Today, July 31, 1917: Allies Launch Third Battle of Ypres, Flanders, Belgium
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Ypres is a large city in the Flanders region of Belgium. Ypres (English – EE-press, or Wipes as American troops referred to it as) is about 5 miles from France and about 20 miles from the northern coast and was the sight of several World War I battles.
Tensions in the central region of Europe had been building for a number of decades prior to World War I. The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian thrown, and his wife Sophia, was the spark that ignited the war in Europe which became World War I.
The assassination occurred on June 28, 1914 and by August 6, 1914, Astro-Hungary had declared war on Serbia and Russia, Germany declared war on Russia, Belgium and France.
Even though Belgium was a neutral country, Germany declared war on them mainly because they needed the routes through Belgium to get to northern France to conduct their war there.
In 1914, the Germans began invading Belgium.
In October, 1914, Allied forces arrived at Ypres to help Belgium and French forces to battle the German forces that had been marching across Belgium on the way to France. In a desperate measure to stop the German forces from advancing, the Belgium forces at Ypres opened up locked gates along the Yper River, flooding the land and creating a lake up to two miles wide from Ypres to the North Sea. The flooding stopped the German advance only momentarily, forcing them to redirect their charges against the city of Ypres through a narrow passage. The fighting continued in the November when the cold basically shut down the fighting and ending the First Battle of Ypres.
In April 1915, Germany launched its second attack on Ypres and it also ended in failure in May of 1915, even though it was one of the first times on the Western Front the German’s used gas warfare.
On this day, July 31, 1917, the Third Battle of Ypres began when allied forces launched an offensive against the German lines established in Flanders, Belgium. The attack was commanded by British Commander-in-Chief Sir Douglas Haig.
Haig began the attack with a massive shelling of the Germans, using around 3,000 guns. That was followed by Sir Hubert Gough, commander of the British 5th Army, advancing on the German lines with nine British divisions. At this stage of the battle, the lines were closer to the village of Passchendaele, which is why the Third Battle of Ypres is also known in some records as the Battle of Passchendaele.
Over the first two days of fighting, Gough had managed to push part of the German line back by a mile. Gough suffered heavy losses and managed to capture 5,000 German troops in the process.
The fighting bogged down. Heavy rains deluged the area, turning into a muddy quagmire. The thick mud made advancing the artillery nearly impossible, but the fighting waged on into August.
By the end of August 1917, Gough was replaced with British commander Herbert Plumer, managed to make small progress towards Passchendaele and the nearby ridge. Eventually, Haig and Plumer mounted several massive pushes against the German lines and with the help of Canadian troops, the British managed to capture Passchendaele but at a high cost.
On November 6, 1917, Haig ended his offensive at Ypres and Passchendaele. British casualties added up to some 310,000 dead or wounded.
The Third Battle of Ypres became the costliest offensive mounted by any of the Allied troops. It was a very controversial military offensive and that taught the Allies the futility of waging a trench war.
Sources for the above includes: WWI Timeline: Pre-1924; Timeline of World War One; Third Battle of Ypres begins in Flanders; Third Battle of Ypres; The Battles of Ypres, 1917 (Third Ypres); The 3rd Battle of Ypres; The First Battle of Ypres, 1914; The Second Battle of Ypres, 1915