First Battle of Passchendaele

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Coordinates: 50°54′1″N 3°1′16″E / 50.90028°N 3.02111°E / 50.90028; 3.02111

First Battle of Passchendaele
Part of the Third Battle of Ypres of World War I
Morning a Passchendaele. Frank Hurley.jpg
The morning after the First Battle of Passchendaele
Date 12 October 1917
Location Passendale, Belgium
Result Costly German defensive success
 British Empire

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
5 British
3 Australian
1 New Zealand divisions
Casualties and losses
13,000 11–20 October: 12,000

The First Battle of Passchendaele took place on 12 October 1917 in the Ypres Salient area of the Western Front, west of Passchendaele village, during the Third Battle of Ypres in World War I. The Allied plan to capture Passchendaele village was based on inaccurate information about the result of the previous attack of 9 October, as the period of rainy weather continued. The attack took ground in the north but early gains around Passchendaele were mostly lost to German counter-attacks. The battle was a German defensive success, although costly to both sides.[Note 1] British attacks were postponed until the weather improved and communications behind the front had been restored. Two German divisions intended for Italy were diverted to Flanders, to replace "extraordinarily high" losses.[4]


Tactical developments[edit]

In July 1917, British Field Marshal Douglas Haig began the Third Battle of Ypres campaign, in an attempt to break out of the Ypres Salient. At the Battle of Messines Ridge the far side of the ridge had been captured down to the Oosttaverne Line and a substantial success gained in the subsequent Battle of Pilckem Ridge.[5] At the Battle of Langemarck there was an advance of 1,500 yards (1,400 m) around Langemarck village by XIV Corps. In view of the failure of the British Fifth Army to advance on the Gheluvelt Plateau in August, Haig ordered that artillery reinforcements be added to the south-east along the higher ground of the Gheluvelt plateau, Broodseinde ridge and the southern half of Passchendaele ridge.[6]

The main offensive was switched to the British Second Army under command of General Herbert Plumer, who continued the evolution of bite-and-hold tactics that had been used in July and August. By a succession of attacks with objectives of diminishing distance, with increasing numbers of infantry, behind a bigger multi-layered creeping barrage and with standing barrages on the objective lines during consolidation, German counter-attacks would be confronted by a defence in depth, with infantry in communication with its artillery and with much more local support from the Royal Flying Corps, rather than the former practice of looking to exploit success by occupying vacant ground beyond the final objective.[7] Strictly limited advances at the battles of the Menin Road Ridge, Polygon Wood and Broodseinde produced a 4,000-yard (3,700 m) advance in two weeks, heavy German casualties and a search by the German high command for a remedy to the refined British attacking methods.[8] The British attacks from 4 October put severe strain on the German defence and Generalleutnant Hermann von Kuhl, Chief of Staff of Army Group Crown Prince Rupprecht, later claimed that conditions in the field were much worse for the Germans and that sickness had put further strain on manpower.[9]

Passchendaele weather
(October 1917)
Date Rain
10 October 2.5 48 cloudy
11 October 4.9 50 cloudy
12 October 7.9 55 cloudy
Weather data from
McCarthy, C. Passchendaele:
The day-by-day Account

In the lower ground west of the Passchendaele Ridge, three months of constant shelling had blocked the watercourses that normally provided drainage. On the night of 4 October it began to rain and continued intermittently for the next three days. Much of the battlefield again became a quagmire, making movement extremely difficult.[11] Had the German defence collapsed during the attack on the first objective at the Battle of Poelcappelle on 9 October, the reserve brigades of II Anzac Corps were to have passed through later in the day to continue the attack.[12] On 7 October the afternoon attack, which was to have reached the far side of Passchendaele village and the Goudberg spur to the north, was cancelled by Haig because of the heavy rain. The final plan for the attack of 12 October was decided on the evening of 9 October.[13] Plumer had received misleading information about the progress of the attack that day and believed that "a sufficiently good jumping-off line" had been achieved, passing the erroneous information back to Haig.[14][Note 2] The decision was made to continue the offensive, to gain more favourable winter positions on higher ground, to assist the French with their attack due at Malmaison on 23 October and to hold German troops in Flanders during the preparations of the offensive at Cambrai.[11]


British offensive preparations[edit]

Field gun being moved.

Encouraged by the unusually high German losses during the Battle of Broodseinde and reports of lowered German morale, Haig sought quickly to renew the Allied offensive and secure Passchendaele Ridge, as British Intelligence indicated that the German forces opposite Ypres were close to collapse.[16] The Battle of Poelcappelle began on 9 October and was costly to both sides; most of the ground captured opposite Passchendaele, was lost later in the day to German counter-attacks.[17] News of this German defensive success was delayed in reaching the higher British commanders, because the usual collapse of communications during an attack was exacerbated by the rain and mud.[Note 3] German artillery fire had become much heavier, as British counter-battery artillery fire had declined after 4 October. Guns had sunk in the mud, bogged down moving forward and run short of ammunition. Late on 9 October, Plumer erroneously informed Haig that II Anzac Corps had reached the first objective, which was a good jumping-off position for the attack due on 12 October.[14]

The 3rd Australian and the New Zealand divisions relieved the 66th and 49th divisions on the night of 10/11 October. Patrols discovered that the 49th Division had reached the Wallemolen spur east of the Ravebeek creek but that the advance beyond had been stopped by new barbed wire entanglements around the Flandern I line; the 66th Division was found to be back near its start line of 9 October.[19] The New Zealand Division had to make hurried preparations behind the front line, to restore communications and reconnoitre the ground, because the information available from the 49th Division was insufficient. Attempts were made to evacuate wounded but some were still stranded in no-man's-land when the attack began on 12 October.[20] Many field guns needed for the attack were still bogged down in the mud; other field guns had been placed on improvised platforms, when their new sites had proved impossible to reach and fired slowly and inaccurately or sank into the mud.[21] A German bombardment took place on the morning of 11 October and later in the day the British shelled the German defences on Wallemolen spur, to little effect. Some progress had been made in the building of plank roads since the attack on 9 October and a few more guns had reached their new positions by 12 October.[17] The Commander Royal Artillery of the New Zealand Division, reported that adequate artillery support for his division could not be guaranteed.[22]

Plumer discovered that the line near Passchendaele had hardly changed and that the main reason for the failure on 9 October was uncut barbed wire 30 yards (27 m) deep, in front of the pillboxes at the hamlet of Bellevue on Wallemolen spur.[23] The New Zealand Division commander, Major-General Andrew Russell, later wrote that accurate information had arrived 24 hours too late to ask for a postponement or radically to alter the barrage plan and unit orders.[24][23][Note 4] The true position of the front line, meant that the planned advance of 1,500 yards (1,400 m) was actually 2,000–2,500 yards (1,800–2,300 m).[26] The opening barrage line planned for the 3rd Australian Division was moved back 350 yards (320 m) but this still required the infantry to advance for 500 yards (460 m) to reach it.[27] Duckboard tracks had been extended to the line held on 9 October, which allowed infantry to move up on the night of 11 October in time for the attack, despite rain and a German gas bombardment on Gravenstafel spur. High winds and heavy rain began about zero hour (5:25 a.m.) and lasted all day.[28]

Plan of attack[edit]

Allied artillery barrage map.

The II Anzac Corps and the Second Army headquarters were misinformed as to the extent of the advance achieved on 9 October. The objectives set for 12 October required an advance of 2,000–2,500 yards (1,800–2,300 m) to the final objective, rather than the intended 1,000–1,500-yard (910–1,370 m).[29] The I Anzac Corps with the 4th and 5th Australian divisions, in place of the exhausted 1st and 2nd Australian divisions, was to provide a flank guard to the south.[30] The I Anzac Corps was to advance across the Keiberg Spur and dig in on the flank of the main assault, at the first and second objective lines only, 1,200 yards (1,100 m) and 880 yards (800 m) forward.[31]

The main attack was to be undertaken by the Second Army, with the 3rd Australian Division and the New Zealand Division of the II Anzac Corps, on a front of 3,000 yards (2,700 m).[30] The 3rd Australian Division would attack Passchendaele ridge and the village and the New Zealand Division was to capture the Bellevue Spur.[32] The first objective (Red Line) was practically the same as the second objective of the attack on 9 October, 1,200 yards (1,100 m) forward, beyond the Bellevue pillboxes. The second objective (Blue Line) was 880 yards (800 m) beyond, at the junction of the Wallemolen Spur and was the jumping-off line for the attack on the village of Passchendaele. The final objective (Green Line) lay 400 yards (370 m) beyond the village.[32]

Although short of fresh troops, the Fifth Army was to establish the northern flank of the main attack. In the XVIII Corps area, the 26th Brigade of the 9th Division was to advance 2,000 yards (1,800 m) to the ridge north of the Goudberg re-entrant and the 55th Brigade of the 18th Division was to attack for a similar distance north of the Lekkerboterbeek. In the XIV Corps area, the 12th Brigade of the 4th Division, the 51st Brigade of the 17th Division and the 3rd Guards Brigade of the Guards Division, were to advance beyond Poelcappelle and close up to Houthoulst Forest on the boundary with the French First Army.[33]

In the New Zealand Division sector, the two attacking brigades each had a machine-gun company and three other machine-gun companies were to fire a machine-gun barrage. The division had the nominal support of one-hundred and forty-four 18-pounder field guns and forty-eight 4.5 inch howitzers. The artillery was expected to move forward after the final objective was gained, to bombard German-held ground from positions 1,000–2,000 yards (910–1,830 m) beyond Passchendaele village.[34] On the southern flank, the I Anzac Corps was to capture ground south of the Ypres–Roulers railway along with attacks by X Corps and IX Corps.[21]

German defensive preparations[edit]

After their defensive success on 9 October, the Germans had brought fresh divisions into the line but the tempo of British operations caused considerable anxiety among German commanders.[35] The 18th Division took over in the Poelcappelle area; on a 1,000-metre (1,100 yd) front, the division had seventeen heavy machine-guns, with large numbers of MG 08/15 machine-guns distributed among its infantry companies.[36] Ludendorff's defensive changes had been implemented in some parts of the front, despite a certain reluctance among some of the local commanders. Outposts beyond the German advanced defensive zone (Vorfeld) were to hold the front line in enough strength to stop the British from sapping forward but were to withdraw to the main line at the rear of the Vorfeld when attacked and signal to the artillery for barrage fire, with rockets and Verey lights. The German artillery would be able to place a barrage in front of the main line of resistance before the British infantry reached it. Eingreif divisions were if possible, to be held back.[37]

Rupprecht was doubtful about the changes, especially instructions for more counter-battery fire, since he had used all his artillery to engage British infantry. An anticipated French attack on the Chemin des Dames, meant that fewer reinforcements could be expected by the Fourth Army, making a fighting withdrawal the only possible response to the British attacks. A decline had set in among the German troops and all attempts to counter the British artillery had failed, requiring that a retreat would be far enough back to force the British into a laborious artillery redeployment.[38] After being postponed from 2 October due to delays in the transport of ammunition, Operation Mondnacht took place at midnight on 11/12 October. A strip of ground from Messines to Dixmude was bombarded with gas, which high winds dispersed with little ill-effect on Allied troops.[17]


Main attack - Second Army[edit]

Bellevue Ridge, November 1918. (George Edmund Butler)

Rain fell all night on 11/12 October, with only one dry interval during the day. The Germans opposite the New Zealanders had been alert all night, sending up many flares and conducting an artillery bombardment on the New Zealand front line at 5:00 a.m., which hit the New Zealand trench mortar personnel and destroyed their ammunition.[39][Note 5] The 12th Brigade of the 4th Australian Division, advanced on time at 5:25 a.m. but saw no infantry from the 3rd Australian Division beyond the railway. The brigade captured the Keiberg cutting and consolidated, along with the rest of the first objective, although with many casualties.[41] The 9th Brigade of the 3rd Australian Division, managed to reach the first objective and the battalion due to advance to the second objective went straight on. As soon as those troops began to descend from a slight rise, they were engaged by German field and heavy artillery. The brigade kept going to the second objective, although part of the advance remained bogged down short of the first objective. The 10th Brigade of the 3rd Australian Division, suffered many losses from machine-guns in pillboxes. The brigade reached a fold in the ground near the first objective which gave some cover, despite increasing machine-gun fire from the Bellevue pillboxes in the New Zealand Division area.[42]

The New Zealand advance was obstructed by uncut barbed wire on the Wallemolen spur; the creeping barrage was very thin, as some guns were bogged and others had been knocked out by German artillery. The creeping barrage diminished as it moved forward and howitzer shells, plunging into wet ground around the Bellevue pillboxes exploded harmlessly.[42] The German artillery fired all the way to the rear of the New Zealand divisional area and machine-gun barrages from the German pillboxes raked the advance.[42] The division captured the cemetery at Wallemolen and reached Wolf Copse, the right of the advance stopping on the rise from Marsh Bottom astride the Ravebeek. North of the Gravenstafel–Metcheele road, the division gained some ground but was stopped by belts of barbed wire 25–50 yards (23–46 m) deep and were swept by machine-gun fire.[42][39] The infantry tried to cut their way through the Flandern I wire on the Wallemolen spur and small numbers of troops got through both belts but were then stopped by more wire close around the German pillboxes and killed.[39] Further south the New Zealand Division captured two pillboxes, with help from 3rd Australian Division troops in the area. An advance began up the northern slope of the Ravebeek but broke down quickly around Laamkeek.[39] At 8:00 a.m. the surviving New Zealand infantry were ordered to dig-in.[39]

The advance of the Australians towards the second objective began at 8:25 a.m. but the 10th Brigade had suffered too many casualties to advance and dug-in to wait for reinforcements.[43] One party from the 10th Brigade kept going and arrived at the pillbox near Crest Farm, whose occupants promptly surrendered. The party then advanced into Passchendaele village, before German troops rallied and re-occupied the pillbox.[43] Small groups from the 12th Brigade got across the Keiberg spur with many losses.[41] The 12th Brigade repulsed two German counter-attacks between 3:00 p.m. and 4.00 p.m.[41] An attempt was made to use the reserve battalion of the 9th Brigade to outflank the Bellevue pillboxes, combined with a new attack by the New Zealand Division around 3:00 p.m. The attack was eventually cancelled, as the 9th Division to the north and the 3rd Australian Division to the south were forced back by the fire of the Bellevue machine-guns. The artillery bombardment went ahead, dropping on some New Zealand positions but also dispersing two German parties massing for a counter-attack.[44] By 3:30 p.m. the 10th Brigade had filtered back to its start-line, due to fire from Bellevue.[41] The 9th Brigade was exposed by this retirement and fell back from the second objective in the face of artillery, machine-gun and sniper fire, with many losses.[41] In the evening most of the New Zealand Division withdrew to a line on the lower slopes of the Wallemolen spur.[44]

Northern flank - Fifth Army[edit]

Passchendaele Ridge, 1917

Flank protection for the main attack was provided by single brigades of the 9th and 18th divisions of XVIII Corps, attacking from north of Goudberg to north of the Lekkerboterbeek. The 26th Brigade of the 9th Division was to advance 2,000 yards (1,800 m) on a 1,500-yard (1,400 m) front, with its left flank on the Lekkerboterbeek, into an area dotted with fortified farm buildings. The division was hampered by the effect of rain and mud on supply routes, which stranded guns and caused shortages of ammunition, particularly in smoke shells. Midnight on 11 October brought torrential rain and a German gas and high explosive barrage on the divisional forming-up areas. The wide front left numerous gaps in the line, as the 26th Brigade advanced behind a barrage moving at 100 yards (91 m) in eight minutes, assisted by a machine-gun barrage from 16 x Vickers guns. The creeping barrage began at 5:35 a.m. and was described as "thin and ragged".[45]

The advancing troops lost direction and communication broke down, as carrier pigeons were retarded by the high wind and messenger-dog handlers became casualties. The infantry continued their advance and on the right captured Adler Farm and reached the green line at Source Trench. In the centre, the attackers had to dig in 100 yards (91 m) forward. Small parties reached Source Trench and some may have advanced as far as Vat Cottages. On the left of the brigade, the ground was even worse, the infantry lost the barrage and direction but captured a pillbox and moved further on. Some of the troops on the left flank inadvertently crossed the Lekkerboterbeek, advanced 80 yards (73 m) and then formed a flank with troops from the 18th Division. Except on the right flank, the attack was stopped by the Germans only 100 yards (91 m) from the start line, despite the 27th Brigade being sent to reinforce the attack; some British infantry were drowned in shell-holes. The new front line ran from the junction with the New Zealand Division at the Cemetery near Wallemolen, to Oxford Houses then back to the old front line.[45]

The 55th Brigade of the 18th Division attacked north of the Lekkerboterbeek, over ground soaked after rain all day on 11 October. A low-flying German aircraft had reconnoitred the area, so the position of the jumping-off line was altered, to avoid a possible German counter-barrage, as the brigade formed up for the advance. The divisional field artillery suffered the same fate as those of the divisions to the south, many guns sinking into the soft ground. The barrage began at 5:20 a.m. and the infantry advanced in "snake formation". A German counter-barrage began within a minute and as British troops took cover, German machine-gunners fired at the crater lips of shell-holes, bullets passing through to hit the soldiers sheltering inside. The effect of the German barrage was worst on the right and added to machine-gun fire from the Brewery and Helles House strong-points; the situation at Requette Farm was not known as all runners sent from the area were killed. Mud clogged weapons of all types and at 11:00 a.m., a trench-mortar battery and some supporting machine-guns had to cease fire, because of wet and dirty ammunition. At noon German counter-attacks towards the west end of Poelcappelle began and lasted all afternoon, the Germans trying to exploit a gap with the 4th Division on the left; shell-hole posts were improvised and held by the survivors of the British attack. Rain fell in a deluge as it grew dark; the divisional history called the attack a "dismal fizzle".[46]

The XIV Corps divisions had much better artillery and machine-gun barrages. The 12th Brigade of the 4th Division met little resistance on the left, advancing next to the 17th Division and digging in at Memling Farm.[47] On the right it was held back by the check to the 18th Division, the new front line curving back through Besace Farm to west of Helles House, south-west of Requette Farm, north of Poelcappelle.[48] The 51st Brigade of the 17th Division was to advance for 1,600 yards (1,500 m) astride the Ypres–Staden railway, to meet the left of the 4th Division near Poelcappelle and the right flank of the Guards Division 400 yards (370 m) north of the railway, which would be facing north. After dark on 11 October, tapes were laid beyond the front line, for the troops to form up on beyond a possible German counter-barrage; to avoid detection, scouts patrolled further forward, ambushing German patrols. The British artillery barrage began at 5:25 a.m. and the German counter-barrage was slow to begin, falling mostly behind the attacking waves. The creeping barrage moved at a very slow rate of 100 yards (91 m) in ten minutes, through the waste of mud and shell-holes in two 300-yard (270 m) bounds towards Schaap Baillie. North of the railway the advance veered slightly towards the railway embankment, to avoid a German strong-point which caused many casualties, losing touch with the Guards Division as it did.[49]

South of the railway, astride the Broombeek and Watervlietbeek, several farm strong-points, pillboxes and shell-hole positions were overrun, as the infantry were able to keep up close to the slow barrage; 90 shell-shocked German occupants of a strong-point, surrendered to three men and a box of pigeons. The first objective was reached by 8:00 a.m., despite a number of German reinforcements arriving through the British artillery barrages, to join the front garrisons. The final objective was reached at 11:00 a.m. and a defensive flank was thrown back from Memling Farm at the final objective on the right flank, to meet troops on the left of the 4th Division who occupied the new line, bent back from Memling Farm towards Requette Farm, north of Poelcappelle at the junction with the 18th Division, which had been held back by fire from Poelcappelle. By noon the advance was complete, 218 prisoners had been taken and no German counter-attack followed, resistance being limited to a small amount of rifle fire.[50] That night the division co-operated with the Guards on the left to close a gap north of the railway line.[51]

Troops of the 3rd Guards Brigade of the Guards Division moved up on the night of 11 October, through heavy rain and a German gas barrage (Operation Mondnacht) which caused many casualties in this part of the front. The British creeping barrage began at 5:25 a.m. in rain that lasted all day and although "ragged", the 3rd Guards Brigade made a short advance, took the higher ground on the edge of Houthoulst Forest and cut off the rest of the spur running north-east from Veldhoek. Touch with the 17th Division was lost on the right, as the contact aircraft observing the advance failed to see the left flank formation of the 17th Division veer to the right. After dark the Guards and the 17th Division closed the gap by capturing German pillboxes at Angle Point and Aden House. On 13 October the Guards Division patrolled vigorously against German opposition, which was limited to extensive sniping.[52]

Air operations[edit]

DFW C.V., a German reconnaissance aircraft

Low-altitude machine-gun and bomb attacks were made by 41 pilots, 27 contact and counter-attack patrols were flown and 124 zone-calls were sent to engage German machine-gun nests, troops, artillery and transport.[Note 6] At 1:20 p.m. German troops were seen by air observers east and south-east of Passchendaele village and bombarded by British artillery. No big German counter-attacks ensued, although this was felt to be because of the success of the German front-holding divisions. Aircraft observers made calls for 26 artillery batteries to engaged for destruction and 37 for neutralisation. Four bombing raids on encampments and railway stations were flown, eight reconnaissance flights were made beyond the battlefront and in twelve dogfights, British squadrons lost fourteen aircraft; five crew members returned wounded.[54]

German Fourth Army[edit]

The 18th Division held the line opposite Poelcappelle and retained most of its area but needed all of its reserves and incurred considerable casualties. The German command considered that the Allied advance in the north, was less dangerous than that towards Flandern II, between Passchendaele and Drogenbroodhoek. One division was moved to Morslede and another to the area between Westrozebeke and Stadenberg, either side of Passchendaele.[55]



Front line after First Battle of Passchendaele, 12 October 1917

The German defence on 12 October was more effective than expected, although the 195th Division at Passchendaele had so many casualties (3,325) from 9–12 October, that it had to be relieved by the 238th Division.[56] Ludendorff changed his mind about the prospect of retaining Passchendaele Ridge, believing that the British had only fourteen days before the weather made attacks impossible and ordered Rupprecht to stand fast.[57] At a conference on 18 October, Hermann von Kuhl advocated a retreat as far to the east as possible; Sixt von Armin the Fourth Army commander and his chief of staff, Colonel Fritz von Lossberg preferred to fight to hold their remaining defences in Flandern I and Flandern II, because the ground beyond the Passchendaele watershed was untenable, even in winter.[58]

The British attack was costly for both sides, captured more ground than the attack of 9 October and the British took more than 1,000 prisoners.[59] British artillery support was inadequate, due the amount of field artillery out of action and the vast increase in mud, which smothered high-explosive shell-detonations. The weather from 4–12 October also prevented counter-battery fire and little was achieved by the heavier guns.[12] On 13 October it was decided to stop the offensive until better weather returned and roads and tracks had been repaired, to ensure that deliberate attacks with a greater quantity of artillery support could be resumed. Operations were to continue to reach a suitable line for the winter and to keep German attention on Flanders, to help the French attack due on 23 October and the Third Army operation south of Arras due in mid-November (the Battle of Cambrai).[60] The Canadian Corps relieved the II Anzac Corps on 18 October, in the depression between Gravenstafel Ridge and the heights at Passchendaele. The captured ground made a slightly better starting line for the Second Battle of Passchendaele, which began on 26 October.[61]


Ludendorff divided the Third Battle of Ypres into five periods. In the "Fourth Battle of Flanders", from 2–21 October he described German "wastage" as "extraordinarily high".[4] Hindenburg claimed later that he waited with great anxiety for the wet season.[62] In Der Weltkrieg (1942) the German Official Historians recorded 12,000 casualties, including 2,000 missing for the period 11–20 October.[63] The 4th Australian Division lost c. 1,000 casualties and the 3rd Australian Division c. 3,199 casualties.[64] From 9–12 October, the German 195th Division lost 3,395 casualties.[65] There were 2,735 New Zealand casualties, 845 of whom were killed or mortally wounded and stranded in no-man's-land.[42] Calculations of German losses by J. E. Edmonds, the British Official Historian, have been severely criticised for adding 30% to German casualty figures, to account for different methods of calculation.[66] The New Zealand Memorial to the Missing at Tyne Cot, commemorates New Zealanders killed during the Battle of Broodseinde and the First Battle of Passchendaele, who have no known grave. The death toll made this the worst day in New Zealand history.[67]

Subsequent operations[edit]

On 14 October a German attack captured a post on the IX Corps front in the 37th Division area. Next day patrols from the 9th Division (XVIII Corps) found Varlet Farm occupied. After a 48-hour bombardment, an attack at 5:25 a.m. on 20 October, by two battalions of the 18th Division reached a German headquarters west of Poelcappelle church. On 21 October, wire-cutting began on the Fifth and Second Army fronts; under cover of the bombardment, 18th Division platoons moved forward on the night of 21 October and dug shallow trenches, which saved many casualties from a German counter-bombardment, after a ruined farm behind the jumping-off places caught fire and silhouetted the troops during a gas bombardment. On 22 October, in the British 9th Division sector to the south, the XVIII Corps Cyclist Battalion conducted a feint, using dummy figures to assist an attack by the 9th Division, which captured the Brewery strong-point quickly.[68] The attack was resumed at 7:30 a.m. through the village, taking Noble's Farm, Meunier House and then Tracas Farm, a total advance of 1,000 yards (910 m). At 5:00 p.m. a German counter-attack was stopped short of Noble's Farm with many casualties.[69] In the XIV Corps area, two brigades of the 34th Division attacked at 5:35 a.m., the right-hand brigade taking their objectives and also Requette Farm in the 18th Division area. The left brigade advanced until close to a row of pillboxes, which were thought to have been captured and was cut down. Reinforcements were stopped at the Broombeek due to flooding and a heavy German barrage.[70]

Northern flank of the Ypres battlefield, 1917

Next to the 35th Division the attack reached Six Roads, where covering fire was used as the troops to the right tried to outflank the pillboxes but uncut wire stopped the attack; a counter-attack then forced them back to the east of Egypt House. A two-brigade attack by the 35th Division was made at the same time. The right brigade reached the first objective easily, then the advance was stopped by machine-gun fire. Further to the left Colombo House was captured, the final objective on Conter Drive was reached at 6:45 a.m. and some ground beyond Angle Point and Aden House was then captured. The left brigade captured Marechal Farm on its right flank but the attack in the centre was stopped by machine-gun fire, 500 yards (460 m) north west of Colombo House. On the left Panama House was captured and the final objective reached by 7:45 a.m. A German counter-attack forced a retreat to the start line by one battalion but was then caught by British artillery fire and forced under cover.[70] On 21 October German positions from the Corverbeek to the Wallemolen Spur had been subjected to an intense bombardment of high-explosive, shrapnel and gas shell. A regiment of the French 1st Division prepared to attack on a 1,100-yard (1,000 m) front, as the Fifth Army on the right prepared for the main part of the operation. The evening was dry until after midnight, when it began to rain and a thick mist rose and it became impossible to see more than a few yards by the time the advance began just before 6:00 a.m. on 22 October. Despite a drying wind for several days, the ground in most places was a morass.[71]

The German 40th Division and elements of the 58th Division held the line opposite the French north of Mangelaere, where the French 1st Division had to capture a number of redoubts and the ruins of Jean Bart Farm. The preliminary French artillery bombardment was so effective, that the French objectives were quickly taken and the French joined in the attack east of Veldhoek, where they helped the British to reduce a number of pillboxes. Some resistance was encountered at Panama Farm, north-east of Veldhoek, which was soon overcome and with few casualties the French, often up to their waists in water, reached the fringes of Houthulst Forest, 1,100 yards (1,000 m) from the jumping-off point and captured two field guns and several prisoners.[71] On the evening of 23 October, the seventh German counter-attack since the operation began was made at the junction of the French and British armies and was a costly failure, as was another counter-attack on the evening of 24 October, at the southern outskirts of Houthulst Forest.[72] In the operations at Poelcappelle by the 18th and 34th divisions and at Houthoulst Forest by the British 35th and French 1st Division, 125 prisoners were taken and the Fifth Army had 479 casualties.[73]

See also[edit]

Victoria Cross[edit]


  1. ^ In the worst weather conditions of the campaign, which occurred in the five weeks after the Battle of Broodseinde, the number of troops engaged by the British amounted to no more than those involved in the Battle of Pilckem Ridge on 31 July.[1] On 26 October 34 battalions took part in the attack, on 30 October 12¼ battalions, on 6 November 10 battalions, on 10 November 11 battalions, on 2 December 10 battalions and the New Zealand attack on Polderhoek Château during 3 December was made by two battalions.[2] British losses in October 1917 were the third highest of the war after July 1916 and April 1917, demonstrating that refraining from attacks did not avoid high losses in the salient.[3]
  2. ^ On 7 October, Gough and Plumer apparently told Haig that they favoured ending the campaign, because of the return of poor weather and general state of the battlefield, according to the British Official Historian. Prior and Wilson wrote in 1996 that this meeting does not appear in contemporary records and doubted that it took place.[15]
  3. ^ C. E. W. Bean, the Australian Official Historian, held the II Anzac Corps commander Godley and his staff responsible for failing to find out the true state of events, despite there being time to do this before the coming attack.[18]
  4. ^ In 1941 the Australian Official Historian Charles Bean, attributed the delay to inefficiency by Lieutenant-General Alexander Godley, the II Anzac Corps commander and his staff, as did Pugsley in 1997.[25]
  5. ^ British Expeditionary Force time went back one hour to Greenwich Mean Time on 8 October, the attack beginning at 6.25 a.m. British Summer Time. The progression of the season can be seen in the changes of zero hour relative to British Summer Time. Messines, 7 June 3:10 a.m., Pilckem Ridge, 31 July 3:50 a.m., Gheluvelt Plateau, 10 August 4:35 a.m., Langemark, 16 August 4:45 a.m., Menin Road, 20 September 5:40 a.m., Polygon Wood, 26 September 5:50 a.m., Broodseinde, 4 October 6:00 a.m., Poelcappelle, 9 October 6:20 a.m. and First Passchendaele, 12 October 6:25 a.m.[40]
  6. ^ "Zones" were based on lettered squares of the army 1:40,000 map; each map square was divided into four sections 3,000 yards (2,700 m) square. The observer used a call-sign of the map square letter then the zone letter to signal to the artillery. All guns and howitzers up to 6 inches (150 mm) able to bear on the target, opened rapid fire using corrections of aim from the air observer.[53]


  1. ^ Davidson 1953, p. 67.
  2. ^ Lo Cicero 2011, p. 370.
  3. ^ Bourne & Sheffield 2005, p. 335.
  4. ^ a b Terraine 1977, p. 301.
  5. ^ Sheffield 2011, p. 233.
  6. ^ Edmonds 1948, p. 205.
  7. ^ Edmonds 1948, p. 462.
  8. ^ Bean 1941, p. 875.
  9. ^ Davidson 1953, p. 38.
  10. ^ McCarthy 1995, pp. 112–113.
  11. ^ a b Nicholson 1962, p. 311.
  12. ^ a b Edmonds 1948, p. 341.
  13. ^ Bean 1941, p. 908.
  14. ^ a b Edmonds 1948, p. 338.
  15. ^ Prior & Wilson 1996, p. 160.
  16. ^ Beach 2004, p. 222.
  17. ^ a b c Edmonds 1948, p. 340.
  18. ^ Bean 1941, pp. 901–902.
  19. ^ Edmonds 1948, pp. 228–229.
  20. ^ Stewart 1921, pp. 277–280.
  21. ^ a b Stewart 1921, p. 278.
  22. ^ Edmonds 1948, p. 339.
  23. ^ a b Bean 1941, p. 906.
  24. ^ Liddle 1997, pp. 272–291.
  25. ^ Liddle 1997, pp. 281–283.
  26. ^ Bean 1941, p. 902.
  27. ^ Bean 1941, p. 907.
  28. ^ a b Edmonds 1948, p. 342.
  29. ^ Stewart 1921, p. 279.
  30. ^ a b Bean 1941, p. 901.
  31. ^ Bean 1941, pp. 909–910.
  32. ^ a b Bean 1941, p. 909.
  33. ^ Edmonds 1948, pp. 343–344.
  34. ^ Stewart 1921, pp. 279–280.
  35. ^ Sheldon 2007, p. 228.
  36. ^ Sheldon 2007, p. 230.
  37. ^ Sheldon 2007, p. 226.
  38. ^ Sheldon 2007, pp. 227–229.
  39. ^ a b c d e Stewart 1921, p. 288.
  40. ^ Edmonds 1948, pp. 149–340.
  41. ^ a b c d e Edmonds 1948, p. 343.
  42. ^ a b c d e Edmonds 1948, pp. 341–342.
  43. ^ a b Bean 1941, pp. 913–917.
  44. ^ a b Stewart 1921, pp. 281–292.
  45. ^ a b Ewing 1921, pp. 239–243.
  46. ^ Nichols 1922, pp. 235–237.
  47. ^ a b Edmonds 1948, p. 344.
  48. ^ McCarthy 1995, pp. 117–118.
  49. ^ Hilliard Atteridge 1929, pp. 250–254.
  50. ^ Hilliard Atteridge 1929, pp. 254–256.
  51. ^ Headlam 1924, p. 281.
  52. ^ Headlam 1924, pp. 279–281.
  53. ^ Jones 1928, pp. 175–176.
  54. ^ Jones 1934, pp. 206–207.
  55. ^ Sheldon 2007, pp. 230–231.
  56. ^ Sheldon 2007, p. 236.
  57. ^ Sheldon 2007, p. 233.
  58. ^ Terraine 1977, p. 305.
  59. ^ Boraston 1919, p. 130.
  60. ^ Edmonds 1948, pp. 345–346.
  61. ^ Nicholson 1962, pp. 311–312.
  62. ^ Hindenburg 1920, p. 156.
  63. ^ Reichsarchiv 1942, p. 96.
  64. ^ Bean 1941, p. 928.
  65. ^ Bean 1941, p. 927.
  66. ^ McRandle & Quirk 2006, pp. 667–701.
  67. ^ Liddle 1997, p. 285.
  68. ^ Ewing 1921, p. 245.
  69. ^ Nichols 1922, pp. 240–245.
  70. ^ a b McCarthy 1995, pp. 120–123.
  71. ^ a b The Times 1918, p. 128.
  72. ^ The Times 1918, p. 129.
  73. ^ Edmonds 1948, p. 348.



Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]