Now released! Join us in September 2017 for our very special commemorative tour for the centenary of the Battle of Polygon Wood, (official centenary ceremony date 26 September 2017) where the men of the fabled Australian 5th Division prepared for their first major battle in Belgium, after the First and Second Australian Divisions had fought their way through the German lines at the Battle for Menin road the week before.
IMPORTANT NEWS UPDATE: 02 February 2017
Revised Security Arrangements France & Belgium: Pre-Registration is now MANDATORY!
We have just received new advice from the Australian DVA (Dept of Veteran Affairs) regarding revised French security arrangements for all future official DVA Australian Remembrance events for WW1 in France and Belgium.
These security arrangements are ONLY for official DVA events: Anzac Day Villers-Bretonneux 2017 (25 April), Bullecourt Centenary 2017 (25 April), Polygon Wood Centenary 2017 (26 September), Villers-Bretonneux Anzac Day Centenary 2018, (25 April) Le Hamel Centenary 2018 (4 July) and the 2018 Armistice Centenary ceremony (11/11)
Please NOTE that you MUST register DIRECTLY with DVA for SECURITY CLEARANCE if you are attending the Polygon Wood Centenary. registration link is HERE:
The Battle of Polygon Wood was part of the second phase of the Third Battle of Ypres and was fought near Ypres in Belgium from the 26 September – 3 October 1917, in the area from the Menin Road to Polygon Wood and north of Polygon Wood to the region beyond St. Julien. Much of the landscape and woods had been obliterated by the massive artillery bombardments - from both sides since mid July and the area had changed sides several times. The artillery for the barrage to support the attack was formidable - over 200 heavy artillery guns, one gun for every nine metres of front line to be attacked plus the ever present quick firing lighter 18–pounders of the field artillery brigades, then forward of the artillery the heavy water cooled Vickers machine guns of the machine gun companies.
Other new tactics were to be used as well, with aircraft of the Royal Flying Corps flying over the infantry as enemy 'spotter' scouts. With the 12 infantry battalions totalling 0,000 men in place, the division moved forward on the 24th September. All of this was carried out under a continual German artillery bombardment of the approach area with many resultant casualties every day. On the night of 25–26 September the men moved into position. At exactly 5.50 am on 26 September all hell broke loose on the German positions as all the Australian artillery commenced a rolling barrage, dropping a thunderous deadly curtain of shells just in front of the advancing infantry. On the Butte, where the Fifth Division Memorial now stands the noise, smoke and and concussion of the artillery and the ensuing battle would have been incredible - as described by Captain Alexander Ellis.
"Our artillery opened in a single magnificent crash and thousands of shells screamed through the air and burst in a long, straight line of flame and destruction about 200 yards [180 metres] ahead of the waiting infantry … the 4,000 men of the six attacking battalions dashed forward at a run. Somewhere behind the line of destruction lay their victims, shuddering in their pillboxes, staggered by the sudden commotion, dazed by the concussion of the shells … then, slowly, very slowly it [the barrage] crept forward. A long line of skirmishers disengaged itself from the dense mass of men and followed the advancing screen of shells …
"Above their heads thousands of machine gun bullets cut the air as they whistled shrilly past on their destined way, and the strident din of many Vickers guns throbbed through the troubled morning air. But these were but the tinkling wood–wind notes in the hell's orchestra that played about them. For the deafening crash of the rapid firing 18–pounders, the hoarser roar of the scores of heavy guns behind them and the stupefying concussion of shrapnel and high explosive shells in the barrage in front were by now all mingled in the hideous rhythmical clamour of the perfect drum–fire barrage. Thus, at 5.50 a.m. on the 26 September 1917, was the Division launched into the Battle of Polygon Wood"
( Captain Alexander Ellis - "The Story of the Fifth Australian Division" London, 1919, pp.244-245)
Charles Bean, the official Australian war historian also was in total awe of the barrage, describing it as the "most perfect barrage that had ever protected Australian troops' rolling ahead of them like a 'Gippsland bushfire".
The advancing artillery objectives and main areas of concern on the battlefield were the many German concrete forts/pillboxes protecting the German enemy machine guns. The advancing infantry was timed to arrive at the pillboxes just as the barrage moved on, so as to bomb the pillboxes whilst the occupants were still inside, a tactic which was mostly successful. At 7.30 am another protective barrage began and the Australians pushed on to their final objective for the day a few hundred metres beyond Polygon Wood. By 8 am the ground planned to be taken in the attack had been achieved. The Germans tried counter attacking during the rest of the day however they could not retake the ground and the artillery also turned them back.
The Butte at Polygon Wood was chosen by the Fifth Division as the setting for their principal memorial on the Western Front. Divisional historian Captain Ellis described the battle as a 'fine success'.
The Battle of Polygon Wood was hailed as a great success, but at a terrible cost nevertheless even by the 'accepted' casualty figures of the Western Front. From 21–30 September, the 4th Australian Division suffered 1,717 casualties. The 5th Australian Division had 5,471 dead and wounded in the period 26–28 September. A very heavy price to pay for a 'fine success'
5th Division Memorial, Butte, Polygon Wood