With the centenary of the Third Battle of Ypres (31 July-10 November 1917), popularly known as ‘Passchendaele’, imminent, most people remain unaware that the last attack of the controversial campaign actually occurred on 2 December 1917.
Launched on the orders of the British Second Army, the subordinate VIII Corps and II Corps were tasked with overseeing a night operation north and north-west of Passchendaele village following relief of Canadian Corps by the former formations on 18 November.
The objective, a necessary preliminary to further operations astride Passchendaele Ridge during the winter of 1917-18, was to make a short advance from the dangerously exposed Passchendaele Salient, created during Anglo-Canadian operations from 26 October to 10 November, on a 2,870-yard front.
On the right, 8th Division (left formation of VIII Corps) would assault the Venison Trench defences with 25 Brigade; on the left, 32nd Division (right formation of II Corps) employing a reinforced 97 Brigade, would prolong the left flank by seizing the Vat Cottages Ridge.
The proposed operation would, if entirely successful, open out the west side of the salient whilst simultaneously carrying the British line “sufficiently far northward along the ridge to give us observation into the valleys running up to the Passchendaele plateau from the north and east.”
Occupation of these new vistas would also prevent the enemy from massing troops along the ridge line’s reverse slope thus reducing potential threats throughout the winter months.
Subsequently regulated to a local operation whilst the Battle of Cambrai (20 November-7 December 1917) raged to the south, the attackers would be operating under the aegis of a novel but ultimately flawed operational plan that would lead to disastrous consequences…
To read more about this opaque episode of the First World War, see Michael LoCicero, A Moonlight Massacre. The Night Operation on the Passchendaele Ridge, 2 December 1917: The Forgotten Last Act of the Third Battle of Ypres (Helion, 2017).