3rd Battle of Ypres

31st July - 10th November

General Haig launches the Third Battle of Ypres in July 1917 to break the German Army.

General Haig had wanted to launch a new offensive in the Flanders area in Belgium since 1916. But first the Somme attack took priority and then he was persuaded to attack at Arras to help the French in April 1917. Now he was determined to attack around Ypres.

He wanted to secure the Belgian coast where Germany had submarine bases. He knew that Britain was losing too many merchant ships to the U-Boats so this would make a big difference. He was also worried about the situation with Britain’s allies, France and Russia. The French army was in no state to launch any attacks, and might not have been fit to resist any German attacks. Russia was on the verge of revolution and there were concerns that they would pull out of the war. If that happened then all of the German soldiers currently fighting on the Eastern Front would be able to move to the Western Front. He wanted to make a big attack to try to break through before that happened.

A successful attack on Messines Ridge gives everyone confidence.

British soldiers first attacked some high ground in June that would help the battle. It was called Messines Ridge. The attack was a success and this gave everyone more confidence going into the Third Battle of Ypres.

Victoria Cross for Welshman Ivor Rees

Sergeant Ivor Rees from Llanelli served in the South Wales Borderers during the Third Battle of Ypres. He won the Victoria Cross - Britain s highest medal for bravery on the battlefield - for helping to capture Pilkem Ridge, a German position at Passchendaele.

The weather at Ypres turns the battlefield into a hellish, muddy bog - impossible to fight in.

The main assault in the third battle of Ypres began on 31 July 1917. Units of the 38th Welsh Division, which had fought bravely in the actions at Mametz Wood a year previously, found themselves on the front line again. Alongside the experienced troops were who had seen action in the Battle of the Somme were new recruits who had been conscripted in early 1917.

Heavy rain and artillery churned up the battlefield at Ypres until it was just thick mud. Tanks, horses and soldiers sank in this bog and soldiers even drowned in it. The weather broke the battle into several phases as sometimes it was just too difficult to fight at all. Eventually the focus of the battle became the village of Passchendaele, just outside of Ypres. The British Army finally captured Passchendaele in November.

In the Third Battle of Ypres 310,000 British soldiers were killed, wounded or captured. They advanced just five miles. Ypres was the last of what we call the "battles of attrition". A battle of attrition means trying to wear down the enemy by causing such heavy losses that they give up. This type of battle led to huge losses on both sides.

Did you know...

The rain at Ypres in 1917 was the heaviest for 30 years. Some believed it was the number of artillery shells shooting through the lower atmosphere that caused so much rain.

External Resources

Sergeant Rees was given a hero’s welcome back home in Llanelli as is shown in September 1917’s issue of the Llanelli Star:

A German soldier has a moment to reflect on three years of war.

This horse, pulling a water cart, has sunk in the Ypres mud.

Soldiers and horses pick their way through the Ypres battlefield, passing a water-filled crater that was created when the Allies blew up a mine before the attack on Messines Ridge.