Sir John Monash, the author of this book, is widely considered to be one of the finest Allied general officers of the First World War and the most famous Australian military commander. He served during the ill-fated Gallipoli Campaign, but is most highly regarded for his service on the Western Front. In May 1918 he became commander of the Australian Corps, at that time the largest army corps in theatre. The successful attack of the Battle of Amiens in August, 1918 was planned by Monash and spearheaded by his Australians and Canadian forces together with the British III Corps. This engagement turned the tide of the war in the West comprehensively reversing Germany's Ludendorff Offensive in 1918. This book chronicles the pursuit of the retreating German Army from Chuignes, Mont St. Quentin, Peronne, Hargicourt and, following the contribution of American forces, Bellicourt, Bony and Montbrehain to the Hindenburg Line and the end of hostilities. Contains maps and photographs.
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On the night of March 29th, I advanced my line, pivoting on my right, until my left rested on the Ancre east of Buire, an extreme advance of over 2,000 yards, meeting some opposition and taking a few prisoners. This deprived the enemy of over a mile of valuable vantage ground on the crest of the plateau along which ran the main road from Corbie to Bray.
By that time, it was apparent that the enemy’s artillery resources were hourly accumulating, and on the next afternoon he delivered a determined attack along my whole front, employing two divisions. The attack was completely repelled, with an estimated loss to the enemy of at least 3,000 killed. My artillery were firing over open sights and had never in their previous experience had such tempting targets.
On the previous day, however, the situation between the Somme and Villers-Bretonneux, and still further to the south, had become desperate; and much to my discomfiture I was ordered to hand over my 9th Brigade (Rosenthal) for duty with the 61st Division, in order to reinforce that dissolving sector. My importunity as to the necessity for maintaining the defence of my river flank, however, led the Seventh Corps commander to let me have, in exchange, the 15th Brigade (Elliott), which was the first brigade of the Fifth Australian Division to arrive from Flanders on the present scene of operations. This interchange of brigades was completed by the 30th.
That day was further marked by a concentrated bombardment of the village of Franvillers, in which I had established my headquarters. Although no serious loss was suffered, the responsible work of my staff was disturbed. On reporting the occurrence to General Congreve, he insisted upon my moving my headquarters back to St. Gratien, which move was completed the next day.
On April 4th the enemy attacked, in force, south of the Somme, and the village of Hamel was lost to us by the rout of the remnants of a very exhausted British division which had been sent in the night before to defend it. This success gave the enemy a footing upon a portion of Hill 104, and brought him to the eastern outskirts of Villers-Bretonneux. Three months later it cost the Australian Corps a concentrated effort to compel him to surrender these advantages.
One last and final attempt to break through the Australian phalanx north of the Somme was made by the enemy on April 5th. The full weight of this blow fell chiefly upon the gallant Fourth Australian Division. The Battle of Dernancourt will live long in the annals of military history as an example of dogged and successful defence. The whole day long the enemy expended division after division in the vain endeavour to compel two weak Australian brigades to loosen their hold on the important high ground lying west of Albert. He well knew that the capture by him of these heights involved the inevitable withdrawal of the Third Australian Division also, and that thereby the path to Amiens would again lie open.
The great German blow against the important railway centre of Amiens had been parried, and from this time onwards interest in this sphere of operations rapidly waned. It blazed up again for a few hours only when, three weeks later, the enemy made his final attempt to reach his goal, on this occasion by way of Villers-Bretonneux. North of the Somme, his activity quickly died down, and the attitude of both combatants gradually assumed the old familiar aspect of trench warfare, with its endless digging of trenches, line behind line, its weary trench routine, and its elaborate installation of permanent lines of communication and of administrative establishments of all descriptions.
South of the Somme, the Fifth Australian Division came into the line on April 5th, relieving a cavalry division on a frontage of about 5,000 yards, and thereby obviating any further necessity for the maintenance of my flank river defence. This duty had been performed for me in succession by the 15th Australian, the 104th Imperial and the 13th Australian Brigades (the latter then under Glasgow). My 9th Brigade still remained detached from me, operating under both the 18th and 61st British Divisions, and performed prodigies of valorous fighting in a series of desperate local attacks and counter-attacks, which took place between Villers-Bretonneux and Hangard, where the French northern flank then lay. In this service the 9th Brigade received gallant co-operation from the 5th Australian Brigade (of the 2nd Australian Division), which was now also arriving in this area, after having been relieved from trench garrison duty in the Messines-Warneton sector in Flanders.
The Fifth Division and these two detached brigades were, during this period, serving under the Third Corps (Butler), which had been reconstituted to fill the gap between the Somme and the flank of the French Army. The First Australian Division was already well on the way to follow the Second Division, when, on April 11th, it was hurriedly re-transferred to Flanders to assist in stemming the new German flood which was inundating the whole of that region, and which was not arrested until it had almost reached Hazebrouck. This task the First Australian Division performed most valiantly, thereby upholding the reputation already earned by its younger sister divisions for a capacity for rapid, ordered movement and decisive intervention at a critical juncture.
For some days there had been rumours that the Australian Corps Headquarters would shortly be transferred to the Amiens area, and would once again gather under its control the numerous elements of the four Australian divisions which were by now widely scattered, and had been fighting under the orders of three different Army Corps. There was the still more interesting and pregnant rumour that General Lord Rawlinson—relinquishing his post of British representative on the Supreme War Council at Versailles—was soon to arrive and to form and command a reconstituted Fourth British Army, which was to be composed of the Australian and the Third (British) Army Corps. (The Fourth Army had disappeared when, in 1917, General Rawlinson went to Versailles. The Fifth Army was not revived until June, 1918.)