Canada & the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917
Western Front Objectives, 1917
By May 1917, the Allies struggled with a strategic dilemma - they realized that they had no hope of breaking through the western front as long as the German Army remained strong. In addition, their strategy to weaken the enemy by attacking at various points along the front was too diffuse to deal, among other things, with the ferocious German U-boat attacks in European waters. Yet the German Army would not rest while it reaped the results of its ongoing submarine offensives along the Belgian coast; if the U-boats were not driven out of the Belgian ports soon, the English Channel was in peril.
Canadian unit in the mud of Passchendaele. Source: Library and Archives Canada
The battlefield was situated in a low-lying area reclaimed from marshy lands by means of an elaborate drainage system. Once shelling started, flooding would rapidly turn the whole battlefield into mud, a situation greatly compounded by the wet weather notorious in those parts in the late fall.
The enemy in fact counted on the vulnerability of the terrain, and they deliberately retired from their front line back to the Passchendaele Ridge in order to liberate a zone of marshland for Allied troops to bog down in as they tried to take the ridge.
The Plan: A Two-Division Attack
By October 26, the 3rd Battle of Ypres had already gone through a series of successive engagements which had begun almost three months earlier, and in which British, Australian and New Zealand troops sustained horrific losses.
You will not be called upon to advance until everything has been done that can be done to clear the way for you. After that it is up to you.
Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Currie to his infantry.
By October 4, after a full two months of fighting, the mud-soaked and exhausted Australians had in fact managed to capture Passchendaele Ridge. Now the only remaining obstacle was the German-occupied town of Passchendaele to...