Page 4263 - Week 13 - Wednesday, 16 November 2005

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I am not going to harp about Gallipoli—we all know about that—but it is interesting to note the number of battles Australian troops fought in and in fact played a decisive role in after Gallipoli. In the Middle East, the Light Horse and the Camel Corps and other Australian units, after the infantry divisions went to France, participated in Romani in August 1916, in Maghdaba in December 1916 and Rafa in January 1917. The first battle of Gaza was on 27 March 1917, which would have opened the way to Palestine except that the British commander pulled the Australians back after they had taken the town.

The second battle of Gaza was in April 1917. General Murray, a rather incompetent British general, was then replaced by General Allenby, who was much more competent, and under Lieutenant-General Harry Chauvel the Australian Corps there participated in such magnificent battles as Beersheba, the last great cavalry charge by the British commonwealth and empire troops. Gaza fell as a result of that and Allenby and Chauvel and their troops moved forward to liberate Jerusalem. The Australians took Damascus—it was the Australians rather than Lawrence of Arabia—and that concluded the war on that front.

All of those battles were punctuated by sterling deeds by the Australians, sometimes having to carry some of the British units with them. On the Western Front in 1916 Australian troops arrived just in time to take part in the dreadful battles of Pozieres and the Somme—examples of outdated generals having no idea of, or no regard for, manpower, throwing troops in with basically 19th century tactics against modern weapons such as gas, artillery and machine guns. Australians participated in Guadencourt in 1917, Bellecourt battles Nos 1 and 2, Messieres and the third Ypres battle, and indeed who can forget the muddied Passchendaele and the absolute waste and useless slaughter there in October 1917.

Events looked up in 1918. In all of those earlier battles, Australian troops fought magnificently, often taking German positions and holding out against incredible odds. The commander on the Western Front, of course, was Field Marshal Haig, who was known as “butcher Haig”. I suppose one thing that can be said to the man’s credit was that he finally realised that he and General Rawlinson were not really quite up to it, and they found a magnificent general—the best general on the Western Front according to Field Marshal Montgomery, Basil Liddell Hart and any number of military experts—and that, of course, was Australia’s very own General Sir John Monash.

The Australian Corps was formed under Australian leadership and the results were spectacular. Not long after the German offensive of March 1918, which pushed huge holes through the British and French lines, forcing them back, Australians held at Villers-Bretonneux in early April of 1918 and then counterattacked the town, which was taken on Anzac Day in 1918. With Monash in command, the battle of Hamel was fought. This was a textbook battle on 4 July 1918, where Australian troops, supported by some American troops, advanced and easily took the town, with absolutely minimal casualties. Monash was a breath of fresh air; he combined fire and movement, use of planes, use of tanks, coordinated arms and meticulous planning. The man was a genius, and he was very concerned for the lives of his troops.

Amiens followed on 8 August 1918. Ludendorff, the German field marshal, said it was a black day for the German army, and things just did not look up for the Germans after

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