Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Eyewitness: The Assault on Broodseinde Ridge, 4 October 1917


Partial Section (New Zealand Division) of the 4 October 1917 Assault

In late August 1917 General Herbert Plumer was given command of an offensive to capture high ground east of the Belgian town of Ypres using his Second Army (positioned south of the broken line on the map near St. Julien). In early October he committed three corps of his Second Army in attempt to capture the high ground just under Passchendaele Ridge. The I and II Anzac and X Corps were all committed to the "bite and hold"  operation, and they proved as  effective tactically as they had at Messines.  Here is one officer's account of the initial effort:

Broodseinde Ridge, Then

The 24th [Battalion] went through onto their objective which was the Blue Line. My casualties in my company were not really heavy, not as heavy as one expected from the early shelling. After we’d consolidated, one moved forward just to check up and see the fields of fire suitable for your men, siting your positions. When I got to the top of Broodseinde Ridge it was really surprising to look across and see before you the green fields of Belgium. Actual trees! Grass and fields, of course churned up a good deal by barrage shells—but it was, as far as we were concerned, open country! Then to look back, from where we came, back to Ypres…There was devastation. It was just at dawn time and you could then see why the gunners had had such a gruesome time. You could see the flashes of all the guns, right from Broodseinde right back to the very gates of Menin Gate.
W. Bunning, 2nd Australian Division

Broodseinde Ridge, Now

The British high command mistakenly concluded that the relative ease with which the Broodseinde Ridge had been won meant enemy resistance was faltering. It resolved to make a further push for Passchendaele Ridge on 12 October. However, by this time heavy rain had turned the terrain of Flanders into a muddy bog, rendering artillery support ineffective.  The New Zealand Division suffered mightily in the attack.

3 comments:

  1. Trying to advance over this terrain against machine guns and artillery is pure idiocy.

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  2. The ridge is not really that high, but what always struck me about the Salient, how just a little of the high ground completely dominated the battle area. The efforts to advance once the weather had broken was one of the reason Haig has been called a butcher.

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