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Australian battles on the western front during World War 1
A Brief Chronology of the Western Front 1916-1918
World War I
Australian Troops to the Western Front
The Western Front, 1914-1918
Fromelles, 19-20 July 1916
Pozieres, 23 July - 3 September 1916
The Attack on Pozieres
Attack on Mouquet Farm
Bullecourt, 10 April - 17 May 1917
The First Attack on Bullecourt
The Second Attack on Bullecourt
Messines, 7-12 June 1917
The Third Battles of Ypres, 31 July-10 November 1917
The Initial Attack
The Battle of Menin Road
Battle of Polygon Wood
Battle of Broodseinde Ridge
The Battle of Passchendaele
Villers Bretonneux, 4 April - 3 May 1918
First defence of Villers-Bretonneux
Second defence of Villers-Bretonneux
Hamel, 4 July 1918
Mont St Quentin 29 August-2 September 1918
The War Ends
Appendices: - Not available online
Territorial Recruitment of the A.I.F. in World War I
A BRIEF CHRONOLOGY OF THE WESTERN FRONT 1916-1918
(Operations in which Australian forces participated are shown bold)
Battle of Verdun (German offensive against the French sector of the front), 21 February-18 December.
Australian 1st and 2nd Divisions arrive in France, March
Australian 4th and 5th Divisions arrive in France, June
First Battle of the Somme (Allied offensive), 1 July - 13 November
Attack on Fromelles (British and Australian), 19-20 July
Attack on Pozieres and Mouquet Farm (British and Australian), 23 July-3 September
Tanks used for first time (Somme offensive), 15 September
Australian 3rd Division arrives in France, November
Battle of Arras (British offensive); Canadian capture of Vimy Ridge,
First attack on Bullecourt (Australians), 11 April
Second attack on Bullecourt (British and Australians), 3-17 May
Attack on Messines (British, Australians, New Zealanders), 7-12 June
3rd Battle of Ypres (British offensive in Flanders), 31 July-10 November
Battle of Menin Road (British, Australians), 20-21 September
Battle of Polygon Wood (British, Australians), 25-27 September
Battle of Broodseinde Ridge (British, Australians, New Zealanders), 4 October
Battle of Passchendaele (British, Australians), 9-12 October
Battle of Cambrai, 20 November-3 December
German Somme offensive, 21 March-5 April
First defence of Villers-Bretonneux (British, Australians), 4 April
Second defence of Villers-Bretonneux (Australians), 24-27 April
German Aisne offensive, 27-30 May
Attack on Hamel (Australians, Americans), 4 July
German Champagne-Marne offensive and Second Battle of the Marne, 15-19 July
Allied Amiens offensive, 8-11 August
Attack on Mont St Quentin (Australians), 29 August-2 September
Hindenburg Line offensive (Allied Forces), 27 September-17 October
During August/September this year, a commemorative mission will visit a number of famous World War I battle sites in France and Belgium, and special ceremonies will be held at several memorials to commemorate Australian sacrifice during World War I.
The mission will be led by the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Senator John Faulkner, and the Governor General, Bill Hayden, will lay wreaths at the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux, at the Menin Gate in Ypres in Belgium and at the Historiale at Peronne. Mont St Quentin and Peronne were captured by Australian troops 75 years ago, on 3 September 1918. Fourteen World War I veterans and seven widows of veterans will form part of the mission. The Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Senator David MacGibbon, will also be making the trip.
This paper summarises briefly eight major Western Front battles in which the A.I.F. participated in World War I. In Gallipoli the armed forces of the new country, Australia, earned a reputation for effective and gallant service, but it was during the following years on the Western Front that this reputation was confirmed and, indeed, enhanced.
While the paper will explain the performance of the A.I.F. in particular battles, it will not do justice to the appalling conditions under which most of the fighting on the Western Front took place. World War I was a conflict in which the defence retained the ascendency. The opposing front lines were still close together, and the machine gun and artillery ensured that casualties, even in a successful operation, were heavy. And when a severe Winter, such as that of 1916-1917, descended on the churned-up battlefield, the burden of warfare became intolerable.
The major source for this paper is, of course, the magnificent Official War History edited and largely written by Charles Bean. Bean devotes four volumes to the A.I.F. in France, some 3800 pages.
<BREAK> </BREAK> 'Forces confronting us consist of Australians who are very warlike, clever and daring. They understand the art of crawling through high crops in order to capture our advanced posts. The enemy is also adept in conceiving and putting into execution important patrolling operations. The enemy infantry has daily proved themselves to be audacious.'
From a German battalion order captured at Mont St Quentin, and quoted in Gammage, Bill. The broken years, Penguin Books, 1990: 249.
WORLD WAR I
Given the current situation in Europe, it is interesting that World War I was sparked off by an assassination in Sarajevo in June 1914 by a Bosnian Serb, Serbia at the time having ambitions to build a 'Greater Serbia'. In the following weeks events moved rapidly, largely directed by alliance obligations. On 4 August German troops invaded Belgium, and, as a result, Britain declared war on Germany. Germany's advance through Belgium was in accordance with the modified version of its long-standing Schlieffen plan which aimed to outflank the French Army and then trap it against the Swiss frontier. Eventually by October 1914 the Germans had been halted, largely by a French counter-attack on the Marne River, and both the Germans and the Allied forces settled down to consolidating a defensive system of trenches which extended from the Channel in the north to the Swiss frontier in the south, a distance of some 400 miles. This was the Western Front, being Germany's western defensive line as distinct from its eastern line in Russia.
In the following years the line moved comparatively little, with neither side showing much imagination to relieve the stalemate. The plan to force the Dardanelles was probably the most likely to shorten the war, had it succeeded. A number of breakthroughs were attempted by both sides on the Western Front during the next four years. These were usually preceded by a massive artillery bombardment, and consistently resulted in little significant gain and heavy costs in casualties on both sides. But the senior commanders, old soldiers of the 19th century, still held deep convictions that a heavy thrust, or series of thrusts, would find a weak point in the enemy lines, break through and speed forward to overwhelming victory. However on the World War I battlefields, the defensive, supported by trenches, barbed wire and (above all) the deadly heavy machine gun, ruled supreme. The arrival of effective tanks would decisively alter the balance, but in World War I the tank was still primitive and limited in capability and could not undertake major strategic tasks. Thus, providing the defensive positions were well sited and defended by well-trained and well-led troops, no mechanical means yet existed of crossing the trench lines and the terrain in between with relative impunity. In retrospect it seems almost incredible that British and German forces, let alone dominion forces, were able to fight and endure as they did, hardly aware who their senior commanders were and generally unaware that the tasks assigned were more likely to bring a swift death than an early victory.
Australian troops to the Western Front
After evacuating Gallipoli in December 1915, the Australian 1st and 2nd Divisions, together with the New Zealand Division, spent some months resting and training in Egypt. They moved to France in March 1916 under the command of the British General, William Birdwood, and were sent first to the section of the front known as the 'Nursery', a relatively placid region in Flanders near Armentieres where newly arrived troops were trained. At this time the British Army on the Western Front consisted of 41 British and three Canadian infantry divisions, plus five cavalry divisions, and occupied some 80 miles of the front. The French, with 111 divisions, held the remaining 320 miles of front, south of the British section.
Australian reinforcements had been arriving in Egypt throughout 1915, and during February and March 1916 two new divisions were formed, the 4th and 5th. A 3rd Division was to be formed in Australia. The 4th and 5th Divisions remained in Egypt, developing their artillery arm, until June 1916, when they moved to France, taking over the 'nursery' section from the 1st and 2nd Divisions.
It will be helpful in reading to understand something of the structure of a division. The division is the smallest formation that comprises a balanced team of all the arms and services needed for the independent conduct of operations. The five Australian divisions were infantry divisions, consisting chiefly of foot soldiers equipped with light weapons, but also including support artillery and engineer units and having their own communications, supply and maintenance services. An AIF division consisted of 18 000 men, of which 12 000 were infantry. Each division was divided into three infantry brigades, each of which was further divided (at least in the earlier years of the war) into four battalions. Each battalion had, on paper, 1017 officers and men, although Laffin suggests the actual fighting strength of a battalion was usually about 650 and rarely more than 800 due to wounds, sickness, training requirements etc. He adds: 'After a severe action many a battalion was temporarily down to a few hundred effective men, all of them exhausted.' 1 Particularly was this so as the war neared its conclusion. Appendix 1 gives a breakdown of Australian divisions into brigade and battalion numbers, and shows the States from which personnel were recruited.
The Australian contingent, only five divisions among 160 or more Allied divisions, could hardly be said to dominate the Western Front. But the focus of this paper is on this relatively small contingent, and inevitably the performance of troops from other countries is neglected. I would, however, quote John Laffin's comment in explaining the Australian focus and consequent imbalance in his own writing: 'I concentrate on the AIF and if, in so doing, I sometimes give the impression that the Australians (like the New Zealanders) did more than their share, then so be it. The impression reflects the historical truth.' 2
THE WESTERN FRONT 1914-1918
With Towns of major Australian interest highlighted
Map not available online
19-20 July 1916 - 5th Australian Division
The Australians were not immediately involved in the first Somme offensive, which began, with disastrous losses to the attacking British forces, on 1 July 1916. This Allied thrust took place along a section of the Front some 50 miles south of the Australian section, but after two weeks of fighting, with only a small wedge driven into the German lines, General Haig, Commander of the British forces, ordered that local attacks take place further north in Flanders as feints to deter the Germans from continuing to transfer troops south to their beseiged forces on the Somme. Some of Haig's staff wanted only strong artillery demonstrations to create a diversion, but Lieut.-General Haking, commander of the XI British Corps, persuaded Haig that several infantry divisions be employed in capturing the Aubers Ridge near where it was topped by the straggling village of Fromelles, a mile behind the German lines. One British Division, the 61st, and the newly arrived 5th Australian Division, many of whose troops were without front line experience, were deployed for this first AIF operation on the Western Front.
After several days artillery bombardment, which effectively removed any element of surprise, the infantry advance began at 6pm, in broad daylight, on 19 July. Two of the three Australian brigades, the 8th and the 14th, crossed no-man's-land, managed to seize the forward German positions in bitter hand-to-hand fighting, and, despite losses, especially of officers, moved through the breastworks as ordered to capture the rear German trenches. They found only ditches, and assuming these were their intended objective, began working to turn them into trenches.
The remaining Australian brigade, the 15th, required to cross no-man's-land at its widest point, had less success. A number of German machine-gunners on a small ridge, the Sugar Loaf salient, had survived the shelling and, to quote Bean, 'the Victorians of the 15th Brigade...had met such a tempest of machine-gun and rifle fire that line after line, its leaders shot and its ranks decimated, was forced to shelter in ditches and furrows in the unkempt grass.' 3 To illustrate the extent of the disaster, in the 60th Battalion, which had gone into the battle with 35 officers and 970 men, only 1 officer and 106 other ranks answered the roll call two days later on 21 July. 4
The British 61st Division had been unsuccessful in its sector, which included the Sugar Loaf salient, reaching the German line only at isolated points, from which they were quickly driven back. Thus only the 8th and 14th Australian brigades had been successful on the battlefield, and they spent that night fighting off German counter attacks. By the next morning it was realized their position was hopeless and orders were given to return to the Australian trenches. This entailed a hazardous dash across no-man's-land, and losses were heavy.
THE FROMELLES ATTACK - Map not available online
The attempt to bluff the enemy into anticipating a major Flanders offensive had failed completely, and in one night and the few hours preceding it the 5th Division had suffered 5533 casualties. 5 The British 61st Division, admittedly weaker, lost 1547 men. An artillery demonstration, as suggested earlier by Haig's staff, might have avoided all this loss and led the Germans to apprehend that a bigger attack was being prepared.
General Haking, although acknowledging that the Australian infantry had 'attacked in the most gallant manner and gained the enemy's position', 6 attempted to attribute the failure of the operation solely to the newness of the British and Australian troops. However it is generally accepted that poor planning by Haking and his staff was mainly to blame. The difficulties of an offensive across a narrow front had not been properly faced, and excessive confidence had been placed in the preliminary artillery bombardment. There has been a tendency in Australia to blame General M'Cay, the 5th Division commander, for the disaster, although Bean sees this as unjustified. However M'Cay did make a tactical error in ordering his men to vacate the front German trenches after clearing them. And although it is unlikely he could have resisted the plans prepared by his superiors, there is no evidence he shared the legitimate misgivings about the operation held by some officers, both British and Australian. 7
Despite their inexperience, both Australian officers and men had performed bravely and effectively, given the circumstances. Apart from the appalling losses, which virtually crippled the 5th Division until the end of 1916, there were several other consequences of the Fromelles operation. An unfortunate result was the tendency among Australian troops to judge the fighting capacity of the British soldier by the failure of the under-strength and inexperienced 61st Division. A more valid criticism was of the British staff responsible for the attack. This distrust of the British command already existed from Gallipoli experience, and was to grow with the AIF's next, and far more extensive, Western Front operation, Pozieres.
23 July - 3 September 1916 - 1st, 2nd and 4th Australian Divisions
This battle was described by Bean as 'in several ways the hardest experienced by the First A.I.F.' on the Western Front. 8
Haig's initial policy in his Somme offensive of 1 July 1916 was to effect a breakthrough by an immense thrust. When it became clear that this had only mixed success, Haig adopted also a 'steady, methodical, step-by-step advance' by piecemeal attacks. The attack on Pozieres and Mouquet Farm by Australia's 1st, 2nd and 4th Divisions during July-September 1916 was part of this piecemeal strategy, to accompany another massive thrust by the British 4th Army. By early July the 1st and 2nd Divisions had been relieved in the 'nursery' sector by the new 4th and 5th Divisions, and had moved south to take part in the third offensive of the Somme battle, to begin on 23 July.
The tactical significance of the village of Pozieres, by this time a ruin due to constant shelling, lay in its height and position. It was situated on an open part of a ridge, providing observation down several valleys and giving clear field of fire down gently sloping ground for the German defenders. Pozieres had been an optimistic objective on 1 July, the terrible first day of the Somme offensive, but three weeks later was still in German hands and holding up the left flank of the British 4th Army, despite four costly attacks by British troops. Two kilometres northwest of Pozieres, the village of Thiepval also remained in German hands, further restricting the British left flank.
The attack on Pozieres (23 July - 4 August 1916)
The infantry attack began at 12.30 AM on 23 July. Under cover of the artillery bombardment Australian troops of the 1st Division had crept close to the German lines, and were able to seize the front trenches and advance rapidly. One problem was that the area had been so cratered by shellfire that it was difficult to determine position, but by noon their objectives had virtually been achieved, counter-attacks had been repulsed, and they had begun to dig in as planned. Two VCs (Lieutenant Blackburn and Private Leak) were won during the action, in which a main buttress of the German line on that battlefield had been broken.
POZIERES AND VICINITY - Map not available online
However the concurrent attacks by the seven divisions of the British 4th Army had been far less successful than their earlier offensives of 1 July and 14 July, and Pozieres remained the only British gain on the entire front when the day ended. Peter Charlton attributes this Australian success to their freshness - they were 'fit, enthusiastic and raring to go' 9 - as compared with the British divisions, exhausted by three weeks of assaults, and with many of their best and most experienced officers and men already casualties.
The German staff was determined that Pozieres be regained, and one consequence of the British failure elsewhere along the seven mile front was that much of the German artillery in the region could be switched to that ridge. On 24 July there began a methodical bombardment, but General Gough pressed the Australian leaders to continue their step-by-step advance, first to capture the German lines on the outskirts of Pozieres, and then to push northwest towards Thiepval. Some gains were made and another VC won (Private Cooke) but the German bombardment had become intense, and on 27 July the 2nd Australian Division took over the Pozieres front from the 1st Division. Bean notes: 'The last three days' bombardment was an experience such as Australians had never before suffered...and on no part of the front in France were such bombardments more severe than at Pozieres.' 10 According to an observer, troops emerging were 'like men who had been in Hell...drawn and haggard and so dazed that they appeared to be walking in a dream and their eyes looked glassy and starey'. 11 1st Division casualties at this point were 5285 officers and men.
The German bombardment of the area continued, and by this time the village and surrounds were little more than an expanse of desert. But General Gough was anxious that the Australians continue their advance, and night-attacks having resulted in heavy losses and small gains - in two days and nights 2nd Division casualties were 3500 officers and men - a major assault on the heights beyond Pozieres was arranged for dusk on 4 August. Preparations for this went ahead throughout the constant German artillery bombardment. Peter Charlton sees these few days as probably the worst experienced by the AIF in the entire war, 12 and Bean comments:
The shelling at Pozieres did not merely probe character and nerve; it laid them stark naked as no other experience of the AIF ever did. In a single tour of this battle divisions were subjected to greater stress than in the whole Gallipoli campaign. The shell fire was infinitely worse than that subsequently experienced in the Third Battle of Ypres... 13
After careful planning and heavy preliminary bombardment of German positions, the Australian 2nd Division, in a vigorous and courageous operation on 4 August, seized the Pozieres crest, the 'key to the Somme', and the adjacent German lines. In 12 days the 2nd Division had suffered 6848 casualties, heavier losses than any other Australian division (though not quite any British one) ever suffered in one tour on the line, and was replaced by the 4th Division on 6 August, but not before the area received, according to Bean, 'the crowning bombardment of the whole series'. 14 The German General von Below had issued an order: 'At any price Hill 160 (the Pozieres plateau) must be recovered.'
Attack on Mouquet Farm
(6 August - 5 September 1916)
The Australian successes had pushed a big bulge into the German lines, and this now permitted the enemy artillery to shell them from the rear as well as from front and both flanks. General Gough's plan was to drive a salient behind the salient held by the Germans, past Mouquet Farm (formerly a large homestead one mile northwest of Pozieres) and circling Thiepval. But the further the Australians progressed the more vulnerable became the route by which troops and supplies could reach their front, and it was becoming obvious that no further attempts should be made to extend the salient. Under Gough's prodding, however, such attempts were to go on into September, although no substantial gains were made beyond 14 August, Mouquet Farm was not taken despite seven assaults, and growing casualties embittered Australian troops who felt themselves mishandled by British leaders. Haig was responsible for the piecemeal policy, but Bean is far more critical of the tactics adopted by Gough in attempting to carry out this policy, the repeated shallow thrusts on narrow fronts, and the disregarding of tactical difficulties in his impatience to achieve large strategic objectives. As Bean observes, in discussing the task facing the 2nd Division, no officer in the rear 'had the faintest conception of the conditions in which the work on that now naked height had to be carried through'. 15 The Australian Commander-in-Chief, General Birdwood, was also criticised by many troops who felt he had not protested vigorously enough against operations which had little chance of success. But Jeffrey Grey makes the point that Australian generals were as good at killing Australian troops as were British generals, and that even successful operations like that of General Walker, Commander of the 1st Division, on 23 July, brought with them a heavy casualty bill. 'This point was perhaps the most important single lesson of the Western Front, that even successful battles were costly.' 16
The 4th Division, in replacing the 2nd Division, had the task of holding the Australian gains against enemy counter-attacks and to press north along the ridge toward Mouquet Farm. By the time it was withdrawn on 15 August, the 4th Division had, in six successive night attacks which brought the line within reach of Mouquet Farm, lost 4649 men. Private O'Meara had been awarded a VC. Each of the Divisions had second, shorter spells at Pozieres before the Australians left the front on 5 September. On that cratered mile of summit, total casualties were: 1st Division - 7700; 2nd Division - 8100; 4th Division -7100. In eight months at Gallipoli the AIF suffered 26,600 casualties; in seven weeks at Fromelles and Pozieres, 28,400 casualties. The Australian Corps emerged from Pozieres recognised as one of the finest fighting instruments on the Western Front, but the area remains, in Bean's words, 'more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth'. 17
Instances of personal gallantry are numerous - five VCs were awarded to Australians at Pozieres - but several can be mentioned. On 7 August Lieutenant Albert Jacka VC, the first Australian to receive this award in Gallipoli, so inspired his men by his counter-attack on advancing Germans that a serious breakthrough was averted. Bean described Jacka's action as 'the most dramatic and effective act of individual audacity in the history of the AIF', 18 and John Laffin, among others, believes he should have been awarded a second VC (he received an MC). 19 On 14 August Captain Harry Murray and a company of men seized a German trench. Finding himself outflanked by the Germans, he skilfully fought his way back with his men and all wounded 'in one of the most ably conducted actions in Australian experience'. 20 Six months later Captain Murray was awarded the VC for conspicuous bravery during minor operations near Gueudecourt, and by 1918 he had received more fighting decorations than any other infantry soldier in the British Army in World War I.
10 April - 17 May 1917 - 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th Australian Divisions
After a brief sojourn in Flanders, the four Australian divisions returned in October-November 1916 to the Somme, where Autumn rains, shellfire and troop movement had made the battlefield a vast quagmire of gluey mud. Some minor operations were carried out, but generally the severe Winter was spent battling the rain, mud and cold, and such ailments as frost-bite and trench feet. Although not a time of major battles and heavy losses, the suffering of all troops during the cruel Winter should not be understated. Bean sums up the Autumn-Winter period:
'Thus ended a series of operations which, through the weather and the state of ground, were undoubtedly the most difficult in which the A.I.F. was ever engaged'. 21
And earlier he describes the front-line involvement during the November attacks at Flers as 'the most trying period ever experienced by the A.I.F. on any front'. 22 A.I.F. members did not easily desert or suicide, but during Pozieres and after, a serious wound - nicknamed a 'blighty' for the destination it afforded - was often gladly accepted, indeed longed for, as an honourable escape from battle and a chance to rest.
In February-March 1917 the Germans completed a strategic withdrawal for 10 to 30 miles to the Siegfried Line (known by the allies as the Hindenburg Line), which they regarded as impregnable. During the following weeks, the Australian troops, still under the command of General Gough, were involved in the pursuit of the retreating German forces, attempting in a series of minor operations to capture the fortified villages which the Germans were using as a shield. Several of the 'outpost villages' were strongly defended; spirited resistance was offered, for example, at Lagnicourt, Noreuil and Hermies. But by early April two Australian divisions, the 1st and the 4th, were in position to assist with the great offensive which the British and French had planned for the Spring. On 9 April 1917 the British 3rd Army launched a major offensive at Arras, with the Canadians achieving one of the great victories of the war by capturing Vimy Ridge. The 4th Division plus a British division were given the task of attacking a section of the Hindenburg Line around Bullecourt, 10 miles southeast of Arras.
The First Attack on Bullecourt (11 April 1917)
This first attack, at dawn on 11 April by the 4th and 12th Brigades, was a disaster, mainly due to General Gough's excessive faith in the new, and unproven, weapon, the tank. Despite protests from the Australian Commander-in Chief, Birdwood and his Chief-of-Staff, General Brudenell White, who probably should have taken their case to Haig, Gough insisted on relying upon tanks to sever the German wire defences, and ordered no artillery support. As it happened, many of the tanks broke down, and the remainder served only as a temporary distraction to the Germans. Nevertheless, both Brigades fought their way through and seized their initial objectives despite heavy losses. But to secure these gains they needed ammunition and reinforcements. British artillery failed to neutralise major German positions, and eventually the decision was made to attempt a withdrawal to the Australian lines through the heavy German machine gun and rifle fire. Total losses were enormous. The 4th Brigade, which Bean regarded as having the finest group of regimental leaders in the AIF, alone suffered 2339 casualties out of 3000 men engaged, and the 12th Brigade 950 of 2000 engaged. These losses include over 1100 taken prisoners, far and away the largest number of Australians taken by the enemy in a single battle. Bean summed up the 4th Division as 'a magnificent instrument recklessly shattered in the performance of an impracticable task'. 23
The Second Attack on Bullecourt (3-17 May 1917)
This attack by the 2nd Division was better prepared and was part of a major British assault, with 14 divisions, on a 25 kilometre front, and with heavy preliminary artillery bombardment. But at the end of the first day the only objectives reached and finally held on the entire front were those of the Canadians in the extreme north and the 6th Australian Brigade in the extreme south. The 6th Brigade's position was precarious due to the failure of the 5th Brigade on one flank and the British 62nd Division on the other, and to the quality of its opponents, the veteran 27th Wurttemberg Division. Its survival was perhaps largely due to the leadership of its commander, Brigadier-General Gellibrand, who quickly organised a company to partly fill the gap left by the 5th Brigade, and continued to inspire his troops throughout the night.
THE FIRST ATTACK ON BULLECOURT - Map not available online
The 6th Brigade's foothold was described as being like 'a mushroom on a stalk', the stalk being the only avenue for communication and supply and for evacuation of wounded, and it would have been tactically sensible to pull back on the morning of 4 May. But the paucity of allied successes in the Arras offensive, and the sudden crisis in France with a series of mutinies beginning in the French army, made retention of the 'mushroom' important. On 4 May brigades of the Australian 1st Division began to replace the exhausted 6th Brigade, while British troops attempted to take the village of Bullecourt to dispel the constant threat to the Australian left rear. During the next 13 days the ground gained was steadily extended in the face of seven general counter-attacks by the Germans and frequent minor ones, together with artillery bombardments which at times rivalled those at Pozieres. On 10 May, with both the 1st and 2nd Divisions exhausted, the Australian 5th Division was brought into the fighting. On 17 May the Germans, after the failure of an intense counter-attack, decided to withdraw.
Two VCs were won (Corporal Howell and Lieutenant Moon), and, with other fighting on the front at a standstill, the Australian effort had been the focus of international attention. Total Australian casualties in the second Bullecourt battle numbered 7000. General Haig paid a glowing tribute: 'The capture of the Hindenburg Line east of Bullecourt, and the manner in which it has been held...against such constant and desperate efforts to retake it, will rank high among the great deeds of the war...'. 24 But Bullecourt, more than any other battle, shook the confidence of Australian soldiers in the capacity of the British command. As at Pozieres, important strategic aims had been compromised by impractical tactics. As Bean comments: 'never yet since their arrival in France had any of the Australian divisions been employed in large operations in which the ultimate objective was really attainable with the means used for attaining it.' 25 Fortunately this was the last battle in which the Australians were to achieve a measure of success despite the errors of British command. Their next battle was to be directed by strikingly different higher leadership.
7-12 June 1917 - 3rd and 4th Australian Divisions
Because of a crisis in the French Government and Army, the British took over the major role on the Western Front from May 1917. This freed Haig to go ahead with his long-planned offensive in Flanders, 50 miles north of the Somme and Arras. Rather than attempt a breakthrough with one large-scale attack, Haig's strategy now was to wear down the Germans with a series of hammer-blows, although he hoped this would eventually lead to a freeing of the Belgian coast where, it was assumed, German submarines were based. The submarine menace had reached critical proportions. In the third week of April 1917, 55 British merchant ships had been sunk.
One preliminary operation was planned, the capture of the Messine-Wytschaete Ridge, which overlooked Ypres. This project had been painstakingly planned by the methodical General Plumer since early 1916. Bean comments that 'never had a big British operation been prepared in such detail'. 26 This was essential; the Germans valued this low ridge and had been strengthening its defences for two years.
The 3rd Australian Division arrived in France in November 1916 after careful training in England under its commander, Major-General John Monash. As with the other Australian Divisions, it had served its apprenticship in the 'nursery' sector of the Western Front, the quiet line at Armentieres in Flanders, and although it had gained experience in raiding parties on the German lines, it was yet to prove itself in a major operation. Together with the New Zealand Division and a British division, it formed II Anzac Corps under the command of General Plumer, and had been detailed for the Messines attack. The New Zealand Division was to take Messines itself; the 3rd Division the south flank of the ridge. The 4th Australian Division was brought out of its rest in the Somme area to act as reserve.
The Germans had been alerted to imminent attack by the artillery bombardment which had begun on 31 May. Over 2200 guns fired three and a half million shells in the bombardment of a salient eight miles by six. But at 3.10 AM on 7 June, 19 enormous mines were detonated under the ridge, tearing immense craters in the front, and shattering defending troops and German morale. Unbeknown to the Germans these mines had been carefully planted during the preceding two years by British, Canadian and Australian tunnelers. This was the signal to advance, and by 5.30 AM Messines had been captured by the New Zealanders, with the 3rd Division in its correct position on the flank. Indeed all along the seven and a half miles of front the advance had gone smoothly with the main heights being taken.
On the Anzac sector of the front the afternoon follow-on attack was to be made by the 4th Australian Division, which began to drive the Germans from their prepared defences. A VC was won by Captain Grieve for his single-handed attack on two enemy machine guns in a block-house. By the end of the day the German salient south of Ypres had been eliminated, and Plumer's army had scored the greatest Allied victory of the war so far. Indeed Laffin notes that: 'The operation, competently and rapidly executed, was the first unqualified victory for English generalship on the Western Front since the beginning of the war.' 27 Probably the most difficult time for the 4th Division was the digging in period during the following weeks. Private John Carroll won a VC during this time.
Final Australian casualties were 6800; 4100 in the 3rd Division, and 2700 in the 4th Division. The New Zealand Division's casualties were nearly 5000.
THE THIRD BATTLE OF YPRES
31 July - 10 November 1917 - 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Australian Divisions
The attack on Messines was the preliminary stroke to the resumption of the offensive in Flanders around the Ypres salient. Apart from its breakthrough potential, this offensive would keep the Germans occupied while the French recovered from their war-weariness and until the Americans made an appearence. However the British Government gave its reluctant assent to Ypres only when it failed to agree on a satisfactory alternative, and it went ahead only on condition Haig adhered to tactics of attrition, the 'step-by-step' method of attack, and did not move to the giant thrust with its associated high loss of life. In fact, however, Haig's and Gough's optimistic plans were directed as much to penetration as to attrition.
Better known as the Battle of Passchendaele, the Third Battle of Ypres is really a campaign, a series of battles of which Passchendaele was the final and most costly. General Haig launched eight offensives during this campaign, and between 31 July and mid-November when he settled on a winter front line, the British and Dominion armies, which made up the bulk of the attacking force, had suffered 448 614 casualties. Haig had captured no more than about 130 square kilometres of territory and his troops had inflicted only 217 000 casualties on the German Army.
The Initial Attack
The battle was planned to proceed in a succession of limited offensives, to follow one another, like blows of a sledge hammer, at a few days' interval. After a fortnight's bombardment, the initial attack, by 17 divisions along a 17 mile front, took place on 31 July. It was unfortunate the offensive had not begun two weeks earlier, as originally planned. At 4PM the rain began to fall, and continued almost without ceasing for six days, turning the battlefield into a sea of mud. Although the inability of shelling to destroy barbed wire and concrete defences, and its disadvantages in alerting the enemy and blocking roads, had already been demonstrated on many occasions in this war, there was still the conviction that artillery could pound the opposing defences to rubble and clear gaps which the infantry could stream through. But in Ypres the obstacles created by the preliminary bombardment were even worse as the intricate drainage system of the flat land became blocked. Men walked only with great difficulty, guns, lorries and carts were bogged, and supplies could not reach the infantry. Fortunately the Australians, refreshed after four months rest and training in the Somme area (during which time they had acquired the name 'digger') had only small involvement in this first offensive, which stumbled on for weeks with constant delays.
This August fighting, under appalling conditions, with British losses of more than 100 000, had several consequences. First, while the offensive was aimed at destroying German morale, the attack was as bad, if not worse for the British soldiers' morale. Second, Haig was persuaded to limit his objectives and, for the first time, began to adopt fully the step-by-step attrition process. This proved fortunate for the Australian forces who were to be involved in the next set of offensives, aimed at the low ridges to the east of Ypres.
Battle of Menin Road (20-21 September)
This next operation, with limited objectives on the main ridge, went ahead on 20 September. At dawn eleven divisions of the British 2nd and 5th Armies, with the 1st and 2nd Australian Divisions at the centre, and assisted by an intense and precise artillery barrage, struck with almost complete success on an eight mile front. For the first time two Australian divisions attacked side by side, and in his book on Passchendaele, Philip Warner describes it as a 'magnificent morning's work by the Australians' 28 . Lieutenant Birks was awarded a VC for conspicuous bravery during the battle. Effective British artillery later broke up the German counter-attack.
Allied casualties were high, 5013 for the two Australian divisions. As planned, these divisions were relieved by the 4th and 5th Divisions after the battle.
Battle of Polygon Wood (25-27 September)
This next step of the attack, with the aim of progressing further along the main ridge, went ahead at dawn on 26 September. The 4th and 5th Australian Divisions advanced at the centre of seven divisions on a six mile front, and had the advantage of effective British artillery support. As Bean says, they advanced before 'the most perfect barrage that had ever protected Australian troops'. 29 They captured their objectives, which included much of Polygon Wood.
This time the German counter-attack was more determined. Warner writes: '...the Australians clung on with stubborn tenacity, which surprised those who had always considered them excellent in attack but less effective in defence'. 30 Two Australian VCs (Private Bugden and Sergeant Dwyer) were won during the battle. Australian casualties totalled 5439, with the 4th Division losing 1729 and the 5th, which had much the harder task, 3710. Bean pays tribute to Brigadier-General Elliott and his 15th Brigade in foiling a German attack on the Australians' right flank, an attack which had jeopardised the whole operation on the 25th and 26th.
Battle of Broodseinde Ridge (4 October)
Haig and the Higher Command were delighted at the results to date, and determined to go ahead with the next attack, the most important, on the main German defence position on the ridge, Broodseinde. This was despite the high British casualties incurred so far, virtually equal to the Germans. Warner makes the comment: 'The possibility that the resources wasted in small tactical gains might have been used more profitably elsewhere did not seem to have entered into anyone's calculations.' 31 However, given the success of the new step-by-step method, this is probably understandable.
Map not available online
This time twelve divisions attacked on an eight mile front, with four Anzac divisions forming the centre, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Australian and the New Zealand Division. Never before or since did four Anzac divisions attack side by side, a stimulus to their enthusiasm. But at 5.30AM, 30 minutes before the start, a heavy German artillery barrage hit the Australian 1st and 2nd Divisions lying in shell-holes at the starting line. At 6AM the Australians had scrambled to their feet 'when, thirty yards ahead of them, they saw another line of troops, also rising from shell-holes, and then waiting, as if disconcerted'. 32 The German barrage had not been to pre-empt the Australian attack but to support the German offensive which, coincidentally, was also set for 6 am. In a notable failure of intelligence work on both sides, neither was aware of the other's offensive plans. Warner reports that 'the Anzacs had by far the better' of the fierce encounter which followed. 33
Virtually all objectives were gained that day - Bean calls it 'the most complete success so far won by the British Army in France in that war'. 34 The New Zealanders took the Abraham Heights, the starting point for an advance on Passchendaele in the next hammer blow.
The three Australian divisions suffered 6432 casualties and the New Zealand Division 1700. Two Australian VCs were won, by Lance Corporal Peeler and Sergeant McGhee.
German historians described this as 'the black day of 4 October'.
The Battle of Passchendaele
Bean writes that, after Broodseinde, '(f)or the first time in years...British troops on the Western Front stood face to face with the possibility of decisive success'. 35 An essential condition was good weather.
Nevertheless in two and a half months, British, including Anzac, casualties had been over 200 000 for advances of less than three miles. The British Prime Minister was bitterly opposed to what he saw as Haig launching division after division into the Ypres bloodbath.
Rain recommenced later on 4 October, and had not ceased by 9 October, the date set for the next attack, on Passchendaele itself. Most officers saw this as the end of the offensive, but Haig was adamant that the recent successes should be taken to a decisive conclusion. The 2nd Australian Division formed the flank for an attack by the British 66th Division, but they were forced to struggle at times through water up to their waists and, in a desperate fight, both the British and Australians were driven back, the 2nd Division suffering 1253 casualties.
It was decided to go ahead with the decisive attack on Passchendaele, scheduled for 12 October, although, with the 9 October failure, the distance to be traversed was now much greater. The 3rd Division was given the main role, to attack Passchendaele ridge and village, while the New Zealand Division attacked Bellevue Spur. The 4th Division was to provide a supporting role. But due to the mud, artillery was unable to be brought up, and without effective artillery support and unable to move through the mud of Ravebeek Valley, the New Zealanders failed to take Bellevue Spur, which served as a vantage point for German fire on the 3rd Division. Although 20 Australians penetrated to the village, little ground was gained and held in the entire operation. The 3rd Division and the New Zealand Division each suffered some 3000 casualties. Captain Jeffries was awarded a VC.
Active participation of Australian infantry virtually ended on 12 October. Canadian troops were brought in and began their attack on 26 October, eventually taking Passchendaele on 10 November.
The Ypres offensive had mixed results. Certainly it did tie the Germans down, and prevented them attacking the French during a difficult time for the French Government and Army. The step-by-step tactics also contributed to a second aim of wearing the Germans down. But it was enormously expensive, and the third aim, the breakthrough to the coast, was not achieved.
For the Australians Ypres was, in the main, a successful operation. But with 36 543 casualties over all (ie. an average of 7300 for each division), and with the stream of reinforcements for what remained a voluntary army drying up at the source, there were fears for the Australian forces in 1918.
Increasingly the Canadian and Australian contingents were being used as shock troops. Their effectiveness was acknowledged and generally attributed to their advantage of being continually under the same core commanders and staff, and composed of the same personnel.
4 April - 3 May 1918 - 3rd, 4th and 5th Australian Divisions
On 21 March 1918, General Ludendorff, the German commander, unleashed an attack which, in scale and destruction, surpassed any other in World War I. 32 German divisions, with 25 more in reserve, advanced over a 43 mile front. Liddell Hart writes:
By nightfall a German flood had inundated forty miles of the British front; a week later it had reached a depth of nearly forty miles, and was almost lapping the outskirts of Amiens; and in the ensuing weeks the Allied cause itself was almost submerged. These weeks rank with those of the Marne in 1914 as the two gravest military crises of the World War. 36
The British defended stubbornly but were steadily forced back. British casualties were over 300 000 as they, in Liddell Hart's words, 'achieved miracles of heroic endurance'. 37
The five Australian divisions, since 1 November 1917 grouped together as the Australian Corps under one commander, General Birdwood, had spent the winter in the Messines sector of the front in Flanders. They were not therefore in the path of the German offensive, 30 or more miles south, although Ludendorff organised bombardments at many points in the front, including Flanders, in an attempt to deceive the Allies. But on 23 March the 3rd and 4th Divisions were moved to the Somme area to help against the German advance, and the 1st and 2nd Divisions followed in early April. Bean reports that, despite the streams of refugees and war-weary British troops that passed, the Australians went with enthusiasm and confidence, excited that the Germans had finally attacked and that they could be involved in stemming this attack.
Grey sums up the AIF's role in the following weeks as helping 'to blunt an offensive which was running out of steam in any case.' 38 But Australian forces played significant roles in several sectors - for example, the 4th Division's defence of Dernancourt north of the Somme near Albert on 5 April, and the 1st Division's defence of Hazebrouck near Messines on 12-13 April during the German offensive in Flanders. Main attention, however, must be given to the defence of Villers-Bretonneux, and thus of Amiens, by elements of the 3rd, 4th and 5th Divisions during April.
First Defence of Villers-Bretonneux (4 April 1918)
By 30 March, Ludendorff, having failed in his main objective of achieving a major breakthrough in the British lines, was attempting to force a divide at the point where the British and French armies met. He had come too close to the strategically important town of Amiens to give up without a further effort to take control. At dawn on 4 April the Germans struck with 15 divisions on a front of 21 miles, two thirds French, one third British. In the northern sector, the 9th Brigade of the 3rd Australian Division and the British 18th Division were eventually driven back to the outskirts of the village of Villers-Bretonneux, which appeared certain to be taken. This village, 10 miles east of Amiens, was the key to the defence of that city. A spectacular counter-attack by the 36th Battalion at first blocked the German advance and then forced a withdrawal, allowing a new line to be established.
Second Defence of Villers-Bretonneux (24-27 April 1918)
The Australian forces defending the village had been relieved by war-weary British troops by 21 April, but on 24 April German infantry, attacking with tanks for the first time, broke through and captured Villers-Bretonneux. The Australian 13th, 14th and 15th Brigades were hurried into the fight. The plan for counter-attack which followed was largely that of Brigadier-General 'Pompey' Elliott, one of the AIF's finest leaders, whose 15th Brigade is described by Bean as 'a magnificent instrument, fit...for the hardest military tasks'. 39 As finally conceived, the plan involved the 13th and 15th Brigades skirting the town that night in a pincer movement, and attacking the German positions from either side. Bean wrote in his diary: 'I don't believe they have a chance', 40 but the operation proved a brilliant success. On the south side a VC was won by Lieutenant Sadlier for initiative in quickly destroying six German machine gun posts when the 13th Brigade appeared stalled. The movement of the 15th Brigade in the northern pincer was marked by a bayonet attack which, according to Bean, 'ranks with two others as perhaps the wildest in the experience of Australian infantry'. 41 The next day, Anzac Day, the 25th, the Australians linked with the British to drive the Germans out of the village in fierce street fighting. By 27 April, Villers-Bretonneux was secure, finally barring the enemy advance on Amiens.
A British Brigadier-General engaged in the battle later generously called the Australians' counter-attack by night across difficult and unknown ground 'perhaps the greatest individual feat of the war'. 42 And the Allied Supreme Commander, Marshal Foch, referred to the Australians' 'altogether astonishing valiance' (probably meaning 'valour'). 43
The imposing Australian National Memorial, a tribute to Australian soldiers' deeds on the Western Front, is at the rear of Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery. A number of ties have been developed between Villers-Bretonneux and Australia, especially the state of Victoria.
Australian casualties at Villers-Bretonneux were 2473, and between 21 March and 7 May Australian forces as a whole suffered 15 083 casualties.
Map not available online
4 July 1918 - 4th Australian Division
Although not of the same significance as the other battles in this paper, the attack on Hamel deserves mention for its unique features.
On 31 May 1918 Lieutenant-General John Monash took over from General Birdwood as commander of the Australian Corps. Monash was keen to seize the village of Hamel and surrounds, some two miles north-east of Villers-Bretonneux in the Somme Valley, and a key German defensive position. However it was not considered a sufficiently vital objective to justify the infantry division required for its capture. Since the failure of the new weapon, the tank, at Bullecourt, the Australians had lost faith in it, but when invited to inspect some newly arrived tanks Monash was impressed, seeing the possibility of using them to reduce infantry casualties in an attack on Hamel.
Entirely under AIF direction, the battle was intelligently and precisely planned. Monash could spare only 7500 men (taken from five brigades) and he allowed 90 minutes, on 4 July, for the battle to be won. The date was significant; for the first time newly arrived American troops were to participate with the Australians in the operation. At 3.10AM the advance began, with the infantry approaching behind 60 tanks. The tanks tore gaps in the enemy wire and their machine-gunners provided steady covering fire for the following troops. For the first time, ammunition was dropped by parachute, saving carrying parties an immense amount of hard and dangerous work. Hamel and Vaire Woods fell to the 4th Brigade, Hamel village to the 11th. About 2000 Germans were killed or wounded and 1600 were captured, together with a vast quantity of German weapons. Australian casualties were about 1400. Two VCs (Privates Axford and Dalziel) were won in the battle, which lasted just 93 minutes. It restored Australian faith in the tank, and Monash's careful arrangements became a model for subsequent tank/infantry operations.
Maps not available online
MONT ST QUENTIN
29 August - 2 September 1918 - 2nd and 3rd Australian Divisions
By late July 1918 it was clear that the great German offensive, begun on 21 March and recommenced on 27 May and 15 July, had finally failed, and the Allies conceived in response a major Somme offensive, to begin on 8 August. But whereas previous such attacks had been announced for days beforehand by massive artillery bombardments, this time the keynote was surprise, with the barrage and infantry advance beginning simultaneously. Another new element was a swarm of tanks, 456 in all, to lead the assault.
The result was a resounding success, and 15 miles of German front were swept away. The Canadian and Australian Corps had been placed together at the northern end of the line, and Liddell Hart writes, 'the Canadians and the Australians - matchless attacking troops -surged irresistibly over the enemy's forward positions'. 44 But progress was the same all along the front, and by midday all objectives had been attained. German casualties on the day were around 27 000, 15 000 of them prisoners, with British casualties less than 9000, 'far lighter than were ever before suffered in such an action on the British front'. 45 Ludendorff was later to write: 'August 8th was the black day of the German Army in this war.'
By the end of August the Germans in the Australian sector had been pushed back to the bend in the Somme River near the old city of Peronne. The key position of their line was the dominating hill of Mont St Quentin, one mile north of the town, and, although only 100 metres high, regarded by the Germans as impregnable. Monash conceived transferring part of his forces to the north bank of the Somme, and attacking the hill directly. Bean writes of the amused and sceptical attitude of General Rawlinson, Monash's commander: 'Rawlinson laughingly gave him leave to attempt the capture of the Mount'. 46
Working at high speed the Australian engineers built several bridges over the Somme, and during 29 and 30 August the 3rd Division thrust the enemy from most of his positions covering the river bend. Towards evening on the 30th, the 2nd Division was able to cross the river and move towards the hill, with the 5th Brigade designated to make the assault. The night was spent clearing Germans from trenches near the starting point, and at 5AM on 31 August the Australian artillery bombardment began and the infantry attacked. The troops numbered only 70 officers and 1250 other ranks, and the task ahead was, according to Bean, 'in some ways the most formidable ever faced by Australian infantry'. 47 But the Germans were taken unawares, and the 17th and 20th Battalions forced their way to the summit. They were later driven back to a point half-way down the slope, but the next day, 1 September, the 6th Brigade regained the summit, and by evening of 2 September troops from the 7th, 14th and 15th Brigades had seized Peronne and the surrounding woods after fierce fighting.
General Rawlinson had not begun breakfast when he heard that the Australians had captured Mont St Quentin. He later called it 'the finest single feat of the war'. 48 And Bean describes the Mont St Quentin-Peronne operation as a 'brilliant action, in which, without tanks or creeping barrage, the Australians at a cost of 3000 casualties dealt a stunning blow to five German divisions'. 49 Eight VCs were won in this operation in the three days 31 August - 2 September.
The War Ends
In the autumn of 1918 the Germans were in retreat, with Allied soldiers ordered to pursue them vigorously. But the Australian forces (and doubtless many British troops) were approaching the end of their physical endurance, with some battalions going into battle only 150-strong, instead of the nominal 800. Generally they managed to throw off their mental and physical weariness, and during the following month of mainly minor actions, Australians won six more VCs, showing the extent of the Australian efforts and German resistance.
But it was in this period also that the first recorded mutiny in the A.I.F. occurred. Bean records this 'sign of overstrain':
The 59th Battalion when relieved on September 14th after a week of repeated efforts and continuous strain had no sooner reached its bivouac and settled to sleep than it was summoned to the line again to follow the enemy's retirement. Three platoons refused and their officers supported them, saying that the men 'believe their action to be the only way they can impress the (higher authorities with their needs.''
The Hindenburg Line was the Germans' last point of resistance, and the Australians began their part in the attack on this complex defence system on 29 September. Their final major battle was their capture of Montebrehain, a ridge village greatly valued by the German command. This was taken on 5 October by the 21st and 24th Battalions of the 2nd Division. Shortly after this success the Australians, at the insistence of Prime Minister Hughes, were withdrawn for a rest.
As Bill Gammage claims, they 'had earned their rest':
Since 27 March they had opposed thirty-nine enemy divisions, nineteen more than once. They defeated all, and forced six to disband. They took 29 144 prisoners, 23 per cent of the British total, 338 guns (23 per cent), and 40 miles of ground (21 per cent). They made possible much more, and weightily influenced momentous events, yet they made up less than 10 per cent of the British Army. They served King and country well, for few soldiers during that war produced a comparable record. 50
During World War I Australia developed a reputation as a first class attacking force. The reasons for the A.I.F.'s effectiveness has been much talked about, but this paper will conclude with a brief discussion of some aspects of the subject.
First it must be pointed out that other countries had fine soldiers. The Canadians had a similar reputation to the A.I.F., as is shown by the frequent use of these two national forces as strike troops, and the New Zealand division tended to take on a similar role. The British and French forces, which so often withstood the brunt of the enemy attack, obviously had many strong elements. And it is interesting that Liddell Hart ends his history with a tribute to the endurance and skill of the German soldier.
The fact remains that the A.I.F. was increasingly seen as a force to be used in difficult attack situations. And this reputation seemed to apply to each of the five divisions. Certainly some battalions were stronger than others, and at times each division was weakened by casualties and battle fatigue, but they appear to have been regarded as generally comparable in efficiency.
Earlier in the paper it was mentioned that, as with the Canadians, the Australians' effectiveness was generally attributed to their remaining under the same core commanders, and retaining the same personnel. Grey makes the point also that a unique feature of the Australian forces was that, alone of the combatant nations, it retained the voluntary nature of its enlistment throughout the war. 51 Presumably this would contribute to a positive attitude, a willingness to serve.
The Australians are often compared favourably with the British forces, and one noticeable difference between the two was in the appointment of officers. In the A.I.F., officers were much more likely to be promoted on merit from the ranks. This would give them greater kinship with their troops, and could help to explain what appears to have been a different attitude of Australian officers to troops, asking only for the essentials, not insisting on routine or etiquette. Gammage concludes that this made for good relations between troops throughout the A.I.F. 52
The above factors would seem to contribute to a more tightly knit, homogeneous force. Something else often mentioned is an attitude of enthusiasm and pride. As a generalisation, the average Australian soldier does seem to have gone into the war with a rather naive determination to prove his new and untested nation. Experiences such as Pozieres served to tone down much of his enthusiasm, but by this time the reputation was established and was valued. Towards the end, a determination to maintain the prestige of their force, or more particularly their battalion, was a major factor helping them to rise above their weariness and continue to perform.
Perform they did, but an appropriate ending to this paper is an observation by an Australian, Sergeant Gemmell, not long after his arrival on the Western Front in 1917:
What really does strike one forcibly is the seeming madness of two supposedly leading civilised nations hammering each other with shot and shell in the one great object of killing as many of the foe as possible. It is only when one gets here....that one really realises what a mad business it is. We have a great consolation however in the knowledge that we are fighting for a principle. 53
Appendices - Not available online
1 Laffin, John. Western Front 1916-1917. The price of honour. Time-Life Books, Sydney, 1987: 22.
2 Laffin, John. Guide to Australian Battlefields of the Western Front 1916-1918. Kangaroo Press, 1992: 11.
3 Bean, C.E.W. Anzac to Amiens. Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1961: 230-231.
4 Bean, C.E.W. The A.I.F. in France 1916. Official History of Australia in the War 1914-18, Vol 3. Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1939: 442.
5 Throughout this paper 'casualties' and 'losses' will be used interchangeably to indicate personnel killed in action, died of wounds, wounded in action and taken prisoner.
6 Ibid: 444.
7 Grey, Jeffrey. A Military History of Australia. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1990: 103.
8 Bean, C.E.W. Anzac to Amiens: 237.
9 Charlton, Peter Pozieres, 1916. Australians on the Somme. Methuen Haynes, North Ryde, 1986: 139.
10 Bean, C.E.W. Anzac to Amiens: 248.
11 Bean, C.E.W. The A.I.F. in France,1916: 599.
12 Charlton, Peter. Op.Cit.: 198-199.
13 Bean, C.E.W. The A.I.F. in France 1916: 660.
14 Bean, C.E.W. Anzac to Amiens: 256.
15 Bean, C.E.W. The A.I.F. in France 1916: 656.
16 Grey, Jeffrey. Op.Cit.: 104.
17 Bean, C.E.W. Anzac to Amiens: 264.
18 Bean, C.E.W. The A.I.F. in France 1916: 720.
19 Laffin, John Guide to Australian battlefields of the Western Front 1916-1918. Kangaroo Press, 1992: 89. In April 1917 Lieutenant Jacka was awarded a bar to his MC for bravery at Bullecourt.
20 Bean, C.E.W. Anzac to Amiens: 261.
21 Bean, C.E.W. The A.I.F. in France 1916: 940.
22 Ibid: 918.
23 Bean, C.E.W. The A.I.F. in France 1917. The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, vol. IV. Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1939: 354.
24 Quoted in Ibid: 542.
25 Ibid: 544.
26 Bean, C.E.W. Anzac to Amiens: 349.
27 Laffin, John Western Front 1916-1917. The price of honour. Time-Life Books, Sydney, 1987: 161.
28 Warner, Philip Passchendaele, Sidgwick and Jackson, London, 1987: 80.
29 Bean, C.E.W. Anzac to Amiens: 368.
30 Warner, Philip. Op.Cit.: 101.
31 Warner, Phillip. Op.Cit.: 101.
32 Bean, C.E.W. Anzac to Amiens: 370.
33 Warner, Philip. Op.Cit.: 121.
34 Bean, C.E.W. The A.I.F. in France 1917: 877.
35 Ibid.: 877.
36 Liddell Hart, B.H. History of the First World War. Cassell, London, 1930: 493.
37 Ibid: 507.
38 Grey, Jeffrey. Op.Cit.: 109.
39 Bean, C.E.W. The A.I.F. in france December 1917-May 1918. The official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, vol. V. Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1938: 524.
40 McMullin, Ross. A remarkable turning Point in Great War. Canberra Times, 24 April 1993: C3.
41 Bean, C.E.W. The A.I.F. in France December 1917-May 1918: 604.
42 Quoted in Ibid: 638.
43 Quoted in Ibid: 638.
44 Liddell Hart, B.H. Op.Cit.: 548.
46 Bean, C.E.W. Anzac to Amiens: 480.
47 Bean, C.E.W. The A.I.F. in France: May 1918-the Armistice. The official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, vol VI, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1942: 809.
48 Quoted in Ibid: 873.
49 Bean, C.E.W. Anzac to Amiens: 483.
50 Gammage, Bill. The broken years. Penguin Books, 1990: 223.
51 Grey, Jeffrey. Op.Cit.: 111.
52 Gammage, Bill. Op.Cit.: 263.
53 Ibid: 241.
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