Honour Monash - A great Australian

 

 
 
The 1918 Monash Diary

 

As the centenary year 2018 of the time when Monash proving to be the most advanced thinker of all senior officers on the Western Front worked for a democratic future.

Month by month as the year unfolds the current month will display, you can also click on the other month buttons below to read what happened. Click again on the same button to hide the detail for that month.











Map of the Hindenburg Defences

When, under the September tab I stated that "the attack on 29 and 30 September succeeded in breaking through the line and taking the tunnel", I was not being inaccurate, I simply did not emphasise the struggle and the number of mainly American lives lost needlessly.

The artillery barrage used a new type of shell, one able to be set-off by the slightest obstacle, even a strand of wire. It enabled wire and other obstacle clearance in a way previously impossible in shells delivered by heavy guns. An almost continuous preparatory bombardment using our heavy artillery and these shells ran for 48 hours before step-off.

The units were lined up, from north to south, assault: 27 (US) Div then 30 (US) Div; reserve: 3 Div then 5 Div. Each division had a 3,500 metre front. The Americans were to penetrate using a set piece attack to a green line, some 3.5 kilometres beyond the canal tunnel. The Australians were then to advance another 4 kilometres to the east, using open warfare tactics overrunning Johncourt, Estrées and Beaurevoir. At this point the last known wired position should have been passed, and the 5 (UK) Cavalry Brigade under Monash's command would be able to carry the exploitation further east to Montbrehain and Brancourt. Support was to be provided by Tanks and Armoured Cars as well.

The taped start line was crossed at 0550 on 29 September. As the day broke there was a mist on the ground.

The green line beyond the canal was supposed to be taken by US troops by 0900, with the Australians to pass through by 1100. There was a problem, the American troops were not responding to horn blasts from overflying aircraft with the flares they had been supplied with. In the mist, there was no way the exact location of forward troops could be established. At 1100, wireless telegraph messages came in with disturbing news; 30 (US) Div reported they were fighting in Bellicourt with Germans attacking from behind; 3 Div reported they were dug in on the western side of the tunnel with Americans held-up in front of them.

One thing Monash had not been advised of was that in addition to the two US Divisions lacking combat experience, many of their junior officers and non-commissioned officers were absent on course. This contributed to the situation that now prevailed.

The Corps Commander's protection party got to move as Monash hurried forward. He found US troops in some cases had no flares, in others they had not been briefed on the significance of the overhead horn blasts. The lack of mopping-up problem encountered with the 27 (US) Div on 27 September happened again across the US front. The US troops were, Monash notes, exceptionally aggressive and brave, being late to the fray, they were anxious for their allied colleagues to accept them. As ordered, they attacked, passing over the German positions, however, as follow-up troops had not been tasked to deal with enemy concealed in entrenchments, they found themselves in the open, counter attacked by the enemy to their front, and attacked by the enemy from behind. Isolated, they were fighting hard; a situation exacerbated by leaders absent on course; many found themselves in isolated groups without leaders.

The 27 (US) Div had a bad start, many of the tanks they had been allocated were knocked out by land mines planted when the 5 (UK) Army had occupied the area prior to the German Operation Michael and were concerned attacks would be led by German Tanks. Regardless they stayed with the barrage, only to be isolated; 1,200 surrendered. The 30 (US) Div initially stayed with the barrage, however, before their objective was reached, they faltered, turning to stand before the enemy now attacking their rear.

Monash was forward, with his presence, he emphasised the initiative of commanders in place. The Australians surged forward across the front, mopping- up the Germans in rear of the Americans, then integrating US stragglers into their ranks. By nightfall the two Australian Divisions, with the remnants of the American Corps in their ranks held a 9 kilometre front east of Bellicourt. That night it rained heavily.

The Battle continued on 30 September, 3 Div toward Bony village, 5 Div toward Joncourt. It was now a private soldier's battle. There was no ability to orchestrate the mechanical aids that would minimise casualties. Breaking of the enemy morale was the only saving grace.

On 1 October things moved quickly, by 1000 5 Div reported the capture of Joncourt. By 1200 Bony was in Australian hands. Units were mixed-up, but continued to fight under the direction of local commanders all of whom were trusted. At the height of the fighting the final 3 Div reserve was committed, yet still General Gellibrand was able to reconstitute one from whatever was available. By nightfall the mission was complete with all isolated pockets of US troops and wounded gathered in.

="Joncourt Joncourt 2017

In early 1918, the British Army faced with reduced recruiting (or a modern version of press-ganging as conscription was in full swing in the UK) decided to reduce the number of battalions in a brigade from four to three. Birdwood had in May 1918 ordered the reduction of 9, 12 and 13 Bdes by a battalion each. This had not been well received by commanders and their troops. Monash, recognising the negative effect on morale continuing the process would have on the Army during the War's last battles managed to prevaricate almost to the point of insubordination. In early October the axe fell. And; if that was not enough Monash received instructions to send 6,000 men who had served continuously since 1914 on furlough to Australia. On 19 September; just before the battle Monash received an ultimatum to disband eight battalions. General Rawlinson accepted a fourteen day deferral recommended by Monash, the Australian Army was able to fight on; the bureaucrats smarted.

By nightfall on 2 October, the front line had been taken over by a rested 2 Div with the US divs in reserve. 3 and 5 Div seriously depleted by the hard fighting to take the Main Hindenburg Line, were relieved.

The attack on the final Beaurevior Line commenced at 0650 on 3 October. 5 was the right forward brigade, 7 on the left (north), 6 Bde in reserve; 5 (UK) Tank Bde, battalion strength of MKVs, and a company strength of Whippets were also under command 2 Div. A field Artillery barrage started the battle. There was much heavy fighting, many centres of resistance only surrendering once enveloped. Most of the heavy tanks were knocked out by enemy artillery, and the Whippets had difficulty negotiating trenches. By 1200 the Beaurevior Line had been taken. 2 Div had taken 1,000 prisoners and many guns, a great job by three grossly understrength brigades.

A Mk 5 Heavy Tank A Whippet Medium Tank

As was customary, 2 Div held the line in an aggressive fashion. Raids and a bit of "peaceful penetration" on 4 October yielded a further 800 prisoners.

The front was to be handed over to the US 2 Corps whose 27 and 30 Divisions had been refreshed and reinforced over the past few days. In order for 30 (US) Div to move into position and take over from 2 Div, General Rawlinson asked for an operation to destabilise the enemy on the Australian Corps front, now 4 kilometres wide. Monash chose the high ground to the east of the village of Montbrehain. For this final effort a company of Tanks was allocated to 2 Div. H hour was 0605 on 5 October. Montbrehain village was found to be full of machine guns. 6 Bde leading dashed through the town, destroying post after post. As the heights beyond were reached, a counter-attack developed, 400 metres of ground was ceded until the enemy was driven back by a battalion from 5 Bde. By nightfall our line was secure, and 600 prisoners had been taken from nine different German Regiments. The Australian Corps by advancing fully 10 kilometres beyond the Main Hindenburg line had ostensibly defeated the enemy.

2 (US) Corps HQ Montbrehain 1918 Town Hall Montbrehain 2016
 Montbrehain from the final objective 2017 

On 5 October Prince Max of Baden, representing the German Government took the first steps to request an Armistice.

Late on 5 October, 2 Div was relieved and headed out of the line on a fleet of busses. General Monash handed over the front to General Read of the 2 (US) Corps.

The Australian Corps was to rest pending employment early in November.

In a field on the hill just east of Montbrehain, there is a small cemetery. The grave of Private Joseph Henry Taylor, a Pioneer is the closest WW1 Australian grave to Germany.

IMontbrehain Cemetery Montbrehain Cemetery
Montbrehain Cemetery Montbrehain Cemetery

George Ingram Lieutenant George Mawby Ingram was awarded the last Victoria Cross won by an Australian in Wordl War 1. In the advance on Montbrehain his battalion suffered heavy casualties. Without hesitation Ingram, at the head of his platoon, rushed a post, captured nine machine-guns and killed forty-two Germans who had shown stubborn resistance. Later, after his company had suffered severe casualties and many officers had fallen, he took control of the situation once again, rallied his men under intense fire, and led them forward. He rushed another fortification and overcame serious resistance. Twice more that day he displayed great courage and leadership in the capture of enemy posts and the taking of sixty-two prisoners.

John Howells 2018





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