Thursday, 12 October 2017

Seventy Fourth Day of the Third Battle of Ypres

Friday 12th October 1917

Eight divisions have made concerted attacks today across a broad front stretching from Broodeseinde in the south to Veldhoek in the north. The main aim has been to take the village of Passchendaele and the spur on which it sits. However, it has been wet again and the conditions underfoot have been even worse than during the attack on 9th and this has severely limited the amount of ground which has been taken.

The 4th Australian Division formed a block on the flank of their compatriots further north. They took their first objective but made no attack on the second as the division on their left flank could make on further advance. This was 3rd Australian Division which attacked in two brigades attacking north-east from the area around Tyne Cot(1). Patrols from 9th Brigade got into the village of Passchendaele where they encountered men wounded in the attack by 66th (2nd East Lancashire) Division three days ago. The terrible conditions, however, meant that men could not be got up quickly enough, nor were there enough men available, as the brigade’s flank was not secure, to consolidate and hold the village and the division, to its chagrin, was forced to fall back nearly to its start line. 10th Brigade, attacking on 9th Brigade’s left, could not get very far at all, we understand, though it took Waterfields on the Ravebeek, now a morass of deep, sucking slime. Mounting casualties from machine gun fire from their flank caused the brigade to abandon its attack and pull back to its starting position. We understand that there is great frustration amongst the division’s commanders and, indeed, corps and army headquarters that the village of Passchendaele, which is a major prize, has had to be abandoned but in truth the men seem to have done all they could, fighting not just the Germans but the ground and the elements.

On 3rd Australian Division’s flank is the splendid New Zealand Division, which, again, used two brigades in its attack. The attack of 2nd Brigade was destroyed by the fact that the artillery had not done its job, only one narrow section of the enemy’s barbed wire around the road to s’Gravenstafel. The 1st and 2nd Battalions of the Otago Regiment have, we are hearing suffered horrific casualties from enemy fire for no ground gained; clearly it was not from want of trying(2). 3rd New Zealand Brigade became intermingled with 9th (Scottish) Division early in the attack. They captured the cemetery at Wallemolen and took Wolf Farm, getting as far as Wolf Copse and then the attack was halted given the misfortune developing with 2nd Brigade. It was planned, we understand to re-commence the attack in mid-afternoon, but this was called off due to the severity of the rate of casualties.

9th (Scottish) Division used the 26th Brigade to make its attack. On the right Adler Farm, part of the first objective, was taken and Wallemolen was entered. However, the Germans had numbers of defenders in the village and managed to turn the Scots out again, so they consolidated just west of the houses, a gain of about two hundred yards. On the left an advance of only about one hundred yards has been possible, we hear.

18th Division are on the left flank of the Scots and their attack was undertaken by 53rd and 55th Brigades. 7th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment forms part of 54th Brigade and spent the day in attack practice at Tunnelling Camp well behind the line. 55th Brigade attacked Poelcapelle and Meunier House. They managed to take the best part of Poelcapelle, but the brewery on the eastern edge of the village proved too tough a nut to crack, as did Meunier House. There have been a number of counter-attacks to try and retake the village by the enemy through the afternoon but the last we heard the 18th Division is still in possession, adding another village to its impressive list of seizures since the opening day of the Battle of the Somme.

Next in the line is 4th Division which attacked with a composite brigade made up from the battalions in the division with the greatest numbers of men. Again, the advance was limited but some ground has been made and two farms, Besace and Memling have been taken.

17th (Northern) Division is on the left flank of 4th Division and used 51st Brigade in its attack. This attack has been a great success and all objectives have been taken, including the strongpoint at Senegal House. This was bypassed during the attack and, extraordinarily, we have been told that the whole garrison of ninety men surrendered to three unarmed men of the 7th Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment, who were bringing up supplies!

The final attack was made by 3rd Brigade of the Guards Division. Their attack was due north, towards Houthulst Forest. As twilight closed in this evening the 2nd Battalion, Scots Guards took blockhouses at Angle Point and Aden House at the point where the division’s right flank met the left flank of 4th Division. The rest of the line now runs along the southern fringes of the forest.

So the second great attack this month has seen some more useful progress. It is unclear now long General Plumer and his staff plan to continue the offensive, but, clearly, they are not finished yet and, if nothing else, we suspect they will want to seize Passchendaele and its ridge.

(1) Today this is Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in the World with 11,965 inhabitants.
(2) The Commonwealth War Graves Commission lists 265 men from the Otago Regiment dying on 12th October and the numbers of wounded will probably have been at least twice this number. Overall 847 men from New Zealand units were killed or died of wounds on this day, compared to 866 from Australia (which had two divisions in the attack to New Zealand’s one). 1,854 men from British units died - there were five British divisions in the attack but the figure will include British units from across the World, so it can be seen that Antipodean units suffered far greater casualties than their UK counterparts. 

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