‘A Moonlight Massacre’ - The Night Operation on the Passchendaele Ridge, 2 December 1917

The Forgotten Last Act of the Third Battle of Ypres

Michael LoCicero

Date Published :
February 2015
Publisher :
Helion and Company
Series :
Wolverhampton Military Studies
Illustration :
70 b/w photos, 8 pages color maps
Format Available    QuantityPrice
ISBN : 9781909982925
Pages : 432
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
In stock


The Third Battle of Ypres was officially terminated by Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig with the opening of the Battle of Cambrai on 20 November 1917. Nevertheless, a comparatively unknown set-piece attack – the only large-scale night operation carried out on the Flanders front during the campaign – was launched twelve days later on 2 December. This volume is a necessary corrective to previously published campaign narratives of what has become popularly known as ‘Passchendaele’. It examines the course of events from the mid-November decision to sanction further offensive activity in the vicinity of Passchendaele village to the barren operational outcome that forced British GHQ to halt the attack within ten hours of Zero. A litany of unfortunate decisions and circumstances contributed to the profitless result. At the tactical level, a novel hybrid set-piece attack scheme was undermined by a fatal combination of snow-covered terrain and bright moonlight. At the operational level, the highly unsatisfactory local situation in the immediate aftermath of Third Ypres’ post-strategic phase (26 October-10 November) appeared to offer no other alternative to attacking from the confines of an extremely vulnerable salient. Perhaps the most tragic aspect of the affair occurred at the political and strategic level, where Haig’s earnest advocacy for resumption of the Flanders offensive in spring 1918 was maintained despite obvious signs that the initiative had now passed to the enemy and the crisis of the war was fast approaching. "A Moonlight Massacre" provides an important contribution and reinterpretation of the discussion surrounding Passchendaele, based firmly on an extensive array of sources, many unpublished, and supported by illustrations and maps.

About The Author

Michael Stephen LoCicero is an independent scholar who earned his PhD at the University of Birmingham in 2011. Previously employed as a contracted researcher by the National Archives and the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Trust, he is currently engaged in a wide-ranging number of academic and editorial activities including MA advisement for the University of Birmingham's respected MA programme, a visiting lectureship at the University of Wolverhampton and a commissioning editorship on behalf of Helion. His chapter on Brigadier-General Edward Bulfin appeared in Spencer Jones (ed) "Stemming the Tide: Officers and Leadership in the British Expeditionary Force 1914" in 2013.


“A scholarly and highly detailed new operational study of a little-known action which was a postscript to the Third Battle of Ypres. With this book, Michael LoCicero has shed much fresh light on the BEF’s command, planning and tactics in late 1917.” 

- Peter Simkins, Hon. Professor of Western Front Studies, University of  Wolverhampton

“This meticulously researched account of the last, forgotten, phase of the Third Battle of Ypres, utilizing German as well as British sources, provides a detailed insight into why First World War battles were launched, how they were organized at every level and why they so often disappointed the hopes of their planners.” 

- Dr John Bourne, Vice President Western Front Association

“In this work Michael LoCicero reveals the tragic story of the long forgotten night action that was the final act of the Third Battle of Ypres, 1917.  Combining meticulous research with vivid prose, LoCicero explores operations at the highest level without ever losing sight of how this affected the officers and men in the front line. Gripping, thought-provoking and admirably measured, this superb book is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the British Army of the First World War.”

- Dr Spencer Jones, University of Wolverhampton

“In this fine book, Michael LoCicero has painstakingly reconstructed a hitherto forgotten episode of First World War history. Thanks to him, we are able to look at the Passchendaele campaign through new eyes

- Gary Sheffield, Professor of War Studies, University of Wolverhampton

“ … a mightily impressive book. It sets a standard for anyone wishing to describe and analyze a military operation …”

- The Long, Long Trail

“…an excellent example of the possibilities opened by fastidious use of a wide spectrum of sources … Where this work is atypical is that it manages to be a rare thing – a genuinely operational study … Perhaps the greatest success of this book, notwithstanding its deft mastery of narrative and sources both well-known and obscure is that the author always maintains balance … It demands – and deserves - your close attention. At the risk of sounding evangelical or repetitive, again Helion bring the best modern research to market at an accessible price and beautifully produced. Wholeheartedly recommended.” Newsletter of the

- Newsletter of the Society of Friends of the National Army Museum

“ … Michael LoCicero does not ignore the human side, whether it is the nervous breakdown of a battalion commander or the death of a lowly private soldier. The overall result is, therefore, not simply a dry academic account of a little-known tailpiece. This book is an in-depth, thoughtful, and, at times, moving study of the BEF and the German Army in action in late 1917. It certainly merits careful study.”

- Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research

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