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The Third Battle of Ypres

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Now commonly known as Passchendaele, the 3rd Battle of Ypres took place between 31st July and 10th November 1917 and was the final great battle of attrition of World War I. The attack was General Haig’s attempt to break through German defences at Flanders so that the British army could move into Germany and destroy German submarine pens.

Haig has been heavily criticised for his tactics at Passchendaele, where (much like at the Somme) the British army incurred huge losses of life for minimal gains. Having launched a heavy artillery attack on the German line for a week before the battle began, the Germans were ready for the allied onslaught and the British were unable to capture much territory.

In the early days of August, the area was saturated with the heaviest rainfall for thirty years, leading to 3rd Ypres’ nickname, “The Battle of Mud”. Men, horses and tanks were unable to move in what was effectively a swamp, and many drowned in the mud.

Further attacks in the autumn failed to make much progress and the capture of Passchendaele village on 6th November gave Haig an excuse to end the offensive and claim allied success. There had been 310,000 British and 260,000 German casualties for the sake of just a few kilometres of gained ground.