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A battle deservedly won
on 29 November 2011
In this last volume of his magisterial trilogy of 1917 [Vimy Ridge and Cambrai preceeded it] Turner explains with his customary clarity the origins and execution of this famous battle. A comprehensive overview of the opposing armies, their orders of battle, commanders and plans leads to a most helpful introduction on mine warfare on the Western front, a subject many readers will be unfamiliar with. Turner then turns his attention to the planning of and preparation for the battle and gives credit to the extraordinary staff work which went into the massive logistical effort to move guns and ammunition into place without detection. Likewise, he gives Plummer and his staff credit for utilizing the air assets available to them whether ballon based observers reporting on counter-bombardment batteries or fighter aircraft preventing enemy observation flights. These men were certainly no 'donkeys'; on the contrary, they had come up to speed with the rapidly evolving technologies and in many cases were on top of them.
H hour is vividly described and the assault is easily followed through succinct descriptions of the various phases and excellent maps. In his conclusion, Turner resists the temptation to turn to hindsight and evaluates the outcome of the battle strictly within the political and military parameters of the day. If Plummer erred on the side of caution, it was because he had a limited objective which he successfully realised in the capture of the ridge. The idea that somehow the attack ended in failure since there was no exploitation of surprise and no breakthrough into the German rear is not entertained by Turner, correctly in my view.
This is an eloquent and easily understood account of Messines Ridge and I hope that a copy finds its way in the knapsack of all the school teachers who shepherd their classes through Flanders each summer.
How the mines were kept secret from the Germans until H hour remains a mystery. Surely Lady Luck had a great deal to do with it.