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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.

On 3 March 1918, 9 Brigade sent 235 men against the German defences near Warneton, they had six casualties, killed 30 of the enemy and took eleven prisoners.

The third division moved out of the line on 9 March. The soldiers were sent to Poperinge for rest. Monash took leave. A week in Paris followed by time on the French Riviera.

Treaty of Brest Litovsk

Things were moving, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed on 3 March 1918 between the new Bolshevik government of Soviet Russia and the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire), this ended Russia's participation in World War I. Some 70 German Divisions were able to be released from the East and sent West. German and Central Power avarice, however, could be said to have facilitated the loss of WW1, just as Allied avarice facilitated WW2. Germany, Austria and Turkey were given substantial swathes of land by the Russians paying the demanded price for peace. These lands (see map), needed to be occupied, 1,000,000 soldiers were required. 100 or so Divisions that could have bolstered the armies on the western front.

Map of the AO

Monash was back in Belgium, on 22 March; he was ordered to take his division south, back to the Somme.

The Germans had attacked along the line of the border between the British and French armies. Forty-seven divisions hit the British Third and Fifth Armies on an eighty kilometre front from Cambrai to La Feré. The attack fell on 21 March, by 23 March, the Fifth Army was forced back to the Somme, and that is where Monash was now ordered to send his division. Leaving orders for 3 Div to en-train he hurried south heading for 10 Corps HQ. On 25 March he found it at Doullens, and undefended. Minutes later the GOC with the first battalions of 9 Bde arrived by train; a hasty defence was put in place. On to Mondicourt, there Monash found McNicholl and a battalion of 10 Bde. Defence of the railway station was organised, straggling soldiers from the Fifth British Army being ordered to assist.

At 1600 on 26 March, Monash made contact with Sinclair-MacLagan and 4 Div. They organised a string of outposts toward the south east and the advancing Germans.

The Germans had achieved their stunning success by the use of Storm Troopers chosen from the fittest and best soldiers available and special storm trooper tactics.

A Storm Trooper Bergman 9 mm SMG and LugerFollowing their successful trial at Cambrai in November 1917, by March 1918, German storm trooper tactics had evolved. General Oskar von Hutier promulgated the following:

A short artillery bombardment, employing heavy shells mixed with numerous poison gas projectiles, to neutralise the enemy front lines, and not try to destroy them.

Under a creeping barrage, storm troops would then move forward, in dispersed order. They would avoid combat whenever possible, infiltrate the Allied defences at previously identified weak points, and destroy or capture enemy headquarters and artillery strong points.

Next, infantry battalions with extra light machine guns, mortars and flamethrowers, would attack on narrow fronts against any Allied strong points the shock troops missed. Mortars and field guns would be in place to fire as needed to accelerate the breakthrough.

In the last stage of the assault, regular infantry would mop up any remaining Allied resistance.

The new assault method had men rushing forward in small groups using whatever cover was available and laying down suppressive fire for other groups in the same unit as they moved forward. The new tactics, which were intended to achieve tactical surprise, were to attack the weakest parts of an enemy's line, bypass his strong points and to abandon the futile attempt to have a grand and detailed plan of operations controlled from afar. Instead, junior leaders could exercise initiative on the spot. Any enemy strong points which had not been overrun by storm troopers could be attacked by the second echelon troops following the storm troopers.

On return to his HQ at Courtourelle on the evening of 26 March, Monash found 3 Div were now attached to 7 Corps. At 2400, Monash found himself with his new corps commander General Congreve at his Montingy HQ. Monash was told that the 7 Corps line Albert to Bray had broken within the last 8 hours. He was ordered to occupy a line from Méricourt to l’Abbé to Sailly-le-Sec, making use of an old trench line, and blocking the German approach to Albert. The British Fifth Army had melted away, and the French were retreating south west, leaving a broadening gap in the lines.

Monash was in his element, everything rested on quick decision and faultless efficiency. His staff gathered a large convoy (three actually) of former London busses and started the 30 kilometre move from Dollens to Sailly-le-Sec. Monash was himself at Franvilles the dismount point a little after dawn on 27 March. Things did not look good, the populace were evacuating, there were no troops and German skirmish lines could be seen crossing ridges in the distance. The first busses arrived within an hour, and they kept coming. By evening the division with the exception of the artillery was in the appointed line. The guns arrived overnight and were quickly deployed.

3 Div deployed in the nick of time, British Third Army Cavalry and a mixed force of infantry had maintained contact with the enemy and withdrew as they approached.

All afternoon on the 27th as the Division assembled, lines of German skirmishers and small patrols probed our defences, endeavouring to work forward in gullies. All attempts were hit with intense rifle and machine gun fire. By nightfall, the enemy’s advance had halted.

On the night of 29/30 March the 3 Div line was advanced, pivoting until the northern end of the line rested on the Ancre river, east of Buire; 2,000 metres in the extreme. Some opposition was met, and prisoners taken.

On 30 March, 9 Bde was sent south under command the British 61 Div, the sector around Villers Bretonneux was under pressure and needed reinforcement. On the same day, 15 Bde (5 Div) arrived in the sector, and was placed under command 3 Div.

The replacement brigade was needed, on the afternoon of 31 May, there was a determined attack by two German Divisions, well supported by artillery on the 3 Div position. The attack was completely repulsed, 3,000 of the enemy were killed, Australian Casualties were few.

Sailly le Sec Sailly le Sec

John Howells 2018

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