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This week in history: our wartime heritage.

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DVA 37 Monday 2 April, 2001

This Week in History - Our Wartime Heritage

Issued by the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Bruce Scott, to foster awareness of Australia’s wartime history and heritage during the Centenary of Federation.

April 6-12

8 April 1916: Australian troops were deployed for the first time on the Western Front.  Troops of 2nd Division took up positions near Armentières, France.  Situated just behind the front, Armentières was an important forward base.  A region of ditches, boggy ground and hedges that made active operations difficult, the area occupied by the Australians was known as the ‘Nursery’.  Troops were given experience there before being sent to more active parts of the front.

9 April 1942: The British aircraft carrier HMS Hermes and the Australian destroyer HMAS Vampire (a veteran of the war in the Mediterranean and the Siege of Tobruk) were sunk off Colombo, Ceylon, by Japanese bombers. Vampire lost eight men.

11 April 1917: First Battle of Bullecourt, France, a strong-point in the Hindenberg Line.  Three British tanks reached the battlefield, only to stick fast in the mud.  Despite being unsupported by the stricken tanks, some Australians fought their way through to occupy a section of the Hindenberg Line.  Under heavy fire, the Australians called repeatedly for support.  Finally the order was given to retreat.  However, this order did not reach all the scattered posts.  The battle lasted ten hours and in that time the 4th Brigade, which had sent 3000 officers and men into battle, suffered 2339 casualties.  The 12th Brigade had 2000 men actually engaged and suffered 950 casualties.  The British battle scheme employed at Bullecourt was later used by British instructors as an example of how not to plan an attack.

11 April 1941: The Siege of Tobruk commenced, when German forces cut off the Libyan port and began testing Australian and Allied defences.

7-15 April 1917: Sergeant John Whittle, born on Huon Island, Tasmania, and Captain James Newland, born in Geelong, Victoria, were each awarded the Victoria Cross for their actions on the Bapaume-Cambrai Road, near Boursies, and at Lagnicourt, France, during the period 7-15 April 1917.  Sergeant Whittle was placed in command of a post near Boursies.  Around 10pm the Germans counter-attacked and entered his trench.  Sergeant Whittle charged the enemy and re-stabilised  the position.  Captain Newland then arrived and the two worked together until the line was re-established.  On 15 April at Lagnicourt, German troops attempted to encircle Australian posts, bomb them out of existence or take them by frontal attacks.  An Australian counter-attack and sustained shellfire against the Germans, led by Captain Newland and Sergeant Whittle, resulted in a complete AIF victory.  The Battle of Lagnicourt cost the Australians 1050 casualties, including 300 men taken prisoner.

Media Contact:   Mark Croxford  02 6277 7820 or 0408 645 787


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