“Passchendaele: the Lost Victory of WWI” by Nick Lloyd (Basic Books, 410 pages, $32).
A century ago, Europe was engulfed in the First World War. In April 1917 the United States entered that conflict. Our declaration of war did not signify the immediate embarkation of American soldiers, the “doughboys” of that era. The organization and transportation of our troops to the battle areas would take some time.
Things remained at a stalemate. Ypres in the Flanders region of Belgium was an epicenter of hostilities. Two battles had taken place there and the third one began on July 31, 1917. The British called it the Third Battle of Ypres. The Germans called it “Flandernschlacht” (the Battle of Flanders).
The common name today for this horrific battle is “Passchendaele,” the site of the village where British attacks got repeatedly blunted and halted by the German defenders. The fighting finally ceased on Nov. 10.
Passchendaele has become a synonym for senseless industrialized carnage.
Half a million men were killed or wounded there. The historian A.J.P. Taylor called it “the blindest slaughter of a blind war.” For “Passchendaele: the Lost Victory of WWI” the British historian Nick Lloyd delved into the archives and reveals some fresh perspectives on what happened there.
We find first-person accounts and observations by soldiers from both sides in the conflict. The battlefield was a nightmarish landscape. The British advanced across a sea of mud. The forest had been blasted away. The Germans occupied high ground on Passchendaele Ridge. Many of the dead were never recovered, lost for all eternity among the shell craters.
Lloyd makes the case that crucial blunders by British commanders might have squandered a…