A team of historians bring to life the reality of life on the Western Front.
More than 80 per cent of Australians killed during the First World War lost their lives on the main battlefield, facing the formidable force of the main enemy.
The battlefield in question was the Western Front where Australian and New Zealand troops were constantly engaged from early 1916 until the Armistice in late 1918. This five part series explores the stories of the ANZACs on the Western Front, from their first engagement in a small trench raid until their final triumph as an instrumental part of the ‘100 Day’ advance that led to victory.
A thorough and insightful investigation into the strategy of warfare, supported by detailed on-screen graphics, archival footage and oral history, presenter Neil Pigot (For Valour, Breaker Morant: The Retrial) and eminent military historian Dr Peter Pedersen explain where, how and why the ANZACs fought in France and Belgium 100 years ago.
Where is the Western Front? Why did two vast armies dig in, extending lines of trenches from the Channel ports almost to the Alps? All of this happened in the first weeks of the war so that by mid-September the German attack had faltered on the Marne and the situation became stalemated. This is the battlefield that the Anzacs, withdrawn from Gallipoli, entered at the beginning of 1916.
Industrial warfare at its most terrifying, gas, tanks, machine guns, barbed wire, the Anzacs find themselves fully acquainted with the texture of war on the Western Front in a series of murderous battles at Pozieres where the Australians lose 12,000 men.
It is 1917 and the Anzacs are involved in the seminal battles of Bullecourt, Ypres, Messines and Menin Road. The year starts for the Australians with success but when the Germans counter-attack the Australians are overwhelmed at a place called Bullecourt, a significant German breakthrough seems imminent.
One of the most notorious killing fields of WWI - Passchendaele. We walk where the battalions fought and where the artillery sank in liquid mud. In the midst of the battle one of Australia’s greatest soldiers, then Lieutenant Colonel Leslie Morshead, wrote ‘things are bloody, very bloody’. The losses were enormous - on October 12th the New Zealand Division lost 2800 men, the bloodiest day in that country’s military history.
The German’s launched the massive Operation Michael on an 80 kilometre front on March 21st 1918, the greatest offensive of the war. We hear stories of desperate defence and the crumbling of the Allied line, we meet great characters like New Zealand’s most famous soldier Richard Travis, the unorthodox “king of no-man’s land”. And we reach what is, for many, the defining moment in Australia’s war.
As the Germans retreated towards the fortified Hindenburg Line they attempted a ‘scorched earth’ policy, cratering roads and destroying bridges. Vigorous pursuit was necessary to prevent this. We follow the exploits of the Australians as Monash takes up the challenge and, as part of the rolling offensive, follow the New Zealand third army.