A quick guide to military anniversaries in 2018

10 April 2018

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David Watt (with assistance from Nicole Brangwin)
Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security

1918 anniversaries and commemorative ceremonies

In 1918, the First World War entered its fifth calendar year. The strength of national pride and of the fighting capacity of Australia's forces had been acknowledged in late 1917 with the formation of the Australian Corps, comprising the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Divisions. However, the high number of casualties made it difficult to keep the Australian divisions at strength. In May 1918 Lieutenant General John Monash became the first Australian commander of the Australian Corps.

On 21 March 1918, Germany, freed in the east by the defeat of Russia, launched Operation Michael (also known as the Spring Offensive), an initially successful final offensive on the Western Front in France aimed at splitting the Allied forces in the Amiens area and driving towards the English Channel. After the German offensive stalled, the stalemate on the Western Front began to turn in favour of the Allies with their more effective use of combined infantry, artillery, tanks and aircraft. During the final months of the war, the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) was involved in a number of significant battles leading up to the Armistice on 11 November 1918.

In March 2018, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs announced a list of significant anniversary dates which will be the focus of commemorations during 2018. This list includes significant events which occurred during 1918, but also other actions from various wars. The following list is based on the minister’s announcement as well as the Department of Veterans’ Affairs commemorations and anniversaries webpages. Information has also been taken from the Australian War Memorial’s ‘This month in military history’ pages.

Date

Event

Description

4 April 1918

First battle at Villers-Bretonneux, France

The first Villers-Bretonneux battle involved the defence of the area round the town by the 35th Battalion against a German attack (part of their Operation Michael) and a counter-attack by the 36th. Had the German army captured Villers-Bretonneux, they would have been within a few miles of Amiens.

8 April 1918

Repatriation Department established

The Repatriation Department was established to oversee the task of rehabilitating and returning the large numbers of Australian military personnel back to civilian life.

24–25 April 1918

Second battle at Villers-Bretonneux, France

The second battle took place on 24 and 25 April and involved a night-time counter-attack by the 15th Brigade of the AIF under Harold ‘Pompey’ Elliott in a desperate attempt to recapture the town of Villers-Bretonneux. The successful counter-attack by the Australians during the second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux was described by British Commander Brigadier General Grogan VC as ‘perhaps the greatest individual feat of the war’. The words ‘Do not forget Australia’ are on a sign in the playground of the Victoria school in Villers-Bretonneux which was rebuilt after the war with money raised by donations from Victoria, Australia.

A new museum presenting the experience of Australians who served on the Western Front, the John Monash Centre (located in the grounds of the Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery adjacent to the Australian National Memorial), will open on 24 April 2018.

April and May 1918

Es Salt raids, Middle East

The raids on Es Salt were part of the Allied attempt to advance north through Jordan towards Damascus. In The first Es Salt raid and The second Es Salt raid Major JM Clerke of the 3rd Light Horse Regiment provides a first-hand account of fighting in difficult terrain in April and May 1918. Clerke describes leading horses up a 4,000 foot (1,220 m) mountainside on bare slippery rock paths so narrow that the horses’ ammunition panniers scrapped the rock on one side while overhanging a sheer drop of hundreds of feet on the other. During the withdrawal from the second raid, or ‘stunt’, Clerke describes riding through a wheat crop with ‘sprays of [enemy] machine-gun fire cutting the grain’. Clerke considered the second Es Salt raid to be a greater failure than the first.

2 July 1918

Prime Minister Hughes addresses Australian military forces on the Western Front before the Battle of Hamel, France

The Official Histories noted the visit by Prime Minister ‘Billy’ Hughes and Minister for the Navy Sir Joseph Cook to the Western Front and highlighted this section of Hughes’ speech:

Your deeds, the history of this war, are the basis upon which the future nation of Australians will be brought up. You have fought to keep alive the ideal of freedom and to save Australia from the domination to which, if Germany won, we would certainly be subjected. While you are doing that abroad we pledge ourselves to look after your interests at home.

Hughes was referring to the repatriation scheme that had been established a few months before.

4 July 1918

Battle of Hamel, France

According to the Australian War Memorial:

The Battle of Hamel was the first set-piece operation planned and conducted under Lieutenant General Sir John Monash. It came to be regarded as a model for later Western Front battles.

The Battle of Hamel, fought on American Independence Day, was the first significant instance of Australian ‘Diggers’ fighting alongside their newly-arrived American ‘Doughboy’ allies. The relationship between Australian and US troops is encapsulated by one Australian Soldier who wrote:

At the very outset, the newcomers made no secret of their admiration of the Australians. Indeed, their outspoken regard ... was almost embarrassing. On the other hand, the ‘diggers’ were well disposed towards such a friendly lot of men, and the two parties got on splendidly together.

In an October 2004 article titled ‘Independence Day at Hamel’, Mitchell Yockelson describes how the successful first Australian-American battle alliance happened despite the objections of the American Expeditionary Force commander, General John Pershing.

31 August 1918

Battle of Mont St Quentin, France

Lieutenant General Sir John Monash led a much-reduced AIF to overcome the Germans in control of Mont St Quentin. Monash said the battle:

... furnished the finest example in the war of spirited and successful infantry action conducted by three divisions operating simultaneously side by side.

The battle included battalions from every state in Australia. British Commander General Lord Rawlinson observed that the feat by the AIF ‘under Monash’s command was the greatest of the war’. This battle pushed the German forces back to their last defensive position, the Hindenburg Line. 

18 and 29 September 1918

AIF battles at the Hindenburg Line

 

On 29 September 1918, Australian and US forces spearheaded the attack on the German Army’s last and strongest line of defence, the Hindenburg Line. This second attack followed the breaching of the line by the 1st and 4th Australian Divisions on 18 September. On 3 October 1918, Australian troops broke through the final defensive system of the Hindenburg Line. During one of the battles, official AIF photographer George H Wilkins rallied and led some US troops who had lost their commander. Wilkins received a bar to his military cross, becoming the only official Australian photographer decorated for bravery in the field during the First World War.

19-25 September 1918

Battle of Megiddo, Middle East

The climactic battle of the Palestine campaign cleared the way for the Allied forces to advance on Damascus:

Deceiving the Turkish high command that his next offensive would be launched across the Jordan River, General Sir Edmund Allenby secretly concentrated his forces on the coastal plain. His offensive began with a massed infantry assault that tore a hole in the Turkish line and allowed the mounted forces to be unleashed into the Turkish rear to sever the routes vital for supply and reinforcement. Within 24 hours the mounted troops had advanced over 50 kilometres into the Turkish rear areas. (Australian War Memorial)

1 October 1918

Light Horse enter Damascus, Syria

The Australian 10th Light Horse were the first Allied troops to enter Damascus and in doing so they presaged the end of the war with the Ottoman Empire.

5 October 1918

Battle of Montbrehain, France

This was the AIF’s final action in France in the First World War and involved an assault on the final major set of German trenches left after the breaking of the Hindenburg Line.

30 October 1918

Armistice with Turkey

The Allies signed an armistice with Turkey on HMS Agamemnon in Mudros harbour.

3 November 1918

Armistice with Austria-Hungary signed

After suffering a significant military defeat at the hands of the Italians (aided by the British and French) and with the Czechs, Serbs, Croats and Hungarians declaring independence, Austria-Hungary signed an armistice at the Villa Giusti in Italy.

11 November 1918

Germany signs armistice

Germany signs an armistice ending the fighting on the Western Front.

The Australian War Memorial is planning a program of events to commemorate the 100th anniversary, which will take place between 5 October and 11 November 2018.

19 December 1918

War Service Homes Act

This Act established the War Service Homes Commission which provided home loans to military personnel who served overseas. The National Archives of Australia notes:

Through the War Service Homes Division, returned servicemen were able to apply for government assistance to finance approved plans and specifications for houses. The houses were usually conventional in style, and were designed by the War Service Homes Division or private architects.

Other significant anniversaries

Second World War

Opening of the International Bomber Command Centre

Some Australian Second World War veterans who served in Bomber Command and family members of veterans will travel to the United Kingdom to take part in the opening of the International Bomber Command Centre in Lincoln on 12 April 2018.

September 1939–May 1945

75th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic

The Battle of the Atlantic spanned nearly the whole duration of the Second World War and was crucial to Britain’s survival and the supply of the Allied forces. Royal Australian Navy vessels were involved in convoy escort duties and Australian personnel served aboard various Royal Navy vessels as well as merchant ships. A total of 5,000 Australians were awarded the Atlantic Star (the campaign medal awarded for six months service afloat or two months with an operational air squadron). The most intense period of the battle ended in 1943.

A ceremony to commemorate the Battle of the Atlantic will be held on 1 May 2018 at the RAN Memorial on Anzac Parade in Canberra.

May–June 1968

50th anniversary of the Battles at Fire Support Bases ‘Coral’ and ‘Balmoral’, Vietnam

May 2018 will mark the 50th anniversary of the battles between Australians and attacking communist forces at Fire Support Bases ‘Coral’ and ‘Balmoral, which became known as the ‘Mini-Tet’ offensive.

In ‘Fire Support Bases Coral and Balmoral—May 1968: 1st Australian Task force in defence of Saigon’, Lex McAulay explains that Australian forces had to very quickly adapt from patrolling and searching for the enemy to defending themselves against attacks from enemy forces of battalion and regiment size.

A commemorative service will be held on 13 May 2018 at the Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial on Anzac Parade in Canberra.

27 July 1953

65th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice

The armistice, signed by the US-led United Nations Command and military commanders from China and North Korea, suspended open hostilities and was only meant to be a ceasefire until a longer term peace settlement could be reached. It also created the infamous demilitarised zone.

A commemorative service will be held on 27 July 2018 at the Australian National Korean War Memorial on Anzac Parade in Canberra.

16 October 1943

75th anniversary of Australian work on Hellfire Pass and the completion of the Thai Burma Railway

In early 1943 the Imperial Japanese Army, determined to speed up completion of the 420 km Burma-Thailand railway, used 9,500 Australian and 51,000 British, Dutch and American POWs and 270,000 conscripted civilians as labour for its construction. Many died during the railway’s construction, including 2,646 Australians, 10,000 other Allied POWs and 70,000 civilians. The railway was completed on 16 October 1943. Hellfire Pass was the deepest and longest cutting on the railway.

A commemorative service will be held on 16 October 2018 at the Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial in Ballarat, Victoria.

 

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