Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Battle of Messines

Wednesday 7 June 2017 will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Messines. Launched on the 7th June 1917 the battle was used in preparation for the Flanders offensive the allies were to undertake in the northern summer. For many years tunnellers had dug huge mines beneath the German trenches in the area and had packed the mines with explosives. Before dawn on June 7 1917, 19 mines were detonated causing a massive explosion which they said at the time could be heard across the English Channel. The German trenches were totally destroyed. This event was made famous by the Australian film Beneath Hill 60. The explosions killed 10,000 Germans.

British, New Zealand and Australian troops advanced to take the strategically important Wyschaete-Messines Ridge. The ridge which was situated on high ground south of Ypres was used by the Germans as a salient into British lines and to build their defence along its 10 mile length. Taking the ridge was of vital importance for the summer offensive to be successful. The fighting continued until the 14th June and claimed 6,000 Australian casualties, of these 500- 2000 were a result of a gas attack launched by the Germans. Two Australians Private John Carroll and Captain Robert Grieve were awarded the Victoria Cross during the battle.

The allies success at Messines was often referred to as what could be achieved on the Western Front  when a campaign is carefully planned by competent leaders and the infantry was not asked to advanced any further than the distance their artillery could cover.

Messines was historic for the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). It was the first the 3rd Division under Major General John Monash saw action on the Western Front and it was also the first time since Gallipoli that Australian and New Zealand troops had fought along side each other.

Below is a report in the Ballarat Courier of an interview given by Major General Monash following the Messines attack.

Ballarat Courier 7 July 1917

 Below is a photograph of Australian soldiers at Messines in July 1917, standing in German trenches demolished by the mine blasts.
Photograph Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial

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