Messines 1917: The zenith of siege warfare, Alexander Turner

Messines 1917: The zenith of siege warfare, Alexander Turner

Campaign 225

The battle of Messines was one of a series of 'false dawns' during 1917, British attacks that achieved spectacular results by the standards of the Western Front but that had no long term impact (the tank battle at Cambrai being perhaps the most famous). Sir Herbert Plumer's Second Army, which included the II Anzac Corps, captured the crucial Messines Ridge in hours, while suffering comparatively low casualties. The key to this success was the massive mining operation that preceded the battle, and involved nineteen massive explosions that caused shockwaves that could be felt in London.

Turner has produced a good account of this battle, well structured, easy to follow and supported by some useful illustrations and map. One highlight is the stylised cut-away diagram showing a sample tunnel system, complete with illustrations showing the methods used to pass through a difficult layer of saturated sands, a German 'camouflet' and a sample mine chamber. The maps illustrating the fighting above ground are also excellent, showing very clearly the layout of the ground, the line of the main trenches and the progress (or lack of) made by each major unit in each stage in the battle.

One obvious question that arises from this text is why the same formal siege techniques couldn't be used with the same success elsewhere? Part of the answer, as Turner points out, is time. Work on the first of the mines that played a crucial part in the British victory at Messines started in August 1915, nearly two years before they were finally detonated! Another, as Plumer would have told you, was the battles limited objectives - the 'bit and hold' style of battle where all of the preparation was dedicated towards a single achievable aim.

Origins of the Campaign
Opposing Commanders
Opposing Forces
Opposing Plans
The Battle of Messines
The Battlefield Today

Author: Alexander Turner
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 96
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2010

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