The Third Battle of Ypres, ‘Passchendaele’ 31 July – 10 November 1917

The Museum opens a new display to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Passchendaele and the role of the Worcestershire Regiment in it.

Passchendaele is not only infamous for the number of casualties but the mud. Many drowned in the thick quagmire, caused by weeks of relentless rain.

Wounded Canadians on way to aid-post during the Battle of Passchendaele. Image courtesy of Library & Archives Canada.

 

The Ypres Salient was one of the most intensely fought over sections of the Western Front. Early in 1917, the British high command laid down plans to seize control of the area once and for all. The starting point was the capture of the Messines Ridge, to the south of Ypres.

Following an initial bombardment which had lasted two weeks, with over 4.5 million shells fired. The Third Battle of Ypres, more commonly known as Passchendaele, began at 3.50am on 31 July 1917, when 2,000 Allied guns opened up once more on German lines.   By the end of the three-month long campaign, more than 500,000 men from both sides are believed to have been wounded or killed; The Worcestershire Regiment alone sustaining 2759 casualties.

This British-led offensive in Flanders aimed to break out of the Ypres Salient, capture the vital German rail hub of Roulers and ultimately take Ostend and Zeebrugge from where German submarines operated. Following the Battles of Pilckem Ridge (31 July – 2 August) and Langemarck (16-18 August) the offensive entered a new phase when between 20 September and 9 October forces under Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig fought eastward along the Menin Road, through Polygon Wood and around the villages of Broodseinde and Poelcappelle, where Private Frederick Dancox won his Victoria Cross.

Private Dancox bravely enters a German blockhouse during the Battle of Poecappelle, taking control of a machine gun and prisoners.

Only on 12 October did the first attack on Passchendaele take place. When this failed, fighting to secure the village continued from 26 October. When the offensive was closed down for the winter on 10 November the advance to Passchendaele had pushed the German army back just five miles.

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