The Sinai–Palestine campaign poster shows Australians riding through Jerusalem, which fell to the Allies in December 1917 after a year of hard fighting that included the battles of Gaza and Beersheba. The war in the Middle East continued until the end of October 1918.
The Flanders Offensive poster show Australians march through Ypres in late October 1917 toward the end of the massive British offensive known as the Third Battle of Ypres. The Australians fought in five major battles here: Menin Road, Polygon Wood, Broodseinde, Poelcappelle and Passchendaele.
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The Flanders Offensive 1917
More than 76,000 Australians became casualties on the Western Front in 1917, including some 22,000 who were killed. No year in Australia’s wartime history has been more costly. In this poster Australians march through Ypres in late October 1917 toward the end of the massive British offensive known as the Third Battle of Ypres. The Australians fought in five major battles here: Menin Road, Polygon Wood, Broodseinde, Poelcappelle and Passchendaele. Images from this offensive are among the best known of the Western Front, and the Third Battle of Ypres has come to symbolise the muddy horror and waste of the First World War. The survivors of the fighting here faced another year of war before the Armistice brought an end to hostilities.
In the second half of 1917 after three years of war, armies on both sides were exhausted. With the Germans on the defensive along the length of the Western Front, the Allies sought a way to break the stalemate. British commander General Sir Douglas Haig decided to launch his next offensive from Ypres in Flanders. His ambitious goal was to inflict heavy casualties, break through the German lines, liberate occupied territory and capture the German U-boat bases at Zeebrugge and Ostend.
An assault on Messines Ridge in June 1917 preceded the offensive, which began on 31 July. The Germans were well prepared to meet it. Reinforced strong points known as pillboxes, armed with machine guns, sited to cover each other and protected by artillery, were dotted around the battlefield. Large areas of the British front and the rear areas were under German observation and enemy shellfire and gas bombardments made the places where troops and equipment had to pass deadly dangerous.
The offensive was more than a month old when Australian troops joined the fighting in late September. In dry weather the 1st and 2nd Australian Divisions took part in the Battle of Menin Road on the 20th of that month. The 4th and 5th Divisions went into the Battle of Polygon Wood on 26 September, and on 4 October the 1st and 2nd Divisions were again in action, this time at Broodseinde. Then soaking rains began to fall, turning the shell-torn ground into a clinging morass.
Senior Allied commanders, believing the Germans were close to collapse, ordered further attacks. When the 2nd Australian Division went into the Battle of Poelcappelle on 9 October the assault foundered in the mud and ended in failure. A similar fate befell the 3rd and 4th Divisions in the attack on Passchendaele on 20 October. Finally on 26 October elements of the 4th Division supported a Canadian attempt to seize the village before the Australians were withdrawn from the fighting.
The offensive dragged to an end in November. There had been no breakthrough, little territory was liberated, the Belgian ports remained firmly in German hands and some half a million men on both sides were killed or wounded. Approximately 38,000 Australians became casualties in eight weeks at Ypres.
P. Dennis, J. Grey, E. Morris, R. Prior and J. Bou, The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 2008 edition.
The Sinai-Palestine Campaign 1915-18
After Gallipoli most of Australia’s mounted troops took part in the Sinai–Palestine Campaign, where between 1916 and 1918 more than 1250 men lost their lives. Though never approaching the savagery of the Western Front, the war in the Middle East had its own trials. Men fought through extremely inhospitable conditions, suffered from a range of illnesses, lived on a monotonous diet with water a constant problem and were often far from towns or villages in which to spend periods of rest or leave. This poster shows Australians riding through Jerusalem, which fell to the Allies in December 1917 after a year of hard fighting that included the battles of Gaza and Beersheba. The war in the Middle East continued until the end of October 1918.
The Sinai–Palestine campaign began in 1916 after the Allied withdrawal from Gallipoli. While the majority of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) sailed for the Western Front, most of the mounted arms remained in Egypt to continue the war against the Ottoman Empire alongside soldiers from Britain and her dominions.
In August 1916 Ottoman forces advancing on the Suez Canal, Britain’s main maritime route to India and Asia, were stopped at Romani in the northern Sinai. The Battle of Romani was a pivotal engagement, signalling the beginning of the British advance across the desert towards Egypt’s eastern frontier. Victories at Magdhaba in December 1916 and Rafa in January 1917 ended the Sinai fighting, opened the way into Palestine and brought the war onto Ottoman territory.
British attempts to take Gaza on southern Palestine’s Mediterranean coast in March and April 1917 ended in failure. Rather than launch a third assault on the town, British forces sought a way around the flank, attacking Beersheba, 25 kilometres to the south-west, on 31 October. The battle was famously decided at sunset by a mounted charge made by the 4th and 12th Australian Light Horse regiments. With the way now open, British forces broke through the Ottoman line and captured Gaza in early November. Jerusalem fell on 9 December.
Although Ottoman troops were able to inflict local defeats on British forces, they spent much of the campaign on the defensive. Under constant pressure in 1918 they continued to retreat northwards through Palestine. In September the British launched the offensive that ended the war in the Middle East, driving deep into enemy territory, splitting the Ottoman armies and pursuing the demoralised foe towards Megiddo, Haifa, Jenin and Nazareth. Over the weeks that followed, British forces continued their advance, attacking mercilessly from the ground and the air, destroying large concentrations of retreating Ottoman troops and continuing the drive towards Damascus, which was taken on 1 October. The Sinai–Palestine campaign ended when the Ottomans signed an armistice at Aleppo on 31 October 1918.
Jean Bou, Australia’s Palestine Campaign, Army History Unit, 2010.
Jean Bou, Light Horse: a history of Australia’s mounted arm, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, 2010.
Chris Coulthard-Clark, The Encyclopaedia of Australia’s Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney 1998.
P. Dennis. J. Grey, E. Morris, R. Prior, J. Bou, The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 2008 edition.