Peaceful Penetration
Peaceful Penetration was an Australian infantry
Infantrymen are soldiers who are specifically trained for the role of fighting on foot to engage the enemy face to face and have historically borne the brunt of the casualties of combat in wars. As the oldest branch of combat arms, they are the backbone of armies...

 tactic used during the First World War (though also used by the New Zealanders), which was a cross between trench raiding
Trench raiding
Trench raiding was a feature of trench warfare which developed during World War I. It was the practice of making small scale surprise attacks on enemy position. Raids were made by both sides in the conflict and always took place at night for reasons of stealth...

 and patrolling. The aim was similar to trench raiding (namely, to gather prisoners, conduct reconnaissance, and to dominate no man's land
No man's land
No man's land is a term for land that is unoccupied or is under dispute between parties that leave it unoccupied due to fear or uncertainty. The term was originally used to define a contested territory or a dumping ground for refuse between fiefdoms...

), with the additional purpose to occupy the enemy's outpost line (and so capture ground). The term came most directly from the pre-war British press's description of 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". However, this was a translation from the French of a term describing their colonialist methods for taking over countries in France's own sphere of interest, e.g. Morocco or Tunisia, which was not at the expense of other colonialists.


In mid-1918, with the ending of the German Spring Offensive
Spring Offensive
The 1918 Spring Offensive or Kaiserschlacht , also known as the Ludendorff Offensive, was a series of German attacks along the Western Front during World War I, beginning on 21 March 1918, which marked the deepest advances by either side since 1914...

, the Australian troops started to conduct offensive patrols into no man's land. As the front lines (post the German Spring Offensive) lacked 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. A similar tactic was used in Messines in 1917, referred to as "prospecting". Likewise, an earlier trench-raid was made near Messines on 16 November 1915 by Canadians.


The tactic was first reported as being used on the 5th of April by the 58th Battalion
58th Battalion (Australia)
The 58th Battalion was an infantry battalion of the Australian Army. It was raised in 1916 for overseas service during World War I and saw action on the Western Front from June 1916 until the end of the war...

 (part of the 15th Brigade
15th Brigade (Australia)
The 15th Brigade was an infantry brigade of the Australian Army. Originally raised in 1916 for service during World War I, the brigade took part in the fighting on the Western Front in France and Belgium before being disbanded in 1919. After this it was re-raised as a part-time unit of the Citizens...

, 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
41st Battalion, Royal New South Wales Regiment
The 41st Battalion, Royal New South Wales Regiment, , is an infantry battalion of the Australian Army. A Reserve unit, it is one of four battalions of the Royal New South Wales Regiment and is attached to the 8th Brigade, 2nd Division...

 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. After the Battle of Hamel
Battle of Hamel
The Battle of Hamel was a successful attack launched by the Australian Corps of the Australian Imperial Force and several American units against German positions in and around the town of Hamel in northern France during World War I....

, a second battle was ordered by Field Marshal Haig
Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig
Field Marshal Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig, KT, GCB, OM, GCVO, KCIE, ADC, was a British senior officer during World War I. He commanded the British Expeditionary Force from 1915 to the end of the War...

 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.


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 (that is, 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.


As Peaceful Penetration worked best when the patrols approached the outposts from behind, a lack of continuous fortifications (that is, 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", or elan, to 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, successfully, 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 CR Morley and Lieutenant GE 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 Cross
Military Cross
The Military Cross is the third-level military decoration awarded to officers and other ranks of the British Armed Forces; and formerly also to officers of other Commonwealth countries....

es, and others on the patrols won Distinguished Conduct Medal
Distinguished Conduct Medal
The Distinguished Conduct Medal was an extremely high level award for bravery. It was a second level military decoration awarded to other ranks of the British Army and formerly also to non-commissioned personnel of other Commonwealth countries.The medal was instituted in 1854, during the Crimean...

s. As noted in the 1st Battalion Diary:

External links

describes Australians in action, including Peaceful Penetration.., with 7 raids/peaceful penetrations taking place., : the German soldier comments on his Australian opponents and their actions.
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