Centenary of the Battle of Mont St Quentin
At the end of August 1918 German troops were defending the strategically important stronghold of Mont St Quentin. Mont St Quentin overlooks the Somme River approximately 1.5km north of the town of Péronne, France. With an elevation of approximately 100 metres and situated on a bend in the Somme River, it was a key German defensive position that Australian Commander, Lieutenant General Sir John Monash was keen to capture. It became the site of the Battle of Mont St-Quentin from 31 August to 2 September 1918.
After an initial failed attempt to cross a series of marshes and attack the heights, the Australian 2nd Division crossed the Somme River on 30 August, and attacked Mont St-Quentin at 5 am on the morning of 31 August supported by artillery. It was a difficult uphill fight across open ground where the Australian troops were exposed to attack from higher ground by numerically superior German defenders.
The village of Mont St Quentin was quickly captured and after briefly capturing the summit of the hill, the Australian troops ended the day just below the summit following a German counter attack. The first day of September saw fierce fighting and heavy losses. After re-capturing the summit, the Australians attacked and captured Péronne amongst bitter hand-to-hand combat with heavy casualties.
Monash said of the Mont St Quentin and Péronne campaign that it:
“…furnished the finest example in the war of spirited and successful infantry action conducted by three divisions operating simultaneously side by side.”
British Commander General Lord Rawlinson remarked “…that this feat by the Australian troops under Monash’s command was the greatest of the war“.
The Allied victory at the Battle of Mont St Quentin inflicted heavy casualties on five German divisions. The elevated Mont Saint-Quentin provided the Allied forces with a strong tactical position overlooking terrain to the east, which forced the Germans to retreat to their last significant defensive position at the Hindenburg Line. A total of 2,600 prisoners were taken at a cost of over 3,000 casualties. Three soldiers of the Australian 2nd Division were awarded the Victoria Cross for their role in the battle.
A ceremony to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Mont Saint-Quentin and the liberation of Péronne will be held at the 2nd Division Memorial in the city of Péronne, France on 2 September 2018. The ceremony is being organised by the local community with support from the Australian Defence Force.
The city of Péronne is hosting a Year of Australia in 2018.