The Hindenberg Line 1918
Australian Army History Series
Big Sky Publishing 2019
Paperback 180pp RRP: $19.99
Reviewer: Neville Taylor, August 2019
The Germans had not gone on the offensive on the Western Front since 1915 and had used the intervening period to build massive defences in depth along what was known as the Hindenberg Line. With the collapse of Russia on the Eastern Front, freed-up German divisions were moved to the Western Front. Between 21st March and 15th July 1918 the German Army launched five offensives: capturing territory, prisoners and inflicting heavy losses in men and equipment. The Allies contained these attacks that were the Germans’ ‘last roll of the dice’, consolidated their defence in depth, and with superiority of numbers as the American Expeditionary Force quickly building, planned their counter offensive.
Whilst the overall strategies within theatre are mentioned, the focus of this work is on the actions of the British Fourth Army which included the Australian Corps (under Lieutenant General Monash’s command) and the German units it opposed on a frontage that varied between 18 000 and 30 000 yards. The Corps Order of Battle down to company level, weapons, training and tactics are fully elaborated as is the artillery, armour and aerial support available. The same information has been provided for the German forces and the nature of the advance, main and reserve defensive lines that made up the Hindenberg Line and the two major obstacles: the St Quentin Canal and the Bellicourt Tunnel.
On 18th September the Fourth Army launched its assault on the advance defensive line. An inclusion is a list of key Australian personnel down to brigade commanders. Simple coloured battle maps provide the reader with the dispositions of the belligerents, as well as artillery and machine gun barrage plans. Maps are plentiful, so the gains/losses can be followed. The narrative deals with each brigade’s action (in numerical order) and includes the citations and photographs of Victoria Cross winners. The detailed actions to capture farms and other tactically important features presented would enable a war gamer to recreate the events.
With the Allies first use of mustard gas, the Fourth Army attacked the Main Hindenberg Line with the 27th and 30th American Divisions on 27th September and the Australians to leapfrog through on 30th September. Having mounted numerous counter attacks in the previous two weeks, the weakened Germans started to fall back to the Beaurevoir Line, enabling the Australians to widen the breach in the Line. By 3rd October the Fourth Army were pressing the Beaurevoir Line and had seized both it and Montbrehain by 6th October.
During the next five weeks the Fourth Army, with the Australian Corps being in army reserve after being at the Front since March, had pushed 20 miles further east by the signing of the Armistice.
Rankin has omitted no aspect as far as the Fourth Army’s breaking through the Hindenberg Line is concerned. A comprehensive Further Reading list and Index has been included. Presented in most-readable prose, with incredible detail in coloured maps, photographs (many being the author’s own), tables and diary accounts by combatants of both sides, this work has been so thoroughly researched that the most fastidious military history buff would be sated.
Another superb volume has now joined the Australian Army Campaign series.
The RUSI – Vic thank the publisher for providing this copy for review.