The Battle of Messines Ridge

The Battle of Messines (7–14 June 1917) was conducted by the British Second Army, commanded by General Sir Herbert Plumer, and took place on the Western Front near the village of Messines in West Flanders, Belgium.

The start of the attack comprised a series of underground explosive charges beneath the German 4th Army Front Lines. The mines were detonated at the start of the battle, creating 19 large craters. The joint explosion of the mines at Messines ranks among the largest non-nuclear explosions of all time. The evening before the attack, General Sir Charles Harington, Chief of Staff of the Second Army, remarked to the press, “Gentlemen, we may not make history tomorrow, but we shall certainly change the geography”.

21 mines had been filled by 7 June with nearly 1,000,000 pounds of explosives. The Germans knew the British were mining and had taken some counter-measures but they were taken by surprise at the extent of the British effort. Two of the mines failed to detonate but 19 went off on 7 June, at 3:10 a.m. British Summer Time.

The Battle of Messines marked the peak of mine warfare. On 10 August 1917, the Royal Engineers fired the last British deep mine of the war, at Givenchy-en-Gohelle near Arras.

Photograph shows the trenches between Messines Ridge and Ploegstert Wood in May, 1917.

By P Cosgrove.