Passchendaele 31st July 1917

After the success of Messines, the troops were in the "hold" phase of the "bite and hold" strategy. From research, there is a strong opinion that it would have been better to continue with the momentum from that first attack and to press on while the Germans were in disarray, with their morale badly dented.

However, that was not the strategy adopted. Consequently, in the two week pause, the Germans had an opportunity to establish new defensive positions.

On 31st July, a new offensive was started with objective being the small village of Passchendaele. Harry would have been involved in this dreadful phase of the war.

The weather was not kind. The big problem was mud. The picture included here was taken on 1st August 1917, shows a stretcher party struggling through the mud.

Extract from the London Times 1st August 1917 "LONDON, Both British and French troops gained further ground today along their new front in Belgium, in spite of the heavy rain, which, falling since early yesterday afternoon, has turned the battlefield into a sea of mud and rendered major operations impossible."

In an earlier letter, Harry mentions going for a bath "two weeks ago".

"I died in Hell
(they called it Passchendaele); my wound was slight
and I was hobbling back; and then a shell
burst slick upon the duckboards; so I fell
into the bottomless mud, and lost the light"
Siegfried Sassoon


Anonymous said...

why was the mud a problem?

Suze said...

Look at the picture. There is a man up to his thighs in it. From all the constant activity in the rain soaked ground, the mud became like quicksand. Those who were wounded, like the poetry at the end of the post, could fall and not be able to get up - and drown in the mud. Pooling water had the same effect - men died from drowning and being unable to move to help themselves.

Anonymous said...

Why was the mud a problem? Well let's pretend that you are a solder battling in this battle, now carry 150 pounds of tools and ammunition on your body, and wade through feilds of endless mud, you sink in to it pretty fast, and when you get stuck, you are a large immobile target. You get to enjoy a bullet fly through your skull, shutting down your brain as your body collapses into the mud, to be entombed. If you are not lucky enough to be buried in the mud, the hoards of rats will gnaw at your rotting flesh. So again, why is mud a problem?

Charles Burnham said...

In response to the above comment:

Passchendaele was fought in the Ypres salient; an area that has a very high water table. When the Empire and allied troops were building their trenches there they didn't have to dig very far to find water. In addition to this, shortly after the Passchendaele offensive began the weather turned bad, much rain. That's why it was so muddy. My grandfather was wounded at "Pash"; sniped while he was laying wire at night. He was a Canadian soldier with the 4th Canadian Division.

Best regards, Charles Burnham

Charles Burnham said...

In response to the above post:

Passchendaele was for many the worst battle fought on the western front, with the possible exception of Verdun. The battle itself was fought in the Ypres salient, in Belgium. The problem for the Empire and allied troops was that the water table there is very high, meaning that when they were digging their trenches they only had to dig a few feet before they hit water. In addition to this, shortly after the offensive started the weather turned bad with much more rain than usual. Hence the mud.

My grandfather, John Burnham, was wounded at "Pash". He fought with the 4th Canadian Division.

Best regards. Charles Burnham.

p.s. Very much enjoying the blog.