Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

100 Years Ago: The Australian Corps Assaults the Outposts of the Hindenburg Line

An Australian Lewis Gun Team in Péronne

After the capture of Mont St. Quentin and Péronne, depleted Australian divisions continued to rotate and the 1st and 4th now took over. Monash agreed that the men of his other divisions, who had been in action since 27 August, "were so tired from want of sleep and physical strain that many of them could be seen by the roadside, fast asleep." By 10 September the Australians were only a few kilometres from the forward outposts of the main enemy line. There the Germans were occupying trenches that had once belonged to the British but had been lost in the enemy advance back in March.

A week later, on 18 September, in the rain, the two divisions were in heavy action once more and advanced beyond the villages of Le Verguier, Villeret, and Hargicourt. In this important action, known as the battle of the outpost line, each division advanced on a two-brigade frontage, fighting across old British trenches, and carrying their lines well forward to finally overlook the main enemy defences.

On the Move Again

The attacking battalions were protected by a good creeping barrage, and once again a lot of smoke shells were fired. This time Monash used twice as many machine guns, drawing the extras from the 3rd and 5th Divisions. "This gave me a total of 256 Vickers Machine Guns on a frontage now reduced to 7,000 yards," he wrote. In the absence of enough tanks he used deception; he had some dummy tanks made up from canvas, hessian, and timber. On the morning of the attack these were dragged to positions where the enemy would see them and believe that they were part of a much stronger assaulting force.

These actions on the Australian front were not isolated successes. The Allies were pressing forward. To the south the Americans, now engaged in big battles, as well as the French, made major advances. The German forces were falling apart, and as the British, Americans, French, and Belgians assaulted their lines a lot of territory was being given up. Still the Hindenburg Line stood as a major and imposing obstacle.

The Australians’ 1st and 4th Divisions contained brigades that had been fighting since the legendary landing at Gallipoli in April 1915. Now, although physically near the end of their tether, and with few riflemen available in their battalions, the two divisions had brought the advance right up to confront the Hindenburg Line. But these divisions were not fit enough for any further fighting and needed to be rested and reinforced before the winter. It was time for them to be relieved and go back to the rear areas. On the right, the 46th Division of the British 9th Corps took over from the 4th Division. Meanwhile some more of the Americans were moving into the Fourth Army’s operational sphere, arriving by 22 September.

Moving Through the Captured Outpost of Hargicourt

For General Monash, the reinforcement crisis had become critical. Less than half the number needed were coming from Australia.  The AIF was still dependent on voluntary enlistments after the prime minister’s proposals in 1916 and 1917 to introduce conscription had been defeated in referendums at home. Already the recruiting standards had been lowered; by 1918 the minimum required height had fallen to just 5 feet, and the age range had been extended to 18–45 years. Those who now joined up were almost exclusively directed toward the infantry, where the casualties had been heaviest. 

Within a week, however, the Australian Corps would be facing its greatest challenge of the war, the capture of the Hindenburg Line.

Source: Amiens to the Hindenburg Line, Australian Department of Veterans Affairs


  1. Yesterday marked the 100 th anniversary of the death of my great uncle Gunner Alfred Jones of the Royal Artillery. He was killed attempting to rescue his commanding officer. He was 35 years of age and my father was named after him when he was born in 1920. There is Lieutenant Ford aged 18 years killed on the same day and buried alongside of him. No doubt that this was probably the officer he attempted to save. ‘Gone but not forgotten’

  2. Fascinating to see tanks becoming mainstream enough that they can be faked.