historical overview  

By the time the Canadians entered the battle on the Passchendaele Ridge, British and Australian troops had fought there for more than three months. Their efforts had been unsuccessful: 100,000 casualties for very little ground won. The situation looked hopeless and Canadian Commander Sir Arthur Currie was reluctant to become involved. Although his objections were overruled by British Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, his reluctance won the Canadians a delay that allowed them to prepare for the battle.

The Allies' objective in this battle was to break through the German defences, seize the highlands of Passchendaele Ridge and from there capture the German-occupied Belgian channel ports. These ports were important to the German strategy, as many of their deadly submarines operated from them. Once Passchendaele Ridge was captured, this high ground could be used to launch a decisive attack on the German-occupied channel ports.

At this time the only part of Belgium that remained in allied hands was a bulge of land around Ypres, known as the Ypres Salient. It was here that the allied forces launched their attacks. The Ypres Salient was one of the most dangerous places on the entire Western Front as it was vulnerable to German attack from its front or either side at any time; however the allies were intent on keeping this last bit of Belgium free and were prepared to defend Ypres at all costs.

The Canadian plan in taking Passchendaele was simple: they would attack in a series of battles, each with a limited objective. Step by step, they would take the village, the overall objective being to secure a defensible position on the Passchendaele Ridge. If successful, they would drive a thin wedge into the German positions, leaving them exposed to enemy fire from all directions.

A final note on the terrain: The Ypres Salient was utter desolation. The continuous bombardment and shelling of the area had destroyed the existing drainage system, and the heavy rains that lasted days on end had turned the entire salient into an oozing quagmire of yellow mud. In this terrain, it was impossible to dig trenches, so the Germans had devised a system of interlocking square rooms of reinforced concrete, called pillboxes.


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