Military History

This Week In History | Week 29

By The Cove July 13, 2020

Week 29 | 13 - 19 July


13 July 1918 | 10 Bde took the town of Merris, France

In early 1918, the collapse of the Russian resistance on the Eastern Front enabled the Germans to transfer a large number of troops to the west and the Germans subsequently launched their Spring Offensive. The offensive was initially successful in pushing the Allies back towards Amiens and the 10th Brigade's battalions, which had remained around Armentières throughout the winter, were hastily committed to a defensive role. In late March, the brigade fought defensive actions around Dernancourt and Morlancourt. On 13 July, the brigade captured Merris.


14 July 1918 | Fighting at Abu Tellul, Palestine

A German and Ottoman force (of about 1000 men) attacked the Australian Light Horse units defending the heights at Mussallabeh and Abu Tellul on the edge of the Judean Hills, while a German force attacked those defending the Wadi Mellaha midway between Abu Tellul and the Jordan River. As these attacks were taking place on the western bank of the river, on the eastern side the Ottoman Caucasus Cavalry Brigade deployed two regiments to attack the bridgeheads at the fords of El Hinu and Makhadet Hijla. However, the Ottoman formation was overwhelmed by a combined force of British and Indian troops before it could launch its attack. These were the last attacks against the British forces in this campaign.


16 July 1943 | Battle of Mount Tambu

Mount Tambu was the highest point on the track that ran between Salamaua and Mubo in south-eastern New Guinea. Rising to a height of 280 metres above sea level, it had several steep, almost sheer, faces and the summit could only be approached along several razorback ridges. As such, it was a strong natural defensive position and was occupied by the Japanese during the Allied offensive towards Salamaua in mid 1943.

A Company of the 2/5th Battalion began the attack on Mount Tambu on 16 July, advancing up a ridge to the south and capturing two knolls upon where Japanese outposts were sited. The Japanese, realising their mistake in letting the Australians gain a foothold on Mount Tambu, counter-attacked relentlessly. Reinforced by D Company, the Australian positions resisted until the Japanese finally broke contact on 19 July.

Patrols in subsequent days found the Japanese to be reinforcing their positions on the main feature and Brigadier Murray Moten, commanding the 2/5th's parent formation, the 17th Brigade, was ordered not to conduct any further attacks until artillery support became available. Another attack was launched by A and D Companies of the 2/5th on 24 July after a short artillery and mortar bombardment. Given inadequate time for reconnaissance, and attacking straight up widely separated razor back ridges, the companies could make little progress.

One small group from D Company fought its way through three rings of Japanese bunkers to reach the summit of Mount Tambu, but, unsupported, it was forced to withdraw. On 30 July a company of the 1st Battalion, 162nd United States Infantry Regiment, made a similarly unsuccessful attempt to seize the summit.

Ultimately, Mount Tambu was only occupied after Allied operations had captured the main ridgelines to the west and north, thereby encircling the Japanese and forcing them to withdraw on 19 August.


19 July 1916 | Battle of Fromelles

The attack on Fromelles on 19 July 1916 was the first major battle fought by Australian troops on the Western Front. It was a feint designed to prevent the Germans reinforcing their troops on the Somme, where the Allies had launched a major offensive on 1 July. The ruse, however, was unsuccessful.

Towards the evening of 19 July 1916, the Australian 5th and British 61st Divisions attempted to seize 4000 yards of front line centred on the ‘Sugar Loaf’. However, the British bombardment, which commenced on 16 July, had warned the Germans that an attack was likely. As the troops moved into position on 19 July, they were unaware that they were being watched by German observers a mile away. The Germans heavily shelled the assembly area and communications trenches, causing hundreds of Australian and British casualties before the attack even started.

The assault began at 6 pm with three and a half hours of daylight remaining. The front line to the north of the ‘Sugar Loaf’ was on average 200 metres wide and the Australians quickly crossed no-man’s-land, seized the German front line, and then pushed on for 140 metres in search of a supposed third and last line of the German trench system. No such line existed and the Australians began forming a thin disjointed series of posts in the intended position.

Other Australians attacked opposite the ‘Sugar Loaf’ where no-man’s-land was 400 metres wide. The Germans had survived the British shelling and quickly manned their machine guns. Within 15 minutes they had decimated the attacking waves of Australians, forcing the survivors to find shelter. British troops attacking south of the ‘Sugar Loaf’ suffered a similar fate and made no progress. The British planned a second attempt to capture the ‘Sugar Loaf’ salient and asked the Australians for help. This plan was cancelled but the news arrived too late to stop the Australians mounting another attack with equally disastrous results. 

The next morning the Australians that had breached the enemy’s lines were forced to withdraw to their own lines. The Australians suffered 5,533 casualties in one night, the worst 24 hours in Australia’s military history. Many fell victim to German machine-guns. The Australian toll at Fromelles was equivalent to the total Australian casualties in the Boer War, Korean War and Vietnam War put together. It was a staggering disaster that had no redeeming tactical justification whatsoever. 




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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