Menin Road (World War 1, 20 September 1917 to 25 September 1917)

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About This Campaign

 

A very useful map and additional information is located HERE (anzacportal.dva.gov.au) DVA Information sheet

Menin Road is named for the road that connects the towns of Ypres (these days Ieper) and Menin.  The Battle so named was fought to gain ground in the vicinity of Zonnebeke to the east-southeast of Ieper.  

The Battle of the Menin Road was the first major Australian involvement in the series of British ‘bite and hold’ (editors note:  Tactical doctrine developed by British General Sir Herbert Plumer) attacks which began on 31 July 1917. Collectively these operations are known as ‘The Third Battle of Ypres’.

After moving through Ypres, the First and Second Australian Divisions manned the front lines opposite Glencorse Wood on 20 September 1917. The ground was waterlogged in low lying areas but otherwise dry.   Following a five-day bombardment, the two Australian divisions advanced at 5.40 am.

They were in the centre of an assault by 11 British divisions along Westhoek Ridge, in their case facing Glencorse Wood.

The 1st Australian Division on the right of I Anzac Corps, advanced on a 1,000 yd (910 m) front north of the Menin Road, with its right aimed at FitzClarence Farm, against part of the Bavarian Ersatz Division and most of the 121st Division. The Australians passed through Glencorse Wood, which had changed hands twice in August and quickly suppressed German resistance.

The Germans at FitzClarence Farm were suppressed by rifle grenade fire, while other groups got behind and rushed the garrison, taking 41 prisoners.

Infiltration was also used against German machine-gunners in concrete shelters along the sunken road in the north end of the wood, who had caused many casualties. Close reserves worked behind the shelters, fought their way in and killed or captured the garrison. Nonne Bosschen was crossed by moving along the edges of shell craters, the second objective along the west edge of Polygon Wood being reached on time at 7:45 a.m. The Wilhemstellung (third line) pill-boxes and Mebu shelters were captured quickly, while the German defenders were dazed by the bombardment and unable to resist.  Machine-gun fire was heard from the Albrechtstellung (second line) at 8:30 a.m. but by 9:00 a.m. the British and Australians were well on the way to the Wilhemstellung (third line).

The 2nd Australian Division attacked with two brigades, one either side of the Westhoek–Zonnebeke road, against the German 121st Division, down the Hanebeek valley to the near bank. The German outpost garrisons were surprised and overrun and on the far side of the stream, the advance overwhelmed the Germans who mostly surrendered en masse. Visibility began to improve to 200–300 yd (180–270 m) and on breasting the rise, machine-guns in Albert and Iron Cross redoubts in the Wilhemstellung on Anzac House spur, the next rise to the east, were blinded by smoke grenades, at which the garrisons ran off. Further to the left, Anzac House, an important German artillery observation post, which overlooked the Steenbeek valley to the north, was captured as the garrison tried to engage the Australians by moving their machine-guns outside. As the divisions on the Gheluvelt plateau reached their second objective at 7:45 a.m., a breeze blew away the mist and revealed the magnitude of their achievement. The British and Australians had carried the defences which had held them up through August and had gained observation all the way to Broodseinde.

No German counter-attacks were mounted for the two hours that the British and Australians consolidated the second objective. The creeping barrage stood for fourteen minutes in front of the second objective, then advanced 2,000 yd (1,800 m) before returning to the new British front line and then advancing again, to lead the troops to the third objective. German counter-attacks were stopped before they reached the new British and Australian outposts. The German artillery only managed to fire a disjointed and sparse reply, which did little to obstruct the troops ready to advance to the third objective as they moved up but snipers and long-range machine-gun fire began to harass the troops consolidating the second objective. Local operations were mounted to stop sniping, using the methods that had been so successful earlier in the morning, leading to Black Watch Corner at the south-west of Polygon Wood and Garter Point east of Anzac House and other strong-points being captured.

The final objective, 1,500 metres from the start line, was secured. By noon, the Australians had taken all the objectives and were at the western end of Polygon Wood. 

On 20 September 1917, the Australians sustained 5,000 killed and wounded across the First and Second Divisions, but the ‘bite and hold’ tactics introduced at Messines by General Plumer, had once again been proven to be effective.

Charles Bean, the Australian official historian, wrote that the Battle of the Menin Road:… like those that succeeded it, is easily described inasmuch as it went almost precisely in accordance with plan. The advancing barrage won the ground; the infantry merely occupied it, pouncing on any points at which resistance survived. Whereas the artillery was generally spoken of as supporting the infantry, in this battle the infantry were little more than a necessary adjunct to the artillery’s effort.

Charles Bean, The AIF in France:1917, The Official History of
Australia in the War of 1914–1918, Volume 4, Sydney, 1941, 
.

This description bellies the fact that once again it was the infantry who bore the brunt of casualties at the point of the  bayonet and in the face of enemy small arms, machine gun and artillery fire.  At least this time their lives were not to be thrown away in ill considered attacks without adequate preparation, and by careful consolidation of ground won rather than the over-reach of previous operations that had resulted in catastrophe.

 

© Steve Larkins Feb 2014

 

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Stories

10th Battalion at Menin Road

During the afternoon of 19 September 1917, the officers and men of the 10th Battalion made final preparations for a move to a sector near Nonne Boschen and Polygon Wood where they would participate in the Battle of Menin Road.

At 11.30 p.m., the battalion left the bivouac site at Chateau Sergard and in pouring rain commenced their move to the assembly area. The move started well enough and as they passed through Shrapnel Corner and Halfway House, they were relatively cheerful considering the mud and rain and the fact they were yet again moving up to the front line. As they marched along a track marked ‘3rd Brigade Route’ they were held up for about ¾ of an hour when the carrying Company of the 26th Battalion (2nd Division) in front stopped to pick up wire, picks and other defence stores.

During the journey between Halfway House and Hooge Crater, their progress was further impeded when several gas shells burst nearby and everyone was forced to don gas helmets. After passing Hooge Crater, the track through Chateau Wood became heavy with mud, which of course slowed the pace and made it even more difficult for the men weighed down with stores, ammunition and equipment.

After reaching the assembly area at about 3 a.m., the two rear companies came under heavy enemy shelling which created high numbers of casualties and a good deal of confusion among the men. Captain Gordon Cathcart Campbell MC, (OS) worked with Captains Cornish MC and Henwood to calm the men and when the battalion moved forward to get clear of the shelling everyone was soon back in formation.

At 5.40 am, to the intense relief of the waiting troops, a massive artillery and machine gun barrage rained down upon the German positions and the attack commenced. During the advance, a strong post was encountered in Glencorse Wood from which a German machine-gunner on top of a pillbox was raking the front of the 11th Battalion with machine gun fire.

In an effort to assist the 11th Battalion, the CO 10th Battalion ordered Lieutenant Graham Leaver to take his platoon forward and deal with the situation. Leaver a platoon commander in one of 10th Battalion’s two specially trained storm companies, got around behind the pillbox and was almost at the machine gun when a German soldier with a revolver shot him in the head. Lieutenant Colonel Wilder-Neligan DSO, DCM later reported that Leaver’s men went mad and ‘filled the place with bombs.’ An 11th Battalion Corporal Harry Hodge DCM, rushed forward, shot the machine gunner and captured the gun.

The Australian divisions suffered approximately 5,000 casualties in the Battle of Menin Road and the British even four or five times that number. Despite heavy casualties the bite and hold tactic had proven effective.

The Germans with much of their field artillery destroyed had suffered equal numbers of casualties and the realisation the allies were not advancing their infantry beyond the range of their guns surprised the German command.

When the divisions involved were quickly relieved as planned, the 5th Australian Division took over the right, and the 4th (again transferred to I ANZAC) took over the left and the next great blow to be struck against the increasingly demoralised Germans would commence on 26 September.

On 25 September the 50th Battalion were to attack the ridge between Polygon Wood and Zonnebeke and so at 1.a. m., the following morning they left Westhoek and moved up to their jumping off point. Zero was at 5.50 a.m., and the battalion without sustaining a single casualty reached the forming up tape by 4.30 a.m.

At 5.50 a.m., just as the Polygon plateau became visible, the 4th and 5th Australian Divisions advanced at the centre of seven divisions along a 10 kilometre front. A most magnificent barrage roared ahead of the attacking troops like a raging bush-fire and on the low ground to the north, the 4th Division which was in touch with the 3rd British Division at the edge of Zonnebeke secured all objectives. The step-by step strategy had now brought the front line to the foot of the main ridge running through Broodseinde and up towards Passchendaele.



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Names

Showing 8 people of interest from campaign

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BRINSMEAD, Reginald William

Service number 64
Second Lieutenant
8th Infantry Battalion
AIF WW1
Born Mar 1893

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TUBB, Frederick Harold

Service number Officer
Major
7th Infantry Battalion
AIF WW1
Born 28 Nov 1881

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DOLBY, John

Service number 6243
Private
9th Infantry Battalion
AIF WW1
Born 2 Mar 1879

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MCLACHLAN, Neil

Service number 3878
Lieutenant
6th Infantry Battalion
AIF WW1
Born 14 May 1894

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WOOD, Stanley Victor Morley

Service number 8955
Sapper
14th Field Company Engineers
AIF WW1
Born 30 Jul 1897

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POTTER, Daniel

Service number 3096
Private
9th Infantry Battalion
AIF WW1
Born 20 Feb 1892

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CRAWFORD, Henry Stephen Walter

Service number 4296
Sergeant
12th Infantry Battalion
AIF WW1
Born Sep 1889

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PATERSON, George Gibson

Service number 120
Lieutenant
1st Divisional Signal Company
AIF WW1
Born Feb 1895

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