1917 – Turkish lines are broken at Beersheba

By 1917, British and Commonwealth forces under General Allenby were slowly progressing northward through Turkish-occupied Palestine, but stalled when they came to Gaza. In October 1917, the third battle of Gaza – the third attempt to wrest it from the Ottoman Empire – began.

The battle at Beersheba (or Birüssebi, as it was then known) was only one facet of this larger battle, but it was here that the critical breakthrough of the battle took place. The decisive moment came with the charge of the Australian 4th Light Horse Brigade, who covered six miles to smash through the Turkish lines and capture the town and its strategically important wells more or less intact (15 of the 17 wells remained usable). This victory also marked the last successful horse cavalry charge in modern warfare.

Referenced in:

All the Fine Young Men — Eric Bogle

1917 – The Battle of Passchendaele commences

Also known as the third Battle of Ypres, the Battle of Passchendaele was an attempt to capture the strategically important village of that name in Belgium. Entente forces led by the British attacked on July 11, 1917, in what would become a long and drawn out struggle. Over the next five months, the battle would become synonymous with the mud in which it was so often fought. It would also be one of the first major land engagements to involve tanks (although only on the Entente side – the first tank vs tank battle did not occur until April the following year).

The battle swung both ways at different times, and some historians even classify it as two battles in a single campaign, with a comparative lull between them. Like many battles in World War One, it has become emblematic of the pointlessness and brutality of war. The battle finally ended on November 10, 1917, with the fall of Passchendaele to Canadian forces. More than 560,000 soldiers were killed in total, with the German losses exceeding the Entente losses by only 40,000. Although the battle was won, if not for the entry of the Americans into World War One that year, it might have proved a Pyrrhic victory, especially in light of the Russian surrender on the Eastern front, which had freed up German forces there to fight in the west.

Passchendaele did teach valuable tactical lessons to the victors, mostly at the unit level and mostly applicable only to trench warfare. Interestingly, Adolf Hitler was a veteran of Passchendaele, and considering the difference between the German invasions of Belgium in 1914 and 1940, one cannot help but wonder what lessons in strategy and tactics he drew from the experience.

Referenced in:

Paschendale – Iron Maiden