First World War

7-14 June 1917

Messines Ridge, located south of Ypres, was captured by German forces in 1914. The ridge granted the German Army a dominant position overlooking the Ypres salient. 

After years of suffering heavy casualties in the salient, in 1917 the Allies planned to break out. The first move was to capture the Messines Ridge. Taking the ridge would leave the Allies better placed to launch their offensive to the north-east - toward Passchendaele.


5 Facts About the Battle of Messines

Discover more about the Battle of Messines and a few highlights from our collection. 


1. The battle was meticulously planned

General Sir Herbert Plumer planned the attack at Messines in meticulous detail. His forces also underwent thorough training to ensure the artillery and infantry worked together effectively. 

British soldiers stand looking into the huge mine crater at Messines Ridge, blown up on the morning of the battle. Photographed on 11 June 1917
British soldiers stand looking into the huge mine crater at Messines Ridge, blown up on the morning of the battle. Photographed on 11 June 1917. © IWM Q 2325

2. 19 mines were detonated

Tunneling work beneath the Messines Ridge began in 1916. At zero hour - 3.10am on 7 June - 19 mines were detonated beneath the German positions in an explosion that could be heard in London. Thousands of German defenders were killed or wounded and many more were psychologically shaken. 


3. Artillery support was effective

Like all aspects of the attack at Messines, the artillery support was carefully planned and coordinated. During the preliminary bombardment, air reconnaissance reported on German battery positions so they could be targeted by Allied guns. 

A creeping barrage accompanied the advancing infantry during the attack, while a lifting barrage hit German positions further ahead, lifting and moving further back once the attack came within a certain distance. 


4. It was one of the most successful battles of the war

Plumer's force of New Zealand, Irish, Australian, Canadian and British troops took their objectives within a matter of hours and 7,000 German soldiers were captured. German counterattacks failed to retake the territory they had lost.  

Plumer built on the lessons of the Somme and Arras to combine artillery, mines, air power, infantry and tanks in a carefully planned and ultimately successful attack. 


5. Plumer was not given command of the main offensive

General Sir Douglas Haig chose Hubert Gough to command the main offensive at Ypres. Gough set out ambitious objectives, seeking to strike deep into German defences. This approach proved costly and ineffective. After weeks of stagnation, Gough was replaced by Plumer. Plumer introduced a bite-and-hold approach, which saw troops make shorter advances with close artillery support and ultimately enabled the Allies to make progress at Ypres. 

Souvenirs and ephemera

A message home to Canada

This brooch was sent by Private John Campbell Barter of the Canadian Expeditionary Force as a present to his wife, Annie Scholey Barter in Vancouver, Canada. Private Barter worked on the light railways that supplied the Allied front line and was involved in the preparations for the Battle of Messines. 

Barter was one of five brothers who served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force - remarkably, all of them survived the war.