilometre (11 mi) 11 August.[2] Mort Homme and Hill 304 were recaptured and 10,000 prisoners taken. The German army was not able to counter-attack the French after the attack of 20 August, because the German Eingreif divisions had been sent to Flanders. Fighting at Verdun continued into September, adding to the pressure on the German army.[3] The Battle of Hill 70 15–25 August, on the outskirts of the city of Lens in the British First Army area, was fought by the Canadian Corps and inflicted great losses on five German divisions and pinned down troops destined for the Flanders front.[4] the British strategy of forcing the German army to defend the Ypres salient, to protect the Belgian coast and submarine bases at Bruges, had succeeded. The French and Russian armies could make local attacks at Verdun and during the Kerensky Offensive but still needed time to recuperate and were vulnerable to large German attacks. The British offensive at Ypres had drawn German divisions away from the French and Russian armies and caused the Germans many casualties. In Flanders, the Fifth Army had managed to advance little further towards Passchendaele since 31 July. General Hubert Gough, commander of the Fifth Army wished for a minimum of delay in resuming the offensive, because of the effect that delay would have on Operation Hush, the coastal operation, which needed the high tides due at the end of August.[5]

Tactical developments[edit]

In July 1917, British Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig began the Third Battle of Ypres campaign, in an attempt to inflict unsustainable losses on the German army and to advance out of the Ypres Salient to capture the Belgian coast. At the Battle of Messines Ridge, the ridge had been captured down to the Oosttaverne Line and a substantial success had been gained in the subsequent Battle of Pilckem Ridge from 31 July – 2 August.[6] Ground conditions during the Battles of Ypres campaign were poor, as the ground had already been fought over and was partially flooded, at times severely so. Shelling had destroyed drainage canals in the area and unseasonable heavy rain in August turned some parts into morasses of mud and flooded shell-craters. Supply troops walked to the front on duck boards laid across the mud, often carrying up to 45 kilograms (99 lb) of equipment. It was possible for soldiers to slip off the path into the craters and drown. Trees were reduced to blunted trunks, the branches and leaves torn away. The bodies of men buried after previous actions, were often uncovered by the rain and shelling. The ground was powdery to a depth of 9 metres (30 ft) and when wet had the consistency of "porridge".[7] The ground dried quickly, except where water was held in shell-holes and after a few dry days became dusty.[8][Note 1]

Prelude[edit]

British offensive preparations[edit]

Brigadier-General Davidson intervened again on 1 August, with a memorandum urging caution on Haig and the Fifth Army commander General Hubert Gough. Davidson recommended that the preliminary operation by II Corps not be hurried, a full artillery preparation and relief of the divisions already engaged be completed before the operation, as tired and depleted units had often failed in attacks in the past. Two or three clear days were needed for accurate artillery fire, especially as captured ground on the Gheluvelt plateau, gave better observation and captured German maps had revealed the position of German machine-gun emplacements, which being small and concealed would need precise shooting by the artillery to destroy. Capture of the black line from Inverness Copse north to Westhoek would be insufficient to cover an advance from the Steenbeek further north and large German counter-attacks could be expected on the plateau, given that its retention was fundamental to the German defensive scheme. Two more divisions were sent to II Corps as reinforcements.[11]

Few of the pillboxes captured on 31 July had been damaged by artillery-fire and before the attack the 109th Brigade commander Brigadier-General Ricardo, arranged three-minute bombardments on selected pillboxes and blockhouses by the XIX Corps Heavy Artillery, with pauses so that the artillery observers could correct contradictory maps and photographs. It was discovered that on many of the targets, the shell dispersion covered hundreds of yards, as did wire-cutting bombardment.[12] On 2 August, at the suggestion of Brigadier-General Elles, commander of the Tank Corps it was decided that the surviving tanks were to be held back due to the weather, to ensure that they could be used in mass later on, although some were used in late August. The preliminary operation intended for 2 August was delayed by rain until 10 August and the general offensive was postponed from 4–16 August.[13][Note 2]

Interior of a dugout.

The 20th Division had been in XIV Corps reserve for the opening attack on 31 July and replaced the 38th Division on 5 August. The 7th Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry took over captured German trenches behind the front line on 5 August, which had been made the British reserve line and lost three men to shellfire while waiting for dark. On arrival at the support line 500 yards (460 m) forward and the front line another 500 yards (460 m) beyond, the battalion found that the front line was several shell hole posts with muddy bottoms, strung along the Steenbeek from the Langemarck road to the Ypres–Staden railway. British artillery was engaged in destructive bombardments of the German positions opposite and German artillery fire was aimed at the British infantry concentrating for the next attack. After heavy rain all night the battalion spent 6 August soaked through and had 20 casualties, two men being killed. On 7 August there were 35 casualties, twelve being killed before the battalion was relieved until 14 August. Training began for the next attack and planning began using trench maps and aerial photographs. Each company formed three platoons, two for the advance, with two rifle sections in the lead and the Lewis-gun sections behind and the third platoon to mop up.[15]

Training emphasised the need for units not held up by German resistance to "hug" the creeping barrage and form offensive flanks, to assist troops who had been halted by German resistance, by providing enfilade fire and enveloping German positions which had not been captured, which were to be left to reserve platoons. Every known German position was allocated to a unit of the approximately 470 men left in the battalion expected to take part, to reduce the risk of German positions going unnoticed and firing at the leading troops from behind. While the Somersets were out of the line, the 10th and 11th Battalions of the Rifle Brigade edged forward about 100 yards (91 m) beyond the Steenbeek, which cost the 10th Battalion 215 casualties. An attempt on 15 August to re-capture the Au Bon Gite blockhouse, 300 yards (270 m) beyond the Steenbeek, which had been lost to a German counter-attack on 31 July failed but it was decided that the infantry for the general attack due on 16 August, would have to squeeze into the ground beyond the river in front of the blockhouse, for the attack on Langemarck.[16]

Capture of Westhoek, 10 August[edit]

German pillbox, Flanders 1917

II Corps attacked on the 10 August, to take the part of the black line retained by the Germans on 31 July. British artillery fire was distributed across the battlefront for the general attack due later by the Fifth and First French armies, to the green line of 31 July. German artillery fire was concentrated on the II and XIX Corps fronts. British counter-battery efforts were hampered by the adverse weather, which made air observation extremely difficult. Much of the counter-battery effort was wasted by the British, who were unable to see German artillery shift position and often bombarded empty emplacements. The state of the ground, German artillery fire and British artillery losses foreshadowed the situation in late October opposite Passchendaele ridge.[17] The 8th and 30th divisions had been relieved by 25th and 18th divisions by 4 August but postponements caused by the rain, meant that relief of the front-line troops every 48 hours, had exhausted all of the battalions by the 10 August.[17]

On 10 August an attack by the 24th Division on Lower Star Post failed, after German sentries caught sight of the British troops assembling in moonlight.[18] The principal advance was made by the 18th Division in the centre and succeeded quickly but German artillery began an SOS barrage at 6.00 a.m., from Stirling Castle to Westhoek, which isolated the foremost infantry beyond Inverness Copse and in Glencorse Wood, as local German reserves began immediate counter-attacks. Around 7:00 p.m., German infantry advanced behind a smokescreen and recaptured the copse and all but the north-west corner of Glencorse Wood.[19] The 74th Brigade of the 25th Division advanced at 4:25 a.m., fast enough to evade the German barrage on the British front line and reached its objectives by 5:30 a.m., assisted by the fire power of five Royal Field Artillery brigades.[20] The German garrison of Westhoek was rushed, while on the right flank, sniping and attacks by German aircraft, caused considerable casualties during the day. The division held its gains around Westhoek but lost 158 killed, 1,033 wounded and more than 100 missing. The difficulties encountered by the 18th Division in Glencorse Wood on the right, as it was pushed back towards its start line, allowed German snipers and machine-gunners to obstruct consolidation in the 25th Division area, particularly on the right flank, as the German troops reoccupied positions lost earlier in the day.[20]

Lieutenant-General Claud Jacob the II Corps commander, argued for a delay in the general offensive to complete the advance on the Gheluvelt plateau, particularly by gaining superiority over the German artillery behind the plateau and repairing tracks through the woods, to allow the replenishment of supply dumps close to the front line. Gough was mindful of Operation Hush and only willing to postpone the offensive for a day, then for another 24 hours after a thunderstorm late on 14 August.[21] The 8th Division commander, Major-General W. Heneker had written to Jacob on 12 August, urging that the 56th Division should have extra artillery support for its attack, which should precede that of the 8th Division. The ground in front of II Corps sloped northwards from the Menin Road, down to the Hanebeek valley. Failure in the 56th Division area on the right would expose troops further north to cross-fire from Inverness Copse and Glencorse Wood. This suggestion was not accepted but the 53rd Brigade from the 18th Division was attached to the 56th Division as a reinforcement the day before the attack.[22]

Plan of attack[edit]

Ypres area, 1917

The attack was planned as an advance in stages, to keep the infantry well under the protection of the field artillery.[23] II Corps was to reach the green line of 31 July, an advance of about 1,350–1,500 metres (1,480–1,640 yd) and form a defensive flank from Stirling Castle to Black Watch Corner. The deeper objective was compensated for by reducing battalion frontages from 350–225 metres (383–246 yd) and leap-frogging supporting battalions through an intermediate line, to take the final objective.[24]

On the 56th Division front the final objective was about 500 metres (550 yd) into Polygon Wood. On the right, the 53rd brigade was to advance from Stirling Castle, through Inverness Copse to Black Watch Corner, at the south western corner of Polygon Wood, to form a defensive flank to the south. Further north 169th Brigade was to advance to Polygon Wood through Glencorse Wood and 167th Brigade was to reach the north-western part of Polygon Wood through Nonne Bosschen.[25] The 8th Division was to attack with two brigades, between Westhoek and the Ypres–Roulers railway, to the green line on the rise east of the Hanebeek stream.[26] Eight tanks were allotted to II Corps to assist the infantry. The artillery support for the attack was the same as that for 10 August, 180 x 18-pdr guns for the creeping barrage moving at 100 metres (110 yd) in five minutes, with 72 x 4.5-inch howitzers and 36 x 18-pdrs placing standing barrages beyond the final objective. Eight machine-gun companies were to fire barrages on the area from the north-east of Polygon Wood to west of Zonnebeke.[27]

XIX and XVIII corps further north were also to capture the green line, slightly beyond the German Wilhelm (third) line. Each XIX Corps division had fourteen 18-pdr batteries for the creeping barrage and 24 inches (61 cm) x 4.5 inches (11 cm) howitzer batteries and forty machine-guns for standing barrages, along with the normal heavy artillery groups.[28] Each division also had 108 x 18-pdr and 36 inches (91 cm) x 4.5 inches (11 cm) howitzers for bombardment and benefitted from supply routes which had been far less heavily shelled than those further south.[29] In the XVIII Corps area, a brigade each from the 48th and 11th divisions with eight tanks each, was to attack from the north end of St. Julien to the White House east of Langemarck.[30]

The 20th Division planned to capture Langemarck with the 60th and 61st brigades. The 59th Brigade was to go into reserve after holding the line before the attack, less the two battalions in the front line, which were to screen the assembly of the attacking brigades. The attack was to begin on the east bank of the Steenbeek where the troops had 70–135 metres (77–148 yd) of room to assemble, crossing over on wooden bridges laid by the Engineers the night before the attack.[Note 3] The first objective (blue line) was set on a road running along the west side of Langemarck, the second objective (green line) was 500 yards (460 m) further on, at the east side of the village and the final objective (red line) was another 600 yards (550 m) ahead, in the German defences beyond Schreiboom. On the right the 60th Brigade was to attack on a one-battalion front, with two battalions leap-frogging through the leading battalion, to reach the second and final objectives. The attack was to move north-east behind Langemarck, to confront an expected German counter-attack up the road from Poelcappelle 2,000 yards (1,800 m) away, while the 61st Brigade, attacking on a two-brigade front, took the village while shielded by the 60th Brigade. The manoeuvre of the 60th Brigade would also threaten the Germans in Langemarck with encirclement.[32]

Au Bon Gite, the German blockhouse which had resisted earlier attacks, was to be dealt with separately by infantry from one of the covering battalions and a Field Company Royal Engineers. Artillery for the attack came from the 20th and 38th divisional artilleries and the heavy guns of XIV Corps. A creeping barrage was to move at 90 metres (98 yd) in four minutes and a standing barrage was to fall on the objective lines in succession, as the infantry advanced. The first objective was to be bombarded for twenty minutes, as the creeping barrage moved towards it, then the second objective was to be shelled for an hour to catch retreating German soldiers, destroy defences and force any remaining Germans under cover. A third barrage was to come from the XIV Corps heavy artillery, sweeping back and forth with high explosive, from 300–1,500 metres (330–1,640 yd) ahead of the foremost British troops, to stop German machine-guns firing through the British barrage. Smoke shell was to be fired to hide the attacking troops, as they re-organised at each objective. A machine-gun barrage from 48 guns was arranged, with half of the guns moving forward with the infantry to add to the infantry's fire-power against German counter-attacks. German troops were also to be strafed by British aircraft from low altitude.[33] The French First Army was to extend the attack north from the Kortebeek to Drie Grachten aiming to reach the St. Jansbeck.[34]

German defensive preparations[edit]

The German Fourth Army operation order for the defensive battle had been issued on 27 June.[35] German infantry units had been reorganised on similar lines to the British, with a rifle section, assault troop section, a grenade-launcher section and a light machine-gun section. Field artillery in the Eingreif divisions had been organised into artillery assault groups, which followed the infantry, to engage the enemy attack with observed or direct fire. Each infantry regiment of the 183rd Division based around Westroosebeke behind the northern flank of Group Ypres, had a battalion of the divisional field artillery regiment attached.[36] On 31 July the defence in depth had begun with a front system of three breastworks: Ia, Ib and Ic each about 200 metres (220 yd) apart, garrisoned by the four companies of each front battalion, with listening-posts in no-man's-land. About 2,000 metres (2,200 yd) behind these works was the Albrecht (second or artillery protective) line, the rear boundary of the forward battle zone (Kampffeld). Companies of the support battalions, (25% Sicherheitsbesatzung to hold the strong-points and 75% Stosstruppen to counter-attack towards them) were placed at the back of the Kampffeld, half in the pill-boxes of the Albrecht (second) line, to provide a framework for the re-establishment of defence-in-depth, once the enemy attack had been repulsed.[37] Dispersed in front of the line were divisional Sharpshooter (Scharfschützen) machine-gun nests called the Stutzpunkt-Linie. Much of the Kampffeld behind the front system, north of the Ypres–Roulers railway had fallen on 31 July.[38]

K.T.K. headquarters, 1917

The Albrecht (second) Line roughly corresponded to the British black line (second objective) of 31 July, much of which had been captured, except on the Gheluvelt plateau. The line marked the front of the main battle zone (Grosskampffeld) about 2,300 metres (2,500 yd) deep, behind which was the Wilhelm (third) line, which contained most of the field artillery of the front divisions. In pillboxes of the Wilhelm line were reserve battalions of the front-line regiments.[39] The leading regiment of an Eingreif division was to advance into the zone of the front division, with its other two regiments moving forward in close support, from support and reserve assembly areas, further back in the Flandern Stellung.[Note 4] Eingreif divisions were accommodated 9,000–11,000 metres (9,800–12,000 yd) behind the front line and at the beginning of an attack, began their advance to their assembly areas in the rückwärtige Kampffeld behind Flandern I, ready to intervene in the Grosskampffeld, for den sofortigen Gegenstoss (the instant-immediate counter-thrust).[40][41]

In an appreciation of 2 August, Group Ypres correctly identified the Wilhelm (second) line as the British objective on 31 July and predicted more attacks on the Gheluvelt plateau and further north towards Langemarck. In the Group Ypres area, only the 3rd and 79th Reserve divisions remained battle worthy, the other four having suffered c. 10,000 casualties. On 4 August a Group Wijtschate assessment concluded that the British attack needed to make progress by forcing back the 52nd Division on the Gheluvelt plateau, where the defensive scheme had the front regiment of each division backed by the other two regiments in support and in reserve behind the front line. Crown Prince Rupprecht expressed concern on 5 August, that the weather conditions were rapidly exhausting the German infantry. Casualties averaged 1,500–2,000 men per division, which was lower than the 4,000 average on the Somme in 1916 but only because divisions were being relieved more frequently. Supplying troops in the front line was extremely difficult, because the British were using more gas, which caught carrying parties by surprise; the 6th Bavarian Reserve Division had 1,200 gas casualties.[42]

Operation Sommernacht, 5 August[edit]

Operation Sommernacht was planned for 5:20 a.m. After a short bombardment, three companies of I Battalion Infantry Regiment 62 captured a ridge 1-kilometre (0.62 mi) north-east of Hollebeke, surprising the British who fell back 80 metres (87 yd). The new German positions were on higher drier ground and deprived the British of observation over the German rear areas, which reduced casualties from British artillery-fire. Further to the south, Reserve Infantry regiments 209 and 213 of the 207th Division, attacked Hollebeke through thick fog and captured the village despite many casualties and took at least 300 prisoners. Most of the defenders had occupied captured pillboxes and blockhouses, which had to be attacked one-by-one and at 5:45 a.m. three signal flares were fired to indicate success. Hollebeke was later abandoned and the old "A line" reoccupied, then the troops withdrew to the start line because of the severity of British counter-attacks and artillery fire. Operation Sommernacht left the front-line ragged, with a gap between regiments 209 and 213, which the British tried to penetrate in the days before 10 August.[43]

Battle[edit]

Fifth Army[edit]

Passchendaele weather
(August 1917)
Date Rain
mm
Temp
F)
Outlook
11 August 4.4 69 cloud
12 August 1.7 72 cloud
13 August 0.0 67 75% cloud
14 August 18.1 79
15 August 7.8 65 overcast
16 August 0.0 68 overcast
17 August 0.0 72 clear
18 August 0.0 74 clear
19 August 0.0 69 cloudy
20 August 0.0 71 50% cloud
21 August 0.0 72 clear
22 August 0.0 78 50% cloud
23 August 1.4 74 50% cloud
24 August 0.1 68 50% cloud
25 August 0.0 67 50% cloud
26 August 19.6 70 overcast
27 August 15.3 57 50% cloud
28 August 0.9 62 50% cloud
29 August 2.6 61 50% cloud
30 August 0.7 63 50% cloud
31 August 0.7 64 50% cloud
Weather data from
McCarthy, C. Passchendaele:
The day-by-day Account
(1995)
[44]

At 4:45 a.m. the creeping barrage began and the British troops advanced. German flares were seen rising but the German artillery response was slow and missed the attackers. In the 18th Division area, German machine-gun fire from pill-boxes caused heavy losses to the 53rd Brigade, which was stopped in front of the north-west corner of Inverness Copse. Part of the brigade managed to work forward further north and form a defensive flank along the southern edge of Glencorse Wood. To the north, the 169th Brigade of the 56th Division advanced quickly at the start but veered to their right to avoid boggy ground and then entered Glencorse Wood. The German main line of resistance was in a sunken road in the wood, where after a hard-fought engagement with high losses to both sides, the German defenders were overcome and the rest of the wood occupied. The leading waves then advanced to Polygon Wood.[45]

The 167th Brigade had a fast start but when it reached the north end of Nonne Bosschen found mud 4 feet (1.2 m) deep, the brigade veering round it to the left. The gap which had formed between the 167th and 169th Brigades was not closed. Another problem emerged, because the quick start had been partly caused by the rear waves pushing up, to avoid German shelling on the left of the brigade. The follow-up infantry mingled with the foremost troops and failed to mop up the captured ground, German troops who had been overrun began sniping from behind at both brigades. Part of a company reached the area north of Polygon Wood at about the same time as small numbers of troops from 8th division.[46] The ground conditions in the 56th Division area were so bad that none of the tanks in support got into action.[47]

On the 8th Division front, the two attacking brigades started well, behind an "admirable" barrage and reached the Hanebeek, where hand bridges were used to cross it and continue the advance up Anzac Spur, to the green line objectives on the ridge beyond. Difficulties began on the left flank, where troops from 16th Division had not kept up with the 8th Division. After reaching the vicinity of Potsdam Redoubt a little later, the 16th Division was held up for the rest of the day. German machine-gunners north of the railway were free to enfilade the area of 8th Division to the south. On the right flank the same thing happened to the 56th Division, which was stopped by fire from German strong-points and pillboxes in their area and from German artillery concentrated to the south-east. After a long fight, the 8th Division captured Iron Cross, Anzac and Zonnebeke redoubts on the rise beyond the Hanebeek, then sent parties over the ridge.[47]

XIX Corps had the same difficulties as II Corps in preparing its attack by the 16th and 36th divisions, from north of the Ypres–Roulers railway to just south of St. Julien, which were to advance 1-mile (1.6 km) up Anzac and Zonnebeke spurs, near the Wilhelm (third) line. Providing carrying parties since the last week in July and holding ground from 4 August in the Hanebeek and Steenbeek valleys, which were overlooked by the Germans had exhausted many men. From 1–15 August the divisions had lost about a third of their front-line strength in casualties. Frequent reliefs during the unexpected delays caused by the rain, had spread the casualties to all of the battalions in both divisions. The advance began on time and after a few hundred yards encountered German strong points, which were found not to been destroyed by a series of heavy artillery bombardments fired before the attack.[29]

The 16th Division had many casualties from the Germans in Potsdam, Vampire and Borry farms, which had not been properly mopped up because the infantry shortage was so serious. The garrisons were able to shoot at the advancing British troops of the 48th Brigade from behind and only isolated parties of British troops managed to reach their objectives. The 49th Brigade on the left was also held up by Borry Farm, which defeated several costly attacks but the left of the brigade got within 400 yards (370 m) of the top of Hill 37. [48] The 36th Division also struggled to advance, Gallipoli and Somme farms were behind a new wire entanglement, with German machine-guns trained on the gaps made by the British bombardment, fire from which stopped the advance of the 108th Brigade. To the north, the 109th Brigade had to get across the swamp astride the Steenbeek. The infantry lost the barrage and were stopped by fire from Pond farm and Border House. On the left troops got to Fortuin, about 400 yards (370 m) from the start line.[49]

The attack further north was much more successful. In XVIII Corps the 48th Division attacked at 4:45 a.m. with one brigade, capturing Border House and gun pits either side of the St. Julien–Winnipeg road, where they were held up by machine-gun fire and a small counter-attack. The capture of St. Julien was completed and consolidated along a line from Border House, to Jew Hill, the gun pits and St. Julien. Troops consolidating were fired on from Maison du Hibou and Hillock Farm, which was captured soon after; British troops seen advancing on Springfield Farm disappeared. At 9:00 a.m. German troops gathered around Triangle Farm and at 10:00 a.m. made a counter-attack which was repulsed. Another German attack after dark was defeated at the gun pits and at 9:30 p.m., another German counter-attack from Triangle Farm was repulsed.[50]

The 11th division attacked with one brigade at 4:45 a.m. The right flank was delayed by machine-gun fire from the 48th Division area and by pillboxes to their front, where the infantry lost the barrage. On the left the brigade dug in 100 yards (91 m) west of Langemarck Road and the right flank dug in facing east, in the face of fire from Maison du Hibou and the Triangle. Supporting troops from the 33rd Brigade were caught by fire from the German pillboxes but reached the Cockcroft, passed beyond and dug in despite fire from Bulow Farm. On the left these battalions reached Langemarck Road, passed Rat House and Pheasant Trench and ended their advance just short of the White House, joining with the right side of the brigade on the Lekkerboterbeek.[51]

In the XIV Corps area, the 20th Division attacked with two brigades at 4:45 a.m. The battalions of the right brigade leap-frogged on a one-battalion front, crossed the Steenbeek and then advancing in single file, worming round shell craters full of water and mud. Alouette Farm, Langemarck and the first two objective lines were reached easily. At 7:20 a.m. the advance to the final objective began and immediately encountered machine-gun fire from the Rat House and White House until they were captured, the final objective being taken at 7:45 a.m., as German troops withdrew to a small wood behind White House. The left brigade advanced on a two-battalion front and encountered machine-gun fire from Au Bon Gite before it was captured and was then fired on from German blockhouses in front of Langemarck and from the railway station. Once these had been captured the advance resumed at 7:20 a.m., despite fire from hidden parties of defenders and reached the final objective at 7:47 a.m., under fire from the Rat House. German counter-attacks began around 4:00 p.m. and advanced 200 yards (180 m) around Schreiboom, being driven back some distance later on.[51]

The 29th Division to the north attacked at the same time with two brigades. On the right the first objective was reached quickly and assistance given to the 20th Division further south. The Newfoundland Regiment passed through, being held up slightly by marshy conditions and fire from Cannes Farm. The Newfoundlanders pressed on, reached the third objective and then took Japan House beyond. The left brigade took the first objective easily then met machine-gun fire from Champeaubert Farm in the French First Army sector and from Montmirail Farm. The advance continued to the final objective, which was reached and consolidated by 10:00 a.m. Patrols moved forward towards the Broombeek and a German counter-attack at 4:00 p.m. was stopped by artillery and small-arms fire.[52] Langemarck and the Wilhelm (third) line, north of the Ypres–Staden railway and west of the Kortebeek had been captured.[53]

Ire Armée[edit]

Drie Grachten ("Thee Canals") bridgehead, 1917

The French on the northern flank operated from south of the hamlet of St. Janshoek on the east of the Steenbeek, north of Bixschoote and the edge of the floods to the Noordschoote–Luyghem road, which crossed the Yperlee at Drie Grachten ("Three Canals"). The Germans had counter-flooded the area between Dixmude and Bixschoote and had built fortifications to stop an attacker crossing or circumventing the floods. The bridgehead of Drie Grachten was the main German defensive fortification in the area, which blocked the Noordschoote–Luyghem road where it crossed the Yperlee Canal, north of the Steenbeek, beyond the confluence with the Kortebeek, where the combined rivers became the St. Jansbeek. From Luyghem a road ran south-east to Verbrandemis and the road from Zudyschoote and Lizenie crossed the Yperlee at Steenstraat and ran on to Dixmude. The capture of Luyghem, Merckem and the road was necessary for the French to threaten Houthoulst Forest, to the south of Dixmude and north of Langemarck. The bridgehead at Drie Grachten also gave the Germans a jumping-off point over the canal for a counter-attack across it. By 15 August the French had closed up to the bridgehead from Bixschoote to the south-east and Noordschoote to the south-west.[54]

West of the Yperlee Canal the bridgehead consisted of a semi-circular work, which was built above ground due to the waterlogged soil. Reinforced concrete shelters had been built and connected by a raised trench of concrete, earth and fascines, with a communication trench leading back to a command post. Several hundred yards forward on the causeway was a small blockhouse, joined to the work by a communication trench on the north side of the road. Barbed wire entanglements, above and below the water, extended in front of the post and blockhouse, astride the Noordschoote–Luyghem road. To the north was l'Eclusette Redoubt and another to the south, the west of the Yperlee. The redoubts corresponded with the ends of the defences on the eastern bank of the canal and enclosed the flanks of the position, 2 metres (6.6 ft) above the inundations. Platforms gave machine-guns command of a wide arc of ground in front. Across the Yperlee on the east bank, was a rampart of reinforced concrete, behind and parallel with the canal from opposite l'Eclusette to the southern redoubt. Communications between the concrete rampart and the defences of the Luyghem peninsula, were via the raised road from Drie Grachten to Luyghem and two footbridges through the floods, one north and one south of the road. Every 35–50 metres (38–55 yd), traverses with reinforced concrete shelters had been built.[55]

The German redoubts in the area were much better defined targets than those across the Ypres–Staden and Ypres–Roulers railways and were more easily destroyed, as they were almost entirely above ground. The German floods inhibited attack but also made it difficult to move reserves to threatened points and the open country made it easier for French aircraft to observe the position.[55] The First Army objectives were the Drie Grachten bridgehead and the triangular spit of land between the Lower Steenbeek and the Yperlee Canal. The right flank was to cross the Steenbeek and assist the British XIV Corps to take the positions north-west of Langemarck and south of the Broombeek stream, which joined the Steenbeek just south of St. Janshoek. The Steenbeek was 2 metres (6.6 ft) broad and 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) deep at this point and widened between St. Janshoek and the Steenstraat–Dixmude road; from the Martjewaart reach to the Yperlee Canal it was 6 metres (20 ft) broad and 4 metres (13 ft) deep.[56] During the night of the 15/16 and the morning of the 16 August, French aircraft bombed the German defences, the bivouacs around Houthulst Forest and Lichtervelde railway station, 18 kilometres (11 mi) east of Dixmude. French and Belgian air crews flew at a very low altitude to bomb and machine-gun German troops, trains and aerodromes and shot down three German aircraft.[55]

The attacking divisions of the French I Corps, crossed the Yperlee from the north-west of Bixschoote to north of the Drie Grachten bridge-head and drove the Germans out of part of the swampy Poelsele peninsula but numerous pillboxes built in the ruins of farmhouses further back were not captured. The French crossed the upper Steenbeek from west of Wydendreft to a bend in the stream south-west of St. Janshoek. Keeping pace wth the British, they advanced to the south bank of the Broombeek. Mondovi blockhouse held out all day and pivoting on it, the Germans counter-attacked during the night of 16/17 August to penetrate between the French and British. The attack failed and the next morning the French and British troops on the army boundary, had observation across the narrow Broombeek valley. Apart from resistance at Les Lilas and Mondovi blockhouses, the French had achieved their objectives of 16 August relatively easily. The German garrisons at Champaubert Farm and Brienne House, held out until French artillery deluged them with shells, which brought the German defenders to surrender after thirty minutes. The French took more than 300 prisoners, numerous guns, trench mortars and machine-guns.[56]

The German l'Eclusette blockhouse at Drie Grachten, 1917

North and north-east of Bixschoote, the ground sloped towards the Steenbeek and was dotted with pillboxes. Just west of the junction of the Broombeek and Steenbeek were the Les Lilas and Mondovi blockhouses, in the angle between the streams. The French artillery had bombarded the Drie Grachten bridge-head for several days and reduced it to ruins, the concrete works being easily hit by heavy artillery and on 16 August the French infantry waded through the floods and occupied the area. On the Poelsele peninsula the German defenders resisted until nightfall before being driven back, as the French closed up to the west bank of the Martjewaart reach of the Steenbeek. North and north-east of Bixschoote, the French reached the west bank of the St. Janshoek reach and surrounded Les Lilas. On the night of 16/17 August French airmen set fire to the railway station at Kortemarck, 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) east of Dixmude.[56]

On 17 August, French heavy howitzers battered Les Lilas and Mondovi blockhouses all day and by nightfall both strong points had been breached and the garrisons taken prisoner. The total of prisoners taken since 16 August exceeded 400 and fifteen guns had been captured. From the southern edge of the inundations and swamps between Dixmude and Drie Grachten, the French line had been pushed forward to the west bank of the Steenbeek as far as the south end of St. Janshoek. South of Mondovi blockhouse, the Steenbeek had been crossed and on the extreme right the First Army had swung northwards to the south bank of the Broombeek, which eliminated the possibility of the British Fifth Army being outflanked from the north. French engineers had worked in swamps and morasses to repair roads, bridge streams and build wire entanglements despite constant German artillery fire.[57] The advance was made west of the northern stretch of the Wilhelm (third) Line.[34]

Air operations[edit]

Airco D.H.5

Mist and cloud made air observation difficult on the morning of 16 August, until a wind began later in the day, although this blew the smoke of battle over the German lines, obscuring German troop movements. Corps squadrons were expected to provide artillery co-operation, contact and counter-attack patrols but low cloud, mist and smoke that morning resulted in most German counter-attack formations moving unnoticed.[Note 5] Flash-spotting of German artillery was much more successful and many more flares were lit by the infantry, when called for by the crews of contact aeroplanes. Army squadrons, Royal Naval Air Service ("RNAS") and French aircraft flew over the lines and attacked German aerodromes, troops and transport as far as the weather allowed. V Brigade tried to co-ordinate air operations over the battlefield with the infantry attack. Two De Havilland D.H.5 aircraft per division were provided, to engage any German strong-points interfering with the infantry attack on the final objective. Two small formations of fighters were to fly low patrols, on the far side of the final objective of the Fifth Army, from the beginning of the attack for six hours, to break up German attempts to counter-attack and to stop equivalent German contact-patrols.[59]

After six hours the aircraft were to range further east to attack troop concentrations. Aircraft from Corps and Army wings were to attack all targets found west of Staden–Dadizeele, with the Ninth Wing taking over to the east of that line.[59] German aerodromes were attacked periodically and special "ground patrols" were mounted below 3,000 feet (910 m) over the front line, to defend the Corps artillery-observation machines. Attempts to coordinate air and ground attacks had mixed results; on the II Corps front, few air attacks were co-ordinated with the infantry and only a vague report was received from an aircraft about a German counter-attack, which was further obscured by a smoke-screen.[60] On the XIX Corps front, despite "ideal" visibility, no warning by aircraft was given of a German counter-attack over the Zonnebeke–St. Julien spur at 9:00 a.m., which was also screened by smoke shell. To the north on the XVIII and XIV Corps fronts the air effort had more effect, with German strong-points and infantry being attacked on and behind the front.[60] Air operations continued during the night, with more attacks on German airfields and rail junctions.[61]

German Fourth Army[edit]

Main German territorial losses, 16–18 August 1917

The troops of 169th Brigade of the 56th Division, which tried to follow the leading waves from Glencorse Wood, were stopped at the edge of Polygon Wood and then pushed back by a counter-attack by the German 34th Division around 7:00 a.m., the troops ahead of them being overwhelmed. The brigade was driven back later in the afternoon to its start line, by German attacks from the south and east by troops from a regiment of the 54th Division sent back into the line.[62] The 167th Brigade pulled back its right flank as the 169th Brigade was seen withdrawing through Glencorse Wood and at 3:00 p.m. the Germans attacked the front of 167th Brigade and the 25th Brigade of the 8th Division to the north. The area was under British artillery observation and the German attack was stopped by massed artillery fire. At 5.00 p.m. the brigade withdrew, to a better position 350 metres (380 yd) in front of its start line, to gain touch with 25th Brigade.[63] German artillery fired continuously on a line from Stirling Castle to Westhoek and increased the rate of bombardment from noon, which isolated the attacking British battalions from reinforcements and supplies and prepared the counter-attack made in the afternoon.[64]

As the German counter-attacks by the 34th Division on the 56th Division gained ground, the 8th Division to the north, about 1,000 metres (1,100 yd) ahead of the divisions on the flanks found itself enfiladed, as predicted by Heneker before the offensive. At about 9:30 a.m. reinforcements for Reserve Infantry Regiment 27 of the 54th Division, from the local Eingreif division, Infantry Regiment 34 of the 3rd Reserve Division, attacked over Anzac Farm Spur. SOS calls from the British infantry were not seen by their artillery observers, due to low cloud and smoke shell being fired by the Germans into their creeping barrage. An observation report from one British aircraft, failed to give enough information to help the artillery, which did not fire until too late at 10:15 a.m.[65] The German counter-attack pressed the right flank of the 25th Brigade, which was being fired on from recaptured positions in Nonne Bosschen and forced it back, exposing the right of the 23rd Brigade to the north, which was already under pressure on its left flank and which fell back slowly to the Hanebeek stream. Another German attack at 3:45 a.m. was also not engaged by the British artillery, when mist and rain obscured the SOS signal from the infantry. The Germans "dribbled" forward and gradually pressed the British infantry back to the foot of Westhoek Ridge.[66] That evening both brigades of the 8th Division withdrew from German enfilade fire coming from the 56th Division area, to ground just forward of their start line.[67]

At around 9:00 a.m. the 16th and 36th Divisions were counter-attacked by the reserve regiment of the 5th Bavarian Division, supported by part of the 12th Reserve (Eingreif) Division behind a huge barrage, including smoke shell to mask the attack from British artillery observers. Despite "ideal" weather, air observation failed as it did on the II Corps front. The forward elements of both divisions were overrun and killed or captured.[68] By 10:15 a.m. the Corps commander, Lieutenant-General H. Watts, had brought the barrage back to the start-line, regardless of survivors holding out beyond it. At 2:08 p.m. Gough ordered that a line from Borry Farm to Hill 35 and Hindu Cottage be taken to link with XVIII Corps. After consulting the divisional commanders, Watts reported that a renewed attack was impossible, since the reserve brigades were already holding the start line.[69]

There were few German counter-attacks on the front of XVIII and XIV Corps, which had also not been subjected to much artillery fire before the attack, as the Germans had concentrated on the corps further south. Despite the "worst going" in the salient, the 48th Division got forward on its left, against fire from the area not occupied by 36th Division on its right; 11th Division advanced beyond Langemarck. The 20th and 29th Divisions of XIV Corps and the French further north, reached most of their objectives without serious counter-attack but the Germans subjected the new positions to intense artillery fire, inflicting heavy losses for several days, especially on the 20th Division.[34] The German army group commander, Crown Prince Rupprecht wrote that the German defence continued to be based on holding the Gheluvelt Plateau and Houthoulst Forest as bastions, British advances in between were not serious threats.[34] Ludendorff's verdict was less sanguine, writing that 10 August was a German success but that the British attack on the 16 August was another great blow. Poelcappelle had been reached and despite a great effort, the British could only be pushed back a short distance.[70][Note 6]

Aftermath[edit]

Analysis[edit]

Map showing progress in the Ypres area, 1917

The British plan to overcome the German "deep battlefield", was based on a conventional attack in three stages but the artillery was able to arrange a fire plan which was far more sophisticated than in previous attacks. The creeping barrage preceded the infantry and in some places moved slowly enough for the infantry to keep up. New smoke shells were fired, when the creeping barrage paused beyond each objective, which helped to obscure the British infantry from artillery observers and German machine-gunners far back in the German defensive zone, who fired through the British artillery barrages. Around Langemarck, the British infantry formed up very near the German positions, which was too close for the German artillery to fire on, although troops further back at the Steenbeek were severely bombarded. British platoons and sections were allotted objectives and engineers accompanied troops to bridge obstacles and attack strong points. In the 20th Division, each company was reduced to three platoons, two to advance using infiltration tactics and one to mop up areas where the forward platoons had by-passed resistance and attack from the flanks and behind.[72]

In the II and XIX Corps areas, the foremost infantry had been isolated by German artillery and then driven back by counter-attacks. On 17 August Gough ordered that the capture of the remainder of their objectives of 16 August would be completed on 25 August.[73] Apart from small areas on the left of the 56th division, the flanks of the 8th Division and right of the 16th Division, the British had been forced back to their start line, by German machine-gun fire from the flanks and infantry counter-attacks supported by plentiful artillery.[74] Attempts by the German infantry to advance further were stopped by British artillery fire, which inflicted heavy losses.[64] Major-General F. A. Dudgeon, commander of the 56th Division, later reported that there was a lack of time to prepare the attack and study the ground, since the 167th Brigade had relieved part of the 25th Division, after it had only been in the line for 24 hours and neither unit had had sufficient time to make preparations for the attack. Dudgeon also reported that no tracks had been laid beyond Château Wood and that the wet ground had slowed the delivery of supplies to the front line and obstructed the advance beyond it. Pillboxes had caused more delays and subjected the attacking troops to frequent enfilade fire.[75]

Major-General Oliver Nugent the commander of the 36th Division, used information from captured German orders and noted that German artillery could not bombard advancing British troops, since German positions were distributed in depth and the forward zone was easily penetrated. The advance of supporting troops was much easier to obstruct but it was more important to help the foremost infantry. If counter-battery fire was insufficient, the covering fire in front of the advance was more important and counter-battery groups should change target. Nugent recommended that fewer field guns be used for the creeping barrage and that surplus guns should be grouped and fire sweeping barrages (from side-to-side) and fuze Shrapnel shells to burst higher up, to hit the inside of shell holes. Creeping barrages should be slower with more frequent and longer pauses, during which the barrages from field artillery and 60-pounder guns should sweep and search (move back-and-forth). Nugent suggested that infantry formations should change from skirmish lines, to mobile company columns on narrow fronts, equipped with a machine-gun and Stokes mortar, moving within a zone since lines broke up under machine-gun fire in crater-fields, losing organisation and control.[76][Note 7]

Tanks intended to help capture pill-boxes, had bogged down behind the British front-line and air support had been restricted by the weather, particularly by low cloud early on and by sending too few aircraft over the battlefield to fulfil all their tasks. Only one aircraft per corps was reserved for counter-attack patrol, with two aircraft per division for ground attack. Only eight aircraft covered the army front, to engage German infantry as they counter-attacked.[78] Signalling had failed at vital moments and deprived the infantry of artillery support, which had made the German counter-attacks much more effective, in areas where the Germans had artillery observation. The 56th Division report recommended that advances be shortened, to give more time for consolidation and to minimise the organisational and communication difficulties, caused by the muddy ground and wet weather.[79] After the battle, divisional artillery commanders asked for two aircraft per division, exclusively to conduct counter-attack patrols.[60] With observation from higher ground to the east, German artillery fire inflicted heavy losses on the British troops holding the new line beyond Langemarck.[Note 8]

The success of the German Fourth Army in preventing the British Fifth Army from advancing far along the Gheluvelt Plateau, led Haig to reinforce the offensive in the south-east, along the southern half of Passchendaele Ridge.[81] Haig gave principal authority for the offensive to the Second Army under command of General Herbert Plumer on 25 August. Like Gough after 31 July, Plumer planned to launch a series of attacks with even more limited geographical objectives, using the extra heavy artillery brought in from the armies further south, to deepen and increase the weight of the creeping barrage, to ensure that the infantry were organised on tactically advantageous ground and in contact with their artillery, when they received German counter-attacks.[81] Minor operations by the British and German armies, continued in September along the Second and Fifth Army fronts, the boundary of which had been moved north, close to the Ypres–Roulers railway at the end of August.[82]

Casualties[edit]

The Official Historian J. E. Edmonds recorded British casualties for 31 July – 28 August as 68,010, of whom 10,266 had been killed, with a claim that 37 German divisions had been exhausted and withdrawn.[83] Calculations of German losses by the Official Historian have been severely criticised ever since.[84] By mid-August the German army had mixed views on the course of events. The defensive successes were a source of satisfaction but the cost in casualties was unsustainable.[85] The German Official History recorded the loss of 24,000 casualties from 11–21 August, including 5,000 mssing, 2,100 prisoners and c. 30 guns.[86] Rain, huge artillery bombardments and British air attacks also greatly strained the fighting power of the remaining German troops.[87]

Subsequent operations[edit]

19 August[edit]

On 17 August a 48th Division (XVIII Corps) attack on Maison du Hibou failed; next day the 14th Division (II Corps) attacked with a brigade through Inverness Copse, although held up further north by fire from Fitzclarence and L-shaped farms. A German counter-attack forced the British half-way back through the copse but with support from two tanks on the Menin Road, the British held on despite three more German attacks. In the XIV Corps area, the 86th Brigade of the 29th Division pushed forward and established nine posts over the Broombeek.[88] On 19 August the 48th Division and tanks of I Tank Brigade, conducted the "St. Julien Attack" up the St. Julien–Poelcappelle road.[89] Four tanks were to attack Hillock farm, Triangle Farm, Maison du Hibou and the Cockcroft; four more were to attack Winnipeg Cemetery, Springfield and Vancouver, with four in reserve at California trench. The tank advance was to be covered by a smoke barrage and the infantry were to follow the tanks and capture the strong points. At 4:45 a.m. eleven tanks reached St. Julien and eight managed to pass through and emerge on the St. Julien–Poelcappelle road, after three tanks ditched.[90]

A smoke barrage fell on the area beyond the objectives and Hillock Farm was captured at 6:00 a.m. Fifteen minutes later Maison du Hibou was captured, when a tank got within 80 yards (73 m) and fired fifty shells at the strong point, after which the garrison of twenty men ran out. Half the men were killed by machine-gun fire from a "female" tank and the rest captured. The garrison at Triangle Farm was overrun soon afterwards, when tanks drove the garrisons under cover, where they were unable to engage the infantry, who followed close behind the tanks. A female tank ditched 50 yards (46 m) from the Cockcroft at 6:45 a.m. as c. 100 German soldiers ran out of the buildings and dug outs nearby, most being killed or captured. The tank crews had 14 casualties and the attacking infantry had only 15 casualties, instead of the expected 600 losses.[91] Next day a special gas and smoke bombardment took place on Jehu Trench, beyond Lower Star Post from the 24th Division in the II Corps area. The 61st Division in the XIX Corps area, took a German outpost near Somme Farm. On 21 August the 38th Division in XIV Corps, pushed forward its left flank.[92]

22 August[edit]

Hooge and Westhoek, August–September 1917

On 22 August the 24th Division captured a strong point near Bodmin Copse and the II Corps resumed operations to capture Nonne Bosschen, Glencorse Wood and Inverness Copse astride the Menin Road, the copse and Herenthage Park being the first objective. The German outpost line was back on the western edge of the copse, about 600 yards (550 m) west of the Albrecht (second) line. The 14th Division with four tanks, forced the German defenders back to the Albrecht line, with heavy losses to both sides.[93] The dry lake beds due west of Herenthage Château and the Château were captured with 50 prisoners; north of the Menin road the attackers occupied Inverness Copse but failed to reach Jap Trench, after the left battalion was held up at the first objective. The rest of the brigade withdrew to the middle of the copse and called for reinforcements.[94] The 47th Division established posts on the Hanebeek as a flank guard to the 15th Division attacking to the north.[95]

North of the Ypres–Roulers railway in the 15th Division area, five days of preparatory artillery-fire and constant patrolling had established the positions of some of the defenders and an attempt had been made to occupy Borry House on 21 August, which was stopped by German small-arms fire about 50 yards (46 m) short of the strong point. Next day two brigades of the 15th Division and the patrols from the 47th Division attacked at 4.45 a.m. behind a creeping barrage and overhead fire from 32 machine-guns. German artillery and machine-gun barrages fell within a minute on a line from Frezenberg to Square Farm, which caught the reserve and support companies of the 44th Brigade in their assembly trenches. In the 45th Brigade area on the right flank, four tanks ditched on their approach along the Frezenberg–Zonnebeke road and of six which advanced from west of Pommern Redoubt, four ditched at the redoubt. The leading companies of the attacking battalions disappeared, having reached Potsdam, Vampire and Borry farms, according to a report of flares seen by a contact patrol aircraft. Machine-gun fire forced the few survivors back to the railway dump and the road north-west to Beck House. The left flank battalion of the 45th Brigade was also overwhelmed, one company mistaking the Steenbeek for Zonnebeke brook and losing direction, apparently advancing well beyond Beck House and then being annihilated, after overrunning an unseen machine-gun and being fired on from behind.[96]

Frezenberg Ridge, September–October 1917

Further to the left a company advanced towards Iberian Farm, until forced under cover 30–40 yards (27–37 m) short of the strong point. A support company was sent forward as reinforcements by rushes from shell-holes, which lost many casualties on the way and then linked the new line with the infantry advancing on the left up Hill 35. Two companies advanced up Hill 35 but were stopped on the crest by fire from Gallipoli and dug in. Iberian Farm had not been captured, which made the position on the hill vulnerable and a reserve company was sent forward to outflank the farm but failed to capture the farm against determined German resistance. Further to the north troops from the divisional pioneer battalion went forward to consolidate Hill 35 and reached Pommern Redoubt, where a defensive flank was established south-east to the hill and north-west to Somme Farm, despite losing 25% casualties from German small-arms fire. By 7:00 a.m. the attack by the 45th Brigade had gained a few yards, in the centre the attack had failed and the survivors were back at the start line. An hour later, troops of the 61st Division to the north began to retire and eventually dug in north of Somme Farm, extending the line consolidated by the 15th Division pioneers, which enabled the captured ground to be held.[97] A tank ditched near Gallipoli engaged the Germans for 68 hours before the crew retired.[98]

Further attempts to advance were made during the day but cross-fire from the German pillboxes and strong points could not be overcome. Two small German counter-attacks from 1:00–3:00 p.m. were driven off, with help from the 47th Division to the south and German small-arms fire was eventually subdued by constant rifle and Lewis-gun fire.[95] An attempt to reach troops believed to be holding out around Beck House, Borry Farm, Iberian Farm and Gallipoli, was made by a night attack with three battalions but the attacks failed, only about 80 yards (73 m) being gained towards Gallipoli.[99] A brigade of the 61st Division had attacked further north 4.45 a.m. and quickly reached a line 150 yards (140 m) west of the Winnipeg–Kansas Farm crossroads. The right was held up at Pond Farm and Hindu Cottage, which fell later after a long struggle.[100] In the XVIII Corps area, tanks were to form an advance guard with a thin wave of infantry following to mop up but six of the ten tanks with the 48th Division ditched or were knocked out, while manoeuvring around shell-holes on the St. Julien–Winnipeg road, behind the front line. The 143rd and 144th Brigades attacked towards Springfield and Winnipeg farms and captured the gun pits nearby, which were lost to a counter-attack and then retaken later in the day. The left brigade got close to Springfield Road with the four surviving tanks but lost Vancouver to a counter-attack, posts being pushed up to the road after dark. The 33rd Brigade of the 11th Division and two tanks attacked and although the tanks were blocked at the St. Julien–Langemarck crossroads by fallen trees, were able to assist the infantry capture Bulow Farm; on the left the objective was taken easily.[100]

The advances by XIX and XVIII Corps, left them overlooked by the German defenders in the Wilhelm (third) line, from the Ypres–Zonnebeke road northwards to the east of Langemarck.[101] On 23 August at 4:30 a.m., British tanks arrived at Inverness Copse and were at once engaged by German artillery; one tank attacked a British post, before being knocked out by German shellfire.[102] Next day a German attack was conducted by the 34th Division, against the 14th Division in the II Corps area, from Inverness Copse to Glencorse Wood, with bombers, light machine-guns and flame-thrower units, which pushed the British back to the line of 22 August, between Inverness Copse and Glencorse Wood, despite a German hurricane bombardment falling short on the German troops in Inverness Copse. The German infantry advanced, reached the western edge, then fell back still under fire from German artillery. Another attempt in the afternoon, under a hail of fire from both artilleries, pushed the British out of the copse to the western fringe, from the Menin road to the junction of Jargon Drive and a sunken road.[93] South of the Menin road, the British at the dry lakes, due west of Herenthage Château repulsed a German attack.[103]

A British counter-attack at Inverness Copse intended for 24 August was cancelled, due to uncertainty about the position of the front line.[104] A German bombing attack had been made on the right flank in the morning and after dark the British withdrew to Jasper Avenue and Jasper Lane, only retaining the north-west corner of the copse.[105] An attack by the 61st Division in the XIX Corps area on Aisne Farm failed. A German counter-attack with a flame-thrower unit, on the gun pits captured by the 48th Division the day before also failed. On 25 August in the XIX Corps area, the 15th Division attacked Gallipoli and Iberian farms. Two companies advanced on Gallipoli at 11:00 p.m. behind a creeping barrage and a Stokes Mortar bombardment. The attackers reached the farm buildings, only to be shot down by a hidden machine-gun from behind and caught in cross-fire from the farm buildings and a derelict tank. The survivors fell back and dug in on a line 170 yards (160 m) forward of the start line; during the attack a patrol towards Iberian Farm was repulsed.[106] The 61st Division failed again at Aisne Farm and in the XVIII Corps area, the 48th Division captured more gun pits.[107]

The 15th Division had 2,071 casualties and the 61st Division lost 914 men in the attack and during German counter-attacks on 23 August.[108] Next day in the Second Army area, the 23rd Division was attacked by a German flame-thrower unit, which captured a post. In the Fifth Army, the 24th Division in the II Corps area just to the north, lost an outpost then recaptured it. An attack by the 61st Division on Schuler Galleries failed.[107] An attack was conducted in the Third Army area on 9 August, by the 12th Division at Boiry Notre Dame, coordinated with low flying attacks by RFC aircraft. The Battle of Hill 70 took place from 15–25 August, near Lens in the British First Army area, when the Canadian Corps supported by I Corps, took the hill and defeated several German counter-attacks. The Third Army repeated the tactics of 9 August on 19 August in attacks by the III Corps, south of Vendhuille at Gillemont Farm and again on 26 August at Cologne Farm Hill, in which the co-ordination of air and ground forces was further refined.[109]

27 August[edit]

The British general offensive intended for 25 August, was postponed because of the failed attacks since 22 August and then cancelled due to more bad weather, only minor attacks were conducted to keep the defenders under pressure.[110] On 27 August an attack at 4:45 a.m. by two tanks and four platoons of the 41st Brigade of the 14th Division, now under the command of the 23rd Division, on a trench from the Menin Road for 600 yards (550 m) through the western edge of Inverness Copse failed in the rain and mud, after the tanks ditched at Clapham Junction. The 41st Brigade was relieved during the night and an attack by the German 32nd Division was made on the north end of the 23rd Division front line, which was also a costly failure.[111] Further north in the XIX Corps area at 1:55 p.m., an attack by the 61st Division on a line from Schuler Farm to Gallipoli Farm failed and a 15th Division attack by a brigade on Gallipoli Farm also failed. In the XVIII Corps area, the 48th Division attacked with two brigades and three tanks towards Springfield and Vancouver Farms.[112]

The right brigade reached and took Springfield after dark, while the left brigade floundered in the mud and made little headway. The 11th Division attacked towards Pheasant Trench (part of the Wilhelm line) with a brigade, took a pillbox near Vieille Maisons on the right and reached Pheasant Trench on the left. In the XIV Corps area, a battalion of the 38th Division attacked Pheasant Trench at 1:55 p.m. The weather had been dry during the morning but so much rain fell before the attack that soldiers found great difficulty in climbing out of shell-holes and lost the barrage. German machine-gunners around Pheasant Farm were able to stop the advance and the survivors finished back at the start line. Next day casualties were recovered by both sides during a local truce. On 30 August the 38th Division took the White House.[113] Another torrent of rain fell on 28 August and Haig ordered an end to attacks except for that by II Corps on the Gheluvelt plateau but this was also cancelled on 31 August.[114]

Notes[edit]

"Sacred hour" at the monument of Langemarck, 10 July 1932
  1. ^ A 1989 study of weather data recorded from 1867–1916 at Lille, 16 miles (26 km) from Ypres, showed that August was more often dry than wet, that there was a trend towards dry autumns (September–November) and that average rainfall in October had decreased over the previous 50 years.[9] Rainfall in August 1917 was 127 mm, of which 84 mm fell on 1, 8, 14, 26 and 27 August; a month so dull and windless that water on the ground dried slowly. September had 40 mm of rain and was much sunnier so the ground dried quickly, becoming hard enough in places for shells to ricochet and for dust to blow in the breeze. In October 107 mm of rain fell, compared to the 1914–1916 average of 44 mm and from 1–9 November there was 7.5 mm of rain but only nine hours of sunshine and little of the water dried; 13.4 mm of rain fell on 10 November.[10]
  2. ^ 59.1 mm of rain fell from 1–10 August, including 8 mm in a thunderstorm on 8 August.[14]
  3. ^ Aid posts on the east bank were to be arranged once the advance began, so seriously wounded men would have to wait and walking wounded recross the stream to reach Advanced Dressing Stations at Elverdinghe and Cheapside, 5,500–7,000 metres (6,000–7,700 yd) away. Non-walking wounded were to be carried by 200 men from the division reserved as stretcher-bearers, to Gallwitz Farm 2,700 metres (3,000 yd) back, then evacuated by light railway. [31]
  4. ^ The assembly areas were termed Fredericus Rex Raum and Triarier Raum, an analogy with the formation of a Roman legion (hastati, principes and triarii).
  5. ^ From 30 January 1916, each British army had a Royal Flying Corps brigade attached, which was divided into wings, the "corps wing" with squadrons responsible for close reconnaissance, photography and artillery observation on the front of each army corps and an "army wing" which by 1917 conducted long-range reconnaissance and bombing, using the aircraft types with the highest performance.[58]
  6. ^ In 2011 G. Sheffield wrote that Ludendorff was correct to describe the battle as "another great blow". Sheffield called the battle a sobering reminder that military operations can only be judged by considering their effect on both sides.[71]
  7. ^ Falls the 36th Division historian, wrote that on 20 September, the 9th Division attacked Frezenburg behind a slower barrage, halted on intermediate objectives for an hour and that each creeping barrage to successive objectives was slower than the one before. Lines of infantry sections at 20-yard (18 m) intervals leap-frogged, rather than advance in front of mopping up parties and had "complete success".[77]
  8. ^ The German order of battle was: 5th Bavarian (Eingreif), 34th, 214th, 3rd Reserve, 119th, 183rd, 32nd, 9th Bavarian Reserve, 204th, 54th, 12th Reserve (Eingreif), 26th Reserve, 79th Reserve (Eingreif), 26th and 26th Reserve divisions.[80]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Edmonds 1948, pp. 236–319.
  2. ^ Doughty 2005, pp. 379–383.
  3. ^ Edmonds 1948, p. 231.
  4. ^ Edmonds 1948, pp. 219–230.
  5. ^ Edmonds 1948, p. 190.
  6. ^ Sheffield 2011, p. 233.
  7. ^ Hamilton 1990, p. 360.
  8. ^ Hamilton 1990, pp. 369–370.
  9. ^ Liddle 1997, pp. 147–148.
  10. ^ Liddle 1997, pp. 149–151.
  11. ^ Edmonds 1948, pp. 180–182.
  12. ^ Falls 1922, p. 121.
  13. ^ Edmonds 1948, pp. 183–184 & 189–190.
  14. ^ McCarthy 1995, pp. 7–39.
  15. ^ Moorhouse 2003, pp. 146–148.
  16. ^ Moorhouse 2003, pp. 148–149.
  17. ^ a b Edmonds 1948, p. 184.
  18. ^ McCarthy 1995, p. 39.
  19. ^ Edmonds 1948, p. 188.
  20. ^ a b Edmonds 1948, p. 189.
  21. ^ Edmonds 1948, p. 191.
  22. ^ Dudley Ward 1921, p. 155.
  23. ^ Bax & Boraston 1926, p. 142.
  24. ^ Edmonds 1948, pp. 190–191.
  25. ^ Dudley Ward 1921, pp. 154–159.
  26. ^ Bax & Boraston 1926, pp. 142–143.
  27. ^ Edmonds 1948, pp. 191–192.
  28. ^ Edmonds 1948, p. 195.
  29. ^ a b Edmonds 1948, pp. 194–195.
  30. ^ Edmonds 1948, p. 199.
  31. ^ Moorhouse 2003, p. 151.
  32. ^ Moorhouse 2003, pp. 149–150.
  33. ^ Moorhouse 2003, p. 150.
  34. ^ a b c d Edmonds 1948, p. 201.
  35. ^ Edmonds 1948, p. 143.
  36. ^ Sheldon 2007, pp. 99–100.
  37. ^ Wynne 1939, p. 292.
  38. ^ Wynne 1939, p. 297.
  39. ^ Wynne 1939, p. 288.
  40. ^ Wynne 1939, p. 290.
  41. ^ Samuels 1995, p. 193.
  42. ^ Sheldon 2007, pp. 101–104.
  43. ^ Sheldon 2007, pp. 95–100.
  44. ^ McCarthy 1995, pp. 39–66.
  45. ^ Dudley Ward 1921, pp. 156–158.
  46. ^ Dudley Ward 1921, pp. 158–159.
  47. ^ a b Bax & Boraston 1926, p. 146.
  48. ^ Edmonds 1948, pp. 195–196.
  49. ^ Edmonds 1948, p. 196.
  50. ^ McCarthy 1995, p. 52.
  51. ^ a b McCarthy 1995, pp. 53–55.
  52. ^ McCarthy 1995, p. 55.
  53. ^ Edmonds 1948, pp. 200–201 & sketch 19.
  54. ^ The Times 1918, pp. 362–363.
  55. ^ a b c The Times 1918, p. 364.
  56. ^ a b c The Times 1918, p. 365.
  57. ^ The Times 1918, p. 367.
  58. ^ Jones 1928, pp. 147–148.
  59. ^ a b Jones 1934, pp. 172–175.
  60. ^ a b c Edmonds 1948, p. 193.
  61. ^ Jones 1934, pp. 175–179.
  62. ^ Dudley Ward 1921, p. 158.
  63. ^ Dudley Ward 1921, p. 159.
  64. ^ a b Edmonds 1948, p. 194.
  65. ^ Bax & Boraston 1926, pp. 146–147.
  66. ^ Bax & Boraston 1926, pp. 148–149.
  67. ^ Edmonds 1948, pp. 193–194.
  68. ^ Edmonds 1948, pp. 196–197.
  69. ^ Edmonds 1948, p. 197.
  70. ^ Terraine 1977, p. 232.
  71. ^ Sheffield 2011, p. 237.
  72. ^ Moorhouse 2003, pp. 162–164.
  73. ^ Edmonds 1948, p. 202.
  74. ^ Edmonds 1948, sketch 18.
  75. ^ Bax & Boraston 1926, p. 153.
  76. ^ Falls 1922, pp. 122–124.
  77. ^ Falls 1922, p. 124.
  78. ^ Wise 1981, p. 424.
  79. ^ Dudley Ward 1921, pp. 160–161.
  80. ^ US WD 1920.
  81. ^ a b Nicholson 1962, p. 308.
  82. ^ McCarthy 1995, pp. 66–69.
  83. ^ Edmonds 1948, p. 209.
  84. ^ McRandle & Quirk 2006, pp. 667–701.
  85. ^ Sheldon 2007, p. 119.
  86. ^ Reichsarchiv 1942, p. 69.
  87. ^ Sheldon 2007, p. 120.
  88. ^ Gillon 1925, p. 133.
  89. ^ Williams-Ellis & Williams-Ellis 1919, p. 151.
  90. ^ Fuller 1920, p. 122.
  91. ^ Fuller 1920, pp. 122–123.
  92. ^ McCarthy 1995, pp. 55–58.
  93. ^ a b Rogers 2010, pp. 162–164.
  94. ^ Miles 1920, pp. 178–179.
  95. ^ a b Maude 1922, p. 107.
  96. ^ Stewart & Buchan 1926, pp. 181–182.
  97. ^ Stewart & Buchan 1926, pp. 182–183.
  98. ^ Williams-Ellis & Williams-Ellis 1919, p. 152.
  99. ^ Stewart & Buchan 1926, pp. 183–184.
  100. ^ a b McCarthy 1995, pp. 57–59.
  101. ^ Edmonds 1948, p. 203 & sketch 20.
  102. ^ Miles 1920, p. 179.
  103. ^ Miles 1920, p. 180.
  104. ^ Rogers 2010, p. 164.
  105. ^ Miles 1920, p. 181.
  106. ^ Stewart & Buchan 1926, p. 185.
  107. ^ a b McCarthy 1995, pp. 60–61.
  108. ^ Edmonds 1948, p. 203.
  109. ^ Jones 1934, pp. 179–180.
  110. ^ Rogers 2010, pp. 164–167.
  111. ^ Sandilands 1925, pp. 169–170.
  112. ^ Munby 1920, p. 27.
  113. ^ McCarthy 1995, pp. 62–63.
  114. ^ Edmonds 1948, p. 208.

References[edit]

Books
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  • Die Kriegführung im Sommer und Herbst 1917. Die Ereignisse außerhalb der Westfront bis November 1918. Der Weltkrieg 1914 bis 1918: Militärischen Operationen zu Lande XIII (Die digitale landesbibliotek Oberösterreich 2013 ed.). Berlin: Mittler. 1942. OCLC 257129831. Retrieved 15 November 2012. 
  • Doughty, R. A. (2005). Pyrrhic Victory: French Strategy and Operations in the Great War. Cambridge Mass: Belknap Harvard. ISBN 0-674-01880-X. 
  • Dudley Ward, C. H. (1921). The Fifty Sixth Division 1914–1918 (1st London Territorial Division) (Naval and Military Press 2001 ed.). London: Murray. ISBN 1-84342-111-9. 
  • Edmonds, J. E. (1948). France and Belgium 1917: 7th June – 10th November. Messines and Third Ypres (Passchendaele). History of the Great War Based on Official Documents by Direction of the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence II (Imperial War Museum and Battery Press 1991 ed.). London: HMSO. ISBN 0-89839-166-0. 
  • Falls, C. (1922). The History of the 36th (Ulster) Division (Constable 1996 ed.). Belfast: McCaw, Stevenson & Orr. ISBN 0-09-476630-4. 
  • Fuller, J. F. C. (1920). Tanks in the Great War, 1914–1918. New York: E. P. Dutton. OCLC 559096645. Retrieved 28 March 2014. 
  • Gillon, S. (1925). The Story of the 29th Division, A record of Gallant Deeds (N & M Press 2002 ed.). London: Thomas Nelson. ISBN 1-84342-265-4. 
  • Hamilton, R. (1990). The War Diary of the Master of Belhaven. Barnsley: Wharncliffe. ISBN 1-871647-04-5. 
  • Jones, H. A. (1928). The War in the Air, Being the Story of the Part Played in the Great War by the Royal Air Force II (N & M Press 2002 ed.). London: Clarendon Press. ISBN 1-84342-413-4. Retrieved 20 September 2014. 
  • Jones, H. A. (1934). The War in the Air, Being the Part Played in the Great War by the Royal Air Force IV (N & M Press 2002 ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 1-84342-415-0. Retrieved 20 September 2014. 
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  • Maude, A. H. (1922). The 47th (London) Division 1914–1919. London: Amalgamated Press. ISBN 1-84342-205-0. Retrieved 23 March 2014. 
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  • Moorhouse, B. (2003). Forged By Fire: The Battle Tactics and Soldiers of a World War One Battalion: The 7th Somerset Light Infantry. Kent: Spellmount. ISBN 1-86227-191-7. 
  • Munby, J. E. (1920). A History of the 38th (Welsh) Division, by the G. S.O.'s I of the Division (N & M Press 2003 ed.). London: Hugh Rees. ISBN 1-84342-583-1. 
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  • Rogers, D. (ed.) (2010). Landrecies to Cambrai: Case Studies of German Offensive and Defensive Operations on the Western Front 1914–17. Solihull: Helion. ISBN 978-1-906033-76-7. 
  • Samuels, M. (1995). Command or Control? Command, Training and Tactics in the British and German armies 1888–1918. London: Frank Cass. ISBN 0-7146-4214-2. 
  • Sandilands, H. R. (1925). The 23rd Division 1914–1919 (N & M Press 2003 ed.). Edinburgh: Wm. Blackwood. ISBN 1-84342-641-2. 
  • Sheffield, G. (2011). The Chief: Douglas Haig and the British Army. London: Aurum Press. ISBN 978-1-84513-691-8. 
  • Sheldon, J. (2007). The German Army at Passchendaele. London: Pen & Sword. ISBN 1-84415-564-1. 
  • Stewart, J.; Buchan, J. (1926). The Fifteenth (Scottish) Division 1914–1919 (N & M Press 2003 ed.). Edinburgh: Wm. Blackwood and Sons. ISBN 1-84342-639-0. 
  • Terraine, J. (1977). The Road to Passchendaele: The Flanders Offensive 1917, A Study in Inevitability. London: Leo Cooper. ISBN 0-436-51732-9. 
  • The Times History of the War XV. London: The Times. 1914–1921. OCLC 642276. Retrieved 11 November 2013. 
  • United States Army, American Expeditionary Forces, Intelligence Section (1920). Histories of Two Hundred and Fifty-one Divisions of the German Army which Participated in the War (1914–1918). Washington DC: Government Print Office. ISBN 5-87296-917-1. 
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  • Wise, S. F. (1981). Canadian Airmen and the First World War. The Official History of the Royal Canadian Air Force I. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-2379-7. 
  • Wynne, G. C. (1939). If Germany Attacks: The Battle in Depth in the West (Greenwood Press 1976 ed.). London: Faber & Faber. ISBN 0-8371-5029-9. 
Journals

External links[edit]