Battle of Messines 7 to 14 June 1917

The Battle of Messines was an important attack before the major British offensive for 1917, the Third Battle of Ypres. The Germans held Messines Ridge. This position formed a salient (bulge) into the British line on the southern flank of the planned Ypres attack. It also gave German artillery observers a good view of the ground west of Ypres, where the British planned to gather their forces for the attack. The ridge had to be captured before the Ypres offensive could start. Three British corps were to make the attack on Messines Ridge, including II Anzac Corps at the southernmost point.

The battle commenced a few minutes after 3am on 7 June. It started with the detonation of 19 mines under the German trenches, which tunnellers had secretly dug over the previous year. The explosions created enormous craters, some of which are still visible today. Up to that time, this was the largest man-made explosion in history. It obliterated the German front line and left the survivors stunned. At first, the British advance was unopposed over much of the front. British forces easily captured the ridge and thousands of prisoners. German counterattacks failed. Over the next 2 weeks, further British advances were made. About 26,000 men were killed, wounded or captured on each side. The Australians were withdrawn in July, fought at Ypres from September, and then returned to garrison the Messines trenches through the winter of 1917-18.

Soldiers watch a tank in the field
New Zealand soldiers watching the tanks advancing towards Messines Ridge during the attack of 7 June 1917. AWM E01417

The First Battle of Bullecourt on 11 April 1917 followed the rapid Allied advance after the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line earlier that year. The 4th and 12th Australian Brigades were sent against the Hindenburg Line at Bullecourt. They were supported by British tanks rather than an artillery barrage. Only one tank reached the first German trench line but the Australians broke into the Hindenburg Line. Without artillery support they were quickly cut-off and faced strong counter-attacks. The survivors were compelled to retreat to their own lines. Over 1100 Australians were taken prisoner, the highest number of Australians captured in a single action during the war. More than 3000 Australians were killed or wounded at Bullecourt in less than 24 hours.

The Second Battle of Bullecourt began on 3 May and lasted for 2 weeks. British and Australian troops assaulted the Hindenburg Line around Bullecourt for a second time. Australians once again broke into the German trenches, as did the British. The fighting involved desperate German counterattacks. The fighting was considered by many to have involved some of the most intense trench fighting experienced by Australians on the Western Front. Throughout period, the Australians were able to consolidate and expand their gains in the face of repeated German attacks, the last of which came on 15 May. The fighting involved the 1st, 2nd and 5th Australian Divisions. Although the Germans yielded Bullecourt, the overall Arras offensive proved unsuccessful. More than 7000 Australians were killed or wounded at 2nd Bullecourt.


Last updated: 14 January 2020

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2020), Battle of Messines 7 to 14 June 1917, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 20 October 2020, http://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/wars-and-missions/ww1/where-australians-served/western-front/battle-of-messines
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