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Customer reviews

5.0 out of 5 stars

on 13 January 2017
Despite the Third Ypres Campaign being one of the defining battles of the war (in British eyes), there has been relatively little dedicated it to it, by comparison to the Somme for example. Prior & Wilson went some way to addressing this, providing an overview of the stages of the battle until the capture of Passchendaele Ridge and village.

Though perhaps best remembered for the mud, this book sets out the myriad of errors in decision making, political and military that lead to the battle, and its on-going persecution. The political dimensions are particularly well covered, painting Lloyd George and his Cabinet in an altogether different light, not just critical of Haig and Robertson, but insecure in their own position, and indecisive, and unfocussed on the critical issues at hand, as well as borderline delusional when considering the opportunities presented by "side-shows" notably Italy.

Neither do senior military figures come off well here, Haig, Gough and Plumer all receive critical attention for their handling of the battle and pursuit of objectives that arguably left the British Army in a more vulnerable position than when they started. Prior & Wilson do argue, that by 1917 the British Army, and support functions at home - shells and weapon development had developed into an effective force, capable of taking on the enemy and winning. The flaw being the conditions, locations and means by which it was deployed, and arguing that the battle was far from inevitable, but the result of a string of repeated poor decisions.

An all round excellent book.
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on 27 December 2002
This is not the first book on this subject and likely not the last but it is entirely worth your obtaining now because it includes information that was probably not available for earlier treatments. The antipodeans which wrote this tome are well suited to the task due to the enormous and often unconsidered contribution their countrymen and others from the Empire made to the battles here.
I was left with a mixture of feelings as I turned the last page. The most overwhelming is the sense of inevitability about the whole tragic course of events. You are impressed by the bravery and the skill of the participants in the face of terrific odds. Yet if only this had been matched or even approached by those who planned these actions.
This was not as some might have said a futile waste of soldiers but rather almost the only way the war could be continued. Empire soldiers were 'foreigners' in Flanders fields and yet they gave their lives without question when ordered to advance. It shames so many of the French and other troops who could not find it in themselves to be spurred on by this sacrifice.
Timing is everything in war as in any other large-scale activity. Here inevitability takes a cruel turn at Ypres. Maybe it would have been better to have dug in until 1918. The Russians had struck their deal with the Germans and it would be months before the Americans could contribute effectively. Perhaps if the British had defended rather than attacked the losses would have been less horrifying (even though many thousands were lost every week in the trenches during periods between attacks). These men were, however, in good form with better training, tactics and equipment than ever before.
It strikes me that better than at any time in the Great War, the men were ready and would give good account of themselves. What they needed, however, was a solid plan and commitment from their military and political overseers. I nearly said 'superiors' or 'leaders'. The likes of PM Lloyd George, General Haig and their appointed junior generals were neither. So tactically some major successes were achieved which make for heartwarming reading so as to leaven the losses. But strategically it was always going to be a disaster. Haig had some ideas about relieving Belgium but his ambitions would demand resources not available until D-Day of WW2.
No, it becomes clear that the Empire had promised to fight the Germans and fight it did. It could not choose the ground because it had to be in their sector. This reduced the options and in large part it was going to be inevitable that it would be in area that became the lethal mire that is 'Passchendaele'. Bad luck dogged them when unseasonably high levels of rain persisted. That and the shellfire which played such a decisive role in tactical success - one of the clear messages of this book - literally bogged down the attacks leaving the defenders able to beat them off.
I was left with the thought that those that drew up the plans for this offensive should have been forced to join the rank and file. But even that would not have been punishment to match their crimes. I could not believe it that the hard-fought ground they had captured was it turned out un-defendable:
'What had taken four months to win was evacuated in three days'.
That must be the epitaph for Passchendaele. If only they had thought far enough ahead. I cannot believe that those in charge of planning such offensives would not have better appraised their objectives, the geography and the weather. Never mind the deserters, such men should have been shot for neglect.
So, a great book and essential for any student of the Great War. One little niggle for me was the understated treatment of the contribution of the Royal Flying Corps. The fulcrum of any success was delivery of explosive to neutralise the enemy defences. The emphasis here is on the artillery with scant mention of the RFC as anything other than scouts with no assessment of any bombing which could have provided at least some support to troops whose advance had out-distanced the supporting gunfire. The recipe that was to become 'Blitzkrieg' in WW2 is all here - the only thing missing was the aviation component. Oh, and radios, of course!
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on 19 May 2014
This is enjoyable but uncomfortable reading for those interested in WW1. This books puts the battle in context, and assesses each stage militarily and politically. It is frustrating to see Haig and his most indecisive, and you can see how for so long history has judged him so poorly, but the issues are so complex and the warfare still so new in its style that it's hard to put a blame on a single entity as we always like to do. Let's not forget how effective the German army had become as defenders and as a counter attacking force. Once again the weather had its role to play, record levels of rain which turned the area into the quagmire that we view the whole battle of being today. Prior and Wilson once again show why they are first class historians of the period and subject. This is an excellent place to start and an easy read too, for those who want to know about the battle also known as 3rd Ypres...
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on 10 October 2010
I have read a lot about Passchendaele. My grandad was one of the many thousands who died there, and I grew up surrounded by the paintings of a young man who I never knew, and never had the chance to grow old. Because I'd read a lot elsewhere I wasn't expecting much from this book, but I found it insightful and compelling, as well as intimate. Its main achievement is coherence and insight regarding the political and strategic context that made Passchendaele both inevitable and ultimately catastrophically pointless. It challenges many of the established beliefs surrounding the strategic competence of British military leadership as facile historical misinterpretations. But this is not actually a dry historians' polemic, it is alive with the personalities and experiences of the men who planned, led, fought, lived and died there. And I was startled to find a reproduced letter from the very soldier who was the last to see my grandad alive in a shell hole, and wrote a pencilled note to his widow which we still have; and sorry to learn that within two weeks he too was dead.

"Passchendaele: The Untold Story" is among the very best books on this tragic subject. It is a "must read" for my generation and all those who were fortunate enough to be born long after the industrialised murder of WW1. It is written with huge love and respect for a generation who never had that chance. Reading it is the least we can do.
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on 17 March 2014
This is a story told many times before and since, however this book doesn't just delve into the actions of the Third Battle of Ypres, it goes back to the reasons, decisions and planning of the battle. Details the lessons learnt from the Somme and Arras - and probably more important those lessons not learnt.

A fine attribute to any student of, or with an interest in, the First World War and the battles of Ypres.
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on 19 July 2014
Debunking myths is vital; though the general public are unlikely to read it and will therefore stick with their view of events as something between 'Oh What a Lovely War' and 'Blackadder Goes Forth'. Academic, comprehensive - one of the 'must have' books covering the events.
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on 16 January 2013
This well researched book dispells a number of myths that surround the Battle of Passchendaele so is an essential read for those with a deep interest in the Passchendaele story. It gives an unusual perspective to the battle from the persepective of the politics of the day.
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on 9 October 2012
Used this book as a source of reference for family tree work, and found it extremely helpfull in locating a probable location of a great uncle who died but was never found in this battle. Have since visited the location where we think he was last located. Very moving book
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on 3 August 2015
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on 3 October 2015
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