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The Rock-itt : May 2012
The Australian Imperial Force attacks the Hindenburg Line The W estern Front was a series of trenches that ran 700 kilometres from the Belgian coast to the Swiss border. It was during the later stages of the First Battle of the Somme in 1916 that the German High Command (Generals Hindenberg and Ludendorff) began creating their greatest fortified line - The Siegfried Line (known to the Allied Forces as the Hindenberg Line). It was built between 10 and 50 km behind the Somme Battlefield and was protected by belts of barbed wire in front; as the Battle of the Somme drew to a close in the muddy winter of 1916, German troops made a gradual withdrawal to these well prepared positions with their solidly built dugouts – behind this line was the Beaurevoir Line. The main advantage of the Hindenberg Line, was that it straightened out the German’s defence line, eliminating salients and other fluctuations in the line. It reduced the frontage by 50 km and thus released another 10 divisions of infantrymen and 50 batteries of heavy artillery for the Reserves. On the specific orders of Ludendorff, the area between the former defence line and the Hindenberg Line was systematically destroyed by a 'scorched earth' policy. Mines were laid to make the area even more dangerous and inhospitable to the Allies. Ludendorff described it as “a totally barren land in which their manoeuvrability was to be critically impaired” . The Germans separated the Hindenberg Line into operational areas, called Stellung. There were five Stellung, namely, from north to south, Wotan, Siegfried, Alberich, Brunhilde and Kriemhilde. The Siegfreid was the first, and the strongest of the five Stellung. It ran for 160km between Lens and Rheims and was completed in an amazing five months, using a vast force of more than half a million German civilian contract labour and Russian prisoners of war. At it’s heart was a network of deep trenches - some 15 foot deep and 12 feet wide - and dug- outs protected by a wall of barbed wire 20 metres wide; a truly impenetrable barrier to infantry and cavalry alike. Following the early battles of the Kaiserschlacht (Kaiser W ilhelm’s last gasp push before the American troops arrived in France) in March when the might of the German army was thrown against the Allies, the weakened German forces were forced to retreat to the Hindenburg Line. By Spetmebr the majority of this defensive system was It was this line that saw the last action involving Australian infantry on the W estern Front in the First World War in what was to be known as the Battle of Montbrehain – 3 rd to 5th October 1918. The attack was at the small village of Montbrehain. Following the breaking of the Hindenburg Line, the attack on Montbrehain on 5th October 1918 represented an attem pt to breach the final elaborate system of German defences. Advancing on the early morning of 5th October the 6th Brigade AIF succeeded in occupying the village and in the process took 400 German prisoners. The action claimed 430 Australian casualties. The battle started on 3 rd October was supported by heavy artillery bombardments and tanks, was renewed strongly on Saturday 5th October at dawn, the Australian 2nd Division moved against Montbrehain and the 25th Division, further to the north, attacked towards Beaurevoir. Toiling through thick barbed-wire entanglements and concentrated German machine-gun fire, Australian and British infantry pressed forward; Montbrehain was secured by late afternoon thanks to the final arrival of 11 Mark V Tanks. The 6th Australian Brigade formed up for the attack against Montbrehain about half a mile from the German trenches...only the 21st and 24th Battalions were to attack, with the 2nd Australian Pioneer Battalion covering the right flank. On the north-western outskirts of the village a quarry held by about a hundred German soldiers with forty machine guns was captured by the 24th Battalion, but only after a long and fierce struggle. The reserve 18th and 27th Battalions were brought up and by 4pm, the whole of Montbréhain, with over six hundred unwounded prisoners and 150 machine guns, was in Australian hands, and a line was established beyond it. The fighting for the Beaurevoir Line was ferocious and intense but at last these final prepared defences of the German army had been broken through and open country lay ahead. Now the fate of the Germ an Army was decided. The W estern Front trench system was never entirely broken, but by the 11th Novem ber 1918, the Germans had unconditionally surrendered, a general ceasefire was agreed for By The Rockitt’s War Historian, Simon Lyon An aerial photo of part of the Siegfried Line in 1919