The Great War Part 184, February 23rd 1918

554 The Great War Copy right T h r R t m i 5? NORTHERN SEC TOR O F THE YPRES BATTLE FIELD .French and Belgians formed the Allies left wing band y fighting around H outhulst Forest relieved pressure on the forces assailing Passchendaele. His design was to throwout in spite of all preliminary counter-battery work an overwhelming barrage so soon as the extent of the foreseen resumption of British infantry operations was patent. When his troops about Westroosebeek sent upS 0 S signals by means of coloured lights he lashed the lost part of the road with shell of every calibre and covered with shell-bursts the country roundabout. For some hours the top of the ridge was completely blotted by battle-smoke from the heaviest bombardment the enemy had ever organised. The new Canadian-British line had to be drawn back at some points reducing the gain to some hundreds of yards about the crest Byroad. this time however ground was quite of third-rate importance. What mattered far more was the complete revelation of the enemys new artillery dispositions. This at once led to a stupendous gunnery conflict. In the course of it on November 13th the Shovels mightier Germans at last attempted a serious than swords counter-attack and found that Canada was secure on the ridge. The new works rapidly constructed by the conquerors, were uncommonly good. The Canadians dug as fiercely as they fought. In the great swamp battle it was at times possible for inexperienced men to win ground but it took veterans strongly to hold it. Only men who had lived for months or years under heavy shellfire knew vividly that the shovel was mightier than the sword. The Canadians dug as they had never dug before and when the battle was won and everyman was weary he continued to dig with a conscious frenzy rivalling the semi-conscious frenzy with which a drowning man makes his last struggle for life. The way to win a battle was to dig until you could not hold a shovel and like the gunners fell asleep from extreme exhaustion. The gory romance of bayoneting Germans blasting them with bombs and bringing them down by the hundred with machine-gun fire served to cheer the recruit during his training and apprenticeship. Victories however were mainly won by mud-plastered men with aching limbs who treated their rifles with more loving care .than a mother treated her first-born baby, and then dug like moles chased by terriers. The Canadians were prouder of their rapidly-made works around Passchendaele than they were of their ascending victories. Their greatest boast was that amid the fiercest hurricane bombardment the enemy had ever carried out it was possible to live happily on Passchendaele Hill. There may have been some exaggeration in this statement but in American fashion the exaggeration merely emphasised a truth. Sir Douglas Haig succeeded in misleading the enemy commanders. While maintaining his own ridge positions he so played his game that the Prussian WarLords continued to gather fresh divisions and new guns against him in the wrong place while he was withdrawing a powerful army for inaction Italy and out of his small and insufficiently trained reserves was organising another striking force, for one of the most unexpected blows struck on the western front since the first weeks of the war. Ludendorff also possessed an army of manoeuvre which was superior in numbers to the force that Sir Douglas Haig was building up. But in the first two weeks of November Ludendorff could not seize the initiative and strike with his large detached forces. The Canadians and their comrades Haig misleads the around Passchendaele Hill and the enemy Command marshes near Westroosebeek were apparently so bent upon conquering the last fragment of the ridge that the enemy Commander-in-Chief decided to stand to battle in all available strength on the field where there was no further intention of attacking him. About Passchendaele an artillery duel of incomparable violence opened on November 13th and on November 16th a most successful imitation of an important attack upon Westroosebeek was made by some Highland Lanca­shire and Berkshire troops. Nothing like three entire battalions were engaged but the men were chosen from different regiments in order to make the enemy think that thousands of men were being employed in another action preliminary to a great Inoffensive. away the attack was a miniature rehearsal of the Cambrai offensive. The men went forward in the dark­ness and rain without any clearing bombardment or path- breaking barrage. They struck the German troops at a time when the 4th Division was being relieved by the 119th Division. In some positions they killed or captured double garrisons and by the ground that they welded into their own madeline the enemy commander think that the gigantic wrestle for the ridge was about to end in another terrific struggle at Westroosebeek. A few days afterwards the Hindenburg line covering Cambrai was abruptly broken and it certainly was not the fault of Sir Douglas Haig if the surprise which he and his Staff had engineered failed of full effect and ended only as a partial though important victory. The failure of certain forces who were given a fairly easy task in the Cambrai battle must not lessen our recognition of the ability with which the Ypres campaign was concluded at a time when the British Army was lacking in well-trained reinforcements and unexpectedly weakened by the departure of an army to Italy. In his despatch on the Ypres campaign Sir Douglas Haig remarks that the capture of the entire ridge within the space of a few weeks was well within the power of his men in ordinary circumstances. To the unexpected adverse weather conditions in August he attributed his
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