Monday, 2 April 2007

Chapter 29: Flanders October 1917 to 8 April 1918

From Unit War Diary 2nd DAC
Located at Busseboom.

3 October 2nd Australian Division YMCA established for convenience of troops at 1. Menin Gate. 2. A.D.S 3. Lille Gate

7 October Congratulatory message was received from the Commander-In-Chief respecting the notable achievements of the 2nd Australian Division in the operations of 4 /10/17. Similar messages were also received from the Army Commander and 5th Australian Division Commander.

9 0ctober General Birdwood despatched the following message:-

“Well done again 2ND AUSTRALIAN DIVISION! Please convey my heartiest congratulations to Brigade and Battalion Commanders, and to all officers and men alike on magnificent work done after the hardship they have suffered.”

Other messages of a similar nature were received from the Prime Minister of Australia. An appreciative reply, with further highly complementary references to the achievement of Australian Troops sent by General BIRDWOOD.

19 October
100 Other Ranks transferred to 4th and 5th Bdes respectively – 50 to each Bde.

From Service Record

19 October 1917 Transferred to 4th F.A.B from 2nd D.A.C

20 October 1917 T.O.S. posted to 11th Battery 4th FAB ex 2nd D.A.C.

9 November 1917 Letter to 3rd echelon re-conf of rank.

8 January 1918 To England on leave [Sally - did he visit the family in Cornwall again?]

27 January 1918 Rejoined ex leave

8 February 1918
Crime: England 23 Jan 1918 W.O.A.S.
Absent without leave (overstaying leave) From 7.30am 23.1.18 till reported to AIF Hdqrs on 24.1.18
Award: Forfeits 2 days pay by C.O. 4th Aust F.A. Bde, on 8.2.18
Total forfeiture: 4 days pay.

From 11th Battery, 4th F.A.B. Brief History

11 September Left Dickebusch and arrived Ouderdoorn. Wagon Lines made at Howe Dump (Belgian Battery Corner), taking 5 days to establish.

Rest of September, October to 20 November Wagon Lines at Howe Dump

4 October Took part in Broodseinde attack

8 October – 21 November Hannebeke Wood. Positions at Zonnebeke

21/22 November Guns Left Howe Dump, arrived Le Petit Mortier (outside Sailly). WL remained at Howe Dump

22 November Left Le Petit Mortier, arrived Le Romarin

22 November – 21 December Le Romarin. 4th FAB Camped Sailly

21 December – 31 January 1918 Wagon Lines at Le Romarin. Guns In Action “Stinking Farm” near Messines

Photo of 4th Field Artillery Brigade' camouflaged 18 pounders near Ploegsteert, 26 Dec 1917 [AWM E01454]

31 January 1918 Left Le Romarin, arrived Vieux Berquin

3 February Left Vieux Berquin , arrived Le Croix

4 February Left Le Croix, arrived Wauraus (?)

5 February Left Wauraus, arrived Jourry

5 February – 7 March Jourry – billeted

8 March Left Jourry, arrived Wauraus

9 March Left Wauraus, arrived Malt House Farm

10 March Left Malt House Farm, arrived outside Ballieul

12 March Left Ballieul, arrived Le Romarin

12 March – 3 April Le Romarin. 4th F.A.B. in action Messines

Messines road sign [AWM RELAWM10718]

4 April Left Le Romarin, arrived Vieux Berquin. Movement back to The Somme

8 April 2am. Left Vieux Berquin, entrained at Strazeel railway station, arrived St Roch station (outside Amiens), disentrained, by road to Villers Bocage, arrived same day

“The attack on Sept 20th being successful we moved forward to a position in rear of Westhoeke Ridge and remained there until Oct 8th, taking part in the Broodseinde attack on Oct 4th.

We then moved forward to Hannebecke Wood where we remained until Nov 21st. During this time positions were taken up near Zonnebeke, but it was impossible to use them owing to the intense evening fire and we returned to the Hannebeke Wood position. Returning to the Wagon Lines , which had been moved up to Howe Dump, on Nov 21st, we moved from there to Sailly the next day and remained there until Dec 22nd, when the WL was established at Le Rom… [Sally: Messines in margin note] the guns going into action at “Stinking Farm” near Messines where they remained until Jan 31st on which day we moved to Vieux Berquin and from there moved, on Feb 3 to Le Croise, near Staples, stayed there one night, and for the next night at Wouvraus, arriving at Jourry on Feb 5th, were billeted there until March 8th.

Leaving jourry on march 8th and staying that night at Wovraus and the next night at Malt House farm and two days near Balieul, arrived back at Ros… (Messines) on the 12th, the guns again going into action at Stinking Farm where they remained until April 4th, when we moved back to L-Vieux Buquin and entrained at Strazeel on April 8th, detrained the same day at Amiens and went by road to Villers Bocage …”

From John Laffin Guide to Australian Battlefields of the Western front 1916-18. Kangaroo Press and Australian War Memorial, 1992:

Battle of Broodseinde Ridge, Ypres 4 –5 Oct 1917

This was the most important of the Australians’ actions of late 1917 and potentially the most decisive. After the Battle of Polygon Wood the 1st and 2nd Divisions replaced the 4th and 5th in the front line and were joined by the 3rd. The 4 Aust and NZ Divisions were in the centre of a line of 12 divisions. Broodseinde Ridge was the Germans’ main defensive line and from its greater height the German staff viewed most of the Allied salient.

The Australians reached their start positions on the night of October 3 and lay in shell holes under a steady drizzle.

Unknown to the British command, the Germans had planned an attack for 4 October at precisely the same time as the British attack. At 5.20am the German guns opened, to be followed by a trench mortar bombardment. About one Australian in seven was hot. The Australian barrage began at 6 am and the surviving Diggers scrambled up and moved forward. At that moment 30 metres in front of them, infantry of the German 212th Regiment rose in front of them to begin their advance. The Australian Lewis gunners fired first, the enemy broke and few survived the Australian bayonet charge.

The action continued, and the taking of the ridge was one of The AIF’s great successes, despite losses. (p 25-26)

Battle of Passchendaele (Passendale) 9-12 October 1917

NB The entire Third Battle of Ypres is sometimes called the Battle of Passchendaele.

For the AIF the battle began on 9 October when the 2nd Division formed the flank for an attack by the British 66th Division. It was a desperate fight and there were many casualties. The Australians were forced to withdraw that night.

The second phase began on 12 October with the 3rd Division and the NZ Division attacking side by side. One unit carried an Australian flag to be planted in Passchendale when they captured it. After a night of rain and gas-shelling the attack went in after inadequate British shellfire. After much confusion, great loss and great gallantry, the attack came to a halt. About 20 Australians, mostly of the 38th Battalion, actually reached Passchendaele Church. Completely isolated and unsupported they were forced to withdraw to their own lines.

The 4th Division, itself under great pressure and having suffered terribly, pulled back.

The attack had failed. The 3rd Division suffered 3199 casualties in 24 hours. (p 35)

Photo of Australians resting on Menin Road with a cup of cocoa at an Australian Comforts Fund canteen 21 oct 1917. [AWM E01083]
Photo by Frank Hurley of Australians on the way to the front line with the ruins of Ypres in the background 25 Oct 1917 [AWM E04612]
Photo by Frank Hurley of 10th Field Artillery Brigade soldiers on duckboards in Chateau Wood near Passchendaele 29 oct 1917 [AWM E01220]
Photo by Frank Hurley of soldier rescuing a comrade on duckboards, Chateau Wood, 29 Oct 1917. [AWM E04599]
Photo by Frank Hurley of debris lined road through Chateau Wood 5 Nov 1917 [AWM E01233]

From CEW Bean The Australian Imperial Force in France during the main German offensive, 1918. C.E.W. Bean. University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 1937:

16 Dec - 29 Jan and 8 Mar - 3 Apr 2nd Division : Ploegsteert

“Throughout the winter of 1917-18, the back areas at Messines were extremely quiet. The British were expected to have a renewed offensive in spring, and the artillery were ordered to harass the enemy by all means. Also meant to push on with a system of defences. But the attitude of the British command suddenly changed. Instead of themselves training for an offensive, all corps were to prepare for a German offensive in the spring. Order from Haig Dec 14th - construction of a formidable defensive system, and conservation of the troops and training of them for a defensive battle.” (p 36)

“On March 9th and 10th the activity of the German artillery on the Messines front began noticeably to increase, and the impression spread that this activity was connected with the approach of the date for the main German offensive.” (p 48)

Photo of two soldiers in Ploegsteert Wood, in front of a sign reading "Picadilly". 1917 [AWM H02093]

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