Battle of Langemarck (1917)

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Battle of Langemarck
Part of the Third Battle of Ypres in the First World War
Front line after Battle of Langemarck, 16-18 August 1917.jpg
Front line after Battle of Langemarck, 16–18 August 1917
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
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
8 British, 2 French division 6 Stellungsdivision, 5 Eingreif division
Casualties and losses
16–28 August: 36,190 11–21 August: 24,000
16–18 August: 2,087 POW

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 against the German 4th Army. The French France had a big success on the northern flank and the main British gain of ground occurred near Langemark, adjacent to the French. The Allied attack succeeded 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 and French, who occupied lower-lying areas and advanced onto ground which had been frequently and severely bombarded. The effect of the battle, the unseasonable August downpours and the successful but costly German defence of the Gheluvelt Plateau during the rest of August, which the British attacked several times, led the British to stop the offensive for three weeks. The ground dried in early September, as the British rebuilt roads and tracks for supply, transferred more artillery from the armies further south and revised further their tactics. The British shifted the main offensive effort southwards, which led to the three big British successes on the Gheluvelt Plateau on 20, 26 September and 4 October.


Strategic background[edit]

Artillery preparation for the Second 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) front on 20 August after an eight-day bombardment.[1] Mort Homme and Hill 304 were recaptured and 10,000 prisoners taken. The German army was not able to counter-attack the French, because the Eingreif divisions had been sent to Flanders. Fighting at Verdun continued into September, adding to the pressure on the German army.[2] The Battle of Hill 70 (15–25 August), on the outskirts of Lens on the British First Army front, was fought by the Canadian Corps. The attack was costly but inflicted great losses on five German divisions and pinned down troops reserved for reliefs of tired divisions on the Flanders front.[3]

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 drew German divisions away from the French and Russian armies and forced the Germans into a costly defence of Flanders. In Belgium, the Fifth Army (General Hubert Gough) had managed to advance little further towards Passchendaele since 31 July, due to the tenacity of the German defence and the unusually wet weather. Gough wanted to avoid delay in resuming the offensive, to prevent the Germans from recovering and to create the conditions for Operation Hush on the coast, which needed the high tides due at the end of August.[4]

Tactical developments[edit]

In July 1917, 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.[5] Ground conditions during the Battles of Ypres campaign were poor, as the surface had been bombarded, fought over and 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 waterlogged shell-craters. Supply troops walked to the front on duck boards laid across the mud, often carrying loads of up to 45 kilograms (99 lb). It was possible for soldiers to slip off the path into the craters and drown. Trees were reduced to blasted trunks, the branches and leaves torn away. Bodies of men buried earlier were 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.[6] The ground dried quickly, except where water was held in shell-holes and after a few dry days became dusty.[7][a]


British offensive preparations[edit]

A British 12-inch railway gun at Woesten, with its crew perched on it and the propaganda slogan Not on Strike on the barrel.

Brigadier-General J. H. Davidson intervened again on 1 August, with a memorandum urging caution on Haig and Gough. Davidson recommended that the preliminary operation by II Corps not be hurried, a full artillery preparation and relief of the divisions already engaged, should 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 German maps revealed the positions 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 a reinforcement.[10]

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 make corrections to contradictory maps and photographs. It was discovered that on many of the targets, the shell dispersion covered hundreds of yards, as did wire-cutting bombardments.[11] On 2 August, at the suggestion of Brigadier-General Hugh 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.[12][b]

The 20th (Light) Division had been in XIV Corps reserve, for the opening attack on 31 July and replaced the 38th (Welsh) 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 turned into the British reserve line and lost three men to shellfire while waiting for dark. On arrival at the support line 500 yd (460 m) forward and the front line another 500 yd (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.[14]

Interior of a dugout.

Training now 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 the German defenders, by providing enfilade fire and enveloping German positions, which were to be left and mopped-up by reserve platoons. Every known German position was allocated to a unit of the approximately 470 men left in the battalion, 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 yd (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 yd (270 m) beyond the Steenbeek, which had been lost to a German counter-attack on 31 July, failed. 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.[15]

Unternehmen Sommernacht[edit]

Unternehmen Sommernacht (Operation Summernight) was a local German attack near Hollebeke, which began at 5:20 a.m. on 5 August. After a short bombardment, three companies of I Battalion, Infantry Regiment 62 captured a slight ridge 1 km (0.62 mi) north-east of Hollebeke, surprising the British who fell back 80 metres (260 ft). The new German positions were on higher and drier ground and deprived the British of observation over the German rear, reducing casualties to 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 British 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. The Germans later abandoned Hollebeke and reoccupied the old "A line", then the Germans withdrew to their start line because of the severity of British counter-attacks and artillery-fire. Unternehmen Sommernacht left the front-line ragged, with a gap between regiments 209 and 213, which the British tried to exploit in the days before the bigger local attack of 10 August.[16]

Capture of Westhoek[edit]

Main article: Capture of Westhoek
German pillbox, Flanders 1917

The ground on the Gheluvelt Plateau had been churned by artillery-fire and became a sea of mud, flooded shell craters, fallen trees and barbed wire. Troops were quickly tired by rain, mud, massed artillery bombardments and lack of food and water; rapid relief of units spread the exhaustion through all the infantry despite the lines being held by fresh divisions. British artillery fired a preparatory bombardment from Polygon Wood to Langemarck but the German guns concentrated on the Gheluvelt Plateau. The British artillery was hampered by low cloud and rain, which made air observation extremely difficult and shells were wasted on empty gun emplacements. The British 25th Division, 18th Division and the German 54th Division took over by 4 August but the German 52nd Reserve Division was not relieved; both sides was exhausted by 10 August. The 18th Division attacked on the right and some troops quickly reached their objectives but German artillery isolated the infantry around Inverness Copse and Glencorse Wood. German troops counter-attacked several times and by nightfall the copse and all but the north-west corner of Glencorse Wood had been recaptured. The 25th Division on the left flank advanced quickly and reached its objectives by 5:30 a.m., rushing the Germans in Westhoek but snipers sniping and attacks by German aircraft caused an increasing number of casualties. The Germans counter-attacked into the night as the British artillery bombarded German troops in their assembly positions. The appalling weather and costly defeats began a slump in British infantry morale; lack of replacements concerned the German commanders.[17]

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.[18] 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.[19]

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, the 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.[20] 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.[21] 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 eighteen-pounder guns for the creeping barrage moving at 100 metres (110 yd) in five minutes, with seventy-two 4.5-inch howitzers and 36 eighteen-pounders 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.[22]

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-pounder batteries for the creeping barrage and twenty-four 4.5-inch howitzer batteries and forty machine-guns for standing barrages, along with the normal heavy artillery groups.[23] Each division also had 108 eighteen-pounders and thirty-six 4.5-inch howitzers for bombardment and benefitted from supply routes which had been far less heavily shelled than those further south.[24] 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.[25]

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.[c] The first objective (blue line), was set on a road running along the west side of Langemarck, the second objective (green line) was 500 yd (460 m) further on, at the east side of the village and the final objective (red line) was another 600 yd (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 yd (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.[27]

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 Royal Engineer Field Company. 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-gunners in retired positions from 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.[28] The French First Army was to extend the attack north, from the Kortebeek to Drie Grachten aiming to reach the St. Jansbeck.[29]

German defensive preparations[edit]

The British front line and the German defences in the area east of Ypres, mid-1917

The German 4th Army operation order for the defensive battle had been issued on 27 June.[30] 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 attackers 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.[31] From mid-1917, the area east of Ypres was defended by six German defensive positions: the front line, Albrecht Stellung (second line), Wilhelm Stellung (third line), Flandern I Stellung (fourth line), Flandern II Stellung (fifth line) and Flandern III Stellung (under construction). In between the German defence positions lay the Belgian villages of Zonnebeke and Passchendaele.[32] On 31 July, the German 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 Stellung (artillery protective line), the rear boundary of the forward battle zone (Kampffeld). Companies of the support battalions, (25 percent Sicherheitsbesatzung to hold the strong-points and 75 percent Stosstruppen to counter-attack towards them), were placed at the back of the Kampffeld, half in the pill-boxes of the Albrecht Stellung, to provide a framework for the re-establishment of defence-in-depth, once the enemy attack had been repulsed.[33] Dispersed in front of the line were divisional sharpshooter (Scharfschützen) machine-gun nests called the Stützpunkt-Linie. Much of the Kampffeld north of the Ypres–Roulers railway, had fallen on 31 July.[34]

K.T.K. headquarters, 1917

The Albrecht Stellung (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), which was about 2,300 metres (2,500 yd) deep, behind which was the Wilhelm Stellung (third line) and most of the field artillery of the front divisions. In pillboxes of the Wilhelm Stellung were the reserve battalions of the front-line regiments.[35] 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.[d] 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 assembly areas in the rückwärtige Kampffeld behind Flandern I Stellung, ready to intervene in the Grosskampffeld, for den sofortigen Gegenstoss (the instant-immediate counter-thrust).[37][38]

In an appreciation of 2 August, Group Ypres correctly identified the Wilhelm Stellung 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 suffered 1,200 gas casualties.[39]


Fifth Army[edit]

Passchendaele weather
(11–31 August 1917)[40]
Date Rain
11 4.4 69 cloud
12 1.7 72 cloud
13 0.0 67 cloud
14 18.1 79
15 7.8 65 dull
16 0.0 68 dull
17 0.0 72 clear
18 0.0 74 clear
19 0.0 69 cloud
20 0.0 71 cloud
21 0.0 72 clear
22 0.0 78 cloud
23 1.4 74 cloud
24 0.1 68 cloud
25 0.0 67 cloud
26 19.6 70 dull
27 15.3 57 cloud
28 0.9 62 cloud
29 2.6 61 cloud
30 0.7 63 cloud
31 0.7 64 cloud

At 4:45 a.m., a 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 many 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 formed 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 the right around boggy ground, then entered Glencorse Wood. The German main line of resistance was in a sunken road inside the wood, where after a hard-fought and mutually-costly engagement, the German defenders were overrun and the rest of the wood occupied. The leading waves then advanced to Polygon Wood.[41]

The 167th Brigade also 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 but the gap which this caused between the 167th and 169th brigades was not closed. Another problem emerged, because the quick start had been partly due to 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 or German troops who had been overrun, who 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 the 8th Division.[42] The ground conditions in the 56th Division area, were so bad that none of the tanks in support got into action.[43]

On the 8th Division front, the two attacking brigades started well, advancing behind an "admirable" barrage and reached the Hanebeek, where hand bridges were used to cross 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. The check to the 16thn Division, left German machine-gunners north of the railway 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.[43]

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. The divisions 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 relief during the unexpected delays caused by the rain, 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 have been destroyed by a series of special heavy artillery bombardments, fired before the attack.[24]

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 yd (370 m) of the top of Hill 37.[44] The 36th Division also struggled to advance, Gallipoli and Somme farms were behind a new wire entanglement, with German machine-guns trained on 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 yd (370 m) from the start line.[45]

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 the infantry consolidated along a line from Border House, to Jew Hill, the gun pits and St. Julien. The troops were fired on from Maison du Hibou and Hillock Farm, which was captured soon after, then 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.[46]

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 yd (91 m) west of the Langemarck road and the right flank dug in facing east, against 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 flank, these battalions reached the 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.[47]

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 forward 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, which continued 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 yd (180 m) around Schreiboom, being driven back some distance later on.[47]

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 continued, 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.[48] Langemarck and the Wilhelm (third) line, north of the Ypres–Staden railway and west of the Kortebeek had been captured.[49]

1re Armée[edit]

The 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.[50]

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, 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.[51]

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.[51] 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.[52] During the night of the 15/16 and the morning of 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.[51]

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 with 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.[52]

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.[52]

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 also 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.[53] The advance was made west of the northern stretch of the Wilhelm (third) line.[29]

Air operations[edit]

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.[e] 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.[55]

After six hours, the aircraft were to range further east to attack troop concentrations. Aircraft from the Corps and Army wings were to attack all targets found west of Staden–Dadizeele, with the Ninth Wing taking over east of the line.[55] 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 co-ordinate 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.[56] 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.[56] Air operations continued during the night, with more attacks on German airfields and rail junctions.[57]

German 4th 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.[58] 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.[59] 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.[60]

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.[61] 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.[62] 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.[63]

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.[64] 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.[65]

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.[29] 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.[29] 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.[66][f]



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 sited far back in the German defensive zone, who fired through the British artillery barrages. Around Langemarck, the British infantry formed up close the German positions, too near for the German artillery to fire on for fear of hitting their infantry, although British 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.[68]

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.[69] 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.[70] Attempts by the German infantry to advance further, were stopped by British artillery fire which inflicted many losses.[60] 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 both units had insufficient time to make preparations for the attack. Dudgeon also reported that no tracks had been laid beyond Château Wood, 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.[71]

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 that Shrapnel shells should be fuzed 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 side-to-side and 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 and move within a zone, since lines broke up under machine-gun fire in crater-fields and became disorganised.[72][g]

Tanks 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 their objectives. 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.[74] 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.[75] After the battle, divisional artillery commanders asked for two aircraft per division, exclusively to conduct counter-attack patrols.[56] With observation from higher ground to the east, German artillery fire inflicted many casualties on the British troops holding the new line beyond Langemarck.[h]

The success of the German 4th Army in preventing the 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.[77] Haig gave principal authority for the offensive to the Second Army (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. Plumer intended to ensure that the infantry were organised on tactically advantageous ground and in contact with their artillery, when they received German counter-attacks.[77] Minor operations by both sides 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.[78]


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.[79] Calculations of German losses by Edmonds have been severely criticised ever since.[80] 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.[81] The German Official History recorded the loss of 24,000 casualties from 11–21 August, including 5,000 missing, 2,100 prisoners and c. 30 guns.[82] Rain, huge artillery bombardments and British air attacks, greatly strained the fighting power of the remaining German troops.[83] In 1931, Gough wrote that 2,087 prisoners and eight guns had been captured.[84]

Subsequent operations[edit]

19 August[edit]

Three cavalrymen escorting a captured machine-gun crew through Brielen, 19 August 1917.

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.[85] On 19 August, the 48th Division and tanks of I Tank Brigade, conducted the "St. Julien Attack" up the St. Julien–Poelcappelle road.[86] 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, three ditched and eight managed to pass through and emerge on the St. Julien–Poelcappelle road.[87]

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 yd (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 yd (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 lost only 15 men, instead of the expected 600 casualties.[88] Next day a special gas and smoke bombardment took place on Jehu Trench beyond Lower Star Post, on the front of 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 (XIV Corps), pushed forward its left flank.[89]

22 August[edit]

47th Division positions at 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 yd (550 m) west of the Albrecht (second) line. The 14th (Light) Division with four tanks, forced the German defenders back to the Albrecht line in a mutually-costly attack.[90] The dry lake beds due west of Herenthage Château and the park were captured and 50 prisoners taken; 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.[91] The 47th Division on the left, established posts on the Hanebeek as a flank guard to the 15th Division attacking further north beyond the Ypres–Roulers railway.[92]

In the 15th Division area north of the railway, five days of preparatory artillery-fire and constant patrolling had established the positions of some of the defenders. An attempt had been made to occupy Borry House on 21 August, which was stopped by German small-arms fire about 50 yd (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-guns replied within a minute, falling 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 tanks 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 an aircrew on contact patrol. Machine-gun fire forced the few survivors back to the railway dump and the road running 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 over-running an unseen machine-gun and being fired on from behind.[93]

Frezenberg Ridge, September–October 1917

Further to the left, a company advanced towards Iberian Farm, until forced under cover 30–40 yd (27–37 m) short. A support company was sent forward 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 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-eastwards to the hill and north-west to Somme Farm, despite losing 25 percent casualties from German small-arms fire. By 7:00 a.m. the attack by the 45th Brigade had gained a few yards but in the centre the attack had failed and the survivors were back at the start line. An hour later, troops of the 61st Division further 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.[94] A tank which had ditched near Gallipoli, engaged the Germans for 68 hours before the crew retired.[95]

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.[92] 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 yd (73 m) being gained towards Gallipoli.[96] A brigade of the 61st Division had attacked further north at 4.45 a.m. and quickly reached a line 150 yd (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.[97] 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.[97]

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 end of Langemarck.[98] 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.[99] Next day a German 34th Division attacked the 14th Division in the II Corps area, from Inverness Copse to Glencorse Wood, with bombers, light machine-gun and flame-thrower units. The attack 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.[90] South of the Menin road, the British at the dry lakes, due west of Herenthage Château repulsed a German attack.[100]

A British counter-attack at Inverness Copse on 24 August was cancelled, due to uncertainty about the position of the front line.[101] 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.[102] An attack by the 61st Division in the XIX Corps area on Aisne Farm failed. A German counter-attack assisted by 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 yd (160 m) forward of the start line; during the attack, a patrol towards Iberian Farm was repulsed.[103] The 61st Division failed again at Aisne Farm and in the XVIII Corps area, the 48th Division captured more gun pits.[104]

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.[105] 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.[104] 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, when the Canadian Corps supported by I Corps, took the hill and defeated several German counter-attacks. The Third Army attacked again 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.[106]

27 August[edit]

The British general offensive intended for 25 August was postponed because of the failure of the attacks since 22 August, then cancelled due to more bad weather, only minor attacks being conducted to keep the defenders under pressure.[107] On 27 August, an attack was made on Inverness Copse at 4:45 a.m. by two tanks and four platoons of the 41st Brigade of the 14th (Light) Division. The attack on a German trench from the Menin Road for 600 yd (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, on the north end of the 23rd Division front, was also a costly failure.[108] Further north in the XIX Corps area, an attack by the 61st Division at 1:55 p.m., on a line from Schuler Farm to Gallipoli Farm failed and an attack by a brigade of the 15th (Scottish) Division on Gallipoli Farm also failed.[109]

In the XVIII Corps area, two 48th Division brigades with three tanks attacked Springfield and Vancouver Farms.[109] 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.[110] Next day, casualties were recovered by both sides during a local truce. On 30 August, the 38th Division took the White House.[111] Torrential rain fell on 28 August and Haig ordered an end to attacks, except for those by II Corps on the Gheluvelt plateau but these were also cancelled on 31 August.[109]


"Sacred hour" at the monument of Langemarck, 10 July 1932
  1. ^ A 1989 study of weather data recorded from 1867–1916 at Lille, 16 mi (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.[8] Rainfall in August 1917 was 127 mm, of which 84 mm fell on 1, 8, 14, 26 and 27 August. The month was 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 another 7.5 mm of rain but only nine hours of sunshine so little of the water dried; 13.4 mm of rain fell on 10 November.[9]
  2. ^ 59.1 mm of rain fell from 1–10 August, including 8 mm in a thunderstorm on 8 August.[13]
  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. [26]
  4. ^ The assembly areas were termed Fredericus Rex Raum and Triarier Raum, an analogy with the formation of a Roman legion, in which troops were organised as hastati, principes and triarii.[36]
  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.[54]
  6. ^ In 2011, 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.[67]
  7. ^ Cyril 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 advancing in front of mopping up parties and had "complete success".[73]
  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.[76]


  1. ^ Doughty 2005, pp. 379–383.
  2. ^ Edmonds 1991, p. 231.
  3. ^ Edmonds 1991, pp. 219–230.
  4. ^ Edmonds 1991, p. 190.
  5. ^ Sheffield 2011, p. 233.
  6. ^ Hamilton 1990, p. 360.
  7. ^ Hamilton 1990, pp. 369–370.
  8. ^ Liddle 1997, pp. 147–148.
  9. ^ Liddle 1997, pp. 149–151.
  10. ^ Edmonds 1991, pp. 180–182.
  11. ^ Falls 1996, p. 121.
  12. ^ Edmonds 1991, pp. 183–184, 189–190.
  13. ^ McCarthy 1995, pp. 7–39.
  14. ^ Moorhouse 2003, pp. 146–148.
  15. ^ Moorhouse 2003, pp. 148–149.
  16. ^ Sheldon 2007, pp. 95–100.
  17. ^ Edmonds 1991, pp. 184–190.
  18. ^ Boraston & Bax 1999, p. 142.
  19. ^ Edmonds 1991, pp. 190–191.
  20. ^ Dudley Ward 2001, pp. 154–159.
  21. ^ Boraston & Bax 1999, pp. 142–143.
  22. ^ Edmonds 1991, pp. 191–192.
  23. ^ Edmonds 1991, p. 195.
  24. ^ a b Edmonds 1991, pp. 194–195.
  25. ^ Edmonds 1991, p. 199.
  26. ^ Moorhouse 2003, p. 151.
  27. ^ Moorhouse 2003, pp. 149–150.
  28. ^ Moorhouse 2003, p. 150.
  29. ^ a b c d Edmonds 1991, p. 201.
  30. ^ Edmonds 1991, p. 143.
  31. ^ Sheldon 2007, pp. 99–100.
  32. ^ Wynne 1976, p. 284.
  33. ^ Wynne 1976, p. 292.
  34. ^ Wynne 1976, p. 297.
  35. ^ Wynne 1976, p. 288.
  36. ^ Wynne 1976, p. 289.
  37. ^ Wynne 1976, p. 290.
  38. ^ Samuels 1995, p. 193.
  39. ^ Sheldon 2007, pp. 101–104.
  40. ^ McCarthy 1995, pp. 39–66.
  41. ^ Dudley Ward 2001, pp. 156–158.
  42. ^ Dudley Ward 2001, pp. 158–159.
  43. ^ a b Boraston & Bax 1999, p. 146.
  44. ^ Edmonds 1991, pp. 195–196.
  45. ^ Edmonds 1991, p. 196.
  46. ^ McCarthy 1995, p. 52.
  47. ^ a b McCarthy 1995, pp. 53–55.
  48. ^ McCarthy 1995, p. 55.
  49. ^ Edmonds 1991, pp. 200–201 & sketch 19.
  50. ^ The Times 1918, pp. 362–363.
  51. ^ a b c The Times 1918, p. 364.
  52. ^ a b c The Times 1918, p. 365.
  53. ^ The Times 1918, p. 367.
  54. ^ Jones 2002, pp. 147–148.
  55. ^ a b Jones 2002a, pp. 172–175.
  56. ^ a b c Edmonds 1991, p. 193.
  57. ^ Jones 2002a, pp. 175–179.
  58. ^ Dudley Ward 2001, p. 158.
  59. ^ Dudley Ward 2001, p. 159.
  60. ^ a b Edmonds 1991, p. 194.
  61. ^ Boraston & Bax 1999, pp. 146–147.
  62. ^ Boraston & Bax 1999, pp. 148–149.
  63. ^ Edmonds 1991, pp. 193–194.
  64. ^ Edmonds 1991, pp. 196–197.
  65. ^ Edmonds 1991, p. 197.
  66. ^ Terraine 1977, p. 232.
  67. ^ Sheffield 2011, p. 237.
  68. ^ Moorhouse 2003, pp. 162–164.
  69. ^ Edmonds 1991, p. 202.
  70. ^ Edmonds 1991, sketch 18.
  71. ^ Boraston & Bax 1999, p. 153.
  72. ^ Falls 1996, pp. 122–124.
  73. ^ Falls 1996, p. 124.
  74. ^ Wise 1981, p. 424.
  75. ^ Dudley Ward 2001, pp. 160–161.
  76. ^ US WD 1920.
  77. ^ a b Nicholson 1962, p. 308.
  78. ^ McCarthy 1995, pp. 66–69.
  79. ^ Edmonds 1991, p. 209.
  80. ^ McRandle & Quirk 2006, pp. 667–701.
  81. ^ Sheldon 2007, p. 119.
  82. ^ Reichsarchiv 2012, p. 69.
  83. ^ Sheldon 2007, p. 120.
  84. ^ Gough 1968, p. 204.
  85. ^ Gillon 2002, p. 133.
  86. ^ Williams-Ellis & Williams-Ellis 1919, p. 151.
  87. ^ Fuller 1920, p. 122.
  88. ^ Fuller 1920, pp. 122–123.
  89. ^ McCarthy 1995, pp. 55–58.
  90. ^ a b Rogers 2010, pp. 162–164.
  91. ^ Miles 2009, pp. 178–179.
  92. ^ a b Maude 1922, p. 107.
  93. ^ Stewart & Buchan 2003, pp. 181–182.
  94. ^ Stewart & Buchan 2003, pp. 182–183.
  95. ^ Williams-Ellis & Williams-Ellis 1919, p. 152.
  96. ^ Stewart & Buchan 2003, pp. 183–184.
  97. ^ a b McCarthy 1995, pp. 57–59.
  98. ^ Edmonds 1991, p. 203, sketch 20.
  99. ^ Miles 2009, p. 179.
  100. ^ Miles 2009, p. 180.
  101. ^ Rogers 2010, p. 164.
  102. ^ Miles 2009, p. 181.
  103. ^ Stewart & Buchan 2003, p. 185.
  104. ^ a b McCarthy 1995, pp. 60–61.
  105. ^ Edmonds 1991, p. 203.
  106. ^ Jones 2002a, pp. 179–180.
  107. ^ Rogers 2010, pp. 164–167.
  108. ^ Sandilands 2003, pp. 169–170.
  109. ^ a b c Edmonds 1991, p. 208.
  110. ^ Munby 2003, p. 27.
  111. ^ McCarthy 1995, pp. 62–63.




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