Passchendale: One hundred years on, the horror and agony of the Passchendale campaign still resonates across Europe


The echoes of the carnage at Passchendale still resonate across the former battlefield where hundreds of thousands of soldiers became casualties of a bloody war of attrition.

Also known as the Third Battle of Ypres, the long and protracted offensive raged between July and November of 1917, claiming over half a million lives from all sides involved.

Passchendale, a small rural community in the West Flanders province of Belgium, became the site of historic carnage as German, British, and French troops fought for control of the strategically important Passchendale Ridge, a stretch of elevated ground about 70ft above sea level.

Seizing and controlling the high ground was crucially important for both sides, as the vantage point enabled unobstructed ground observation and a prime position for artillery pieces, with the added advantage of providing cover to conceal troop movements from the enemy.

Incessant bombardment during previous engagements had left the battlefield pocked by hundreds of shell holes, and had churned the ground to a quagmire. Constant rain during August 1917 compounded the problem, leaving the terrain with the “consistency of porridge”, as some combatants put it.

Horror and misery became the norm at Passchendale, with thousands of troops meeting their fate in a desolate ocean of mud that swallowed men, horses, and military hardware alike.

It was a curious kind of sucking kind of mud. It ‘drew’ at you, not like a quicksand, but a real monster that sucked at you…”, soldiers said of the vast amounts of soft mud surrounding them.

There was no gas, nor there were tanks fielded at Passchendale. The campaign was purely an infantry engagement, with hundreds of thousands of foot soldiers sent to fight and die in agony inside a massive quagmire.

The exact number of casualties will probably never be known, but estimates put at around 245,000 dead, injured, or missing British troops, about 280,000 German (though some estimates quote up to 400,000 casualties), and a comparable number of French soldiers, either dead, sick, or missing.

The British side claimed victory, though it would be a pyrrhic win. The British army was depleted, and exhausted after suffering such enormous bloodshed during three long months of hellish struggle.

Wreckage of German U-boat reportedly attacked by aquatic leviathan in 1918 found off the Scottish coast


The almost intact wreckage of a First World War U-boat was recently found by cablelayers off the coast of Scotland, prompting speculation that it could be the wreckage of the doomed vessel UB-85.

UB-85 was a Type-III U-boat in service with the Kriegsmarine that was “attacked by a large sea creature” on April 30, 1918.

The legend of UB-85 has been passed down the ages, and maritime lore says that the sub was disabled by an aquatic leviathan, prompting the crew to surrender to a passing British patrol boat.

As the story goes, the British vessel HMS Coreopsis happened across a German sub drifting off the Scotland coast. The Coreopsis crew were stunned by the sight of a German sub on the sea surface, right on the middle of the day, and showing no signs of putting up a fight. The German sailors were quickly brought on board Coreopsis.

Once brought to safety, the sub’s captain, Gunther Krech, reportedly said that UB-85 had surfaced during the night before to recharge its batteries. Then, out of the bottomless fathoms, a ‘strange beast’ leaped out of the water.

Krech continued, saying that the creature “had large eyes, set in a horny sort of skull. It had a small head, but with teeth that could be seen glistening in the moonlight”. He added that its heft was such that it could make the sub list from side to side just by pushing it. According to Krech, the monster attacked the sub’s forward gun, easily tearing chunks out of it and rendering it useless. The crew fired hand-held weapons at the creature, spooking it into sinking back into the depths.

Krech’s tale specified that the beast’s attack damaged the sub to such extent that it could no longer dive, hence its presence on the surface when Coreopsis sailed by.

After picking up the sub’s crew, Coreopsis fired on UB-85, sending it to its final resting place at the bottom of the sea.

Cue to present day, almost one hundred years later, and a cablelaying crew working on behalf of Scottish Power located the wreckage of an almost intact U-boat, prompting rumours that it could be the doomed U-85. Experts have pointed out, however, that it could also be its sister ship UB-22. Both vessels are almost identical, and the only way to tell which one it is would be to mount a deep sea dive and look at the identification lettering on its hull.

The area where the wreckage was found is rife with reports of uncanny sightings, dating back hundreds of years.

Whether UB-85 was indeed attacked by a sea monster, or something more mundane forced the sub to be scuttled, we’ll probably never know.

But it makes for good reading.