Saturday, January 5, 2013

Polygon Wood- September 1917

I had the privilege of walking the ground that was covered by the attack of the 5th Australian Division in September of 1917. I started at the point known as Black Watch Corner and walked along a track that followed the path of the 5th Division's assault.

The capture of this wood by the Australians and the neaby by town of Zonnebeke by the 4th Australian Division enabled British and Canadian troops to then advance on Passchendaele. The battle of Polygon Wood was the I ANZAC component of a larger British and dominion operation staged as part of the third battle of Ypres. This operation was the second of the "Plumer battles", a serious of well-planned, limited advances supported by large volumes of artillery, masterminded by the British general Herbert Plumer. The name "Polygon Wood" derived from a young plantation forest that lay along I ANZAC's axis of advance.




The Forest Today......there was no undergrowth in 1917 and just a few shattered tree stumps.


Scheduled to begin on 26 September 1917, the attack was almost derailed by a German attack on the British X Corps to the south of I ANZAC. A day earlier, Australian troops of the 15th Brigade, preparing for their attack, took part in fending off the Germans; however, their advance the next day began with continuing uncertainty as to the security of their flank.

The British and Dominion advance began on schedule at 5.50 am on the 26th, with the 4th and 5th Divisions, on the left and right respectively, taking the lead in the I ANZAC sector. The infantry advanced behind a heavy artillery barrage - the noise of this was compared to a roaring bushfire. The Germans launched several counter-attacks but these were thwarted by the heavy defensive artillery barrages used to protect the infantry consolidating on their objectives; this was a feature of the Plumer battles. The battle cost 5,770 Australian casualties.

One of the first German Bunkers neutralised by the Australians. I found it inetersting that these opening faced AWAY from the Australian advance and that there were no opening facing the Australians. After the bombardment the Germans came out and set up their machine guns on the roof and around the block house. These block houses were the first line of defence. behind them were the trenches. This particular Blockhouse is known as 'Scott's Blockhouse'- named after the commander of the 56th Battalion who was killed leading the operation to take it.




The Front of the Block House



The Trenches behind the Block house line- well what's left of them. When you move around this area you can clearly see the remains of the whole German trench system.


The remains of more trenches.







When you emerge from the woods this is the cemetery with the huge 'Butte' in the background- the large mound which was the 5th Division's objective. It was a Belgian Army firing range from the war and the Germans had tunnelled into it to create a formidable strongpoint

Some Pictures from the time- from the nearby Cemetery



 
The edge of the cemetery and the 5th Division Monument.


A photo taken shortly after the 5th Division's capture of the Butte.


The 5th Division's Monument at the top of the Butte.

At the base of the Butte.




 I found this area particularly moving and spent a lot of time trying to imagine what the ground was actually like in September of 1917....I've been inspired to try and recreate this in the table top! Stay tuned!













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