PASSCHENDAELE: The Story Behind the Tragic Victory of 1917 by Philip Warner

PASSCHENDAELE: The Story Behind the Tragic Victory of 1917

Email this review


Passchendaele is the small Belgian town near Ypres that was the focal point of a grueling, cruelly indecisive WW I battle during the summer and fall of 1917. Drawing on contemporary dispatches, personal journals, archival sources, and related material, Warner (Kitchener, 1986) offers an agonizingly detailed record of the murderous five-month encounter, which had a ""butcher's bill"" estimated at over 500,000. Allied and German armies had fought two preliminary rounds in the blood-drenched fields of Flanders. Artillery duels and trench warfare, which took a daily toll of 7,000 casualties (killed, missing, and/or wounded), marked the ensuing two years. Sappers had been undermining German positions along a ridge line. however, and, when they were blasted away, the stage was set for the hellish campaign known as Third Ypres. British forces were commanded by offensive-minded Douglas Haig--a general whom Warner brands as ""most dangerous to his own side: unintelligent, industrious and ambitious."" In his zeal, for example, Haig unflinchingly committed infantry over terrain that had been reduced to a quagmire by constant barrages and relentless rains. Soldiers on both sides proved courageous beyond praise under appalling conditions. When Passchendaele finally fell, though, the Allies had advanced barely five miles with little prospect of forcing their way into Germany. By Warner's informed reckoning, the deadly game was emphatically not worth the candle, in addition, he points out, such modest strategic gains as were achieved at staggering human cost could not be exploited because of tactical blunders. In brief, then, an absorbing albeit harrowing account of an incredibly ugly chapter in military history. The text has topographic maps that complement the author's analyses, along with photographs that convey some idea of the sodden moonscape battlefields.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1988
ISBN: 1844153053
Publisher: Atheneum