59th Battalion

The 59th Battalion was raised in Egypt on 21 February 1916 as part of the expansion of the AIF. Approximately half of its recruits came from the veteran 7th Battalion, and the other half were fresh reinforcements from Australia. Reflecting the composition of the 7th, the 59th was predominantly composed of men from rural Victoria. The battalion became part of the 15th Brigade of the 5th Australian Division.

On 19 July 1916, the 59th became embroiled in its first major battle on the Western Front, less than a month after it arrived in France. The battle of Fromelles was a disaster for the 59th. Attacking in the first wave, the 59th suffered heavy casualties at the hands of German machine-gunners, and its advance faltered far short of its objective. Despite grievous losses, the units of the 5th Division manned the front line around Fromelles for a further two months.

The 59th spent the winter of 1916–17 rotating in and out of the front line. In March 1917 the battalion participated in the advance that followed the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line, but was spared having to assault it. It did, however, defend gains made during the second battle of Bullecourt. Later in the year, the AIF’s focus of operations switched to the Ypres sector in Belgium. The 59th’s major battle there was at Polygon Wood on 26 September.

With the collapse of Russia in October 1917, a major German offensive on the Western Front was expected in early 1918. This came in late March and the 5th Division moved to defend the sector around Corbie. During this defence, the 59th Battalion participated in the now legendary counter-attack at Villers-Bretonneux on 25 April.

When the Allies launched their own offensive around Amiens on 8 August 1918, the 59th Battalion was amongst the units in action, although its role in the subsequent advance was limited. The battalion fought around Peronne in the first days of September and entered its last battle of the war on the 29th. This operation was mounted by the 5th and 3rd Australian Divisions, in co-operation with American forces, to break through the formidable German defences along the St Quentin Canal. The battalion withdrew to rest on 2 October and was still doing so when the war ended. The 59th Battalion disbanded on 24 March 1919.

Colour Patch

Colour patch for 59th Battalion

Glossary

15 Brigade ; 1st Australian Imperial Force ; 5 Division ; Battle of Amiens ; Battle of Fromelles ; Battle of Villers Bretonneux ; Expansion and re-organisation of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in Egypt ; German Spring Offensive ; Hindenburg Line ; Polygon Wood ; Second Battle of Bullecourt ; St Quentin Canal ; Third Battle of Ypres

Battle Honours

Casualties

  • 795 killed, 1619 wounded

For more information please see the Roll of Honour, Wounded and Missing, First World War Nominal Roll and Embarkation Roll databases.

Commanding Officers

Decorations

  • 2 DSO, 1 bar
  • 17 MC
  • 14 DCM, 1 bar
  • 51 MM, 4 bars
  • 8 MSM
  • 24 MID
  • 8 foreign awards

For more information please see Honours and Awards database

Collection Items

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References

  • AWM4/23/76/1: February 1916 unit diary
  • R.S. Corfield, Hold hard, cobbers: The story of the 57th and 60th and 57/60th Australian Infantry Battalions 1912-1990, Volume 1 1912-1930, (Glenhuntly: 57/60th Bn (AIF) Association, 1992).