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The Third Battle Of Ypres History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

The Battle of Passchendaele also known as the Third Battle of Ypres. This was one of the major battles of World War I and consisted of a series of different operations and engagements between the 31st of July and the 6th of November with the objective of capturing vast amounts of German territory as well as destroying German submarine bases along the Belgian coast in an effort to thwart enemy naval capabilities. This campaign, unlike some others launched in the First World War, was meticulously planned by British Commander-in-Chief General Douglas Haig. However, General Haig was known as a stubborn man and showed major reluctance to “modernise” his tactics and strategies as a Commander, failing to see the use of artillery and being of the opinion that the Cavalry Charge still had a place in modern military tactics and because of this he may have been responsible for the heavy losses suffered by Allied forces at both Ypres and the Somme due to his unwillingness to deviate from his initial strategies.

The precursor to the Battle of Passchendaele was to be a preliminary artillery barrage against the entrenched Germans and their defenses on June 7, 1917 with the objective of softening the defensive lines to allow for an easier advance by Allied. Earlier, the British and Australians had deviantly planted 21 mines containing 450,000 kilograms of high explosives beneath the German defensive lines and their detonation signalled the initial attack by ANZAC forces who managed to take the town of Messines proper within two hours and subsequently the Messines ridge. The Battle of Messines alerted the already aware Germans of an impending attack. Three Victoria Cross medals were awarded to the ANZAC forces here.

-Show Battle of Messines overview and point out battle lines-

Following the Battle of Messines British forces began artillery bombardment on the Gheluvelt plateau which overlooked the town of Ypres. The bombardment again notified the German forces of impending attack and they moved troops to the front lines in response. The beginning of what would eventually become known as the Battle of Passchendaele started on July 31st with the Battle of Pilckem Ridge, in which 32,000 Allied lives were lost for the gain of 1,800 meters, and with the Battle of Langemarck which commenced slightly later on the 16th of August. These attacks allowed British forces to secure valuable footholds from which they would later attack Passchendaele.

-Show Battle of Passchendaele overview, point out Allied and German positions-

It is at this point that General Herbert Plumer took command of the Allied forces from General Hubert Gough, who favoured sweeping aggression, and abandoned the tactics that were failing to help the Allies to gain any appreciable ground and started to employ the same tactics that the ANZAC’s used successfully in the Battle of Messines. General Plumer planned to create smaller, more easily obtainable objectives instead of having the advancing parties rushing as far as they could before becoming exhausted and being repelled by fresh German reserves.

September 20th, 52 days since the beginning of the Battle of Passchendaele. The Allies have gained a mere 2.5 kilometres for the loss of approximately 60,000 men or 24 men per meter. Haig was wagering that the German army would break soon, unable to continue reinforcing the front lines due to the heavy losses they sustained earlier at the Somme and Verdun. Plumer now starts the Battle of Menin Road, an engagement that would last 5 days. German defences are fierce with many young Australian soldiers falling to the bullets and shells of enemy infantry, pillboxes and artillery, ultimately limiting the gain of the Allies to 1,400 meters of territory while costing the lives 21,000 Allied soldiers or 15 men per meter gained, ANZAC deaths included. It followed a heavy artillery barrage with a reported 3.5 million artillery shells being fired with an allotment of one artillery piece for every five yards of the attack front. This major loss of ground by the German’s convinced them that their previous tactic of defence in depth was obsolete and prompted a change in the way the lines were reinforced and held to create a more elastic defence. This caused heavier loses for the Germans during the preparatory bombardment and their subsequent counter-attacks. This would bode well for the Australians as more lives were about to be thrown at the enemy for more trivial territory gains.

-Show picture of Australian soldiers are the Battle of Polygon Wood-

The day after the Battle of Menin Road the Australian 4th and 5th Divisions would fight in a small conflict called the Battle of Polygon Wood, named for the shape the woods lay across the axis of the advancing Australian forces. The Australians were tasked with building upon the gains made during the Battle of Menin Road, however atop a large earthen mound overlooking the battlefield was the German position, heavily fortified by machine gun nests, dugouts and foxholes, ready to repel the advancing forces. Artillery covering the advance of Australian soldiers was heavy with one gun for every nine meters of the front, demolishing the Wood itself and destroying some of the German emplacements. By the time the soldiers had assaulted German positions the wood had been reduced to naught but splinters and broken wood but despite the heavy bombardment by Allied artillery, German pillboxes harassed the Australian soldiers, protecting the machine gunners hidden inside, ending the lives of approximately 7,200 Aussie men. It was the courage, mateship, fighting spirit and unwillingness to back down that helped the Australian soldiers take the Wood that was so heavily defended by the German army and repel the subsequent desperate counter-attacks launched.

The following Battle of Broodseinde was the final time General Plumer’s strategy of “biting and holding” territory was successful and was a shining example that the spirit of the Allied forces could overcome even the hardest of German defences. From the outlook the men of I ANZAC and II ANZAC were tasked with capturing the crest of the previously mentioned Gheluvelt Plateau

In conclusion, the Battle of Passchendaele was a cohesive event for the Australians as they gained respect as a formidable and capable fighting force from their Allies, strengthening the bond between the nation’s fighting men. It is also the embodiment of the courageous fighting spirit shown by the ANZAC’s that allowed the men to continue taking the battle to the Germans after losing 38,000 men of the original 70,000 to the bitter battle of attrition. For the massive number of troops lost on both sides, approximately 310,000 for the Allies and 260,000 for the Germans, for the gain of only a few kilometres. It is interesting to note that Adolf Hitler fought in the Battle of Passchendaele with the 6th Bavarian Reserve Division where he was injured on October 13, 1918 by a British gas attack.

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