The Night Operation on the Passchendaele Ridge, 2 December 1917. The Forgotten Last Act of the Third Battle of Ypres
By Michael LoCicero
From the outset I should declare my personal interest in this book. My Great Great Uncle, Second Lieutenant William MacDuff, Border Regiment, was killed in the ‘moonlight massacre’, one of nearly 600 casualties incurred in the operation on 2nd December 1917. I first encountered Michael whilst researching the action. At the time he was completing his PhD at Birmingham, and he generously shared his research with me. My eyes were opened; I had read the very limited account of the action in the battalion war diary, the events being described in one short paragraph. Michael’s research put the action into its wider context and helped me understand why the attack had taken place, why it had failed, and ultimately why (and where) my relative had died.
The publication resulting from the PhD was well-researched, every conceivable source and nugget of information having been considered. And it was not a small piece of work – the original volume came in at over 500 pages and tipped the scales at 1.5kg! Michael’s passion for the topic shone through, encapsulated by the unveiling of a memorial on the centenary in 2017, funded and organised by Michael. I was privileged to be able to attend and speak about my relative.
Notwithstanding my own personal interest and bias, A Moonlight Massacre is an excellent book and deservedly received many plaudits when it was released. Not only has Michael challenged the widely-held view that the Third Ypres campaign ended conclusively on 20 November, but he has shown the planning and logistics that went into even small-scale operations such as this. In addition, it is a comprehensive account of an action told from the different viewpoints of the battalions, brigades, divisions, and ancillary units involved – no mean feat as anyone who has read war diaries and orders will understand! Whilst it is academic in focus, Michael does not lose sight of the cost of the action, and the stories of the men such as my relative are woven into the narrative.
As we’ve come to expect from Helion the production values are superb. There are over 100 illustrations and maps (some in colour) and even some newly-commissioned artwork for the volume. Changes are minor for the second edition but highlight Michael’s quest to leave no stone unturned. There is a comprehensive index and bibliography, and footnotes are extensive. The new edition is a paperback and more bookcase-friendly than the original volume, being slimmer and weighing in at ‘just’ 900g! I recommend this book without hesitation, for even if you have little interest in the action itself, Michael has set a high standard and a benchmark for future works of this nature.
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