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Australian 1st Division (World War I)

From Academic Kids

Image:Australian_Army_Rising_Sun_Badge_1904.png
This article is part of the
Anzac series.
Military History

Australia | New Zealand

Expeditionary Forces

AIF | NZEF

Corps

ANZAC | I Anzac | II Anzac
Australian | Desert Mounted

Divisions

Aus 1st | 2nd | 3rd | 4th | 5th
NZ & Aus | New Zealand
Anzac Mounted | Aus Mounted

The Australian 1st Division was formed in August 1914, at the outbreak of the First World War, as part of the Australian Imperial Force. It made the first landing at Anzac Cove as part of the Battle of Gallipoli. In 1916 the division was sent to France where it served on the Western Front for the remainder of the war.

After the war ended and the AIF was demobilised, the 1st Division name was revived and assigned to an Australian Citizens Military Forces (reserve) unit.

Contents

Formation

1st Brigade (New South Wales
  • 1st Battalion
  • 2nd Battalion
  • 3rd Battalion
  • 4th Battalion
2nd Brigade (Victoria
  • 5th Battalion
  • 6th Battalion
  • 7th Battalion
  • 8th Battalion
3rd Brigade 

Unit history

Gallipoli

The Australian 1st Division was raised during the initial formation of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in 1914, shortly after the outbreak of the First World War. The division comprised the first three infantry brigades to be assembled and was commanded by the senior Australian general and head of the AIF, Major-General W.T. Bridges.

Missing image
Australian_11th_Battalion_group_photo.jpg
11th Battalion posing on the Great Pyramid of Giza, 1915.

As part of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, the 1st Division made the initial landing at Anzac Cove on April 25, 1915 during the Allied invasion of the Gallipoli peninsula. The 3rd Brigade formed the covering force which landed first, about 4.30 am, from battleship tows and destroyers. The 1st and 2nd Brigades followed, landing from transports, and all were ashore by 9 am.

While the landing was lightly opposed on the beach by elements of a Turkish battalion, the Australians were checked short of their objectives by mounting Turkish resistance. Critical fights developed on the left, over the hill known as Baby 700, and on the right on 400 Plateau. The firing line that was established on the first day would largely define the front line of the Anzac battlefield for the remaining eight months of the campaign.

On 15 May, 1915 General Bridges was mortally wounded and English officer, Brigadier-General H.B. Walker was given temporary command while a replacement was dispatched from Australia. This was Colonel J.G. Legge, the Australian Chief of the General Staff, who was not an immediately popular choice with either his corps commander, Lieutenant-General William Birdwood, or his subordinate brigade commanders. Legge replaced Walker on 24 June but when the command of the newly formed Australian 2nd Division became vacant, Birdwood took the opportunity to move Legge sideways and restore Walker, who was well regarded as a fighting commander and experienced with the Anzac conditions, to the command of the 1st Division.

The 1st Division's role in the August Offensive was to hold the front line and conduct a diversion on 400 Plateau at Lone Pine on 6 August. The resulting battle was the only occasion when a significant length of the Turkish trench line was captured. On 7 August, the 2nd Brigade made an unsuccessful attempt to capture German Officers' Trench as a preliminary operation to other assaults at Quinn's Post and the Nek.

In October General Walker was severely wounded and replaced by the division's artillery commander, Br.-Gen. Talbot Hobbs who in turn fell ill and was replaced on 6 November by the commander of the Australian 1st Light Horse Brigade, Br.-Gen. H.G. Chauvel. The 1st Division was evacuated from the peninsula in December, returning to Egypt, where it was brought back up to strength. On 14 March, Walker, having recovered from his wounds, resumed command of the division, now part of I Anzac Corps.

Somme, 1916

When the 1st Division arrived in France in April 1916, it was initially sent to a quiet sector south of Armentières to acclimatize to the Western Front conditions. In mid-July, with the British offensive on the Somme dragging on, I Anzac was sent to join the British Reserve Army of Lt.-Gen. Hubert Gough who intended to use the Australian divisions to take the village of Pozières. General Walker resisted Gough's efforts to throw the 1st Division into battle unprepared, insisting on careful preparation. When the 1st Division did attack, shortly after midnight on 23 July, it succeeded in capturing half of the village but failed to make progress in the neighbouring German trench system. After enduring a heavy German bombardment, far surpassing anything yet experienced by an Australian unit, the 1st Division was withdrawn, having suffered 5,285 casualties, and was replaced by the Australian 2nd Division.

The division's respite was brief as in mid-August, with its battalions restored to about two-thirds strength, it returned to the line on Pozières ridge, relieving the Australian 4th Division and continuing the painful progress towards Mouquet Farm. On 22 August, having lost another 2,650 men, the division was one more relieved by the 2nd Division.

On 5 September, I Anzac was withdrawn from the Somme and sent to Ypres for rest. The division anticipated spending winter quarters in Flanders but was recalled to the Somme for the final stages of the British offensive. This time they joined the British Fourth Army, holding a sector south of Pozières near the village of Flers. The battlefield had been reduced to a slough of mud but the 1st Division was required to mount a number of attacks during the Battle of Le Transloy; all ended in failure which was inevitable in the conditions.

Hindenburg Line, 1917

Starting on 24 February, 1917, the 1st Division took part in the pursuit of the German forces as they retreated to their prepared fortifications in the Hindenburg Line. The division advanced against the German screen towards Bapaume and, on the night of 26 February, the 3rd Brigade captured the villages of Le Barque and Ligny-Thilloy. On the morning of 2 March, they withstood a German attempt to retake the villages. The 1st Division was then withdrawn to rest, joining the 4th Division. I Anzac's pursuit was carried on by the 2nd and 5th divisions.

By April, the 1st Division (and I Anzac Corps) was once again part of General Gough's Fifth Army (formerly the Reserve Army). On 9 April — the day the British launched the Battle of Arras — the 1st Division captured the last three villages (Hermies, Boursies and Demicourt) used by the Germans as outposts of the Hindenburg Line, thereby bringing the British line in striking distance of the main Hindenburg defences. This action cost the division 649 casualties. For actions during the fighting at Boursies, Captain J.E. Newland and Sergeant J.W. Whittle, both of the 12th Battalion (3rd Brigade), were awarded the Victoria Cross.

The 1st Division was in support during the First Battle of Bullecourt which was the Fifth Army's main contribution to the Arras offensive. Once the first attempt on Bullecourt had failed, British attention concentrated on Arras and the Fifth Army's front was stretched thin with the 1st Division having to cover 13,000 yards.

The Germans, well aware of the vulnerable state of the British defences, launched a counter-stroke on 15 April. The Germans attacked with 23 battalions against four Australian battalions. The German plan was to drive back the advanced posts, destroy supplies and guns and then retire to the Hindenburg defences. However, despite their numerical superiority, the Germans were unable to penetrate the Australian line. The 1st Division's artillery batteries in front of Lagnicourt were overrun and the village was occupied for two hours but counter-attacks from the Australian 9th and 20th Battalions (the latter from the 2nd Division) drove the Germans out. In this action the Australians suffered 1,010 casualties, mainly in the 1st Division, against 2,313 German casualties. Only five artillery guns were damaged.

On 3 May the Second Battle of Bullecourt commenced with the 1st Division in reserve but it was drawn into the fighting on the second day. The Australians seized a foothold in the Hindenburg Line which over the following days was slowly expanded. The German attempts to drive the British from their gains finally ceased on 17 May and the 1st Division was withdrawn for an extended rest.

Third Battle of Ypres

The 1st Division's artillery was in action from the start of the Third Battle of Ypres on 31 July, 1917 but the infantry were not called upon until the second phase of the battle commenced on 20 September with the Battle of Menin Road. Attacking along with ten other divisions, including the Australian 2nd Division on their left, the 1st Division captured Nonne Boschen and Glencourse Woods and gained a foothold in Polygon Wood. The Australian divisions suffered 5,000 casualties from the battle, mainly due to retaliatory shelling from heavy artillery after the advance had completed.

The 1st Division was relieved by the Australian 5th Division before the next assault, the Battle of Polygon Wood (26 September), but in turn took up the advance for the following Battle of Broodseinde (4 October), the third and final of the successful bite-and-hold attacks conceived by General Herbert Plumer of the British Second Army. This battle marked the peak of British success during 3rd Ypres and was the end of the 1st Division's involvement.

Hazebrouck

The Australians wintered in Flanders, engaging in vigorous patrolling and raiding. The 1st Division was still at Messines when the Germans launched their final offensive starting on the Somme with Operation Michael on 21 March, 1918. In the first week of April, the 1st Division, along with the 2nd, began moving to the Somme when, on 9 April, the Germans launched Operation Georgette; an attack north and south of Armentières followed by a swift drive towards the vital rail junction of Hazebrouck.

The 1st Division, having reached Amiens and about to join up with the Australian Corps, was ordered to turn around and hurry back north. Hazebrouck was reached on 12 April, just in time to relieve the exhausted British divisions. Holding a line five miles east of the town, the 1st Division helped halt the German advance on 13 April and then repulsed a renewed offensive on 17 April after which the Germans abandoned their push, concentrating instead on the high ground west of Messines.

The division remained active in Flanders from May to July, engaging in a process of informal but carefully planned raiding known as Peaceful Penetration. Their greatest success came on 11 July when they took 1,000 yards of front, 120 prisoners and 11 machine guns from the German 13th Reserve Division. This unrelenting pressure had a severe impact on German morale.

Hundred Days, 1918

The 1st Division returned to the Australian Corps on 8 August, 1918, the day on which the final British offensive commenced with the Battle of Amiens. The division was sent into action the following day, relieving the 5th Division, but was understandably late due to its rushed preparation. The 1st Division continued the attack for the next three days but progress was slow as the Australians moved beyond their supporting guns and tanks.

On 23 August the 1st Division attacked south of the River Somme towards Chuignes with the British 32nd Division on its southern flank attacking Herleville. The Australians suffered 1,000 casualties but took 2,000 German prisoners out of a total of 8,000 captured by both the British Third and Fourth Armies on that day. The 1st also captured a German 14-in naval gun. On 18 September the 1st Division took part in the assault on the Hindenburg "Outpost" Line.

Battles

External links

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