Battle of Montbrehain

On 5 October 2018, a ceremony will be held in Calvaire Cemetery in Montbrehain, France to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Montbrehain. The ceremony is organised by the local community with the support of the Australian Defence Force.

Since 8 August 1918, the First Australian Imperial Force had been under repeated attack as they moved from positions just east of Villers-Bretonneux, across the uplands of the Somme, participating in the capture of Peronne, then east to the storming of the Hindenburg Outpost Line near Bellenglise and finally to the breaking of the Hindenburg Line itself. At this late stage of the war, the 21st and 24th Battalions could only manage 240 riflemen in units which once boasted 1,000 rifles.

Following the successful breaching of the main Hindenburg Line between 29 September and 1 October, the exhausted and depleted 3rd and 5th Australian divisions which took part in that attack were relieved by the 2nd Australian Division under Major General Charles Rosenthal. On 4 October, the 2nd Australian Division, along with the 46th British Division was set the task of breaking through the final network of defences called the Beaurevoir Line.

The Beaurevoir Line was the last of a series of German defensive lines known collectively by the Allies as the Hindenburg Line. It was approximately eight kilometres to the rear of the main Hindenburg Line and consisted of thick barbed wire entanglements and machine and anti-tank gun bunkers. The Australians were to seize the village of Beaurevoir and the British the small village of Montbrehain. The Australian attack was a success but was stopped short of the village due to insecure flanks. The British captured Montbrehain but were unable to hold it.

At 6.05am on 5 October 1918, Australian troops of the 6th Brigade attacked Montbrehain. The objective was to establish a line running to the north and east of the town, which would secure the newly won Beaurevoir Line and act as a springboard for further attacks. Aggressive German resistance resulted in heavy casualties as the Australians advanced. Within three hours, the men of the 21st and 24th Battalions and the 2nd Pioneer Battalion had achieved their objectives but as they tried to consolidate their positions, they were subjected to heavy shelling and uncoordinated counter-attacks from three directions. The Australians were pushed nearly 360 metres back through Montbrehain and many posts were driven to the north of the town but by mid-afternoon the front had stabilised at the boundaries, just short of the objective line to the north. The Australians suffered nearly 430 casualties, while inflicting hundreds of losses upon the enemy and capturing over 600 prisoners.

This battle was the last action involving Australian infantry on the Western Front during the war and was the battle that saw Lieutenant George Morby Ingram awarded the Victoria Cross, as the 64th, and final, Australian to receive the award during the First World War.

His Victoria Cross citation read –

‘For most conspicuous bravery and initiative during the attack on Montbrehain, East of Peronne, on 5th October 1918.

When early in the advance his platoon was held up by a strong point, Lieutenant Ingram, without hesitation, dashed out and rushed the post at the head of his men, capturing nine machine guns and killing 42 enemy after stubborn resistance. Later, when the company had suffered severe casualties from enemy posts, and many leaders had fallen, he at once took control of the situation, rallied his men under intense fire, and led them forward. He himself rushed the first post, shot six of the enemy, and captured a machine gun.

On two subsequent occasions he again displayed great dash and resource in the capture of enemy posts, inflicting many casualties and taking 62 prisoners.

Throughout the whole day he showed the most inspiring example of courage and leadership, and freely exposed himself regardless of danger.’

Ingram was promoted to Lieutenant on 24 October and was training away from the frontline with his battalion when the Armistice was signed on 11 November 1918.

C.E.W. Bean, The Australian Imperial Force in France during the Allied Offensive, 1918, Sydney, Angus and Robertson LTD., 194

Australian War Memorial, SVSS paper, 2014 Adam Rankin, Montbrehain, 5 October 1918: A case study in tactical operations and battlefield integration © Australian War Memorial

Australian War Memorial, SVSS paper, 2014 Adam Rankin, Montbrehain, 5 October 1918: A case study in tactical operations and battlefield integration © Australian War Memorial