Unit History: Australian Infantry
Following the Federation of Australia in 1901, the Commonwealth Military Forces were formed with a small regular army and a larger component of reservists in the Citizens Military Force (CMF). The CMF could not be deployed overseas.
Under the provision of the Defence Act 1903, enlistment for service overseas was voluntary. Australia (and South Africa) remained the only countries in the war which did not resort to conscription.
In 1914 the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) was formed. This was the name given to all-volunteer Australian Army forces dispatched to fight overseas during the First World War. The AIF disbanded 1st April 1921 and then reformed in 1939 for World War II to provide troops for overseas service.
The two AIFs are distinguished by referring to the World War I contingent as the "1st AIF", and the World War II contingent as the "2nd AIF". During World War I, the Australian Flying Corps, the precursor of the Royal Australian Air Force, was part of the 1st AIF.
Members of the First AIF went on to serve in the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War from 1917 to 1920 and many Australian First World War Memorials are to the Great War of 1914 to 1919 in recognition of this service.
Of the 290,000 Australians who served during WW1 in the "1st AIF”, approximately 46,000 were either killed in action or died of their wounds. The Australians fought from the first battles of the war through to the last events in 1918 and the Treaty of Versailles.
Australian Infantry during WW1
WW1 AIF raised 60 Infantry UnitsInfantry Battalions 1 – 4 were part of the 1st Brigade
The 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Battalion were infantry units raised for the AIF during the First World War. It was recruited from New South Wales. All four battalions formed the 1st Brigade.
The battalions were raised within a fortnight of the declaration of war in August 1914 and embarked two months later. After a short stop in Albany, Western Australia, the battalion proceeded to Egypt, arriving on 2 December 1914. The battalion took part in the ANZAC landing on 25 April 1915 as part of the second and third waves. The following day Lieutenant Colonel A. J. O. Thompson the commander of the 4th battalion was killed and Lieutenant Colonel G. F. Braund, who on the 4 May 1915 was also killed.
At ANZAC, the 4th battalion took part in the defence of the beachhead and on 6 August 1915 along with the rest of the 1st Brigade led the charge at the "battle of Lone Pine" at Gallipoli. It was here on 9 August that Pte John Hamilton of the 3rd battalion was awarded the V C. The V C was also awarded to two members of the 1st battalion; Captain A. J. Shout (posthumously) and Lieutenant L.M. Keysor.
The commander of the 2nd Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel R. Scobie, was killed during a Turkish counter-attack. The battalions continued to serve at ANZAC until the evacuation in December 1915.
After the withdrawal from Gallipoli the battalion returned to Egypt and in March 1916 sailed for France and the Western Front. From then until 1918 the battalion took part in operations against the German Army, mainly in the Somme Valley and around Ypres. In July 1916 the battalions took part in their first major action at Pozières in the Somme valley. Later the battalion fought at Ypres before returning to the Somme for winter.
In early 1917 the German Army withdrew to the formidable defences of the Hindenburg Line. In April 1917, the 2nd Battalion advanced towards these defences, during in which Private T. J. Kenny of the 2nd battalion was awarded the V C. Also in May 1917, Corporal G. J. Howell of the 1st battalion. The rest of 1917 the battalions spent fighting in horrendous conditions around Ypres.
The 3rd and 4th battalion took part in a short period of mobile operations following the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line in early 1917, but also spent much of that year fighting around Ypres
In 1918 the battalions returned to the Somme valley and helped to stop the German spring offensive in March and April. The battalion took part in the Allies’ own offensive, launched to the east of Amiens on 8 August 1918. This advance by British and Empire troops was the greatest success in a single day on the Western Front, one that German General Erich Ludendorff described as “the black day of the German Army in this war”.
The battalions continued operations until late September 1918. At 11 am on 11 November, 1918, the war finally ended . The November armistice was followed by the peace treaty of Versailles signed on 28 June 1919.
Between November 1918 and May 1919 the men of the 1st. 2nd, 3rd and 4th Battalions returned to Australia for demobilisation and discharge.Infantry Battalions 5 – 8 were part of the 2nd Brigade
The 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th Battalion’s were infantry units raised for the AIF during the First World War and was recruited from Victoria. All four battalions, formed the 2nd Brigade.
(8th Battalion was raised from rural Victoria by Lieutenant Colonel William Bolton)
The battalions was raised within a fortnight of the declaration of war in August 1914 and embarked two months later. After a short stop in Albany, Western Australia, the battalion proceeded to Egypt, arriving on 2 December. It later took part in the ANZAC landing on 25 April 1915, as part of the second
wave. It was led by Lieutenant Colonel D. S. Wanliss, the officer who had raised the 5th battalion. Ten days after the landing the 2nd Brigade was transferred from ANZAC to Cape Helles to help in the attack on the village of Krithia. The attack captured little ground but cost the brigade almost a third of its strength. The Victorian battalions forming the 2nd Brigade returned to ANZAC to help defend the beachhead. In August the Brigade fought at the battle of Lone Pine. While holding positions captured by the 1st Brigade, four members of the 7th Battalion, Corporal A. S. Burton, Acting Corporal W. Dunstan, Lieutenant W. Symons and Captain F. H. Tubb, earned the Victoria Cross - Burton posthumously. The battalion served at ANZAC until the evacuation in December.
After the withdrawal from Gallipoli, the battalions returned to Egypt. In March 1916, it sailed for France and the Western Front. From then until 1918 the battalions were heavily involved in operations against the German Army. The battalion’s first major action in France was at Pozières in the Somme valley in July 1916. After Pozières the battalion fought near Ypres, in Flanders, returning to the Somme for winter. Private Thomas Cooke, one of 81 men of the 8th battalion killed at Pozières, was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross during the action.
In 1917, the battalions took part in the operations that followed-up the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line, and then returned to Belgium to join the great offensive launched to the east of Ypres. In September 1917 during the battle of Menin Road, Lieutenant Frederick Birks of the 6th Battalion was awarded the V C. Birks was killed by a shell burst the next day while trying to rescue men buried during a bombardment.
In March and April 1918 the battalions helped stop the German spring offensive and later on the 8 August 1918 took part in the Allies’ own offensive, launched near Amiens. The advance by British and empire troops was the greatest success in a single day on the Western Front. Lieutenant William Joynt of the 8th Battalion was awarded a V C for his actions on this day. The following day, Private Robert Beatham also of the 8th Battalion was awarded a V C for his actions, two days later he was killed in action.
The battalions continued operations until late September 1918. At 11 am on 11 November 1918, the war finally ended. The November armistice was followed by the peace treaty of Versailles signed on 28 June 1919.
In November 1918 members of the AIF began to return to Australia for demobilisation and discharge. In April, the battalions were so reduced that the 5th and the 8th Battalion were amalgamated to form a composite battalion. In turn, this battalion was amalgamated with another, formed from the 6th and 7th Battalions, to form the 2nd Brigade Battalion.