Anzac Day is traditionally held on 25 April each year throughout Australia and New Zealand as a day to remember all those who have served and died in war, conflict or peacekeeping operations.
On that day in 1915, Australian and New Zealand forces (called the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps or ‘ANZAC’) landed with other British and French troops on the Gallipoli peninsula in an attempt to knock Turkey out of the war.
The 25th of April was officially named Anzac Day in 1916 and for the remaining years of the First World War was commemorated with parades and commemorative church services.
During the 1920s, Anzac Day became established as a National Day of Commemoration and in 1927 Australian states observed some form of public holiday together on Anzac Day for the first time that year. By the 1930s all the rituals now associated with Anzac Day including dawn vigils, marches, memorial services, reunions, and games like two-up were firmly established.
One of the more poignant events held on every Anzac Day is the ‘Dawn Service’ with the first organised service held in 1928 at Martin Place in Sydney. The impetus for the event came the previous year when a group of returned servicemen returning at dawn from an Anzac Day function held the night before came upon an elderly woman laying flowers at the as yet unfinished Sydney Cenotaph. Joining her in this private remembrance, the men later resolved to institute a Dawn Service the following year. Some 150 people gathered at the Sydney Cenotaph in 1928 for a wreathlaying and two minutes’ silence and the modern tradition was born.
Another well known tradition held on Anzac Day is the game ‘two-up’. The origins of the game are obscure but it is thought to have evolved from ‘pitching pennies’, a gambling game where a single coin is tossed against a wall with the closest to the wall winning the bet and collecting all of the coins, which was popular with the British working class and had been played by British and Irish convicts since the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788.
‘Two-up’ involves someone acting as the ‘Spinner’ using a ‘kip’ (a small piece of wood on which the coins are placed – see above) to toss two Australian penny coins in the air. Other players surround the ring and bet on the result – either heads or tails. ‘Odds’, where a head and tail results, means the ‘Spinner’ throws again.
One hundred years ago today, on St George’s Day 1918 the Royal Navy (RN) carried out an audacious raid on the German held port of Zeebrugge in occupied Belgium. It was the first Commando raid in history.
In February 1915 Germany declared the waters around the UK and Ireland to be a war zone with any British merchant vessels encountered at risk of being sunk. Germany realised that they could not compete with British naval strength and that the only possible way they could impose a blockade on Britain was using the U-boat. Germany’s U-boat force was primarily based in Ostend in Belgium giving them good access to the sea lanes around the UK.
Throughout the remainder of 1915 and 1916 German U-boats sank over 3.6 million tonnes of Allied and Neutral shipping and it was not until April 1917 that Britain introduced a convoy system to provide some element of protection.
Despite its introduction German U-Boats remained a serious threat to Allied shipping throughout the remainder of 1917 and into 1918. Many were based in occupied Belgium, particularly Bruges, from where U-Boats and Torpedo Boats could make their way through the canal system into the English Channel at the port of Zeebrugge.
In late December 1917 Rear Admiral Sir Roger Keyes (shown above) took over command of the Dover Patrol and soon set his sights on Bruges and began planning a raid on its ports, Zeebrugge and Ostend.
Zeebrugge harbour was an extremely difficult objective to attack. Keyes understood that it was too difficult to destroy the lock gates, as they were half a mile up the canal, and that the channel leading to the gates could be closed by sinking blockships in the entrance.The mouth of the canal was also protected by a Mole (see below), or breakwater, which created an artificial harbour surrounding the entrance. It was a mile and a half long and was linked to the shore by a 300 yard long causeway, half a mile west of the canal mouth.
All along the Mole were German machine gun nests and artillery pieces. With another Battery of 5.9 inch heavy guns behind the Mole itself covering the entrance to the channel. In total more than 1,000 German soldiers and sailors defended the harbour.
Keyes’s overall plan was simple. The Mole would be attacked first by Royal Navy and Royal Marines landing parties, whose objective was to silence the guns. Even if all of the guns were not destroyed the attack would divert their attention from the blockships until it was too late and they were in the canal entrance.
Keyes requisitioned six obsolete Light Cruisers and selected three HMS Thetis, HMS Iphigenia, and HMS Intrepid as the blockships. Another, HMS Vindictive was modified with 18 narrow ramps on her port side, to allow her to carry the majority of the raiding party. Weapons were added where they could be installed. These included two (2) 7.5 inch howitzers, an 11-inch howitzer, sixteen (16) Lewis light machine guns and three quick-firing cannon. Sandbagged huts were built fore and aft, each one enclosing a flamethrower and all of the Cruiser’s exposed positions were covered with sandbags and mattresses.
In addition to the Cruisers, Keyes added two shallow-draft Merseyside ferryboats Iris II and Daffodil, which had all of their internal fittings removed and replaced by armour, smoke-making equipment, grapnels and scaling ladders for the remainder of the storming party.
Rounding out the assault force was two old ‘C’-class submarines C1 and C3 (shown above). Each carried a small crew of six and five tons of explosive. Their mission was to work westward around the Mole to the open pier, wedge themselves beneath it, light the fuses and withdraw via small boat. The resulting explosions would destroy the pier and cutoff the Germans on the Mole.
Unsuitable weather conditions forced two earlier attempts to be aborted but by 22 April conditions had improved. That afternoon the raiding force (consisting of over 165 vessels including Cruisers, Destroyers, Monitors, Submarines and Motor Launches) weighed anchor.
By 10pm the force rendezvoused with patrolling Destroyers and were now only 15 miles from the Mole. At 11:10pm British monitors began bombarding the German coastal defences with fire opening on Zeebrugge twenty minutes later. At the same time coastal motor boats moved off at high speed and laid a preliminary smoke screen across the entire line of advance.
Two groups of coastal motor boats then attacked the western end of the Mole to distract the enemy’s attention while HMS Vindictive approached. Miraculously the entire expedition had reached its destination unreported and unobserved.
Just before midnight HMS Vindictive came through the last smoke screen, moving across the narrow strip of water that separated her from the Mole. She continued her approach under a hail of fire which inflicted heavy casualties on her crew and the landing parties. The tidal stream was also causing problems as she struggled to lay alongside the mole.
Fortunately the ferry Daffodil saw her predicament and was able to hold HMS Vindictive (see below) alongside the Mole. The first of the storming parties then made their way down the gangways to begin their assault. A few minutes later Iris II was brought alongside.
It was soon realised that there could be no thought of rushing the battery on the Mole head as had originally been intended as HMS Vindictive had gone past her assigned position leaving German machine-guns and barbed wire between the storming parties and the gun emplacements. Consequently the mission changed to one of holding ground, as a diversionary measure, despite the attackers being the focus of nearly every German gun.
By now HMS Vindictive‘s upper-works were being pounded by the gun battery on the Mole and many of her guns had been knocked out as two German Destroyers berthed alongside the inner Mole added their fire to the fight. Twenty minutes after HMS Vindictive had been put alongside the situation ashore was precarious. The Royal Marines had formed a bridgehead opposite the ship’s brows while the seamen had only partially secured HMS Vindictive to the Mole.
Meanwhile the obsolete British submarine HMS C3 under command of Lieutenant Sandford had penetrated the harbour, rammed the viaduct and wedged itself tightly between its steel girders before the crew made their escape in a small skiff under a hail of enemy fire. The resultant explosion blew away 100 feet of the viaduct and cut communications to the Mole as the three British blockships were steaming into the harbour.
The blockships passed through the fire and steamed on towards the channel and canal beyond it. HMS Thetis had by this time sustained heavy damage and was taking on tons of water causing her to list heavily. She was brought to a halt 500 metres from her objective clearing obstacles on her way that allowed HMS Intrepid and HMS Iphigenia to pass through unimpeded.
HMS Intrepid entered the channel first and once inside, was put hard over and scuttled with most of her crew withdrawing in two cutters and a skiff. HMS Iphigenia was not far behind and made for a gap on the eastern side of the channel where she too was successfully scuttled. Her crew escaped in boats which they rowed out of the harbour before being picked up by fast Motor Launches.
Back at the Mole HMS Vindictive continued to draw fire. The recall was sounded and the shore parties withdrew to their battered ships, carrying their wounded with them. Twenty five minutes later HMS Vindictive (see below) and Iris II withdrew and made for open water.
As they left the scene Iris II came under direct fire from the German batteries and was riddled with shells, mortally wounding her Commanding Officer. On fire and with half of her bridge blown away she eventually steamed out of range.
The attack on Zeebrugge proved only a partial success. Although the harbour and canal were blocked for several weeks the Germans soon dredged a channel around the sunken blockships allowing Destroyers and Submarines to pass with extreme difficulty. During the attack 214 British personnel were killed, 383 wounded and 16 taken prisoner.
The exceptional bravery shown by those who took part in the raid was recognised through the award of eight (8) Victoria Crosses (VC), four of which were decided by ballot which allowed for a recipient to be elected by those present at the action when it was considered that the corporate bravery of a unit warranted the award. They were:
Commander (Acting Captain) Alfred Carpenter, Commanding Officer HMS Vindictive
Lieutenant Richard Sandford, Commanding Officer HM Submarine C3
Sergeant Norman Finch, Royal Marine Artillery
Ordinary Seaman Albert McKenzie, HMS Neptune
Lieutenant Commander Arthur Harrison*, HMS Hindustan
The Royal Air Force (RAF) was formed on this day one hundred years ago.
The RAF was founded on 1 April 1918 by the amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) under the Air Ministry, which had been established three months earlier.
The RFC had been born out of the Air Battalion of the Corps of Royal Engineers (RE) and was part of the British Army. The RNAS was its Royal Navy equivalent controlled by the Admiralty.
In 1917 Germany deployed long range Gotha bomber aircraft (above) against Britain. In response to those raids General Jan Smuts was authorised by the Imperial War Cabinet to conduct a review, the outcome of which became known as the Smuts Report (see below).
Smuts recommended that the air service should be treated as a separate force from the Royal Navy and the British Army and be solely responsible for conducting warfare in the air.
Following the report, Parliament debated and passed the Air Force (Constitution) Act 1917 (see below), which was given Royal Assent by King George V on the 29 November 1917.
A few months later on the 1 April 1918, the RNAS and RFC were merged together to create the Royal Air Force (RAF), the world’s first independent air force.
The newly created RAF was the most powerful air force in the world on its creation, with more than 20,000 aircraft and over 300,000 personnel. The squadrons of the RFC kept their existing numerals, while those of the RNAS were renumbered from 201 onwards.
After World War 1, the RAF was greatly reduced in size and during the inter-war years was used to police the British Empire in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
The RAF underwent rapid expansion during the Second World War, initially responsible for the air defence of Great Britain, playing the key role in the Battle of Britain, as well as the strategic nighttime bombing campaign against Germany and Italy, including targets like the Ruhr, Turin and Berlin, as well as the provision of tactical air support to British Army operations in North Africa, Italy, Burma, France and Germany.
During the Cold War, the main role of the RAF was the defence of the UK and continental Europe against attack by the Soviet Union, including responsibility for the UK’s nuclear deterrent up until 1969.
After the Cold War, the RAF was involved in several large scale operations, including the 1991 Gulf War, the 1999 Kosovo War, the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, the 2011 military intervention in Libya and support for enduring operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.
On this day one hundred years ago the Germans launched Operation Michael, part of the Kaiserschlacht (Kaiser’s Battle).
Also known as the Spring Offensive it was actually a series of attacks along the Western Front between March and June 1918 during the First World War and marked the deepest advances made by German forces since 1914.
The surrender of the Russians as a result of the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk at the beginning of March 1918 allowed Germany to move nearly 50 Divisions from the Eastern Front to the Western Front as they realised that their only remaining chance of victory was to defeat the Allies before the arrival of large numbers of American soldiers in France. The Spring Offensive actually consisted of four different operations codenamed Michael, Georgette, Gneisenau, and Blücher-Yorck.
Operation Michael was the main attack intended to break through the Allied lines then outflank and defeat British forces holding the front from the Somme River to the English Channel. Once this was achieved, it was hoped that the French would seek terms for an armistice. The other offensives were subsidiary to Operation Michael and were designed to divert Allied forces away from the main offensive on the Somme.
No clear German objective was established before the start of the Spring Offensive and they changed constantly as the tactical situation developed. In contrast, the Allies concentrated their forces to defend critical areas like the vital rail junction at Amiens and the approaches to the Channel Ports leaving other areas lightly defended.
The Germans were unable to move supplies and reinforcements fast enough to maintain their advance and each offensive subsequently petered out. By late April 1918, the danger of a breakthrough had passed with the German army suffering heavy casualties and now occupying ground that would prove impossible to hold.
At the height of the fighting in early April where the outcome was in the balance, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig (shown above), Commander in Chief (CINC) of the British Army in France issued his famous ‘Backs to the Wall’ special Order of the Day (shown below):
‘There is no other course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end. The safety of our homes and the freedom of mankind alike depend upon the conduct of each one of us at this critical moment.’
In August 1918, the Allied counter-offensive began with the support of almost two million American soldiers. The ‘Hundred Days’ Offensive resulted in the Germans retreating or being driven from all of the ground taken in the Spring Offensive, the collapse of the Hindenburg Line and the capitulation of the German Empire, resulting in the Armistice on 11 November 1918.
The Victoria Cross, Britain’s (and some Commonwealth countries) highest award for gallantry for members of the Armed Forces, was officially constituted by warrant on this day in 1856.
Since that time the medal has been awarded 1,358 times to 1,355 individual recipients. Only 15 medals have been awarded since the Second World War.
As of 2018, there are six (6) living recipients of the Victoria Cross, three (3) living recipients of the Victoria Cross for Australia and one (1) living recipient of the Victoria Cross for New Zealand. They are:
Flight Lieutenant John Cruickshank VC, 210 Sqn RAF (awarded for his actions in the Battle of the Atlantic in 1944)
Sergeant Bill Speakman VC, Black Watch attached to King’s Own Scottish Borderers (awarded for his actions in Korea in 1951)
Captain Rambahadur Limbu, VC, MVO, 2nd Battalion, 10th Princess Mary’s Own Gurkha Rifles (awarded for his actions in Borneo in 1965)
Warrant Officer Class 2 Keith Payne VC, AM, Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (awarded for his actions in South Vietnam in 1969)
Corporal Willie Apiata VC, New Zealand Special Air Service Regiment (awarded for his actions in Afghanistan in 2004
Lance Sergeant Johnson Beharry, VC, CNG, 1st Battalion, The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (awarded for his actions in Iraq in 2005)
Corporal Mark Donaldson VC, Australian Special Air Service Regiment (awarded for his actions in Afghanistan in 2008)
Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith VC, MG, Australian Special Air Service Regiment (awarded for his actions in Afghanistan in 2010)
Corporal Dan Keighran VC, 6th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (awarded for his actions in Afghanistan in 2010)
Corporal Joshua Leakey VC (shown below), 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment (awarded for his actions in Afghanistan in 2015)
The largest collections of VCs in the world are held by the Ashcroft Collection in Britain (established in 1986) which now contains 210 medals and the Australian War Memorial, which has 69 medals on public display.
“Have you forgotten yet?… For the world’s events have rumbled on since those gagged days, Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways: And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow Like clouds in the lit heaven of life; and you’re a man reprieved to go, Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare. But the past is just the same–and War’s a bloody game… Have you forgotten yet?… Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.
Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz– The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets? Do you remember the rats; and the stench Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench– And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain? Do you ever stop and ask, ‘Is it all going to happen again?’
Do you remember that hour of din before the attack– And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men? Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back With dying eyes and lolling heads–those ashen-grey Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?
Have you forgotten yet?… Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget.”
This Turkish Standard was captured by Squadron Quartermaster Sergeant (SQMS) Dennis Walker, of the 2nd Light Horse Regiment AIF (2 LH) during the Battle of Magdhaba, on 23 December 1916.
Magdhaba, a village in the northern Sinai desert was occupied by Turkish forces blocking the route to Palestine, was attacked by the ANZAC Mounted Division and the Imperial Camel Corps. After a night march of 22 miles from El Arish the hard fought action was secured by a bayonet assault by the 1st Light Horse Brigade, of which the 2nd Light Horse Regiment was a part, just as the entire Division had been ordered to withdraw.
Walker captured the standard of the 80th Turkish Infantry Regiment from a Turkish officer who was struggling to remove it from it from its elaborate pole and cords. In the process the standard was torn and Walker repaired it with black thread the following night.
The Standard is made of crimson silk with a gold bullion fringe on the upper and lower edges, and on the fly.
One side of the standard is embroidered in gold bullion thread with the toghra (personal cypher) of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet V (1909-1918) within a circle. The circle is surrounded by embroidered representations of four regimental flags and various military symbols, including pikes, double-headed axes and trumpets. Beneath is a scroll of leaves from which are suspended embroidered representations of five medals.
The other side of the standard is also embroidered in gold and shows two texts from the Koran written in arabic script. They translate as ‘There is no god but God‘ and ‘Mohammed, the Messenger of God‘.
The Standard is one of at least three captured in the course of the campaign in Palestine. All are now in the collection of the Australian War Memorial.