September 20, 1917 - Third Ypres: Battle of Menin Road Ridge Begins
Pictured - British troops occupy captured trenches, September 20, 1917.
Britain renewed its assault on the Germans at Ypres on September 20, 1917. The offensive from this point on turned into a succession of smaller battles: the British consolidating artillery and men to cut off and storm pieces of the German front line one-by-one. To that end 13 British divisions, including the two Australian Imperial divisions, fighting side-by-side, attacked the German positions on the road to Menin, located on Westhoek Ridge.
Supported by 575 heavy guns, the Tommies “leap-frogged” their attack. Starting at 5:40 AM, they assaulted the first line of German trenches and captured them. Then they waited an hour while British aritllery pounded the next line of German defenses. It was an example of the “bite-and-hold” tactics the British army had developed at the Somme: mass troops and guns to take one piece of the German line, hold it against the inevitable counter-attack, and then move up against hth next section of German positions.
The attack went well. The British and Australian troops captured 1,500 yards of ground along a 14,500 yard front. Success could not hide that things were brutal at the sharp end: “All our objectives were captured to plan,” wrote New Zealand officer Bernard Freyberg, but “not many prisoners were taken by our men.” A British sergeant, W. Burman, won the Victoria Cross for killing eleven German machine-gunners with a sword. The battle continued to the 26th, as the Germans tried to re-take their lost positions, but again British gunfire drove them off.