July 1917 saw one of the most costly and bloody offensives of the First World War took place: the Third Battle of Ypres, also known as the Battle of Passchendaele.
Meticulously planned, the Battle of Passchendaele was intended to be Sir Douglas Haig’s breakthrough battle. Allied forces were to sweep through the strongly fortified German defences enclosing the Ypres Salient, and then push on to the German submarine bases on the Flemish coast.
Third Ypres was launched on 31st July 1917. Over the following months, battles broke out in places that have now become infamous: Pilckem, Langemarck, Menin Road, Polygon Wood, Broodseinde and Poelcapelle.
It was a nightmare mission. Torrential rain turned the ground into a quagmire. The thick, stinking mud swallowed man and machine. Wave after wave of Allied forces were mowed down. Troops were called in from Australia and New Zealand only to perish within days. Passchendaele became known as ‘Passion-dale’ — the valley of suffering.
Eventually on 6th November, fresh Canadian troops succeeded in seizing the tiny village of Passchendaele — or what was left of it — mercifully bringing an end to the Third Battle of Ypres. The Allied forces ended up no nearer the Flemish coast than when they had started. They gained merely eight kilometres of ground.
In doing so, they incurred 310,000 casualties, while German casualties numbered 260,000. Yes, that’s right: over half a million casualties from both sides!
Three opportunities to remember
- Walking Where Many Had Fallen: Two walks in the countryside where the Battle of Passchendaele took place, taking in some of the most poignant World War One cemeteries.
- Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917: A museum dedicated to the battle, with numerous artifacts, a Dugout Experience that takes you underground into a mock-up of the British Army’s quarters, and reconstructions of trenches.
- Cycle through Flanders Fields: An overview of cycle routes on RouteYou that start from or pass through the Passchendaele battlefield.