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Early 1917 - British Government asks Australia for a 6th Australian Division to be formed and sent to France.

Awards

Captain Henry William Murray, 13th Battalion, 4th Brigade, 4th Division - Victoria Cross

February 23 - 25, 1917 - Germans withdraw to Siegfried System, known to the British as Hindenburg Line. Withdrawal served two purposes, the first was to straighten their line out and reduce the amount of territory they had to defend as well as achieve a greater density of men per kilometre. The second was a purely defensive one, to retreat to a very strong defensive position and await the German Navy's unrestricted U-Boat campaign against the allies, designed to reduce their ability to wage war.

17 March, 1917 - Australians enter Bapaume after capturing Le Baque, Ligny-Thilloy.

Awards

Captain Percy Herbert Cherry, 26th Battalion, 7th Brigade, 2nd Division - Victoria Cross

July 1, 1916 - March 30,1917 - Losses 

German = 500,000
Allied = 650,000

Awards

Private Joergen Christian Jensen, 50th Battalion, 14th Brigade, 4th Division - Victoria Cross

April 6, 1917 - United States declares war on Germany.

April 9, 1917 - British and Canadian offensive of Arras. The Canadians capture Vimy Ridge a few kilometres north of Arras. Vimy Ridge was a strategic high point in the North West of France that dominated the plains towards Lille.


Remains of Canadian trenches at Vimy Ridge


Canadian Vimy Ridge Memorial


Canadian Memorial - Vimy Ridge


Canadian trenches looking towards German Trenches - Vimy Ridge


Canadian Memorial - Vimy Ridge


Looking out at the plains from Canadian Memorial Vimy Ridge

Awards

Private Thomas James Bede Kenny, 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Division - Victoria Cross

April 10, 1917 - First Bullecourt battle commences


First Bullecourt

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Battlefield location

General Gough ordered Major General W. Holmes ( who succeeded General Cox as commander of the Australian 4th Division to attack German positions east of Bullecourton April 10 with the assistance of tanks.

By the jumping off time of the attack, the tanks had not arrived and the attack was cancelled.  Luckily, the advanced Australian troops, lying in wait for the commencement of actions were able to withdraw under the cover of a snowstorm. General Haig now ordered the attack to commence at 4.30am April 11, 1917.

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Initial attack

By the start of the attack only 3 tanks had arrived to assist the Australians. When engaged these tanks proved unreliable and too slow so the Australian proceeded without them. The tanks failed to even reach the wire and by 7am they were all burning. With no tanks or artillery the Australians fought their way to occupy sections of the Hindenburg Line, with parts of the Australian 4th Division occupying the Hindenburg Line without artillery assistance. They sent up flares asking for artillery support on Reincourt, 1.5 kilometres from Bullecourt, a position from which they were receiving machine gun and rifle fire. However, the support failed to arrive and the Australian 4th Brigade found themselves cut off by enemy shells, machine guns and counter attacking infantry. Incorrect reports had suggested that the attacks were successful and therefore artillery support was unnecessary. They had no option but to withdraw.

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Australians become isolated

On the left flank of the Australian front, closer to Bullecourt, the 12th Brigade of the Australian 4th Division was also intensely engaged. German troops on either side of the Australian 48th Battalion and a portion of the Australian 47th Battalion worked their way behind the Australians. This now meant the Australians were completely surrounded. Under Captain A.E. Leane, the men of the Australian 48th attacked and captured the trench to their rear. Now artillery from the 5th Army began to fall, but it fell on the Australians. Again, there was no option left but to withdraw.

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Australians withdraw

The battle had lasted 10 hours, with shooting ceasing at about 2 pm. The 4th Brigade took 3,000 men into battle and sustained causalities of 2,339. The 12th Brigade took 2,000 into battle and lost 950. Part of these casualties included 28 officers and 1,142 men captured, by far the most prisoners taken in a single battle during the whole war. The reason for this was the fact that the attack by the Australian 4th Division had actually breeched the Hindenburg line but been left isolated and unsupported by inadequate artillery fire.


Bullecourt diorama at the Australian War Memorial

After such losses the Australian 2nd Division relieved the Australian 4th Division and maintains the line in front of Bullecourt.


April 11, 1917 - First Bullecourtbattle ends. Losses

Australian = 3,400

Awards

Lieutenant Charles Pope, 11 Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 1st Division - Victoria Cross

Captain James Ernest Newland, 12th Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 1st Division - Victoria Cross

Sergeant John Woods Whittle, 12th Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 1st Division - Victoria Cross

May 3, 1917 - Mutinies occur and continue for 5 weeks amongst the French forces.

May 3, 1917 - Second Bullecourt battle commences.


Second Bullecourt

The Australian 2nd Division was to attack German positions OG1 and OG2 that ran through Bullecourt and capture some villages that lay beyond. The Australians refused tank support but took 96 Vickers machines into battle.

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Australian objectives

The 6th Brigade attacked at 3.45am 3 May, 1917. Within an hour it held half of its objectives on the Hindenburg Line. By 5.34 am the fourth attacking line of the 24th battalion, led by Captain G.R. Maxfield, advanced 500 metres beyond the Hindenburg line and close to Reincourt. Maxfield was unaware that the 5th Brigade had failed to keep pace and that his left flank was exposed. In contrast to the success of the 6th Brigade the 5th Brigade attack broke up in confusion, within an hour of the start the 5th Brigade had ceased to exist as a fighting force. In 2 assaults the 18th Battalion lost 12 of 22 officers and 61 of 84 NCOs. The Australians had confronted the German Wuttenbergers

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5th Brigade attack fails

On the left of the successful 6th Brigade, the British brigade that was supposed to provide support had also failed and were over 1.5 kilometres away from the Australians. The 6th Brigade continued to hold its exposed position being subject to friendly and foe artillery.

During the afternoon of May 3, 1917, the 28th Battalion, a fresh unit from the 7th Brigade came up where the the 5th Brigade should have been. in 90 minutes of fighting they captured 450 metres of OG1, which was more than half of the 5th Brigade's original objective. By night on May 3, the Australian 2nd Division held what was described as a "mushroom on a stalk", with the stalk extending back to Allied lines being the only avenue for supply, evacuation and support.


Somme diorama at the Australian War Memorial

The first companies of the relieving Australian 1st Division arrived in the early hours of May 4, 1917. At that time, on the entire front of 25 kilometres, only the Canadians at Fresnoy and the Australian 6th Brigade still held any ground won in the 24 hours of conflict. Being impossible to capture further enemy positions of the mushroom without great loss, it made sense to abandon the position. However Haig and Gough wanted the area enlarged, so the battle continued.

By the 10th of May 1917, both the 1st and 2nd Australian Divisions were exhausted and the Australian 5th Division, now lead by Major General Talbot Hobbs, was brought in.

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Results of second battle

The battle had ended by the 17 May, 1917 with both sides being exhausted. The captured German lines in this battle remained part of the British lines until March 1918 when the great German spring offensive swept aside almost the entire British front line.

The overall Bullecourt battles left a very sour taste in the mouths of all levels of Australian forces. They now believed they not only had to overcome very resilient German forces but also the short comings of the British High Command.

Awards

Corporal George Julian Howell, 1st Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Division - Victoria Cross

Memorials

Slouch Hat


Slouch Hat Memorial
Photos courtesy of Nicolas Goret

Outside Bullecourt church is the Australian 'slouch hat memorial'. The hat that appears atop the memorial is an actual slouch hat that was bronzed.


Bronzed slouch hat on memorial
Photos courtesy of Nicolas Goret

The hat was presented by the Australian War Memorial in 1980.


Photos courtesy of Nicolas Goret

The english engraving reads :

Bullecourt 1917
In Memory
of the Australian and British soldiers
who fell in this area - April / May 1917
Lest We Forget

Trench Line


Bullecourt battlefield memorial
Photos courtesy of Nicolas Goret

Digger Corlett

An Australian national memorial, built by the Department of Veterans Affairs, was dedicated on Anzac Day 1992 and on Anzac Day 1993 a digger sculpture by Peter Corlett was placed on the original memorial.. 'Digger Corlett' looks across part of the Bullecourt battlefield.


Photos courtesy of Nicolas Goret


Photos courtesy of Nicolas Goret


Plaque that appears below 'Digger Corlett'
Photos courtesy of Nicolas Goret


May 8 - 16, 1917 - Russian revolution occurs. Czar deposed by Communists.

Awards

Lieutenant Rupert Vance Moon, 58th Battalion, 15th Brigade, 5th Division - Victoria Cross

May 17, 1917 - Second Bullecourt battle ends. Total losses of both battles

German = 6,000
Australian = 7,000

The consequent drain on resources after these battles helped destroy the proposed Australian 6th Division currently forming in England as men were sent forward to existing divisions as replacements.


Messines

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Battlefield location

General Plumer ordered 21 mines be laid under and beyond trenches for the length of the Messines Ridge for an attack to capture the ridge by 3 Army Corps. These mines contain up to 95,000 pounds of ammonal. The date of the Allied attack was June 7, 1917. The southern most army in this attack was II Anzac Corps with New Zealand troops given the objective of capturing the town of Messines. The operation was known to the Allies as 'Magnum Opus'.

II Anzac Corp, commanded by General Godley, had held the Armentières front throughout the preceding winter. It was composed of 3 Divisions, one from New Zealand, the British 25th and the Australian 3rd under Major General Monash. By the 16th of May the 3 Divisions of II Anzac were re-inforced by the Australian 4th Division which had been rested for a month since the attack on Bullecourt. The plan for II Anzac on the southern front of the attack was be accomplished in two phases. The initial attack by the Australian 3rd Division, New Zealand Division and British 25th Division was to capture the Messines ridge. Once stage one was complete the Australian 4th Division was to leap frog the others and press the attack into the plains beyond the Messines Ridge.

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Battle Objectives

A seven day pre-attack bombardment commenced on 31st of May, 1917.

At 3.10am on 7th June, 1917, the mines were detonated, 19 fired as expected but 2 failed to explode. The Germans knew that Messines was to be attacked but the huge mine explosions shattered their defensive line and morale in the forward areas. The mines created craters 100 metres wide and up to 20 metres deep. Following the mine detonations came the artillery barrage followed closely by the advancing infantry. The Australian 3rd Division commanded by Major General John Monash with the New Zealand, along with the Australian 4th Division were the spearhead formations in the attack.

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Mine locations

The Australian 3rd Division had a front of 1.5 kilometres on the southern flank from just south of St Ives and north to Bethleem Farm. By 5.30am Messines had been captured by the New Zealanders with the Australian 3rd and British 25th Divisions in their correct places on either flank.

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Phase One

This battle was the first in which the Australians encountered German blockhouses which were reinforced concrete shelters concealed with soil and camouflage. The Germans used them to protect their machine gunners who would emerge after the barrage to attack advancing troops. The only way to take a blockhouse was from the rear.

There was now a pause in the fighting prior to the second stage. The pause was necessary because the Central British IX Corp had to come much further than with II Anzac on its right and X British on its left. Owing to the delay on the northern flank the afternoon attack was at the last moment postponed by General Plumer from 1pm to 3 pm.

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Phase Two

In the afternoon at 3.10pm the Australian 4th Division was committed. Two brigades moved through the front already taken by II Anzac. Further north, fresh British troops were to advance through the front gained by both British IX and X Corps. As the infantry now began to advance there was a hitch. While troops of the southern ( II Anzac ) and northern ( British X Corp ) fronts started immediately, those in the centre ( British IX Corp ) didn't. Their orders had been late arriving and troops had been struggling forward on a very hot day. Luckily, this situation was realised by the Australian troops to the south. An Australian company, lead by Captain Arthur Maxwell moved north east to fill the gap. Fortunately, the initial devastating mine attacks had caused the Germans to flee. The Australians now occupied, though very thinly, a whole British Brigade's objective on the Oosttaverne Line.

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New front line after battle

By sunset the battle plan had been fulfilled and the German salient south of Ypres had been eliminated. This now opened the way for more important offensives from Ypres that were planned for July. Losses on both sides were about equal. British losses totalled 26,000 with II Anzac ( including British 25th Division ) accounting for 13,900.

During the subsequent advance, General Holmes commander of the Australian 4th Division, while taking the Premier of New South Wales, Mr Holman, by a normally safe route to see the battlefield, was mortally wounded by a chance enemy salvo.

Awards

Private John Carroll, 33rd Battalion, 9th Brigade, 3rd Division - Victoria Cross

Captain Robert Cuthbert Grieve, 37th Battalion, 10th Brigade, 3rd Division - Victoria Cross 

Memorials

New Zealand Memorial Park


New Zealand Memorial on Messines Ridge


New Zealand Memorial


Looking in direction of attack from Messines Ridge

The German blockhouses here face the Douve River along which the Australian 3rd and 4th Divisions made their advance.


Looking out from top of Messines Ridge


Remnants of German blockhouse 

Spanbroekmolen Crater


Spaneroekmolen Lone Tree Crater

Spanbroekmolen is the location of the largest mine to be detonated on the Messines Ridge during that attack on 7th June 1917. The mine contained 41,278 kilograms of ammonal and was detonated at 3.10am. It blew a hole 129 metres in diametre and 27 metres deep. The crater has since filled with water and is now known as the "Pool of Peace".


Lone Tree Crater now known as "Pool of Peace"

Hill 60

The Australian 1st Tunnelling company became responsible to keep intact the mines that had been laid under Hill 60 at Ypres. Much of this protection involved fighting underground. The company was commanded by Major J. Douglas Henry and took over from the Canadians on November 9, 1916.


Looking from Hill 60


Memorial to 1st Australian Tunnelling Company


Hill 60


June 8, 1917 - Messines battle finishes. Losses 

German = 23,000
Australian = 6,800
BEF = 13,900

July 31, 1917 - 3rd Battle of Ypres ( Battle of Passchendaele ) commences.


Passchendaele

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Battlefield Location

All 5 Australian Divisions were engaged in the Third Battle of Ypres that is sometimes known as the Battle of Passchendaele . During the period July - November 1917 the Australian victories included Menin Road, Polygon Wood and Broadseinde. For the first time all the Australian Divisions fought side by side at Broadseinde. The fighting lasted for eight weeks.


Belfry of Great Cloth Hall

Field Marshal Haigs' objectives were : to capture the Passchendaele to Gheluvelt ridge, capture the strategic railway which ran through Routers and throughout and finally capture the line from Courtrai to Zeebrugge.

The offensive began at 3.50am on July 31, 1917. The main attacks were delivered by three armies, the 2nd British on the right, the 5th British in the centre and the 1st French on the left after two weeks of artillery bombardment. In total there were 17 divisions ( including 2 French divisions ) along a 25 kilometre front. The 2nd British army included the Australian 3rd and New Zealand Divisions.

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Initial attacks

On the flats north of Ypres most of Gough's 2nd British and the French armies reached the second and third German trench lines. By the end of the first day there had been 500 losses but all captured German positions had been retained. At 4pm on July 31, 1917 heavy rains started and continued, turning the whole battlefield into a quagmire

The weather now made further attacks difficult because guns and ammunition transports became bogged, air observation due to low visibility was difficult. Artillery shells failed to explode in the soft mud, any exploding bursts were muffled and unspotted, there was no dust or smoke to cover advancing infantry. Much of the attacking infantry had difficulty detecting the barrages they were ordered to follow but their main problem was trying to keep up with it through the mud. As attacking efforts struggled spirits fell, while those of the German defenders rose.

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Australians attack side by side in Battle of Menin Road

The Battle of Menin Road was the next offensive that started on 20 September, 1917 after a pause for fine weather. The Menin road was the main West- East route. To gain control of the road it was necessary to capture the ridges, one of which was Veldhoek Ridge, the other being Anzac ridge or Spur Zonnebeke where there was a dominating blockhouse overlooking the Menin road. It was the first battle designed to push the Germans off the Passchendaele - Messines Ridge and was to be spearheaded by I Anzac Corp. On September 16, 1917 after marching through Ypres in the night, the Australian 1st and 2nd Divisions took over a section of the battlefield on the main ridge at Glencorse Wood and a low spur to the north of it at Westhoek. The battle plan was to proceed in a succession of limited offensives ( always covered by artillery ) that followed one another at intervals a few days apart.


  1. Menin Gate at exit of Ypres

At 5.40am on 20 September, 1917, after 5 days of bombardment, 11 divisions of the 2nd and 5th BEF armies struck the Germans on a 13 kilometre front. The Australian 1st and 2nd Divisions, along with a Scottish Division, were the centre of the assault along Westhoek Ridge facing Glencorse Wood, with a combined front of 1,800 metres. It was the first occasion in the war in which two Australian Divisions attacked side by side. The Australians overcame enemy infantry opposition and advanced steadily for almost one kilometre to the first objective known as the "Red Line". It ran along a sunken road, the north edge of Glencorse Wood to Honnebeck swamp and bogs in the None Borsden Copse.


Hall of Memory inside the  Menin gate shows names of many who never returned

After an hour to resupply and reorganise the Australians continued to the second objective, the "Blue Line", which was about 500 metres from the previous objective. The "Blue Line" was fixed from Iron Cross Redoubt in the north to Albert Redoubt, Verbeck Farm and part of Polygon Wood in the south. After capturing this second objective the Australians waited another two hours before attacking their third objective the Germans Wilhelm Line, roughly parallel and 200 metres beyond the "Blue Line". 

By noon, the Australians had taken all the objectives and were at the western end of Polygon Wood. Losses 

1st Division = 2,754
2nd Division = 2,259

Awards

Second Lieutenant Fredrick Birks, 6th Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 1st Division - Victoria Cross

Private Reginald Roy Inwood, 10th Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 1st Division - Victoria Cross


Ramparts that guard Ypres near Menin Gate

The Battle of Polygon Wood meant the capture of the entire wood, the Butte, Tokio Ridge and that part of what the Germans called their Flanderin I Line. The Australian 1st and 2nd Divisions were relieved on the nights of the 22nd and 23rd of September, 1917 by the Australian 4th and 5th Divisions, with the 5th Australian division taking the right and the Australian 4th division ( transferred to I Anzac ) taking the left.

The Australian 5th Division objective was to take Flanderin I, while the Australian 4th Division was to take Tokio Ridge. Both Australian divisions were asked to supply troops for the capture of Polygon Wood. The Germans had counter attacked and driven back the northern flank of British X Corps ( south of the Australians ) in Reutelbeck Valley. This action threatened the next wave of attacks.

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Battle of Polygon Wood

The attack commenced at 5.50am 26 September, 1917 with the Australian 4th and 5th Divisions and 5 British divisions following an artillery barrage on a 10 kilometre front. The Australian 4th and 5th Divisions were responsible for a front of about 2,500 metres. All northern objectives were taken while on the southern front captured all their objectives as well as some objectives assigned to X Corps. One of the main objectives was Polygon Wood Butts, which in peacetime was the Ypres district rifle range. From the Butts the Germans commanded an excellent view of all targets with their machine guns. This was also taken.

This was designed as the second blow of the Ypres battle. Casualties on both sides were about equal. The Australian 4th Division captured all its objectives and sustained 1,717 casualties. The more heavily engaged Australian 5th Division suffered 5,471 dead and wounded. The Allied forces where now in a position to strike at the main Broodseinde ridge.


Ypres diorama at the Australian War Memorial

The Battle of Broodseinde Ridge now commenced a few kilometres south of Passchendaele. The Australian 4th and 5th Divisions were replaced by the Australian 1st and 2nd Divisions which were also joined by the Australian 3rd Division as well as a New Zealand division. It was the first time that 4 Anzac divisions had fought together. Twelve divisions would attack on a 12 kilometre front, the 4 Anzac Divisions Australian 1st, 2nd and 3rd facing Broodseinde ridge and the New Zealand division facing Abraham heights.

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Battle of Broodseinde Ridge

The attack commenced at 6am October 4, 1917 after rain commenced falling the day before. Coincidentally, the Germans planned an attack for exactly the same time. At 5.20am the German artillery opened up and then at 6am the Australian artillery started, both in preparation for impending attacks. After both troops emerged from their trenches to commence attacking to their surprise they found the enemy doing exactly the same. The Australians managed to recover from the shock quicker than their opponents as the Australian machine gunners opened up and cut the German lines to pieces. The Germans broke and the Australians managed to capture the ridge. The New Zealanders also secured Abraham heights.

The triumph at Broodseinde presented the Allied High Command with an opportunity, perhaps in the upcoming spring, of breaking the German hold. The German tactic of immediate counter attacks had proved ineffective since the British never pushed beyond the range of their guns.


Town of Ypres, Belgium

In all the fighting in the 3rd Battle of Ypres, in and around Passchendaele the 3 Australian divisions lost 6,500 men which represented 20% of its operational strength. It is believed that the Germans lost 25,000 men and 5,000 prisoners. The German High Command officially recorded October 4, 1917 as a "Black Day". Fresh German troops were put in the line opposite the Anzac troops on October 5 despite Haig's attempts to break the German lines.

Wanting to push his advantage Field Marshall Haig committed the Australian 2nd Division to an attack on Keiburg Spur on October 9, 1917 over wet ground. The Australian 2nd Division formed the flank for an attack by the British 66th Division. The Australian 2nd Division controlled a front of about 800 metres. To the north, the French and British 5th armies couldn't hold gained ground. The Australian 2nd Division ( of I Anzac Corps ) drove to Keiburg but being unsupported was driven back. On the strength of reports from the 9th of October the High Command believed that enough ground had to be gained to justify the next attempt to seize and pass Passchendaele on October 12, 1917.

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Attacks towards Passcendaele

The attack at dawn on October 12, 1917 towards Passchendaele was made by the Australian 3rd and New Zealand Divisions. The 4th Australian division of I Anzac supported the advance on the right while British Divisions supported it on the left. Heavy rain was continuing to fall and the New Zealand Division was halted by Germans firing from pillboxes who, without British artillery, were firing with impunity. The Australian 3rd Division became bogged down in the mud of Ravebeek valley below Passchendaele , however a fragment of the division, 20 men mostly of the 38th Battalion, did reach the Passchendaele church at the edge of the town while some of the Australian 4th Division reached Keilberg. Both were forced to fall back being unsupported.

The Australian 3rd Division suffered 3,199 casualties in the 24 hours of the battle, while the Australian 4th Division suffered 1,000. The New Zealand also suffered around 3,000 casualties in an action that achieved no valuable gains and only served to lift enemy spirits as they saw their attackers struggle.


Menin Gate looking towards Ypres along Menin Road

The Canadians were brought in on October 18, 1917 to do in three stages what had been attempted by II Anzac in one. Between October 26 and November 10, 1917 the Canadians finally captured Passchendaele Heights. By November, 1917 the last Australian division had been withdrawn from Ypres. The third battle of Ypres had comprised eleven great attacks, five of which I or II Anzac had formed the spearhead, as did the Canadians for the final four.

The 5 Australians Infantry Divisions had fought in the line for eight weeks and suffered a total of 38,093 casualties.

Awards

Sergeant John James Dwyer, 4th Machine Gun Company, 4th Brigade, 4th Division - Victoria Cross

Private Patrick Joseph Bugden, 31st Battalion, 8th Brigade, 5th Division - Victoria Cross

Captain Clarence Smith Jeffries, 34th Battalion, 9th Brigade, 3rd Division - Victoria Cross

Sergeant Lewis McGee, 40th Battalion, 10th Brigade, 3rd Division - Victoria Cross

Lance Corporal Walter Peeler, 3rd Pioneer Battalion, 3rd Division - Victoria Cross

Cemeteries

Buttes New British


Buttes New British Cemetery with New Zealand Memorial in background

This cemetery is located in Polygon Wood, Zonnebeke. At the rear of the cemetery is the New Zealand memorial to the missing and overlooking it, on the Butte, is the Australian 5th Division Memorial.


Buttes New British Cemetery

This cemetery contains 564 Australians out of a total of 2,066 graves. 407 of these graves are unnamed and they represent casualties from the surrounding battles of Menin Road, Polygon Wood, Broodseinde Ridge and Passchendaele .


Buttes New British Cemetery

Tyne Cot

This cemetery has 11,956 graves and covers an area of 35,103 square metres. It also contains 8,366 graves of unknown soldiers. Over 1,368 Australian servicemen are buried here in the largest Commonwealth cemetery of the War.


View from atop the old Blockhouse

The blockhouse in the centre of the cemetery was captured by the Australian 3rd Division on October 4, 1917.


Captured Blockhouse Memorial


Cross of sacrifice that now stands atop old Blockhouse


Tyne Cot Cemetery is the largest Commonwealth Cemetery of the War


Grave of Captain Jeffries VC just behind German Blockhouse


Tyne Cot Cemetery. Note German Blockhouse to left between trees

Langemark

In contrast to other Allied and Commonwealth cemeteries in the battlefields, here you will find a German one.


Mass grave now a rose garden

Generally, the cemetery is very dark and foreboding, in contrast to the white headstones used in Allied cemeteries, the German chose black granite. At the rear of the cemetery, directly across from the entrance, you can see four stationary shadowy figures. Silhouetted across the French countryside, these statues create a very powerful effect. Directly in front of the entrance is a large rose bed, that is in fact a mass grave. It holds between 25,000 and 30,000 Germans killed in the surrounding area. Along two sides of this garden are stone walls carrying the names of dead and missing German soldiers.


Cemetery grounds

The rest of the grounds are covered with granite headstones. Each headstone may denote the final resting place of up to a dozen men, buried in common graves. This contrasts with most Allied and Commonwealth graves where each headstone is usually the resting place of a single soldier. There are not many German cemeteries in the battlefields in general but a visit to Langemark is well worth a trip.

Memorials

Australian 5th Division


Australian 5th Division Memorial entrance

The Australian 5th Division memorial sits atop the Polygon Wood Butte which in peacetime was the local rifle range. From this elevated positions the Germans were able to command extensive views. The Butt was one of the major objectives of the Battle that in total cost the Australian 5th Division 5,471 dead and wounded.


Australian 5th Division Memorial


Australian 5th Division Memorial

Menin Gate


Menin Gate looking into Ypres

The Menin Gate was inaugurated on the 24th of April 1927 by Field Marshall Plumer and serves as a memorial to all those who lost their lives defending the town of Ypres. The central "Hall of Memory" within the Gate is 66 metres long and 36 metres wide. At either end there is an archway 16 metres wide and 26 metres tall. The names of 54,896 soldiers who died between 1914 and August 15, 1917 and have no known grave are engraved along the length of the memorial. Of these names 6,176 are Australians.

At the time of the War there was no actual gate just two lions on either side. These lions are now in Canberra.


One of two lions from Menin Gate now at the Australian War Memorial

At sunset each day there is a simple ceremony of the playing of the Last Post by the local Fire Brigade. 


November 14, 1917 - 5 Australian Divisions withdrawn from Ypres salient. Losses over eight weeks

Australian = 38,093

Australian losses in 1917 totalled about 55,000. This leaves the Australian Divisions 18,000 men short of full strength. It is proposed that the numerically weakest Australian 4th Division be broken up and men absorbed by other Australian divisions. A new plan arranges for the Australian 4th Division to be used as a "depot" division to be held in the rear, built up and used to replace exhausted Australian divisions, after further action. 

The 4th Australian Division is saved and now with the other 4 Australian Divisions form the Australian Corp. They now take over the comparatively quiet sector of Messines, south of Ypres. The Australian troops now totalled about 117,500 and comprised about 1/11th of the total 1.3 million troops in the British Expeditionary Force.

Mid November, 1917 - The BEF had suffered 448,614 casualties since July 31, 1917 and captured 130 square kilometres of ground, while inflicting only 217,700 casualties on the Germans. The Australian Divisions were now extremely depleted and there were serious doubts about their ability to continue as is.


Field Artillery piece at the Australian War Memorial

The end result of all this fighting was that the Germans were not forced away from the Belgium coast and their lines showed no signs of breaking. Victory, as Field Marshall Haig claimed, was solely on the basis of a captured strategic ridge. This effort had crippled his armies and extended the line that now had to be defended.

End November, 1917 - New Bolshevik government in Russia asks for an armistice with Germany. Germany agrees and is now able to transfer all eastern front armies to the Western Front in France.

December 1917 - Australian referendum to commence conscription is defeated.