Battle of Fromelles
The BattleBATTLE OF FROMELLES of Fromelles
19-20 July 1916
Although the First, Second and Fourth Divisions, comprising 1 ANZAC Corps were ordered south to the Somme in early July, The Australians first major enterprise on the western front, was to be a “feint” designed to divert German reserves from the Somme. This task was given to the 5th division
In support of the massive allied offensive on the Somme River, the British staff had decided that a strong feint attack would be made at Fromelles, some 50 miles north of the river.
This attack was expected to deter the Germans from rushing troops from that region to the area of the main allied thrust on the Somme. An attack would be made from the “nursery” near Armentieres, employing two divisions to attack the “sugarloaf” Salient near Fromelles. The 5th Australian Division, which had only just moved into the “nursery”, was therefore ordered, along with the British 61st Division, to attack the “sugarloaf”. The Australian 1st, 2nd and 4th Divisions were to take part in the main Somme offensive had been ordered to the area of Amiens by 13th July.
The attack towards Fromelles was preceded by a seven-hour artillery barrage, which began at 11 am on 19th July. It was a bright summer day and the Australian troops, although comparatively inexperienced, were in fine form. They cheered as they saw the artillery barrage blowing the German parapets into the sky.
As twilight faded the Australian and British Divisions moved forward to destroy the “hated and despised Hun”. The, 8th Brigade although new to front line experience were well trained. Many Australians were killed and wounded but most of the enemy fled as the Brigade approached the German breastworks. The 14th Brigade the enemy lines more easily and quickly captured the German front trench.
The 15th Brigade, however fared badly. In their area the bombardment had not been effective and the enemy had managed to man their machine guns and set up a deadly crossfire. The 15th Division was shot to piece, line after line were met by a tempest of fire as they emerged from what was left of an old orchard.
The British 61st Division, attacking on the other flank of the “sugarloaf” were heavily hit by enemy artillery and machine gun fire. Its battalions reached the German line only at isolated points from which they were soon driven out again.
Between them the 8th and 14th Brigades captured 1000 yards of the enemy front trenches, and went through them into the open countryside beyond, but because of the heavy losses suffered by the 15th Brigade, the right flank of the 14th Brigade was exposed to intense enemy fire from “sugarloaf”.
The men who survived the hell no-mans land were without support, but they charged into the German line, and some advanced beyond. During the night these Australians resisted several counter attacks from the 7th Bavarian Division. By 4.45 am next day after fierce and confused fighting what was left of the 8th Brigade had been forced to withdraw from the German lines and by 8 am 14th brigade was ordered to withdraw.
No mans land was cluttered with dead and wounded. Many wounded Australians were shot dead as they crawled around in know mans land, revealing their positions to the watching German snipers and machine gunners.
The Australians tried to arrange a truce with the Germans so the wounded could be rescued, the action was vetoed by their own High Command.
The Australians had never experienced a more calamitous night. 5133 men had fallen and about 400 had been taken prisoner, some Battalions had almost disappeared. The 5th Division was so devastated that it would not be ready for combat again for almost a year.
Fromelles after the battle
Lest we Forget