Passchendaele, the Third Battle of Ypres, became infamous for the number of casualties and for the conditions in which it was fought.
The battles were fought for control of ridges south and east of the city of Ypres. Passchendaele lay on the last ridge east of Ypres. The enemy knew an attack was imminent after the initial bombardment lasted two weeks, when 4.5 million shells fired from 3,000 guns, failed to destroy their heavily fortified positions.
The offensive began well but appalling weather soon changed that. Constant shelling had churned the ground and destroyed the drainage systems. By August the offensive was failing, a situation exacerbated by heavy rain and soon descended into attrition. Stalemate reigned until improvement in the weather prompted another attack on 20 September. The Battles of Menin Road Ridge, Polygon Wood on 26 September and the Battle of Broodseinde on 4 October had established British possession of the ridge east of Ypres.
Fighting continued at enormous cost. The Worcestershire Regiment sustaining 2759 casualties from an allied total of 325,000, the Germans sustaining 260,000. Severe weather led to the battlefield becoming a quagmire and further attacks were ineffective. The capture by the allies on 6 November, of Passchendaele village finally gave Field Marshal Haig an excuse to call off the offensive.
Passchendaele: The Final Phase September to November
The German 4th Army had held the Gheluvelt plateau throughout August in a costly defensive success. The British plan was a series of limited advances of approximately 1,500 yards. This commenced in the Battle of the Menin Road Ridge fought between 20–25 September. The attacks were successful, but were met by a ferocious although unsuccessful German counter attack on the 25th September.
The next British advance, the Battle of Polygon Wood began at 5.50 a.m. on 26 September. Dust and smoke from the British artillery fire thickened the morning mist and the infantry advanced using compass bearings. Once more the British assault was successful and German counter-attacks less so.
The last of this series of assaults came on the 4th October, in the Battle of Broodseinde, which aimed to complete the capture of the Gheluvelt Plateau and occupy Broodseinde Ridge. The British artillery inflicted devastating casualties on the Germans.
The French and British armies renewed the attack on 9 October at Poelcappelle. They advanced on a 13,500 yards front, towards Passchendaele, an assault, which led to many casualties on both sides. The 4th Worcesters were heavily engaged here with Private Dancox winning a VC.
The First Battle of Passchendaele which took place on 12 October was an Allied attempt to gain ground around Passchendaele. Heavy rain and mud again made movement difficult and after a modest British advance, German counter-attacks recovered most of the ground lost.
The Second Battle of Passchendaele began on 30 October, to gain a base for the final assault on Passchendaele but was inconclusive. The final British assault began on the morning of 6 November. In fewer than three hours, many units reached their final objectives and Passchendaele was captured.