19th Infantry Battalion (NSW) 5th Brigade, 2nd Division, AIF

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About This Unit

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19th Infantry Battalion, 5th Brigade, 2nd Division, AIF

This history narrative is an extract of that contained in the Royal New South Wales Regiment site  (see link in sidebar).  Data summaries are per the AWM record for the Battalion.

The 19th Battalion was raised at Liverpool SW of Sydney in Febraury 1915, as part of the 5th Brigade in the 2nd Division, and its soldiers were drawn from NSW. There is little detail of its early existence other than in the personal files of those drafted into the Battalion during that month.

On 16 March 1915 the first commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel WR Watson took command. It is also noted in the 19th Battalion War Diary on 29th March “that 19th Battalion (5th Brigade) formed. Lt Col WR Watson in command”.

On 27 April 1915 after commanding for 43 days Lieutenant Colonel Watson relinquished command and was transferred to command 24 Battalion, 6th Brigade. On the same day Lieutenant Colonel W.K.S. MacKenzie, DSO, VD, a Sydney barrister and former Commanding Officer of the 25th Infantry was appointed to command the Battalion.

The Battalion departed for service overseas on 25 June 1919 on A40 HMAT Ceramic finally disembarking at Alexandria in Egypt on 23 July 1915.

After training in Egypt, the Battalion after a short sea voyage via Lemnos disembarked at Anzac Cove on 21st August, 1915 and entered the line at Hill 60 the following day. From 18th September until the evacuation, the unit was responsible for the defence of Popes Hill, one of the most critical points in the ANZAC defence system. Over two days,19-20 December, it took part in the Australian withdrawal from Gallipoli and after resting at Mudros on Lemnos Island arrived back in Egypt on 7January 1916.

After re-organisation in Egypt, and helping prepare defensive positions east of the Suez Canal 19th Battalion was moved to France on the Western Front disembarking at Marseille on 25 March 1916.

The Battalion’s first major action in France was at Pozieres, which was notable in that according to Australian Historian Captain CW Bean the German shelling was the most intense ever experienced by the AIF during the War. The shelling was in support of numerous German counter-attacks to recover their vital ground. Casualties suffered by 1 ANZAC Corps in this battle amounted to 23,000 over a period of about 40 days.

Possibly the most notable action of 19th Battalion was its capture and defence of Gird Trench part of the notorious 'Maze' defence system north of Flers on 14th November, 1916. The failure of the flanking battalions to reach their objectives left the unit out on its own, holding a salient deep within the German lines.

For two days and nights 19th Battalion held this position against counter-attacks and intense shelling, using German weapons so that their own.303 ammunition could be used to maintain their Lewis Guns in action.

Of the 451 all ranks that went into the attack, 381 became casualties of whom more than 100 were KIA, reported as MIA then later confirmed as KIA or were WIA and subsequently DOW.

Another notable action was at Second Bullecourt on 3rd May 1917. Due to heavy enfilading German machine gun fire from Queant the Battalion again suffered heavy losses and barely managed to take the first objective of the three objectives allotted to it before being relieved on the following day. Of the 14 Officers and 550 Other Ranks that took part in this ill conceived and badly planned attack at least 115 members of the Battalion were KIA or reported MIA and later after Courts of Enquiry were confirmed as KIA.

On 20 September 19th Battalion moved back into Belgium where it took part in a series of operations collectively titled The Third Ypres Offensive. During preparations for an attack against Broodseinde Ridge the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel C.R.A. Pye, DSO, was killed in action on 4th October, 1917.

The Battalion and the rest of the 2nd Division was engaged in the Battle of Poelcapelle on 9th October, which was really a preliminary operation to capture the Passchendaele ridge.  Tragically, the Third Ypres campaign bogged down in the misery of the 1st and 2nd Battles for Passchendaele in late October and November.  The 2nd Division played a minor role in the former and none in the latter.

Another winter shut proceedings down until March 1918 with the 2nd Division remaining in Flanders.

Then in late March the Somme front erupted as the Germans unleashed their make or break Spring Offensive , intended to dislocate the French British front and cut Paris off from the Channel Ports to give the Germans the best possible position from which to sue for peace on their terms before the arrival of US forces in large numbers.  The AIF was despatched piecemeal by the British High Command to block gaps in the crumbling British 5th Army front.

The 2nd Division spent most of this period in an arc south of Villers-Bretonneux north to Molancourt, under command of the British 3rd Army and had relieved the 4th Division after it had fought the Germans to a standstill near Dernancourt. .  The 5th Brigade was detached under command of the British 4th Army and for its part,  19th Battalion was sent back to The Somme River Valley where it re-entered the front line south of Villers-Bretonneux on 6th April, 1918 west of the Bois de Hangard – Hangard Wood.

The next day in a combined operation by B Company of the 19th Australian Infantry Battalion and C Company of 20th Australian Infantry Battalion, which was commanded by Captain C Wallach of B Company the 19th Battalion 'a counter attack was launched against German positions in Hangard Wood'.

For his gallantry and bravery during the course of this action, Lieutenant Percy Valentine Storkey was awarded a Victoria Cross for a daring series of acts, which enabled the attack to succeed.

In May the Australian Corps was at last formed and General John Monash appointed as its commander, although not without a lot of opposition and thinly veiled anti-Semitism by people, including correspondents Bean and Packer trying to influence Australian PM Billy Hughes who himself was wavering.  They were proven wrong by subsequent events.

The Division and its Battalions were active in the period known as ‘Peaceful Penetration’, advancing the line by limited but coordinated attacks on German defensive outposts.

Le Hamel was the first test of the new Corps structure, but most importantly the tactis that Monash had been advocating;  each Division had at least a token representation in the Order of Battle.  It was a set-piece demonstration of the application of Combined Arms theory and it worked perfectly.  The 2nd Division contribution comprised elements of the 6th and 7th Brigades, including the 21st 23rd and 25th Battalions on the southern flank of the attack.  It was all over in 93 minutes, and Monash’s position as Corps Commander was secure.

A month later and it was time for the main event as the Battalion took its place in the Australian for the Great Allied offensive, the "Last Hundred Days" campaign beginning on the 8th August 1918 with the Battle of Amiens.  British III Corps north of the Somme, then the Australian and Canadian Corps side by side south of the Somme coordinated with the French Army further south.

The 2nd Division started the Amiens offensive on the right hand flank, leading ‘two-up’ with the 3rd Division on the left.    The 4th and 5th Divisions followed respectively with the 1st Division as Reserve.  Surprise, synchronised artillery that had achieved registration of targets using data from new sound-ranging techniques, and the shock action imparted by use of tanks on a scale hitherto not seen led to spectacular gains as Monash had forecast at Le Hamel and initial objectives were achieved within three hours.

The 2nd Division’s ‘finest hour’ was the attack on Mont St Quentin from 30 August to 2nd September in concert with the 5th Division which cleared the town of Peronne after a risky river crossing of the Somme.  The 6th Brigade’s consolidation of the heights of the Mont was the turning point of the battle.

After the 2nd Division attack on the Beaurevoir Line at Montbrehain on the 5th October, the AIF was withdrawn from the line to reinforce and refit following the accumulated losses it had sustained since 8th August.

The Australian Corps was then withdrawn for rest and re-organisation, which involved the disbandment of that battalion in each brigade which was numerically the weakest, in order that the others might be brought up to strength.  

On 10th October, 1918, the 19th Australian Infantry Battalion was one of eleven battalions of the AIF to suffer this unhappy fate.

Through October 1918, Allied troops advanced quickly through a sequence of successful offensives, and threatened the last German line of retreat. Having suffered a series of major setbacks and defeats, the German forces finally collapsed and Germany agreed to an Armistice on 11 November 1918. 

Commanding Officers

Mackenzie, William Kenneth Seaforth
Pye, Cecil Robert Arthur
Beiers, Harold Mathieson

Decorations

Members of the Battalion received the following awards during the course of the war: 1 VC; 5 DSO; 1 OBE; 31 MC, 2 bars; 20 DCM; 84 MM, 5 bars; 8 MSM; 19 MID; 6 foreign awards

Battle/Campaign/ Involvement

Gallipoli, 1915 (/explore/campaigns/1)  25 Apr - 19 Dec 1915

Suvla (the August Offensive / Hill 60) (/explore/campaigns/3) 6 Aug - 28 Aug 1915

Pozières (/explore/campaigns/6) (includes Mouquet Farm) 23 Jul - 12 Sep 1916

Flers / Guedecourt (/explore/campaigns/24)   18 October - 16 November 1916

Bapaume, 1917 (/explore/campaigns/21) (Outpost Villages etc) 15 Feb - 3 Apr 1917

Bullecourt (/explore/campaigns/6)  3-11 May (2nd) 1917

Menin Road (/explore/campaigns/26)   20-21 Sep 1917

Polygon Wood (/explore/campaigns/19)  24-25 Sep 1917

Broodseinde (/explore/campaigns/18) 4 Oct 1917

Poelcappelle (/explore/campaigns/27) 9 Oct 1917

Passchendaele (/explore/campaigns/28)  24 Oct - 10 Nov 1918

Albert, 1918 (German Spring Offensive 1918 (/explore/campaigns/80)) 21 March - 1 May 1918

Hamel (/explore/campaigns/33)  4 Jul 1918

Amiens (/explore/campaigns/14) 8 Aug 1918

Mont St. Quentin (/explore/campaigns/15) 31 Aug - 2 Sep 1918

Hindenburg Line (/explore/campaigns/81) 28 Sep - 5 Oct 1918

Beaurevoir (Montbrehain) (/explore/campaigns/128) 5 Oct 1918

Generic Battle Honours

Egypt, 1915-16

Somme, 1916, '18

France and Flanders, 1916-18

Ypres, (/explore/campaigns/23) 1917

Sources:

AWM https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/U51457

Unit History: Title: Fighting Nineteenth - History of the 19th Battalion AIF 1915 - 1918, Author: Mathews, Wayne and Wilson, David 

Originally compiled 2014 and updated by Steve Larkins Dec 2020

We would particularly like to encourage individual historians researchers or members of unit associations to contribute to the development of a more detailed history and photographs pertaining to this unit and its members.

Please contact  admin@vwma.org.au  (mailto:admin@vwma.org.au) for details on how to contribute.

 

 

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Stories

The ANZAC 'A' insignia


Members of the Australian Imperial Force who served on Gallipoli will be entitled to wear over the Unit “Colour Patch” on both sleeves of the Service Dress Jacket and Greatcoat the letter “A” an indication that the wearer had taken part in the operations on the Gallipoli Peninsula.  - Military Order 354 of 1917

Members of the Australian Imperial Force who served on Gallipoli or the Islands of Lemnos, Imbros and Tenedos, or who have served on transports or hospital ships at or off Gallipoli or the Islands above-named, or in AIF lines of communication Units in Egypt will be entitled to wear over their Unit “Colour Patches” on both sleeves of their Service Dress Jacket and Greatcoat the letter “A” as an indication that the wearer had taken part in the Gallipoli operations. - Military Order 20 of 1918

Robert Kearney

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Interpreting AIF Colour Patches

The colour patches which identified units in the AIF were designed to show what division or service they belonged to, and also, in the case of infantry units, their brigade and the sequence of the Battalion in that Brigade.

The shape of a colour patch indicated the division or service -
1st Division - horizontal rectangle split horizontally
2nd Division - diamond shape split horizontally
3rd Division - horizontal ellipse
4th Division - circle split horizontally
5th Division - vertical rectangle split vertically.

The lower colour denoted the brigade's sequence in the Division. Usually (but not always!) these colours were:
Green - first brigade in the division
Red - second
Light Blue - third

The 4th Brigade, originally in the 1st Division , had a dark Blue lower half. Its reallocation to the 4th Division after Gallipoli threw both the brigade / battalion numbering sequence (the most logical at any time in the history of the ADF) and the colour patch structure into disarray!

In the first AIF there were four infantry battalions to each brigade, and the upper section (or LHS in the case of the 5th Division) of the colour patch identified each one. Usually (but not always!) these colours were:
Black - first
Purple - second
Brown - third
White - fourth

Thus every battalion had a unique colour patch.

Other Arms and Service Corps had variations but those attached to the five divisions generally incorporated the shape of their parent Ddvision.

Source: Text taken from The 27th Battalion Centenary: The Historical Record of the 27th Battalions 13th August 1877-1977 and Programme of Centenary Celebrations, Unley SA, 1977

Notes:
1. Strictly speaking there was no such thing as the 'First AIF'. The term is often used unofficially to distinguish the Australian Imperial Force of the First World War from the Second AIF raised to fight in World War 2.

2. The colour patch scheme was first introduced into the AIF in March 1915, just in time for the initial Gallipoli landings. The 2nd Division received its patches in August 1915, and gradually the scheme was expanded to include the whole AIF.

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