Topic: BatzWF - Westn Front
France, 24-25 April 1918
Second Villers-Bretonneux, an action on 24-25 April 1918, precipitated when the village at the centre of the fight three weeks earlier was captured from British troops that had relieved the forces (including the Australian 9th Brigade) originally involved in its defence. The German attack, launched by four divisions in mist at dawn on the 24th, followed a heavy bombardment the preceding night in which various types of gas-especially mustard-were used; it was also supported by tanks, the first time the enemy had used armoured vehicles in this role. Initially the defenders had little answer to the German advance, apart from three tanks which engaged in a duel with an equal number of the enemy vehicles-another first in the history of warfare-and drove them off.
The commander of the British 3rd Corps borrowed two Australian brigades, the 13th of the 4th Division (Brig.-General William Glasgow) and the 15th of the 5th Division (Brig.-General Harold Elliott), and set them the main task of retaking the township. The plan of attack, settled after some dispute with the headquarters of the British 8th Division which was to control it, entailed Glasgow's brigade sweeping past Villers-Bretonneux to the south while Elliott's pushed past to the north. Setting off at 10 p.m., the 13th Brigade became engaged in an intense firelight with enemy machine guns in a wood before being able to proceed with its mission. During the succeeding hours of darkness the two brigades linked up east of the village, thereby largely completing the encirclement of the enemy inside although there was a gap through which part of the trapped garrison escaped.
The clearance of Villers-Bretonneux, undertaken after dawn on the 25th, was accomplished with extreme ferocity by the Australians entering from the east and British troops from the north and west. Few prisoners were taken, and those enemy not killed were driven out without difficulty. The counter-attack had cost 1,469 AIF casualties, and the 14th Brigade which was present also suffered 338 casualties-chiefly to enemy gas. The action had, however, restored stability to this portion of the battlefield, and as well added greatly to the reputation of the Australian infantry on the Western Front.
The next day the Moroccan Division of the French Army advanced through the Australian positions south of Villers-Bretonneux under orders to retake the Hangard Wood, which had also been lost to the enemy on 24 April. This attempt failed with heavy loss, as did an attack by the Australian 12th Brigade in the early hours of 3 May against Monument Wood close by the eastern edge of the township. The 48th Battalion which made the assault lost 155 men, but inflicted on the enemy Jäger troops it met an almost equal number of casualties.
Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, pp. 145.
Additional References cited by Chris Coulthard-Clark:
C.E.W. Bean (1937) The Australian Imperial Force in France during the Main German Offensive, 1918, Sydney: Angus & Robertson.
Citation: Second Villers-Bretonneux, France, April 24 to 25, 1918