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The Battle for Passchendaele

Australian Army Campaigns Series 28

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The Battle for Passchendaele on 12 October 1917 was one of the epic struggles of the First World War.

British Field Marshal Douglas Haig allocated II ANZAC Corps to capture Passchendaele village, with Major General Monash’s 3rd Australian Division and the New Zealand Division leading the attack. For both divisions the battle was a bloody debacle. Monash’s division started the battle with 5800 men and, just 24 hours later, could only muster 2600, suffering horrendous losses for a small territorial gain which was later relinquished. The New Zealand Division was trapped in front of the German wire and barely moved from its start line, suffering one of its highest casualty rates of the war. Fought in conditions which seemed to preclude any chance of success, the battle has become a metaphor for pointless sacrifice.

After the battle the British and Australian leadership were unanimous in placing blame for the defeat on the all-pervasive mud. Monash, writing to his wife, believed that his plan ‘would have succeeded in normal conditions’. Yet, two weeks later, in similar weather and terrain, Lieutenant General Currie’s Canadian Corps succeeded where Monash and Godley’s II ANZAC Corps did not.

The central focus of this book is a detailed analysis of the 3rd Australian Division’s plan and execution of the attack on Passchendaele. By examining the differences between the Australian and Canadian plans for the capture of Passchendaele, the author casts this iconic battle in a completely different light. It is a re-examination that is long overdue.

Ian Finlayson was commissioned from the Officer Cadet School Portsea in 1978 and served in a number of postings during his Regular Army career. He was awarded the Chief of the Defence Force Fellowship in 1997, worked as a staff officer in the Australian High Commission, London, and on the Headquarters of the International Stabilisation Force, East Timor. In his last Regular Army posting, he managed the Chief of Army Scholarship, guiding scholarship winners on battlefield tours of France and Korea.

Ian now works for the Australian Army History Unit as an historian and has lectured on Australian military history at the Royal Military College, Duntroon. His previous book, A Brief History of the Australian Army, was written specifically for officer cadets and Army recruits. In 2019 he led an ADF Field History Team on a deployment to Afghanistan. He holds a Bachelor of Economics from Monash University, a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Queensland, a Masters in Defence Studies from the University of NSW and a Masters in Strategic Studies from Deakin University.

More books in this series: Australian Army Campaigns Series