The Sixth Bloodiest: The Third Battle of Ypres
The Third Battle of Ypres, often called the Battle of Passchendaele, took place between July and November 1917. The Allied goal was to regain control of land south and east of the Belgian city of Ypres; this goal was decided at Allied conferences in 1916 and early 1917. The Allies hoped to wear down the Germans, forcing them to keep fighting and preventing the potential for additional offenses. Regaining these lands would significantly weaken German supply chains and railway access, weakening their overall force. In addition, the Battle of Ypres would offer the opportunity to destroy German submarine bases, limiting submarine warfare.
The Allied offense launched in remarkably bad weather; torrential rains led to mud-soaked land. Men, cavalry horses, and artillery sank into the deep mud. Drownings were common, for both men and animals, and rifles and artillery were clogged by mud and water. The British were joined by forces from Australia and New Zealand in September, helping to provide essential support. In September of 1917, the British gained the ridges east of the city of Ypres, making some gains. Canadian forces arrived following a call for help in October, and by early November, the tide of the battle was clear; the Allies would prevail. On November 6, British and Canadian forces captured Passchendaele.
The Battle of Passchendaele is one of the harshest examples of trench warfare in World War I. Specific counts of casualties are not agreed upon by scholars today; however, it is a fair estimate that each side of the battle lost more than a quarter of a million men to injury or death. Some scholars have suggested a number as high as 400,000 for German casualties, and around 300,000 for the British during the course of the three and one-half month battle.