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Passchendaele, Polygon Wood

12th October 1917 & 9th October 1917

The New Zealand Brigades at Passchendaele 12th October 1917...

A Great Brief here of the details borrowed from the fantastic...'The Belgians Have Not Forgotten' page...

With my Overlays and Maps etc...

The NZ Division’s objectives were the Bellevue spur and the area north and east of Goudberg spur whilst on their right, the Australians had to capture Passchendaele village. They had to advance from below the Graventafel ridge into the small Ravebeek Valley, cross the Ravebeek stream and then make progress up the slopes of the two spurs.

The battle opened at 5.25 am in wind and drizzle; this soon turned into heavy rain. The barrage was very poor. Pinned down by the uncut thick bands of wire and by heavy and accurate machine-gun fire, The NZ Division was to use two brigades.

2nd Brigade was to provide the right divisional front and had to advance in the direction of the ‘s Graventafel- Mosselmarkt road. The attack was to be in a series of bounds, with the 750 yards frontage being filled by 2nd Bn Otago, followed by 1st Bn Otago then 1st Bn Canterbury and finally 2nd Bn Canterbury following in the wake as the brigade reserve.

3rd (Rifle) Brigade, on the far left of II ANZAC, using the leapfrog system, allocated the first objective to 2nd Battalion, to be followed by 3rd Battalion with the final objective allocated to 1st Battalion. The 4th Battalion had to follow every other battalion to support.

2nd Brigade jumped off at Waterloo Farm. 2nd Otago struggled across Marsh Bottom. Thick uncut wire prevented their progress. The only gap on the road was a death trap. It was protected by German machine-gun fire. It was a lane of death. The Canterburies lost their CO, LtCol. Georges King, DSO, probably caused by “friendly fire”, a short dropped artillery shell. The attack by 2nd Brigade had failed and the survivors of the four battalions dug in where they could.

The Rifle Brigade, on the left led off with 2nd Battalion. After taking the Wallemolen cemetery on the left, Wolf Farm in the centre fell, but they could get no further. Ahead of them lay a line of pillboxes behind a sea of barbed wire with concrete strong points on a higher ground. The battalion had to dig in at Wolf Farm. 3rd Battalion tried to leapfrog this position but after 150 yards they had to dig in as well. There were heavy casualties when 1st Battalion reached them. All battalions would remain in these positions for two cold, wet and miserable nights.

At the Regimental Aid Post (RAP) at Waterloo Farm there were nearly 500 stretcher cases lying around the German pillboxes, sinking into the mud and exposed to the driving rain and hail, “just dying there where they were dumped off”. Some of these lay in the open for three days. The same conditions prevailed around the RAP at Kronprinz Farm. It took the stretcher bearers twelve hours to move them to the nearest Advanced Dressing Station (ADS).

NZ losses for the morning’s action were catastrophic: 2,700 men lost within a few hours. The dead toll reached 846. The attack carried the British positions forward from their original line maximum 500 yards on the left and maximum 200 yards on the right.

The Canadians at Passchendaele

The Canadians at Passchendaele, October/November 1917.

The Canadian Corps prepared for a series of attacks from 26 October – 10 November. The four divisions of the Canadian Corps had been transferred to the Ypres Salient from Lens, to capture Passchendaele and the ridge. The Canadians relieved the II Anzac Corps on 18 October and found that the front line was mostly the same as that occupied by the 1st Canadian Division in April 1915. The Canadian operation was to be three limited attacks, on 26 October, 30 October and 6 November. On 26 October, the 3rd Canadian Division captured its objective at Wolf Copse, then swung back its northern flank to link with the adjacent division of the Fifth Army. The 4th Canadian Division captured its objectives but was forced slowly to retire from Decline Copse, against German counter-attacks and communication failures between the Canadian and Australian units to the south.

The second stage began on 30 October, to complete the previous stage and gain a base for the final assault on Passchendaele. The attackers on the southern flank quickly captured Crest Farm and sent patrols beyond the final objective into Passchendaele. The attack on the northern flank again met with exceptional German resistance. The 3rd Canadian Division captured Vapour Farm on the corps boundary, Furst Farm to the west of Meetcheele and the crossroads at Meetcheele but remained short of its objective. During a seven-day pause, the Second Army took over another section of the Fifth Army front adjoining the Canadian Corps. Three rainless days from 3–5 November eased preparation for the next stage, which began on the morning of 6 November, with the 1st Canadian Division and the 2nd Canadian Division. In fewer than three hours, many units reached their final objectives and Passchendaele was captured. The Canadian Corps launched a final action on 10 November, to gain control of the remaining high ground north of the village near Hill 52.

Passchendaele Night Operation 1st/2nd December 1917

As the attacking battalions of the 25th Brigade moved forward to their jumping-off points in the bright moonlight, German machine-gunners spotted the troops on the left flank and opened fire; after three minutes, they began to fire on the British in the centre and on the left, who had been hidden by cloud. After H-hour + five minutes, the British troops were engaged by small-arms fire all along the front and the German infantry sent up flares and rockets. The British artillery began to fire at H-hour + eight minutes as planned; the German artillery took a minute longer. The delay caused by the German infantry small-arms fire, prevented some of the British support troops from getting clear before the German barrage came down; many casualties were suffered and B Company HQ of the 2nd Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment (2nd Berks) was hit. The battalion reached its objectives and D Company dug in up to the south-eastern end of Southern Redoubt. C Company on the right, which was to form a defensive flank, had far less trouble and the platoon adjacent to D Company took 30 prisoners; 5 Platoon, B Company, managed to get into Southern Redoubt and began a mutually-costly hand-to-hand struggle with the garrison.

The troops on the left of B Company veered left to gain touch with the 2nd Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment (2nd Lincoln) which had not been able to maintain its advance, went too far and opened a gap to the north of Southern Redoubt, which isolated 5 Platoon in the redoubt. The survivors of the platoon were forced out and dug in facing south-west but this uncovered the left flank of D Company, which then had to repulse several small counter-attacks. The left flank platoons of B Company had got into the trench between the redoubts, killed many Germans and captured three machine-guns; both flanks were open but the troops held on. The British position was in front of the 2nd Lincoln, which had been caught by small-arms fire at the start of the attack and only managed to get within 30 yards (27 m) of the German front line, where the survivors dug in. On the left flank, the 2nd Battalion, The Rifle Brigade (2nd RB) was also caught by machine-gun fire from the front and by enfilade fire from Teal Cottage in the 32nd Division area. The cottage should have been captured earlier by the 32nd Division and the left end of the 2nd RB forming up tape ran from the position. Just before the advance, it was discovered that the Germans were still in Teall Cottage and the 2nd RB hastily masked it with a defensive flank. The battalion failed to reach Venison Trench, suffering so many casualties that it had to dig in only about 100 yards (91 m) in front of the original front line.

The 8th Division battalions held their ground against small counter-attacks until about 4:10 p.m., when German artillery-fire increased in volume and the 32nd Division sent up SOS flares, which were repeated by the 8th Division. The British artillery replied instantly and German troops in the open, east of Southern Redoubt were caught by the bombardment and repulsed. By 5:00 a.m. the German artillery had fallen silent and a lull fell over the 8th Division front. The troops in front of the 2nd Lincoln were brought back and filled the gap between the 2nd Lincoln and the 2nd Berks, which created a continuous line; the 25th Brigade was relieved by the 41st Brigade of the 14th (Light) Division overnight.

The 97th Brigade and the 15th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers (15th LF) of the 96th Brigade formed up below the faint outline of Hill 52 and the low southern slope of Vat Cottage Ridge. The 2nd Battalion, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (2nd KOYLI) was on the right flank, with three companies for the attack and one in support, the 16th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry to its left, then the 11th Battalion, Border Regiment (11th Border) and 17th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry (17th HLI), each with two companies leading and two in support and 15th LF on the left flank (which had been holding the line with 16th Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers (16th NF) since the night of 30 November/1 December) with three assault companies and one in support on a 1,850 yards (1,690 m) front, from Teall Cottage to the north-east of Tournant Farm. After being relieved, the 16th NF retired to the right of Virile Farm in reserve; patrols and Lewis gun crews entered no man's land after dark to cover the assembly. The battalions formed four waves, the first two in skirmish lines forming an advanced guard and the other two in section columns (snake formation), to advance through the crater field and be ready to outflank the objectives.

Advancing at 1:55 a.m., the 97th Brigade suffered many casualties amongst junior officers and NCOs; after seizing Hill 52 and Mallet Copse, the advance was stopped by resolute German defenders. Counter-attacks during the morning and late afternoon drove back the tired survivors to positions just short of or on the jumping-off line. Shute requested permission to attack again with the 14th Brigade but was refused by British GHQ on the morning of 3 December.

Mosaic of Aerial photographs of the Roeselarestraat/Gravenstafelstraat area from Wieltje to Passchendaele village, with annotated areas and features. 

A relic SMLE excavated during works on the Gravenstafelstraat at Mosselmarkt.

Cocked and ready to fire, bayonet attached along with the remains of a No23 Grenade Cup Attachment. Possibly dropped during an offensive action...!? If only it could tell a story..!

(No working parts, completely seized and rusted)

Relic SMLE Mosselmarkt Paschendaele.jpg

Australian Actions at Passchendaele 9.10.1917

9.10.1917. Australian actions at The Battle Of Passchendaele and whom I believe could be a distant relative, Pte 4595 WILLIAM THOMAS BLOXHAM 18th Btn.

A narrative of events pieced together from the Btn and Brigade Diaries…

As part of a larger action of course, here the 5th Brigade actions on 9th October 1917, with the 17th and 20th Australian Infantry Btns. initially moving forward at Zero 5.20am from the ‘Jumping Off Tape’ objectives being the RED Line (20th Btn) and the BLUE LINE (17th Btn). The Red Line was occupied by the 20th Btn at around 6.25am, with little trouble and few casualties, there was however no sign of the Brigade supposedly on their left, seeming like the attack did not materialise as it should have. The 17th Btn moved forward with the barrage to the Blue Line but immediately came under reverse fire from both flanks. An enemy concrete strong point was located on the left, just the other side of the railway. ‘C’ Company detached a party to deal with this where they captured around 40 Germans, whom were then used as Stretcher Bearers. The rest of the Btn moved on and occupied DIVINE COPSE, in which 5 Machine Guns were captured. ASSYRIA was also captured, all objectives captured according to time. At 8.05am the 17th Btn had reported things were very disorganised as DAISY and DAIRY copse had failed to be taken, therefore a South facing defensive flank had to be formed by those whom failed to take the Copse.  

At 5.20am the 18th Battalion from support, was ordered to move forward to the Front Line, in readiness to move forward. At 9.15am orders were received to move forward and support the 17th Btn on the Blue Line. However, they found both 17th and 20th Btns approx. 150 yards in front of the Red Line digging in. It seems, owing to continuing severe reverse fire, the 17th Btn had fallen back. The 18th Btn moved to the left flank of the 17th and assisted digging in and consolidating.

At 11am owing to the fact that DAISY and DAIRY woods were still in enemy hands and causing severe losses with his Machine Gun and Rifle fire, with events at a standstill on that front, it was ordered that 1 Company of the 19th Btn would be tasked with clearing the situation, which they did. DAIRY wood was unoccupied by the Enemy, but DAISY Wood was still occupied. DAISY Copse was attacked, 15 Other Ranks and one MG were captured and posts established on the Eastern side of the Wood.

The front line was now approx. at the original Red Line. The RED protective barrage was asked for as the S.O.S line. The barrage completely wiped out the Enemy counterattack, whom were advancing in five waves from the direction of ASSYRIA and DAINTY COPSE. Position was made secure…

PRIVATE BLOXHAM was a Signaller in A Company, according to his Red Cross report, its stated by an Eye-Witness (Cpl J. A. Smith) that they were advancing over swampy ground to take up a position in the front line, with heavy shelling and sniper fire from just in front of a Wood that was their objective. Cpl Smith and Pte Bloxham were in a shell hole together around 50 yards from their objective. Carrying an electric torch and a fuller phone its stated Bloxham made a move to the right towards the Wood, whilst Smith made a move to the right towards the Wood. When the Wood was reached there was no trace of Pte Bloxham, it was assumed he was killed by a shell whilst crossing the swamp as there was no way he could have reached the Wood without being seen to do so. He certainly would not have reached the German Line.

I’m thinking the Wood stated is DAIRY WOOD and Pte Bloxham was killed in the vicinity in front. His Body was recovered post war, were would have been just behind then original frontline, opposite DAIRY WOOD. I am assuming he may have tried to return to the Line and was killed where exhumed, or he was found on the ground that had been taken after the action, taken back and buried behind the front line? No other Soldier was exhumed with him in that exact area, although many were individually dotted about closely within the vicinity. Just to confuse things, it is handwritten on 11th Jan 1918, within his files that he was buried at Passchendaele, but approx. 250 yards SSE from where exhumed???? This is in front of DAISY Wood, not in his Sector. Perhaps his moving right was indeed towards this Wood? And Smith moved left to DAIRY Wood? Perhaps his burial here was exposed and again his Body taken back behind the line and buried?????

Pte Bloxham 4595 was a 30-year-old, British Born Accountant residing in Barraba, New South Wales when he enlisted in December 1915. His Mother, Elizabeth Bloxham, was in England and resided at The Grounds Farm, Nr. Hook Norton, Banbury, Oxfordshire.

With the 11th Reinforcements, he sailed to England in September 1916 and then joined his Unit in France, ‘In The Field’ originally reported Missing but then KIA ON THE 8TH October, but I believe it must have been the 9th? I stand to be corrected however.

Polygon Wood

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