Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles In the early dawn hours of October 9, 1917, 85 brave Australian soldiers of the 10th Battalion attacked the German army at Celtic Wood in Belgium. The attack was intended as a diversionary tactic. After months of war and shelling, and days of rain, the forested area of Celtic Wood had been reduced to leafless stumps, with giant craters and knee-deep mud making effective fighting difficult. Nevertheless, the men of the 10th Battalion of the 1st Australian Division had proven themselves repeatedly in past combat. However, that day, after the fighting had subsided, battalion commander Lieutenant-Colonel Maurice Wilder-Neligan stated, “I am only able to account for 14 unwounded members of the party”. Most of the men could not be found, and were never heard from again. What happened to the 71 soldiers who bravely made their way into Celtic Wood and were lost to history? Even though most of the world rarely pictures Australians having much to do with World War I, the country was part of the British Empire, and was then known as the Commonwealth of Australia. In fact, the Land Down Under sacrificed a lot to fight alongside Great Britain, France, Russia, and other Allied powers. 416,809 of Australia's population, which was just under five million people at the time, enlisted to fight. This represented around 39% of the male fighting-aged population of the entire country! Over 60,000 Australians would end up dying in the “The War to End All Wars” - a nickname that has aged horribly - and another 156,000 were wounded or captured. As one would expect of people who grew up in a country teeming with snakes, sharks, deadly jellyfish, and even killer octopi - yes, Australia would have an octopus that can kill you - the Australian soldiers were renowned for their bravery in the face of danger. The men of the 10th Battalion of the 1st Australian Division had particularly distinguished themselves in previous battles. During the long but eventually failed Gallipoli Campaign of 1915 to 1916, fought on the Gallipoli Peninsula of Turkey, the 10th Battalion had led the Australian forces in the defense of ANZAC Cove, so named because it's where the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps landed. In fact, two of the 10th Battalion's members had been awarded the Victoria Cross, the most prestigious award in the British military honor system, given to soldiers who demonstrate valor in the presence of the enemy. This led to the 10th Battalion being nicknamed the “Terrible 10th”, for their fierceness and bravery. The battalion eventually made its way to the Western Front. In October of 1917, where the mysterious and tragic events of the Celtic Wood battle took place, they were stationed in the West Flanders area of Belgium. The mood in the Allied camp was optimistic. The British armies had just devastated the German 4th Army in the Battle of Broodseinde (pronounced: brood-suhn-deh). The German command was in crisis. In fact, the Germans were considering a complete withdrawal from the Belgian coast; which had been the objective of the British offensive. Morale in the German 4th Army was also running low, as it tends to do after several defeats. German Official History calls the day of the Battle of Broodseinde, “the black day of October 4”. However, of all the possible factors that could have flipped the advantage to the German side, the most mildest-seeming one came into play: rain. In the week after October 4, what started as a barely perceptible but constant rain turned into a downpour. As the British tried to push their artillery forward into what had previously been the battleground between the two enemy forces, the cratered, battle-scarred, and water-logged land made advancing difficult. Meanwhile, Germans were retreating onto steadier ground, less devastated by battle. What this meant was that the British had fewer routes on which to advance their soldiers and their artillery, making them an easy target for German soldiers. In the midst of all this, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, Commander in Chief of the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front, decided an offensive attack was needed to push the Germans back further by capturing Passchendaele (pash-ehn-dayl) Ridge. However, seeing some of the disadvantages that were piling up for them, the Allied forces wanted to come up with a more complex strategy than just a simple attack. As a result, they hatched the following plan: the distinguished 10th Battalion would launch a diversionary attack on the Germans at Celtic Wood. They would charge at dawn, blow up the German dugouts, and then when a flare signal was shot up, retreat. To the north of the “Terrible 10th”, the 2nd Australian Division would launch a larger attack that would protect the British advance on its northern flank. But how could the Allied forces fool the Germans into believing the 10th Battalion's attack was, in fact, the main attack, and not just a raid or diversion? First of all, the attack would be carried out at dawn, rather than when raids were usually carried out at night. Second, the 10th Battalion would be protected by the creeping barrage gunfire usually used to cover advances, rather than the box barrage used to cover raids. A box barrage consisted of three to four barrages, which formed a box around the raiding army. A creeping barrage was intermittent, meant to move forward slowly and keep pace with advancing infantry. Despite their possible worries about the plan, and the exhaustion they felt after being shelled for days in the rain and mud, the 10th Battalion knew this tactic would protect their Australian and British army mates up north. They agreed to the mission without question. At 5:20 AM on October 9, the creeping barrage of gunfire was initiated, and 78 men along with seven officers ventured into Celtic Wood. No one knew it was the last time most of them would be seen. The men were under the command of 22-year-old Lieutenant Frank Scott, who worked as a railway porter in Gawler during peacetime. Even though the barrage was much lighter than expected, leaving the 10th Battalion much more vulnerable than he would have liked, Scott and his men advanced into the Celtic Wood regardless. Scott was actually an exceptional commander, which was good because the odds he was about to encounter were terrifying. When the Germans started returning small arms fire in the muddy, crater-filled woods, retaining vocal command of the troops became nearly impossible. The noise of artillery stood at around 140 decibels, considered painful and dangerous, loud enough to quite literally split soldiers' eardrums. Artillery from the front could often be heard in London...just under 200 miles away! To add to the seemingly insurmountable obstacles that faced them, Scott realized the German troops outnumbered his own two to one. Still, Scott managed to not only order and execute a successful frontal attack on a trench teeming with Germans, but also simultaneously led a second group to attack the enemy from the rear. A fierce hand to hand encounter ensued, leaving plenty of casualties on the German side. However, just as things seemed to be going surprisingly well, the German artillery laid down fire between the 10th Battalion and the Australian trenches, cutting off their retreat with explosions. Reinforcements showed up to help the German army, and it seemed all hope was lost for the Australians. As we know from eyewitness accounts, the men of the “Terrible 10th” started getting gunned down pretty quickly after this shift of fortune. Officers were quickly struck down, leaving almost no one to shoot the flare that would signal the Battalion's retreat. The one officer left, Sergeant William “Old King” Cole, managed to fire the flare just as he was killed, according to eyewitness accounts. But how could the soldiers possibly retreat now? Well, they didn't have any great options. Some risked the barrage of gunfire blocking them off from their trenches to run back, others lay in craters playing dead hoping to avoid the worst of the gunfire, then crawled back under cover of night. However, instead of a pile of bodies, Australian forces were instead left with a huge mystery in their hands. The next day, Battalion Commander Lieutenant Colonel Maurice Wilder-Neligan wrote down the following: “I am only able to account for 14 unwounded members of the party”. This set off a barrage - pun only slightly intended - of questions about what happened to the 71 missing members of the 10th Battalion. To start with, Wilder-Neligan's statement was a little misleading; many took it to mean that none of the bodies of the 71 missing soldiers could be accounted for, but this turned out to be false. 14 soldiers returned unwounded, seven eventually returned wounded - though five of them died from the injuries, and five bodies were eventually found and identified in the woods. However, that leaves 59 soldiers unaccounted for. Not only unaccounted for, but 37 of them don't even have known names. The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Ypres, which honors those who fell in the area's battles, only lists 22 of the 59 names. Most of the 22 were reported as killed in action by eyewitnesses, but their bodies, as well as those of the missing, unnamed 37, have not been found. What happened to those soldiers? Why were five bodies eventually found in a good enough state for identification, but no trace of 59 missing soldiers was ever found in the area around Celtic Wood? One explanation people have put forward has to do with the muddy conditions and craters in the area. The simplest solution, they theorize, is that the bodies simply sank deep into the mud, never to be recovered. However, this theory doesn't hold up to close scrutiny. Bones, like stones, have a way of coming to the surface, and the area was searched extensively a year after the battle. All over Europe, bones from WWI are still being intermittently discovered up until today. Celtic Wood was eventually plowed under and is now a field. Australian military historian John Laffin, who specializes in battlefield archaeology of the Western Front, says that he has spoken to countless local farmers in the region and “even the oldest have no memory of human remains or military equipment having been dug up.” Some believe the Germans took the surviving Australian soldiers of the 10th Battalion as prisoners. Then they were either killed and buried in a mass grave somewhere else, or died later while in captivity. However, there are some glaring issues with this theory as well. To begin with, the names of the men never turned up on any prisoner lists handed over to the International Red Cross. Additionally, German soldiers, during WWI at least, had a reputation of treating prisoners and those who surrendered with restraint, making an unprovoked massacre unlikely. However, some point out that the German soldiers on the front lines those days were new recruits, many just about the age of your average TikTok star - 17. Minimally trained, demoralized, humiliated by recent losses, and lacking the distraction of an information-stealing social media app, is it possible the German soldiers would have taken Australian soldiers captive just to massacre them further on out? An official report from the German army on this particular regiment raises further eyebrows. The report states, “these men are too young to be able to furnish prolonged resistance and to have great endurance in a critical situation. [The division] is not suited for trench warfare.” The attacked German 448th Regiment, strangely enough, has no record of the Celtic Wood raid ever taking place. Some historians believe this lends further evidence to the theory that an atrocity was committed that day, perhaps by German soldiers massacring surrendered Australian survivors and prisoners. Certainly, the unit would rather wipe that off the history books. However, many war historians doubt a mass imprisonment and later massacre could have occurred at Celtic Wood. The British revenge barrage would have made it extremely difficult for Germans to capture and walk out a large number of prisoners unharmed, only to massacre them later. Others think the omission of the Celtic Wood raid from the official records may be because something even stranger happened that day. Something…[pause]....supernatural. Rumors persisted for years that something otherworldly was present that day at Celtic Wood. After all, even the name itself - “Celtic Wood” - conjures up images of old world rituals and rites. Claims have surfaced throughout the years that in the heavy mist of rain and gunfire, the unaccounted for soldiers simply walked into the trees and fog and...vanished. No one knows where these rumors started, but most historians don't take this theory seriously - unless they're working for The History Channel. Two Australian researchers and veterans actually have another fog-related explanation, but a much more earthly one. Chris Henschke and Robert Kearney have looked into the Celtic Wood mystery for years. They believe the 71, or rather, the 37 missing soldiers can be attributed to the phenomenon known as “fog of war”, as well as clerical and other documentation errors. The fog of war is a term given to uncertainty in situational awareness experienced by those in military operations. In wartime, many soldiers and units can become very confused about their own capabilities, enemy capabilities, and enemy strategy or intent, losing all understanding of what's going on around them. After cross-checking military records, action reports, war diaries, and conducting in-depth research into eyewitness accounts, Henschke says “we hope to change the misconception by showing the result of the raid wasn't a great mystery, but it was simply a raid with a very high proportion of casualties. And all the casualties were accounted for through the military system….it is a story of a typical small unit action that went wrong”. So that still leaves the question - what happened to the bodies? Henschke and Kearney believe the heavy fire coming from the German side, as well as the heavy barrage the British returned as revenge for the defeat, killed the missing soldiers and pulverized their bodies so badly that there was literally no trace of them left to find. In other words, the soldiers were obliterated off the face of the earth. The two researchers believe this is part of the reason why the bodies of those killed were never found. Could it really be as simple an explanation as that? Unfortunately, this was not a rare occurrence in World War I; or indeed, in any war. Of the 60,000 Australians who died in the war, over 20,000 were simply recorded as “missing” - presumably killed in action. In fact, the Australian Red Cross dispatched investigators known as “searchers” to track down bodies, or at least specifics of what may have happened to those soldiers registered as missing. This was done in an attempt to provide some peace and closure to the families they left behind. Ready for more great mysteries? Check out Scientist Solves Mystery of the Bermuda Triangle! Or click this other video over here instead!