The terrible events of the year 1917 are engraved in our collective memory. A series of explosions created a huge man-made earthquake and soldiers fought not only against the enemy but also against the mud. The Third Battle of Ypres, also known as the Battle of Passchendaele, destroyed the landscape and cost countless human lives.
7–14 June 1917 - Battle Of Messines
The Mine Battle - known as the Battle of Messines (Ridge) by the Allies and ‘der Schlacht am Wytschaete Bogen’ by the Germans - was fought as a prelude to the Third Battle of Ypres. The Allies wanted to break through the front with a major offensive. They hoped to take the German positions at Messines by surprise, using specially created tunneling companies. The idea was to approach the German trenches unseen through a series of underground tunnels, which would then be filled with high explosives.
In the early morning of 7 June 1917, at 4.10 local time (Zero Hour), 19 of the 24 mines planted by the Allies exploded almost simultaneously between Hill 60 and Ploegsteert. The surprise, the impact and the chaos amongst the Germans were complete. It was the most important Allied military victory of the war up to that point. The Messines-Wijtschate salient was eliminated. Units from Ireland, New Zealand and Australia took part in the battle.
12 July 1917 - Use Of Mustard Gas
The Germans used a new gas against the Allies for the first time: mustard gas, also known as Yperiet. This was a bad start for the Allied bombardment that commenced four days later in preparation for a new offensive around Ypres.
While the Mine Battle had been a success, the delay before launching this follow-up offensive was too long.
31 July – 10 November 1917 - Battle Of Passchendaele
At the end of July it began to rain heavily and when the offensive was launched on 31 July, the attacking troops could hardly drag themselves and their equipment forward through the thick mud. A series of major and minor attacks, often with brief intervals in-between followed in quick succession. Sometimes the Allies achieved local successes, but the campaign as a whole did not go according to plan. The German defences remained largely intact.
The village of Passchendaele – which should have fallen in August – was finally captured by the Canadians on 6 November.
After 100 days, the Allies had advanced just 8 kilometres while over 275,000 Commonwealth soldiers had been killed, wounded or were missing. The Germans also suffered heavy losses in men (200,000) and material, losses that they were unable to replace.