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The Battle of Gueudecourt, France, 5 - 14 November 1916, Outline Topic: BatzWF - Westn Front
The Battle of Gueudecourt
France, 5 - 14 November 1916
Gueudecourt, a village on the Somme battlefield in northern France, became the scene of two attacks by Australian troops in November 1916 which were made amid conditions rated as the most difficult ever faced by the AIF. The British offensive of this front in September-during which I Anzac Corps was resting in the Ypres sector after its losses at Pozieres and Mouquet Farm (q.v.) - had advanced the line into a valley below the Bapaume heights. Here the onset of Autumn rains turned the ground into a quagmire, and attacks against the German lines by the British Fourth and Fifth Armies during October all failed totally with heavy losses.
Trench map for the Gueudecourt area, September 1916.
In mid-October I Anzac Corps (1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th Australian Divisions) arrived to replace the central army corps of the Fourth Army. On 5 November a brigade each of 1st and 2nd Divisions carried out attacks aimed at capturing two salients, one immediately north of Gueudecourt and the other (called 'the Maze') some two kilometres west. The first operation nearest Gueudecourt, launched in rain soon after midnight, was a nightmare. The assault troops, men of the 1st Brigade, struggled through mud to reach the front-line and were half-exhausted before the attack began. As they went forward the waterlogged ground was so treacherous that they slipped and slithered while trying to keep pace with the barrage protecting their advance. Although part of the attacking force succeeded in entering the enemy trenches, it was found impossible to hang on to these gains.
Biscuit Trench east of Flers near Gueudecourt.
Although the weather had cleared by the time the 7th Brigade attacked the Maze at 9.10 a.m., in conjunction with three battalions of the British 50th (Northumbrian Division acting on its left, the outcome here was the same. The assault got too far behind their protective barrage, so that the German garrison had ample time to rally in defence of their posts and pin down the attackers in the crater field between the opposing lines. Part of a battalion managed to seize a small foothold inside the Maze's defences, and held on despite the enemy's best efforts to drive them out, but even this tiny gain was lost a few days later. The whole venture cost the 7th Brigade 819 casualties, while the 1st Brigade lost 208 men.
A repeat of the attack against the Maze was made at 6.45 a.m. on 14 November by two battalions of the 7th Brigade and two of the 5th. This time about 500 metres of the enemy line on the west face of the salient was taken, and the gain was held until the afternoon of 16 November when the Germans countered with a surprise bombing attack in strength. This recaptured the position after about an hour, the Australians being Forced to retire over the open ground except for about 20 men who were taken prisoner. Australian casualties in the initial attack had numbered 901, while another 82 were lost when the Germans retook their trenches. The 50th Division, again operating on the Australian left, sustained an additional 500-600 casualties.
Gueudecourt, in the distance, long cleared of the battlefield.
[Picture: Pierre, Grande Guerre, 2007.]
Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, pp. 120-122.
Additional References cited by Chris Coulthard-Clark:
C.E.W. Bean, (1929), The Australian Imperial Force in France 1916, Sydney: Angus & Robertson.
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