During the latter part of the First World War, the raids that Australians made against the Germans on the Western Front were described in the Official History as ‘peaceful penetration’. No raid on an enemy entrenchment is peaceful: Lucas Jordan has chosen the less sardonic and more descriptive term ‘stealth raids’.
This is an original work based on a very large amount of research. Because such raids were rarely, if ever, referred to in formal written orders, the facts can only be ascertained from soldiers’ diaries and letters. Research largely based on these sources can be difficult because of some proneness to exaggeration even by the first-hand writers. Jordan overcomes this obstacle by the sheer bulk of his examination of these records largely held in the collections of the War Memorial and state libraries and in published works. His supervisor was the formidable Dr Bill Gammage, author of the best anthology of soldiers’ writing of that war, The Broken Years.
What was different about these raids? The environment in which they took place was far more open than the static trench lines most imagined in the Great War. They took place without formal orders: indeed, they were unauthorised even at company and battalion level. The men were volunteers, often impulsively so. The participants were skilled, often of low rank and, more frequently than averages would indicate, hailed from the Australian bush. Skill, trust, independence and mateship were the hallmarks.
This book extensively examines the raids and their success. It makes the point that sometimes the raids removed the need for a planned formation (division or brigade) attack. It shows that Australian (and New Zealand) raids were the inspiration for similar ventures by British units.
Perhaps a minor shortcoming of the book is its consideration of the effects a local raid could have on adjacent units and on artillery and other fire support. Formal orders, even those hastily assembled, would have greatly alleviated the danger posed by raids caused by friendly interdiction.
Stealth Raiders is a very useful contribution to our understanding of the Australian contribution to the last phases of the Great War.
Reviewed for RUSIV by Mike O’Brien, August 2017