“All knew the Mount to be a famous fortress of the Western Front, and as the hour for the barrage, 5 o’clock, drew near few officers or men in the tired companies of the 20th averaging only 60 rifles, and those of the 17th , averaging 70 believed they had any chance of success”
Excerpt from the Official History
Mont translated from French to English means Mount or Mountain, and though Mont St. Quentin was a gently sloping mountain, its location was perfectly situated for the German defenders with some believing the defences impregnable. The allied attack upon Mont St. Quentin was part of a larger Allied counter-offensive taking the war to the Germans in what was to be the last few months of the war.
The barrage preceding the attack on Mont St. Quentin consisted of field guns and heavy artillery. The field gun batteries employed in the attack were placed 25 yards apart from each other and fired two rounds per gun per minute, while the howitzers fired one round per minute. The digger’s first view of Mont St. Quentin before the attack was at dawn when they saw it being illuminated with the dull flashes and the hazy fumes of the big shell bursts of the Allied artillery barrage.
The infantry commenced their attack during the barrage, subduing pockets of German resistance as they advanced up the Mount, as well as capturing large numbers of German soldiers. The attacking diggers showed great bravery from the very beginning of the battle.
Former Sydney Tram conductor Sergeant Jim Rixon jumped with his Lewis gun into a German post whereby he killed three of its occupants and captured twenty German soldiers.
There were many examples of such bravery over the course of the battle with Private Bill Irwin, an indigenous soldier from Moree N.S.W who was 37 years old at the time he enlisted,being killed in action while bravely rushing a German position. Germans also fought bravely with some fighting to the last. A German Battery commander in charge of six field guns and some infantry fought bravely to the end with his revolver before being shot dead by the attacking diggers.
The Australians seized the Gottlieb trench – one of their objectives – while the barrage was still raining down high explosives upon the nearby German positions. The same determination was to see a number of men win the Victoria Cross.
Sergeant Arthur Hall, who had honed his marksmanship skills shooting Kangaroos on the rural property he managed near Nyngan N.S.W, and Corporal Alex Buckley, another farmer, stalked, chased and shot the occupants of German machine gun emplacements until a barrage caused them to cease their pursuit. Both men were awarded the Victoria Cross with Buckley tragically killed in action on 1st September 1918.
Robert Mactier from Tatura in the fruit growing area of the Goulburn valley in Victoria was another V.C winner, which in his case was awarded posthumously.
Eventually the German defenders of the Mount had been either killed, captured or fled.
The rapidity in which the attack had achieved its aims stunned the battalion commanders and General Rawlinson who had been called by his chief of staff while getting dressed for the morning, thought it a magnificent performance.
The feat was that much more celebrated because it had been achieved by barely 550 men backed up by another 200 in close support. This small force had taken over 700 prisoners as well as killing many of the German defenders.
This was not the end of the battle by any means though with the Germans launching a furious counter-attack against the Australians now on Mont St. Quentin. While the Germans were successful in retaking the Mount, the Germans were in turn pushed back off the mountain by an Australian counter-attack. The diggers reclaimed most of the ground they had won in the initial assault. The victory was tremendously important in strategic terms.
“Mont St. Quentin was a key part in the last German formal defensive position before the Hindenburg Line and its capture, together with the British Third Army’s advances further north, forced the Germans into a major withdrawal”
Monash the tactician was certainly proud of the victory and in a letter home he informed his wife and daughter of the acclaim the AIF had received after the battle, writing how the English newspapers had described Mont St. Quentin as the greatest single feat of arms in the war.