Images of War: The Germans in Flanders 1915-1916, David Bilton

Images of War: The Germans in Flanders 1915-1916, David Bilton

Images of War: The Germans in Flanders 1915-1916, David Bilton

Images of War: The Germans in Flanders 1915-1916, David Bilton

This book differs from most in the Images of War series. In most cases the pictures are the main point of the book, and the text consists of captions explaining the pictures. In this entry the text is the main thing - instead of a series of captions we have a connected narrative of the fighting in Flanders as seen from the German side, illustrated by a large number of photographs. The two main chapters begin with the illustrated narrative, and finish with a selection of extra photographs, three to a page. We then get an illustrated chronology of events in Flanders during 1915 and 1916. Finally the book ends with a brief history of each of the German divisions that fought in Flanders during this period (most British units frequently moved around the front - in contract many German divisions remained in the same area for years).

The two years were very different in Flanders. In 1915 the Germans launched a major offensive at Ypres, known in English as the Second Battle of Ypres. This saw the first gas attack on the Western Front and as with the First Battle of Ypres saw the western Allies fighting desperately to retain Ypres and with it a significant foothold on Belgium soil. In contrast 1916 was a fairly quiet year in Flanders. The main battles of the year were fought further south, at Verdun and on the Somme, so in Flanders the year was dominated by smaller scale fighting and raids. This shows in the size of the chapters - the narrative of 1915 takes us to page 54, followed by 22 pages of photos from 1915. The text for 1916 fills 21 pages, followed by a similar photographic section.

For me this is one of the best entries in the series. The photographs are used to support an interesting text, and these views of the German side of the Western Front are fascinating.

Chapter 1 - 1915 The Spring Offensive
Chapter 2 - 1916 The Quietest Year
Day-by-Day chronology - 1915
Day-by-Day chronology - 1916
Histories of the German Divisions that fought in Flanders

Author: David Bilton
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 159
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2012

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Images of War: The Germans in Flanders 1915-1916, David Bilton - History

The third volume covers the battles in Flanders against the Belgians, French and British over a 23-month period. Written using primary and secondary sources, it covers all the engagements. The major part of the book covers the FlandernSchlacht of July to November 1917 a battle viewed by the Germans as harder fought and more costly than the Somme, Arras and Verdun. Each phase and aspect of the period is detailed from the German point of view.

The book will be in four sections: detailed text around 250 photos (that are interspersed into the text with captions), a chronological order of events in Flanders and a section on the German divisions that fought there. Where relevant material from the German home front is included and the illustrations, many of which have not been published before, also show how the towns and villages of the area have changed.

About The Author

David Bilton is a retired teacher who spends his time looking after his family, working as a University lecturer and researching the Great War. He is the prolific author of numerous books about the British Army, the Home Front and the German Army. His first book, The Hull Pals, became the BBC 2 series The Trench. Since he started writing he has contributed to many television and radio programmes. His interest in the Great War was ignited by his grandfather's refusal to talk about his experiences in Gallipoli and on the Western Front.

The purpose of these three books, The German Army in Flanders 1914, The German Army in Flanders 1915 and The German Army in Flanders 1916–1918, is not to analyse the strategic, tactical, political or economic reasons for the fighting in Flanders but rather to chronicle the events that happened there during that period. The brief words rely on the pictures to tell a large part of the story: pictures from a private collection I also use texts (detailed in the bibliography) published during the period of this history. The books are not necessarily a chronological photographic record as some periods were more fully recorded than others they are more an attempt to provide a cameo of the experiences of the German Army in Flanders during the Great War. For most of the time an army is not fighting, and the photographs portray life outside the trenches as well as in them.

The causes of the Great War have been dealt with at length in many books so all I have done on this topic is set the scene as a prelude to the remainder of the book. As this book concerns Flanders, I have mostly disregarded the early fighting in Walloon Belgium, concentrating on those aspects of the invasion that are central to the story of Flanders.

As with my earlier books on the German Army, I include a day-to-day chronology to show what was happening across the Belgian Flanders Front from the German point of view. However, Flanders being a coastal area, I have included events at sea during the period as well as information about aerial activity as the Flanders coast was the closest occupied territory to the British mainland. Flanders was indeed a strategically important area, but not every day is listed as on every other front during the war, some days were very active but most were no more or less significant than the previous one. For a missing day the GHQ report simply read: ‘In Flanders today again only artillery activity’ or ‘In the West nothing new’ – in English, the famous words: ‘All quiet on the Western Front’.

Many things remained unchanged despite the arrival of the German Army. Here, as throughout the years, Flemish women sit in the street embroidering linen, an old local skill.

The reality underlying the fact of this bland statement is revealed in the letters home of Lothar Dietz, a philosophy student from Leipzig, who was killed near Ypres on 15 April 1915. ‘You at home can’t have the faintest idea of what it means to us when in the newspaper it simply and blandly says: In Flanders to-day again only artillery activity . Far better to go over the top in the most foolhardy attack, cost what it may, than stick it out all day long under shell-fire, wondering all the time whether the next one will maim one or blow one to bits’.

A view of Brugge sent home by a soldier recovering in a field hospital in the city.

Ghent, a city well behind the lines, was used for rest and recovery and as a base for field hospitals. This card was sent by a member of 2 Marine Division.

Flanders was an important area for naval offensive operations and had to be guarded against Entente naval attack and the possibility of naval-supported in vasion. For this reason the sea-front was guarded by regiments of marine artillery. ‘Thirty guns of the heaviest calibre had been set up there, among them five of 38 cm., four of 30.5 cm., and besides them a large number of quick-firing guns from 10.5 to 21 cm. calibre.’ Manning these fortifications and the coastal trenches employed large numbers of men.

The Naval Corps, troops to defend the naval areas, was instituted under the leadership of Admiral von Schröder on September 3, 1914, and played a part in the taking of Antwerp on October 10, 1914. Naval Corps General Command had its headquarters at Bruges. The infantry of the Naval Corps consisted of three regiments of able seamen and marines. The latter in particular played a part in the great battles in Flanders in 1916 and 1917.

Similarly, taking the offensive to the Royal Navy required boats, aircraft and submarines. Torpedo-boat flotillas were based at Zeebrugge which was to be the scene of an attack by British Marines and the Royal Navy in April 1917. There were seaplane bases at Ostend and Zeebrugge the facilities at the latter were used to overhaul U-boats for long distance work and as a base for short range submarines. The Naval Corps in Flanders had thirty-eight submarines at its disposal in 1917. As Allied planes often patrolled the coast, many submarines were based at Bruges and along the canal to the coast. A repair and building shipyard for the Flanders Naval forces was situated in Ghent.

Flanders is very difficult to define geographically it has been in a continuous state of flux for hundreds of years. Originally covering a much larger area than today, what was Flanders during the war differed according to the army in which a soldier fought. To the Belgian army it was a defined area that covered the unconquered part of their nation and part of the conquered territory to the French it was the area of Belgium that they were fighting in to the British it covered their Front from just north of Arras in France to their furthest west boundary at Boesinghe, north of Ypres. For the German Army, the Flanders Front stretched from Dixmude in the north to Frelinghien in the south, opposite the area held by the French and the British, but, to the General Staff at OHL, Flanders also included the conquered coastal regions of Belgium defended by the Kaiserliche Marine, sea soldiers who guarded the coast and fought in the trenches. As this book is about the German Army, it is their geographical understanding of Flanders (Flandern) that has been used activity in French Flanders is only mentioned in passing where it relates to the events in Belgium.

Multiple views of Zonnebeke sent by a Landwehr soldier in 45 Reserve Division. This division fought in Belgium from the start of the war until sent to the Somme in 1916.

At Comines the border with France was just over the bridge.

The most important town in the region, Ypres, was a focus for much of the fighting in the area. For the German Army its fall would allow them to continue through to the Channel Ports, depriving the British of the close entry points they needed to maintain their army in the field for the British, once Ypres was secure, their focus of attack covered the whole of the Flanders Front.

Ypres lies in a basin formed by a maritime plain intersected by canals, and dominated on the north, north-east and south by low wooded hills. The canals, the Yser being the most important, follow a south-east to north-east direction a number of streams flow in the same direction and there are three large ponds: Dickebusch, Zillebeke and Bellewaarde.

The hills that form the sides of the Ypres basin are very low and, at that time, were partly wooded. Their crests run through Houthulst Forest, Poelcapelle, Passchendaele, Broodseinde, Becelaere, Gheluvelt, Hill 60 and St. Eloi. Further south is the Messines-Wytschaete ridge, and to the south-west are the Hills of Flanders.

Houthulst Forest was the largest of the woods. Further south, after Westroosebeke, Passchendaele and Zonnebeke were other woods that were to become famous: Polygone, Nonne-Bosschen (Nonnes), Glencorse, Inverness and Herentage.

Surrounded by low hills, the numerous small waterways and the area’s maritime climate gave the area around Ypres a character that was different to the rest of the front. The marshy ground, almost at sea level, is ‘further sodden by constant rain and mists’, forming a spongy mass that made it impossible to dig trenches or underground shelters. The water level is very near the surface, making parapets the only suitable and possible type of defence-works. Shell craters immediately filled with water and became death traps for the wounded, careless or unlucky. Such images create the iconography of the Flanders battles.

Menin Centre before the war.

The geology and geography of the area meant that both sides centred their defence ‘around the woods, villages and numerous farms, which were converted into redoubts with concrete blockhouses and deep wire entanglements’. Any slight piece of higher ground was fiercely contested. The dominating hill crests ‘were used as observation posts – the lowering sky being usually unfavourable for aerial observation – while their counter-slopes masked the concentrations of troops for the attacks.’ As a result the fighting was at its most intense along the crests and around the fortified farms.

There had been considerable fighting in Belgium before Ypres became the focal point. The arrival of German troops was only transient and without bloodshed. ‘According to local accounts, the first contact for the people of Ypres with the First World War was the arrival of thousands of German troops on 7th October 1914.’ These were cavalry and cyclists on their way north, who informed the Burgomaster that they would be there for three days. ‘They began to enter the town from the south-east along the road from Menin through the Menin Gate (Menenpoort) and from the south through the Lille Gate (Rijselpoort). Scouting parties advanced north and west beyond Ypres in the directions of Boesinghe, Vlamertinghe and Elverdinghe. By 9pm the town, its streets and market square were packed full of horses and riders, soldiers, carts, carriages, cars, field kitchens and guns.’ The exact number of troops is unknown but local accounts reckon about 10,000. ‘Soldiers were billeted for the night in the halls of the Cloth Hall, in schools, the army barracks, the waiting rooms at the railway station and in houses with the local people. The mayor, Mr Colaert, advised the people of Ypres to stay calm and remain in their homes.’

‘The shops were crammed full of German soldiers. By way of payment some offered German coins, others had paper notes. Some gave pre-printed coupons to the shopkeepers or locals for food and clothes. There were stories of damage to the railway station, stealing from local people’s homes, and drinking. The bakers were ordered to have 8,000 bread rolls baked and ready for 8.30am the next morning, 8th October, to distribute to the troops. Hay, straw and oats were requisitioned and the town’s coffers were emptied of 62,000 Francs.’ According to one account the demand was for 70,000 francs, 5,000 more than was available. ‘Horses and wagons were requisitioned and paid for with coupons. Anyone in receipt of a coupon as payment was, however, unlikely ever to receive payment from the German Army because the next day, 8th October, the Germans started to move out of the town from about midday. The soldiers on foot went in the direction of Dickebusch. The cavalry went in the direction of Vlamertinghe. They were never to return.’

Blankenberghe town centre before the war. According to the 1911 Encyclopaedia Brittanica BLANKENBERGHE was a ‘seaside watering-place on the North Sea in the province of West Flanders, Belgium, 12 m. N.E. of Ostend, and about 9 m. N.W. of Bruges, with which it is connected by railway. It is more bracing than Ostend, and has a fine parade over a mile in length. During the season, which extends from June to September, it receives a large number of visitors, probably over 60,000 altogether, from Germany as well as from Belgium. There is a small fishing port as well as a considerable fishing-fleet. Two miles north of this place along the dunes is Zeebrugge, the point at which the new ship-canal from Bruges enters the North Sea. Fixed population (1904) 5925.’

Ypres had been a populous town in the Middle Ages but by 1914 numbered less than 17,000 occupants. Its commerce was based around the manufacture of flax, lace, ribbons, cotton and soap. It was a minor tourist area because of its medieval Cloth Hall, the largest non-religious Gothic building in Europe. The newly arrived British troops found it to be ‘a gem of a town with its lovely old-world gabled houses, red-tiled roofs, and no factories visible to spoil the charm.’

The OHL history described why the area was so heavily contested. The possession of Ypres to the English was a point of honour. For both sides it was the central pivot of operations. From the time artillery fire could reach the town, it became a legitimate target for German gunners because it lay so close to the front that the German advance could be seen from its towers – so claimed the OHL history of the battle. It also concealed enemy batteries and sheltered their reserves. Captain Schwink wrote in 1917 that ‘for the sake of our troops we had to bring it under fire for German life is more precious than the finest Gothic architecture.’

The Ypres salient was key to the fighting on the front which can be divided into three major battles known to the British as First, Second and Third Ypres, but there were many smaller battles between the major offensives. The first battle was a result of a powerful German offensive – a counter-stroke to the battles of the Yser – then an attempt to take Ypres during this battle arose the myth of the students valiantly storming the British defences. ‘The second stage was marked by British and Franco-British offensives, begun in the second half of 1916 and considerably developed during the summer and autumn of the following year.’ Ending in November 1917 in a sea of mud, these battles eventually achieved their aim – moving the Ypres Salient eastwards and opening the Flanders plains. During the German offensives of April 1918, British positions to the south of Ypres were attacked but did not fall, and in September and October of the same year the positions held in Flanders were evacuated.

Of the hundreds of thousands of men who served in Flanders, one stands out for special note – Adolf Hitler. As a volunteer, he served throughout the war with 16 Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment, in 6 Bavarian Reserve Division. After being involved in the 1914 Ypres battles, the division was never again used in a lead assault role, becoming a static front-holding division, good in defence. There was a sound military reason for its not remaining an attack division: ‘Its recruits were hardly the crème de la crème of German manhood, rather a motley assortment of callow youths and not always young, or fit, men from a range of backgrounds.’ Hitler’s unit was thrown into the Ypres offensive with heavy casualties – twenty per cent of the total casualties for the war in their first

Images of War: The Germans in Flanders 1915-1916, David Bilton - History

By Jane Wilson

Our November meeting started with some book recommendations from someone who has read the Book Group reports and he offered his own top three books relating to WW1.

First was ‘The First Day on the Somme 1 st July 1916’ by Martin Middlebrook, a compelling read about the one day of the Somme Battles that stand out in most peoples’ minds. Secondly, ‘Tommy: The British Soldier on the Western Front 1914 – 1918’ by Richard Holmes, a comprehensive look at how the British Army operated during WW1. Lastly, ‘A History of the Great War in 100 Moments’, edited by Richard Askwith, originally in series form in the Independent and Independent on Sunday newspapers, covering many WW1 topics.

The Book Group members also looked at two books from a Museum volunteer who helps with German translation work. Both look at the war from the German perspective, the first book being ‘Images of War The Germans in Flanders 1915 – 1916’ by David Bilton, accounts of German action accompanied by rare photographs from wartime archives. The second book is ’Uniforms of the German Soldiers’ by Alejandro M de Quesada, and traces the evolution of German military uniforms from 1870 to the present day, illustrated with hundreds of detailed photographs. These books are available to read in the Museum’s Reading Room to anyone wanting to visit.

The next book recommendation from the group was ‘The Final Whistle’ by Stephen Cooper, which followed the WW1 activities of fifteen members of the Rosslyn Park Rugby Club in London. An interesting read for either rugby or history fans, the author traces their passion and skill for rugby, as well as their bravery and dedication as they serve in theatres of war as varied as Mesopotamia, Italy and Turkey.

The front cover and title of the next book, ‘The Englishman’s Daughter’, initially made some of the group think it was to be a fiction selection, until we read the subtitle on Ben McIntyre’s book and realised this was a true story of ‘love and betrayal in World War 1’. Four British soldiers are trapped behind enemy lines on the Western Front and for many months are hidden by the French villagers, despite the village also billeting many German troops. The book follows the love story between a British soldier and a villager, the birth of their daughter, and then also the betrayal of the soldiers to the Germans.

Leon Wolff bases his book ‘In Flanders Fields Passchendaele 1917’ around the 3 rd Battle of Ypres, and his narrative is illustrated and expanded on with newspaper story extracts, diary entries from high ranking officers, military maps, minutes from War Cabinet meetings as well as sketches of the battlefields. The harsh conditions of this battle prompted our group into discussion over the physical and mental strength that the soldiers required to get them through war service, and whether someone such as a County Durham miner joining up to serve would have had been better prepared for the conditions around Passchendaele than a city centre office worker.

Moving on to the biography of ‘Edith Cavell’ by Diana Souhami, we learn about Cavell’s early years as the daughter of a Norfolk vicar, her career choice as a governess in Brussels, before re-training as a nurse. While following her nursing career prior to the war, Souhami also documents the developments in hospital care and nurse training. The second part of the book closely details the arrest and trial of Cavell for her part in assisting over 200 Allied soldiers to escape from German occupied Belgium. Her subsequent sentencing to death by firing squad, and how she was remembered then and now by a nation, brings the book to its conclusion.

Originally published in 1989, A J Hoover’s ‘God, Germany and Britain in the Great War A Study in Clerical Nationalism’ contains concise chapters that highlight various aspects of the war from a religious perspective, and how both British and German clergy found justification for their own countries’ participation in the war while emphasising how the enemy country was deemed to have sinned. Material used by the author included many British and German war sermons of the time, as well as speeches, pamphlets and books produced by clergymen of both countries.

A novel from a Russian author was our next port of call, namely Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s ‘August 1914’, a book that was first read by quite a few members of our group in the early 1970’s. Historically and factually correct events, battles, troop movements and military personnel provide a background against which the author creates his fictional story set during the first month of WW1 and the Russian move into East Prussia. Each chapter introduces different characters, the story presenting their lives against the confusion of communication, management of troops and military strategy during the war.

‘One Boy’s War’, written by County Durham writer Lynn Huggins Cooper and illustrated by Ian Benfold Haywood, is a beautiful picture book with a story following sixteen-year old Sydney as he joins up to fight in WW1, swept along by the initial recruitment enthusiasm. Once at the front, the reality of war sets in and as he writes a diary and letters home to his mother, his feelings about fighting so far away from his family are brought home to the reader both in the story and the beautiful illustrations. Publisher’s notes indicate the target audience for the book is 7 – 11-year-olds, but we all felt this was a wonderful book for any age to appreciate.

A book that our group returns to again is ‘The World’s War – Forgotten Soldiers of Empire’ by David Olusoga. Each chapter of the book brings forth interesting information about people from all parts of the Empire who are prepared to fight alongside the British, as well as those nations who sided with Germany, and we talked in the meeting about a chapter covering the alliance among Germany and the Ottoman Empire.

Our final selection for November was ‘The Edinburgh Companion to the First World War and The Arts’ edited by Anne-Marie Einhaus and Katherine Isobel Baxter, who have produced an authoritative work on the influence of WW1 on the Arts, both at the time and since. They edit contributions about the artistic and literary response to WW1 from the point of view of those involved in the worlds of theatre, literature, memorials, music halls, photography, trench art, publishing, newspapers, official war films, sculpture etc. all the way through to the influence of WW1 on modern day computer games. The book comprises short chapters or essays contributed by a variety of experts in the arts, and they question the variety of responses to the war, and how those responses have changed over time.

We are looking forward to our next Book Group meeting on Tuesday 19 th December, at 2.30pm, and would warmly welcome new members to our group.

IMAGES OF WAR: GERMANS IN FLANDERS 1917-1918 Rare Photographs from Wartime Archives

Photographs of the Great War from the German side are unfamiliar to an English-speaking readership, but provide a fascinating portrait of the enemy on ‘the other side of the hill’. This volume, with a picture on every page, describes the increasingly desperate fortunes of the Germans in Flanders in the last two years of the war from Third Ypres (Passchendaele) in July 1917 to the final collapse and Armistice of November 1918.


The third volume covers the battles in Flanders against the Belgians, French and British over a twenty-three month period. Written using primary and secondary sources, it covers all the engagements. The major part of the book covers the FlandernSchlacht of July to November 1917 a battle viewed by the Germans as harder fought and more costly than the Somme, Arras and Verdun. Each phase and aspect of the period is detailed from the German point of view.
The book is arranged in four sections: detailed and informative text some 250 photos (that are interspersed into the text with captions) a chronological order of events in Flanders and a section on the German divisions that fought there. Where relevant material from the German home front is included and the illustrations, many of which have not been published before, also show how the towns and villages of the area have changed.


Offering an unfamiliar view of a familiar battleground, this book of evocative photographs with captions and an explanatory text shows the Somme from the point of view of the Germans who occupied the area in the Great War.


The battles that took place as part of the many Somme offensives during The Great War have since become synonymous with the greatest and worst of British military planning in recent history. However, the view from the German perspectives of the infamous battles are often overlooked. This highly detailed and interesting new title from established Great War author and Reading man David Bilton seeks to change this.
War originally came to the Somme in the closing days of September 1914 between French and German troops but it was not until the arrival of the British in July 1915 that the area became much more active. A year later, with the first battle of the Somme, the area became, for nearly five months, strategically very important. On the opening day of the Somme Offensive, the British Army suffered its greatest death toll in one day and on 21 March 1918, on the first day of the German offensive, it suffered its greatest number of POWs taken with 21,000 in total.
The Germans on the Somme is the latest title in the Images of War series and makes extensive use of primary and secondary sources from the German perspective. The book is split into detailed chronological chapters that focus on each individual year from 1914 to 1918. Also included is a day-by-day chronology of all the major events that occurred throughout the period.
This highly illustrated book includes over 250 original black and white photographs, the majority of which have never been published in Britain, which focus on the activities of the Germany Army on the River Somme throughout the long years of The Great War. Being arguably the most evocative area in British military history this unique and insightful book gives the reader a rare look at the offensives through the eyes of our adversaries.

Aftermath: A New Community Emerges at Ypres

In the years following the end of the Great War the civilian population that had once lived in the towns and villages on the former battlegrounds began to return. In the immediate area around Ypres the villages were uninhabitable for the first couple of years, so people lived in Ypres at night and went to work on their former homes during the day clearing detritus and rubble in preparation for a rebuild.

This image shows one of the temporary communities for such people. The provisional wooden housing was put in place until permanent residences could be rebuilt, in most cases at least 3-4 years after the war was over.

In the background are the ruins of the Cloth Hall and St Martin’s Cathedral and their state would indicate this image dated from around 1920-21.


At the start of the war, Australia's military forces were focused upon the part-time Militia. The small number of regular personnel were mostly artillerymen or engineers, and were generally assigned to the task of coastal defence. [1] Due to the provisions of the Defence Act 1903, which precluded sending conscripts overseas, upon the outbreak of war it was realised that a totally separate, all volunteer force would need to be raised. [2] The Australian government pledged to supply 20,000 men organised as one infantry division and one light horse brigade plus supporting units, for service "wherever the British desired", in keeping with pre-war Imperial defence planning. [2] [Note 2] The Australian Imperial Force (AIF) subsequently began forming shortly after the outbreak of war and was the brain child of Brigadier General William Throsby Bridges (later Major General) and his chief of staff, Major Brudenell White. [3] Officially coming into being on 15 August 1914, [4] the word 'imperial' was chosen to reflect the duty of Australians to both nation and empire. [5] The AIF was initially intended for service in Europe. [6] Meanwhile, a separate 2,000-man force—known as the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (AN&MEF)—was formed for the task of capturing German New Guinea. [7] In addition, small military forces were maintained in Australia to defend the country from attack. [8]

Upon formation, the AIF consisted of only one infantry division, the 1st Division, and the 1st Light Horse Brigade. The 1st Division was made up of the 1st Infantry Brigade under Colonel Henry MacLaurin, an Australian-born officer with previous part-time military service the 2nd, under Colonel James Whiteside McCay, an Irish-born Australian politician and former Minister for Defence and the 3rd, under Colonel Ewen Sinclair-Maclagan, a British regular officer seconded to the Australian Army before the war. The 1st Light Horse Brigade was commanded by Colonel Harry Chauvel, an Australian regular, while the divisional artillery was commanded by Colonel Talbot Hobbs. [3] [9] The initial response for recruits was so good that in September 1914 the decision was made to raise the 4th Infantry Brigade and 2nd and 3rd Light Horse Brigades. [10] The 4th Infantry Brigade was commanded by Colonel John Monash, a prominent Melbourne civil engineer and businessman. [11] The AIF continued to grow through the war, eventually numbering five infantry divisions, two mounted divisions and a mixture of other units. [12] [13] [14] As the AIF operated within the British war effort, its units were generally organised along the same lines as comparable British Army formations. However, there were often small differences between the structures of British and Australian units, especially in regards to the AIF infantry divisions' support units. [15]

Hastily deployed, the first contingent of the AIF was essentially untrained and suffered from widespread equipment shortages. [16] In early 1915 the AIF was largely an inexperienced force, with only a small percentage of its members having previous combat experience. However, many officers and non-commissioned personnel (NCOs) had previously served in the pre-war permanent or part-time forces, and a significant proportion of the enlisted personnel had received some basic military instruction as part of Australia's compulsory training scheme. [17] Predominantly a fighting force based on infantry battalions and light horse regiments—the high proportion of close combat troops to support personnel (e.g. medical, administrative, logistic, etc.) was exceeded only by the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF)—this fact at least partially accounted for the high percentage of casualties it later sustained. [18] [19] Nevertheless, the AIF eventually included a large number of logistics and administrative units which were capable of meeting most of the force's needs, and in some circumstances provided support to nearby allied units. [20] However, the AIF mainly relied on the British Army for medium and heavy artillery support and other weapons systems necessary for combined arms warfare that were developed later in the war, including aircraft and tanks. [21]

Command Edit

When originally formed in 1914 the AIF was commanded by Bridges, who also commanded the 1st Division. [22] After Bridges' death at Gallipoli in May 1915, the Australian government appointed Major General James Gordon Legge, a Boer War veteran, to replace Bridges in command of both. [23] However, British Lieutenant General Sir John Maxwell, the commander of British Troops in Egypt, objected to Legge bypassing him and communicating directly with Australia. The Australian government failed to support Legge, who thereafter deferred to Lieutenant General William Birdwood, the commander of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. [24] When Legge was sent to Egypt to command the 2nd Division, Birdwood made representations to the Australian government that Legge could not act as commander of the AIF, and that the Australian government should transfer Bridges' authority to him. This was done on a temporary basis on 18 September 1915. [25] Promoted to major general, Chauvel took over command of the 1st Division in November when Major General Harold Walker was wounded, becoming the first Australian-born officer to command a division. [26] When Birdwood became commander of the Dardanelles Army, command of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and the AIF passed to another British officer, Lieutenant General Alexander Godley, the commander of the NZEF, but Birdwood resumed command of the AIF when he assumed command of II ANZAC Corps upon its formation in Egypt in early 1916. [27] I ANZAC Corps and II ANZAC Corps swapped designations on 28 March 1916. [28] During early 1916 the Australian and, to a lesser extent, New Zealand governments sought the establishment of an Australian and New Zealand Army led by Birdwood which would have included all of the AIF's infantry divisions and the New Zealand Division. However, General Douglas Haig, the commander of the British Empire forces in France, rejected this proposal on the grounds that the size of these forces was too small to justify grouping them in a field army. [29]

Birdwood was officially confirmed as commander of the AIF on 14 September 1916, backdated to 18 September 1915, while also commanding I ANZAC Corps on the Western Front. [25] He retained overall responsibility for the AIF units in the Middle East, but in practice this fell to Godley, and after II ANZAC Corps left Egypt as well, to Chauvel who also commanded the ANZAC Mounted Division. Later promoted to lieutenant general, he subsequently commanded the Desert Mounted Corps of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force the first Australian to command a corps. [30] Birdwood was later given command of the Australian Corps on its formation in November 1917. Another Australian, Monash, by then a lieutenant general, took over command of the corps on 31 May 1918. [31] Despite being promoted to command the British Fifth Army, Birdwood retained command of the AIF. [32] [33] By this time four of the five divisional commanders were Australian officers. [34] The exception was Major General Ewen Sinclair-Maclagan, the commander of the 4th Division, who was a British Army officer seconded to the Australian Army before the war, and who had joined the AIF in Australia in August 1914. [35] The vast majority of brigade commands were also held by Australian officers. [36] A number of British staff officers were attached to the headquarters of the Australian Corps, and its predecessors, due to a shortage of suitably trained Australian officers. [37] [38]

Structure Edit

Infantry divisions Edit

The organisation of the AIF closely followed the British Army divisional structure, and remained relatively unchanged throughout the war. During the war, the following infantry divisions were raised as part of the AIF: [16]

Each division comprised three infantry brigades, and each brigade contained four battalions (later reduced to three in 1918). [41] Australian battalions initially included eight rifle companies however, this was reduced to four expanded companies in January 1915 to conform with the organisation of British infantry battalions. A battalion contained about 1,000 men. [17] Although the divisional structure evolved over the course of the war, each formation also included a range of combat support and service units, including artillery, machine-gun, mortar, engineer, pioneer, signals, logistic, medical, veterinary and administrative units. By 1918 each brigade also included a light trench mortar battery, while each division included a pioneer battalion, a machine-gun battalion, two field artillery brigades, a divisional trench mortar brigade, four companies of engineers, a divisional signals company, a divisional train consisting of four service corps companies, a salvage company, three field ambulances, a sanitary section and a mobile veterinary section. [42] These changes were reflective of wider organisational adaption, tactical innovation, and the adoption of new weapons and technology that occurred throughout the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). [43]

At the start of the Gallipoli Campaign, the AIF had four infantry brigades with the first three making up the 1st Division. The 4th Brigade was joined with the sole New Zealand infantry brigade to form the New Zealand and Australian Division. The 2nd Division had been formed in Egypt in 1915 and was sent to Gallipoli in August to reinforce the 1st Division, doing so without its artillery and having only partially completed its training. After Gallipoli, the infantry underwent a major expansion. The 3rd Division was formed in Australia and completed its training in the UK before moving to France. The New Zealand and Australian Division was broken up with the New Zealand elements forming the New Zealand Division, while the original Australian infantry brigades (1st to 4th) were split in half to create 16 new battalions to form another four brigades. These new brigades (12th to 15th) were used to form the 4th and 5th Divisions. This ensured the battalions of the two new divisions had a core of experienced soldiers. [44] [45] The 6th Division commenced forming in England in February 1917, but was never deployed to France and was broken up in September of that year to provide reinforcements to the other five divisions. [13]

The Australian infantry did not have regiments in the British sense, only battalions identified by ordinal number (1st to 60th). Each battalion originated from a geographical region, with men recruited from that area. New South Wales and Victoria, the most populous states, filled their own battalions (and even whole brigades) while the "Outer States"—Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania—often combined to assemble a battalion. These regional associations remained throughout the war and each battalion developed its own strong regimental identity. [46] The pioneer battalions (1st to 5th, formed from March 1916) were also mostly recruited regionally however, the machine-gun battalions (1st to 5th, formed from March 1918 from the brigade and divisional machine-gun companies) were made up of personnel from all states. [47] [Note 3]

During the manpower crisis following the Third Battle of Ypres, in which the five divisions sustained 38,000 casualties, there were plans to follow the British reorganisation and reduce all brigades from four battalions to three. In the British regimental system this was traumatic enough however, the regimental identity survived the disbanding of a single battalion. In the Australian system, disbanding a battalion meant the extinction of the unit. In September 1918, the decision to disband seven battalions—the 19th, 21st, 25th, 37th, 42nd, 54th and 60th—led to a series of "mutinies over disbandment" where the ranks refused to report to their new battalions. In the AIF, mutiny was one of two charges that carried the death penalty, the other being desertion to the enemy. Instead of being charged with mutiny, the instigators were charged as being absent without leave (AWOL) and the doomed battalions were eventually permitted to remain together for the forthcoming battle, following which the survivors voluntarily disbanded. [49] These mutinies were motivated mainly by the soldiers' loyalty to their battalions. [50]

The artillery underwent a significant expansion during the war. When the 1st Division embarked in November 1914 it did so with its 18-pounder field guns, but Australia had not been able to provide the division with the howitzer batteries or the heavy guns that would otherwise have been included on its establishment, due to a lack of equipment. These shortages were unable to be rectified prior to the landing at Gallipoli where the howitzers would have provided the plunging and high-angled fire that was required due to the rough terrain at Anzac Cove. [51] [52] When the 2nd Division was formed in July 1915 it did so without its complement of artillery. Meanwhile, in December 1915 when the government offered to form another division it did so on the basis that its artillery would be provided by Britain. [51] In time though these shortfalls were overcome, with the Australian field artillery expanding from just three field brigades in 1914 to twenty at the end of 1917. The majority of the heavy artillery units supporting the Australian divisions were British, although two Australian heavy batteries were raised from the regular Australian Garrison Artillery. These were the 54th Siege Battery, which was equipped with 8-inch howitzers, and the 55th with 9.2-inch howitzers. [53]

Mounted divisions Edit

The following mounted divisions were raised as part of the AIF: [12]

During the Gallipoli Campaign four light horse brigades had been dismounted and fought alongside the infantry divisions. [54] However, in March 1916 the ANZAC Mounted Division was formed in Egypt (so named because it contained one mounted brigade from New Zealand – the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade). Likewise, the Australian Mounted Division—formed in February 1917—was originally named the Imperial Mounted Division because it contained the British 5th and 6th Mounted Brigades. [55] Each division consisted of three mounted light horse brigades. [56] A light horse brigade consisted of three regiments. Each regiment included three squadrons of four troops and a machine-gun section. The initial strength of a regiment was around 500 men, although its establishment changed throughout the war. [57] In 1916, the machine-gun sections of each regiment were concentrated as squadrons at brigade-level. [58] Like the infantry, the light horse regiments were raised on a territorial basis by state and were identified numerically (1st to 15th). [59]

Corps Edit

The following corps-level formations were raised: [60]

  • Australian and New Zealand Army Corps
  • I ANZAC Corps
  • II ANZAC Corps
  • Australian Corps
  • Desert Mounted Corps (formerly the Desert Column)

The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) was formed from the AIF and NZEF in preparation for the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915 and was commanded by Birdwood. Initially the corps consisted of the 1st Australian Division, the New Zealand and Australian Division, and two mounted brigades—the Australian 1st Light Horse Brigade and the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade—although when first deployed to Gallipoli in April, it did so without its mounted formations, as the terrain was considered unsuitable. However, in May, both brigades were dismounted and deployed along with the 2nd and 3rd Light Horse Brigades as reinforcements. Later, as the campaign continued the corps was reinforced further by the 2nd Australian Division, which began arriving from August 1915. In February 1916, it was reorganised into I and II ANZAC Corps in Egypt following the evacuation from Gallipoli and the subsequent expansion of the AIF. [61]

I ANZAC Corps included the Australian 1st and 2nd Divisions and the New Zealand Division. The New Zealand Division was later transferred to the II ANZAC Corps in July 1916 and was replaced by the Australian 3rd Division in I ANZAC. Initially employed in Egypt as part of the defence of the Suez Canal, it was transferred to the Western Front in March 1916. II ANZAC Corps included the Australian 4th and 5th Divisions, forming in Egypt it transferred to France in July 1916. [62] In November 1917 the five Australian divisions of I and II ANZAC Corps merged to become the Australian Corps, while the British and New Zealand elements in each corps became the British XXII Corps. The Australian Corps was the largest corps fielded by the British Empire in France, providing just over 10 percent of the manning of the BEF. [63] At its peak it numbered 109,881 men. [31] Corps troops raised included the 13th Light Horse Regiment and three army artillery brigades. [12] Each corps also included a cyclist battalion. [64]

Meanwhile, the majority of the Australian Light Horse had remained in the Middle East and subsequently served in Egypt, Sinai, Palestine and Syria with the Desert Column of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force. In August 1917 the column was expanded to become the Desert Mounted Corps, which consisted of the ANZAC Mounted Division, Australian Mounted Division and the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade (which included a number of Australian, British and New Zealand camel companies). [55] In contrast to the static trench warfare that developed in Europe, the troops in the Middle East mostly experienced a more fluid form of warfare involving manoeuvre and combined arms tactics. [65]

Australian Flying Corps Edit

The 1st AIF included the Australian Flying Corps (AFC). Soon after the outbreak of war in 1914, two aircraft were sent to assist in capturing German colonies in what is now north-east New Guinea. However, these colonies surrendered quickly, before the planes were even unpacked. The first operational flights did not occur until 27 May 1915, when the Mesopotamian Half Flight was called upon to assist the Indian Army in protecting British oil interests in what is now Iraq. [66] The corps later saw action in Egypt, Palestine and on the Western Front throughout the remainder of World War I. By the end of the war, four squadrons—Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4—had seen operational service, while another four training squadrons—Nos. 5, 6, 7 and 8—had also been established. A total of 460 officers and 2,234 other ranks served in the AFC. [67] The AFC remained part of the Australian Army until 1919, when it was disbanded later forming the basis of the Royal Australian Air Force. [68]

Specialist units Edit

A number of specialist units were also raised, [39] including three Australian tunnelling companies. Arriving on the Western Front in May 1916 they undertook mining and counter-mining operations alongside British, Canadian and New Zealand companies, initially operating around Armentieres and at Fromelles. The following year they operated in the Ypres section. In November 1916, the 1st Australian Tunnelling Company took over from the Canadians around Hill 60, subsequently playing a key role in the Battle of Messines in June 1917. During the German offensive in March 1918 the three companies served as infantry, and later supported the Allied advance being used to defuse booby traps and mines. [69] The Australian Electrical Mining and Mechanical Boring Company supplied electric power to units in the British Second Army area. [70]

Motor transport units were also formed. Not required at Gallipoli, they were sent on to the Western Front, becoming the first units of the AIF to serve there. The motor transport rejoined I ANZAC Corps when it reached the Western Front in 1916. [71] Australia also formed six railway operating companies, which served on the Western Front. [72] Specialist ordnance units included ammunition and mobile workshops units formed late in the war, while service units included supply columns, ammunition sub-parks, field bakeries and butcheries, and depot units. [73] [74] Hospitals and other specialist medical and dental units were also formed in Australia and overseas, as were a number of convalescent depots. [75] One small armoured unit was raised, the 1st Armoured Car Section. Formed in Australia, it fought in the Western Desert, and then, re-equipped with T Model Fords, served in Palestine as the 1st Light Car Patrol. [76] [Note 4] Camel companies were raised in Egypt to patrol the Western Desert. They formed part of the Imperial Camel Corps and fought in the Sinai and Palestine. [79] In 1918 they were converted to light horse as the 14th and 15th Light Horse Regiments. [80]

Administration Edit

Although operationally placed at the disposal of the British, the AIF was administered as a separate national force, with the Australian government reserving the responsibility for the promotion, pay, clothing, equipment and feeding of its personnel. [81] The AIF was administered separately from the home-based army in Australia, and a parallel system was set up to deal with non-operational matters including record-keeping, finance, ordnance, personnel, quartermaster and other issues. [39] The AIF also had separate conditions of service, rules regarding promotion and seniority, and graduation list for officers. [81] This responsibility initially fell to Bridges, in addition to his duties as its commander however, an Administrative Headquarters was later set up in Cairo in Egypt. Following the redeployment of the Australian infantry divisions to the Western Front it was relocated to London. Additional responsibilities included liaison with the British War Office as well as the Australian Department of Defence in Melbourne, whilst also being tasked with the command of all Australian troops in Britain. A training headquarters was also established at Salisbury. [82] The AIF Headquarters and its subordinate units were almost entirely independent from the British Army, which allowed the force to be self-sustaining in many fields. [83] The AIF generally followed British administrative policy and procedures, including for the awarding of imperial honours and awards. [81]

The weaponry and equipment of the Australian Army had mostly been standardised on that used by the British Army prior to the outbreak of World War I. [85] During the war the equipment used changed as tactics evolved, and generally followed British developments. The standard issued rifle was the .303-inch Short Magazine Lee–Enfield Mark III (SMLE). Infantrymen used 1908-pattern webbing, while light horsemen used leather bandoliers and load carriage equipment. [86] [87] A large pack was issued as part of marching order. [88] In 1915 infantrymen were issued with the SMLE and long sword bayonet, [89] while periscope rifles were also used. [90] From 1916 they also used manufactured hand grenades and rodded rifle grenades, both of which had been in short supply at Gallipoli (necessitating the use of improvised "jam-tin" grenades). A grenade discharge cup was issued for fitting to the muzzle of a rifle for the projection of the Mills bomb from 1917. Machine-guns initially included a small number of Maxim or Vickers medium machine-guns, but subsequently also included the Lewis light machine-gun, the latter two of which were issued in greater numbers as the war continued so as to increase the firepower available to the infantry in response to the tactical problems of trench warfare. [89] Light horse units underwent a similar process, although were issued Hotchkiss guns to replace their Lewis guns in early 1917. [91]

From 1916 the Stokes light trench mortar was issued to infantry to replace a range of trench catapults and smaller trench mortars, whilst it was also used in a battery at brigade-level to provide organic indirect fire support. In addition, individual soldiers often used a range of personal weapons including knives, clubs, knuckle-dusters, revolvers and pistols. Snipers on the Western Front used Pattern 1914 Enfield sniper rifles with telescopic sights. [92] Light horsemen also carried bayonets (as they were initially considered mounted infantry), although the Australian Mounted Division adopted cavalry swords in late 1917. [93] [94] Artillery included 18-pounders which equipped the field batteries, 4.5-inch howitzers used by the howitzer batteries, and 8-inch and 9.2-inch howitzers which equipped the heavy (siege) batteries. The 9.45-inch heavy mortar equipped a heavy trench mortar battery, while medium trench mortar batteries were equipped with the 2-inch medium mortar, and later the 6-inch mortar. [95] Light Horse units were supported by British and Indian artillery. [96] The main mount used by the light horse was the Waler, while draught horses were used by the artillery and for wheeled transport. Camels were also used, both as mounts and transport, and donkeys and mules were used as pack animals. [97]

Recruitment Edit

Enlisted under the Defence Act 1903, the AIF was an all volunteer force for the duration of the war. Australia was one of only two belligerents on either side not to introduce conscription during the war (along with South Africa). [46] [Note 5] Although a system of compulsory training had been introduced in 1911 for home service, under Australian law it did not extend to overseas service. In Australia, two plebiscites on using conscription to expand the AIF were defeated in October 1916 and December 1917, thereby preserving the volunteer status but stretching the AIF's reserves towards the end of the war. [99] A total of 416,809 men enlisted in the Army during the war, representing 38.7 percent of the white male population aged between 18 and 44. Of these, 331,781 men were sent overseas to serve as part of the AIF. [100] [Note 6] Approximately 18 percent of those who served in the AIF had been born in the United Kingdom, marginally more than their proportion of the Australian population, [103] although almost all enlistments occurred in Australia, with only 57 people being recruited from overseas. [18] [104] Indigenous Australians were officially barred from the AIF until October 1917, when the restrictions were altered to allow so-called "half-castes" to join. Estimates of the number of Indigenous Australians who served in the AIF differ considerably, but are believed to be over 500. [105] [106] [Note 7] More than 2,000 women served with the AIF, mainly in the Australian Army Nursing Service. [110]

The recruitment process was managed by the various military districts. [111] At the outset it had been planned to recruit half the AIF's initial commitment of 20,000 personnel from Australia's part-time forces, and volunteers were initially recruited from within designated regimental areas, thus creating a linkage between the units of the AIF and the units of the home service Militia. [112] In the early stages of mobilisation the men of the AIF were selected under some of the toughest criterion of any army in World War I and it is believed that roughly 30 percent of men that applied were rejected on medical grounds. [113] To enlist, men had to be aged between 18 and 35 years of age (although it is believed that men as old as 70 and as young as 14 managed to enlist), and they had to be at least 5 feet 6 inches (168 cm), with a chest measurement of at least 34 inches (86 cm). [3] Many of these strict requirements were lifted later in the war, however, as the need for replacements grew. Indeed, casualties among the initial volunteers were so high, that of the 32,000 original soldiers of the AIF only 7,000 would survive to the end of the war. [9]

By the end of 1914 around 53,000 volunteers had been accepted, allowing a second contingent to depart in December. Meanwhile, reinforcements were sent at a rate of 3,200 men per month. [114] The landing at Anzac Cove subsequently resulted in a significant increase in enlistments, with 36,575 men being recruited in July 1915. Although this level was never again reached, enlistments remained high in late 1915 and early 1916. [115] From then a gradual decline occurred, [116] and whereas news from Gallipoli had increased recruitment, the fighting at Fromelles and Pozieres did not have a similar effect, with monthly totals dropping from 10,656 in May 1916 to around 6,000 between June and August. Significant losses in mid-1916, coupled with the failure of the volunteer system to provide sufficient replacements, resulted in the first referendum on conscription, which was defeated by a narrow margin. Although there was an increase in enlistments in September (9,325) and October (11,520), in December they fell to the lowest total of the year (2,617). Enlistments in 1917 never exceeded 4,989 (in March). [117] [118] Heavy losses at Passchendaele resulted in a second referendum on conscription, which was defeated by an even greater margin. Recruitment continued to decline, reaching a low in December (2,247). [119] Monthly intakes fell further in early 1918, but peaked in May (4,888) and remained relatively steady albeit reduced from previous periods, before slightly increasing in October (3,619) prior to the armistice in November. [118]

Ultimately, the voluntary system of recruitment proved unable to sustain the force structure of the AIF, failing to provide sufficient replacements for the heavy casualties it sustained and requiring a number of units to be disbanded towards the end of the war. [120] [121] In mid-1918 it was decided to allow the men who had enlisted in 1914 to return to Australia for home leave, further exacerbating the manpower shortage experienced by the Australian Corps. [122] [123] Regardless, by the last year of the war the AIF was a long-serving force—even if it was a citizen army and not a professional one like the pre-war British Army—containing 141,557 men with more than two-years service, including, despite the heavy casualties suffered at Gallipoli in 1915 and on the Western Front in 1916 and 1917, 14,653 men who had enlisted in 1914. Battle hardened and experienced as a result, this fact partially explains the important role the AIF subsequently played in the final defeat of the German Army in 1918. [98]

Pay Edit

Soldiers of the AIF were among the highest paid of the war. [124] The pay for a private was set at five shillings a day, while an additional shilling was deferred to be paid on discharge. [46] As a result, the AIF earned the sobriquet "six bob a day tourists". [125] Married men were required to allot two shillings a day for their dependents however, a separation allowance was added in 1915. [46] Reflecting the progressive nature of Australian industrial and social policy of the era, this rate of pay was intended to be equal to that of the average worker (after including rations and accommodation) and higher than that of soldiers in the Militia. [46] [125] [126] In contrast, New Zealand soldiers received five shillings, while British infantrymen were initially only paid one shilling, although this was later increased to three. [126] Junior officers in the AIF were also paid at a rate higher than those in the British Army, although senior officers were paid considerably less than their counterparts. [46]

Training Edit

In the early stages of the AIF's formation, prior to Gallipoli, training was rudimentary and performed mainly at unit-level. There were no formal schools and volunteers proceeded straight from recruiting stations to their assigned units, which were still in the process of being established. Upon arrival, in makeshift camps the recruits received basic training in drill and musketry from officers and non-commissioned officers, who were not trained instructors and had been appointed mainly because they had previous service in the part-time forces. [127] Camps were established in every state including at Enoggera (Queensland), Liverpool (New South Wales), Broadmeadows (Victoria), Brighton (Tasmania), Morphettville (South Australia) and Blackboy Hill (Western Australia). [128] In some units this training took place over a period of six to eight weeks, although others—such as the 5th Battalion—spent as little as one day on live firing before departing for overseas. Following the embarkation of the initial force to the Middle East, further training was undertaken in the desert. This was more organised than the training provided in Australia, but was still quite rushed. Individual training was consolidated but progressed quickly into collective training at battalion and brigade-level. Training exercises, marches, drill and musketry practices followed but the standard of the exercises was limited and they lacked realism, meaning that commanders did not benefit from handling their troops under battlefield conditions. [129]

Some soldiers had received training through the compulsory training scheme that had been established in 1911, while others had served as volunteers in the part-time forces before the war or as members of the British Army, but their numbers were limited and in many cases the quality of the training they had received was also limited. The original intention had been that half the initial intake would consist of soldiers that were currently serving in the Militia, but ultimately this did not come to fruition and while about 8,000 of the original intake had some prior military experience, either through compulsory training or as volunteers, over 6,000 had none at all. [130] In terms of officers, the situation was better. For example, within the 1st Division, of its initial 631 officers, 607 had had previous military experience. This was largely through service in the pre-war militia, though, where there had been little to no formal officer training. In addition, there was a small cadre of junior officers who had been trained for the permanent force at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, [131] but their numbers were very small and at the outbreak of the war the first class had to be graduated early in order for them to join the AIF, being placed mainly in staff positions. [132] Other than small numbers of Duntroon graduates, from January 1915 the only means to be commissioned into the AIF was from the ranks of enlisted personnel. [46] As a result, by 1918 the majority of company and battalion commanders had risen from the ranks. [133] While the AIF's initial senior officers had been members of the pre-war military, few had any substantial experience in managing brigade-sized or larger units in the field as training exercises on this scale had been rarely conducted before the outbreak of hostilities. This inexperience contributed to tactical mistakes and avoidable casualties during the Gallipoli campaign. [134]

After the AIF was transferred to the European battlefield, the training system was greatly improved. Efforts were made at standardisation, with a formal training organisation and curriculum—consisting of 14 weeks basic training for infantrymen—being established. In Egypt, as the AIF was expanded in early 1916, each brigade established a training battalion. These formations were later sent to the United Kingdom and were absorbed into a large system of depots that was established on Salisbury Plain by each branch of the AIF including infantry, engineers, artillery, signals, medical and logistics. After completing their initial instruction at depots in Australia and the United Kingdom, soldiers were posted to in-theatre base depots where they received advanced training before being posted as reinforcements to operational units. [135] [136] Like the British Army, the AIF sought to rapidly pass on "lessons learned" as the war progressed, and these were widely transmitted through regularly updated training documents. [137] The experience gained through combat also improved the skills of the surviving officers and men, and by 1918 the AIF was a very well trained and well led force. [138] After coming to terms with the conditions on the Western Front the Australians had played a part in the development of new combined arms tactics for offensive operations that occurred within the BEF, while in defence they employed patrolling, trench raids, and Peaceful Penetration tactics to dominate no man's land. [139]

Following the deployment of the AIF a reinforcement system was used to replace wastage. Reinforcements received training in Australia first at camps around the country before sailing as drafts—consisting of about two officers and between 100 and 150 other ranks—and joining their assigned units at the front. Initially, these drafts were assigned to specific units prior to departure and were recruited from the same area as the unit they were assigned to, but later in the war drafts were sent as "general reinforcements", which could be assigned to any unit as required. [104] These drafts were despatched even before Gallipoli and continued until late 1917 to early 1918. Some units had as many as 26 or 27 reinforcement drafts. [14] [140] To provide officer reinforcements, a series of AIF officer schools, such as that at Broadmeadows, [141] were established in Australia before officer training was eventually concentrated at a school near Duntroon. These schools produced a large number of officers, but they were eventually closed in 1917 due to concerns that their graduates were too inexperienced. After this most replacement officers were drawn from the ranks of the AIF's deployed units, and candidates attended either British officer training units, or in-theatre schools established in France. [142] [143] After February 1916, the issue of NCO training was also taken more seriously, and several schools were established, with training initially being two weeks in duration before being increased to two months. [144]

Discipline Edit

During the war the AIF gained a reputation, at least amongst British officers, for indifference to military authority and indiscipline when away from the battlefield on leave. [146] This included a reputation for refusing to salute officers, sloppy dress, lack of respect for military rank and drunkenness on leave. [147] Historian Peter Stanley has written that "the AIF was, paradoxically, both a cohesive and remarkably effective force, but also one whose members could not be relied upon to accept military discipline or to even remain in action". [145]

Indiscipline, misbehaviour, and public drunkenness were reportedly widespread in Egypt in 1914–15, while a number of AIF personnel were also involved in several civil disturbances or riots in the red-light district of Cairo during this period. [148] [149] Australians also appear to have been over-represented among British Empire personnel convicted by court martial of various disciplinary offences on the Western Front from 1916, especially absence without leave however, this may at least be partially explained by the refusal of the Australian government to follow the British Army practice of applying the death penalty to desertion, unlike New Zealand or Canada, as well as to the high proportion of front-line personnel. [146] [Note 8] Instead, Australian soldiers received prison sentences, including hard labour and life imprisonment, for desertion as well as for other serious offences, including manslaughter, assault and theft. More minor offences included drunkenness and defiance of authority. [151] There were also examples of Australian soldiers being involved in looting, [152] while the practice of "scrounging" or "souveniring" was also widespread. [153] The stresses from prolonged combat contributed to a high incidence of indiscipline within AIF units, and especially those in France during the heavy fighting between April and October 1918. [154] The rates of personnel going absent without leave or deserting increased during 1918, and it became rare for soldiers to salute their officers in many units. [145] Following the war, the indiscipline within the AIF was often portrayed as harmless larrikinism. [155]

Australia's working class culture also influenced that of the AIF. Approximately three-quarters of AIF volunteers were members of the working class, with a high proportion also being trade unionists, and soldiers frequently applied their attitudes to industrial relations to the Army. [156] Throughout the war there were incidents where soldiers refused to undertake tasks that they considered demeaning or protested against actual or perceived mistreatment by their officers. These actions were similar to the strikes many soldiers had taken part in during their pre-enlistment employment, with the men not seeing themselves as mutineers. [157] The protests which occurred in 1918 over the planned disbandment of several battalions also used similar tactics to those employed in industrial disputes. [158] Historian Nathan Wise has judged that the frequent use of industrial action in the AIF led to improved conditions for the soldiers, and contributed to it having a less strict military culture than was common in the British Army. [159]

The pre-war Australian Army uniform formed the basis of that worn by the AIF, which adopted the broad-brimmed slouch hat and rising sun badge. [86] Peak caps were initially also worn by the infantry, [88] while light horsemen often wore a distinctive emu plume in their slouch hats. [160] A standard khaki puggaree was worn by all arms. [161] From 1916 steel helmets and gas masks were issued for use by infantry on the Western Front. [92] A loose-fitting four-pocket service dress jacket was worn, along with baggy knee breeches, puttees, and tan ankle-boots. [86] A heavy woollen greatcoat was worn during cold weather. [162] The uniform was a drab "pea soup" or khaki colour, while all buttons and badges were oxidised to prevent shine. [163] All personnel wore a shoulder title bearing the word "Australia". [87] Rank insignia followed the British Army pattern and were worn on the upper arms (or shoulders for officers). Identical hat and collar badges were worn by all units, which were initially only distinguished by small metal numerals and letters on the shoulder straps (or collars for officers). However, in 1915 a system of unit colour patches was adopted, worn on the upper arm of a soldier's jacket. Wound stripes of gold braid were also authorised to be worn to denote each wound received. Other distinguishing badges included a brass letter "A" which was worn on the colour patch by men and nurses who had served at Gallipoli, blue chevrons representing each year of overseas service, and a red chevron to represent enlistment during the first year of the war. [86] Uniforms worn by the AFC were similar to those of the rest of the AIF, although some officers wore the double-breasted "maternity jacket" which had been worn at the pre-war Central Flying School. AFC "wings" were worn on the left breast, while an AFC colour patch and standard rising sun badges were also worn. [164]

Gallipoli Edit

The first contingent of the AIF departed by ship in a single convoy from Fremantle, Western Australia and Albany on 1 November 1914. Although they were originally bound for England to undergo further training prior to employment on the Western Front, the Australians were subsequently sent to British-controlled Egypt to pre-empt any Turkish attack against the strategically important Suez Canal, and with a view to opening another front against the Central Powers. [165] Aiming to knock Turkey out of the war the British then decided to stage an amphibious lodgement at Gallipoli and following a period of training and reorganisation the Australians were included amongst the British, Indian and French forces committed to the campaign. The combined Australian and New Zealand Army Corps—commanded by British general William Birdwood—subsequently landed at Anzac Cove on the Gallipoli peninsula on 25 April 1915. Although promising to transform the war if successful, the Gallipoli Campaign was ill-conceived and shortly after the landing a bloody stalemate developed. This ultimately lasted eight months before Allied commanders decided to evacuate the troops without having achieved the campaign's objectives. [166] Australian casualties totalled 26,111, including 8,141 killed. [167]

Egypt and Palestine Edit

After the withdrawal from Gallipoli the Australians returned to Egypt and the AIF underwent a major expansion. In 1916, the infantry began to move to France while the mounted infantry units remained in the Middle East to fight the Turks. Australian troops of the ANZAC Mounted Division and the Australian Mounted Division saw action in all the major battles of the Sinai and Palestine Campaign, playing a pivotal role in fighting the Turkish troops that were threatening British control of Egypt. [168] The Australians first saw combat during the Senussi Uprising in the Libyan Desert and the Nile Valley, during which the combined British forces successfully put down the primitive pro-Turkish Islamic sect with heavy casualties. [169] The ANZAC Mounted Division subsequently saw considerable action in the Battle of Romani between 3 and 5 August 1916 against the Turks who were eventually pushed back. [170] Following this victory the British forces went on the offensive in the Sinai, although the pace of the advance was governed by the speed by which the railway and water pipeline could be constructed from the Suez Canal. Rafa was captured on 9 January 1917, while the last of the small Turkish garrisons in the Sinai were eliminated in February. [171]

The advance entered Palestine and an initial, unsuccessful attempt was made to capture Gaza on 26 March 1917, while a second and equally unsuccessful attempt was launched on 19 April. A third assault occurred between 31 October and 7 November and this time both the ANZAC Mounted Division and the Australian Mounted Division took part. The battle was a complete success for the British, over-running the Gaza–Beersheba line and capturing 12,000 Turkish soldiers. The critical moment was the capture of Beersheba on the first day, after the Australian 4th Light Horse Brigade charged more than 4 miles (6.4 km). The Turkish trenches were overrun, with the Australians capturing the wells at Beersheba and securing the valuable water they contained along with over 700 prisoners for the loss of 31 killed and 36 wounded. [172] Later, Australian troops assisted in pushing the Turkish forces out of Palestine and took part in actions at Mughar Ridge, Jerusalem and the Megiddo. The Turkish government surrendered on 30 October 1918. [173] Units of the Light Horse were subsequently used to help put down a nationalist revolt in Egypt in 1919 and did so with efficiency and brutality, although they suffered a number of fatalities in the process. [174] Total Australian battle casualties in the campaign were 4,851, including 1,374 dead. [175]

Western Front Edit

Five infantry divisions of the AIF saw action in France and Belgium, leaving Egypt in March 1916. [176] I ANZAC Corps subsequently took up positions in a quiet sector south of Armentières on 7 April 1916 and for the next two and a half years the AIF participated in most of the major battles on the Western Front, earning a formidable reputation. Although spared from the disastrous first day of the Battle of the Somme, within weeks four Australian divisions had been committed. [177] The 5th Division, positioned on the left flank, was the first in action during the Battle of Fromelles on 19 July 1916, suffering 5,533 casualties in a single day. The 1st Division entered the line on 23 July, assaulting Pozières, and by the time that they were relieved by the 2nd Division on 27 July, they had suffered 5,286 casualties. [178] Mouquet Farm was attacked in August, with casualties totalling 6,300 men. [179] By the time the AIF was withdrawn from the Somme to reorganise, they had suffered 23,000 casualties in just 45 days. [178]

In March 1917, the 2nd and 5th Divisions pursued the Germans back to the Hindenburg Line, capturing the town of Bapaume. On 11 April, the 4th Division assaulted the Hindenburg Line in the disastrous First Battle of Bullecourt, losing over 3,000 casualties and 1,170 captured. [180] On 15 April, the 1st and 2nd Divisions were counter-attacked near Lagnicourt and were forced to abandon the town, before recapturing it. [181] The 2nd Division then took part in the Second Battle of Bullecourt, beginning on 3 May, and succeeded in taking sections of the Hindenburg Line and holding them until relieved by the 1st Division. [180] Finally, on 7 May the 5th Division relieved the 1st, remaining in the line until the battle ended in mid-May. Combined, these efforts cost 7,482 Australian casualties. [182]

On 7 June 1917, II ANZAC Corps—along with two British corps—launched an operation in Flanders to eliminate a salient south of Ypres. [183] The attack commenced with the detonation of a million pounds (454,545 kg) of explosives that had been placed underneath the Messines ridge, destroying the German trenches. [184] The advance was virtually unopposed, and despite strong German counterattacks the next day, it succeeded. Australian casualties during the Battle of Messines included nearly 6,800 men. [185] I ANZAC Corps then took part in the Third Battle of Ypres in Belgium as part of the campaign to capture the Gheluvelt Plateau, between September and November 1917. [185] Individual actions took place at Menin Road, Polygon Wood, Broodseinde, Poelcappelle and Passchendaele and over the course of eight weeks of fighting the Australians suffered 38,000 casualties. [186]

On 21 March 1918, the German Army launched its Spring Offensive in a last-ditched effort to win the war, unleashing 63 divisions over a 70-mile (110 km) front. [187] As the Allies fell back the 3rd and 4th Divisions were rushed south to Amiens on the Somme. [188] The offensive lasted for the next five months and all five AIF divisions in France were engaged in the attempt to stem the tide. By late May the Germans had pushed to within 50 miles (80 km) of Paris. [189] During this time the Australians fought at Dernancourt, Morlancourt, Villers-Bretonneux, Hangard Wood, Hazebrouck, and Hamel. [190] At Hamel the commander of the Australian Corps, Monash, successfully used combined arms—including aircraft, artillery and armour—in an attack for the first time. [191]

The German offensive ground to a halt in mid-July and a brief lull followed, during which the Australians undertook a series of raids, known as Peaceful Penetrations. [192] The Allies soon launched their own offensive—the Hundred Days Offensive—ultimately ending the war. Beginning on 8 August 1918 the offensive included four Australian divisions striking at Amiens. [193] Using the combined arms techniques developed earlier at Hamel, significant gains were made on what became known as the "Black Day" of the German Army. [194] The offensive continued for four months, and during the Second Battle of the Somme the Australian Corps fought actions at Lihons, Etinehem, Proyart, Chuignes, and Mont St Quentin, before their final engagement of the war on 5 October 1918 at Montbrehain. [195] While these actions were successful, the Australian divisions suffered considerable casualties and by September 1918 the average strength of their infantry battalions was between 300 and 400, which was less than 50 percent of the authorised strength. [196] The AIF was withdrawn for rest and reorganisation following the engagement at Montbrehain at this time the Australian Corps appeared to be close to breaking as a result of its heavy casualties since August. [197] The Corps was still out of the line when the armistice was declared on 11 November 1918. [198] However, some artillery units continued to support British and American units into November, and the AFC maintained flying operations until the end of the war. [199] Total Australian casualties on the Western Front numbered 181,000, including 46,000 of whom died. Another 114,000 men were wounded, 16,000 gassed, and approximately 3,850 were taken prisoners of war. [175]

Other theatres Edit

Small numbers of AIF personnel also served in other theatres. Australian troops from the 1st Australian Wireless Signal Squadron provided communications for British forces during the Mesopotamian Campaign. They participated in a number of battles, including the Battle of Baghdad in March 1917 [200] and the Battle of Ramadi in September that year. [201] Following the Russian Revolution in 1917, the Caucasus Front collapsed, leaving Central Asia open to the Turkish Army. A special force, known as Dunsterforce after its commander, Major General Lionel Dunsterville, was formed from hand-picked British officers and NCOs to organise any remaining Russian forces or civilians who were ready to fight the Turkish forces. Some 20 Australian officers served with Dunsterforce in the Caucasus Campaign and one party under Captain Stanley Savige was instrumental in protecting thousands of Assyrian refugees. [202] Australian nurses staffed four British hospitals in Salonika, and another 10 in India. [203]

By the end of the war the AIF had gained a reputation as a well-trained and highly effective military force, enduring more than two years of costly fighting on the Western Front before playing a significant role in the final Allied victory in 1918, albeit as a smaller part of the wider British Empire war effort. [204] [205] Like the other Dominion divisions from Canada and New Zealand, the Australians were viewed as being among the best of the British forces in France, [206] and were often used to spearhead operations. [139] 64 Australians were awarded the Victoria Cross. [4] This reputation came at a heavy cost, with the AIF sustaining approximately 210,000 casualties, of which 61,519 were killed or died of wounds. [100] This represented a total casualty rate of 64.8 percent, which was among the highest of any belligerent for the war. [101] About another 4,000 men were captured. [100] The majority of casualties occurred among the infantry (which sustained a casualty rate of 79 percent) however, the artillery (58 percent) and light horse (32 percent) also incurred significant losses. [19] [207]

After the war, all AIF units went into camp and began the process of demobilisation. The AIF's involvement in the occupation of former German or Turkish territory was limited as Prime Minister William Hughes requested their early repatriation. [208] The exceptions were No. 4 Squadron, AFC and the 3rd Australian Casualty Clearing Station, which participated in the occupation of the Rhineland. [209] The 7th Light Horse Regiment was also sent to occupy the Gallipoli peninsula for six weeks, along with a New Zealand regiment. [210] At the time of the armistice, there were 95,951 soldiers in France and a further 58,365 in England, 17,255 in the Middle East plus nurses in Salonika and India, all to be transported home. [175] Around 120 Australians decided to delay their departure and instead joined the British Army, serving in Northern Russia during the Russian Civil War, although officially the Australian government refused to contribute forces to the campaign. [211] [212]

By May 1919, the last troops were out of France, and 70,000 were encamped on Salisbury Plain. [213] The men returned home on a "first come, first go" basis, with the process overseen by Monash in Britain and Chauvel in Cairo. [174] Many of the soldiers undertook government-funded training in civilian occupations while awaiting repatriation to Australia. [210] Only 10,000 Australian soldiers remained in England by September. Monash, the senior Australian commander, was repatriated on 26 December 1919. The last transport organised to repatriate troops was H.T. Naldera, which departed London on 13 April 1920. The AIF officially ceased to exist on 1 April 1921, and on 1 July 1921 the military hospitals in Australia passed into civilian hands. [213] As a volunteer force, all units were demobilised at the end of the war. [214] Australia's part-time military force, the Citizens Force, was subsequently reorganised to replicate the AIF's divisional structure and the numerical designations of many of its units to perpetuate their identities and battle honours. [112]

During and after the war, the AIF was often portrayed in glowing terms. As part of the "Anzac legend", the soldiers were depicted as good humoured and egalitarian men who had little time for the formalities of military life or strict discipline, yet fought fiercely and skilfully in battle. [215] Australian soldiers was also seen as resourceful and self-reliant. [216] The wartime official correspondent and post-war official historian C.E.W. Bean was central to the development of this stereotype. Bean believed that the character and achievements of the AIF reflected the unique nature of rural Australians, and frequently exaggerated the democratic nature of the force and the proportion of soldiers from rural areas in his journalism and the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918. [217] [218] The perceived qualities of the AIF were seen as being unique, as the product of the harsh Australian environment, the ethos of the bush and egalitarianism. [216] Such notions built on the concept of men from the bush being excellent natural soldiers which was prevalent in Australian culture before the war. [219] The achievements of the AIF, especially during the Gallipoli campaign, were also frequently portrayed by Bean and others as having marked the birth of Australia as a nation. Moreover, the AIF's performance was often seen as proof that the character of Australians had passed the test of war. [220]

The exploits of the AIF at Gallipoli, and then on the Western Front, subsequently became central to the national mythology. [216] In the years that followed much was made of ethos of the AIF, including its volunteer status and the quality of "mateship". Yet many of the factors which had resulted in the AIF's success as a military formation were not exclusively Australian, with most modern armies recognising the importance of small-unit identity and group cohesion in maintaining morale. Many of the qualities that arguably defined the Australian soldier were also claimed by New Zealanders and Canadians as having been exhibited by their soldiers, whilst undoubtedly soldiers of the German, British and American armies also exhibited such traits, even if they were known by different terms. [221] Objectively, the foundations of the AIF's performance were more likely to have been military professionalism based on "discipline, training, leadership, and sound doctrine". [120] While the volunteer status of the AIF has been seen by some to explain its military performance, it was by no means unique in this regard. [98] The status of their enlistment made little difference against the artillery, machine-gun fire, and wire obstacles of modern industrial warfare at any rate. Equally, individual skill and morale proved to be less important than sound tactics, with effective fire and movement ultimately making the difference in 1918. [222] The Australians were not alone among the Allied armies in embracing such tactical innovations, while many of the new technologies and integrated weapon systems they relied upon were provided by the British Army. [204]

Commemorating and celebrating the AIF became an entrenched tradition following World War I, with Anzac Day forming the centrepiece of remembrance of the war. [223] The soldiers who served in the AIF, known colloquially as "Diggers", in time became ". one of the paramount Australian archetypes." [224] When the Second Australian Imperial Force was raised in 1939 following the outbreak of World War II it was seen as inheriting the name and traditions of its predecessor. [5] Perceptions of the AIF have evolved over time. During the 1950s and 1960s social critics began to associate the "Anzac legend" with complacency and conformism, and popular discontent concerning the Vietnam War and conscription from the mid-1960s led many people to reject it. [225] Historians also increasingly questioned Bean's views concerning the AIF, leading to more realistic and nuanced assessments of the force. However, some historians continue to stress the AIF's achievements, and state that it was representative of Australia. [225] The "Anzac legend" grew in popularity during the 1980s and 1990s when it was adopted as part of a new Australian nationalism, with the AIF often being portrayed as a uniquely Australian force that fought in other people's wars and was sacrificed by the British military in campaigns which were of little importance to Australia. This depiction is controversial, however, and has been rejected by some historians. [226] The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History judges that while it is unclear how popular perceptions of Australia's military history will evolve, "it is clear that the Anzac legend will remain an important national myth for some time to come". [227]


Origin Edit

The high ground of Hill 60, south of Zillebeke, was created in the 1850s by spoil dumped from the cutting for the railway line between Ypres and Comines. The line opened in March 1854 and formed part of the La Madeleine–Comines railway from the French Nord-Pas-de-Calais region into Belgian Flanders. [1]

The earth excavated during the building of the railway was dumped on either side of the embankment and formed hillocks. On the west side, a long irregular mound atop the ridge was called The Caterpillar and a smaller mound 300 yards (270 m) down the slope towards Zillebeke, was known as The Dump. On the east side of the cutting, at the highest point of the ridge, was a third mound known as Hill 60, about 60 feet (18 m) above sea level, from which First World War artillery observers had an excellent view of the ground around Zillebeke and Ypres. Artillery-fire and mine explosions during the war changed the shape of the hill and flattened it considerably. Today the peak of Hill 60 is only about 4 metres (13 ft) higher than the land in the vicinity. [ citation needed ]

The ground south of Zillebeke rises for about 2,000 yards (1,800 m) to a ridge between Zwarteleen and Zandvoorde. Roads run north-west to south-east through the area, from Ypres to Verbrandenmoelen and Hollebeke as well as from Zillebeke to Zwartelen and Zandvoorde. The Ypres–Comines railway ran roughly parallel to the roads from Ypres and 600 yards (550 m) outside Zillebeke, was a cutting 15–20 feet (4.6–6.1 m) deep, which extended beyond the crest of the ridge, the earth from which had formed Hill 60. About 1.2 kilometres (0.75 mi) further south is The Bluff and some 2.4 kilometres (1.5 mi) south-west is St. Eloi. [ citation needed ]

1914 Edit

November Edit

During the First World War, Hill 60 was a small promontory on the edge of the Ypres Salient, with good views for the Germans across the British lines into Ypres, which gave it great tactical significance. During the First Battle of Ypres in late 1914, Hill 60 was held by the Moussy Detachment (General Vidal), which had been depleted by the transfer of three battalions to Langemarck. On 11 November, during the Battle of Nonne Bosschen, the detachment repulsed German attacks until noon, when the left flank units of the German 30th Division forced the French back to Hill 60 and Verbrandenmolen. No French or British reserves or reinforcements were available until the French 7th Hussars dismounted at Zillebeke and counter-attacked, carrying the remaining infantry of the detachment along in the rush. The French line was re-established from a bridge near Voormezeele to Verbrandenmolen and Zwarteleen, which was still only 3,000 yd (1.7 mi 2.7 km) from Ypres. The German account recorded that Hill 60 had been captured but Lieutenant-General Dubois (the 9e Corps d'Armée commander) and other witnesses denied this. When British troops relieved the French in the area on the night of 1/2 February 1915, the hill was certainly held by the Germans. [2] [3]

1915 Edit

Second Battle of Ypres Edit

On 17 February 1915, British sappers blew a small mine at Hill 60 which they had taken over from the French, but without great effect. The Germans retaliated with a small mine at Zwarteleen but were driven out of the British positions. On 21 February, however, they blew a large mine nearby, killing forty-seven men and ten officers of the 16th Lancers. In mid-March the Germans blew another large mine at Zwarteleen, creating a 9.1-metre (30 ft) deep crater and damaging their own lines in the process. [4] In the spring of 1915, there was constant underground fighting in the Ypres Salient at Hooge, Hill 60, Railway Wood, Sanctuary Wood, St Eloi and The Bluff which required the deployment of new drafts of tunnellers for several months after the formation of the first eight tunnelling companies of the Royal Engineers. [5]

After the Battle of Gravenstafel Ridge (22–23 April 1915) the British planned a local withdrawal to less exposed positions, roughly 3 miles (4.8 km) distant from Ypres. The new line was to run from Hill 60 northwards to Hooge on the Ypres–Menin road, thence to Frezenberg Ridge, Mouset rap Farm and then back to the Ypres–Yser canal. Large working parties from the 28th Division and the 50th (Northumbrian) Division began to dig the new line under cover of darkness and the retirement from the eastern side of the salient took place on the night of 1/2 May, during the Battle of St. Julien (24 April – 5 May). The 27th Division took over the area from just west of Hill 60, to about 0.5-mile (0.80 km) short of the Ypres–Roulers railway. The Germans followed up their success by attacking again at the Battle of Frezenberg Ridge (8–13 May), which gained Frezenberg, Verlorenhoek and the vicinity but attacks south of the Menin road gained very little ground. [6]

Capture of Hill 60 Edit

In spring 1915, earlier French preparations to raid the hill were continued by the British 28th Division, which took over the line in February 1915 and then by the 5th Division (Major-General Thomas Morland). The Allied plan to attack Hill 60 was expanded into an ambitious attempt to capture the hill, despite advice that Hill 60 could not be held unless The Caterpillar nearby was also occupied. A French 3 by 2 feet (0.91 m × 0.61 m) mine gallery under the hill was extended by experienced miners from Northumberland and Wales, after it was found that Hill 60 was the only place in the area not waterlogged. [7]

In the first attack of the newly formed Royal Engineer tunnelling companies in the Ypres Salient, the 173rd Tunnelling Company laid six mines by 10 April 1915, an operation planned by Major-General Edward Bulfin, commander of the 28th Division and continued by the 5th Division after the 28th Division was relieved. [8] The 173rd Tunnelling Company began work early in March and three tunnels were begun towards the German line about 50 yards (46 m) away, a pit first having been dug some 16 feet (4.9 m) deep the tunnels were more than 100 yards (91 m) long. [9] [10] Two more mines in the north were charged with 2,000 pounds (910 kg) of explosives each, two mines in the centre had 2,700 pounds (1,200 kg) charges and in the south, one mine was packed with 500 pounds (230 kg) of guncotton, although work on it had been stopped when it ran close to a German tunnel. [11] The attack began on 17 April and the 5th Division captured the area quickly with only seven casualties but found that the new salient made permanent occupation of the hill very costly. [7] [a]

Loss of Hill 60 Edit

On 1 May, after a bombardment by heavy artillery, the Germans released chlorine gas at 7:00 p.m., from positions fewer than 100 yards (91 m) away from Hill 60, on a front of 0.25-mile (0.40 km). The gas arrived so quickly that most of the British were unable to put on their improvised respirators. As soon the gas arrived, the Germans attacked from the flanks with bombing parties and artillery laid a barrage on the British approaches to the hill. Some of the British returned fire and reinforcements arrived by rushing through the gas cloud and bombing parties forced the Germans back. The original garrison lost many casualties in standing their ground, including many gas casualties. [13]

The 5th Division held the hill on a 1.25 miles (2.01 km) front with the 15th Brigade on 5 May, when the Germans discharged gas from two places opposite the hill at 8:45 a.m. [14] The wind blew the gas along, rather than across, the British defences and only one sentry was able to sound the gas alarm. The British defence plan required troops under gas attack to move to the flanks but the course of the gas cloud made this impossible. The gas hung so thick that it was impossible to remain in the trenches and troops who stood their ground were overcome. The German 30th Division advanced fifteen minutes after the gas cloud and occupied nearly all of the front line on the lower slope of the hill. British reinforcements bombed up a communication trench and two more battalions were sent forward but before they arrived, the Germans released another gas cloud at 11:00 a.m. to the north-east of the hill. [15]

The right flank of the Zwarteleen Salient was overrun, which increased the gap left by the first discharge a few men on the left delayed the German infantry until 12:30 p.m., when a battalion advanced through the gas cloud and an artillery barrage. Constant counter-attacks forced some of the Germans back and regained several lost trenches. The Germans held on to the crest and released more gas at 7:00 p.m., which had little effect and an infantry attack which followed was repulsed by rifle-fire. At 9:00 p.m., the 13th Brigade arrived and attacked at 10:00 p.m. after a short bombardment the darkness, state of the ground and alert German infantry repulsed the attack, except for a party which reached the top of the hill, then withdrew at 1:00 a.m. under enfilade-fire from the Caterpillar and Zwarteleen, which made the hill untenable. Both sides were exhausted and spent the next day digging-in. At dawn on 7 May, the British attacked with two companies of infantry and attached "bombers" using hand grenades, all of whom were killed or captured. [16] [b] From 22 April – 31 May 1915, the British had 59,275 casualties in the Second Battle of Ypres and the fighting for Hill 60. [18]

December Edit

On 19 December 1915, the 50th Division was due to relieve the 9th (Scottish) Division from Hill 60 to near the Menin Road, an area where skirmishing, raiding and mining by both sides never stopped. At 5:00 a.m., a German artillery and gas bombardment began on the north side of the Ypres salient and the gas reached the 50th Division positions behind the 9th Division, which forced the men to don their eye protectors but not gas helmets. German artillery-fire fell all round the salient and at noon the 50th Division received an order to stand down, as the attack had been limited to the areas of the 6th Division and 49th Division further north. The German bombardment continued all day but the relief took place in the evening, with the 149th Brigade taking over on the right, just west of Hill 60 with the 5th and 6th battalions, Northumberland Fusiliers, in positions only a few feet from German advanced posts Christmas Day was spent in cold, mud and under showers of rain. [19]

1916 Edit

February–March Edit

Maintaining field fortifications in the Ypres Salient over the winter of 1915–1916 was an endless task, as trenches flooded and collapsed, dugouts were swamped and communications were cut. Immediate repairs were necessary but had to be done at night, under constant harassing fire. Artillery and snipers from both sides were always active and patrols went out each night. Mining and counter-mining was constant, which kept trench garrisons under permanent strain, in fear of explosions which could occur anywhere without warning. Aircraft of both sides were overhead, except in the foulest weather, flying contact-patrol, photographic reconnaissance and artillery-observation sorties. On 12 February, two German raids were made on the 50th Division north of Hill 60 and on 14 February, the Germans attacked at Hooge against the 24th Division, on the left flank, which included a bombardment of trenches 37, 38 and 39 opposite Hill 60. [20]

Late in the afternoon the Germans sprung two mines near Trench 49 and Trench A1 which left two craters, one 15 feet (4.6 m) deep and 60 feet (18 m) wide but with no effect. [20] An explosion at 6:00 p.m., near the end of Trench 41, blew up a bombing sap, killed 13 Green Howards and wounded another four small raiding parties appeared but were shot down in no man's land. [20] In the area of the 17th (Northern) Division on the right flank at The Bluff, the Germans took the front line held by the 51st Brigade, which fell back to the support line and made a counter-attack 15 February, which failed. For the rest of February the area around Hill 60 returned to "normal" siege warfare but preparations were made secretly to recapture The Bluff. The 50th Division participated in artillery-bombardments, grenade attacks and trench mortaring to convince the Germans that an attack was being prepared against Hill 60, demonstrations which continued into March. [21]

April Edit

After a month in reserve, the 23rd Division returned to the front line at Hill 60 to relieve the 47th (1/2nd London) Division and part of the 39th Division between 1 and 9 April, from Henry Street to the railway cutting south-east of Verbrandenmolen, along the west slope of Hill 60 just below the crest, for 500 yards (460 m) to the north before turning east to Mount Sorrel and then north-east to St. Peter's Street on Observatory Ridge, a frontage of about 2,500 yards (2,300 m). At 9:00 a.m. on 9 April, German artillery began a bombardment until 5:45 p.m., obliterated most of the front line, isolated the right flank battalions and blew in the entrances to the tunnel leading to the British mining system. [22] [c]

At 6:43 p.m. the German artillery opened fire again and the British infantry sent up SOS flares for artillery support, which began immediately but not swiftly enough to prevent German troops dashing forward and getting into the trenches of the left-hand company of the 8th Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment (8th York and Lancs), which had been reduced from 152–47 men by the bombardment. The survivors counter-attacked and then chased the raiding party into no man's land assisted by the right-hand company. Other German troops broke into the positions of the 11th Battalion Sherwood Foresters and reached the Deep Support Line 100 yards (91 m) further back. In the mêlée one of the tunnel entrances was cleared but troops posted to guard it were killed by a shell and German troops threw gas bombs into the gallery until some of the troops inside burst out and drove the Germans back with hand grenades. On the right flank raiders ran up Marshall Lane, parallel to the railway, bombed the entrances to subways and got close to the main mine shafts, just as reinforcements arrived from Battersea Farm and recaptured the lane. [24]

May Edit

From 24–28 May, the 50th Division returned to the front line from reserve and resumed the struggle for fire supremacy. The British gradually suppressed the German artillery but found that German trench mortar crews were much harder to defeat, particularly those manning a trench howitzer who fired 3–4 round bursts, which were unusually destructive and then took cover. The divisional artillery retaliated immediately but never managed to destroy the gun. By frequent night patrols and raids the division gained control of no man's land but German mining continued with intermittent success and a gas attack was carried out by the Germans on the night of 16/17 June. [25]

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