100th Anniversary - British evacuate Passchendaele Ridge

On the 15th April 1918 with the Germans, in the process of a major spring offensive on the Western Front British forces evacuate Passchendaele Ridge, won at such terrible cost during the Third Battle of Ypres. That battle had ended in the Allied capture of Passchendaele on 6th November 1917, but only at the cost of 310,000 British casualties, compared with 260,000 on the German side. In addition to Passchendaele, the Germans gained control of Messines Ridge, the scene of another important Allied victory in June 1917.

The Germans had realised that their only remaining chance of victory was to defeat the Allies before the overwhelming human and material resources of the United States could be fully deployed.

By the 16th April 1918 more than a thousand New Zealand troops were taken prisoner. Four days later, south of Ypres, the Germans launched another massive gas bombardment, firing nine million rounds of deadly gas shells containing phosgene, diphenylchlorarsine, or mustard gas. More than 8,000 British soldiers were gassed, and forty-three killed.

British 55th (West Lancashire) Division troops blinded by poison gas during the battle 10 April 1918
British 55th (West Lancashire) Division troops blinded by poison gas during the battle 10 April 1918

The Germans continued the offensive and on 24th April assisted with tanks they took Villers-Bretonneux. That day saw the first battle between tank and tank when a British tank knocked out its first adversary and the other turned and fled.

First German tank captured by the British named 'Elfriede'. The Enemy tanks came into action for the first time on April 24th 1918
First German tank captured by the British named 'Elfriede'. The Enemy tanks came into action for the first time on April 24th 1918

The 29th April the Germans attacked again and once more they drove the British and French forces back, but only a small distance. They were to get no further forward and that night General Erich Ludendorff called the offensive to a halt, it was clear that Georgette could not achieve its objectives. The British lost 236,000 men between 21st March and 29th April 1918, however, the nature of the losses was unusual in that relatively few soldiers were killed (but still 20,000) while many were lost in action (120,000), for the most part taken prisoner. As for the Germans they lost, in the same period, 348,000 men.

Erich Ludendorff
Erich Ludendorff

The German push to the coast, like the push in 1914, had been halted. This was a turning point in the war, the danger of a German breakthrough had passed. The German Army had suffered heavy casualties and now occupied ground of dubious value which would prove impossible to hold with such depleted units.

In August 1918, the Allies began a counter-offensive with the support of 1–2 million fresh American troops and using new artillery techniques and operational methods. This Hundred Days Offensive was the final period of the First World War, during which the Allies launched a series of offensives against the Central Powers on the Western Front from 8th August to 11th November 1918, beginning with the Battle of Amiens. The offensive resulted in the Germans retreating or being driven from all of the ground taken in the Spring Offensive, the collapse of the Hindenburg Line and the capitulation of the German Empire that November.

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Over 6+ million WW1 records transcribed by ‘Forces War Records’

Over 6+ million WW1 records transcribed by ‘Forces War Records’

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