"Some old photos/documents from the Family Archive"
Cranswick WWI Photo:
Grandad on a horse
Citation for Conspicuous Gallantry at Passchendaele Ridge, 12th October 1917
"Major General E.G. Sinclair Mac Logan
A get well letter from the King, Buckingham Palace "Buckingham Palace
The Queen and I wish you God-speed, a safe return to the happiness + joy of home life with an early restoration to health.
A greatful Mother Country thanks you for faithful services.
WWI Generals and Battles of Attrition
Extract from "Passchendaele the untold story", Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson, 1996, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-07227-9 (pg 5 to pg 8)
"In some respects, the First Battle of Ypres in 1914 and the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917 had a deal in common. They involved a struggle between mainly British and German forces with the French as minor contributors. And they constituted offensives directed towards discernible geographical objectives, namely ports on the Channel coast.
In other respects the one battle was the direct opposite of the other. First Ypres in 1914 was a German offensive: the last throw for that year of the great strike force which, but a few months earlier, had seemed poised to overrun all of Western Europe. British forces were seeking to do no more than hold the line. Third Ypres in 1917 was the reverse. The Germans had no plans for a major Western Front offensive. It was the British who were trying to make a great movement to the coast, in the face of determined German resistance.
Expectations too had altered between 1914 and 1917. When the Germans launced the First Battle of Ypres, it was still fairly easy to believe that trench defences would not prove able to withstand assault by large quantities of firepower and highly motivated troops. By 1917, such expectations had been badly dented.
What had generated doubts about the promise of offensive action was just about everything that had happened on the Western Front since the Germans launched the thrust to Calais in October 1914. With all the advantages they had possessed, in great artillery pieces and heavy shells, in numbers and freshness of troops, and in clarity of objectives, their strike to the coast had failed utterly. The British defenders had been pushedback from one rudimentary set of trenches to another, paying dearly for their stubborness. Yet they never broke, never retreated in disorder, never allowed their line to be ruptured, and managed to exact a huge toll on the manpower of their adversaries. In the end the German command was forced to call off the offensive with none of its purposes (except the elimination of a large proportion of 'Sir John French's comtemptible little army') achieved"
Thus the pattern was established for what succession of gruelling and ill-rewarding Western Front offensives which followed in 1915 and 1916: by the French, with some British aid, on the Chemin des Dames and in the northern sector in the spring and autumn of 1915; by the Germans at Verdun in the first half of 1916; and by the British, with some French assistance, on the Somme in the second half of 1916. All of these offensive operations failed in their purpose. Certainly, none proved a comfortable experience for the side standing on the defensive. Loss of life among the forces under attach was severe, and in at least one instance - Verdun - was probably marginally heavier for the defenders than for their assailants. Yet these operations were bound to be judged by whether they had demonstratedly advanced the country delivering the attach towards ultimate victory. And plainly, non had achieved that purpose.
So the French, in their great offensives of 1915, had sought to scale the commanding heights of the Chemin des Dames and Vimy Ridge, and had captured neither, at excessive cost. (The British, is lesser supporting operations, fared so badly that Sir John French, commander-in-chief of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), was removed from his post. He was replaced by Sir Douglas Haig.) The Germans in 1916 had chosen both to annihilate the French army and to gobble up the succession of fortresses the major administrative centre of Verdun. By the end of the day - a long day indeed - they had certainly killed a great many Frenchmen. But they had surrendered the lives of an almost equal number of their own troops, and they had managed to retain not a single fortress or yard of ground. The British in mid-1916 set out to then sweep forward - with the cavlary assuming the lead - into open country. All they managed to do, in over four months of campaigning and at heavier cost to themselves than to their adversaires, was to push back the German front a few miles. Their cavalry, except in a handful of disastrous instances, remained unemployed.
When each of these endeavours was eventually called off, the commanders who initiated them cried success. But the successes to which they laid claim proved to be of a different order from what had been promised. They could not announce that Vimy Ridge or Verdun or (on the Somme) Bapaume had changed hands, as expected, because mainfestly this was not true. So they adopted the position that they had inflicted losses of life on their adversaries so heavy as to weaken fundamentally their powers of resistance.
These claims, it may be observed in passing, have not proved of benefit to the commanders' subsequent reputations. Ever since, it has been assumed that First World War commanders (and particularly British commanders) were incapable of designing anything more imaginative than operations of mutual slaughter. That is, they were eager to trade one of their own soldiers' lives for on of their enemy. This view is encapsulated in an eminently patriotic work from 1942, by the arch-conservative historian Sir Arthur Bryant. His English Saga (1840-1940) describes the philosophy which had "taken firm hold of the British military mind" during the First World War:
The dominating idea was that as the total population of the Allied Powers was higher than that of their foes, the process of scaling down both fighting populations, man for man, as rapidly as possible must end in the ultimate survival of the larger. The quicker the rate of mutual destruction, the military statisticians argued, the sooner the war would be over.
This, it needs to be said, misrepresents not only what commanders like Haig, Joffre and Falkenhayn initially intended to achieve but what, after the event, they claimed to have achieved. (It may be in line with what they actually accomplished, but that is a different matter.) They set out to capture specific objectives of strategic significance. Having failed to do so, they claimed to have inflicted such heavy casualties on their adversaries (much in excess of what their own forces had sustained) as to have brought the war measurably nearer to conclusion. If their aims and attitudes have since been widely misrepresented, that is because of their failure of 1915 and 1916 to improve on their blighted endeavour of First Ypres, and because of what seemed their determination to persist in doing badly what, on so many earlier occasions, they had done badly already."
The Evolution of WWI Artillery (1914-1916): The Solution to Trench Warfare
Extract from "Passchendaele the untold story", Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson, 1996, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-07227-9 (pg 11 to pg 14)
"On the face of it, artillery seemed ideally equipped to assist attacking infantry in overwhelming opposing trenches. Long-range guns (heavy artillery) appeared capable of putting out of action enemy batteries shelling no man's land from well behind the front. And shorter-range guns (field artillery) could surely neutralize machine-gunners and rifleman sheltering in trenches, as well as uprooting the barbed wire which shielded them.
Yet these were not simple tasks. Barbed wire could be much knocked about and still remain an obstacle. A trench, from front on, presented a decidely narrow target - only the width required for two men to pass each other, and constructed at zigzag so that even a well-directed shell burst would not travel a great distance. Given the capacity of earth (unlike, say, concrete) to absorb a lot of explosive without being seriously displaced, shells which fell short or overshot by even a small margin usually proved ineffective. As for enemy guns well behind the line, the means of pinpointing their whereabouts were slow to develop and usually dependent on favourable weather conditions, the problems of landing shells on such distant and relatively small objects were severe, and in the time between an enemy battery's being located and fire actually brought to bear upon it, its position might well have been changed.
So the demolition of the guns and trenches of a force on the defensive required a high degree of accuracy on the part of the attacker's artillery. Yet the artillery pice with which the powers entered the First World War was anything but a precision weapon. Some details will make this plain.
If a gun fired a number of shells in quick succession, under indentical conditions of wind and weather, not all of these shells would land in the one place. On the contrary, they wouldbe distributed over a rectangular area of some width and breadth. For example, 100 shells fired by a 60-pounder gun might fall anywhere within an area of 39 yards long by 4.5 yards wide. Given the targerts were as narrow or discrete as trenches and machine-guns and artillery pieces, there was little chance of these being elliminated in great numbers unless the volume of shells falling in the area was truely immense. No combatant nation in 1914 or 1915 (or, as events would reveal, 1916) possessed the guns or the missiles required to devastate a substantial defended area.
Artillerymen in the opening years of the war struggled to overcome
this problem: that is, to acquire the degree of precision which would
enable them to knock out distinct obstacles without employing shells
in unlimited (and unavailable) quantities....
The saga of difficulties confronting artillerymen did not cease there. The steady use of a gun during bombardment could alter the trajectory of the successive shells it was firing, and not always in the one direction. Constant wear of the guns might cause the shells to wobble as they left the barrel and so fall short. But wear could have a contrary effect: the barrel might overheat and turn upwards, thereby increasing the distance travelled by the shell.
It took the British army some time to recognise these problems, let alone find solutions to them. By 1915 atmospheric conditions were known to affect accuracy, but the need for continual adjustment had yet to take hold among the practitioners of gunner. (The learning process was hampered by the antipathy shown to all things scientific by many senior artillery officers.) As for the problems engendered by shell variations, wear on guns, and the limiatations on aerial photography, these were slow in securing recognition.
These factors, certainly until well into 1916, told heavily against the prospect of a successful offensive on a large scale. The artillery simply could not hit in sufficient numbers those targets it could not directly observe. So when an attack when in, the enemy's guns would have escaped serious damage and could deal harshly with assaulting infantry. And even those targets subject to direct observation, such as trenches and machine-gun posts, rarely suffered such extensive damage as to rendered them ineffective.
What follows from the foregoing survey of weaponry is clear enough. Those seeking to conduct this war faced a conundrum. The war could only be won by offensive action, yet the advantage resting with the defenders was so great as to render offensives unproductive. Somehow the balance of advantage had to be overturned, yet the means of doing this were not readily to hand.
The conundrum gave operations on the Western Front in 1915 and 1916 a decidedly melancholy quality."
WWI Tanks suitable as only Supporting Weapon
Extract from "Passchendaele the untold story", Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson, 1996, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-07227-9 (pg 16 to pg 17)
"The other major inovation of the opening years of the First World War, the tank, was a direct response to the problem of getting an attacking force across no man's land without sustaining prohibitive losses from machine-gun and rifle fire. Troops endeavouring to reach the enemy front line might stand a better chance of survival enclosed in a metal box than on their own two legs. Winston Chruchill, an early proponent of the tank, actually envisaged it as an infantry carrier, a wildly impractical scheme given the size of vehicle necessary to carry substantial numbers of troops. Later developments under Major Swinton saw the tank emerge as a weapons platform. With is semi-immunity to small-arms fire, it seemed equipped to cross no man's land and subdue trench strongpoints in advance of the attacking infantry.
Two misconceptions are widely entertained concering the role of the tank in the First World War - that the Allied high command refused to welcome it and that, properly employed, it had the capacity to turn the war around. Neither view is well founded. It was the German command who were not impressed with the tank. Haig, when he took command of the BEF late in 1915 and first learned of plans to construct this weapon was full of enthusiasm. Indeed he hoped to spearhead his mid-1916 offensive on the Somme with a great flock of these armoured vehicles, failing to recognize that production difficulties (among other things) would render this impracticable.
Even less defensible, though even more widely believed, is the view that the tank had the capability, if properly employed, to break the trench deadlock. Its supposed efficacy follows from the assumption that which what dominated no man's land, and brought infantry attacks to a halt was the deadly fire of machine-guns and rifles. Any instrument immune to a hail of bullets was thought to possess the answer to stalemate on the Western Front.
There is a vital element missing here. Artillery, even more than small-arms fire, was the great destructive force in this war. And the tank enjoyed no immunity from the high explosive shell. On the contrary, although an impressive product of modern industry and technology, the tank - both as it first appeared and as it was modified as the war proceeded - was decidedly vulnerable to established weapons. It was painfully slow moving and subject to mechanical breakdown, so that it was under fire a considerable time. It was also (like cavalry) a conspicuous instrument of attack, and so attracted a disproportionate amount of hostile attention. The number of shells which came its way, along with hand-thrown bombs, meant that - unless the opposition had already been severely dealt with by other means - no great number of tanks was likely to get as far as the enemy trenches.
None of this would deny the tank a role in offensive operations during the second half of the war. But like poison gas its role would be supportive. It would not prove to be the main strike force."
An Unexpected(?) initial British Victory at Vimy (1917)
Extract from "Passchendaele the untold story", Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson, 1996, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-07227-9 (pg 29 to pg 30)
"In the British sector, the first day (9 April) of the campaign witnessed a notable success. On Haig's left the Canadians stormed Vimy Ridge, and in the centre the Third Army achieved an advance of 3.5 miles - the greatest distance accomplished at a bound since the onset of trench warfare. Success had been aidedby inept placing of counter-attack forces on the part of the Germans, the thorough training of British infantry, and the crashing weight and effective employment of Haig's artillery - which, among other things, fired a preliminary bombardment almost treble the density of that on the Somme prior to 1 July 1916.
But if, for a moment, the BEF seemed poised for the long-awaited breakthrough, this mirage soon vanished. The elaborate artillery contribution to the initial success could not be replicated in short order. The enemy instituted effective counter-measures. In no time at all, the Battle of Arras became the type of slogging match already rendered familiar by the previous year's struggle on the Somme. It was persisted in, at mounting cost, for six largely unfruitful weeks."
Overexaggeration of the role of the British Military during WWI.
Extract from "Passchendaele the untold story", Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson, 1996, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-07227-9 (pg 33 to pg 35)
"It is customary to exaggerate the role played by the military arm in shaping the course of British history between 1914 and 1918. Because the nation was at war, the military had an unusually prominent place in British affairs. Further, these years were beset by instances of decision- making which seem to epitomize military obtuseness and so are adjudged of military origin. Finally, the most prominet figure in British affairs in almost the opening two years of the war was not an established politician but the nation's most prominent Field-Marshal: Lord Kitchener of Khartoum.
The conclusion often drawn from these points, that Britain had falled under a sort of military direction, is unwarranted. First, from August 1914 until his death in June 1916, Lord Kitchener was occupying a civilian post and wielding civilian authority. There is no evidence here of the military exercising undue influence in British affairs. Second, highly placed civilians proved more than capable of reaching bizarre decisions on military matters, as Gallipoli and Salonica and Lloyd George's Balkan schemes make evident. These civilians were not thereby acting as 'militarists'. Third, and quite fundamentally, the military arm in Britian, though unusually prominent, did not control the levers of power.
The vital decisions taken in Britain between 1914 and 1918 - even decisions with military implications - were not initiated and authorized by the military. In the diplomatic crisis of July-August 1914, no one asked for the service chiefs whether or not Britain should enter the fray, any more than, in the ensuing weeks, the military command was called on to decide whether Britain should abandon its small-army, 'business as usual', orientation in favour of mass army and a war economy. Equally, it was as a result of an intense political tussle, not a military diktat, that Britain in 1916 decided to terminate voluntary enlistment and conscript adult males (only) for the armed services - with provision for conscientious objection, a decidedly unmilitary concept. Even in the area of great concern to the military, grand strategy, it was the cabinet and its offshoots which untimately decided whether Britain would confine itself to operations on the Western Front or, simultaneiously or as an alternative, would mount expeditions in Mesopotamia and Gallipoli and Salonica.
If Sir Douglas Haig had been commander of the German Army, he might (one can speculate) have played a key role in provoking a great war and waging it for gradiose purposes and by reckless means. Opportunities for such conduct were open to Germany's military leaders under the system of rule bequeathed by Bismark. Under the British constitution, as it operated not only in peace but during the two great wars of this century, the chance did not exist for the military arm to bring catastrophie upon the British people.
The point needs to be taken further. Haig was not the commander of Britain's army, even in a purely operational sense. He was commander only of British forces in France and Belgium - and only, as Sir John French had discovered, for as long as the nation's civilian rulers chose to retain his services. That is, if the government decided that Britain would raise no army and would confine itself to a naval and economic war; or if it chose to raise a large military force but employ most of it in the Balkans or the Middle East; then the name of Sir Douglas Haig would be as little remembered as are the names of Britain's commanders in Mesopotamia and Salonica.
Haig, in sum, may have been responsible for much that happened, and much that is open to criticism, in the Great War generally and the Third Ypres compaign in particular. But responsibility for the fact that the Flanders operation of 1917 was ever launched, and ever persisted in, lies elsewhere."
Myth of Inevitability of the Third Ypres Campaign: Practical Possibilities for Attack on the Western Front in 1917
Extract from "Passchendaele the untold story", Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson, 1996, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-07227-9 (pg 36)
"These hopeful episodes in the otherwise bleak operations of 1916 and early 1917 seemed to carry a clear message: well trained and well-equipped forces of infantry, when proceeding with the support of massed artillery, could achieve striking successes. Certainly, success would be limited by the restricted capacity of the gunners to suppress enemy weaponry and to accompany the forward movement of the infantry. That is, the physical limits of achievement were determined by the distance that high-explosive shells could travel.
This sort of accomplishment may not have transfixed Britain's civilian leaders and military commanders, hankering as they were after sweeping advances towards far horizons. But it did offer something appropriate to the war they happened to be waging. That something was attrition, but attrition - bizarre as it may sound - in its creative and hopeful sense: that step-by-step elimination of the enemy's fighting force and will to resist not cancelled out by a corresponding diminuation of one's own fighting strength and resolution.
So if attention had been directed to the positive aspects of recent campaigns, there were indeed choices still open of a hopeful - if hardly momentous - kind. Inevitability had nothing to do with it."
Myth of Lloyd George having a tenous hold on office
Extract from "Passchendaele the untold story", Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson, 1996, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-07227-9 (pg 38)
[2 pages of explanatory text excluded]
"Far from Lloyd George's hold on office being desperately precarious, so that at the last he must betray his views on strategy in order to retain power, the Prime Minister - as long as he was alive and while the war lasted - was indispensable. In the second half of 1917, as very manifestly in the first, the power to decide strategy rested with him.
Exploration has nowhere further to go. There can be but one explanation as to why Haig was able to embark on the Third Ypres campaign: the civilian rulers of Britain gave their consent. In a situation where, given the defensive posture of the enemy on this front, they could have opted for nothing more reckless than strictly limited operations, they agreed to the inception of a vastly ambitious campaign. For that decision there can be only one reason. Either they were eager for such an undertaking or (while being less than eager) they preferred it to any other feasible course."
"False Dawn: Messines": Arras and Vimy
Extract from "Passchendaele the untold story", Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson, 1996, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-07227-9 (pg 55 to pg 56)
"Haig, it will be recalled, had decided on 7 May to split his northern offensive into two distinct attacks, separated by seven weeks. The first of these was to be conducted on Plumer's Second Army. Its objective was the capture of the Messines Ridge from which 'the Germans could watch every detail of any preparations the British might make for an offensive eastwards between Ypres and the Belgian coast'.
Although the Messines Ridge was a position of considerable strength, earlier battles in 1917 had seen some hopeful developments for limited offensives against objectives of this type. In particular these developments related to artillery.
In March and April the British Third and First Armies had instituted
atillery planning in the most meticulous detail for the capture of the
Arras and Vimy positions. For Vimy the exact length of trench to be
assailed and wire to be cut had been calculated and the appropriate guns
and shells assigned to the task. In the matter of troop protection
nothing was left to chance. The attacking infantry were not only preceded
by a creeping barrage, but in front of that fell further barrages of
machine-gun bullets, light howitzer shells, and a final curtain of fire
from the medium and heavy howitzers. In all a moving barrage of shells
some 500 yards deep fell continuously in front of the infantry for the 7.5
hour duration of the attack. Even then artillery protection did not cease.
A standing barrage of 200-300 yards in width continued to shield the
infantry from enemy counter-attack until nightfall. A third element in
the new thinking related to counter-battery. At the Somme this was
usually fired only by those guns which remained after guns had been
allocated to other tasks, such as trench destruction. At Arras the reverse
was the case. Counter-battery work received absolute priority. Where
the German artillery was unexpectedly reinforced, batteries engaged
in trench destruction were switched to deal with the newly deployed
Lessons from Messines
Extract from "Passchendaele the untold story", Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson, 1996, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-07227-9 (pg 65)
"Yet Messines was also important for what it had not achieved or had achieved only partially and at excessive cost. The whole operation had not been cheap, with a British casualty toll of 25,000. And it proved to hold no potential for opening a way to regions beyond certain limited goals. Plumer, significantly, had originally opted for an advance of 1,500 yards; and on the day he managed to accomplish this with only moderate losses. But Haig was determined on more: an advance on the first day alone of between 3,000 and 4,000 yards. The extra distance from quite another proposition, requiring a week to accomplish and costing Plumer most of his casualties. And by the time the week was out, the operation had clearly yielded all it had to offer. Messines provided no evidence that the Third Ypres compaign was likely to achieve the wide-ranging goals fundamental to Haig's conception. Had it been immediately followed up, it might had aided in further successful limited operations around the salient. It did not point in more grandiose directions.
Messines, then, on account of the nature of the war along with the decision of the high command, proved an isolated event. It had many helpful lessons to teach about the correct marrying of infantry with artillery, as well as a sobering lesson about the limited accomplishment that was to be expected even of a thoroughly prepared operation. What in ensuing weeks would become evident was that these lessons were of equally little interest to Britian's military commanders and to their political masters."
The Increasing German Defenses
Extract from "Passchendaele the untold story", Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson, 1996, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-07227-9 (pg 73)
"What is noteworthy about these defences, apart from their imposing nature, is the timetable of their creation. No small part of them had come into existence during the seven-week interval between Plumer's attack at Messines and the commencement of Gough's operation on 31 July. This was the interval that haig had introduced into the planning process - disregarding that fact that the deception aspect, which was supposed to justify such an interlude, was the merest fantasy. Haig, in short, had arranged matters in a way which proved greatly to his enemy's advantage."
Extract from "Passchendaele the untold story", Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson, 1996, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-07227-9 (pg 98)
"Conditions deteriorated as the month progress. On 26 August a junior officer lying in his pillbox headquarters heard 'sobbing moans of agony, and despairing shrieks' from no man's land, casualties from a failed British attack. Among the wounded were four of his friends and he realized that their agonies had a new and horrible dimension. Many of them had crawled into shell holes for safety and were now slowly drowning as the driving rail filled the holes. He could do nothing to help them. The ground was so boggy that unencumbered movement was almost impossible. In any case the German barrage precluded any venture into no man's land."
Sacrifice of the Irish Divisions
Extract from "Passchendaele the untold story", Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson, 1996, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-07227-9 (pg 103)
"The official history of one of the divisions is scathing on the causes of the defeat. Nothing that this had been the first time in the course of the war that the division had failed to reach its objective, the history made the following points: that before the attack the division had already been in the line for 13 days, and during that time as many as 1,000 men per day had been required for carrying work in the forward areas under constant shell fire; that when the attack was launched the state of the ground was such that the men could hardly drag themselves through it; that it was clear the artillery bombardment was not touching the German defences or the enemy artillery; and finally that when the shortcomings of the bombardment were pointed out to counter-battery officers they were not believed.
The sacrifice made by these Irish divisions needs to be spelt out. From the time they entered the line to the end of the battle, the 36 and 16 Divisions sustained 7,800 casualties, more than 50 per cent of their number. Their sacrifice earned them no gratitude. Haig noted in his dairy that Gough 'was not pleased with the action of the Irish divisions.... They seem to have gone forward but failed to keep what they had won.....The men are Irish and apparently did not like the enemy's shelling, so Gough said'. Comment seems superfluous."
Menin Road Battle
Extract from "Passchendaele the untold story", Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson, 1996, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-07227-9 (pg 119)
"It is noteworthy that the reports on this action written at the time and those in the official histories treat the Menin Road battle as largely an artillery victory. So the Australian Official History, a work which usually makes much of the travails of the infantry, here attributes success to the gunners:
The advancing barrage won the ground; the infantry merely occupied it, pouncing on any points where resistance survived. Whereas the artillery was generally spoken of as supporting the infantry, in this battle the infantry were little more than a neccessary adjunct of the artillery's effort.
Yet none of this should be taken to mean that the Menin Road battle was an easy victory or that the British forces did not pay a heavy price to secure it. We have already noted the losses among the artillery during the preliminary bombardment and the losses of the flanking divisions on the day of the attack. Heavy casualties were also suffered in the centre, where the attack was most successful. Despite statements in the operation reports about the Germans offereing 'little resistance' and causing 'very little trouble', the casuality figures disclosed by these documents tell a different story. At the end of the day XVII Corps had suffered over 2,500 casualties, V Corps 4,000, 1 Anzac 5,000, and X Corps 5,500. Thus 17,000 casualties had been suffered by the centre divisions. If the flank divisions' casualties are added, the advance cost the British about 21,000 men killed and wounded for the capture of 5.5 square miles - about 3,800 per square mile. To place this in some perspective, on the first day of the battle, 31 July, Gough's forces suffered 27,000 casualties and captured 18 square miles, 1,500 casualties per square mile.
The Menin Road battle, that is, was not an easy success but a triumph over adversity. This is made clear by a close reading of the operational reports. The 1 Anzac Corps had no sooner left their trenches than they were subjected to heavy fire from long-range artillery, from machine-guns situation in Hannebeek Wood, Nonne Boschen, Glencorse Wood, Draght House, Black Watch Corner, and Cameron House, and from various scattered pillboxes. They were then shelled by their own artillery."
"Neverending Story: Battle of Poelcappelle"
Extract from "Passchendaele the untold story", Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson, 1996, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-07227-9 (pg 165 to pg 166)
"The Battle of Poelcappelle had not advanced the British line a yard towards Passchendaele Ridge. At the end of the day the troops of I Anzac and II Anzac and XVIII Corps were, with trivial exceptions, occupying their original front line.
This, however, was not the view held by the high command. Perhaps grasping at the fleeting appearance of small groups from 66 and 2 Australian Divisions at their final objectives, Plumer expressed himself satisfied with the day's result. He told Haig that a good line had been seized from which to capture Passchendaele village and that operations should continue on the 12th. Haig hardly needed urging. He ordered the attack to go forward and even instructed Rawlinson (languishing but not forgotten on the coast) 'to make all arrangements to carry out your full plan of operations'. So favourably did Haig regard events that he told Rawlinson he would be quite justified in employing for the purpose two divisions just dispatched to him despite their inadequate training.
During the next 24 hours it became clear that progess on the 9th had not been 'so great as at first stated'. Plumer declared the situation on his battle front obscure. Maxse and Gough were openly sceptical as to whether the Second Army advanced at all. Australian patrols found their men and the British in occupation of their original line.
Yet this intelligence made little impact on the high command. Haig and Plumer, along with the corps commanders who were to conduct the next battle (Godley and Birdwood), persisted in the view that some gains had been made. Contact with junior officers at the front would certainly have revealed a different situation, but none of the commanders nor most of the divisional generals sought out information at first hand. Monash (commander of 3 Australian Division) seems to have received at least some negative reports, but he took no decisive action.
In any case Haig was certain that the Germans were at the end of their tether. He told the French President, Poincare, of his determination to push on, as 'the enemy is now much weakened in moral[e] and lacks the desire to fight'. When the chief of intelligence at the War Office, General Macdonagh, had the temirity to suggest that the recent battles should give the German command 'no cause for anxiety' in the area of morale, Haig launched into the following remarkable outburst:
I cannot think why the War Office Intelligence Dept. gives such a wrong picture of the situation except the Gen. Macdonagh (DMI) is a Roman Catholic and is (perhaps unconsciously) influenced by information which doubtless reaches him from tainted (i.e., catholic) sources.
Self deception could go no further."
"Neverending Story: First Battle of Passchendaele"
Extract from "Passchendaele the untold story", Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson, 1996, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-07227-9 (pg 168 to pg 169)
"All attempts by divisional commanders to ascertain the situation at the front proved futile. The 9 Division's description of the commications hiatus - not without its farcical elements - reveals the impotence of commanders to influence events:
Communications were worse that I have ever known them; wires were all out and visual [signalling] was difficult owing to gun flashes. Pigeons could not fly against the wind, and the men with the [messenger] dogs became casualties. The dogs themselves got loose and started a battle of their own...Runners took hours to get through the awful going.
Not even local fire support could be offered. Machine-guns and rifles became clogged with mud; trench mortars could not fire because ammunition was too wet and dirty.
The flanking attacks, likewise, achieved nothing of significance. On the right of II Anzac Corps, 4 Australian Division failed to gain any ground. On the far left, the French and XIV Corps penetrated a hundred yards or so into the Houthulst Forest.
In the appaling conditions even the much sought after 'Blighty' would could prove a calamity. The commander of the 7 Seaforth Highlanders reported:
One man left the front liine woulded slightly at dusk on the 12th and on the morning of the 13th was discovered stuck fast in a shell hole a few yards from where he started. Repeated efforts were made to get him out with spades, ropes etc. At one time 16 men were working at once under enemy view. But he had to be left there when the Battalion was relieved on the night of the 13th/14th.
His fate can only be surmised
The First Battle of Passchendaele, the name by which the fiasco just described has since been dignified, is surely one of the lowest points in the British exercise of command during the Third Ypres campaign....."
"Conclusion: What Next?"
Extract from "Passchendaele the untold story", Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson, 1996, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-07227-9 (pg 196)
"The termination of the Third Ypres campaign constituted no sort of a climax. The undertaking did not cease because it had reached some meaningful culmination. It simply came to a halt.
This raised an obvious question. What was going to happen next? Haig's view was straightforward"
"I pointed out the importance of the Belgian coast to Great Britain, and urged that nothing should be done to stop our offensive next Spring"
"Effect on Morale"
Extract from "Passchendaele the untold story", Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson, 1996, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-07227-9 (pg 196)
"The Third Ypres campaign imposed a further cost on Britian's army, but one less quantifyable than numbers of men killed and wounded. Several witnesses relate harm dealt to the morale of Britain's fighting men by their involvement in such barren operations. In December 1917 the minister for national service, in a cabinet document endorsed by the adjutant-general to the forces, recounted increases among the fighting forces of drunkenness, desertion, and psychological disorders. Men home from the front, he reported, frequently spoke with great bitterness about 'the waste of life during the continued hammerings against the Ypres Ridge'/ And a gunner who participated in the fighting of 11 October relates how a 'month of incessant attacks', with little progress, appalling casualties and severe fighting, was having 'a bad effect on the morale of everybody concerned'. He continued:"
"Reinforcements of the new armies shambled up past the guns with dragging steps and the expressions of men who knew they were going to certain death. No words of greeting passed as they slouched along; in sullen silence they filed past one by one to the sacrifice."