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Battle of Pozieres, France, 23 July to 5 August 1916, Outline Topic: BatzWF - Westn Front
The Battle of Pozieres
France, 23 July to 5 August 1916
Entering the pretty French village of Pozieres via the Rue de Bapaume, 25 August 1914.
Pozieres, part of the Somme battlefield in northern France, between 23 July and 5 August 1916 became the scene of several major attacks by the Australian divisions of I Anzac Corps commanded by Lieut. General Sir William Birdwood. The 1st Division Major-General Harold Walker) became the first force of Australians employed in attempts to capture the ruined village of Pozieres. Following a heavy bombardment of the German defences, Walker's 1st and 3rd brigades attacked from the south at 12.30 a.m. on 2.3 July. They quickly took the enemy front trenches, then pushed on in two further stages at half-hour intervals to reach the main road through the village.
The German garrison, members of the 117th Division, were killed, captured or fled north--some being chased back to the German second line occupying a long low ridge lying 500-700 metres behind the village known as 'Pozieres Heights'. At dawn the enemy made a battalion-strong counter-attack, but this was beaten back by machine-gun fire. During the following night reinforcing troops of the 2nd Brigade secured the rest of the village, and three more attempts by the enemy to reclaim their lost ground under cover of the dark were also frustrated.
Trench Map of the Pozieres sector.
[Click on map for larger version.]
The Australians had not only wrested this important bastion in the German line from the enemy's grasp, but this was the sole sector of the front in which operations mounted by the British Fourth Army had enjoyed any significant success. This fact alone ensured that the enemy would make a major effort to reverse the 1st Division's gains, beginning from 7 a.m. on 24 July with a preparatory bombardment which involved the guns of practically all units within range of this one narrow point in the line. The constant and methodical pounding of shells over the next three days was far worse than anything Australian troops had previously experienced, and produced a casualty toll which far exceeded the cost of originally taking the position. By 27 July the 1st Division had suffered 5,285 casualties and was at the end of its endurance. It was accordingly withdrawn and its place taken by the 2nd Division under Major-General Cordon Legge.
With the commander of the British Reserve Army, General Sir Hubert Gough, eager for further quick progress. Legge and his staff came under intense pressure to prepare to assault the old German second line (known as the 'O.(:. Lines') running along Pozieres Heights. Expecting that his own artillery preparation would have cut through tile enemy's wire defences by the night of 28 July, Legge gave orders for an attack for 12.15 a.m. on the 29th. The attempt failed, however, when troops moving into position for the assault were detected by the Germans, and part of the enemy entanglements in the centre was found to be still intact. The Australians were pushed back with 2,000 casualties which, when added to those sustained through enemy bombardment during the days of preparation, meant that the 2nd Division had already lost about 3,500 men.
Although his superiors placed the blame on his 'over-confidence', Legge pleaded for a second opportunity July 30th was set down as the date for the renewed attempt, but as preparations proceeded over the subsequent days it became steadily apparent that this timing could not be met. Intensive enemy artillery barrages constantly disrupted the work of digging new approach and forming-up trenches which were considered essential to the success of the venture. The attack was deferred firstly until 2 August, then again postponed for 24 hours.
Assembling before dusk on 4 August, the three brigades of 2nd Division went forward at 9.17 p.m. after an intense artillery barrage lasting only three minutes. On a frontage of seven battalions and attacking in four waves, the Australians were into the German positions often before the defenders had time to emerge from their dugouts to man their posts after the bombardment. The lines of assaulting infantry swept north-east over the crest and were soon firmly in control of the O.G. Lines. Enemy attempts to throw back the attackers at dawn next day were defeated, but an intense German bombardment on the newly won ground added greatly to the cost of the victory. By the evening of 6 August, when Legge's troops were relieved by the 4th Australian Division and came out of the line, the 2nd Division's losses over the preceding twelve days totalled 6,848 men.
The village of Pozieres after the battle, August 1916.
Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, pp. 117-118.
Additional References cited by Chris Coulthard-Clark:
C.E.W. Bean, (1929), The Australian Imperial Force in France 1916, Sydney: Angus & Robertson.
Peter Charlton, ( 1986), Pozieres 1916, North Ryde, NSW: Methuen Haynes.
C.D. Coulthard-Clark, ( 1988), No Australian Need Apply, Sydney: Allen & Unwin
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