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The Battle of Passchendaele
9 - 12 October 1917

Details at a glance.
War: World War One
Australian Units: 2nd Australian Infantry Division
3rd Australian Infantry Division
Date: 9 - 12 October 1917
Enemy: German
Victoria Cross Winners: Captain C.S. Jeffries

Passchendaele was the Australian soldier's final round in the batles of 1917, a year considered the low point of their war on the Western Front.

For the Australians the Battle of Passchendaele began on the 9th of October 1917 when the 2nd Division formed the flank for an attack by the British 66th Division.

Australian infantry round a
German blockhouse.

The Division was required to attack a position known as Keiburg Spur, towards Passchendaele. The actual front was only 800 metres wide with it's left flank being the Ypres-Roulers railway line.

..on the 10th we had miles to go to the assembly point and had a hell of a time in the rain and mud.
On the night of the 11th we marched off at 6.30pm and walked till 5am of the morning of the 12th.. Before 5am we had lost men like rotten sheep those who survived had the most marvellous escapes. I nearly got blown to pieces scores of times.

We went through a sheet of iron all night and in the morning it got worse. We attacked at 5.25 and fought all day at times we were bogged up to our armpits and it took anything from an hour upwards to get out. Lots were drowned in the mud and water.

The Bosch gave us hell but we managed to hold on to the little we had taken till night when we dug in. We remained in the new country till the 20th eight days of absolute hell and then we were relieved.

Lieutenant G.M. Carson,
33rd Battalion
(Carson was killed at Mont St Quentin, August 1918).

4.5 inch howitzer bogged
before the battle.
But the British division, the 66th, turned up hours late and the Australians went in alone. This unfortunate episode reconfirmed the AIF's worst fears about going into action with British troops. When the British finally arrived, they fought a brave but futile action.

It was hard fighting and the Australians suffered many causalities that night before they were forced to retire from the conflict.

German resistance was particularly strong at two points: at Assyria, a large barn turned in to a fortress and at the railway cutting.

The 5th brigade captured the cutting, but at a heavy loss of life. Despite the atrocious weather, Haig ordered another attack on Passchendaele on the 12th of October. It was made by II Anzac corps with the 3rd Australian division and the New Zealand Division leading the way. The 4th Division was the support.

The actual task of capturing Passchendaele was to fall to the 38th Battalion of the 3rd Division. According to the plan the capture would be completed by 12.11am, but as soon as the battle started, like all battles through out history, the plan went out the window.

After a night of heavy rain and gas-shelling the attack went in after inadequate British artillery fire. Most of the 3rd could not drag themselves out of the mud, yet despite that some units did reach the edge of Passchendaele. About twenty men, mainly from the 38th Battalion actually reached the Passchendaele church but isolated and unsupported they were forced to retreat.

It was only due to the efforts of Captain C.S. Jeffries that the Australians got so far. For his part in the battle he was awarded the Victoria Cross. Captain C.S. Jeffries was killed during the attack.

The 4th Division which had been in support, was also under great pressure and suffered heavily before pulling back. The attack had failed.

During the battle the 3rd Division suffered massive losses, 3199 men became causalities in 24 hours. The 34th Battalion lost every officer that day, either killed or wounded including their medical officer, Major G.R.C. Clarke. Corporal W.A. Murray gave up his place in a queue waiting for stretcher bearers and was never heard of again.