Topic: BatzWF - Westn Front
France, 3 - 17 May 1917
Second Bullecourt, the renewed attempt to seize an advanced bastion of the Hindenburg Line (see First Bullecourt), took place on 3-17 May 1917. Again, enveloping attacks were to be made by the 2nd Australian Division and the British 62nd Division - the former striking east of the village (now reduced to rubble), the latter to the west. Following the failure of the first attack, which had been hastily devised by the British Fifth Army, the staff of I Anzac Corps insisted on having a greater say in preparations. This time there would he no tanks working with the Australians (there was with the British) and the mistake of dispensing with a protective barrage for the infantry was not repeated. This operation was to form the extreme right portion of a resumed offensive being launched on 3 May by British forces along a front of 25 kilometres, in conjunction with a French offensive further south to begin the following day.
The attack went in at 3.45 a.m. on the planned date. On the Australian side the advancing 5th and 6th brigades encountered deadly fire while breaching wire entanglements, but part of the latter succeeded in breaking into the enemy trenches and seized a foothold of several bays. On the left the 62nd Division also managed to seize part of the enemy line but could not take the village, which was one of its objectives. Attempts were made to expand the gains made by the Australians by bombing up the trenches, but these were furiously resisted by troops of the 27th Württemberg Division forming the garrison. Despite the strength of the enemy's counter-attacks, the gap seized - about 600 metres - was still held as night fell, and at 1 a.m. on 4 May the weary 6th Brigade was relieved by troops of the 1st Division.
German efforts to dislodge the Australians followed for the next fortnight, producing some of the most intense trench fighting of the war. On 7 May a renewed effort by the British on the left, this time by the 7th Division, succeeded in reaching the eastern side of Bullecourt and linking up with the Australians. The next day the 5th Australian Division was brought up and took over from the 1st Division the defence of the eastern part of the line. Efforts by both British and Australian troops to steadily consolidate their hold were interrupted by a final furious counter-attack on 15 May, and when this was repulsed the enemy decided to withdraw entirely from around what was left of Bullecourt.
Although this battle had resulted in a remarkable victory, the effort had cost the A.I.F. 7,482 casualties. Instead of a subsidiary attack as part of' a wider Allied offensive, Bullecourt had become the focus of practically the whole British front when operations elsewhere failed; the French advance did not proceed at all. This meant that the struggle for a small, tactically useless piece of ground had assumed an importance out of all proportion to the original rationale. Moreover, it had drawn in not one but three Australian divisions and left them all in serious need of rest and recovery. The drain on reinforcements entailed by this effort had wider implications too, ending plans to continue expanding the AIF.
[Photograph by Lawrie]
Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, pp. 127-128.
Additional References cited by Chris Coulthard-Clark:
C.E.W. Bean, (1933), The Australian Imperial Force in France 1917, Sydney: Angus & Robertson.
Citation: Second Bullecourt, France, May 3 to 17, 1917