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Fortunately, if he is allowed to launch it, Haig will have a head-start to his Flanders Offensive... He intends to detonate the mines in a surprise attack.

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Presentation on theme: "Fortunately, if he is allowed to launch it, Haig will have a head-start to his Flanders Offensive... He intends to detonate the mines in a surprise attack."— Presentation transcript:

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2 Fortunately, if he is allowed to launch it, Haig will have a head-start to his Flanders Offensive... He intends to detonate the mines in a surprise attack using three fresh corps, each with three divisions in the line and one more in reserve... General Plumer, GOC 2 nd Army, has been in the Salient for two years and ‘Knows Every Puddle’... He’s been planning and preparing a major local attack for over a year, having mined beneath the German lines for the entire length of the Messines Ridge from Hill 60 down to St. Ives on the edge of Ploegsteert Wood...

3 Messines Ridge is a daunting objective for infantry... Firepower will be on his men’s side; from the outset, they will advance behind such firepower as the world has never seen... It has plenty of Elevation, which infantrymen like......and firepower, but in this Plumer has an ace up his sleeve......so, as at Vimy, they will advance in waves, followed by mopper-uppers; pausing to consolidate while fresh troops pass through... An infantryman, Herbert Plumer was unarguably one of the best generals of the British Army; one of the first to embrace the new tactics... To take it, the infantry will need two things; a very good plan......except, it’s in the wrong hands.

4 Messines, June 1917; Interlude to Prelude......while in II ANZAC Godley has: the 25 th (Western), 3 rd Australian, and the New Zealand Divisions... The respective Corps reserves are the 24 th (Eastern), 11 th (Northern), and 4 th Aus. Divisions......and in IX Corps Hamilton-Gordon has; the 19 th (Western), 16 th (Irish), and the 36 th (Ulster) Divisions... In X Corps on the left, Morland has; the 23 rd (Northern), 47 th (2 nd London), and the 41 st (London Pals) Divisions... 12 divisions are at Plumer’s disposal, all of the New Army (aside from the antipodeans and the ‘Terriers’ of the 47 th ); all veterans of the Somme... First, he has infantry; lots of it...

5 Messines, June 1917; Interlude to Prelude......for the previous two weeks, 2,266 guns and over 300 heavy mortars have been pounding the ridge......while deep below, twenty-two mines (one was found) have been dug stretching under enemy lines......and one million pounds (500 tons) of the high explosive, Ammonol, has been packed into them... And when it comes to firepower...

6 Others have worked on them too, particularly press-ganged infantry, but these units were the primary ‘clay-kickers’ of Messines Ridge: Messines, June 1917; Interlude to Prelude... Some of the tunnels beneath the German lines on Messines Ridge had been completed over a year before... 3 rd Canadian Tunnelling Coy, CEF... 1 st Australian Tunnelling Coy, AIF... 250 th Tunnelling Coy, RE... 171 st Tunnelling Coy, RE... 1 st Canadian Tunnelling Coy, CEF...

7 General Sir Herbert C. O. Plumer GoC, II British Army “Gentlemen, we may not make history tomorrow, but we shall certainly change the geography.”

8 Messines, June 1917; Interlude to Prelude... On the evening of 6 th June their assault troops move up into their positions as the bombardment reaches its crescendo... By 01:00 they are ready... And at 02:50 the guns fall silent... The Silence must’ve been deafening... At 03:10, without warning... 1,000,000lbs of Ammonol is primed...

9 Messines, June 1917; Interlude to Prelude... The Germans later estimate that 10,000 men died in the blasts... The forward units already lying out in no-man’s-land, the nine infantry divisions – five British, two Irish, one New Zealand, and one Australian – rise up to launch their attacks... All 2,266 artillery pieces resume fire......now joined by 700 machine guns firing over the heads of the infantry as light artillery just as at Vimy... Very little resistance is met......thousands of dazed, stumbling young men, many bleeding from their eyes and ears, surrender... The attackers suffer negligible casualties (aside from 3 rd Aus.)...

10 Messines, June 1917; Interlude to Prelude... By 09:00 six of the nine divisions are on their Stop Lines... Only on the far left, where X Corps under Morland had the obstacles of Hill60, the railway cutting, and the Ypres—Commines Canal to deal with, have there been delays......and by 10:00 they too have caught up and begun to consolidate on the crest of Messines Ridge... As the attackers consolidate on the crest the activity behind is frantic as engineers and pioneers cut new roads, reinforcements bring up supplies, and the gunners hurry forward to establish new positions from which to protect the infantry from the inevitable counterattack...

11 Messines, June 1917; Interlude to Prelude... In the early afternoon the inevitable counterattack is driven off, largely by the repositioned artillery...

12 Messines, June 1917; Interlude to Prelude... In the early afternoon the inevitable counterattack is driven off, largely by the repositioned artillery......and at 15:10, exactly twelve hours after the mines were detonated, fresh troops surge forward to seize and consolidate the final objective...

13 Messines, June 1917; Interlude to Prelude... In the early afternoon the inevitable counterattack is driven off, largely by the repositioned artillery......and at 15:10, exactly twelve hours after the mines were detonated, fresh troops surge forward to seize and consolidate the final objective... For the first time since 1914 the British are able to look eastward and see green, untouched fields, peaceful Belgian farmland and villages... The battle has been a complete success for Plumer and his 2 nd Army... The cost has been 5,000 men – most in the latter stages – but the cost to the Germans has been at least five times that number... II ANZAC X Br. Corps IX Br. Corps

14 It did not end the siege at Ypres, nor even push the Germans far enough back to end the bombardment... The Battle of Messines Ridge was an important tactical victory... But in an ideal world – well, an ideal world which included continental siege warfare – it could have meant much more......with the Chemin des Dames, Vimy, and now Messines in Allied hands they now had a more secure position behind which to endure anything the Germans might do, and prepare for the great American-led offensive in 1918 which would end the war... Messines, June 1917; Interlude to Prelude... Sadly, other agendas had precedence.

15 L/Cpl Samuel Frickerton, VC, of 3 rd Bn, the NZ Rifle Brigade, and was one of five brothers to serve (two wounded at Gallipoli, one killed on the Somme), and was himself gassed later in the war. He died in August 1971 Captain Robert Grieve, VC; 37 th (Victoria) Bn, AIF was the great-nephew of a VC from the Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War. He passed away in Oct. 1957. Pte William Ratcliffe, VC, MM, of 2 nd Bn, the South Lancs., was a veteran of the Boer War and later dubbed “the Docker’s VC” by the press. He became a union activist and died in his native Liverpool, March 1963. Pte John Carroll, VC, of 33 rd (NSW) Bn, AIF, was of Irish heritage and failed to attend his presentation ceremony at Buckingham Palace three times. He was badly wounded at Passchendaele in October 1917, and sent home to assist recruitment. He died, aged 80, in October 1971.

16 Although it had obviously been planned long before, Haig claimed to have authorised the attack on Messines Ridge purely as a diversion drawing German resources away from Robert Nivelle’s ‘Grand Offensive’ far to the south... It seems strange that he would squander the surprise, innovation, and strategic value of such an endeavour to support an operation he did not believe in, particularly when he was already doing all that’d been asked of him at Arras...

17 ...and especially seven weeks after Nivelle had run into trouble, and a month after the entire Nivelle Offensive had ended...

18 Moreover, ‘drawing away’ resources does not mean merely the odd trainload on a given day, but rather compelling the enemy to divert in the long-term...

19 ...forcing him to supplement the infrastructure and resource allocation to another area, in this case the Ypres Salient, away from the current battle zone, in this case Chemin des Dames...

20 But if the intention was merely to draw the enemy away from the point of the main assault, why draw him to the point where one next intends to assault him?

21 Indeed, Plumer of 2 nd Army had not intended Messines to be an isolated diversion, but the launch-point of Haig’s own Flanders Offensive, of which he was well-aware...

22 Haig’s actual, rather than stated, intentions become highly controversial from this point forward...


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