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Category: Western Front

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The Warneton Stunt

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The Approach The Attack The Attack (2)

The 11th Brigade, AIF, action in ‘The Warneton Stunt’, 11 to 31 July 1917,  

with special reference to 42nd Battalion  

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 - pp 712  

Since 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.

By early 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].

For the 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.  

Major A.R. Herorn (Bowen, Q‘land) of the 42nd was sent for to command the 41st.   

Not 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.  

… The 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 communications.

On July 11th, after its ‘eighteen days’ the 11th Brigade went out to rest and to practise for the attack.

The feint 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.

The German posts were only 100 yards distance in the centre, and, when the advance began the 42nd and 43rd were upon them almost immediately.

The left 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 left.)

During 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.

 The losses of the 11th Infantry brigade at Messines were:



Other Ranks

41st Bn                  



42nd Bn                



43rd Bn



44th Bn                 



11thMG Coy



11th Light Trench Mortar Battery    






                        Imperial War Museum Reading Room, London, 14 January 2003

  • All the maps on this page and linked from this page are Copyright ©, Richard G Crompton. 

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