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Published on May 14, 2012
The Battle of Passchendaele was a campaign of the First World War, taking place between July and November 1917. In a series of operations, Entente armies under British command attacked the Imperial German Army. The battles were fought for control of the ridge and village of Passchendaele (modern Passendale) near the city of Ypres in West Flanders, Belgium.
The British intention was to wear out the German army with a quick succession of broad-front attacks moving short distances into the German defences, eventually to force the German army into a general withdrawal, then to advance on the Belgian coast and connect with the Dutch frontier. The British commander Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig anticipated a campaign in three parts: the capture of Passchendaele Ridge, an advance on Roulers and then Operation Hush, an attack along the Belgian coast from Nieuport combined with an amphibious landing. The offensive also served to distract the German army from the French armies on the Aisne, which were debilitated by mutinies in the aftermath of the Nivelle Offensive. The German Army fought to contain the British attacks using large amounts of artillery fire and many infantry counter-attacks, trying to keep control of the higher ground around Ypres which they had held since 1915.
Much of the fighting took place in unusually wet weather, which turned parts of the battlefield into a sea of mud churned by shell-fire yet at others, particularly in September the weather was hot and dry enough for men to wear shorts. The campaign ended in November when the British army captured Passchendaele village and part of the ridge. The British advance beyond the ridge to Roulers and the linked coastal operation did not take place and the German army managed to avoid a general withdrawal, which had seemed inevitable to them in October. The campaign is controversial; in a German General Staff publication of 1927 Theodor Jochim, first head of the Reichsarchivs documents section wrote: "Germany had been brought near to certain destruction (sicheren untergang) by the Flanders battle of 1917." in contrast, in his memoirs of 1938 Lloyd George wrote, "Passchendaele was indeed one of the greatest disasters of the war.... No soldier of any intelligence now defends this senseless campaign....". In 2008 J. P. Harris condemned Haig and the offensive, "For the troops taking part, however, some phases of Third Ypres had a quality more nightmarish than anything previously experienced." In 2011 G. Sheffield claimed the opposite though, quoting General von Kuhl, who said "The sacrifices that the British made for the Entente were fully justified."