I died in hell...

... they called it Passchendaele.

This year marks the centenary of the Third Battle of Ypres, otherwise known as Passchendaele. The Joint offensive began on 31 July and lasted until 10 Nov 1917.

Like the Battle of the Somme the year before, and the Battle of Arras a few months earlier, it was an attempt to break the stalemate of trench warfare. But at Ypres there was a more pressing reason for attacking.

For a start the Germans held the high ground - such as it was - overlooking Allied positions. The earlier assault on Messines Ridge on June 7th - an attack that began with the detonation of 19 huge underground mines - was designed in part to deal with this.

But the Allied sector beyond Ypres bulged into the infamous Salient, leaving Allied lines vulnerable to attack on a much wider front as well as running the risk that enemy action might cut whole units off and surround men in enemy territory.

Finally, there was the goal of heading north and capturing the German held ports on the Belgian coast, from which U-boats were taking an increasing toll of Allied ships.

The battle began with huge bombardment - 5 million shells, from over 3k guns - before troops attacked on a 15 mile front.

But within days the heaviest rain for 30 years began. Shelling had destroyed the delicate drainage of this low lying land as well as denuding the area of the trees and other vegetation that might bind the soil. The result was a quagmire - a mud-bath in which men and horses sank without trace - adding to the 500,000 casualties of the fighting itself.

The village of Passchendaele was just five miles beyond the starting line on that July morning in 1917. By the time Allied troops had reached it, four months later, there was almost nothing left of the village. The gentle slope leading to Passchendaele ridge became the final resting place of some 12,000 of the servicemen to have died there (including some 8,300 unidentified) in the cemetery that still goes by the nickname given to one of the impregnable German block houses that survives to this day at Tyne Cot.

Lest we forget.


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