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Third Battle of Ypres (Battle of Passchendaele), 31 July 1917 in the Great War


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Third Battle of Ypres (Battle of Passchendaele), 31 July 1917 in the Great War

On 31 July 1917, the Allies launch a renewed assault on German lines in the Flanders region of Belgium, in the much-contested region of the Ypres Salient, during the Great War. The attack begins more than three months of brutal fighting, known as the Third Battle of Ypres (Battle of Passchendaele). While the First and Second Battles of Ypres were attacks by the Germans against the Allied-controlled Ypres Salient which crucially blocked any German advance to the English Channel, the Third Battle of Ypres was spearheaded by the British commander in chief, Sir Douglas Haig.

Following the failure of the Nivelle Offensive (named for its mastermind, the French commander Robert Nivelle) the previous May, with widespread mutinies within the French army, Haig insisted the British press ahead with another major offensive that summer. The aggressive and meticulously planned offensive, ostensibly aimed at destroying German submarine bases located on the north coast of Belgium, was in fact driven by Haig’s (mistaken) belief that the German army was on the verge of collapse, and would be broken completely by a major Allied victory.

Haig ordered a final three attacks on Passchendaele in late October (Second Battle of Passchendaele). The eventual capture of the village, by Canadian and British troops, led by Sir Arthur Currie on 6 November 1917, allowed Haig to finally call off the offensive, claiming victory, despite some 310,000 British casualties, as opposed to 260,000 on the German side, and a failure to create any substantial breakthrough, or change of momentum, on the Western Front. Given its outcome, the Third Battle of Ypres remains one of the most costly and controversial offensives of the Great War, representing–at least for the British, the epitome of the wasteful and futile nature of trench warfare. CEFRG (Canadian Expeditionary Force Research Group) https://cefrg.ca

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