Military History

This week in History | Week 13

By The Cove March 23, 2020

23 - 29 March


23 March 1945 | Waitavolo and Tol plantations captured by Australians, New Britain

In 1942, the Tol plantation was the scene of the massacre of some 150 Australians as they attempted to flee Rabaul. The capture of the plantations in March 1945 enabled the Australian 5th Division to establish a line across the Gazelle Peninsula from which they were able to conduct patrols against Japanese positions in the North of New Britain.


24 March 1944 | 'The Great Escape' from Stalag Luft 111, after which five Australian prisoners of war were executed

On 24 March 1944, over 200 men prepared to break out of Stalag Luft III, at Sagan in German-occupied Poland. They had taken nearly a year to dig their tunnels – nicknamed Tom, Dick and Harry. Seventy-six prisoners got away, but the Gestapo recaptured and murdered fifty, including five Australians. Of the 76 escapees, only three reached Allied lines. The Sagan escape was the largest planned breakout of Allied prisoners in the war. The attempt inspired the Paul Brickhill book, The Great Escape, and a film adaptation. Click below to watch a short clip of the film. Social distancing? Then consider watching the whole film. Despite a few historical discrepancies, it's a cracking movie.


26 March 1917 | First Battle of Gaza begins

The first battle of Gaza took place on 26 March 1917 and was the first Allied attempt to capture this major Turkish centre lying 32 kilometres inside the border of Palestine. The Allied strength included two Australian Light Horse Brigades and the ANZAC Mounted Division under Major General Harry Chauvel

The plan was for two British infantry divisions to attack Gaza from the south while the mounted troops of the Desert Column would attack from the flanks and north. When the attack was launched the infantry made slow progress but the mounted troops succeeded in capturing high ground to the north of the city and advancing into it. Concerned by the lack of progress made by the infantry, and fearing the water supplies vital for the mounted troops would not be captured that night, Lieutenant General Dobell, the British officer commanding the operation, ordered a withdrawal at dusk. The next morning, after realising his mistake, Dobell attempted to resume the battle with the infantry, but with the troops exhausted and the Turks having received reinforcements, the attack floundered.

28 March 1918 | The First Battle of Dernancourt, France

Dernancourt, a village on the River Ancre in France, was the scene of much desperate fighting during the German offensive of March and April 1918. The 12th and 13th Brigades first occupied positions around Dernancourt on 27 March. Elements of the 50th (Prussian) Reserve Division launched an attack on the morning of the 28th that was repulsed by the 12th Brigade, using the embankment of the Albert-Amiens railway line as a defensive barrier. This action, however, was only a precursor to a larger, more determined effort by the Division later in the day, mounted right along the Australians' thinly held front. Fighting continued until the early evening, but the Germans were eventually defeated, with approximately 550 casualties, and at a cost of 137 to the Australians. 


29 March 1885 | New South Wales contingent arrive in Sudan

The offer by New South Wales to send a contingent to the Sudan was a demonstration of the depth of imperial sentiment in colonial Australia. Consisting of an infantry battalion, an artillery battery, and a small field ambulance detachment, it was the first military contingent to be raised and deployed overseas by an Australian colony.



The Cove

The home of the Australian Profession of Arms.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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