Peronne / Mont St Quentin, France
"The greatest feat of arms of the war...."
This battle was in effect the culminating point of the Australian Corps (less the 1st Division). Described as "…perhaps the greatest feat of arms of the War", by General Rawlinson the British Commander of the 3rd Army to which General Sir John Monash's Australian Corps belonged, this battle more than any other exemplifies the level of capability the Australians had achieved by this late stage of the war.
In complete contrast to the static and attritional nature of trench warfare, this battle was an exemplary application of manoeuvre executed against a well sited enemy position complemented by several major terrain obstacles; namely the Somme River and the Canal du Nord.
The Australian Corps had advanced from the vicinity of Villers Bretonneaux and Le Hamel on the 8th August. They had advanced on the southern side of the Somme and they approached the great elbow in the river at the apex of which was the town of Peronne dominated by the heights of Mont St Quentin to the north west. Leaving the 5th Division to hold the southern bank, the Corps back-tracked to carry out a river crossing out of range and vision of the German defences. The 5th Division would later assault across the river into the town of Peronne.
Dominant feature - Mont St Quentin, Tourist map reference TBD. 3 km from Peronne to the south, 9 km from Feuillaucourt Bridge to the west where the main body of troops crossed the river.
Location of Enemy Troops (at the start of the battle): The enemy occupied Gottlieb trench on the summit, and ‘Brasso’ redoubt on the slopes to the west. Mont St Quentin was the dominating feature on the whole German Line and Ludendorf had sent the 2nd Prussian Guards Division to hold the hill “to the death”.
Location or direction of approach of Australian troops (at the start of the battle): 3rd Division had secured the Bouchavesnes spur and village north of the Canal du Nord on 31 August. On the night of 31 August 1918, 2 Div troops crossed the Somme using captured German bridging equipment and following an artillery barrage that commenced at 05:00, attacked Mont St Quentin from the north west. 5 Div were tasked with the capture of Peronne to the south.
Battlefield landmarks Gottlieb trench was on the summit, and ‘Brasso’ redoubt on the approach, and the village of St Quentin to the north east. The 3rd Division had secured the open flank. The 5th Bde used bridging equipment to cross the Canal du Nord.
On the night of 31 August 1918, the Australian troops crossed the Somme and following an artillery barrage that commenced at 05:00, attacked Mont St Quentin from the north west.
During the infantry charge, Australian soldiers had to fight uphill across open ground where they were vulnerable to attack from the German-held heights above.
The 17th Battalion headed up the Brasso Redoubt, and climbed towards Gottleib Trench. They encountered the enemy almost immediately and charged their posts, yelling at the top of their voices. The demoralised Germans, fearing they were being attacked by a superior force, surrendered in large numbers.
The 20th Battalion moved up to make a bayonet charge and captured the Gottleib trench. As the Australians reached the summit, large numbers of German soldiers were sent fleeing down the slopes.
By 07:00 the troops had occupied the village of Mont St Quentin and the slope and summit of the hill. However, the small size of their forces meant that their hold on the position was tenuous. The reserve element of the 2nd German Guards Division, counterattacked and drove the Australians from the summit to positions just below it.
In the rear, the 19th Battalion crossed the Somme at the Clery bridge, which Australian engineers had saved and repaired despite enemy barrages. Although the 33rd Battalion only held part of their objective, a concerted effort was made, the spur was secured and the left flank of the troops attacking Mont St Quentin was secured.
On 1 September, the 6th Brigade (21st, 22nd, 23rd and 24th Battalions) took the summit on their second attempt.
The 14th Brigade of the 5th Division (53rd, 54th, 55th and 56th Battalions) captured the woods north of Peronne and after pressing on during a short-lived German attack, took the main part of Peronne. An attempt to pass the northern side of the town was stopped by heavy fire from the ramparts.
On 2 September the 7th Brigade (25th, 26th, 27th and 28th battalions) drove beyond the mount, the 15th Brigade (57th, 58th, 59th and 60th Battalions) seized the remainder of Peronne and the 3rd Division advanced on the northern flank.
By the evening of the 3 September, the Australians held Peronne, captured Flamicourt the next day and then advanced three kilometres to the east.
A total of eight Victoria Crosses were awarded in this battle and its immediate aftermath
Steve Larkins Jun 2014