The Battle of Messines (June 1917)

With the French attack on the Aisne south of Arras failing in its main objects, Haig's armies were thus released for the originally planned and now delayed attack in the northern theatre. Before the principal blow could be delivered in Flanders, it was essential to capture the strongly fortified, if not impregnable, ridge which leaving the southern tip of the Ypres salient stretched south-east past Wytschacte and Messines to the Douve valley. From it the enemy commanded unique observation over the whole, of the British lines about Ypres, and from it they were in a position to strike at the flank of any attack originating within the salient, further north. It was with the object of removing at once this observation and this menace to the right flank of the main operation that the Battle of Messines was fought. It is not, merely connected with but is an integral part of the tremendous Third Battle of Ypres.

 


General preparations and shelling of German positions continued into May with accommodation of the Divisional reserves in Hill 63.

"The role allotted to the Division was the storming of Messines, the consolidation of the Black Line within the New Zealanders' boundaries, the establishment of a series of Strong Points on the Black Dotted Line, and the capture of any enemy guns within their area. These objectives fell naturally into 3 phases, firstly the capture of the trenches on the west slope and of the village with the ring of trenches immediately surrounding it (Institute Royal and Au Bon Fermier Cabaret), secondly the capture and consolidation of the Black Line, and thirdly the establishment of the Strong Points on the Black Dotted Line (east of Mesen and short of Gapaard) and the capture of the guns". 

 

This was the area, "where The 3rd Battalion companies, with the 2 platoons attached from the 2nd Battalion, reached the neighbourhood of the Brown Line without opposition, but here they came under intense fire from a well-posted machine gun on the edge of Messines. The officer commanding the company opposite the gun was killed. Men fell rapidly, and the line was checked. Then L.-Cpl. Samuel Frickleton, although already slightly wounded, called on his section to follow him and dashed through our barrage with his men. Flinging his bombs at the gun crew, he rushed and bayoneted the survivors and then, still working within our barrage with the utmost sang-froid, attacked a second gun some 20 yards away. He killed the 3 men serving the gun and then destroyed the remainder of the crew and others, numbering in all 9, who were still in the dugout. The infantry at once swept on to the trench. Frickleton, who was later severely wounded, was awarded the V.C. for the magnificent courage and leadership which prevented many casualties and ensured success. In this gallant action. Cpl. A. V. Eade was also prominent. He carried one of the machine guns forward to engage another gun further on, but was killed while getting the gun into action. Another member of the party, Rflmn. C. J. Maubon, a few minutes later when a machine gun opened fire from the ruins of the inner wall of the Institution Royale, rushed up within the shells of our barrage, bombed the gunner and destroyed the gun. The 3rd Battalion captured in the Blue and Brown systems nearly 100 prisoners and 3 machine guns. Their casualties in the actual advance were 21 killed and 75 wounded.

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