Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
Captain W.J. Denny’s report of the Battle of Mont St Quentin, 1918
MLMSS 1536/Box 3/9
[Comment in margin]
This extract is made from the official copy of Denny’s Report which was lodged in the Publicity Branch of the Prime Minister’s Dept. Melbourne. Please file it with my report of the Battle of Mont St Quentin. F.J.B. 20/5/20.
Extract from "The Battle of Amiens – and After" written by Captain W.J. Denny, M.C., M.P., at one time Attorney-General of South Australia.
Mont St. Quentin
The capture of Mont St. Quentin stands out in bold relief in a war that had hitherto largely consisted of monotonous trench warfare. Its story reads more like a military romance of the olden times; though in certain respects it was not unlike the famous Gallipoli landing. Sir Douglas Haig using strictly official language in his recent dispatch says it "ranks as a most gallant achievement". Other writers unfettered by the strict necessities of Army formality use language of a much more eulogistic character. The Germans, as we learnt after the attack, knew the formidable character of the forces operating in front of them. An order signed by the Commanding Officer of a German Battalion and subsequently captured contained the following warning to the enemy:-
"Forces confronting us consist of Australians who are very war-like, clever and daring. They understand the art of crawling through high crops in order to capture our advanced posts. The enemy is also adept in conceiving and putting into execution important patrolling operations. The enemy infantry has daily proved themselves to be audacious."
Even with this fine tribute it was, however, never conceived possible by the Germans that this great natural fortress, supplemented by the aid of every clever device of skilful leaders would in a few hours not only fall, but that the whole of its garrison would be killed or captured. On that eventful day of 31st August our troops, in addition to the large number killed, took 1,500 prisoners of the Prussian Guards and, as Sir Douglas Haig states, left the way open for the subsequent capture by the Australians of Peronne.
The importance of this victory is perhaps better appreciated by the French than ourselves. Our gallant Allies are closely familiar with the topography of this area and they knew the consequences of its successful defence or capture. The Special
Correspondent of "Le Journal" writes –
"It is required a forest-trapper or a hunter versed in the art of ambush and bush-craft – and the Australians, bold seekers after adventure, are these – to venture to attack on a stormy night a strong position like Mont St. Quentin. At the back of their barbed wire defences the German machine-gunners thought themselves impregnable and immune from capture. Their sentries watched behind their parapets. The citadel, with its three rows of trenches, stood like a dark shadow on the banks of the Somme. Only a few hours were necessary for the Anzacs to conquer this impregnable mountain, and of the garrison of 3,000 who defended it, more than one third are today lamenting in the prisoners’ cage behind the line".
The operations for the capture of Mont St. Quentin were arranged at a conference held at 10 p.m. on the night of the 30th August. As rapid action was necessary and the time available did not permit of a detailed creeping artillery barrage being worked out artillery support was arranged in the form of successive engagement of selected localities.
The 5th Infantry Brigade was formed up for the attack in the limited area in our hands immediately S.E. of Clery and the attack was launched at 5 a.m. on 31st August in conjunction with the advance of the 3rd Australian Division up the slopes South of Bouchavelsles.
In spite of very considerable opposition and a complex system of hostile trenches covered by exceedingly strong lines of wire the attack was successful and by 8 a.m., the hill and village of Mont St. Quentin Halle and Feuillacourt were in our hands. This was a most brilliant feat of arms on the part of 2nd Division. It was, however, rendered possible by the very vigorous action of the 3rd Division, which by its energetic action cleared the ground to the north and gave elbow room to develop the action of the 2nd Division.
Owing to repeated counter attacks and constant heavy enemy shell fire on the village of Mont St. Quentin our troops were temporarily withdrawn to a line which was consolidated just west of Feuillacourt, and Mont St. Quentin and East of Halle, and this line was held during the night 31st August – 1st September.
The capture of the Mont St. Quentin position and the enemy’s efforts to recapture it led to a most sanguinary struggle. The importance of this position to the Germans was fully realised by them and they made repeated efforts to retake it and to prevent our further advance and seizure of Peronne. There is no doubt that the whole system of the enemy’s defences on the British front was rudely shaken by this important tactical success.
Between the 29th and 31st August all attempts made by the 5th Division and the 32nd Division to effect a crossing of the Somme south of Halle had been unsuccessful owing to the width of the marsh to be bridged and to the fact that any attempt at bridging were met by immediate artillery and machine-gun fire from the eastern bank.
To enable any attack on Peronne to be developed it was necessary therefore for the 5th Division to cross the Somme between Feuillers and Clery and to pass in a South Easterly direction through the 2nd Divisional area.
During the night 31st August the 6th and 7th Infantry Brigades of the 2nd Division and the 14th Infantry Brigade of the 5th Division crossed the Somme between Feuillaucourt and Clery and passed east and south east of Clery preparatory to the continuation of operations on 1st September.
The enemy realised that the majority of our movement must be through Clery and in consequence the area was shelled very considerably during the period 30th August to 2nd September thus making the passage of any large bodies of troops towards the battle front S.E. of Clery a slow and costly matter.
The attack was continued on the 1st September on the fronts of the 5th, 3rd and 2nd Australian Divisions. The 14th Infantry Brigade and the 6th Infantry Brigade attacked at 6 a.m. and the 3rd Division at 5.30 a.m.
After very severe and continuous fighting which lasted throughout the day our line on the evening of 1st September included the greater part of Peronne passed east of Mont St. Quentin, just west of Allaines and joined with III Corps midway between Moislains and Bouchavesnes.
The hard fighting on this front finally forced the enemy to give up the whole Somme line and to undertake a retirement to the Hindenburg line apparently much earlier than he was prepared to do.
Arrangements were now made for the 2nd Division to attack on the 2nd September towards Aizecourt Le Haut with its left flank on the Canal Du Nord with the object of securing the ridge S.W. of that village and protecting the right flank of the 74th Division and III Corps which was to attack in the direction of Moislains. The 3rd Division was to be released from the line by the convergence of the 2nd Division and 74th Division in the vicinity of Haut Allaines and consequent shortening of the front.
At the same time the 5th Division was to complete the capture of Peronne and to gain the commanding high ground north of Doingt.
The 2nd Division gained their objectives after very severe fighting. At the outset the infantry were temporarily held up by enemy machine gun fire, with the result that the barrage soon outpaced them and the fighting developed into an infantry attack against numerous and well-sited machine gun positions. These were readily and skilfully dealt with by platoon and company leaders, and the village of Haut Allaines and the ridge S.W. of Aizecourt were gained to a large extent by reason of the initiative and skill shown by these junior commanders.
The attacking battalions of the 5th Division were considerably disorganised through a heavy enemy barrage falling on their assembly positions just prior to the attack. At zero the attack commenced and was immediately met by hurricane machine gun fire from the ramparts on the east of Peronne, from St. Denis and from the windmill.
After heavy hand to hand fighting a footing was gained in
the brickworks (between St. Denis and Mont St. Quentin) and by vigorous action the enemy was forced to withdraw from St. Denis. Meanwhile the ramparts and the N.E. end of Peronne were cleared of the enemy and an attempt made to exploit towards Flamicourt and Chairwood, but this was frustrated for the time being by heavy machine gun fire.
The day’s fighting had been very severe, the enemy fighting stubbornly and never yielding until forced to do so.
A large number of the enemy were killed and a considerable number of prisoners captured. The prisoners for the three days’ fighting for Mont St. Quentin and Peronne amounted to 45 officers and 1621 other ranks. Six guns and a very large number of machine guns were captured.
During the course of the 3rd and 4th September Flamicourt and Chair Wood were taken by the 5th Division and the enemy was finally cleared from the neighbourhood of Peronne.
The result of the operations during the latter part of August had so disorganised the enemy that a general retreat on his part became imperative.
The operations of the Corps up to this date had been carried out with the five Divisions and 32nd Division (English). The latter Division, most ably commanded by Major General T.S. Lambert, C.B., C.M.G., had borne its part with great resolution and gallantry.
The total number of enemy divisions engaged and defeated by this Corps from 8th August to 4th September was twenty-eight of which six were engaged twice, one three times and four have since been disbanded.
Bouchavesnes – misspelt as Bouchavesles
Feuillaucourt – misspelt as Feuillacourt
Feuilleres – misspelt as Feuillers
Halles – misspelt as Halle]
[Transcribed by the State Library of New South Wales by Judy Gimbert]