23rd Infantry Battalion AIF, (VIC) 6th Brigade, 2nd Division

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About This Unit

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The 23rd Battalion was raised at Broadmeadows north of Melbourne, in early 1915, to form the third Battalion of the 6th Brigade in the 2nd Division. Its colour patch denotes its lineage.  The diamond shape signifies the 2nd Division.  The red lower segment indicates that it is the second brigade of three in the Division and the bown upper segment indicates that the unit is the third of four battalions in the brigade.  

The Battalion's arrival was impacted by the torpedoing of the 'Southland', on which B Company of the 23rd battalion was embarked along with the 21st Battalion and elements of the 6th Brigade Headquarters and attached elements. .  It could have been a lot worse as loss of life was contained to about 40 personnel.

The battalion had arrived too late to take part in the August offensive so its role was purely defensive.  However it and the 24th battalion were allocated one of the most dangerous parts of the Anzac front line - Lone Pine. The fighting here was so dangerous and exhausting that battalions were relieved every day.  In addition to combat casualties, disease was a major factor too with enteric fever / dysentery taking its toll in parallel. The 23rd manned Lone Pine, alternating with the 24th Battalion, until they left Gallipoli in December 1915.

After extraction from Gallipoli in December 1915, the 21st Battalion refitted and reinforced in Egypt before embarking for France in March 1916.  In April, it and the rest of the 2nd Division were being introduced to trench warfare in "The Nursery" sector near Armentieres,  

Later when the bulk of the AIF moved to the Somme sector in France for the 'big push', at Pozieres it was engaged mainly on carrying duties in the first phase of the Battle, but suffered its heaviest casualties of the war during the fighting around Mouquet Farm in late August, where the toll was so great that less than 10% of the battalion was comprised of 'orogonals' at the end of the campaign. 

After a short stint in Belgium the 6th Brigade was back on the Somme for the winter, the most severe in 40 years.

In early May 1917, the 2nd Division was engaged in the follow up of German troops withdrawing to consolidate their front along the Hindenburg line, conducting delaying defence through what were called the Outpost Villages.  This culminated for the 21st Battalion at Second Bullecourt in May, where it endured heavy casualties. 

Later, it and the 6th Brigade moved north to Belgium for the Third Ypres Offensive, taking part in Menin Road in September and then in October participated in the 3-kilometre advance that captured Broodseinde Ridge, east of Ypres, engaging an advancing German formation in a meeting engagement which resulted in the Australians routing their opponents.  The Third Ypres campaign and 1917 petered out in the mud and misery of Passchendaele.

Like the rest of the AIF the battalion saw out the year recuperating from the trials of the Ypres sector through another bleak winter. 

Then in mid March 1918, the front erupted with a stunning German offensive which crumpled the Britis h 5th Army in its path.  The AIF less the 1st Division, was rushed south to plug gaps in the collapsing British line in the face of the 'make or break'  German spring offensive of April 1918, aimed at dislocating the French and British line and cutting Paris off from the Channel Ports before the Americans arrived in decisive numbers.  The 2nd Division was defending the SW section of the long spurline separating the Ancre and Somme rivers around Morlancourt.

Elements of the 6th and 7th Brigades then participated in the battles that would mark the beginning of the end for Germany; Le Hamel, on 4 July, the Battle of Amiens on 8th August and from 31st August to 2nd September, the 2nd Division's spectacular success in capturing Mont St Quentin.

The Battalion played a key role in the capture of Mont St Quentin, from 30 August.  

Like many Australian battalions, the 23rd was severely depleted after the travails of the Offensive. They advanced on the Hinenburg Line and after it was breached and Riqueval, the advance continued to the Beaurevoir Line where the 2nd Division battalions fought their last battle at Montbrehain on 5 October.

At the conclusion of the battle, the 23rd was withdrawn from the line for rest and reorganisation and like the rest of the AIF Divisions,  did not take part in further combat before the war came to an end on 11 November 1918.  Then the process of repatriation to Australia began, posing a whole new series of challenges for the men of the 24th Battalion.

 

Commanding Officers

Morton, George Frederick
Fethers, Wilfred Kent
Brazenor, William
Bateman, William Joseph
Knox, George Hodges

Decorations

1 VC; 1 CBE; 4 DSO, 1 bar; 2 MBE; 25 MC, 3 bars; 21 DCM; 147 MM, 11 bars; 6 MSM; 35 MID; 5 foreign awards

Battle /Campaign/ Involvement 

ANZAC (/explore/campaigns/1) Apr - Dec 15     

Pozieres  (/explore/campaigns/5)            23 Jul-3 Sep 16

Mouquet Farm  (/explore/campaigns/103)   7 Aug-3 Sep 16

Bapaume 1917   17-Mar-17

2nd Bullecourt (/explore/campaigns/6)    3-17 May 17

Menin Road  (/explore/campaigns/26)       20-25 Sep 17

Broodseinde (/explore/campaigns/18)      4-Oct-17

Poelcappelle (/explore/campaigns/27)      9-Oct-17

1st Passchendaele (/explore/campaigns/28)    12-Oct-17

Le Hamel  (/explore/campaigns/33)          4-Jul-18

Amiens (/explore/campaigns/14)              8-11 Aug 18

Mont St Quentin (/explore/campaigns/15)   31 Aug-3 Sep 18

Beaurevoir    (/explore/campaigns/128)        5 Oct 18

Click on the link to learn more about the Battle  / campaign.  For particular detail you will need to refer to the battalion war diary - see link in sidebar.

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.

 

Compiled by Steve Larkins Jan 2021

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Stories

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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