Topic: BatzWF - Westn Front
France, 7 April 1918
Hangard Wood, scene of an ill-conceived attack on 7 April 1918 against German positions south of Villers-Bretonneux (q.v.) Following the successful defence of that Village on 4 April, the Australian 5th Brigade (under Brig.-General Robert Smith) was detached from its parent division-the 2nd, fresh from Flanders-to take over the front-line south of that place to where the British Fourth Army joined with French forces on the River Luce. As a preliminary to a larger operation aimed at returning the front some distance to the east of its present alignment, the Australians were ordered to 'clean up the woods and ravine north and north-east of Hangard'. This entailed making an attack against the eastern half of the woods which the Germans had captured three days earlier.
Although wearied by the process of relieving the British troops already in the vicinity, the Australian 19th and 20th battalions were eager to take on the task when orders reached them about midnight on the 6th for an assault at dawn. The forces involved were small-in several places no more than platoon posts of about 25 men, while the main attack was entrusted to just two companies. The northern assault party, despite showing great dash in the delivery of their attack, could find no tenable position upon which to base a defence once they had gained their objective. The southern force found itself subjected to searching fire from enemy machine-guns across the ravine, and with dead-ground on both flanks which left them vulnerable to counter-attack. From this quarter the Germans launched just such an attack at 6 a.m. and overran the Australians' southern posts. Although continuations of this attack were beaten off, there was no viable alternative for the attack parties but to withdraw to their lines.
The attempt had cost 151 casualties in the two companies required to carry forward the attack. It was nonetheless remarkable that the enemy forces they engaged-two battalions of a regiment of the 24th (Saxon) Reserve Division - suffered vastly more loss, apparently more than 600. The Australians continued to be involved in minor operations here until withdrawn and returned to the Australian Corps on 19 April. In fighting on 15 April another 84 casualties were sustained by one of the 5th Brigade's battalions, though German losses were again worse - nearly 500 in another of the Saxon division's regiments.
Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, pp. 141-142.
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: Hangard Wood, France, April 7, 1918