Messines, 1917 as witnessed by a British staff officer
The principal author of this book, Charles Harington wrote two books of note. One was an autobiography of his long and distinguished military career, titled, 'Tim Harington Looks Back' and the other was, 'Plumer of Messines' which was, of course a biography of General Herbert Plumer since Harington had served under Plumer as his Chief of Staff. This Leonaur edition includes Harington's edited writings (from both books) on the subject of the First World War based upon his intimate knowledge of Plumer and his activities, especially concerning his most renowned engagement, so is essential reading for any student of the period. As most readers are aware this battle was notably preluded by the explosion of nineteen enormous charges beneath German forward positions which instantly killed approximately 10,000 soldiers and, taken together, represented the largest non-nuclear explosion of all time. To provide an overview of the Battle of Messines (7-14 June,1917) in its wider context and its immediate consequences, this book also contains John Buchan's excellent assessment of the Third Battle of Ypres (also known as Passchendaele) which raged from July to November,1917. This section of the text includes many useful maps, diagrams and photographs.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
Our troops progressed satisfactorily up several of the spurs, but a strong point about Bellevue succeeded in checking our advance at this spot. The valleys proved impassable after the heavy rain owing to the mud, which also delayed and tired out our troops in their further progress on the higher slopes. Eventually our advance was brought to a standstill, and a line was consolidated slightly in advance of that from which the attack started.
The above was part of an attack launched by all three armies, 2nd and 5th British and the French (General Anthoine) on a 13,500-yards front. In places the first objective was reached, but at the end of the day, though the left of the Fifth Army and the French made good progress, the right of the front line rested between the old line and the first objective.
After the operations of the 12th October had ceased there was no further change in the situation until the morning of the 26th. Close touch was maintained with the enemy everywhere except on part of the front of the I Anzac Corps, where the Germans have evacuated some low-lying ground south of the Ypres-Roulers Railway.
Every effort was made to organise the captured battle ground for further offensive operations.
Our troops having been successfully assembled without serious interference by the enemy an attack was launched at 5.40 a.m. on the fronts of the X and Canadian Corps.
Very heavy fighting took place during which our troops succeeded in capturing Gheluvelt village and Polderhoek Spur but were unable to hold on to either owing to the enemy powerful counterattacks.
The weather conditions and the state of the ground had a very great influence on the day’s operations.
Two features, apart from exhaustion and the difficulties of movement, seem outstanding:
(1) The mud, in a semi-liquid state and splashed up by shell bursts, got into everything, and was especially troublesome for rifles and machine guns.
(2) The very soft nature of the ground apparently affected the detonation of percussion shells to such an extent that prisoners have on several occasions remarked on the harmlessness of the bursts, or the failure to detonate.
On the 27th October it was found that the enemy was holding Decline Copse. He was, however, successfully ejected on the night 27th/28th October and the wood remained in our hands.
On the 28th and 29th October there was no change in the situation. The enemy’s artillery concentrated heavily on our forward system in reply to our preparatory barrages on the mornings of the 27th and 28th October. During the night 29th/30th October, the situation was comparatively quiet.
Until about 11 a.m. on the 30th October the weather was fine, but it was very cold and a high wind was blowing. The assembly of the Canadians was successfully completed before dawn.
At about 2.43 a.m. the 1st Australian Division established a post in Decoy Wood, in order to cover the right flank of the attack.
At 5.53 a.m. an attack was launched by the Canadian Corps against the slopes to the west and south-west of Passchendaele. This, in conjunction with an attack by the XVIII Corps of the Fifth Army on their left.
The Order of Battle right to left was: 1st Australian Division, 4th Canadian Division, 3rd Canadian Division, and the 63rd Division of the Fifth Army.
During the course of the day the 3rd Canadian Division was counter-attacked no less than five times from the north of Passchendaele. All these attacks were successfully repulsed.