Commanding Officers: AIF 2nd Division

Lieutenant General James Gordon LEGGE

Legge.jpgChief of the General Staff May 1914; Commander of AIF and 1st Division in Gallipoli May – July 1915; Commander of 2nd Division July 1915 – January 1917; Chief of the General Staff August 1917 to end of the war

Born 15th August 1863, London, England; died 18th September 1947, Oakleigh, Victoria

Having emigrated to Australia with his family in 1878, Legge entered the armed services as a commissioned officer in 1885. On 1st May 1914, Legge was appointed Chief of the General Staff, with the rank of full Colonel. When Bridges departed for overseas, Legge took over responsibility for the training of AIF reinforcements, and later the brigades which eventually became part of the 2nd Division.

When Bridges was fatally wounded in May 1915, Legge was the natural choice of the Australian government to succeed him as both commander of the 1st Division and of the AIF in Gallipoli, but his choice was not a popular one amongst the commanders serving at the front. Upon his arrival Legge clashed with Birdwood over the latter’s plan for the August Offensive at Anzac. Birdwood seized on an opportunity to remove Legge from the scene when McCay, designated to command the 2nd Division, broke his leg and was evacuated. Birdwood sent Legge to Egypt to take over the 2nd Division instead. On appointment to this post, Legge’s command of the AIF lapsed.

Legge travelled back to Gallipoli with the 6th Brigade on the transport ship Southland. On 2nd September 1915, some 60 km south of Lemnos, the Southland was torpedoed by a German submarine. Legge won the admiration of many for the quiet and good humoured way he handled the situation, remaining on board with the last 400 men, who were transferred to the hospital ship Neuralia. Some 32 Australians died, including the commander of the 6th Brigade, Colonel R. Linton.

From mid-October Legge occasionally acted as corps commander whenever Major General Godley was absent. He was thus the first Australian to have temporary command of a corps. On 23rd November 1915, Legge was evacuated to Egypt sick before resuming command of the 2nd Division in January 1916 and then entraining for France in March and the “nursery” sector near Armentieres. Moving into the line at Pozieres on 27th July 1916, the commander of the British Reserve Army, General Sir Hubert Gough, ordered Legge to take the Pozieres Heights at once. The attack, delivered on 28th-29th July 1916, was a complete failure due to poor preparation, and cost the division 3,500 casualties. Although responsibility lay with everyone from Gough to the platoon commanders, Legge took the blame. In the next few days, Legge strove to get another attack ready, all the while under tremendous pressure from the enemy, who shelled the 2nd Division’s positions mercilessly. When the attack was finally delivered, it was a complete success, and the Pozieres Heights were under Australian control. Its twelve day tour at Pozieres cost the 2nd Division 6,848 men, almost a third of its strength.

On 28th January 1917, Legge fell ill with the flu and Birdwood took the opportunity to relieve him of his command. When he recovered, he returned to Australia, where he was appointed Inspector General on 30th April 1917. On 1st August 1917, he became Chief of the General Staff again, reverting to his permanent rank of Colonel, but retaining his rank of Major General as an honorary rank.

He became Commandant of the Royal Military College at Duntroon on 1st June 1920. In the defence cuts of 1922, Legge, along with most of his staff was placed on the unattached list on 1st August 1922, and on the retired list on 14th January 1924, with the honorary rank of Lieutenant General. Legge died at Oakleigh, and was buried at Cheltenham Cemetery. In accordance with his wishes, no monument or headstone marks his grave.

Australian Dictionary of Biography.pngFor further reading on Lieutenant General James Gordon LEGGE visit the Australian Dictionary of Biography


Brigadier General Sir Nevill Maskelyne SMYTH, VC

Smyth.JPGCommander 1st Infantry Brigade, May 1915 – December 1916; Commander 2nd Division, January 1917 – May 1918; Commander British Army 58th and then 59th Division, May 1918 to end of the war

Born 14th August 1868, London, England; died 21st July 1941, Balmoral, Victoria

Smyth graduated from the Royal Military College in Sandhurst in 1888. Prior to the First World War he saw action in Sudan, where he was awarded the Victoria Cross, and later in the Boer War in South Africa.

In World War I Smyth was among several senior officers sent by Lord Kitchener to the Dardanelles. He arrived at Gallipoli in May 1915 and supervised the truce of the 24th May to allow the Turks to bury their dead. Commanding the 1st Infantry Brigade at the battle of Lone Pine in August, Smyth won the trust and admiration of the Australians under his command.  At the evacuation in December 1915, Smyth was one of the last officers to leave the peninsula.

Smyth led his brigade in France through the severe fighting for Pozieres and Mouquet Farm on the Somme in 1916, and at the end of that year he was given command of the 2nd Australian Division as Major General where  the pursuit of the Germans to the Hindenburg line and the capture of Bapaume in the spring of 1917 were followed by the battles of Bullecourt and 3rd Ypres. As a result of his Sudan experience, Smyth was particularly adept in planning highly successful ‘peaceful penetration’ raids on the German trenches.

He was transferred back to the British Army in May 1918 and briefly commanded the 58th Division and then the 59th Division, leading the latter during the liberation of Lille in October 1918. He had learned to fly in 1913 and was known for borrowing aircraft to look at the lines for himself. He was yet again Mentioned in Despatches on 20th December 1918.

Smyth retired from the British Army on 5th July 1924, and after his retirement he emigrated to Australia and farm in Balmoral, Victoria in 1925 with his wife and three children. He took to politics in the National Party of Australia and stood unsuccessfully for a Victorian seat in the Australian Senate. He died at home in 1941 and was buried in Balmoral Cemetery.

Australian Dictionary of Biography.pngFor further reading on Brigadier General Sir Nevill Maskelyne SMYTH, visit the Australian Dictionary of Biography


Major General Sir Charles ROSENTHAL

Rosenthal.JPGCommander 3rd Field Artillery Brigade, November 1914 – August 1915; Commander 4th Division Artillery, February 1916 – May 1918; Commander 2nd Division, May 1918 to end of war

Born 12th February 1875, Berrima, New South Wales; died 11th May 1954, Green Point, New South Wales

In 1892 Rosenthal joined the Geelong Battery of the Victorian Militia Garrison Artillery as a gunner. In 1903 he was commissioned second lieutenant in the Militia Garrison Artillery. He transferred to the Australian Field Artillery in 1908 where he was promoted as major. In 1914 he became commanding officer of the 5th Field Artillery Brigade.

Rosenthal joined the Australian Imperial Force in August 1914 and sailed with the first convoy as lieutenant-colonel commanding the Australian 3rd Field Artillery Brigade. Rosenthal was at the Gallipoli landing on 25th April 1915. He was twice wounded at Gallipoli, the second wound causing him to be evacuated to England in August 1915. He returned to Egypt when the AIF was expanding and given command of the artillery of the new 4th Division and was promoted Brigadier General in February 1916. He was engaged in the heavy fighting on the Somme, at Pozieres and Mouquet Farm and at Ypres in Belgium. He was wounded a third time in December 1916.

On 22 May 1918 Rosenthal was appointed to command the 2nd Division and promoted Major General and took part in the attack at Hamel. He was wounded for a fourth time in 1918 by a sniper when on daylight reconnaissance. He returned to duty in August and was involved in the Battle of Mont St. Quentin where the 2nd, with tired and depleted forces achieved one of the finest victories of the Australians during the war. On 5th October Rosenthal’s 2nd Division took Montbrehain within the Hindenburg defences, the last action of the Australian Corps in the war.  After hostilities had ceased Rosenthal went to England in March 1919 to command all the depots of the AIF during the repatriation of the troops. He returned to Australia in January 1920.

From 1921–26 and also 1932–37 he was commander of the 2nd Division, Australian Military Forces. He was also a Nationalist Party of Australia member for Bathurst in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in 1922–25 and a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council in 1936–37. He was twice president of the Institute of Architects of New South Wales in 1926–30 and was also president of the federal council of the Australian Institutes of Architects in 1925–28. He also served as president of the Australian Museum, Sydney. In 1937 Rosenthal accepted the post of administrator of Norfolk Island which he governed throughout World War II until 1945, where among other activities he raised a volunteer infantry unit. After his death in 1954 Rosenthal was cremated with full military honours after a service at St Andrew’s Anglican Cathedral, Sydney.

Australian Dictionary of Biography.pngFor further reading on Major General Sir Charles ROSENTHAL, visit the Australian Dictionary of Biography



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