Topic: BatzWF - Westn Front
Hindenburg Outpost Line
France, 18 September 1918
Hindenburg Outpost Line, an action fought on 18 September 1918, which involved the 1st and 4th Australian divisions in breaching the forward edge of the main German defensive line across the Picardy region of northern France. By this stage the Hindenburg defences had been developed into a complex network of great depth, bristling with wire obstacles and well protected by numerous machine-guns. The British forces closing from the west were confronted not just by the main system of the original Hindenburg Line and the outpost line in front, but also the three lines of trenches they themselves had constructed to face it; the latter, overrun by the Germans in March and left empty for the six months since, had been occupied by the enemy and incorporated into the overall system.
Initially the British had no idea upon which of these various lines the Germans would choose to fight. It was only after the Australians had succeeded in capturing the first line of defences (the old British reserve trenches) on 11 September, using the tactics of aggressive patrolling dubbed 'peaceful penetration', that it was established that the Germans intended to mount their main resistance from what was formerly the British main line of defences. Behind this the old British and German outpost lines had been merged into a system to presently house reserves. Still behind this was the main system of the original Hindenburg Line - situated east of the Mont St Quentin Canal which connected the sources of the Somme and Scheldt rivers and built partly over the Bellicourt tunnel (through which the canal ran)-and further systems known as the Nauroy and Beaurevoir lines, though these were held only by emergency garrisons if at all.
Recognising the colossal strength of the whole complex confronting his forces, the British Fourth Army commander (General Sir Henry Rawlinson) obtained approval to make a formal assault against the old British lines-aimed in the first instance with determining whether it was possible to break through the Hindenburg main line. This meant piercing the German defences at least as far as the old Hindenburg outpost line, from where it would be possible to overlook the rest of' the formidable system. For this operation the Australian Corps under Lieut. General Sir John Monash was given the main task of piercing the enemy centre; the British 3rd and 9th corps, on the Australians' northern and southern flanks respectively, had supporting roles.
Following a very heavy artillery barrage, Monash launched his attack at dawn in drizzling rain and dense fog. The mist (and smoke-shells) enabled troops of the 1st Division on the left to bypass and cut of-l' many of the German defenders, and by this means fight their way through the two remaining old British lines to reach and seize the outpost system of the Hindenburg Line itself'. Part of the 4th Division, advancing on the southern flank, used the gains made by their colleagues of the 1st to gain entry into the German trenches, then bombed their way clown tile line to take their objective. The Australian casualty toll of 1,260 was relatively light for the type of fighting in which the 6,800 troops found themselves involved; moreover, they had taken 4,300 prisoners and captured 76 guns. Progress by neither of the flanking corps was as advanced or complete.
Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, pp. 158-159.
Additional References cited by Chris Coulthard-Clark:
C.E.W. Bean (1937) The Australian Imperial Force in France during the Main German Offensive, 1918, Sydney: Angus & Robertson.
Citation: Hindenburg Outpost Line, France, September 18, 1918