The Battle of Polygon Wood was fought as part of the larger Third Battle of Ypres - also known as the Battle of Passchendaele. Located four miles from Ypres, Polygon Wood was named after it’s shape but was also known as Racecourse Wood as a racecourse had once been located there.
Fought on 26th September 1917, the Battle of Polygon Wood involved the 4th and 5th Divisions of the Australian Army. The area had been subjected to relentless artillery fire from both sides, which made it difficult to cross the land and had destroyed many of the roads. This made moving men to the front line incredibly difficult and often required troops to be transported by horse-drawn cart. These conditions also made it hard for troops to move during the battle, providing very few hiding places.
The damage was such that, by 26th September, the wood could no longer be described as such, with many of the trees having simply be blown to pieces by the artillery bombardments. However, these artillery bombardments did mean that British and Australian troops could advance with relative ease, and it wasn’t long before Polygon Wood was taken.
However, the artillery had not taken out the German pill boxes located within the woods, which needed to be captured before the troops could advance further. It was during these assaults when the Australians suffering the most casualties, with the 4th Division losing 1,717 men and the 5th Division losing 5,471 men.
The Germans did attempt to recapture the woods at a later date, but were unsuccessful. However, they caused significant health problems to the soldiers there due to their use of poison gas. Even in the following summer of 1918, men were still suffering from the effects of poison gas as many shells had not exploded and the sun had caused them to het up and release gas vapour into the area.
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