Unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Services 

 Search  &  Help Recruits Military History Hall of Heroes Indigenous Slouch hat + ARMY Today Uniforms Badges

 Colours & Flags Weapons Food Equipment Assorted Medals Armour Navy Air Power 

Nurses - Medical Tributes Poetry - Music Posters & Signs Leaders The Enemy Humour Links Killing Anzac

Click to escape. Subject to Crown Copyright
Category: Western Front

Click to go up one level

Messines, often called Messines Ridge


A German concrete shelter on the hill at Messines, in Belgium. The entrances are just showing above ground, and the pockets over them hold machine gun and revolver ammunition; above can be seen the remains of the camouflage, which concealed the dugout from aircraft observers. From this position the enemy commanded a long stretch of an important road.
  • German losses at Messines numbered 25,000, of which 7,500 were prisoners.  British Empire casualties were 17,000 killed or wounded.
The Messines Ridge, in Flanders, was attacked on 7 June 1917, the II Anzac Corps, forming the right of the British attack. (The New Zealand Division took Messines, the 4th Australian Division continuing the assault beyond it, and the 3rd Australian Division attacking on the right of the Army). The ruins of the village itself can be discerned on the crest of the distant hill. The attack, in this sector of the battle, was made from the foot of the nearer hill.
At 0310 hrs on Thursday 7th June, 1917 the British Second Army under General Sir Herbert Plumer started an attack which in three hours resulted in the capture of the whole of the Messines Ridge on the south side of the Ypres Salient. 
The attack effectively began on 3rd June when the preliminary bombardment intensified, and was kept up until 0250 hrs on 7th June.

By this time, 100,000 men of the Second Army were lying in position waiting to attack. The weather was clear with a bright moon. The sudden silence spooked the Germans who started firing flares in an effort find an explanation.

Twenty minutes of tension packed waiting culminated in a loud bang, followed seven seconds later by a continuous series of huge explosions which tore at the German front line and threw the watching British, 400 meters away, off their feet.

The British rose from their trenches under cover of the renewed barrage of every gun available. Nine divisions of infantry advanced through the clouds of smoke and dust and within minutes, the whole of the German front line was in British hands.

Three hours later, the whole of the Messines Ridge was taken. No official figures were ever released regarding German casualties but there were 7 354 prisoners taken. There were 10 000 reported missing and over 6 000 known dead. British casualties numbered 16 000 of which about 30% were killed.

Messines Sector, Belgium. 16 February 1918. An observation post, constructed of metal, camouflaged to represent the trunk of a tree at Warnane Lodge, in the Messines Sector. It was used by Australians during the Battle of Messines and was one of a number of similar posts erected in this and other areas.

The success of the assault was in large part due to the explosion of 19 mines tunneled under the German front line. Preparation work started in 1915 but it was only in the winter of 1916 that serious preparations took place. Twenty two mines were dug, some up to 2160 feet (658 meters) long and up to 125 feet (38 meters) deep. One mine (at Petite Douve Farm) was discovered by German counter miners on 24th August 1916 and destroyed. Two mines close to Ploegsteert Wood were not exploded as they were outside the attack area, more about these mines later.

The explosion was heard by David Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister who was in his study in 10 Downing Street in London, there is even a report of an insomniac student hearing it in University College, Dublin.

An unidentified Australian soldier (left rear) checking the bodies of dead Germans scattered outside a concrete pillbox. The enemy were among the hundreds killed when underground mines were detonated by the Allies during the battle of Messines.

The nineteen mines were located as shown below:

Name of Mine

Charge (lbs)

Crater Diameter

Dug By

Hill 60 A

53 500

191 feet

1st Australian Tunneling Company

Hill 60 B

70 000

260 feet

1st Australian Tunneling Company

St Eloi

95 600

176 feet

1st Canadian Tunneling Company

Hollandscheschour 1

34 200

183 feet

250th Tunneling Company

Hollandscheschour 2

14 900

105 feet

250th Tunneling Company

Hollandscheschour 3

17 500

141 feet

250th Tunneling Company

Petit Bois 1

30 000

175 feet

250th Tunneling Company

Petit Bois 2

30 000

217 feet

250th Tunneling Company

Maedelstede Farm

94 000

217 feet

250th Tunneling Company


87 000

240 feet

250th Tunneling Company


91 000

250 feet

171st Tunneling Company

Kruisstraat 1 }

30 000

235 feet

171st Tunneling Company

Kruisstraat 4 }

19 500

 (linked explosions)

171st Tunneling Company

Kruisstraat 2

30 000

217 feet

171st Tunneling Company

Kruisstraat 3

30 000

202 feet

171st Tunneling Company

Ontario Farm

60 000

200 feet

171st Tunneling Company

Trench 127 Left

36 000

182 feet

3rd Canadian Tunneling Company

Trench 127 Right

50 000

210 feet

3rd Canadian Tunneling Company

Trench 122 Left

20 000

195 feet

3rd Canadian Tunneling Company

Trench 122 Right

40 000

228 feet

3rd Canadian Tunneling Company

The two unexploded mines were planned to be dismantled by the British but with the impending start of the Third Battle of Ypres, there was always something else to do. When the Germans launched their Lys Offensive in April, 1918, the British HQ was overrun and the documents relating to these two mines was lost and they never were dug up. The precise location of them was not known and they were forgotten until during a thunderstorm on 17th July, 1955, one of them exploded. No one was killed but the explosion did some slight damage to some distant property.  

  • The other mine is, as far as anyone knows, still lurking under the Flanders countryside.
Walking knee deep in slimy mud along a communication trench at La Basse Ville, forward of Messines, in Belgium. 

The photograph fairly illustrates the conditions encountered in the trenches of this low lying area during the winter.

The choice was, walk on the top of the trench and get killed by a sniper or wade through the mud.

  • I have gleaned this information from sources too numerous to mention but I am very grateful for their efforts. One source which should be quoted is:
    • "War Underground - The Tunnellers of the Great War" by Alexander Barrie - ISBN 1-871085-00-4.
  • The story of this endeavour is dealt with in great detail in this book
  • I hope you have found this interesting, let this be my little contribution to the effort of keeping alive the memory of those troubled times.

Ian Jones

The Aftermath

Messines, Qld. 1975. A post-WW1 Soldier Settlement Area, between Bapaume and Amiens in Queensland, this was named after a World War I battle site. An abandoned railway station building that was built in the 1920s. (Donor W Cameron)

Statistics : Over 35 million page visitors since  11 Nov 2002  



 Search   Help     Guestbook   Get Updates   Last Post    The Ode      FAQ     Digger Forum

Click for news

Digger History:  an unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Forces