Was there anything different about Aussie soldiers?

Thursday, 18 April 2013

New research at the University of Adelaide hopes to gain a unique understanding of whether there was anything different about Australian soldiers that led to their success in a critical but largely uncelebrated campaign during the First World War.

While much has been said and written over the years about the failed campaign at Gallipoli, less known is the important role of Australian soldiers in the Hundred Days campaign in northern France, which helped to pave the way for victory against the Germans in the war.

Fighting at the vanguard of the British Fourth Army's advance, the Australian Corps (made up of the five Australian infantry divisions and totalling 100,000 troops) was led by the celebrated Australian commander, General Sir John Monash. This force had a series of victories against the Germans from August to October 1918.

In that time, the Australian Corps made significant advances on the Western Front, passing beyond the heavily fortified Hindenburg Line. The Aussie soldiers liberated 112 villages from the Germans, captured 332 heavy artillery guns and more than 25,000 prisoners.

"This was the first time in World War I when Australian soldiers fully engaged with the main enemy and were victorious in almost every way," says renowned war historian and University of Adelaide Visiting Research Fellow, Professor Robin Prior (School of History and Politics).

"Strangely, Australia's involvement in the Hundred Days campaign is relatively lost compared with the plethora of material written about Gallipoli. Most books written about our involvement on the Western Front in 1918 are popular works with limited understanding of the battle tactics involved, or works that focus on the perspective of command. Very little serious work has been done to understand what the Australian soldiers in this campaign were doing and why they were so successful."

University of Adelaide PhD student Lachlan Coleman has begun a study to compare resources available to the Australian soldiers in the Hundred Days campaign with those available to British soldiers.

"Many commentators on Australia's involvement in war use a combination of generalisation and mythology to account for Australian battlefield success. This research aims to look, for the first time, at objective measures that will help us to better understand why Australian soldiers were so successful in 1918," Mr Coleman says.

Using information gathered from the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and the National Archives at Kew in the United Kingdom, Mr Coleman hopes to piece together details about equipment, artillery, support and other resources provided to the Australians, as well as specific battle tactics.

"We hope that this research will help us to understand whether the Australian soldiers were doing anything different to their allies, and if so, what they were doing," Mr Coleman says. "We also hope this work helps to bring the Hundred Days campaign to the fore as a key moment in Australia's military history."


Contact Details

Professor Robin Prior
Email: robin.prior@adelaide.edu.au
Visiting Research Fellow
School of History and Politics
The University of Adelaide
Mobile: 0423 700 636

Mr Lachlan Coleman
Email: lachlan.coleman@adelaide.edu.au
PhD student
School of History and Politics
The University of Adelaide
Business: 08 8313 5435
Mobile: 0423 755 716

Mr David Ellis
Email: david.ellis@adelaide.edu.au
Website: https://www.adelaide.edu.au/newsroom/
Deputy Director, Media and Corporate Relations
External Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5414
Mobile: +61 (0)421 612 762