The disorder in the French army means that the British are having to take on a leading role on the Western Front. Allied commanders have agreed that the focus of action will be attritional, aiming to wear down the Germans by inflicting greater casualties on them than they can inflict on the Allies. But Haig continues to hope for a breakthrough battle, where his men will smash through the German lines and restore mobility to the war.
Haig’s plan is for a major offensive this summer in Flanders at Ypres. His ambitious plan is for a ground offensive to be followed by an amphibious assault on the Belgian coast that will clear the Germans from their naval bases there. Today though his men stage a more limited assault, one in keeping with the agreed objectives. They attack German positions on the Messines Ridge south of Ypres. Securing this high ground should make it harder for the Germans to disrupt Haig’s main offensive.
The ridge is strongly defended but the British have left nothing to chance. Mines have been dug under the German positions. Just before the infantry are about to attack the mines are detonated, with an explosive force that is apparently heard in south east England. Some 10,000 German troops are killed in the blast. The survivors are subjected to a devastating artillery bombardment.
The mines leave the Germans at the front stunned and unable to offer serious resistance. British and ANZAC troops overrun enemy positions, capturing some 7,500 prisoners, advancing beyond their target lines. The ridge is secured and the British dig in to repel any counterattacks.
map (New Zealand History: 1917: Arras, Messines and Passchendaele)
German trench destroyed by the mines (Wikipedia)
German pillbox, blown upside down by the explosion (ANZAC: Messines Ridge)
Prisoners (ANZAC: Messines Ridge)