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Peaceful Penetration was an Australian infantry tactic used during the First World War (though also used by the New Zealanders), which was a cross between trench raiding and patrolling. The aim was similar to trench raiding (namely, to gather prisoners, conduct reconnaissance, and to dominate no mans land), with the additional purpose to occupy the enemy's outpost line (and so capture ground). The term came from pre-war British press describing the advancing penetration of German trade into British territories, and that the Germans had no need to fight, as they were gaining the British Empire through "Peaceful Penetration".

Description

Development

In mid-1918, with the ending of the German Spring Offensive, the Australian troops started to conduct offensive patrols into no mans land. As the front lines (post the German Spring Offensive) were lacking in fortifications and were non-continuous, it was discovered that the patrols could infiltrate the German outpost line and approach the outposts from behind. In this manner, the outposts could be taken quickly, and with minimal force. This tactic was first reported as being used on the 5 April 1918 by the 5th Division), however within a few months all five of the Australian divisions (and the New Zealand Division) were using the tactic. (It should be pointed out, that a similar tactic was used in Messines (in 1917), however the tactic was referred to as "Prospecting".) Likewise, an earlier trench-raid was made near Messines on 16 November 1915 by Canadians.

Extent

The tactic was first reported as being used on the 5th of April by the 58th Battalion (part of the 15th Brigade, 5th Division), however within a few weeks it was reported that peaceful penetration was being conducted by units of all five Australian divisions, with some units using the tactic more than others (for example, the 3rd Division conducting the tactic on 3 out of every 5 days in April). In some units, it was treated as a competition, with companies of the 41st Battalion competing to see who could capture the most prisoners.

Effect on German morale

The effect on German morale was quite pronounced, with the effect of Peaceful Penetration being noticed by both the Allies and Germans. The Chief of Staff of the German 2nd Army issued the following report on the 13th of July:

A captured German soldier is reported as saying:

General Herbert Plumer (Commander of the British 2nd Army) stated:

Advancement of Lines

As ground was continually being captured on an ongoing basis by the use of Peaceful Penetration, the front lines were constantly being advanced.In fact, after the Battle of Hamel, a second battle was ordered by Field Marshall Haig on 11 July to attack the Villers-Bretonneux Plateau. However, barely had the planning started, when it was realised that the area (a frontage of 4500 yards, to a depth of 1000 yards) had already been captured by 2 brigades through Peaceful Penetration.In addition, the 3rd Division forced the German front line back a mile at Morlancourt.

Requirements

Terrain

As stated above, Peaceful Penetration relied on the patrols infiltrating the German outposts, and approaching them from behind. As a result, one of the main requirements for successful Peaceful Penetration is that the terrain provide good cover (i.e. the terrain have either covered approaches (such as ditches), or have enough ground cover (trees, grasses, etc)). As a result, it was only after the German Spring Offensive forced the Allies out of the previously fought over terrain into terrain that hadn't been damaged by artillery that Peaceful Penetration became viable.

Fortifications

As Peaceful Penetration worked best when the patrols approached the outposts from behind, a lack of continuous fortifications (i.e. trenches and wire emplacements) was also required for successful Peaceful Penetration. As a result, this tactic was limited to areas where there was a lack of well established defenses.

Troop Quality

The last requirement for successful Peaceful Penetration, is that the patrolling troops need to have an aggressive "spirit", display large amounts of initiative (as the patrols would often have fewer than a dozen members) and possess great daring (as it was not uncommon for single Allied soldiers to attack outposts containing half a dozen German soldiers).Similarly, the tactic works best when the German soldiers were more likely to surrender than fight when attacked.

Example of "Peaceful Penetration"

An example of peaceful penetration is a series of patrols carried out on 11 July 1918 that were led by Lieutenant C.R. Morley and Lieutenant G.E. Gaskell (each patrol totalling just 4 men).The patrol led by Lieutenant Gaskell captured 32 Germans and 3 machine guns. The patrol led by Lieutenant Morley captured 36 Germans and 4 machine guns. As a result of leading these patrols, both Lieutenant Gaskell and Lieutenant Morley won Military Crosses, and others on the patrols won Distinguished Conduct Medals.As noted in the 1st Battalion Diary:

"The patrols continued to operate during the morning and succeeded in capturing practically the whole outpost garrison of the enemy."

"At 2 pm the Commanding Officer decided to exploit the success of the enterprise with the result that our line was advanced …. an average depth of 200 yards."

"Our total captives amounted to 2 Officers, 98 o/ranks and 8 machine guns."

Notes

  1. C. E. W. Bean, page 42note
  2. C. E. W. Bean, page 345 note
  3. C. E. W. Bean, page 42
  4. C. E. W. Bean, Vol 3 page 244
  5. C. E. W. Bean, page 47
  6. Laffin, page 93
  7. C. E. W. Bean, page 376
  8. L Carlyon, page 635
  9. R. Mallet, page 178
  10. 1st Battalion Unit Diary, July 1918, page 7
  11. Laffin, page 60


References

  • C. E. W. Bean, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914 - 1918, Vol 6. ISBN B0012TXT38 (A on-line copy is available courtesy of the Australian War Memorialmarker at this link: http://www.awm.gov.au/histories/volume.asp?conflict=1 ).
  • John Laffin, Guide to Australian Battlefields of the Western Front 1916-1918. ISBN 0-7318-0855-X
  • Martin Marix Evans, 1918 The Year of Victories. ISBN 1-84193-114-4
  • Les Carlyon, The Great War. ISBN 978-1-4050-3761-7 ISBN 1-4050-3761-X
  • Mat McLachlan, Walking with the ANZACS - A Guide to Australian Battlefields on the Western Front. ISBN 978-0-734409-07-2
  • R. Mallet - "The Interplay between Technology, Tactics and Organisation in the First AIF", MA (Hons) Thesis, Australian Defense Force Academy - http://www.unsw.adfa.edu.au/~rmallett/Thesis/08chapter7.pdf
  • 1st Battalion Unit Diary, July 1918 (hosted by the Australian War Memorialmarker) - http://www.awm.gov.au/cms_images/AWM4/23/AWM4-23-18-33.pdf


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