The 11th Brigade, AIF,
action in ‘The Warneton Stunt’,
11 to 31 July 1917,
reference to 42nd Battalion
An abstract and
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 - pp 712
Messines the several Corps of the Second Army, [including the 11th
Brigade’s famous ‘eighteen days’,] had tried to get within striking
distance of the Warneton Line.
July, despite much hard work and several small actions, none of the Second
Army’s corps was close enough to the Warneton Line to allow the feint
[to be successful]. … A
line of German outposts intervened. On
the front of the 3rd Division, at Messines, some of these lay along a low
ridge (really a branch of the Hun’s Walk spur) which ran obliquely
across the south-east front of Gapaard.
Resistance was especially strong in certain posts near the
windmill, and Brigadier-General Cannan … proposed to clear them with a
minor operation [as part of Plumer’s feint towards Lille].
creation of a new trench-system, the 11th Brigade was an exceptionally
effective body. This was due
to the excellent liaison existing between the 11th Field Company under
Major R.J. Donaldson (Broken Hill, N.S.W), the infantry, and the pioneers.
In this 18-day tour, working parties, everywhere under the
direction of two or three experts, transformed the forward system.
Posts were pushed out; a new advanced front line was dug; a series
of bays, with fire-steps and traverses, was made immediately in advance of
the old front line, which then became a traffic trench behind them.
Six cross-trenches were made between the front and support lines.
Wells were sunk, and headquarters for companies and battalions were
constructed or improved. The
battalion headquarters were in the old German concrete dugouts around
which the fiercest fighting had taken place in the afternoon phase of the
Battle of Messines.
A.R. Herorn (Bowen, Q‘land) of the 42nd was sent for to command the
unnaturally, the local German garrison met the threat implied in the
Australian activity by strengthening its own posts. Patrols of the 11th Brigade, and of the 9th which succeeded
it, found signs that these posts were being linked by a continuous trench.
The enemy‘s position along the Windmill ridge shut out from the
Australians the view of the Warneton Line.
Thus even the new front line in this sector was not a good one, and
[Brigadier-General] Cannan decided
to thrust the German outposts from this ridge. His troops first tried to
do so by small patrol-attacks on the night of July 3 but were repelled by
two of the posts, and a patrol which captured a third post was driven out
by a strong counter-attack, Lieunt. E. McK.. Stevenson (Burringbar,
N.S.W), 42nd Battalion, being badly wounded.
The 42nd had 16 casualties this day, and the 43rd 25, mostly
through the barrage called down by the Germans.
plan was that an assaulting wave should clear the German posts, continuing
past them under the barrage, and, when the barrage reached the Warneton
Line, lie down in front of the entanglement of that line to cover the
digging operations in [the] rear. Slightly
in the rear a second wave would move up to the cleared posts, mop them up,
if necessary, then pass on 100 yards and dig its own posts.
A third wave would dig a continuous fire trench further back, as
well as communication trenches to the advanced posts.
Within an hour the covering party would begin to fall back through
the new posts, and help completing the new fire-trench and the
11th, after its ‘eighteen days’ the 11th Brigade went out to rest and
to practise for the attack.
and the main offensive began at the same time, [July 31st] at 3.50am.
The 3rd Division attacked with two battalions, the 43rd and 42nd,
on a front of 1,300 yards. They
were supposed to be facing twelve German outposts, numbered 3-14; the
posts the Australians were to establish were numbered III-VIII.
The 11th Brigade, which had relived the 9th on the previous day,
brought up its two attack battalions in motor-buses to the old Messines
front line and, despite the wretched conditions of the communication
trenches, assembled the troops in the support trench without a hitch, the
existing garrison, the 41st temporarily withdrawing to the second system.
German posts were only 100 yards distance in the centre, and, when the
advance began the 42nd and 43rd were upon them almost immediately.
battalion (42nd Queensland) also met opposition at posts 8 and 9, and at
others on the left, but word quickly came back that that the posts had
been taken. Within a quarter
of an hour the first wave had gone on, and was lying along the wire of the
Warneton Line, and the second wave was digging posts III-VII and the third wave was busy upon the new fire-trench.
(An extra post, IIIA, was placed to command some dead ground on the
the morning, German airmen flew over, and from 2pm to 6pm the new
positions, till then free from shell-fire, were heavily bombarded.
To lessen the casualties, the working parties were temporarily
withdrawn. Rain fell
steadily. At dusk, when the
tired 42nd and 43rd were about to be relieved by the 41st the bombardment
became intense. The
German’s counter-attacked, but were kept away from most of the posts.
losses of the 11th Infantry brigade at Messines were:
11th Light Trench Mortar
Imperial War Museum Reading Room, London, 14 January 2003