By 1917 casualty figures have broken the seven figure mark. The installation of hawkish politicians - David Lloyd George in Britain and Georges Clemenceau in France - ensure that the war will go on to the finish.

In March, the Germans pull back 20 miles to a new prepared position, the Hindenburg Line. In a war in which every yard of ground is bitterly contested and paid for so dearly in human lives, at their old headquarters in Peronne, the Germans raze the town, and leave a sign for the Allied troops. "Don't be angry, just be amazed."

An attack at the Aisne by the French yields a pyrrhic victory, 750,000 casualties for 750 yards of ground. Told to continue the attack the French soldiers refuse, over the next six weeks half a million French soldiers decline to participate in any more offensives. General Petain is installed as commander in the mutinous areas and he agrees to end the assaults, and the mutiny ends.


At Passchendaele, new tactics are being tried by the British. On 7th June, 1917, Allied sappers detonate 19 huge mines under the Messines Ridge containing over 1,000,000 pounds of explosive. Allied forces quickly take the ridge, but then delayed to prepare for further advances. Summer rains, the heaviest for 75 years, have turned the battlefield into a swamp, and the prepatory barrages only serve to alert the enemy that the British are coming. Haig persists, sending troops across the mud and into the relentless downpours. Those soldiers who seek refuge in the myriad shell holes find themselves trapped in the mire, and many drown in the quicksand like conditions. Making matters worse the Germans deploy a new and terrible weapon, mustard gas, for the first time. Finally new bite and hold tactics are adopted, focusing on small gains taken bit at a time rather than seeking a decisive breakthrough. The Canadians, now gaining a reputation as an elite formation, eventually take the village of Passchendaele, or whats left of it, but the Battle of Passchendaele has claimed another 250,000 German and 300,000 British and Imperial casualties, causing the name of Passchendaele itself to become a metaphor for war in its most brutal and pointless form.


Elsewhere at Cambrai the British were trying something else. Although the tank had not distinguished itself at the Somme, Haig had persisted, and by now the British had amassed nearly 500 vehicles, of considerably improved design to the ones used in 1916. Initial success surprised the British generals who were slow to exploit the advances the tanks had made, and the inevitable German counterattack caused the British to retreat.


But perhaps Cambrai had shown the way.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 License.