PASSCHENDAELE by Robin Prior

PASSCHENDAELE

The Untold Story
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A somber narrative of the third battle of Ypres, the failed British drive in 1917 to capture strategic Belgian channel ports held by the Germans in WW I. Australian coauthors of Command in the Western Front (1992), Prior (History/Univ. of New South Wales) and Wilson (History/Univ. of Adelaide) provide insight into the thinking (or lack of it) of the British high command and politicians in initiating an offensive against the Germans, who occupied large areas of France and Belgium. Although bloody Allied offenses in 1915 and at the Somme in 1916 had failed to dislodge the Germans, Britain's general Sir Douglas Alexander Haig planned a massive new attack for 1917. The authors contend that Haig could not have proposed another offensive without at least the silent consent of Prime Minister Lloyd George, the War Cabinet, the War Policy Committee in London, and the French generals. In any event, taking the Ypres salient and the Passchendaele ridge, the British suffered 275,000 casualties in four months of bitter fighting, without succeeding in capturing the channel ports. The third battle of Ypres was fought on the worst possible terrain for the attacking British and under the least favorable conditions: The low-lying ground was swampy and thick with mud in a heavy rainfall, with drainage systems destroyed by massive artillery barrages (as the authors describe, some wounded died of drowning in shell-holes). The battle was the ultimate Pyrrhic victory: Haig claimed victory on the short advance while losing one-sixth of the British Army. The authors argue that Lloyd George was irresponsible for not earlier relieving Haig, who seemed indifferent to the loss of human life. According to the authors, desertion, drunkenness, and psychological disorders became rampant, and lasting bitterness spread to the civilian population when British soldiers came home. A finely researched analysis of what happened to a lost generation of youth, badly used by callous generals. (History Book Club selection)

Pub Date: Oct. 16th, 1996
ISBN: 0-300-06692-9
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1996




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