Second Army's astute commander General Sir Herbert Plumer, long familiar with fighting in the Salient had already recognised the vital importance of the Ridge and had, over a year earlier, quietly initiated preparations for its capture. These included the driving of a number of deep mines under the enemy's forward positions which would be exploded at the start of the general attack. An unprecedented amount of time and effort was expended in the construction of these 24 mines along the entire line of the Messines Ridge. Mining operations in this sector had begun in the spring of 1915, but the idea of a 'mining offensive' dated from September 1915 when the Engineer-in-Chief (Brigadier-General Fowke) proposed conducting mining operations on a much larger scale; these plans were approved by Haig on 6 January 1916.
The selected mining points were as follows: (from south to north) 'The Birdcage (at the south-east corner of Ploegesteert Wood; Trench 122; Trench 127; Petit Douve Farm; Ontario Farm; Kruisstraat; Spanbroekmolen; Peckham; Maedelstade Farm; Petit Bois; Hollandscheschuur Farm; St Eloi; The Caterpillar; Hill 60. Note that at some of these points more than one mine was established. The dangerous and difficult work of tunnelling and loading the sap heads with ammonal explosive was done by: 171st, 175th and 250th Tunnelling Companies (Royal Engineers), together with 1st and 3rd Canadian Tunnelling Companies and 1st Australian Tunnelling Company.
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