Topic: BatzWF - Westn Front
France, 9-11 August 1918
Lihons, fought on 9-11 August 1918, involved the 1st, 2nd and 5th Australian divisions while trying to support an advance of the Canadian Corps towards Chaulnes. Following their own successful advance the day before (see Amiens), the Australian Corps was ordered to push forward the right of its line about Harbonnières and seize the ruined village of Lihons. This meant making an easterly advance of some seven kilometres and the capture of a considerable hill lying just west of the objective, the rounded summit of which was being used by German batteries.
This section of the Australian line was then held by the 5th Australian Division, but the corps commander (Lieut-General Sir John Monash) had decided to bring up the 1st Division-freshly arrived from further north the previous day-and insert it on the right of the 5th, since any advance made was constantly expanding his front. The 5th's role was therefore confined to securing what would become the 1st's left flank, by using its 8th Brigade to capture the village of Vauvillers, before it was relieved by 2nd Division.
After it was realised that the 1st Division was in no position to go forward with the Canadian left when the latter began their advance at 11 a.m. on 9 August, the 5th Division's 15th Brigade (Brig.-General Harold Elliott) stepped into this role at short notice. This proved a difficult task, since the lead battalions had barely gone 100 metres before they were pinned down by enemy machine-guns and a fierce fight began. On the 5th Division's left an equally difficult fight broke out in front of Vauvillers for the 8th Brigade. Meanwhile the 1st and 2nd divisions had been taking up positions south-west and north of Harbonnières, and when these movements were observed by the enemy resistance began to crumble. By the time troops of the 1st Division had come up and begun to pass through the 5th at 1.45 p.m., Vauvillers had been taken along with some hundreds of German prisoners.
The advance towards Lihons was now pressed on the south by the 2nd Brigade (Brig.-General James Heane). Though bombed by enemy aircraft and shelled by guns on Lihons hill, progress was helped by the fact that the 6th Canadian Brigade on the right had got far ahead and was thus effectively outflanking the German defenders. Although the guns on the hill did dreadful execution to tanks supporting the advance, soon putting all of these out of action, by mid-afternoon the attack was about a kilometre short of its objective; about 5 p.m. elements of the brigade had attained part of the crest and were holding on.
At 4.30 p.m. the brigades of the 2nd Division moved forward on the 1st Division's left and, leap-frogging the 8th Brigade, began driving back the Germans who had delayed progress in this quarter. The village of Framerville was captured and by 8 p.m. most of the day's objectives had been attained, except on the right where the 2nd's line met with the 1st's; here the troops were still 500 metres or so short.
The operation was resumed at 8 a.m., chiefly by the 2nd and 3rd brigades of 1st Division who moved directly against Lihons hill, but also by a battalion of the 7th Brigade of 2nd Division which kept up the left flank. By the time the Canadians again went forward south of the railway line, the Australians were locked in a bitter struggle for the crest. German resistance continued for the rest of 10 August, and Monash ordered that the fight be resumed at 4 a.m. the next day.
A formal assault by the 2nd and 3rd brigades, conducted in heavy fog, carried the back slopes of Lihons hill and the -village beyond. Severe fighting again followed as the Germans countered, first with a gas barrage and then with infantry attacks. These failed to expel the Australians from their gains and by that night the attack in this sector effectively ended. Meanwhile the 2nd Division had also been engaged to the north, the principal role falling to the 5th Brigade which attacked from Framerville to beyond Rainecourt until checked by machine-gun fire from the direction of Proyart.
The three days leading up to this point had been extremely costly, far more so than during the first day of the Battle of Amiens. The 1st Division's 2nd and 3rd brigades alone suffered nearly 1,600 casualties in this period, while even the 2nd Division lost 280 men on just the last day. All too often the various attacks ordered were disjointed and inadequately co-ordinated. In the view of the Official History, the manner in which 'brigadiers and battalion commanders [were] rushed into half-known situations in newly captured territory ...furnish a classic example of how not to follow up a great attack'.
Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, pp. 152-154.
Additional References cited by Chris Coulthard-Clark:
H.S. Gullett (1944) The Australian Imperial Force in Sinai and Palestine, Sydney: Angus & Robertson.
Citation: Lihons, France, August 9 to 11, 1918