Messines Ridge - 7th June 1917

Discussion in 'World War 1' started by liverpool annie, Dec 28, 2008.

  1. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    From an Irish point of view, the Battle for Messines in June 1917 is important because for the first time the 16th (Irish) and 36th (Ulster) would fight alongside each other.

    The two Divisions had found themselves united within IX Corps.

    The Plan was three Army Corps would be used in the attack across a front of about 16 kilometres. On the right (the southern end of the front) II ANZAC would take the village of Mesen.

    In the centre of the line and including the Irishmen was IX Corps who would be attacking Wytschaete (Wijtschate - Whitesheet to the British). The left flank to the north was held by X Corps and their task was to take St Eloi (Sint Elooi) and Mount Sorrel.

    The total depth of the advance at the centre would be about 3 kilometres and would pinch out the Messines salient.

    It was known that since the Somme German defensive systems had also changed. No longer was it necessary to hold each metre of ground to the end. Now they were much more flexible with a lightly held front line to give warning, concrete machine gun bunkers to offer resistance and regiments in reserve waiting to be moved as necessary to counter the threat.

    Some artillery preparations began on 20 April but on a very limited basis, but as heavier guns became available after the Battle of Arras (Including the assault on Vimy Ridge by the Canadians) they were moved north. During the preliminary bombardments which were to commence on 21 May the crews would be rotated, allowing for a third of them to be resting and their guns to be cooling.

    Practice runs were conducted for the creeping barrage in order to entice German counter battery fire and large raids were carried out on the German lines to test their strengths.

    What was stressed was that once the ridge and its villages had been taken, the attacking troops would consolidate their position. This would be an operation in the style of: Bite and Hold.

    The attack began at 01:00 hours on 7 June 1917 the British moved up into their jumping off positions.

    Just before 03:10 hours everybody was warned to lie flat on the ground.

    At 03:10 hours about 450,000 kilos of explosives were detonated amongst 19 huge mines under the German front line. The effect was a man made earthquake which sent German soldiers in Lille 20 kilometres away into a panic, and was easily heard in the south east of England.

    The word awful could truly have been used in both its original and current meanings.

    German soldiers caught by the largest of the mines were simply blown into dust. Advancing British troops would find bunkers containing dead Germans without a mark on them; crushed internally by the pressure waves.

    Within moments of the mines going off, the full ferocity of the British artillery barrage was let loose and 700 machine guns poured rounds into the German lines above the heads of the advancing troops.

    On the southern end of the attack, 3rd Australian Division under Major General John Monash had a hard time coming up through Ploegsteert Wood coming under a heavy gas barrage and losing about 500 casualties.

    They arrived at the front line just as the mines at Trenches 122 and 127 detonated and found themselves having to go straight into the attack. Opposition was minimal as those Germans encountered, were by and large shocked and bewildered beyond the capacity to resist.

    On their left the New Zealand Division made rapid progress up towards Mesen village.

    The New Zealanders should have had a mine at Petite Douve Ferme on their front, but this was the one mine that had been discovered by the Germans and collapsed with a camouflet with the loss of four men on 27 August 1916. The charge had to be left where it was - and it would appear to be there yet!

    The front line trench system was known as Uhlan Trench and in it were a number of concrete bunkers. Two of these can be seen today within the confines of the New Zealand Memorial at Mesen.

    The village of Mesen had been completely demolished by bombardments but the Germans had made every use of the cellars and the ruins of both the church and the abbey. These all provided excellent machine gun positions, but ultimately no match for the men from down under and the tanks supporting them.

    Dawn had only just risen and after 150 minutes of fighting Mesen and the trenches on the eastern crest of the hill were in Allied hands.
  2. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    Father Willie Doyle MC

    In Memory of
    Chaplain 4th Class The Rev. WILLIAM JOSEPH DOYLE M C

    Army Chaplains' Department
    attd. 8th Bn, Royal Dublin Fusiliers
    who died
    on 17 August 1917

    Remembered with honour

    Father Willie Doyle MC (1873 - August 16, 1917) was a native of Dalkey, Ireland and the youngest of seven children. He was an ordained Jesuit priest who served in the Army Chaplains' Department of the British Army during World War I. He was killed in action.

    Fr Doyle enlisted as a chaplain shortly after the outbreak of the First World War and served in

    8th Royal Irish Fusiliers
    Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers
    9th Royal Dublin Fusiliers
    6th Royal Irish Rifles
    7th Royal Irish Rifles

    He participated in the Battles of the Somme, Battle of Messines and Battle of Ypres.

    General Hickie, the commander-in-chief of the 16th (Irish) Division, described Doyle as one of the bravest men who fought or served out here ..... he was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery during the assault on the village of Ginchy. He was recommended for a posthumous Victoria Cross the day he was killed at Ypres alongside the 16th Division and the 36th Ulster Division who suffered heavy losses. Fr Doyle's body was never recovered.

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