Centenary of Third Battle of Ypres

Today marks the 100th Anniversary of the end of the Third Battle of Ypres, a major Allied offensive fought on the Western Front in 1917.  The main battles associated with Third Battle of Ypres were:

  • Pilckem, 31 July to 2 August
  • Langemarck, 16-18 August
  • Menin Road, 20-25 September
  • Polygon Wood, 26 September to 3 October
  • Broodseinde, 4 October
  • Poelcapelle, 9 October
  • Passchendaele (First Battle), 12 October
  • Passchendaele (Second Battle), 26 October to 10 November

The objective was to break through the strongly fortified German defences within the Ypres salient (a piece of land or section of fortification that juts out to form an angle) in the Flanders Region of Belgium.  The battle comprised a series of costly offensives against heavily fortified positions on water logged ground amidst heavy artillery bombardment.  Owing to the conditions it was soon apparent that a significant break through the German defences would not be able to be achieved.  A subject of much debate was Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig’s strategy, ‘to persist with the offensive with the aim of draining the German reserves of troops through a process of attrition’.  The British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, opposed the offensive, as did General Ferdinand Foch the French Chief of the General Staff.  Others argued that waiting for better weather and the further deployment of the American Expeditionary Force may have been wiser.

(Battles of Broodseinde and Passchendaele Map)

The decision to proceed with the attacks resulted in significant human cost on both the German and Allied forces.

Australian Divisions participated in the battles of Menin Road, Polygon Wood, Broodseinde, Poelcapelle and the First Battle of Passchendaele, incurring 38,000 casualties. The combined total of British and Dominion casualties has been estimated at 310,000 (estimated German losses were slightly lower) and no significant breakthrough was achieved. The costly offensives, ending with the capture of Passchendaele village, merely widened the Ypres salient by a few kilometres.

The Third Battle of Ypres produced some of the most iconic photographs of the First World War.  Including the below image (AWM E01220) taken on 29 October 1917, of Australian soldiers passing through Chateau Wood, near Hooge in the Ypres salient.  Images such as this illustrated the true reality of the horror and devastation caused by warfare between industrialised nations.

(AWM E01220)