The Battle of Passchendaele - Jul 31 - Oct 12, 1917This battle, often referred to as Passchendaele, pitted immense British and Empire firepower against a heavily-fortified German positions in a series of advances in September and October 1917.
This offensive, which began at 3:50am on July 31, 1917, involved the Australians in three phases Menin Road, Polygon Wood and Broodseinde about 38,000 Australians were killed or wounded. It was the scene of the most ferocious firepower of the war.
The British had a gun every few metres. The Germans had perfected their network of blockhouses and pillboxes General Haig's objective was the ridge at Passchendaele, but 12 hours after the Allied push began, heavy rain set and did not abate for two weeks The Australian 3rd Division found itself in an instant swamp as water filled the pock-marked landscape. The 1st, 2nd and 5th Divisions moved up behind them C.E.W. Bean described the battlefield as resembling "the bottom of an upheaved ocean". By September 20th the area had dried out and an enormous attack was mounted by 11 Allied divisions - including the AIF 1st and 2nd - on a 13km front.
The Australians were at the centre of a force facing Glencourse Wood, the first time two Australian divisions had fought side-by-side. Overcoming enemy infantry, the AIF made it to their sunken road on the edge of Glencourse Wood In some of these encounters, the Australians lost a great deal of respect for the Germans after having been given signs of surrender only to find themselves fired on as they dropped their guard. By noon on the 20th the Australians and British had won Menin Road and were at the edge of Polygon Wood.
The British casualty toll was between 20,000 and 25,000, including 5000 Australians. The next battle was to capture all of Polygon Wood. On the nights of September 22nd and 23rd the Australian 1st and 2nd Divisions were relieved by the 4th and 5th The artillery barrage that preceded the September 226th attack was described by Bean as rolling ahead "like a Gippsland bushfire." The Australians advanced along 2500m of a 10km front. The 4th division captured all of its positions but lost 1717 lives. The 5th had 5471 wounded and injured. Victoria's 15th Brigade was the worst affected with almost 2000 casualties.
On October 4th, a few kilometres south of Passchendaele, the battle began for Broodseinde Ridge, a position the British had abandoned in 1915. The Australians 1st and 2nd divisions were thrown into battle again, despite their commanders' belief that they were worn out. Little did the High Command realise that at the moment of their attack the Germans also planned an advance. Both sides pummelled each other with artillery and then the infantry of each met, staring at each other from only 30metres apart. The Australian gunners fired first and the infantry attacked the Germans in a bayonet onslaught.
Broodseinde was a great victory for the Allies and the German leadership officially recorded October 4th as "a black day". The three Australian divisions lost 6500 men. The 3rd division, with the 4th in support, then fronted up for an assault on Passchendaele in miserable weather on October 12th. Another 4000 Australians were killed or wounded. In the period since July 31st, the British and Empire forces had accumulated casualties of 448,614 compared with 217,700 for the Germans.