Thursday 26 October 2017

Eighty Eighth Day of the Third Battle of Ypres

Friday 26th October 1917

Another attack has been made today on the village of Passchendaele and its ridge as well as on the village of Gheluveldt along the Menin Road. These attacks have involved eight divisions.

For the first time in three weeks, serious fighting returned to the vicinity of the Menin Road. Here 7th Division attacked south-east towards Gheluveldt. Those with long memories have been struck by the fact that this division, which then included 2nd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, saw its first action in this very vicinity almost exactly three years ago, making an attack from Gheluveldt towards Gheluwe on 15th October 1914. That attack ended in failure and retreat. Today’s attack seems to have been little more successful. 91st Brigade could make any headway against a solid wall of machine-gun fire. 20th Brigade, at times waist-deep in water, did penetrate the village, getting to within one hundred yards of the church. Then came a wave of German counter-attacks which pushed the attackers out of the village and almost back to their starting positions. Those who remember it tell me what a pleasant little place Gheluveldt was before the war, sitting on its ridge over-looking Ypres to the west and Gheluwe to the east. Evidently the enemy are very fond of it, too, and will not give it up without a prolonged struggle.

Next in the line going north is 5th Division, who were also in this vicinity three years ago. This division attacked with 13th Brigade, heading south-east along the north side of the Menin Road down the valley of the Scherriabeek, which has become vile, stinking bog. On 16th October the 1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment played a war game called “The Taking of Polderhoek Chateau”. That feat was achieved for real today by 15th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment but they were forced to pull back, because the units on either flank had made no progress, letting the enemy back into the strong-point he had lost. He then counterattacked the Warwicks and the last we heard the whole of the brigade was back at its starting line of this morning.

The adjutant of the 1st Bedfords told me that at ten o’clock this morning he had received a message from divisional headquarters that all objectives had been taken. At noon another message was received saying that the Warwicks had abandoned the chateau and that 2nd Battalion, King’s Own Scottish Borderers had been ordered to reinforce the attack. At 1.15 pm the adjutant received orders for the Bedfords to the support the Borderers and the Battalion moved forward arriving at a spot called the Tower at 4.30. An hour later they were ordered to take over in the front line between the foul morasses of the Reutelbeek and the Scherriabeek which they are in the process of doing as I write this.

So much for the attacks along the Menin Road. The other main area of attack has been the Passchendaele Spur. 4th Canadian Division is astride the road from Broodeseinde to Passchendaele and their attack, by 10th Brigade, was aimed directly for the village. They seized their first objective but, under relentless counter-attacks have withdrawn nearly to their starting position. On the left is 3rd Canadian Division whose attack, by 8th and 9th Brigades, headed in the direction of Mossemarkt and Goudberg. Again, they made their first objective but could not go any further. Nevertheless, Wolf Copse and Bellevue have been taken.

63rd (Royal Naval) Division are next in the line, though 4th Bedfords are still in support closer to Ypres. The attack was made by 188th Brigade comprising two battalions of sailors and two of Royal Marines. As with the Somme last November, many have been the wry remarks about the battlefield being so flooded that the navy has been sent in. Only in the centre was the attack prevented from getting too far forward, the right flank taking Varlet Farm and the left flank taking Bray Farm and Berks Houses. Thus the majority of the first objective has been taken and consolidated.

58th (2nd/1st London) Division made the attack on the navy’s left flank, using one brigade, the 173rd, pushing north-east from Poelcapelle. Cameron House and its blockhouses fell quickly but then the advance stalled and we understand that enemy counter-attacks this afternoon have pushed the Londoners back to their original line.

57th (2nd West Lancashire) Division attacked with 170th Brigade but, in truth, never really began. It simply could not get through the marsh in front of it. A few men were able to get round the morass and establish posts in Memling farm and Rubens Farm, which were unoccupied by the enemy but that has been the extent of what was possible.

Finally, 50th (Northumbrian) Division, heavily involved in the final stages of the Somme campaign in the bitter fighting in the bogs around the Butte de Warlencourt was faced with more of the same today when 149th Brigade was ordered to attack north-eastwards towards Schaap-Balie. The weight of fire from the enemy, combined with the state of the ground has reduced their advance to one of eighty yards in some places, no advance at all in others.

The attacks today have not had the same success as some of those of recent times. The enemy’s resistance seems to be stiffening as the year fails and the weather closes in. Still the village of Passchendaele, which seems to have become something of a touchstone for the later stages of this battle, remains untaken.

This evening we hear that Brazil has joined the long list of civilized countries which have lost patience with German aggression. A few days ago one of their ships was sunk by a U-Boat and its captain taken prisoner. Relations have not been good between the two states for most of this year but this has been the final straw and Brazil has declared war on Germany. Whether we see any soldiers from the land of the samba remains to be seen(1)

Source: X550/2/5

(1) Only about twenty men were sent to the Western Front to learn the strategy and tactics of modern war. The Brazilian navy, however, played an important part in anti-U-boat operations in the South Atlantic.

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