‘It bucked our lads up wonderfully’: the lightning-quick battle that marked the birth of the US-Australia military alliance

Published: 24 April 2024

By Meighen McCrae
via The Conversation website

American and Australian stretcher bearers working together

American and Australian stretcher bearers working together near the front line during the Battle of Hamel in 1918. Australian War Memorial

While the AUKUS alliance is new, the Australian-American partnership is not. As Australians reflect on the sacrifices of their soldiers on ANZAC Day, it’s worth remembering the first time Australian and American troops joined forces in battle – in northern France, in the final year of the first world war.

Australia fought as part of the British Empire in the early 20th century. This meant that when Britain declared war in 1914 against the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman empire), Australia immediately went to war on the side of the Allies (the British, French, Russian and Japanese empires, with Italy and the United States joining later).

The US didn’t fully commit to the Allied cause until April 1917. Once it did, it focused on building up its industrial war machine and recruiting troops to be sent to Europe. By July 1918, there were around a million American soldiers in France, with more arriving every day.

As I describe in my book, Coalition Strategy and the End of the First World War, from the Allied perspective, the war still very much hung in the balance. They knew the Germans were a formidable enemy, as the launch of the German Spring Offensives in March 1918 had shown.

The Allies had some battle successes beginning in June 1918 that slowly built their confidence. One of the important engagements would become known as the Battle of Hamel in northern France. This was when the Australian overall commander, Lieutenant General John Monash, spearheaded the first Australian-American attack in history. Monash organised the offensive for July 4, American Independence Day.

American and Australian troops dug in together during the Battle of Hamel. Australian War Memorial

A quick victory, with limited casualties

Ahead of the battle, American forces moved into Australian lines. As Australian Lieutenant Edgar Rule described:

Twelve were put in each platoon, and believe me they were some men. This was the first time that they had been in the line, and they were dead keen; and apart from that it bucked our lads up wonderfully. All the novelty of the war had long since vanished for our boys … everyone was smiling or laughing.

The Yanks were out for information and our boys were very willing teachers, and it speaks well for the future to see one set so eager to learn and the other so willing to teach.

Despite Monash’s best intentions, however, the American supreme commander, General John “Black Jack” Pershing, was not pleased. Americans supporting Australia in a defensive role was one thing. Attacking, however, would involve higher casualty rates and reduce the strength of the US forces at a time when Pershing wanted to have his own sector of the battlefield, rather than have his troops fed into other armies.

Read the entire article on The Conversation website.
External Web Site Notice: This page contains information directly presented from an external source. The terms and conditions of this page may not be the same as those of this website. Click here to read the full disclaimer notice for external web sites. Thank you.


Share this article

Related posts