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Webmatters : Mesen: The Battle for Messines Ridge 7th June 1917
Rough Map of Area

Mesen

The Afternoon

By 0900 hours Messines Ridge had been taken and for the first time since 1914 the British could look out across a green belt of meadows in the distance, and behind the German lines which stretched out before them. The view was made all the more picturesque by the summer sunshine which was shining across the battlefield.

Later in the morning German reinforcements could be seen making their way forward but it wouldn’t be until 1345 hours that the Germans were in a position to attempt a counter attack and when delivered it was bloodily beaten off.

Casualties by the assaulting British had been comparatively light and the arrival of so many men on the ridge started to cause bunching and an ideal target for the German artillery.

Before moving on and attacking the Oosttaverne Line, General Plumer (commanding Second Army) had allotted a five hour consolidation period to allow his men to reinforce the positions taken in the first rush. This had proved its value in the swift dispatch of the German counter attack, but was not thought to be long enough, given the current condition of the ground.

A further two hours was given to get the reserves up and in particular to move the artillery forward. The second part of the assault would begin exactly twelve hours after the first at 1510 hours.

A major problem throughout the war was the inability of the infantry to advance without artillery support. However having pounded the ground the artillery had difficulty moving its guns forward. The French development of their tanks was based on the premiss that whoever could move their field guns across the ground the quickest would win the war.

Unfortunately on the extreme right the 12th Australian Brigade was not informed of the delay and arrived on time at its jumping off positions. Here they were forced to lie out under a bombardment for two hours. Throughout the entire day II Anzac would suffer just over half of all the casualties taken by the 2nd Army.

The attack continues

At 1510 hours the barrage opened up again on full throttle, and amidst a certain amount of confusion caused by late arrivals and delayed orders, the advance continued.

One of the main threats was now coming from the German blockhauses in the Oosttaverne line and these were dealt with by means of grenades at close quarters. Attacking units would work their way around the obstacles and as soon as the defenders realised that they were being surrounded, many gave themselves up.

The Germans would use the same methods of infiltration but on a massive scale during their 1918 Spring offensive.

Along the entire front the only points of real resistance were the Spoilbank in front of X Corps and the area immediately in front of the boundary between II Anzac and IX Corps.

Spoilbank had resisted all morning and a second bombardment lasting most of the afternoon failed to soften the determination of the defenders.

The position opposite the Australians at Blauwepoortbeek was much more serious and confused. At 1730 hours a requested bombardment against massing Germans fell on the Australian 12th Brigade who had overshot their objective by 200 metres. Drop shorts later that evening also caused casualties amongst the men of IX Corps who were preparing to repel a counter attack.

By the morning of the 8th June the battle was pretty much over, though it would continue for another six days as the Germans withdrew slightly and the entire Oosttaverne line was taken and consolidated.

 

The lost opportunity

Apart from a few minor positions, all the objectives set for the attack had been accomplished.

On the German side Crown Prince Rupprecht was convinced that this overwhelming blow against his forces would be repeated very swiftly, giving him no chance to recover and concentrate his forces. At one stage he even considered the possibility of having to withdraw to a more defensible position.

In the British camp General Plumer wanted three days to consolidate his positions and reorganise the artillery before attempting a second assault out onto the all important Gheluveldt plain in the area of Bellewaerde (Now an amusement park).

General Gough however felt that such an attack, if successful, would leave his men in an exposed position. He voted for a postponement and Haig concurred. It wouldn’t be until the 31st July and the opening day of the 3rd battle of Ypres that the British would attack again.

The Germans were allowed to recover from what had been one of the most stunning victories of the war.