The Germans on Messines Ridge had an excellent view of the entire Ypres Salient, frustrating British hopes of progress there. The capture of the ridge was a necessary pre-condition to the capture of territory around Ypres, an important objective in 1917.
British artillery began shelling the ridge on 21 May 1917. For once, they succeeded in reducing the German defences to ruins. Huge mines had also been placed under the German lines after extensive tunnelling, including from the 1st Australian Tunnelling Company. When detonated at the beginning of the battle the mines produced the greatest man-made explosion in human history to that date. The ridge and the ruined village of Messines were soon over-run by the British and Australian attacking force in a particularly successful battle. Unfortunately, British artillery, mistaking the successful troops for a German counter-attack, opened fire again, as did the German artillery. Those crowded on the ridge suffered heavily from their own side, despite their stunning success. The 3rd Australian Division suffered 4,100 casualties and the 4th Division suffered 2,700 casualties. The way was open to Ypres but, inexplicably, the British failed to push on with their attack, delaying for seven weeks.
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