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The History of the Battle of Messines


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The Battle of Messines

This video will give an overview of the Battle of Messines, explaining the importance of the attack, the units which faced each other, the tactics and the ebb and flow of the first day.

The story of the 7th of June will be narrated, suplimented by computer generated graphics, modern day footage of Messines Ridge alongside Great War photographs and maps dating from 1917.




The Battle of Messines was fought over a nine mile front situated between Ypres and Armentieres. Messines Ridge had been in German hands since 1914 and in places the front line trenches had hardly moved. The front line forming a curve around the Allied held city of Ypres in at the northern edge of the sector, then sweeping in a reverse S, with the high ground of the ridge being in German hands.

The Imperial German Army knew Messines Ridge as "Wijtschate Bogen"

The Battle of Messines

The Battle of Messines

The aim of this carefully planned assault was to drive the enemy from the high ground, straightening the front line (the dotted line on map marks the battle objective) and placing the advantage of the high ground in Allied hands, ready for the planned battle of Passchendaele, just to the north, in the autumn of 1917.

Passchendaele Ridge, situated to the east of Ypres, was a major strategic aim. The capture of this high ground would put the Allies in possition to drive the enemy back across the flat expanse of Flanders. But without first capturing Messines Ridge, the assault of Passchendaele would have been foolhardy. If the curve of Messines Ridge were still in German hands, pushing the front line eastwards of Ypres, would transform the bulge in the front line into a loop and the door would have been left open for the enemy to attack from the north and south, cutting off the Allied troops and capturing the city of Ypres, which had stood as a symbol of defiance from the first days of the war.

The 1917 battle was the first substantial Allied victory of the First World War, putting into practice the lessons learned over the years of stalemate on the Western Front. The attack brought together all the Commonwealth forces; Anzacs, Canadians, Irish and many of the British divisions, famous for actions on The Somme the previous summer. This battle was one of the first to employ the skills of all branches of the land forces to break the enemy line with brutal force.

The main attack was launched on the 7th of June 1917 with the detonation of over 450 tons of explosive placed some 75 feet below the enemy lines, at intervals along the front. At 3am the largest conventional man made explosion in history echoed across Europe. Earth was sent skywards in nineteen places along a nine mile front stretching from the well known Hill 60 not far from Ypres to an ancient moated farmstead known as Factory Farm, close to the French Border. The Commonwealth forces rushed forward, capturing trenches, which had been held by their now stunned enemy.





Time Line at Messines



12th Oct 1914 to 2nd Nov 1914 - The First Battle of Messines
This Battle was one of many which made up the Race to the Sea, the outcome of which determines the line of the Western Front which would remain almost unchanged until mid 1917. The fighting merged into the First Battle of Ypres to the North and the Battle of Armentières to the south.
19th Oct 1914 - The First Battle of Ypres
1st Nov 1914 - Messines is captured by the Germans
It was to remain in German hands until the 7th of June 1917.
22nd Apr 1915 - Second Battle of Ypres
The attack was launched by the German Army against the French who were holding the Allied front line to the north of Ypres, near Langemarck. The battle began at 5pm with the first use of a cloud of poisonous gas and resulted in the capture of Pilckem Ridge by the Germans.
Sep 1915 - Tunnelling work began on Messines Ridge
7th Jun 1917 - The Battle of Messines
The Allied attack begins at 3.10am with the detonation of 19 huge mines along the German front line.
31st Jul 1917 - The Third Battle of Ypres
Often called The Battle of Passchendaele
9th Apr 1918 - Fourth Battle of Ypres (Battles of the Lys)
The German Army pushes the Allies back in a spring offensive, regaining all the land lost in the Battles of Messines and Passchendale and more. The Allies are pushed back beyond Kemmelberg.
11th April 1918 - Messines is recaptured by the Germans
28th Sep 1918 - The Advance in Flanders
Allied Forces advance and retake the ground lost in the spring.
28th Sep 1918 - Messines is retaken by the Allies.


Roll of Honour

Find out more about the men who fought in the Battle of Messines.

Allied Forces

         

Central Powers









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