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Category: Western Front

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The 11th Brigade, AIF, action in 

The Battle of Broodseinde, 

(3rd Ypres or Passchendaele)

4th October 1917, 

 special reference to 42nd Bn  

Research by Richard G Crompton

Broodseinde Ridge, Belgium. 5 October 1917. Broodseinde Ridge was seized by the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Australian, and 7th British Division on 4 October, that day's action being known as the 'Battle of Broodseinde'. The New Zealand Division simultaneously seized the `Abraham Heights' to the north west. The photograph was taken on 5 October and shows the 24th Battalion in trenches near 'Flinte Farm' beyond the crest of the ridge looking down on the woods (in the middle distance) to which the Germans had been driven. Celtic Copse can be seen in the background.

An abstract and adaptation from:

Bean, CEW,  1933, ‘The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18, Vol IV, The AIF in France 1917’, Angus and Robertson, Sydney - Chapter XX Third step – Broodseinde pp 833  

with photos from the AWM

Major Phillip Llewellyn Howell-Price DSO MC MID (1894-1917). 

He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in 1st Bn AIF and served at Gallipoli in August & September 1915.


He was Mentioned in Despatches for work in the Lone Pine battles. He also fought at Armentieres, France, 1916-06 for which he received the Distinguished Service Order, the Somme in July, Flers in November and at Bullecourt in 1917-03. He was awarded the Military Cross and was later to die at Broodseinde, Belgium on 1917-10-04. Sergeant (later Lieutenant) Thomas Brew DCM of the 2nd Battalion, AIF, who was killed in action at Broodseinde, Belgium, on 4 October 1917. (Donor Mrs M. Brew)


The II ANZAC Corps – the New Zealand and the 3rd Australians – had only just begun to leave the far back areas at Lumbres and the date of the third step [of the Ypres offensive] depended on how quickly they could be brought up and make their preparations.  For II ANZAC, with short notice of its task, the preparatory work was much more difficult.

During September 27 ANZAC pioneers and engineer were largely engaged in extending the duckboards along the tracks for the approach march, but there was nowhere time to lay them the whole way, and the roads prepared for the artillery could not be planked.

Click to enlarge Men and pack mules rounding Idiot Corner, on Westhoek Ridge, in Belgium, moving up to the front line. To follow the duckboard and corduroy track was to be seen silhouetted against the skyline, both from the Australian position and that of the enemy - before he was driven from Broodseinde Ridge. But passage over any part other than the top of the ridge was impossible owing to mud. At this point many transports and guns were wrecked by the constant shellfire, and others were lost in the morass. One vehicle actually sank out of sight in the ooze a little to the right of the picture.

On September 29, when 3rd Australians began to come in next to I ANZAC, [but] foot tracks and the telegraph installations were not nearly as advanced as for I ANZAC.

By October 1 the two ANZAC Corps had adjusted their inner boundary between them, shifting it to the Ypres-Rouliers railway.

Each of the three Australian divisions had a task [of] an advance of 1,200-2,000 yards on a 1,000 yard front.  The coming attack was to be made in two stages, the troops advancing to the line – known as the ‘Red Line’ – 100-200 yards short of the crest, and then, after about an hours pause, rushing the crest and pushing forward to a ‘Blue Line’ – 200-400 yards beyond [what is now Tyne Cot Cemetery].  … As the railway veered to the north before cutting through the crest, the right division of the 3rd Division would, in the second stage, have to cross it diagonally.

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Pioneers of the 1st Australian Division preparing a duckboard track over the muddy waste near Zonnebeke, in the Ypres Sector, the day after the Australian attack on Broodseinde Ridge.

General Monash arranged for the 3rd Division to have two intermediate objectives, making four in all, and used one battalion for each of them.

The weather was uncertain, and the slight misty rain in the afternoon of October 3 gave some warning of the difficulties to be faced when the fine spell broke.

The preliminary bombardment … consisted largely of practice barrages with which, from October 1 twice daily, each corps swept the ground of the attack and the area beyond.  No other intense bombardment was to fall until ‘zero hour’ – 6 o’clock on the morning of the 4th – when the whole orchestra would strike up and the infantry would simultaneously advance.

Broodseinde Ridge, Belgium. 5 October 1917. The Headquarters of the 24th Battalion, established in a dugout on Broodseinde Ridge, the day following the capture of the Ridge. 

Troops of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Divisions took a conspicuous part in the operations.

Click to enlarge

The moon, which was full, was hidden, and, from the point where the duckboards ended, the tracks, although excellently marked with tapes and stakes, were difficult, especially in the Zonnebeke valley, which lay close behind the jumping-off tapes for the 3rd Division.  Its engineers had bridged the swampy beds at seven points with duckboards.  Some of the crossings had been destroyed by shellfire but most of the 10th and 11th Brigades, which had to pass, found them and those who could not struggled through the bog.  The Germans close ahead were constantly firing white flares and coloured signals. … the approach of the 3rd Division was under direct observation from Windmill Cabaret Hill [Hill 40] and was delayed by necessary halts when white flares went up.

… The space for the 3rd Division’s assembly ahead of the Zonnebeke was very narrow, and General Monash gave his brigadiers leave to hold back the battalions destined for later objectives.  The 41st Battalion was accordingly given an assembly area besides 11th Brigade Headquarters, 1,200 yards in rear. [However because of constant German barrage the 41st squeezed behind 10th Brigade.]

Click to enlarge Scarcely anything was left at Remus Wood, except mud and shattered tree stumps, after the battle for Broodseinde Ridge, in the Ypres Sector. The German pillbox in the central background, alongside a well, withstood the shells. To the left of the photograph (which was taken the day following) is a sunken hedge full of German dead; whilst the duckboard track shown in the bottom left hand corner, leads to the crater in Broodseinde Ridge.

On the right the troops were very close to the enemy.  The night was quiet until shortly before dawn. ‘At about 5.20 … a yellow flare went up, instead of a white (as heretofore).  It was followed by a couple more and then a sheaf of them … About seven minutes later, the German barrage began to come down, battery by battery.  By 5.30 it was really heavy…. Of course we thought that the attack had been discovered. …’

Most of the forward battalions suffered least; where there was room the rear lines edged forward to escape the worst of the storm.  Most of the men, lying in shell holes with waterproof capes drawn over their heads against the rain, simply had to endure it.

‘Then (at 6am) our barrage opened – tremendous …’

An officer of the 43rd described [the barrage] as ‘like a wall of fire’.  The battalions of the 3rd Division … [followed] it more or less in one crowded line at the outset, the rear waves pressing upon the front ones in their haste to avoid the enemy’s barrage.  

Dead and wounded Australian and German soldiers in the railway cutting on Broodseinde Ridge. 

The Australian soldier, wearing a tin hat, slightly left of centre is Private Walter Radley, 60th Battalion

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The 43rd, which led the right brigade, met the Germans at once from the crest of Windmill Cabaret ridge, [Hill 40], where this had not been seized on September 26th. On the right a machine gun opened up from a pill box near Zonnebeke station, on the left some posts threw bombs from the hilltop.  All were quickly suppressed, the Germans on the crest fled.  At this stage … in the 42nd Lieuts JP Kelly-Healy and WH Comper were killed.

Webmaster's note. It was at this point that 805 Sgt CFW Harris of D Coy of the 42nd took command of the Platoon and led it for the rest of the attack. The award of the MM was a result.

I ANZAC troops moving forward [to catch up with the creeping barrage saw] moving objects which immediately after were recognised as another line of troop who were also just rising from the shell holes.  Most of the Australians who saw them instantly grasped the fact that these were German. … At some points the Germans were advancing with bayonets fixed …

broodseinde11.jpg (47415 bytes) German dead along their front line posts near Hannebeek, after its capture in the Battle of Broodseinde on the Menin Road. The 5th, 6th and 7th Brigades advanced over this area from Westhoek Ridge, which faintly shows in the distance. The white line (across the centre of photograph) is a tape track, a canvas strip about 2 inches wide, indicating the direction the advancing infantry have taken, for the benefit of those following behind.

Both brigades swept over the crest and into the next valley, beyond which rose Gravenstafel Ridge.  On the left there now occurred a splutters of firing around a pill box (Israel House).  German bombs were bursting ten yards in front of the shooting Victorians, but a party could be seen working round through a hollow.  Resistance ceased and the line swept on.

At this stage, in order to allow the New Zealanders to cross the bog farther north, the barrage rested for a double period, twelve minute, and General Monash had therefore placed his first intermediate objective for the 3rd Division.  The two leading battalions dug in, while the rest hurriedly reorganised, and then passed through.  On the right boundary of the division the railway began to curve northwards on an embankment.  Through the boggy crater-field its track was always a main avenue of communications, and shelters and pillboxes along it were now crowded with Germans.  Many were brought in as prisoners by ‘mopping up’ parties, but some, with hands above their head, ran in unsought.

Click to enlarge Click to enlarge
German prisoners in the compound at Hoograaf, after their capture by Australians in the Battle of Broodseinde Ridge, in the Ypres Sector. Passchendaele Area, Belgium. c. 1917. A German Army Commander with his adjutant and staff being held as prisoners of war at St Jean. This group were captured in a dugout during the battle at Broodseinde. The Commander is second from the left. (Donor British Official Photograph C2491)

After the short halt the right brigade went on in excellent formation of section columns, the 42nd (Queensland) Battalion leading.  Its right crossed the railway and reached the ‘Red Line’ after a little fighting.

Precisely on the Red Line were two pillboxes known as ‘Thames’. As the barrage lifted from these, Captain R Skinner (Geraldton W. Aust) and Lieut. RB O’Carroll (South Brisbane), 44th Bn, who were then crossing the railway, made for them.  Files of the 3rd Division’s right, picking their way through the bog and stump of ‘Thames Wood’, found themselves being accurately followed by whizz-bang shells.

Click to enlarge Three unidentified Australians outside the type of shelter used by the Australian troops in support at Broodseinde Ridge, in the Ypres Sector, during the fighting on 4 October 1917. 

Strewn outside the shelter are guns, gas masks and water cans.

(The] left, however, was quickly held up by fire from the bed of the valley behind Alma.  Perceiving that a dangerous gap had opened, the commander of the reserve company, Lieutenant Dunbar, swung two platoons across the front of Alma, filled the vacant space, and seized three pillboxes, which, if un-attacked, might have held up the whole central division.

It was at Alma, and perhaps in this attack, that John Henry Crompton died.

As this objective (the ‘Red Line’) was duly reached at 7.20, in the centre of the 3rd Division, there was to be a halt until 8.10 for reorganisation of the battalions destined to attack the summit.  But actually this pause saw some of the hardest fighting of the day. 

The country east of the Broodseinde Ridge, Flanders. View from Broodseinde over the unshelled country beyond, into which the High Command determined to break through in the attack upon Passchendaele, planned for 12 October. On the extreme right is a German captive balloon; on the extreme left is the farm 'Assyria', in German possession.


The 3rd Division attacked the junction of the ridge and the Abraham Heights spur … employed only one battalion for the objective in each brigade sector, but with another battalion leading the way within 200-300 yards of the final objective and digging in there for close support.  The Flandern I Line (Dab Trench) ran diagonally across the ground to be traversed.  The right brigade began to encounter it at once, and, crossing the old wire-entanglements in swampy ground north of the railway, part of the 44th and 41st Battalions were unable to keep up with the barrage.  German pillboxes along the demolished trench brought machine-guns into action.  A pillbox, ‘Seine’, which proved to be another battalion headquarters, was taken by Lieutenant Bremmar (44th) and some men working to its rear.  Another pillbox was fired on with rifle grenades and then rushed by Lieutenant Fraser (41st), who thus set free the checked troops. 

The Headquarters of the 3rd Australian Division at the Ramparts, at Ypres, the day before the relief of the Division by the Canadians. 

It was from here that the operations of the Division at Broodseinde and Passchendaele Ridges were directed. 

Note the ambulance in the right foreground

Click to enlarge

Both battalions of the 3rd Division allotted for this task were amongst the finest in the AIF, combining fighting vigour with a special degree of orderliness, due to General Monash’s careful handling.  On the right the 41st (Queensland) reached with little difficulty its objectives near Nieuwemolen cross-roads, the key of the ridge.  The 11th Machine Gun Company at once established there two guns which, [and] together with … the Lewis guns of the 41st Battalion, swept the slopes from Keiberg to the railway.


North of the railway line [where] the 41st had only been digging for twenty minutes when the Germans were seen coming up in sections by rushes to the hedge of Keerelaarhoek cemetery. … These Germans made some attempts against Captain Valow’s company, and were driven off.  At about 11 o’clock another force appeared, coming down in sections from the direction of Passchendaele, crossed the railway, and settled into the old trenches 200 yards from the 41st.  … The Germans in front began to snipe sharply.

At 11 o’clock General Plumer gave consideration to a plan by which I ANZAC would take over the 41st Battalions front south of the railway and advance eastwards in cooperation with the right of II ANZAC.  General Monash, being consulted, agreed that the two leading battalions had suffered severely, he might, by swinging right get a better jumping off line for the next attack.  At 2 o’clock Plumer abandoned this idea.

At 10pm an SOS signal brought down the British barrage.  The 44th Battalion was warned to have men ready to assist the 41st, but the 41st didn’t need them.  The German counterattack had not necessitated bringing forward a single unit.

Click to enlarge Stretcher bearers and dressers of the 9th Field Ambulance, asleep on the railway embankment in front of Thames House, beyond Zonnebeke Railway Station. The men are utterly exhausted, and have fallen asleep in the mud at their relay post, in total disregard of the cold, and drizzling rain which had just commenced to fall, and the harassing shellfire of the enemy upon the Broodseinde Ridge area where they were on battle duty. They had worked sixty hours without rest.


The German staff waiting on Broodseinde Ridge for news of the success of their own enterprise at Zonnebeke had found their attack troops swept away, and the waves engulfing themselves.  The subsequent throwing of two (3?) counter-attack divisions (German 45th Reserve, 4th Bavarian and 25th Reserve Divisions) against the ANZAC front failed to regain and inch of ground.   The ANZAC troops, despite intense fire laid on them before the start, had never fought better.  ‘The black day of October 4th’ the German Official History called it.

The losses of the 11th Infantry Brigade at Broodseinde were:

Officers Other Ranks
41st Bn    9  248
42nd Bn   13   210
43rd Bn    6  178
44th Bn 13 193
11th Machine Gun Company 1 18
11th Light Trench Mortar Battery   0  8
Totals 41 855

      Imperial War Museum Reading Room, London, 14 January 2003

Webmaster's note. In Viet Nam Australia lost 500 good men in 10 years. In France the 42nd Battalion alone (one of over 60) lost 541 good men in 3 years, many of them at Broodseinde.

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