Battle of Messines, 12 October-2 November 1914

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The battle of Messines, 12 October-2 November 1914, was part of the Race to the Sea, the series of battles that decided the line of the western front. In the aftermath of the first battle of the Marne, it was decided to move the BEF back north to Flanders, to shorten its supply lines back to the channel ports. The battle of Messines was the official name for the fighting between the river Douve and the Comines-Ypres canal, but it merged into the battle of Armentières to the south and the first battle of Ypres to the north.

Sir John French believed that there were only weak German forces in front of the BEF, and so planned a general advance to the north east of Lille. The Cavalry Corps was to guard the left flank of the advance of III corps, and join up with the troops already taking up position around Ypres.

The battle officially began on 12 October, when the Cavalry Corps was pushed forward to make room for the advance of III corps. The corps ran into German troops on the high ground at Mont des Cats and Flêtre, and captured Mont des Cats. The advance continued on 13 October. The British advance forced the Germans to evacuate their most forward positions, in Armentières

On 14 October the German Sixth Army, in front of the advancing Cavalry Corps, was ordered to stand on the defensive while the Fourth Army carried out an offensive against the entire allied line from Menin to the coast. On the same day the Cavalry Corps advancing from the west met up with the 3rd Cavalry Division south of Ypres, closing the last gap in the allied lines.

The cavalry corps advanced over the next few days, until by the night of 17/18 October it had reached the line it would hold until the crisis of 30-31 October. That line ran north east from Messines to Hollebeke. For most of the intervening period the British were opposed by six cavalry divisions, lacking heavy artillery and short of ammunition. The Cavalry Corps was reinforced on 22-23rd October by the Ferozepore Brigade of the Lahore Division, 1/ Connaught Rangers and 57th Wilde’s Rifles.

The major crisis of the battle came on 30-31 October, during the battle of Gheluvelt. This saw the German Army Group Fabeck attack at Gheluvelt and Messines. On 30 October the Cavalry Corps was forced out of Hollebeke, at the north of the line, although the attack on Messines failed. The main line was forced back onto Messines Ridge.

31 October saw the main crisis at Gheluvelt. It also saw the Germans capture part of Messines, and push the Cavalry Corp line back even further. By the end of the day, the British line had been reinforced by French troops. Even so, the German advance continued for some days. Messines was abandoned on 1 November, and in the fighting after the official end of the battle Messines ridge was lost, but the line itself held.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (26 August 2007), Battle of Messines, 12 October-2 November 1914 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_messines1914.html

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