Published By Ben Hillidge
Messines Ridge 7 – 14 June 1917
Messines Ridge. 9 Bn York and Lancaster. 7 June 1917.
Messines Ridge. 13 Bn Cheshire Regiment. 7 June 1917.
The Battle for Messines Ridge was the first engagement of the Third Battle of Ypres. The Ridge formed the south western sector of the Ypres Salient and over looked the Salient giving the Germans a huge advantage. . The battlefront was about 9 miles long running in a crescent south from Hill 60, near to Zillebecke, to Ploegsteert Wood. It was vital the ridge be captured if the Third Ypres offensive was to be successful. Planning for the battle began 12 months previously and applied may of the lessons and experiences learned thus far. Preparations were detailed and extensive and involved the introduction of ‘all forces tactics’ – with infantry, artillery and air force coordinating and working together. Included in the preparations were 20 explosive mines which had been tunnelled under the ridge and which would be detonated at zero hour – it is estimated over 10000 Germans were killed by the mines which left many others so stunned and shocked that the front lines were taken within minutes of the detonations. Two mines failed to go off, one subsequently exploded in 1955, the second has gone ‘missing’, its location lost.
Messines Ridge. 9 Bn York and Lancaster. 7 June 1917. 70 Brigade 23 Division
At the Battle for Messine Ridge 70 Brigade, including the 9 Bn York and Lancaster, would attack on the left or northern flank of the battlefield. They would be in the first assault with the objective to form a defensive flank to protect the main assaults further south. The Brigade would attack on a 2 battalion front – the 9 Bn Y&L on the right and 11 Bn Sherwood Foresters to the left. The 9 Bn Y&L moved up to their start position during the previous evening. They were to attack from Canada Street, A Coy on the battalion right, B Coy on the left with D Coy as ‘moppers up’ and C Coy in support and as carrying parties. The battalion was to capture a series of trenches in the enemy front line – Immediate Trench, Avenue & Support lines, Impartial Lane and Image Trench, Lane & Avenue. They were to consolidate the positions and construct 2 strong points.
At Zero hour, 3.10am on the 7 June, the barrage on the German front line lifted. Simultaneously two mines under Hill 60 and the Caterpillar were blown and the men moved forward, B and A Coy in the lead followed by D and C Coys in support. By zero hour +30 minutes the battalion had reached its objective and began consolidating. Work also began on building the 2 strong points. During this time men from the 8 Bn Y&L and 8 Bn KOYLI came forward and, shortly before 7.00am, they continued the advance. By mid morning all the Brigade objectives had been captured and held. The 9 Bn Y&L remained in their position until relieved during the night of 9 June. Casualties were Officers 4 KIA including the Battalion CO and 6 wounded and ORs 47 KIA, 211 wounded and 18 missing.
GOOGLE MAPS centres on position of Canada Trench, Hill 60 to the left.
Messines Ridge. 13 Bn Cheshire Regiment. 7 June 1917.
The 13 Bn Cheshire Regiment was in 74 Brigade 25 Division. For the Battle of Messines Ridge the Division was under the command of the II Anzac Corps. The Division would attack at the northern end of the Anzac sector, on a 2 Brigade front with the right flank just north of the road between Messines and Wulvergem. The objectives were to capture a series of trenches – October Trench, Support, Alley and Avenue – just to the north of Messines on the road to Ypres.
On 6 June the battalion moved up in battle order to their assembly trenches, they were to be on the right of the attack. From the British lines the men had to cross about 200yards of no man’s land to reach the German front line. From there they would descend down a low slope to reach a small stream, the Stenebeck, and then rise to their objectives at October Trench. Zero hour was at 3.10am when the mines would be detonated – the battalion was in the front of the mine at Ontario Farm and which destroyed the adjacent enemy lines. As the explosion settled the battalion advanced through a gathering cloud of dust and smoke. The enemy front line was quickly overrun and they continued down the slope, C & D Coys leading, they crossed the Stenebeck, which was practically dry, and occupied the second line. A & B Coys then leaped frog and moved onto the final objective, October Trench. This, again, was quickly captured and held. Everything had gone according to plan. At about 6.00am word came back that the garrison in trenches to their front were weak. C & D Coys then went forward to October Trench whilst A & B Coys went into October Support, battalion HQ was set up in a shell hole. They remained in this position for the next days, throughout there was frequent shelling causing most of the casualties – Officers 2 KIA and 4 wounded, ORs 29 KIA and 132 wounded.
GOOGLE MAPS satellite view centres on the mine crater at Ontario Farm.
GOOGLE MAPS street view looking along the line of the Stenebecke, 13 Bn Ches Rgt advanced down the slope to the left, crossed the stream and advanced up the slope to the October trench system near to the skyline and buildings to the right.
References and Sources WAR DIARY 9 Bn York & Lanc page 10ff and Operational Orders. 13 Bn Cheshire Rgt page 27 – only partial entry date missing. Hist Ches Rgt page 106ff
B&O 1917 Third Ypres. Messines Ridge. 9 Bn York Lanc Rgt. & 13 Bn Cheshire Rgt. 7–14 June 1917.