31 July 1917; Tuesday

Usual day’s work. On at night.     Third Battle of Ypres1.

  1. ALL probably added the words “Third Battle of Ypres” some little time after this date, as it is unlikely that he knew on 31 July that a battle of this name – and its number – had started that day. The battle continued until 10 November 1917 and later came to be better known as Passchendaele because the village of that name (now Passendale, Flemish; (A) on the map; about 30km NE of Bailleul (C), where ALL was at this time and 13km NE of Ypres (B) itself) became a much-contested objective.

    There was a prolonged disagreement before the battle began between the Army and the politicians; Lloyd George and others didn’t want another blood-bath, and Haig didn’t get the politicians’ agreement to go ahead until 25 July, by which time of course all preparations and preliminary activity had taken place. One purpose of Passchendaele (as it had been of the Somme), which may have forced the politicians’ hand, was to take pressure off the French. It had been the pressure on the French at Verdun before the Somme in 1916. In 1917, General Nivelle’s offensive (which, like all the other offensives, was intended to end the War quickly) had started in mid-April and ended on 9 May; it began with a British attack around Arras, designed to draw off German reserves before the French attacked on the Chemin des Dames and near Reims, further south. The plan failed, and ended in French mutinies, which appeared to threaten an overall Allied collapse. Nivelle, who had replaced Joffre as French Commander-in-Chief in December 1916, was in turn immediately replaced as Commander-in-Chief – by Pétain of WWII collaboration fame. The (ostensible) territorial objectives of the Passchendaele offensive are mentioned in the footnote on 22 May. When the trench lines had settled in late 1914, Ypres had ended in a small salient of its own, but in spite of its poor defensive location the Allies continued to defend it, not least for morale reasons.