The Battle of Messines 1917 Part Two
The photograph above, taken in November 1917, shows a German concrete pillbox that has been blown over by the force of a mine explosion. Nineteen such mines were detonated to signal the start of the Battle of Messines on 7 June 1917.
The detonation of nineteen mines along the Messines/Wytschaete ridge signalled the start of an attack designed to capture the strategically important high ground to the south of Ypres; a vital precursor to the larger Third Battle of Ypres (known to history as the battle of Passchendaele). Despite General von Kuhl suggesting the withdrawal of the German front line troops away from the ridge as it had become apparent a major British offensive was to be launched, front line commanders argued vehemently against this. Consequently, many thousands of German troops were simply obliterated as the earth erupted beneath them. As the historian of the 37th Battalion wrote, “Nothing could have withstood such an onslaught; and nothing did.”
The 3rd Division’s objective was to push all the way through to the Green Line. This was achieved comparatively easily, especially in light of the AIF’s battle experiences on the Western Front, the growing tactical skills of the Australian infantry, and to the overwhelming firepower of the allied assault. Rigorous training on Salisbury Plain and in France had prepared them as well as possible for the ensuing attack – including training in preparations for consolidating craters such as they would encounter at Messines.
Plumer planned to resume the attack at 1pm, however delays by the central IX Corps (to II Anzac’s left) in moving their troops up meant that the afternoon attack did not go in until 3pm. When the attack was pressed forward again, two brigades of the 4th Australian Division moved through the 25th and New Zealand Divisions to the final objective (Green) line. Their success was only possible because of the successful capture of the ridgeline by the British 25th, the New Zealand and 3rd Australian Divisions. The New Zealand Division had captured and held the village of Messines with comparatively little difficulty, while pill-boxes were able to be isolated and destroyed.
Dr Andrew Richardson
Australian Army History Unit