The Key to Victory: Australia’s Military Contribution on the Western Front in 1918

Meleah Hampton

If ever there was a well-worn, nation-centric narrative of the First World War, the story of Australia’s military contribution to the conflict is it. Just over 415,000 Australian men enlisted for active service in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) during the course of the war.1 This contribution is more than Belgium’s and New Zealand’s, smaller than Canada’s, and is dwarfed by the contributions of France, Great Britain, Russia, and even Italy. Far too often the AIF is studied in isolation and with a nationalistic simplicity that sees victory ascribed to the heroic nature of the Australian soldier and failure to the bumbling of incompetent British officers. From the shores of Gallipoli (where defeat and evacuation are represented as victory) to the Western Front (where Australians invariably excelled beyond all others), the Australians are often portrayed as the best of soldiers, the closest of mates, and the mystical keepers of war-winning ‘Anzac spirit.’

But such mythologising belies the practical nature of the Anzac formations’ contribution to the war. The experience of the two Anzac Corps, and later the Australian Corps, mirror a growing competence in the British Army as it searched for a new method of waging war in unprecedented conditions. The contribution of the AIF to the Imperial approach to, and indeed understanding of, the new industrialised war was substantial. This

M. Hampton (*)

Australian War Memorial, Canberra, ACT, Australia e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

© The Author(s) 2017

K. Ariotti, J.E. Bennett (eds.), Australians and the First World War, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-51520-5_3

chapter situates the Australian contribution to the operational conduct of the war on the Western Front—specifically the climactic year of 1918— within the wider context of the conduct of the war on a broad scale, particularly by that of the British Army. It argues that, rather than the result of any pseudo-supernatural ‘Anzac spirit’ or innate fighting qualities, the Australian infantry’s successes on the Western Front in the latter stages of the war stemmed from its growing proficiency in the use of complicated combinations of weaponry developed by the British as a way to break the deadlock in Europe. As a consequence, the Australians were put into the forefront of allied attacks more and more often as the war went on, including in many of the important battles of the Hundred Days’ Offensive that eventually ended the war. While the AIF was only one of a number of elements of the British Army achieving success, by 1918 it was one of the most professional and competent formations on the Western Front, and it played a significant role in shaping the modern approach to trench warfare.

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