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The unsuccessful German spring offensives of 1918

The women who showed innovation, efficiency and courage

Stopping a German counter-attack at First Villers-Bretonneux

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The 9th Brigade stemmed a German counter-attack at First Villers-Bretonneux.

There was more to Australia’s greatest general than success on the battlefield.



Events in motion by 1918 moved the war to a faster end than expected.




Eight months before the Armistice of November 1918, Germany struck a crucial deal with Russia. BY DAVID SUTTON


Ludendorff ’s brilliant tactics were not enough in the German spring offensives of 1918. BY STEVEN R. WELCH





Innovation, efficiency and courage underpinned the role of these women.

How popular fear of invasion had a significant effect on British preparations for war before 1914.




Dr Brendan Nelson AO 03 MAIL CALL


Mementos from 1918


The Coo-ees, the fi rst recruiting march 08 BRIEFING

Australia’s largest single war trophy


Poetry shows that Australians joined the fight in South Africa in support of the British Empire. BY THOMAS ROGERS


The fi rst enemy attack on Fire Support Base Coral in May 1968 could have ended in disaster. BY ASHLEY EKINS

OUR NEXT ISSUE Issue 83 (July 2018): jungle warfare





very nation has its story. This is our story. Peter Burness coined this phrase, having spent his entire life immersed in the stories of those Australians who gave their all for us during the First World War. It is our story, the story of Australia. The Memorial’s founder and philosophical touchstone, Charles Bean, was witness to it all – from the Gallipoli landing to Mont St Quentin, returning to Fromelles on the day of the Armistice to reflect on all he had seen and felt. As we commemorate the year of victory under the stunning leadership of General Sir John Monash, Bean’s summation of it all speaks to the legacy given our generation: “What these men did, nothing can alter now. The good and the bad, the greatness and the smallness of their story … It rises, as it always will rise, above the mists of ages, a monument to greathearted men; and for their nation, a possession forever.” The great 19th century English philosopher John Stuart Mill concluded two things were essential for a nation to exist. The first was that people would want to be governed as a single nation. And so over a generation through the ABOUT WARTIME The opinions expressed in Wartime are those of individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian War Memorial or Hardie Grant Media. It is not the intention of the publisher to sensationalise human tragedy that is the result


late 19th century our forebears finally resolved we would be a nation. The Commonwealth of Australia was born in 1901. In 1903 we gazetted our flag. Mill’s essential second precondition for a nation to exist and be sustained, was what he described as a “common fellow feeling”. People should have a common feeling deeply rooted in language, literature and history. We are Australians not only or so much because we have a constitution and the machinery of a democracy given us by the British. We are Australians defined by our values and our beliefs, the way we relate to one another and see our place in the world. We are shaped most by our heroes and villains; our triumphs and failures; the way as a people we have faced adversity and how we will respond to the inevitable adversities that are coming. It was not until the cataclysm that unfolded in 1914 and all that would follow, both in Australia and overseas, that we would emerge with our “story”. From overwhelming support for the war initially, a series of largely catastrophic battles ensued, the war of attrition on the Western Front, the daring of the light horse in the Middle East and the genius of Monash in 1918. Australia was never more divided than during and emerging from the war – victorious but inconsolably mourning 62,000 dead. We were Australians. Reflecting this was Billy Hughes’ aggression to Woodrow Wilson at Versailles. The Australian flag, which had been flown only on Commonwealth buildings before the war, was now everywhere. We emerged with a greater belief in ourselves, remaining true to our young democracy, resisting forces that would tear it apart. Although difficult to see at the time, we were given a deeper understanding of what it means to be an Australian: our “possession forever”. of war, nor to promote militaristic or chauvinistic sentiment, but to offer truthful, readable and entertaining stories that reflect the Australian experience of war. © All material appearing in Wartime is copyright. Reproduction in whole or part must be approved

Supervising Editor Ashley Ekins Editor Andrew McDonald Manager Michael Kelly Photograph Research Lachlan Grant, Michael Kelly, Thomas Rogers, David Sutton and the AWM Multimedia Unit. Image sales (02) 6243 4542 Memorial Editorial Staff Lachlan Grant, Karl James, Michael Kelly, Aaron Pegram Editorial Contributions The Editor, Wartime Australian War Memorial GPO Box 345, Canberra ACT 2601 E: General Enquiries Australian War Memorial T: (02) 6243 4211

Wartime is published for the Australian War Memorial by Hardie Grant Media Level 7, 45 Jones Street, Ultimo, NSW 2007 T: (02) 9857 3700 W: Acting General Manager Alison Palfrey Account Executive Tiff any Eastland Managing Editor Sophie Hull Art Director Dan Morley Designers Geraldine Lanzarone, Kate Timms Ad Manager Francesca MacKay Production Alana Young Print PMP Print Subscriptions Magshop 136 116

Cover image: German soldiers, Lys area, April 1918. AWM H13247

by the publisher. Every effort has been made to determine and contact holders of copyright for materials used in Wartime. The Memorial welcomes advice concerning omission. Indigenous readers are advised that this magazine contains stories and images of deceased people.





The Editor, Wartime Australian War Memorial GPO Box 345 Canberra ACT 2601 E:

Sappers on Gallipoli I have heard that the first Australian soldiers to hit the beaches on Gallipoli were Sappers from 1 Field Company, Australian Engineers, sent with grappling hooks and ropes to clear barbed wire and other obstacles so the Infantry could have a clear passage to take the beaches. I have also been told that the first soldier killed, lying on the beach as shown in many pictures, was a Sapper. Is that true? IAN JOHNSTON, WA

Michael Kelly: Sapper 191 Fred Reynolds 1FCE is pictured dead at the water’s edge, but he was not the first to die as was once thought. There were no wire entanglements or “Rommel spikes” on Gallipoli. The first Australians ashore were men from the 9th Battalion.

Australian grave in England I am from Cannock, in England. For the past 25 years I have tended an Australian war grave, for Warrant Officer John Benjamin Burrows, serial number 400317, of 297 Squadron, RAF. I have been trying to contact any relatives of his, just to inform them that John has not been forgotten.

Snapshot from the past Looking into my family history, on your website I came across this photo of people evacuated from Lae in July 1942. The young girl frowning (centre) is my mother Betty (recently passed away), with her younger sister Patricia, older sister Eileen and their mother Chin-Shee carrying baby brother Jimmy. Their father stayed on in Lae, working for the Australian Army, and came to Australia six months later. Five more siblings were born in Sydney. They are doing well, although their mother died in 1993, aged 83. Thank you for this snapshot from the past.



Image: AWM P05730.457

Editor: WO Burrows died in combat on 5 April 1943, aged 21. He was the son of Alexander and Ada Frances Burrows of Brighton, Victoria, and was married to Marjorie Ruth Burrows of Salisbury. We will gladly send Mr Hartshorne any information provided by our readers.

Breech block in NZ The picture of the First World War German MG 08/15 MG breech block in Wartime Issue 80 reminds me of a gentleman I met in Queenstown, NZ, in the 1960s. He was working in his garage on an MG 08 breech block. He’d served in France during the first war and (like many of his comrades) carried one of these breech blocks in his pack. They knew that surrendering Germans would pull out the block (easy to do, with its interrupted thread) and throw it away. By carrying their own spare block, the Kiwis could quickly get the machinegun back into operation to use against its former owners. I had an MG 08 and an 08/15 without blocks, and he kindly gave me his.

Before coming to Australia, I donated both MGs to the NZ Army Museum. WAYNE SALT



The most comprehensive collection of Australian military history is available on the Australian War Memorial’s website: It contains 200,000 photographs, 102,800 names of Australia’s war dead, details of 8,000 private records, items available at the Memorial shop and much more.




By 1918, some soldiers had been away from their friends and families in Australia for almost four years. A few months before the end of the war, these first soldiers were granted six months’ special “Anzac leave”. They were issued these rosettes to wear on their uniforms so that people at home would know they were not shirking their duty. REL41499


Among the weapons and equipment captured from the Germans during the August offensives of 1918 was a box of unissued Iron Crosses at the 51st German Corps Headquarters near Harbonnières. Lieutenant General John Monash noted that some Australian soldiers returned from the battlefield wearing them all over their uniforms, including on their “most undignified” places. RELAWM15126.001; RELAWM15126.002

As early as July 1918, plans were made to supply Red Cross comfort parcels at Christmas to the wounded and sick overseas. By December the war was over, but thousands of Australians did not see home again until 1919 or even 1920. Christmas boxes were distributed to more than 27,000 men in France and in hospitals in the United Kingdom. REL41495

This German man-trap was discovered by members of the 6th Battalion after they captured Herleville Wood on 23 August 1918. Thought to have been adapted from a boar trap, this could do considerable damage to a man’s leg. RELAWM00937

This sign illustrates the fate of many villages in France and Belgium: by the end of 1918, Villers-Carbonnel had been destroyed. It was occupied by the Germans from 1914 until they voluntarily retreated to the Hindenburg Line in 1917. During this time the French heavily shelled the village to disrupt German supply lines. By 1917 it was little more than a ruin. In March 1918 it was recaptured by the Germans, but was regained by the allies in August 1918. RELAWM00839


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Clockwise from left: Cessnock: Captain Eade and Second Lieutenant Colyer. P11923.006.001 Kurri Kurri. P11923.008.001 En route. P11923.010.001


The first recruiting march, the Coo-ees, took place in 1915 and set out from Gilgandra, NSW. It was organised to encourage men to join a column of recruits as they marched from place to place. One of the last recruiting marches was the March to Freedom, led by Captain Alfred Charles Eade, the commander of the Militia’s Lithgow Camp, who had also recruited for the Coo-ees. The 1918 march started on the New England Tableland, then across the Great Dividing Range and through the Hunter Valley, arriving in Cessnock on 6 June 1918. The initial plan had been to finish in Newcastle, but the men were sent on to Sydney (to the chagrin of the Newcastle officials, who were anticipating a surge of enlistments), and 300 men arrived there on 10 June. Stanley Beer accompanied the men as official photographer, and these images are among a dozen in a small album. He took more than

200 photographs over the four weeks of the march: the men en route and resting, and the locals of various towns greeting and supporting them as they progressed towards Sydney. These images show the patriotism of the communities and their involvement in supporting the war effort. Three men mentioned in the album all enlisted, including Stanley Beer. Perhaps caught up in the fervour of the march, he signed up on 8 June 1918, but his application was rejected – ironically, for defective vision. Captain Eade and 2nd Lieutenant Conrad Henry Cox Colyer both had brief service in France in 1918–19, and both fell ill and were repatriated. But they had had long Militia careers before their Australian Imperial Force service. The album is an insight into their activities in recruitment and training for the First World War. JOANNE SMEDLEY, Curator, Photographs, Film and Sound

Left: Unidentified soldiers with one of the shell cases of the gun. The soldier standing in the shell case is holding a single stick of cordite from the charge. AWM E03103

BRIEFING Below: Elevation



drawing of the Chuignes gun from Bulletin de Renseignements de L’artillerie, October 1918.

Running in a southerly direction from the Somme River is a series of gentle tributary valleys, scattered with small forests and villages. On Friday 23 August 1918, one of these valleys, near the town of Chuignes, was densely held by German troops and artillery, and represented a major obstacle to the advance of the allied armies as they pushed eastwards. Attacking at dawn, the First Division AIF, supported by the British 32nd Division, by day’s end had possession of the valley, as well as 21 captured artillery pieces and 3,100 prisoners. In Arcy Wood on the eastern side of the valley, troops of the 3rd Battalion AIF came across a destroyed artillery piece, a 38-cm Schnellade Kanone L/45 (quick-loading cannon). Built by the armaments firm Krupp for the Greek cruiser Basileos Georgios, it had been requisitioned by the Germans at the start of the war. With a calibre of 38 cm, a barrel length of 17 metres, and a maximum range of 46 kilometres, it was far larger than any enemy gun the Australian soldiers had yet encountered, and quickly became an object of soldierly fascination and visitation. The Germans had spent considerable effort emplacing the weapon, as it required the construction of a double railway track to the site to transport, and a 40-tonne crane to help erect it. The barrel was mounted on a steel carriage that rotated at its forward end in a massive steel

Left: Lieutenant Cecil Clark, MM, MC, 3rd Battalion, holds a six-inch ruler to the muzzle of the gun. AWM E02777 Below: Plates taken from the gun, relating to the lifting of a floor piece. AWM RELAWM12297

pivot. The rear of the carriage moved on a 17-metre diameter toothed arc, allowing different targets to be acquired. The entire assembly was built onto a 17-metre diameter concrete foundation weighing 600 tonnes. Burrowed into the hillside near the gun were tunnels accommodating shells, cartridges and the electrical operating machinery that trained and elevated the gun. First brought into action on 2 June 1918, the gun had fired 385 rounds by 9 August. Most of these were directed at the city of Amiens, 29 kilometres distant. On 9 August, fearing the site was to be over-run, the Germans decided to destroy the gun, lest it fall into allied hands. When captured by Australian soldiers, they found that the barrel had been tamped with soil and an explosive charge had burst the chamber and shattered much of the carriage. General Monash considered it to have been the largest single trophy won by any commander during the war, considerably larger than the 28-cm railway gun captured at Harbonnières the same month; he regretted that it would be too expensive to transport it to Australia. While the gun rested in Arcy Wood for many years as “the Australian War Memorial”, a number of small parts of the gun were nonetheless brought home and are now preserved in the Australian War Memorial’s collection, together with photographs, postcards and watercolours. • SHANE CASEY Senior Curator, Military Heraldry & Technology

Above: Cleaning rod from the gun. AWM RELAWM00956

Right: Sir Arthur Rickard, a member of the Australian delegation to the League of Nations General Assembly, visiting the gun in 1926. AWM P03757_001


S AV I N G AMIENS The 9th Brigade stemmed a German counter-attack at First Villers-Bretonneux. BY PETER BURNESS




he four battalions of the 9th Australian Infantry Brigade from New South Wales (the 33rd, 34th, 35th, 36th) found themselves in an unusual situation in the first days of April 1918. A fortnight earlier the brigade had been with its parent division, the 3rd Australian Division under Major General Sir John Monash, in the Flanders region, 100 kilometres to the north, where it had spent its time and fought all its battles since arriving in France in late 1916. Now it was on the Somme, and under command of British divisions (first the 61st, then the 18th), with British troops on each side, outside the large village of VillersBretonneux. Added to this, in the past the brigade had been attacking; now it was defending.

Born in 1916, the 9th Brigade was drawn from volunteers in the city and the bush: in particular, it had close ties to Newcastle and the Hunter district as well as the further northern regions of the state, including Armidale. There were also quite a few men who had joined up in the “snowball” recruiting marches that were popular at that time [see page 6]. Brigadier General Alexander Jobson was the first to be placed in command. He was a 41-year-old city accountant who had before the war commanded a militia infantry regiment. Later into action than the other four divisions, the 3rd Division did not face a major battle until the successful battle of Messines in Belgium on 7 June 1917. This had been a preliminary to the great third battle of Ypres, more commonly

Left: A house in Villers– Bretonneux that served as Lieutenant Colonel Henry Goddard’s headquarters during the battle of 4 April 1918. AWM E02457

Above: Lieutenant Colonel Leslie Morshead, commanding officer of the 33rd Battalion, the day after the battle at Villers– Bretonneux. AWM E02390

known as the battle of Passchendaele. Successful at first, this costly offensive was doomed to die in the mud and rain of October that year. Brigadier General Charles Rosenthal, a large-framed and battle-experienced former officer of the artillery, took the 9th Brigade through the Passchendaele fighting. He had replaced Jobson, who had showed signs of exhaustion and shock after Messines. Rosenthal was destined to lead the 2nd Australian Division before the end of the war; for now, command of the 9th Brigade extended his experience while injecting a fresh vigour into the brigade. Nevertheless, at Passchendaele it suffered badly, losing 1,300 men and 60 officers and, in impossible conditions, it had been forced into an inglorious retreat. At the beginning of 1918, three of the brigade’s commanding officers had served on Gallipoli. The exception was the 34th, commanded by LieutenantColonel Ernest Martin, whose tenure dated back to the previous April. The youngest of the other three commanding officers was Lieutenant Colonel Leslie Morshead of the 33rd, who was 28. A former school teacher, he was a dapper and opinionated young man. Enthusiastic, brave, ambitious and competent, he would mature into one of Australia’s leading Second World War generals and famously command the Rats of Tobruk. The 36th Battalion was under Lieutenant Colonel John Milne, a 46-year-old no-nonsense soldier who had taken over after the previous CO was killed in action. Scottish-born Milne had landed with 9th Battalion, a first wave unit, at Anzac in 1915; he fought on until wounds and illness forced him to be invalided to Australia. Once recovered, he returned to the front to command the 36th on the Western Front. More senior than the other battalion commanders was English-born Henry Goddard of the 35th, who had previously led the 17th Battalion. He was quiet, gentlemanly and serious. Although an amateur soldier in the militia before the war, he was a close observer and a very keen student of military matters. He was 20 years older than Morshead. The German offensive launched on 21 March 1918 had brought the Australians back to the Somme, although it was the first time for the 3rd Division. The


Germans had advanced rapidly from their Hindenburg Line. Suddenly all available British and French troops were being rushed to the region to fill gaps in front of the endangered city of Amiens. The Australians were in Flanders when they received orders to head south, and Monash’s battalions were among the first to get there. Arriving close to the old 1916 battlefields, the Australians spread out north of the Somme River. The 9th Brigade reached the village of Heilly on 27 March. But the whole situation was becoming desperate by the hour and Monash had to detach the brigade, his reserve, on the 29th and place it at the disposal of the British south of the river in the vicinity of Villers-Bretonneux. It was a desperate time. The 9th Brigade soon got a stiff taste of the action. No sooner had the brigade arrived than Rosenthal had to respond to a probing enemy breakthrough to the south-east of the town on the 30th. He ordered Morshead’s 33rd Battalion

to attack that afternoon alongside British cavalry, with the 34th Battalion in support. It was a successful small action but the losses suffered quickly reduced the capacity of the 33rd, which was relieved the following morning. Rosenthal had been ordered to establish his headquarters at Gentelles, some distance behind VillersBretonneux and well behind the ragged front line that was forming. It seemed there was more expectation of a further withdrawal than of a successful defence. Meanwhile the 35th Battalion under Goddard was pushed forward to hold a line to the east of Villers-Bretonneux, a thinly stretched series of posts in the muddy fields without cover or barbed wire. In the following days they dug in as best they could in dull, wet and rainy conditions while the enemy was building up for an attack. Goddard had a rough support line dug more than one kilometre behind this front. On 2 April Rosenthal was ordered to pass control of the forward area

Above: Lieutenant Colonel Henry Goddard, Commanding Officer of the 35th Battalion. AWM E02284

Right: Lieutenant Colonel Goddard, centre, outside the 9th Brigade Headquarters dugouts. AWM E02190

Below: The position at the end of the day 4 April 1918.

Le Hamel 3 km

To Amiens

Villers-Bretonneux Bois l’Abbe

228 DIV

35 Bn Bois d’Aquenne

36 Bn

7th Queens

4 Gd DIV

Cachy Gentelles 2 km 77 R DIV British trenches German trenches British counter attack at 5 pm German front after the battle

Lancer Wood 1000 yards 500 metres



over to Goddard who, in turn, gave his battalion over to Major Henry Carr and ordered some companies of the battered 33rd to man the support line, which was extended to join the British on the north of the main road. Goddard looked at the situation with concern. The troops were lying out in the thick gluey mud while the wet and cold cast a gloom over everyone. He saw that the British troops on the flanks were exhausted and their morale was low. “Perhaps the worst feature was the apparent conclusion that the retreat was to continue,” he later wrote. For the Germans facing VillersBretonneux, the city of Amiens was almost within sight. The allies knew that the enemy would soon come on again. Finally, on 3 April, Major Carr sensed that an attack was pending and moved among his forward companies warning them to be ready at any

moment. The next morning at 5.30 the Germans opened up with heavy artillery shelling that lasted more than an hour, much of it falling on the town and doing great destruction. Then the fire began to fall on the forward troops. Suddenly the enemy were seen coming forward in close order through the drizzling rain. Goddard later wrote: “We were ready for them and every rifle, Lewis gun and machine gun came into action instantly. We had no wire or defences but the German troops ... withered under our fire. Three times they came on and on each we held them.” For the moment the Germans were stopped, but then the fighting shifted to the left, where Le Hamel fell. For a while two companies of the 33rd Battalion, with British cavalry and support fire from distant Australian field artillery across the river, held on. But soon troops were forced to withdraw and

“Perhaps the worst feature was the apparent conclusion that the retreat was to continue.”

this opened up the 35th Battalion’s flank. Fire coming from the rear and attacks on the flank were making the battalion’s position untenable. The left of the battalion’s line was bent back. Rosenthal, who was too far in the rear to be directly involved, got reports of the unfolding situation. The 34th and 36th Battalions at Bois l’Abbé were sent up to the edge of the town. By 1 pm the 36th was in position for a counter-attack and Milne stood beside Goddard at his headquarters waiting for his orders. At 2.30 the Germans attacked on the right and regained ground that they had had to give up in their attack there a few days earlier. Worse followed. Goddard recalled: “The enemy struck with great force straight for Cachy and the Bois l’Abbé to envelop VillersBretonneux from that flank. By 4.30 pm the position was desperate. The whole of my southern flank and the entrance to Villers-Bretonneux was open to the enemy right back to the guns.” Some of the Australians, including the southern part of the 35th Battalion, had to shift back to form a defensive flank. Elsewhere this was interpreted as a withdrawal. British and Australians began to withdraw. “The right of the 33rd and 35th simply got up and retired,” wrote Charles Bean, later the


official historian. Troops behind VillersBretonneux encountered loose parties of disheartened men of different units withdrawing, saying that the Germans were advancing in their thousands and there was no way of stopping them. It all seemed hopeless. Goddard felt he needed the 34th Battalion to join the fighting. But no sooner was the order given than Carr from the 35th burst into his headquarters, declaring that the line in front had collapsed and the Germans were virtually outside the door. Goddard responded promptly. He threw in the battalion’s reserve company under Captain Raleigh Sayers and turned to Milne of the 36th, telling him: “Colonel, you must counter-attack at once.” Milne, the old soldier, had been waiting for this moment. After a quick look at the map, he saluted and rushed off to give his orders. The men had been expecting the call and with no thoughts of retiring were ready with bayonets fixed. It was vital that the enemy not be allowed through the widening gap. Milne ordered an attack with his whole battalion, three companies in line with D Company in reserve, towards Monument Wood. “Go till you’re stopped,” he told the men. The battalion moved off


“We were ready for them and every rifle, Lewis gun and machine gun came into action instantly. We had no wire or defences but the German troops ... withered under our fire.”

Below: The 36th Battalion near the northern Belgian border in January 1918. The battalion was rushed to the Somme in March and on 4 April made a heroic counter-attack at Villers-Bretonneux. AWM E01475 Right: A painted sketch by Louis McCubbin, showing the railway line over which the Germans advanced. AWM ART11426_012

quickly at about 5.15 pm, gathering some British troops along the way. Such was the purposefulness of their advance that on first sighting the Germans wavered and some stopped. Milne’s diggers shook out into one extended line and went into intense fire. Officers and men began to drop, struck down by the enemy’s machine-gun and rifle fire, but the advance barely faltered. Goddard watched with admiration, and later wrote: “The attack ... was one of the most inspiring sights imaginable.

1918: VILLERS–BRETONNEUX The men moved forward as if on parade. There was no withstanding them and [they] joined hands with Sayers at the Railway embankment about 600–800 yards in front of the town.” This counter-attack was a shock to the enemy, who eventually shifted back. Elsewhere the line was firming, with the remnants of the 33rd Battalion holding on in front of VillersBretonneux while the 34th had moved up to stiffen the positions. The situation was further secured with the arrival of British reinforcements. Although fighting continued into the evening, the successful counterattack had saved the day. The British cavalry followed up with great work. Rosenthal arrived and, although it was dark, he looked over the ground. He went to Goddard’s headquarters in the town and held a quick conference. Resuming command, he had the 34th Battalion push the line further forward to reinforce Milne’s position where a further enemy attack was expected during the night. To the relief of all, it did not come. The early morning of 5 April was tense, with heavy movement observed along the enemy’s front. But it seemed that they were digging in rather than preparing for a fresh onslaught. The Australians here were not to know that fighting raged that day several kilometres away at Hébuterne and Dernancourt. Locally, there was a heavy exchange of fire and sniping but nothing more. Finally, the brigade was relieved by British troops that night. For the moment Amiens seemed safe. The Germans’ attack had delivered them more ground, but they had not taken Villers-Bretonneux. The Australians still held the main tactical features, including the town and nearby Hill 104 which the recently arrived 15th Brigade was defending. The 9th Brigade had lost 30 officers and 635 men from a strength of little more than 2,000. Rosenthal was quick to praise the work of his brigade and of the British cavalry and infantry that had been alongside. He wrote in his report of the action: “All four battalions and [9th] machine gun company acted splendidly. The counter attack of the 36th Battalion was a particularly praiseworthy action being pushed home at an opportune moment with the greatest rapidity and dash against an enemy who was in great strength. The stubborn resistance which the 35th

Battalion opposed to the enemy’s initial onslaught in overwhelming numbers is also worthy of the greatest praise.” At Villers-Bretonneux Colonel Goddard had played an important hand in taking control of the situation and ordering the counter-blow. There had been no time for reconnaissance or planning. It was a fluid and dangerous situation requiring a bold and decisive reaction. The 36th Battalion’s counterattack had been vital in bringing the German advance to a halt, and Milne had led it with bravery and determination. Following the battle, the brigade remained for a short while around the battered village. Then it shifted to rejoin its division. For the remainder of the year it fought with the rest of the Australian Corps right up to the breaking of the Hindenburg Line. In earlier times, the brigade had had an uneven history and there were some, not knowing the circumstances, who felt it had not performed well at Passchendaele. In that battle the Germans had inflicted a heavy blow. Now the scores were even and the brigade had proven itself. Goddard was given command of the brigade when Rosenthal was later promoted to command a division. Victory in war brings tragedy, just as defeat does. The story of 4 April did not end happily for the gallant 36th Battalion. A week later, on the 12th, Lieutenant Colonel John Milne was killed by a shell that hit his headquarters. Furthermore, immediately after the fighting it became necessary to reduce

the number of battalions in the corps and three (one each from the ‘youngest’ divisions – the 3rd, 4th and 5th) were disbanded during April. In the 3rd Division the axe fell on the depleted 36th Battalion, which went out of existence. This battalion, born in the days of AIF expansion and which had done so well at a critical moment at Villers-Bretonneux, disappeared because AIF recruitment could not keep pace with the losses. Eventually eight more battalions were disbanded in October 1918. The Australian 9th Brigade had played an important part in the defence of Amiens and the possible splitting of the allied armies. Immediately afterwards British troops again held the front line at Villers-Bretonneux. However there were few who did not expect that the Germans might attack again. They did. In the second battle of Villers-Bretonneux, Australians of the 13th and 15th Brigades, on 24–25 April, threw back German attacks. After this loss, they did not try again. •



Peter Burness AM is a former senior historian, and the Lambert Gallipoli Fellow, at the Memorial. He is a Fellow of the Australian War Memorial.


THE INNER MONASH There was more to Australia’s greatest general than success on the battlefield. BY PETER PEDERSEN


xcept for sp or tsmen or bushrangers, few Australians have achieved legendary standing in their own country. Sic transit gloria mundi (thus passes the glory of the world), a Latin phrase that encapsulates the ephemeral nature of fame, usually applies to prominent Australians once they have exited the national stage. John Monash has fared better than most. Before the First World War, he was a leading engineer and citizen soldier. During the war, he held senior command in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). After the war, he planned and oversaw the AIF’s return home and was responsible for the development of Victoria’s power scheme. A Canberra suburb, a Melbourne university, a ship and many buildings have been named after him. Recent hagiographies have credited him with winning the war and shaping Australia. Monash’s name may not be instantly recognisable like Don Bradman’s or Ned Kelly’s, but he has hardly been forgotten. Monash’s fame rests mainly on his achievements as commander of the Australian Corps during the advance to victory in 1918. As he had previously led the 4th Brigade on Gallipoli and the 3rd Division in France, his ideas on fighting were fully developed. They


harnessed every technological resource – artillery, tanks, aircraft – to relieve the infantry as much as possible, as he put it, of “the obligation to fight its way forward”. Using this approach in his first operation as corps commander, the attack at Le Hamel in July 1918, Monash took the concept of the allarms battle to a new level in the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). It was a great success and became the model for the bigger British offensives that followed. At Mont St Quentin in September, Monash excelled in one of the Western Front’s rare manoeuvre battles. He then drafted the plan for the Fourth Army’s attack on the Hindenburg Line, in which his corps had a leading role. Monash is the only Australian general with an international reputation. The eminence he attained led the Australian Official Historian, Charles Bean, and others to work out the sort of man he was. This process illuminated Monash’s personal strengths and weaknesses. The war may have brought them into relief, but he was still essentially the man that he had always been. Starting well before the war, Monash prepared a daily agenda, on which he crossed off each completed task with horizontal and vertical lines and linked the vertical lines to make a continuous

line. Gaps remaining signified outstanding tasks and they headed the next day’s agenda. A few minutes were allowed here and there in case a task went longer than planned, and for relaxation. Before going on leave during the war, Monash would draw up a list of what he intended to take. Once packed, items were deleted from the list – again with horizontal and vertical lines. When all the vertical lines were connected, he knew that he had packed everything. An inveterate collector, he had amassed a vast collection of photographs, souvenirs and personal papers by the end of his life. Whenever possible, he spent his Sundays cataloguing them so that he could always lay his hands on whatever item came to mind. Meticulousness also characterised Monash’s operational planning. “Every detail had been thought of,” wrote Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, the BEF’s Commander-in-Chief, after Monash’s briefing for the 3rd Division’s first big attack, on the Messines ridge, in June 1917. Thirty-six instructions set the details out. “You never saw such a document,” recalled Major General Charles Harington, the Second Army’s Chief of Staff. Monash’s agenda for the final conference before the Le Hamel attack listed 133 items, from the


John Longstaff, Lieutenant General Sir John Monash (1919, oil on canvas, 120 x 92 cm). AWM ART02986


Left: King George V knighting Lieutenant General Sir John Monash outside the Australian Corps Headquarters at Bertangles, France, 12 August 1918. AWM E02964

arrangements for spare Lewis guns and water supply, to the equipment of the assaulting troops. Haig was again greatly impressed, calling Monash “a most thorough and capable commander who ... leaves nothing to chance.” His words had a familiar ring. Monash’s orders as commander of the North Melbourne Battery between 1896 and 1908 were “models of conciseness and at the same time completeness”, a fellow militia officer said. “Nothing was overlooked.” Occasions such as conferences demonstrated Monash’s articulateness. As an expert witness in legal engineering cases before the war, his penetrating lucidity was always apparent. Failing to retain him was regarded in some legal quarters as tantamount to negligence. Major General Sir Herbert Cox, Monash’s divisional commander in Egypt after Gallipoli, never missed an opportunity to attend Monash’s brigade briefings “simply for the educational value and pleasure of hearing him speak”. Even Bean, whose relations with Monash were uneasy, admitted that listening to him was an absorbing experience. In 1919 Monash punched out


a memoir, The Australian victories in France in 1918, in one month. The handwritten draft needed little amendment before publication, further proof that Monash was a clear thinker who could effortlessly communicate his thoughts. Haig, who could not express himself coherently, and the 1st Australian Division’s commander at the start of the war, Major General William Bridges, whose conversational trademark was a grunt, contrasted starkly with him. Whereas Major General Sir James McCay, his pre-war school chum and militia contemporary, made imbeciles feel like imbeciles, Monash made them feel like geniuses. Unlike Bridges, he never spoke down to people and had a gift for putting them at ease. “Sit down and be comfortable – would you like a cigarette?” Monash told Lieutenant Harold Lilya, a well-known fighting officer from the 3rd Division, before telling him what he wanted. Lilya remembered his charm and informality 60 years later. Unlike Lieutenant General Sir William Birdwood, his predecessor as commander of the Australian Corps, Monash did not chaff soldiers. It was not his style and he knew that they would

see through him. It was not Haig’s style either, and the result when he tried it was embarrassing. “You have run very well,” he said to the winner of a crosscountry race. “I hope you run as well in the presence of the enemy.” Birdwood’s banter, like so much else with him, was superficial and often misfired. “How’s your father?” was a standard Birdwood line. “Still dead, sir” came the deadpan reply from one officer. Monash had a sense of theatrical occasion, but it is hard to imagine him making such a faux pas. Monash’s degrees in engineering, arts and law from Melbourne University, and pre-war work as a pioneer of reinforced concrete construction in Australia, attested to his intellect. The artist Arthur Streeton deemed him “undoubtedly the greatest brain in Australia”. Monash’s engineering outlook quickly led him to the nub of a problem and to the solution. With the Australian Corps facing a long assault in the climactic offensive on 8 August 1918, he reversed the order of the assembly, placing the divisions attacking last closest to the start line, where they would be leapfrogged by the

MONASH: CHARACTER ones assaulting first. Those divisions would then be leapfrogged in turn. The innovative manoeuvre worked flawlessly, ensuring fresh troops at each stage. Monash drafted the main elements of plans himself. When staff officers handed him lists of points to be attended to, he would often give them his list, which contained twice as many points as theirs. The 3rd Division’s director of medical services remarked after his first meeting with Monash: “Damn it, I began to wonder if I knew anything at all about medicine.” When war came, Monash was a self-made millionaire. Starting with his parents’ penury, his life had been a battle against adversity. Success in business, with profit the Micawberish determinant of happiness, eluded him for years. A staggering output of work went into his eventual triumph and it did not diminish afterwards. Hard work, study and concentration were, for him, the keys to success. It was impossible to be too busy: “you can always find time to do one thing more,” he would say. This background was reflected during the war in two ways. Focused solely on winning the war, he drove both himself and the Australian Corps hard. When it finally left the line in October 1918, it was badly depleted and totally exhausted. Monash’s ability before the war to persist despite spiritsapping difficulties showed robustness – the capacity to endure great strain and to make quick and clear decisions – which is the essence of generalship. It was evident on Gallipoli, where Monash was the only brigade commander to serve almost continuously from the landing to mid-September. Robustness permitted the ruthlessness that was sometimes necessary. “You must get yourself into a callous state of mind,” Monash told the officers of the 3rd Division. “Hypnotise yourself into a state of complete indifference over losses.” At Messines and Passchendaele, he called down barrages to retain ground thought to be held, despite the possibility that his own men might be underneath. He was willing to sacrifice a pioneer battalion to keep the road open for the armoured cars on 8 August 1918, and during the Mont St Quentin attack he told Major General John Gellibrand, his successor as commander of the 3rd Division, to take Bouchavesnes spur regardless of casualties, as success depended on it. As the battle ground on, the pleas of Major

Above: Service dress tunic worn by Lieutenant General Sir John Monash, c. 1916. AWM REL/00125 Below: Lieutenant General Sir John Monash, c. 1918. AWM A02697

General Talbot Hobbs, commander of the 5th Division, and others that their men were worn out fell on deaf ears. But Monash always balanced the importance of the objective against the anticipated cost of achieving it. He initially refused to attack at Le Hamel because of concerns over losses. In all of Australian Prime Minister William Hughes’s dealings with generals, Monash was the only one who seemed to him to weigh up the cost of victory. In Australian victories Monash bared his true feelings about the war after it was over: “Every day was filled with loathing, horror and distress. I deplored all the time the loss of precious life.” During the war he only let his guard down to those close to him, confiding to one friend of long standing that he was training newly arrived reinforcements so that “in a month or two they may with all due circumstance, get blown into little pieces or get holes drilled into themselves for the honour of Australia and for the good of posterity.” The men were never disposable commodities to him; he treated them with genuine humanity. “I am nothing but a mere brigadier-general,” Monash admonished a young soldier who had failed to salute him, but one day, Monash continued, a fire-eating second-lieutenant would come along and the result of such a lapse would not be pleasant. At the theatre while on leave, Monash sat next to an AIF sergeant and private and invited them to have a drink with him during the interval, to the dismay of British officers. Brusquely dragged away by a pompous luminary while chatting to a former AIF sergeant at a postwar function, Monash returned as soon as he could and resumed the conversation. By then Monash’s wife, Victoria, had passed away and he was sharing his life with her old friend, Lizette Bentwich, with whom he had taken up during a wartime leave in London. Before meeting Victoria, Monash had several flings and a torrid affair with a married woman, who was probably the love of his life. They tried to run away together, but the cuckolded husband, who had twice biffed Monash, reclaimed his wife in the nick of time. Monash might therefore have married Victoria, in 1891, on the rebound. Due to their basic incompatibility, the marriage was rocky, marked by regular quarrelling and a year-long separation. Yet there was a deep attraction; by 1914, the relationship was reasonably stable.


Above: Monash and members of his staff, with General Paul Pau and members of the French mission to Australia, at the Australian Corps’ Headquarters, Bertangles, 17 July 1918. AWM E02751

Once at war, though, with no home leave possible, Monash faced the dilemma of every Dominion soldier, married or otherwise: whether or not to seek sexual fulfilment. He was among the many who did. Monash may have had liaisons in Egypt and in Paris, but was faithful to Lizette after they became lovers in late 1917. She was his constant companion in Melbourne postwar and went abroad with him, but did not live with him. His daughter, Bertha, who did, forbade it. Monash’s extra-marital relationships frequently elicit a salacious nudge, nudge, wink, wink, but it is not for others to judge. Handicapped by his origins as the son of poor Prussian Jewish parents, but fully aware of his talents, Monash had a craving for recognition. It was one of the reasons he joined the militia – it seemed a smooth path to prominence. As a pillar of Melbourne society by 1914, Monash had achieved distinction, but his ambition was unfulfilled. The war opened up a new avenue for it. He asked Victoria to use her influence to have his letters from Gallipoli published because Bean’s despatches rarely mentioned him or his brigade. While professing indifference to promotions and honours, he always made sure that


he was in the running for both. Rumours of his being superseded evoked strong letters of protest. Already a famous and honoured corps commander, Monash could still ask an American general (whose troops he called “unspeakable” during the Hindenburg Line assault) to approach the American Commanderin-Chief, General John Pershing, to obtain an American award for him. Piqued at having no Belgian decoration, Monash asked Birdwood to drop the appropriate hint. His ambition and vanity sit awkwardly with many people today, just as they did then. But as Bean’s assistant, Arthur Bazley, pointed out, Monash never let them trap him into mistakes in the field. As a counterpoint to his vanity, the fellowship of the AIF profoundly moved Monash, and he was humbly proud to participate in it. He came to appreciate the common man as he had never done before, and jettisoned his pre-war belief that life was a dog-eat-dog struggle with no quarter given. In this sense the war changed him for the better. After it he led the Anzac Day marches in Melbourne and was the driving force behind the construction of the Shrine, the city’s imposing war memorial. He became a revered figure. Sir Robert

Menzies, Australia’s longest-serving prime minister, recalled one august gathering when those around Monash instinctively knew that he was a greater man than they would ever be. They were not alone. Many who encountered Monash during the war, including British officers and journalists, felt that there was something great about him. Veterans regarded him as one of their own. His strengths vastly outweighed his flaws. When he died, aged 66, in 1931, the many tributes stressed his engaging personal qualities, not his achievements. Monash remains Australia’s greatest general. Some would say that he is the greatest Australian. •



Formerly an acting assistant director of the Australian War Memorial, Dr Peter Pedersen has written ten books on the First World War. He acknowledges Geoffrey Serle’s biography of Monash in the writing of this article.

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THE BEGINNING OF THE END Events already in motion by 1918 moved the war to a faster end than either side had expected. BY HEW STRACHAN




n 4 August 1914, when Britain entered the First World War, the Entente powers (Britain, France and Russia) knew that they ought ultimately to win it. If they added up their colonial populations, they now mustered over 750 million souls to the Central Powers’ 130 million. A great many of all of these were neither militarily trained nor likely to become useful over the course of the war, but as the war lengthened the imbalance between the two sides increased rather than diminished. Only two more powers – the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria – joined Germany and Austria–Hungary, and none did so after September 1915. By then Japan and Italy had opted for the Entente, and they were joined by Romania and Portugal in 1916 and Greece in 1917. On 6 April 1917 the greatest neutral of them all, and the world’s premier economic power, the United States, declared war on Germany. A number of other states, including China, followed suit; they were effectively betting on an Entente victory and knew that, if they wanted to have a share in the new world order which would follow, they would need to take part in the fighting, if in some cases only nominally.

Left: Georges Clemenceau (left, on his only visit to the Australian front) with Major General Ewen Sinclair-MacLagan, and Lieutenant General John Monash (right). AWM E02527

Above: Tsar Ferdinand I of Bulgaria with Emperor Karl of Austria near the Romanian front, c. 1917. AWM H12356 Below: Enver Pasha, the Turkish Minister of War, confers with Captain von Schroder of the Imperial German Army and Colonel Kiazim Bey, c. May 1917. AWM H12341

So as the Entente’s leaders faced a new year in 1918, they ought to have been optimistic, but they weren’t. One source of their pessimism was their own sense of war weariness. As the New World threw in its lot with the Old, they feared not just Europe’s imminent decline but also the collapse of the civilisation that it had created. On 29 November 1917 The Daily Telegraph published a letter from the Marquess of Lansdowne that declared that “we are not going to lose this war, but its prolongation will spell ruin for the civilised world.” Lansdowne’s letter, which The Times had refused to publish, made public concerns that its author had spelt out to his government colleagues a year before, in the aftermath of the Somme. Lansdowne was no pacifist: he had been a Tory Secretary of War, and had initiated the Anglo–French entente as Foreign Secretary in 1904. His was a lament for the old order. The Russian revolutions of March, but especially of November, 1917 made clear just how threatened it was. The hunger and urban deprivation that had precipitated the fall of the Tsar in the first revolution were common across Europe, not confined to Petrograd. In order to entrench Bolshevism after the second revolution, Lenin published the secret agreements on war aims hatched by the Entente powers between 1914 and 1917, and called for a peace without annexations of territory or indemnities imposed on the defeated. The claim that France and Britain were fighting a war against Prussian militarism, for the sake of democracy and the rule of law, had been weakened from the war’s outset by their alliance with Russia, an autocracy. The March revolution had liberalised Russia, but now the principles of revolutionary socialism challenged the liberal powers from the left rather than the right. Their worry by December 1917, therefore, was not that their armies and navies could not win the war in the long run, but that their peoples might lose it in the short term. During the winter of 1917–18, heading off the internal threat of revolution at home was as important for both sides as heading off the enemy at the front. But these were linked, not separate, concerns. Commanders of all armies – particularly now that conscription in most countries (although not in all) guaranteed that they were made up


of “citizen soldiers” – feared that the “infection” of socialism from home would undermine the fighting spirit at the front. In July 1917 Erich Ludendorff, the First Quartermaster General of the German army, kicked off a program of “patriotic instruction” in order to give his men a greater sense of what they were fighting for. The French and British set up similar schemes. Half the French army had been hit by mutinies in the summer of 1917, and disturbances broke out at the British training centre in Etaples in September. The following month the Italian army collapsed when German and Austro–Hungarian forces broke through at Caporetto. The Entente’s political response to war weariness was direct. Lansdowne was criticised in the press, condemned by ministers, and effectively disowned by the British chief of the general staff, whom he had consulted on the prospects for a negotiated end to the war. Georges Clemenceau, who became France’s premier in November 1917, used his considerable powers of oratory to rally all France for what one commentator in 1918 would presciently call a “total war”. In Britain on 5 January 1918 the prime minister, David Lloyd George, addressed his war aims program not to Parliament or to his cabinet, but to the workers – in the shape of the


Above: Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, Commander in Chief of the British Expeditionary Force in France and Belgium from 1915 to 1919. AWM A03713

Below: King George V of England shakes hands with Marshal Henri Petain, Commander in Chief of the French army, at an award ceremony, c. 1917. AWM H09253

Trades Union Congress. Much that he said was reflected three days later in the most famous statement on the subject, Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points. The American president sought to regain the moral high ground in the war from the Bolsheviks by declaring his support for such principles as freedom of the seas and national self-determination. America’s entry did more than reinvigorate the ideas and values for which the allies were fighting; it also guaranteed and enhanced the Entente’s lead in the economic and naval war. In April 1917 the Entente faced a twin crisis to its perceived superiority in a long war. Finance and sea power were the two assets that its continental allies most valued in Britain. London was the world’s market for shipping, insurance and convertible currency. By pegging the pound to the gold standard, Britain could tap into goods from elsewhere in the world, and especially from the United States. Orders from Entente powers pulled the American economy out of recession and mobilised US production long before America mobilised its armed forces. By 1916 the British loans gobbled up by American investors guaranteed the orders for munitions and other equipment placed not only by Britain but also by France, Italy and Russia. So reliant had the US economy become on British debt and allied orders that in November 1916 the Federal Reserve Board warned Americans that their savings were now staked on an allied victory that was not guaranteed. The result was panic on Wall Street and Britain’s credit was suspended for six months. The allies continued to order goods but without any idea how they were going to pay for them. America’s entry into the war resolved the situation, at least for the time being, but it also put the United States in the driving seat for the management of the war economy. Allied economic cooperation, which had been hammered out in a series of separate agreements from 1915 onwards, was now formalised in purchasing committees which coordinated orders, controlled prices on world markets, and allocated shipping. The Atlantic Ocean, with its shorthaul route between Europe and North America, trumped other sea lanes in importance in the war. Germany endeavoured to cut that lifeline, and on 1 February 1917 adopted a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare,


so targeting neutral shipping as well as belligerent. It was a bid to drive Britain out of the war, although Berlin recognised that it was likely to precipitate the United States into it. The fact that Germany was ready to take that risk reveals three core conclusions that its leaders had reached, all of them warranted. First, the neutrality of the United States had already been compromised because it could trade only with the Entente: the allied blockade cut off exports to the Central Powers. Secondly, Germany and its allies would lose the war if they did not act directly against the economic and naval underpinnings of its enemies. Thirdly, they had only a limited timeframe in which to do so, because by 1919 America would have raised a mass army of its own. What they had not got right were their calculations about the submarine campaign itself, whose expected effects were predicated on best-case assumptions. They underestimated the tonnage available to the Entente, Britain’s capacity to increase its domestic agricultural production, and the contribution of the United States to the war at sea. The blockade of Germany itself intensified as a direct consequence of the entry into the war of the United States, partly because Britain now had to pay less regard to

Above: Australian soldiers at No. 4 Command Depot, Hurdcott, prepare a plot of potatoes. With Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare, every effort was made to increase food production in Great Britain. AWM C03654 Page 27: 11 December 1917. General Edmund Allenby and staff enter Jerusalem through the Jaffa Gate. The guard of honour comprised English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh troops on the right with Australian and New Zealand troops on the left. AWM A00573

neutral opinion. The neutrals adjacent to Germany, which had been transshipping their own imports to Germany at inflated prices, were less able to do so, not least because Germany was now sinking the neutrals’ own ships. Moreover, the United States Navy had immediately sent destroyers, urgently needed as convoy escorts in the Atlantic. By early 1918 the threat from German submarines was receding. As in 1944, victory in the battle of the Atlantic meant that the United States could start shipping a mass army to Europe. The Germans were not alone in thinking that an American mass army would not reach Europe until 1919: the Americans thought so too. Two years was the time it had taken the British to raise a continental-sized army and deploy it to France. The United States, not least because it adopted the draft almost immediately, achieved it in almost half the time. From early 1918 the arrival of the “Doughboys” boosted morale in France. They seemed young, still optimistic, fresh and energetic. Because they entered through Brest and St Nazaire, and then moved east – sometimes through Paris itself and sometimes further south – many more of the French population saw them than saw their other allies. Allied planners reckoned that by June 1919, 4 million US soldiers would be in France.


They could now pin down the date when they would win the war, and if not in 1919, then at the very latest 1920. The Entente therefore had the resources to win the war by some margin, but that also depended on their ability to coordinate them in time and space. How could they adhere to one of the first principles of war, concentration of mass on the decisive point? Not only were they drawing on manpower and supplies from across the world, and having to manage global shipping to do that, they were also actively engaged on several fronts simultaneously: in Palestine, Mesopotamia and East Africa, as well as in Europe. France and Flanders were the priority, self-evidently for France, but also for Britain and the United States. Neither of the English-speaking countries could support a major army committed anywhere else, given the distances and the threat from enemy submarines. Italy, Greece, Serbia and Romania formed a European southern front that ran from the Julian Alps in north-eastern Italy to the Balkans. To the east, the Russian front might be reactivated if the counter-revolutionary forces of the White Russians, supported by allied intervention, toppled the Bolsheviks. Then the Central Powers would be forced to stretch their reserves to three out of the four points of the compass, along an internal transport system which was buckling under the strains of war, inadequate maintenance and shortage of coal. That had been the plan formulated by the Entente in the winters of both 1915–16 and 1916–17: to attack simultaneously from west, south and east. It had miscarried in both years. In 1916 the Germans had attacked first, at Verdun, and in 1917 they had pulled back to the Hindenburg line. The offensives had not been conducted simultaneously, for reasons of weather, terrain or contingency, and so the Central Powers had been able to use their proximity and their interconnecting railways to shift their reserves from one front to another. In the winter of 1917–18 the allied commanders knew that the option of the previous two years was no longer open to them. The eastern front had collapsed and Russia was dissolving into civil war. On the western front the French army was still rebuilding after General Nivelle’s offensive of April 1917 and the subsequent mutinies,


In April 1918 Ludendorff would say, “I object to the word ‘operation’. We shall punch a hole. The rest will look after itself.”

and the British army was exhausted by its efforts at Ypres, culminating at Passchendaele in October–November 1917. On the southern front the Italian army had fallen back after Caporetto to the line of the River Piave and was expecting a second major attack. British and French troops had been sent to Italy, and anxieties about the vulnerability of the Italian front would persist for much of 1918. Douglas Haig and Philippe Pétain, the British and French commanders-in-chief on the Western Front, recognised that the Germans were likely to move troops from the Russian front to France, and would attack somewhere along the Western Front early in the year. However, they did not know where, not least because the intelligence on enemy intentions was contradictory, as the Germans themselves could not make up their minds. Haig was focused on Ypres, which guarded his line of communications through the Channel ports to Britain, and Pétain was worried about Champagne. For the first half of the new year, at least, they would have to hold their line in defensive actions, and wait for the Americans to arrive. Even so, they were ill prepared for what happened. Both the British and the French knew from the experience of attacking the Germans that the best defences relied on depth for their resilience. The first line was thinly held. If the second and third positions were out of direct artillery observation or even out of range, they could be the launching pads for counter-attacks. The British planned their defences in depth for 1918 but were slow to complete their construction, not least for lack of labour. In the French army, some commanders resisted Pétain’s orders

for defence in depth, stressing their determination not to lose any more French territory to the invader. Nor was the situation much better at the strategic level. In November 1917 the allies had set up a Supreme War Council, one of whose jobs was to control a joint strategic reserve to which each national army would contribute troops. But Haig and Pétain remained determined that they should retain control of their own reserves. When and where to commit them remained one of the key decisions reserved to commanders-in-chief in a war in which tactical command in battle had had to be delegated down the command chain to those closer to the front line. Instead, Haig and Pétain brokered a deal by which each promised support to the other, according to where the German attack materialised. This deal worked in 1918, but it still generated tensions as the French were inclined to see an attack against the British as a feint designed to draw reserves away from their sector, whereas the British – predictably – thought the opposite. The Germans moved over 30 divisions from the east to the west in the winter of 1917–18, but struggled to come up with a plan for their best use. They focused on tactical training. They were worried about the motivation of soldiers who had moved from a front which had been disintegrating over the past year, and who, in their passage through Germany, had witnessed the exhaustion and depression at home. Ludendorff divided his army into mobile, attack and trench divisions, allocating equipment and food according to their roles; but his plan for their use was guided almost entirely by the tactical possibilities and not by a strategic design. In April 1918 Ludendorff would say, “I object to


the word ‘operation’. We shall punch a hole. The rest will look after itself.” [see page 34] The German offensive was designed, as the allies feared it might be, to win the war in short order because they could not win it in the long term. But they had launched it too late. Their efforts at sea had already peaked, with the result that their maritime and land campaigns were sequential not simultaneous, and when the storm broke with Operation Michael on the Somme on 21 March 1918, the Americans were already arriving in France. Moreover, in focusing their efforts in the west, the Germans had not escaped the impact of events in the east. On 9 December 1917 the allies captured Jerusalem: a Christmas present for the British people, according to Lloyd George. For some post-war critics, the Palestine campaign was a diversion from the main theatre and thus indicative of the failings of Entente strategy. In reality not much fighting was possible in France and Flanders in mid-winter, given the

weather and shorter days. In the spring of 1918 many British troops in Palestine would be redeployed to Europe, and the Palestine campaign left largely in the hands of formations which could make a more effective contribution there than in France. The fall of Jerusalem signalled the end of the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East, drawing Turkish attentions north and east. As Lenin and the Bolsheviks opened peace negotiations with Germany [see page 28], they initiated or expedited two trends which would contribute to the latter’s defeat. First, with the removal of Russia as a belligerent, none of Germany’s eastern allies had a major reason for continuing the war. Austria–Hungary had already made that plain by being open to overtures for a separate peace in 1917. Serbia, its original enemy, had been overrun; Italy was on the ropes; and now Russia was prepared to concede. Vienna had no quarrel with either France or Britain, and no interest in continuing the war in the west. The same applied to Bulgaria. For the Ottoman Empire, Russia’s implosion

was an opportunity to off-set Ottoman losses in the south. Instead of drawing the Central Powers together, the defeat of Tsarist Russia, and the economic and territorial opportunities it offered, pulled them apart. When peace came, much earlier than expected in January 1918, it would be initiated by each of the Central Powers individually, not by an alliance acting collectively. •



Sir Hew Strachan is Professor of International Relations at the University of St Andrews, and an Emeritus Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. He is a Commonwealth War Graves Commissioner, and serves on the advisory committees for the centenary of the First World War of the United Kingdom, Scotland and France.



German and Russian soldiers dance while the peace negotiations take place, November 1917. IWM Q86953


P E AC E � O F 1 91 8

Eight months before the Armistice of November 1918, Germany struck a crucial deal with Russia. BY DAVID SUTTON



t the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on the 28th of June 1919, French Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Supreme allied Commander in the First World War declared, “This is not peace. It is an armistice for 20 years.” His comment proved to be remarkably prescient: 20 years and 10 weeks later, Hitler launched his Blitzkrieg attack on Poland and began the Second World War. Much ink has been spilled over the Treaty of Versailles, its failures and its consequences. Less is known, however, of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, signed on 3 March 1918, which took Russia out of the First World War. It had profound effects for the peoples of former Tsarist Russia, the Western allies in the final year of the Great War, and the turbulent decades that followed. Charles Bean commented that it made the Treaty of Versailles look like a “monument of equity”. Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia in November 1917, rallying support for their cause with the slogan “Peace, Land, and Bread!” Within weeks of the Revolution, they set about delivering on at least one of those promises by signing an armistice with the Central Powers and beginning peace negotiations at the German Army headquarters at Brest-Litovsk (today’s Brest in Belarus). They intended to withdraw completely from the war.

Tsarist Russia had been in turmoil since the mid-nineteenth century, including a revolt in 1905, and the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II in February 1917. The Central Powers, recognising the utility of destabilising Russia, played an important role in encouraging Lenin and his radical calls for Russia to leave the war. In April 1917, Lenin arrived in Petrograd (today’s Saint Petersburg) under escort

on a German sealed train. Germany had allowed and arranged for his safe passage from exile in Switzerland, hoping that the Bolshevik agitator would destabilise the new Provisional Government and foment a more radical revolution. Later that year, German General Erich Ludendorff transferred six divisions from the Western Front to the east to take part in a major attack on Riga, the capital of Latvia. Ludendorff




North Sea

German gains in the east Baltic Sea Treaty of Brest-Litovsk Line

Austro-Hungarian gains in the east



Ottoman gains in the north



Black Sea



Mediterranean Sea

hoped that this attack would play a significant part in destabilising the new Russian government and further inflaming anti-war sentiment. That the German High Command was willing to shift sizeable forces away from the stalemate in the west to destabilise the east shows the high value the Germans placed on making an intervention in Russian politics that might lead to a separate peace. Aided, though not entirely caused by, their intervention, the Germans got their wish, and by November 1917 found themselves negotiating with a new, revolutionary and anti-war Russian government. The initial Bolshevik tactic at the Brest-Litovsk negotiations was to delay. They genuinely believed that a wider proletarian revolution was imminent, and that it was only a matter of time before the war-weary workers of all the belligerent nations would rise up against their bourgeois, imperialist masters. The desired revolution was, however, not forthcoming. Throughout January 1918 the Germans, recognising the Bolsheviks’ weak hold on power, and becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of progress, issued a series of increasingly aggressive ultimatums. In February they threatened renewed military action in the east if peace was not agreed upon. Leon Trotsky, then the People’s Commissar for External Affairs, in a further effort to delay, responded to the German threats with the prevarication “Neither peace nor

Above left: Soviet delegates, including Lev Kamenev, meet German delegates at BrestLitovsk, November 1917. Courtesy of Wikicommons.

Below left: The huge death toll suffered by the Russian Empire led to war-weariness and revolution. Here, hundreds of Russian troops lie dead after a gas attack. AWM P03638.001

war”. Russia would not sign a peace deal, nor would its armies continue to fight. Germany responded on 18 February with an attack using 52 divisions on the Eastern Front. General Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg later wrote, “Our operations met with practically no resistance anywhere”, and the advance pushed hundreds of kilometres into former Tsarist territory. Facing complete destruction, on 25 February the Bolsheviks declared they would sign any treaty put before them, and on 3 March they signed the now infamous Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. The “obscene peace”, as it came to be known in Russia, surrendered Russiancontrolled Baltic and Polish provinces, as well as Georgia, Finland and much of Ukraine. The lost territory contained nearly 60 million people (30 per cent of Tsarist Russia’s population), one third of Russian railway mileage, enormous swathes of fertile agricultural land,

more than 70 per cent of Russia’s iron ore, nearly 90 per cent of Russia’s coal production, and more than 5,000 factories and industrial plants. In addition, Germany forced Russia to pay 6 billion German marks to support the German war effort. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk had immediate and far-reaching effects. In Petrograd, disgusted politicians such as the leftist Socialist-Revolutionaries walked out of Lenin’s Sovnarkom coalition (Lenin’s Soviet government cabinet), leaving predominantly the radical Bolsheviks behind. As Robert Service has noted, “Almost without being noticed, the Soviet republic became a one-party state.” It would remain so until the late 1980s. In 1918, however, the survival of that one-party state was not yet guaranteed. The Socialist-Revolutionaries who had walked out of Lenin’s cabinet travelled east to Samara, 700 kilometres southeast of Moscow, and established their own government. Supported by a legion of Czech ex-prisoners of war, they formed a powerful faction in the Russian Civil War, which would wreak havoc for the next three years. A detailed discussion of the numerous combatants and their movements in the Russian Civil War would be the subject of another article. Richard Pipes perhaps best summed it up when he wrote that maps attempting to depict the various combatants and fluid fronts of the Russian Civil War


end up resembling a Jackson Pollock painting. Estimates vary, but the war cost between 7 and 12 million lives, mostly civilians. Despite the harsh terms of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, however, by ending the war with Germany the Bolsheviks were able to buy themselves breathing space with which to fight, and eventually win, the civil war. Had this not happened, the history of the twentieth century would have been radically altered. Australians too were involved in this bloody conflict. In December 1918 HMAS Swan conducted reconnaissance missions in the Black Sea in support of General Anton Denikin’s anti-Bolshevik White Russian forces in Ukraine. Forty-eight Australians served in Dunsterforce in 1918–19, which sought to aid pro-Tsarist Russian forces in their attempt to keep Bolshevik and Turkish forces out of Persia and Transcaucasia. Other Australians served in an advising role for White Russian commander Admiral Alexander Kolchak in Siberia. The largest Australian involvement came from the Australian troops attached to British units in Russia’s north. In March 1918 the British government sent men and advisers to protect the northern ports of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk from possible German– Finnish occupation. Should access to these ports have been lost, the British feared intensified German U-boat attacks on American troop ships in the North Atlantic, and the loss of sizeable British stores of military equipment. After the Armistice in November 1918, allied concern then shifted to the possibility of attack from Bolshevik forces, and the British once again sent troops to the region. Nearly 150 Australian soldiers served in north Russia. The only two Victoria Crosses awarded in the entire campaign both went to Australians: Corporal Arthur Percy Sullivan, and Sergeant Samuel George Pearse [see Wartime Issue 45]. In the newly forming Soviet Union, the loss of the Baltic territories of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania was a deep blow. In the long term, their return to the Soviet fold became one of Stalin’s foreign policy aims. Following the signing of the secret protocols of the Nazi–Soviet Non-Aggression Pact in August 1939, the Baltic States were among the huge swathes of territory that eventually came under firm Stalinist rule. The terms of the Treaty of BrestLitovsk gave Germany a taste of


influence and control in regions such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Finland and Ukraine. The fertile agricultural lands of Ukraine in particular had long been coveted by German nationalists as a secure source of food: what Hitler later described as German Lebensraum or “living space” in the east. The abrogation of the 1918 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk by the 1919 Treaty of Versailles reversed many of Germany’s gains, but the period between the two treaties was often

viewed in a rosy glow by nascent German nationalists such as the Nazis. In his early speeches and parades, Hitler often compared Brest-Litovsk and Versailles, and as he put it, always “showed the boundless humanity of the one treaty compared to the inhuman cruelty of the second”. In Mein Kampf, Hitler stated that he considered his sermonising on the treaties of Versailles and Brest-Litovsk as among “the most important of all” of his topics. One of the key ways that Hitler was able to

1918: RUSSIAN TREATY Left: Australian, French and Russian members of the allied mission to support General Anton Denikin’s anti-Bolshevik forces in the Black Sea aboard the HMAS Swan, December 1918. AWM EN0301

rise to the top of German politics was his successful channelling of German resentment over the Treaty of Versailles and how it reversed German gains made at Brest-Litovsk. Once in power, the acquisition of “living space” in the east was one of Hitler’s key political and military objectives, one that was ruthlessly pursued in Operation Barbarossa, Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. In 1918, the Western Allies were not considering the long-term impacts of

the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, but the profound and potentially disastrous consequences that the new Russian– German peace could bring. Since 1914, the German war effort had been divided between two vast fronts, and the transfer of troops from east to west seriously threatened the delicate stalemate in the Great War. According to Bean, since the time of the negotiations at Brest-Litovsk, the Germans had been transferring troops to the Western Front at a rate of two divisions a week. By spring 1918,

despite the sizeable forces needed to maintain order in newly acquired eastern territories, the Germans were able to concentrate 191 divisions on the Western Front against the 178 available to the Allies. Hindenburg and Ludendorff recognised the opportunity to launch a major offensive to end the war before American troops could be fully mobilised and make an impact. The German Spring Offensive of March 1918, which occurred as a direct result of the shift of forces from east to west, broke the stalemate on the Western Front and very nearly ended the war in Germany’s favour. The offensive had a direct impact on Australian forces holding the line near the Somme, where they faced strong German attacks in battles at VillersBretonneux and Dernancourt. For the Western allies, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk showed what they could expect if they lost the war and faced a peace dictated by Germany. After the November 1918 Armistice, the victors were fully aware of the harsh treaty the Germans had imposed on the Russians a year before – and they imposed similarly harsh terms on the Germans. Marshal Foch’s prediction at Versailles showed his remarkable recognition that the harsh terms of the treaty would bring disastrous consequences on those who imposed them. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk came with its own accurate prophecy. On 3 March 1918, as the Germans signed the treaty at Brest-Litovsk, Karl Radek, a Soviet representative, sneered to German General Max Hoffmann, representative of the German military: “It is your day now, but in the end the Allies will put a Brest-Litovsk treaty upon you.” •



David Sutton is a historian in the Military History Section at the Australian War Memorial.


Australian War Memorial

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