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Massacre at Passchendaele: The New Zealand Story


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#1 ASA1

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Posted 22 April 2012 - 02:46 PM

I must confess to knowing very little about the New Zealand Division's contribution to the war on the Western Front prior to reading this book, as like many people (including the majority of New Zealanders, it seems), I tend to associate them solely with Gallipoli. However, they were present at Passchendaele and took part in two very different actions: the success at Broodseinde on October 4th then the disaster that was First Passchendaele on October 12th. The author, a Professor of War Studies, focuses on the context behind the two engagements, and the successes and failures of each, before attempting to explain the legacy of Passchendaele on the New Zealand public consciousness. It must be said that this is a relatively short publication, the main text weighing in at 110 pages, fleshed out at the end by the details of the nearly 1,200 New Zealanders who are commemorated on the Tyne Cot memorial to the missing. It is a reprint, originally published in 2000, however it is not clear if any updates or revisions have been made.

Although short, the context of the two battles is clearly explained and the reasons for the failures of October 12th succinctly examined - namely the weather and associated logistical problems of moving men, artillery, and supplies to the front; not enough preparation time; the failures of the senior commanders in allowing the attack to proceed; and unrealistic objectives. The result was maximum advances of 500 yards and a casualty rate of up to 85%, the worst ever day for New Zealand's military forces.

The last chapter on the legacy of Passchendaele and the reasons why not many New Zealanders are aware of their country's role (primarily attributed to the battle being repressed due to the losses incurred) are briefly explained but could have benefited from more depth and supporting evidence.

The book contains a few maps but some more detailed visual breakdowns of the movements of the units involved would have helped the reader to fully understand the challenges they faced on October 12th; several photographs from the New Zealand archives are also included that will be refreshing for many readers who may be used to the 'stock' Imperial War Museum photos that are usually rolled out in any publication about Passchendaele. Overall this is a useful introduction to the New Zealand Division and their contribution to the Passchendaele campaign.

#2 Robert Dunlop

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Posted 22 April 2012 - 06:27 PM

Thank you for the review. It is interesting to see your comments about the brief explanation for the relative lack of awareness about the battle. Your point about 'more depth and supporting evidence' is well made. I note the summary of why Passchendaele is not known - 'primarily attributed to the battle being repressed due to losses incurred'. My Grandfather fought in this battle with the New Zealand Division. Unlike many veterans, he talked a lot about his experiences before he died at the age of 99. The actions around Gravenstafel and Bellevue Spur were prominent in his memory - but not more so than the other actions in which he was engaged (Somme, Messines, etc). In summary, he regarded the war as a terrible necessity - one that demanded very tough fighting against a very tough enemy. Sacrifices were inevitable along the way - that was the price that such a war demanded in his opinion by its very nature, not by the incompetence of the generals (though he recognised that mistakes were made at times). Although the losses of October 12th were significant, these losses did not command extra significance on his part. From talking to my Grandfather, I came away with an impression of the experience and impact of the whole war, rather than any individual part of it. For many other families, returning veterans were not so forthcoming. For these families, the cost of October 12th did not feature at all. As for those families who lost relatives in that battle, it must be borne in mind that the 'worst ever day for New Zealand's military forces' did not amount to enough deaths to have a general impact across a whole country, even the small size of New Zealand's population at that time. Don't get me wrong - I am not trying to denigrate the losses in way at all! Merely providing a different perspective.

Robert

#3 George Armstrong Custer

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Posted 22 April 2012 - 06:32 PM

Thanks for sharing that perspective gained from you grandfather's reflections upon his experience of the war in the round, Robert. Excellent.

George

#4 Chris_Baker

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Posted 22 April 2012 - 07:13 PM

There is an excellent published history of the NZ Division and in more recent times this has been joined by the wonderful (but rather expensive) "From the uttermost ends of the earth" by John H. Gray. Both well worth reading.

#5 ASA1

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Posted 23 April 2012 - 06:15 AM

Hi Robert,

Thanks for your comments - very interesting to hear another perspective. I think sometimes we forget we see may see the war differently to those who actually fought in it.

Regards,
Andy

#6 David Filsell

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Posted 23 April 2012 - 08:00 AM

My views are rather diffrent. Herewith my Review for Stand TO!

Oh my but this is such an angry book. Its very title - almost certainly chosen by the publisher - gives warning of annoyed overstatement. Whilst clearly a better researcher, the author’s anger seems to match that that of Dennis Winter in his evaluation Haig, and John Laffin's against all in command. The title reflects this anger. The word has lesser shades of meaning, but my dictionary defines massacre as “complete defeat or destruction”. The New Zealanders certainly suffered fearful losses, at Passchaendaele. They were not completely defeated nor completely destroyed.
All that said, I do not question the authors diligence, his detailed research, analysis or broad conclusions of the New Zealander’s almost total failure in Flanders on 12th October 1917. Glyn Harper is an ex-soldier, an established author, professor of war studies. So, much of his criticism of command in his evaluation of the New Zealander’s suffering at Passchendaele on 12th October 1914 seems fully justified for it triggered worst military disaster the islanders splendid soldiers ever suffered.
The arguments about Passchaenadle, its planning, its continuance after many - then and now - felt, and feel, it should have been halted roll on. Certainly the decision to continue the successful New Zealand assaults on October 4th - despite conditions, despite the concern of many officers – on the 12th over ground rendered a morass looks faulty. Wire was uncut, artillery preparation grossly inadequate. Finally it cost some 3,000 casualties and achieved little. In all no less than 1,200 are listed on the pages of Massacre At Passchaendale taken from memorial to the missing at Tyne Cot Cemetery. They fill 70 pages of this 208 page work.
The book’s writing is clear, mapping and photography adequate, if muddy, perhaps quite aptly so. Yet, the author’s burning passion against at virtually every level of command and his bitter deployment of blame is so strong that I became restive at its un-relentlessness, drawn to seek better moderated views.
One such is that offered by another New Zealander, another estimable author and currently Senior Lecturer in War Studies at RMA Sandhurst. His more sober, 16 page, analysis, The New Zealand Division at Passchaendaele seems to offer a far cooler analysis of blame which places, more directly, more accurately on one man Lieutenant-General Godley, the commander of 11 ANZAC Corps.
Of a captive German officers comment that “….. no troops in the world would have attempted an offensive with such facilities of approach”. Pugsley comments simply “No troops should have, and it was Godley’s fault that they did”. This, rather than Harper’s scattergun condemnation of all levels of command on the day of “New Zealand’s worst military disaster” seems a fairer one.
Nevertheless this remain is a book which should be read.

#7 David Filsell

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Posted 23 April 2012 - 08:00 AM

My views are rather diffrent. Herewith my Review for Stand TO!

Oh my but this is such an angry book. Its very title - almost certainly chosen by the publisher - gives warning of annoyed overstatement. Whilst clearly a better researcher, the author’s anger seems to match that that of Dennis Winter in his evaluation Haig, and John Laffin's against all in command. The title reflects this anger. The word has lesser shades of meaning, but my dictionary defines massacre as “complete defeat or destruction”. The New Zealanders certainly suffered fearful losses, at Passchaendaele. They were not completely defeated nor completely destroyed.
All that said, I do not question the authors diligence, his detailed research, analysis or broad conclusions of the New Zealander’s almost total failure in Flanders on 12th October 1917. Glyn Harper is an ex-soldier, an established author, professor of war studies. So, much of his criticism of command in his evaluation of the New Zealander’s suffering at Passchendaele on 12th October 1914 seems fully justified for it triggered worst military disaster the islanders splendid soldiers ever suffered.
The arguments about Passchaenadle, its planning, its continuance after many - then and now - felt, and feel, it should have been halted roll on. Certainly the decision to continue the successful New Zealand assaults on October 4th - despite conditions, despite the concern of many officers – on the 12th over ground rendered a morass looks faulty. Wire was uncut, artillery preparation grossly inadequate. Finally it cost some 3,000 casualties and achieved little. In all no less than 1,200 are listed on the pages of Massacre At Passchaendale taken from memorial to the missing at Tyne Cot Cemetery. They fill 70 pages of this 208 page work.
The book’s writing is clear, mapping and photography adequate, if muddy, perhaps quite aptly so. Yet, the author’s burning passion against at virtually every level of command and his bitter deployment of blame is so strong that I became restive at its un-relentlessness, drawn to seek better moderated views.
One such is that offered by another New Zealander, another estimable author and currently Senior Lecturer in War Studies at RMA Sandhurst. His more sober, 16 page, analysis, The New Zealand Division at Passchaendaele seems to offer a far cooler analysis of blame which places, more directly, more accurately on one man Lieutenant-General Godley, the commander of 11 ANZAC Corps.
Of a captive German officers comment that “….. no troops in the world would have attempted an offensive with such facilities of approach”. Pugsley comments simply “No troops should have, and it was Godley’s fault that they did”. This, rather than Harper’s scattergun condemnation of all levels of command on the day of “New Zealand’s worst military disaster” seems a fairer one.
Nevertheless this remain is a book which should be read.

#8 seadog

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Posted 23 April 2012 - 08:27 AM

There is an excellent published history of the NZ Division and in more recent times this has been joined by the wonderful (but rather expensive) "From the uttermost ends of the earth" by John H. Gray. Both well worth reading.



Saw the John Gray book at a military fair yesterday and it looks superb with many illustrations and in particular maps. Try looking at ABE books as there are copies from £27.13 plus postage whereas the standard price is £45.

Link

Regards
Norman

#9 Keith Sloane

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Posted 29 May 2012 - 06:40 AM

Gray's book is available as a pdf on the web, or was. See Christchurch Library I think