September 1918

September 1918

The Hundred Days Offensive

The Battle of Mont St. Quentin and Peronne began on the 31st August 1918. The Australian Second Division moved toward the Mont and by taking a position on the high ground which overlooked Mont St. Quentin. The first Australian attack was not successful, but on the 1st September 1918 they took the summit at the second attempt and by the 2nd September 1918 they had captured the village of Mont St. Quentin. Having gained control of Mont St. Quentin the Australians moved toward the woods north of Peronne where they took part of the town. By the 2nd September 1918 the Australians had gained substantial ground and by the 3rd September 1918 Peronne was held in Australian hands.

The Battle of Drocourt-Quéant Line began at 5.00 am on the morning of the 2nd September 1918 when British and Canadian forces attacked and were supported by tanks and aircraft. In the half-light, the Canadian First Division attacked the line south of the Arras-Cambrai road. The Canadian Fourth Division attacked the central area and the British Fourth Division attacked south of the River Sensee. On the 3rd September 1918 the Germans retreated to the Hindenburg Line and the Allies took many prisoners. The Canadian and British troops were moved on to their next battle which was the Canal du Nord.

The Battle of Havrincourt was launched on the 12th September 1918 and was a successful attack on the fortified town of Havrincourt by the British Third Army with three divisions against four German divisions.

The Battle of St. Mihiel was fought from the 12th to 19th September 1918 and was the first large-scale, separate offensive by American forces on the Western Front. By late summer 1918 the importance of the salient south of Verdun was not as prominent as it was in 1917, when the newly landed American Staff officers arrived on the Western Front. Their desire at the time was to carry out a separate offensive by American troops against the danger posed by this salient. Foch had to be convinced it was relevant to make the attack. He finally agreed. The German forces were in the process of evacuating the salient when the American First Army attacked them. They were supported by French tanks and artillery and 600 Allied aircraft. The offensive successfully cleared the Germans from the salient and 15,000 German prisoners were captured along with 250 guns. A few days later the American First Army transferred to the Meuse-Argonne sector in preparation for another attack.

On the 18th September 1918, following the success at Havrincourt, the Battle of Epéhy was launched by three corps of the British Fourth Army, one corps of the British Third Army and units of the French First Army against a 32 km (20 mile) section of the outpost positions of the Hindenburg Line. The left and right wings of the advance progressed with difficulty, but the two Australian divisions in the centre were successful in achieving an advance of 4.8 km (3 miles). The success of this attack showed the Allies that the German defence, even in the fortified Hindenburg Line positions, were not impossible to break through.

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The Battle of the Hindenburg Line was a series of assaults whereby the Allies broke through the German lines and was fought from the 18th September to 17th October 1918.

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The Battle of the Canal du Nord was fought from 27th September to 1st October 1918 and took place against a section of the canal and the outskirts of Cambrai. The British First Army crossed the canal continuing their advance following on from the Battle of the Drocourt-Quéant Line and advance towards Cambrai.

The Battle of St. Quentin Canal, fought from the 29th September to 10th October 1918, was an attack launched by the U.S., French and British forces. A stretch of this canal was incorporated into the German defences of the Hindenburg Line. The Germans defences comprised barbed wire entanglements and traps and the canal that ran through a tunnel at Bellicourt and under a bridge at Bellenglise. The British and French had reached the canal sector in mid-September 1918, and were tasked with crossing the canal at the tunnel section or by the bridge. On the 29th September 1918, in advance of the main attack an attempt by a U.S. regiment to clear the German strongpoints at Bellicourt did not succeed. The main attack, later the same day, by the U.S. and Australian troops also did not make progress through the Hindenburg Line at Bellicourt. On the same day however, an attack by the British at Bellenglise did succeed when they crossed the bridge before the Germans could blow it up. Following the Allied crossing of the canal they  advanced about 9.6 km (6 miles) beyond the canal by the end of the day. Over 5.000 German prisoners were captured.

In Flanders the Fifth Battle of Ypres was undertaken when the Groupe d’Armees des Flandres (GAF) attacked at 5.30 am on the 28th September 1918, which consisted of twelve Belgian divisions, ten British divisions of the Second Army and six French divisions of the Sixth Army. In command was King Albert I of Belgium with the French General Jean Degoutte as Chief of Staff.  The British attacked without preliminary bombardment on a 7.2 km (4.5 mile) front up to the Ypres-Zonnebeke road, thence the Belgian army attacked on a line north of Dixmude. The Allied attacks quickly penetrated the German defences and advanced up to 9.7 km (6 miles). The German defence was conducted by fewer than five divisions which were swiftly driven back. Much of the ground west of Passchendaele was recaptured. Rain began to fall but the British had taken Kortewilde, Zandvoorde, Kruiseecke and Beccelaere. Belgian troops had captured Zonnebeke, Poelcappelle, Schaap Baillie and the Houthulst Forest. On the southern flank, minor operations by three British divisions advanced to St. Yves, Messines and the ridge from Wytschaete to Hollebeke. Messines fell on the 29th September 1918 and by the 30th September 1918, all the high ground around Ypres had been re-occupied by the Allies. By the 1st October 1918 the left bank of the Lys had been captured up to Comines and the Belgians were beyond a line from Moorslede to Staden and Dixmude. The advance continued until the 2nd October 1918, when German reinforcements arrived and the offensive outran its supplies.

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From the 26th September to 11th November 1918, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive was an Allied offensive against the German Armies. The aim was to push the Germans further east from the Hindenburg Line, cutting them off from their important rail routes supplying their front line sectors. The Allied attack comprised a total 37 French and U.S. divisions against 24 German divisions.  Marshall Ferdinand Foch, commander of the Allied forces on the Western Front, wished to use the American forces for an assault west of Verdun in the Meuse-Argonne sector.

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At 5.30 am on the 26th September 1918 the American Army attacked, alongside the French, in the area around the Argonne Forest north and northwest of the town of Verdun. Using artillery supplied by the Allies, the bombardment began 3 hours before the attack, and consequently expended more ammunition than both sides had fired in the 4 years of the American Civil War. The American troops had mixed results against strong German opposition. Initially the Americans failed to take their objectives but eventually managed to advance 3 to 8 km (2 to 5 miles) by the 3rd October 1918. In the same period the French penetrated deeply into the German lines advancing 15 km (9 miles). This was primarily around Somme-Py at the Battle of Somme-Py on the 26th September 1918, and northwest of Reims at the Battle Saint-Thierry on the 30th September 1918. The French were able to advance faster than the Americans owing to the easier more open terrain from which to attack.

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The Balkans

The Vardar Offensive was fought between the 15th and 29th September 1918. This decisive battle took place during the final stages of the Balkan Campaign. On the 15th September 1918, a combined force of Serbian, French and Greek troops attacked and captured the Bulgarian-held trenches at Dobro-Polje (formerly part of Serbia, now Macedonia). The assault and the preceding artillery preparations had devastating effects on Bulgarian morale, leading to mass desertion and the eventual signing of an armistice on the 30th September 1918.

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The Allied offensive began on the 15th September 1918. The first attack was by the French and Serbians, with the Serbs in the middle of the front. The Serbians were finally back in their own country when they broke through the Bulgarian lines at Dobro Polje. The British joined in on the right on the 18th – 19th September 1918 during the Third Battle of Doiran. The Bulgarians resisted for a few days, but on the 25th September 1918, they began to fall back. On the 25th September 1918 the Allied advance reached the River Vardar, the next day the British reached Strumitza. That day the Bulgarians began armistice negotiations. On the 28th September 1918 the Bulgarians agreed surrender terms, which came into effect on the 30th September 1918 when they signed an armistice with the Allies. The Bulgarians were the first of the Central Powers to surrender.

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Flora Sandes, the English lady who fought with the Serbian Army in the trenches, marched triumphantly back into Serbia. She had endured the retreat from Serbia, being severely wounded and finally back on her adopted home soil. She remained with the Serbian Army until 1922 and had been promoted to Lieutenant when she became the first woman in the Serbian Army to become an officer. In 1956 after a full and varied life she died in Ipswich Hospital, aged 80 years old, still planning to travel.

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The Middle East

In the Caucasus the Battle of Baku had begun on the 26th August 1918 between the Turkish-Azerbaijan and British-Armenian-White Russian forces, and the Allies were forced to defend the heights surrounding Baku. From the 1st to 13th September 1918 the Turkish Army did not attack, but 0n the 12th September 1918, an Arab officer from the Turkish 10th Division deserted, giving information suggesting their main assault would take place the 14th September 1918.  On the night of 13th to 14th September 1918, the Turkish forces began their attacks. The Turks nearly overran the strategic Wolf’s Gate west of Baku, from which the whole battlefield could be seen. However, their advance was halted by a counter-attack. The fighting continued for the rest of the day, and the situation eventually became hopeless for the Allies. By the night of the 14th September 1918, the remnants of the British and Baku Army evacuated the city for Anjali.

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The Battle of Megiddo was fought between the 19th and 25th September 1918 on the Plain of Sharon, in the Judean Hills and also on the Esdralon Plain at Nazareth. The battle was the final Allied offensive of the Sinai and Palestine Campaign. The contending forces were the Allied Egyptian Expeditionary Force (AEEF) and the Turkish Yildrim Army Group. A series of battles took place in what was then the central and northern sections of the Turkish held Palestine and parts of present day Israel, Syria and Jordan.

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The campaign has been called the Battle of Megiddo which was Hebrew name of the ancient town known in the west as Armageddon. The offensive consisted of the battles of Megiddo, Sharon, Nazareth and the Third Transjordan attack, fought from the 19th to 25th September 1918. As the dry season approached General Edmund Allenby, commander of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF), intended to advance to secure Tiberius, Haifa and the Yarmuk Valley toward Hauran, the Sea of Galilee from the 19th to 25th September 1918, and Damascus on the 26th September 1918. Allenby launched his long-delayed attack on the 19th September 1918. Major efforts were made by the British to deceive the Turkish forces as to their intended target. The effort was successful and the Turkish Army was taken by surprise when the British suddenly attacked Megiddo at Nablus and broke through the Turkish defensive lines. As the Turkish troops started a full-scale retreat the Royal Air Force (RAF) bombed the fleeing columns of men and within a week the Turkish Army in Palestine ceased to exist as a military force. The war in Palestine was over, but the EEF’s ultimate goal was Damascus in Syria. Two separate Allied columns marched toward Damascus from the 26th September 1918. The first, comprising mostly Australian and Indian cavalry, approached from Galilee whilst the second column, consisting of Indian cavalry supported by T.E.Lawrence’s militia (Lawrence of Arabia), travelled northward along the Hejaz Railway. The Australian Light Horse marched unopposed into Damascus on the 1st October 1918 despite the presence of 12,000 Turkish soldiers. Major Olden of the Australian Third Light Horse Regiment took the official surrender of the city at 7.00 am, and later that day Lawrence’s irregular militia entered Damascus.

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