Battle of Broodseinde
4 October 1917
By late September 1917 the British ‘Flanders Offensive’ [see Battles of Messines, Menin Road and Polygon Wood] seemed to be going well. ‘Bite and hold’ tactics had pushed the Germans back through their defences towards the heights of the ridge running through Passchendaele village. The cost had been high in both men and material but German morale was thought to be weakening. The enemy system of counter-attack had faltered under heavy British artillery fire and so far British forces had been well supported by their guns.
On 4 October 1917 the next operation in the ‘bite and hold’ series was launched: the Battle of Broodseinde. Twelve divisions, including three Australian and the New Zealand Division, attacked on a 13-kilometre front with four Anzac divisions in the centre fighting side-by-side for the first time. The Anzac divisions in line, from left to right (north to south) were the New Zealand, Third, Second and First Australian Divisions. The Australians faced the main ridge.
Preparations for the attack were expedited so it could be made before the fine weather of the preceding fortnight changed. On the night of 3 October, rain began to fall but it was decided that the attack would take place as scheduled. At dawn on 4 October, 40 minutes before the scheduled start time of 6 am, the First and Second Divisions were suddenly hit by a German barrage which fell on the shell-holes where they were waiting. There were many casualties but the Australians could only wait out the bombardment.
- Battles of Broodseinde, Poelcappelle and Passchendaele
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At 6 am the British barrage descended, whereupon the Australians rose to their feet and advanced – only to be met by a line of troops from the German side who also jumped to their feet at that moment 30 metres away. They had been in the process of advancing behind their own barrage in an attempt to recapture some of the ground lost earlier. The Germans hesitated, alarmed as they found themselves confronted by a bigger attack than their own. The Australians opened fire and the enemy broke, pursued by waves of attackers.
Following the usual stiff fighting around ‘pillboxes’, the Australians gained all their objectives on the ridge – though at the cost of 6,500 casualties; the New Zealanders suffered a further 1,700 casualties. Along the whole line the attack had been successful, thereby giving the British forces their first glimpse of the lowlands beyond the top of the ridge since May 1915. Of Broodseinde Charles Bean, Australia’s official historian, wrote:
The day’s success was a very great one – indeed the most complete yet won by the British Army in France in that war.
Charles Bean, Anzac to Amiens, Canberra, 1948, p.371
© 2013 Department of Veterans' Affairs and Board of Studies NSW :: Last update - December 2010