Royal Field Artillery ammunition limbers moving up the Ypres-Menin Road during the Battle of Polygon Wood on 26 September 1917. This view illustrates the flatness of the landscape in the vicinity of Ypres, where even small ridges could become dominating defensive features. It also highlights the relatively dry conditions at this point of the offensive.
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The Third Battle of Ypres is frequently known by the name of the village where it culminated: Passchendaele. In Britain it has come to symbolise the horrors associated with the war on the Western Front.
The area surrounding the Belgian town of Ypres was a key battleground during the First World War. By 1917 British forces were suffering steady casualties there, holding a salient surrounded by higher ground. Sir Douglas Haig planned to break out of this poor position and seize the railway running behind the German lines, a few miles east. He then hoped to advance on the German submarine base at Bruges. The German U-boat campaign was threatening Britain with defeat at this time.
A preliminary operation to seize the Messines Ridge was a dramatic success, but the Germans had reinforced their position by the time the main battle was launched on 31 July. The initial attacks failed, due to over-ambitious plans and unseasonal rain. The drainage of the low-lying battlefield had been destroyed by the bombardment, so mud made movement difficult.
Better results were achieved during a dry period in September, demoralising the Germans, who did not have an answer to the British 'bite and hold' tactics. Encouraged, Haig insisted on continuing the offensive in October; despite the return of the rain and appalling mud. The Canadians finally captured Passchendaele ridge on 10 November, but the vital railway still lay five miles away.
Both sides had suffered heavy casualties on this frightful battlefield, but the British Expeditionary Force had made no strategic gain.
The Army Ordnance Corps lower a new barrel into position on an 8-inch howitzer near Ypres on 27 September 1917 during the Battle of Polygon Wood. Drier conditions in September enabled the BEF to make better progress during this phase of the offensive.
This sign marked the Menin Gate at the western edge of the town of Ypres. The road running through the Menin Gate was route most frequently taken by soldiers heading into action in the salient. This sign was salvaged after it was damaged and replaced during 1917.