Join one of our Expert guides on a tour of the Messines Ridge to follow the battle and see how it developed.
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The Messines Ridge was a natural stronghold that lay to the south of Ieper and had been lost to the Germans during the First Battle of Ypres creating a small German salient. Engineers from both sides had been tunnelling under the Messines Ridge since 1915 and by the spring of 1917 the British had placed 21 huge mines totalling 455 tonnes (1,000,000 lbs) of the high explosive Ammonal. At 03:10 hrs, 7th June 1917, after perhaps the most intense preparatory bombardment of the entire war, 19 out of 26 British mines were detonated killing an estimated 10,000 German troops in moments. The explosions were so great that they were said to be heard as far away as London and Dublin.
By June 1917 the Germans no longer consider it necessary to physically occupy every inch of the ground and were more flexible with the frontline lightly held. Their defences were centred on mutually-supporting bunkers or "pillboxes" with regiments in reserve ready to counterattack where necessary.
For the assault on the Messines Ridge the three Corps of the British Second Army commanded by General Herbet Charles Onslow Plumer would advance over a 2-mile frontage south of Ieper (Ypres) between St Eloi and Mesen (Messines). The plan was for X Corps to take and hold St Eloi and Mount Sorrel to the north, IX Corps was to assault and capture the village of Wijtschate in the centre and II ANZAC Corps to assault and capture the village of Mesen on the British right. The intention was to drive the Germans off the ridge seizing the enemy strong points and villages, then consolidate and hold them.
Immediately following the detonation of the mines the British moved forward under the cover of the full ferocity of the British Artillery. About 700 machines guns fired over the heads of the advancing infantry into the German lines as they advanced behind the creeping barrage. The Germans that had been in the vicinity of the largest mines had been blown to dust. In some of the bunkers the advancing British would find dead Germans laying on the floor seemingly unmarked. They had been killed by the pressure waves created by the explosions.
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