Poelcappelle (World War 1, 9 October 1917 to 9 October 1917)

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About This Campaign

 

Poelcappelle

On 9 October, following the success of the fighting at Broodseindem on the 4th October, the British 49th and 66th Divisions of Lieutenant General Godley’s II Anzac Corps, attacked Passchendaele, supported on the right by 2nd Australian Division of Lieutenant General Birdwood’s I Anzac Corps.  This preliminary operation became known as the Battle of Poelcappelle.  It was not palatable to the British to call it the Battle of Passchendaele, due to the complete failure of the attack on Passchendaele itself; the main objective.  Due to the greater success of 5th Army’s flanking attack at Poelcappelle, the battle was named after this supporting effort.

Due to the continual rain since Broodseinde (4 October), the impassability of the ground meant that only part of the artillery had been brought forward in the four days between the battles.  There was insufficient time to prepare gun positions, and many guns sank in the mud and were therefore unusable.  Likewise, adequate ammunition could not be brought forward to the gun line.  Transport from the duckboards to the gun positions was by pack animals, many of which sank into the quagmire, and often neither they nor their loads could be recovered.  Ammunition which did make it to the gun line had to be cleaned of mire before it could be used.

In these conditions neither the preparatory bombardment nor the protective barrage could be fired effectively.  The enemy front line and artillery positions were therefore not effectively suppressed either before or during the attack.  Charles Bean wrote:  “I suspect that they are making a great, bloody experiment – a huge gamble.”

The Infantry were exhausted by their tortuous approach marches through the mud, and then had to drag themselves forward through the quagmire to assault the unsuppressed German machine-guns.  66th Division in the centre and 2nd Division on the right took their first objectives in the face of feeble front line enemy resistance and pressed on to their second objectives, but then had insufficient strength to hold them in the face of determined German counter-strokes.

It was this German tactic of absorbing the first wave of an attack and then vigorous counter attacking that General Plumers "bite and hold" tactics had been developed to counter.  The aim was to be in position to smash the inevitable counter attacks.   But with the foundations awry there was not enough 'bite' to enable consolidation and 'hold' anything of consequence.

49th Division on the left failed in its attack, due to wire which was not cut and pillboxes which were not suppressed by the ineffective preparatory bombardment.  66th Division, being enfiladed by machine gun fire from Bellevue Spur, had to withdraw to its start line, and likewise 2nd Division had to abandon the Keiberg Spur (near Celtic Wood).

 

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Names

Showing 8 people of interest from campaign

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SYMONDS, William Pascoe

Service number 3474
Private
11th Infantry Battalion
AIF WW1
Born 1884

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HEMSLEY, George Thomas

Service number 6163
Private
23rd Infantry Battalion
AIF WW1
Born 1 Nov 1898

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HARDISTY, Percy

Service number 4301
Private
18th Infantry Battalion
AIF WW1
Born 1891

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ARMSTRONG, Donald Goldsmith

Service number 2932
Second Lieutenant
21st Infantry Battalion
AIF WW1
Born 29 Jun 1893

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STOREY, Frederick William

Service number 6384
Private
25th Infantry Battalion
AIF WW1
Born 15 Apr 1894

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RODGERS, John Frederick

Service number 2440A
Private
9th Infantry Battalion
AIF WW1
Born Nov 1884

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DEWAR, Wesley William

Service number 6321
Private
23rd Infantry Battalion
AIF WW1
Born Dec 1887

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FISH, William Alfred

Service number 3229
Private
29th Infantry Battalion
AIF WW1
Born 1890

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