Military History

This Week In History | Week 15

By The Cove March 24, 2020


06 - 12 April

 

06 April | 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, arrives in Korea

1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR) was in Australia when the Korean War began in 1950. However, the battalion was not deployed immediately as Australia's initial commitment consisted of 3RAR. In 1951, in anticipation of deploying to Korea, 1RAR was brought up to strength with volunteers from 2RAR and new enlistments from the 'K' Force recruiting campaign, which brought a large number of men with experience from World War II into the battalion. In September 1951, the battalion received orders to move to Korea and after a farewell march through Sydney 1RAR departed for Japan on 18 March 1952 onboard HMAS Devonshire. After a period of training in Japan, 1RAR arrived in South Korea on 6 April 1952, joining the 28th Brigade on 1 June. On 19 June 1952 1 RAR moved into the line taking over from the 1st Battalion, Royal Leicesters.

 

07 April 1916 | Australians reach the Western Front

During mid-March the 1st ANZAC Corps, composed of the Australian 1st and 2nd Divisions, plus the New Zealand Division, departed from Egypt and arrived at Marseilles, France on 19 March. On 1 April Australian advance parties moved on to the Western Front and occupied front line trenches for the first time on 7 April.

After the horrors of the ANZAC Peninsula some Australians, both on the front line and at home, were mildly optimistic and thought that the Western Front could be an easier campaign. Indeed, there were some reasons for this optimism. The battle hardened ANZAC troops had been joined by large numbers of fresh reinforcements from Australia and the original two divisions were expanded to four.

However, the general and more realistic consensus was that the Western Front would result in further heavy casualties, every bit as terrible as the experience at ANZAC Cove, despite it being a comparatively good time for the Australians to enter the battle zone – the bulk of the German attention on the Western Front was focussed on the massive Battle of Verdun that was wreaking a grim harvest of French and German lives.

The 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th Australian Divisions were commanded by General William Birdwood, and they were initially sent to a quiet sector near the Belgian border for a period of familiarisation, after which they occupied front line trenches around Armentieres replacing the British II Corps. This area was one of the less active zones of the Western Front at the time but even here there were short periods of heavy action and the introduction of the ANZACs to the Western Front was a harsh one. (AWM)

Additional Resource: Book | The Western Front Diaries of Charles Bean by  Charles Bean, Peter Burness (Editor).

 

10 April 1941 | Siege of Tobruk, Libya, begins

Between April and August 1941, around 14,000 Australian soldiers were besieged in Tobruk by a German–Italian army commanded by General Erwin Rommel. The garrison, commanded by Lieutenant General Leslie Morshead, consisted of the 9th Division (20th, 24th, and 26th Brigades), the 18th Brigade of the 7th Division, along with four regiments of British artillery and some Indian troops.

It was vital for the Allies' defence of Egypt and the Suez Canal to hold the town with its harbour, as this forced the enemy to bring most of their supplies overland from the port of Tripoli, across 1,500 km of desert, as well as diverting Axis troops from their advance on Egypt. Tobruk was subject to repeated ground assaults and almost constant shelling and bombing. The Nazi propagandist Lord Haw Haw (William Joyce) derided the tenacious defenders as 'rats', a term that the Australian soldiers embraced as an ironic compliment.

The Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy provided the garrison's link to the outside world, the so-called 'Tobruk ferry'. 

Half the Australian garrison was relieved in August, the rest in September-October. However, 2/13 Battalion could not be evacuated and was still there when the siege was lifted on 10 December, the only unit present for the entire siege.

Australian casualties from the 9th Division from 8th April to 25th October numbered 749 killed, 1,996 wounded and 604 prisoners. The total losses in the 9th Division and attached troops from 1st March to 15th December amounded to 832 killed, 2,177 wounded and 941 prisoners.

Additional Resource: Book | Tobruk by  Peter FitzSimons.

 
11 April 1917 | First battle of Bullecourt, France 

Four experienced Australian divisions of I ANZAC Corps were part of the British 5th Army under General Sir Hubert Gough. The general wanted to attack at Bullecourt to support an important offensive by the adjoining British 3rd Army to the north and the French Army further to the south. Relatively young, Gough was an energetic commander. However his aggressive spirit, coupled with poor planning, resulted in heavy losses. His attack launched at Bullecourt on 11 April 1917 was a disaster. Despite this, a further attack across the same ground was ordered for 3 May. The Australians broke into and took part of the Hindenburg Line but no important strategic advantage was ever gained; in the two battles the AIF lost 10,000 men.

Additional Resource: Book | Battles of Bullecourt 1917 by  David Coombes.

 

12 April 1918 | Battle of Hazebrouck, Western Front

The Battle of Hazebrouck, also described as the Battle of the Lys, occurred near Hazebrouck in the Lys river area of northern France during the German Spring Offensive of 1918. Hazebrouck, a small town of 13,000 inhabitants, was critical to the Allies as the town’s railway was responsible for delivering half their daily food and munitions supplies. The German advance pushed the allies to breaking point and on 11 April Field Marshal Haig issued his famous 'Back to the Wall' appeal.

“… Three weeks ago to-day the enemy began his terrific attacks against us on a 50 mile front. His objects are to separate us from the French, to take the Channel ports and destroy the British Army. …There is no other course open to us but to fight it out! Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall, and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight to the end.”

Despite repeated attacks by German infantry over the next five days, the Australian main line held and the Germans failed to break through to Hazebrouck. 

Additional Resources:

Book | Australian Army Campaigns : Battle of Lys April 1918 by Colin Mattey.

Website: The Sir John Monash Centre

 


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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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