Monday 9 October 2017

Seventy First Day of the Third Battle of Ypres

Tuesday 9th October 1917

Hard on the heels of the major attack on 4th October today has seen another significant onslaught, this time by ten divisions. Furthest south 5th Division attacked using 15th Brigade, though not the 1st Bedfords, who were in reserve, fortunately for them as the attack seems to have been a complete failure, the two assaulting Battalions, 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment and 16th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment making no progress whatsoever due to mud and withering fire from Polderhoek Château. Incidentally the 6th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, part of 37th Division, which took no part in the attack had, we understand, orders to advance if the enemy began to show signs of withdrawal, but this did not happen.

Next in the line, going north, is 21st Division, but this unit was not slated to make an attack. On their right flank is 7th Division, which did send its 21st Brigade “over the top” in order to straighten an inwards bulge by the enemy line at this point around the hamlet of Reutel. The hamlet was taken and the bulge satisfactorily dealt with.

1st Australian Division was next north but, again, this formation did not make an attack. On their left flank 2nd Australian Division attacked with its 5th and 6th Brigades. We understand that most battalions in this fine force have been reduced to less than the strength of a company - between 150 and 200 men when they should have around one thousand. 6th Brigade pushed forward from Broodseinde to cover the flank of 5th Brigade  This formation cleared Decoy Wood and the strong-point called Rhine was taken and they surged on to their final objective. Here their lack of numbers told more than their excellent fighting spirit and they were forced back to the first objective, where they dug in.

On the Australians’ left is 66th (2nd East Lancashire) Division which used 197th and 198th Brigades in its attack. 198th Brigade reached its first objective but could go no further in the face of determined resistance whilst 197th Brigade managed more and reached its second line of objectives but, misinterpreting formation of a defensive flank by the troops on their left as a withdrawal , also withdrew back to their first objective. During the day patrols from the Division got all the way to the outskirts of Passchendaele so the eventual curtailing of this division’s advance, we guess, is particularly galling to high command.

49th (West Riding) Division also used two brigades in its attack, 146th and 148th. Again one of the brigades had better fortune than the other. 148th Brigade had to cross a stream called Revebeek. Reports suggest that this is now more of a shallow river, approaching fifty yards width of cold, muddy, waist-deep water. Heavy fire from well-defended positions has forced the attack to be abandoned after a day of trying to slog forward, we understand - exhausting and demoralising for the men concerned. 146th Brigade took Yetta House and a pillbox known, incongruously as Peter Pan as well as Kronprinz Farm but had to curtail the advance a few hundred yards short of their first objective.

48th (South Midland) Division used its 144th Brigade in the attack, with two battalions each from Gloucestershire and Worcestershire Regiments. Vacher Farm and Adler Farm were taken but Inch Farm and Oxford House resisted attack, confining gains to roughly the line of the first objective.

11th (Northern) Division also used a single Brigade, 33rd, for its attack. They began their attack in the eastern fringes of the village of Poelcapelle but, try as they might, could simply not get forward due to enemy fire.

4th Division used its 12th Brigade for this attack. It lies on the northern shoulder of the line and its attack, instead of going east or north east went almost due north-north-east. They did well on this day of disappointments, getting mid-way between their first and second objectives by the time their advance had to be shut down. We understand that both Millers Farm and Landing Farm have been taken.

29th Division’s attack , in between that of 29th Division and the Guards, was also north-eastwards and here great success was achieved. 86th and 88th Brigades cleared Olga House, Senegal Farm, Namur Crossing, Pascal Farm and Cairo House and the whole division ended up half way between their second and third objectives

The left-most division to attack today, again heading north-north-east, was the Guards Division, using its 1st and 2nd Brigades. They took Vee Bend, Egypt Farm and the Brickfield, Gruyierszale Farm and Ney Wood ending up with their left flank on the village of Veldhoek and their right on the brickfield at les Cinq Chemins having taken all objectives - a performance worthy of household troops and bringing them close to the southern reaches of Huthoulst Forest

Today’s attack was, it is fair to say, patchy with some great success, particularly in the northern sector, but also a complete lack of success in parts towards the south. The poor conditions were a major factor, swollen streams, clagging mud and cold. It truly feels like October now after quite a dry and balmy end to September. Some areas, such as around the approaches to Passchendaele are well and truly waterlogged. And, of course, the Germans continue to make use of their fortified positions long prepared; mud is of little handicap to defenders.

No one here knows when the next attack will be. Opinion is divided between those suggesting that high command may begin winding this battle down as the bad weather and dismal conditions draw on, others opine that it will speed-up due to time-pressure to achieve some sort of breakthrough before winter. Only time will tell.

Sources: X550/2/5; X550/7/1

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