Topic: BatzWF - Westn Front
The Battle of Fromelles
France, 19 - 20 July 1916
Fromelles, a village in northern France south of' Armentieres, near where Australian troops took part in their first Western Front battle on 19 July 1916. The operation, aimed at seizing German positions in a salient called the `Sugar Loaf' in front of the Aubers Ridge, was primarily intended as a feint to assist the main offensive which British forces had launched along the Somme River 80 kilometres to the south on 1 July. The plan required the newly arrived Australian 5th Division, commanded by Major-General James M'Cay, to attack the Sugar Loaf from the north, at the same time that the British 61st Division (on the Australians' right) attacked from the west.
Preceded by a seven-hour bombardment, the infantry began the advance at 6 p.m. when there was still two and a half hours of summer daylight left. Although inexperienced the Australians went forward in fine spirit on a frontage of three brigades: 8th on the left, 14th in the centre, 15th on the right. The 8th and 14th crossed the waterlogged ground with more or less difficulty and succeeded in capturing nearly 1,000 metres of the enemy trenches. In front of the 14th, however, the artillery had been totally ineffective; the Germans were able to man their defences as soon as the barrage lifted and quickly began mowing down the lines of assaulting troops as they emerged from the remains of an orchard. With its supporting formation thus held back, the right flank of the 14th Brigade was now exposed to intense fire from positions in the Sugar Loaf.
The attack by the 61st Division had also encountered severe difficulties, the ranks of the British infantry being cut down by fire from machine-guns and artillery. Though the German lines were entered at a few isolated points, the attackers here were quickly driven out again. This left the Australians to bear the brunt of counterattacks mounted by the German 6th Bavarian Division whose troops had been manning the lines they had entered and seized. The first of these blows fell on the left or eastern flank about dusk, and although it was beaten off a second and stronger assault followed at about 1 a.m. directed at both ends of the Australian line. Alter fierce fighting, by 4 a.m. the majority of the 8th Brigade was forced to retire across no-man's-land from the section of enemy front-line it had occupied. At 8 a.m. the 14th Brigade was also ordered to withdraw.
The assault and the night-time fighting which followed had resulted in the 5th Division sustaining 5,533 casualties, including 400 men taken prisoner; the 61st Division also lost 1,517. The Germans apparently suffered casualties of little more than 1,000 (including 140 captured) - three-quarters of these in units opposing the Australians. That the operation had been totally misconceived from the first was emphasised when the Germans established within a few hours that it was purely a demonstration, so that any British hopes of drawing or tying down enemy forces to this area went unrealised. In the meantime the 5th Division had been temporarily wrecked as a fighting formation and was not again fit for offensive action for many months.
The grim harvest of Germans, British and Australians at Fromelles.
[A German photograph depicting what is believed to be a large group of German, Australian or British bodies in a wooded area behind the German lines near the village of Fromelles.]
Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, pp. 116-117.
Additional References cited by Chris Coulthard-Clark:
C.E.W. Bean, (1929), The Australian Imperial Force in France 1916, Sydney: Angus & Robertson.
Further Reading:Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920
Citation: The Battle of Fromelles, France, 19 - 20 July 1916, Outline