The battle we know as Passchendaele is, in reality, a series of battles at sites around Ypres. General Sir Douglas Haig waited a full seven weeks before pressing the attack that the victory at Messines had made possible. This was a fatal delay. The main offensive resumed on 31 July. On 1 August, even before the day’s fighting could begin, it started to rain heavily; before long the battlefield was a quagmire and only became worse as the weeks passed.
There were successes. The Australians made good progress in the battle of Menin Road on 20 September and also fought at Polygon Wood and Broodseinde for small gains. The plan of attack demanded a heavy involvement of the artillery, but in the atrocious conditions on the ground it was difficult, if not impossible, to move the guns readily and speedily.
Experience should have shown that the battles must be stopped in these conditions. At Passchendaele there was no support from the artillery. The mud was so deep that the troops struggled to stand. The misery of these battles of late 1917 give us the defining images of fighting on the Western Front: fighting in a sea of unimaginable mud.
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