Topic: BatzWF - Westn Front
The Battle of Hébuterne
France, 27 March to 5 April 1918
Hébuterne, lying toughly midway between Arran and Amiens in northern France, was the scene, of several sharp actions fought between 27 March and 5 April 1918, This was the first of many battles involving Australians during the great German offensive launched on 21 March against the thinly spread British Fifth and Third armies in this region. Since November 1917 the five Australian divisions had been holding the relatively quiet Messines sector in Flanders, and at this time they were formed into an Australian Corps under command of General Sir William Birdwood. In response to the grave news of enemy breakthroughs which had forced the front-line back onto the old battlefields of the Somme, however, by 25 March the 3rd and 4th Australian divisions were dispatched south towards Amiens. Here they were committed piecemeal to plugging gaps in the disintegrating British line and helping to stem the German tide.
At dusk on 26 March the 4th Brigade (Brig.-General Charles Brand), the leading element of the 4th Division, was sent into the ruined village of Hébuterne to relieve exhausted remnants of the British 19th Division. The first German attack came at noon the next day from the south-west, aimed at passing between the positions occupied by the Australians and the New Zealand Division posted further south. This was beaten back, as were several half-hearted attempts the following day. While the Australians were able to hold their ground with relative ease, the security of their position was threatened by German efforts to drive in the flank of the British 62nd Division north of them and thereby open a gap. The task of the defenders was, however, partly assisted by rain which began falling from about 4 p.m. on the 28th and served to seriously impede the enemy's movements.
In fighting over the next few days, the position around the village was progressively stabilised. On 5 April the Australians took part in an early morning attack aimed at clearing the enemy from a wood on its left (northern) flank, and several hours later repelled a heavy German attack aimed at both themselves and the New Zealanders on their right. The ability of the tired and fully extended German advance-guard to brush aside the defensive line hastily thrown up here, and continue to push on, had clearly been reduced. The 4th Brigade stayed for nearly a month, remaining separated from the rest of its parent division and passing under command of the British 37th Division.
[Left to right: Second Lieutenant V. E. Hall, KIA, 30 March 1918; 7332 Private Edward Cuthbert Ernest Williams, KIA, 30 May 1918; 7455 Private Donald Alexander Teasdale, KIA, 30 March 1918. Beside them were English graves, eight Londoners 1 July 1916 and W.Yorks 2 March 1917, and those of unknown German soldiers, of a much earlier date, are also scattered in this area. Lest we forget.]
Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, pp. 137-138.
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: Hébuterne, France, March 27 to April 5, 1918