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Category: Western Front

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The Hindenburg Line. The "impregnable" last hurdle






Will Longstaff.


The Hindenburg Line- the last and strongest of the German army's defence - consisted of three well-defended trench systems, established in 1917. Throughout September 1918, Australian forces had helped the British army to secure positions from which an attack on the Hindenburg Line could be launched. Planning began for a major attack at the end of the month. It was hoped that this attack would finally break the power of the German army.
  • Tomorrow we are to take part in the greatest and most important battle that we have yet been in, for we are to assault the Hindenburg Line, the famous trench system which the Germans have boasted is impregnable.
    • Diary entry, Captain Francis Fairweather, 28 September 1918.

On 18 September 1918, a preliminary attack was launched when Lieutenant General Sir John Monash's troops reached the first part of the Hindenburg Line. At 5.20 am, Monash's troops, supported by huge artillery barrages, attacked the heavily fortified German defences and machine-gun posts. Using only eight tanks (as well as dummy tanks to distract the Germans), they broke through German positions and took 4,300 prison. Although there were 1,000 killed or wounded, this cost was fairly slim compared to the losses of the German forces.

On 29 September, the line was finally broken. Australian and US troops spearheaded this battle, given the task of breaking defences in the centre. They attacked a strongly defended sector at Bellicourt with tanks, artillery, and aircraft working in concert. Advances were made, but it was a struggle between the two forces. The fighting lasted four days and resulted in heavy losses.
American bodies from the fighting on 29 September, near Gillemont Farm, when men from the 27th American Division attacked over the main Hindenburg Line.

(AWM E04942C)

Eventually, the Allies broke through the third and final stage of the Hindenburg Line, and the Germans were forced to fall back. In this attack, troops captured the entrance to the St Quentin canal tunnel.

The Last Australian Fight- the Capture of Montbrehain

An attack on 5 October was to be the last in which Australian troops would take part. The last brigade fought and took Montbrehain village, and with that, the Hindenburg Line was completely broken. The defence of this sector was then handed over to Americans troops, while the Australians, exhausted and depleted, were withdrawn for a rest.

By this time, most Australian troops had been fighting for six months without a break, 11 out of 60 battalions were disbanded because there were so few men left in them, and 27,000 men had been killed or wounded since the Battle of Amiens. The troops were worn and war weary.



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Digger History:  an unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Forces