"At a mile distant their thousand hooves were stuttering thunder, coming at a rate that frightened a man - they were an awe inspiring sight, galloping through the red haze - knee to knee and horse to horse - the dying sun glinting on bayonet points..." Trooper Ion Idriess
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The Battle of Fromelles, France, 19 - 20 July 1916, Outline Topic: BatzWF - Westn Front
The Battle of Fromelles
France, 19 - 20 July 1916
The view over the Fromelles Battlefield from a British observation post.
Fromelles, a village in northern France south of' Armentieres, near where Australian troops took part in their first Western Front battle on 19 July 1916. The operation, aimed at seizing German positions in a salient called the `Sugar Loaf' in front of the Aubers Ridge, was primarily intended as a feint to assist the main offensive which British forces had launched along the Somme River 80 kilometres to the south on 1 July. The plan required the newly arrived Australian 5th Division, commanded by Major-General James M'Cay, to attack the Sugar Loaf from the north, at the same time that the British 61st Division (on the Australians' right) attacked from the west.
Preceded by a seven-hour bombardment, the infantry began the advance at 6 p.m. when there was still two and a half hours of summer daylight left. Although inexperienced the Australians went forward in fine spirit on a frontage of three brigades: 8th on the left, 14th in the centre, 15th on the right. The 8th and 14th crossed the waterlogged ground with more or less difficulty and succeeded in capturing nearly 1,000 metres of the enemy trenches. In front of the 14th, however, the artillery had been totally ineffective; the Germans were able to man their defences as soon as the barrage lifted and quickly began mowing down the lines of assaulting troops as they emerged from the remains of an orchard. With its supporting formation thus held back, the right flank of the 14th Brigade was now exposed to intense fire from positions in the Sugar Loaf.
The attack at Fromelles, 19 July 1916.
The attack by the 61st Division had also encountered severe difficulties, the ranks of the British infantry being cut down by fire from machine-guns and artillery. Though the German lines were entered at a few isolated points, the attackers here were quickly driven out again. This left the Australians to bear the brunt of counterattacks mounted by the German 6th Bavarian Division whose troops had been manning the lines they had entered and seized. The first of these blows fell on the left or eastern flank about dusk, and although it was beaten off a second and stronger assault followed at about 1 a.m. directed at both ends of the Australian line. Alter fierce fighting, by 4 a.m. the majority of the 8th Brigade was forced to retire across no-man's-land from the section of enemy front-line it had occupied. At 8 a.m. the 14th Brigade was also ordered to withdraw.
The assault and the night-time fighting which followed had resulted in the 5th Division sustaining 5,533 casualties, including 400 men taken prisoner; the 61st Division also lost 1,517. The Germans apparently suffered casualties of little more than 1,000 (including 140 captured) - three-quarters of these in units opposing the Australians. That the operation had been totally misconceived from the first was emphasised when the Germans established within a few hours that it was purely a demonstration, so that any British hopes of drawing or tying down enemy forces to this area went unrealised. In the meantime the 5th Division had been temporarily wrecked as a fighting formation and was not again fit for offensive action for many months.
The grim harvest of Germans, British and Australians at Fromelles.
[A German photograph depicting what is believed to be a large group of German, Australian or British bodies in a wooded area behind the German lines near the village of Fromelles.]
Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, pp. 116-117.
Additional References cited by Chris Coulthard-Clark:
C.E.W. Bean, (1929), The Australian Imperial Force in France 1916, Sydney: Angus & Robertson.
The Battle of Fromelles, France, 19 - 20 July 1916, New York Times Account, 22 July 1916 Topic: BatzWF - Westn Front
The Battle of Fromelles
France, 19 - 20 July 1916
New York Times Account, 22 July 1916
A contemporaneous report of the Battle at Fromelles was carried in the New York Times of 22 July 1916. The information from the German War Office proved to be very accurate although never seen in any of the Allied nations in order to maintain morale. The article was well balanced giving equal weight to reports from all the combatants.
LONDON, July 21.-
The British have been pushing forward their front on their line running east from below Pozieres to the Delville Wood. Foureaux or High Wood, half way between Longueval and Martinpuich, has been entered and occupied, but German counterattacks have been able to win back half of the wood.
The Germans In an attack on the British on the northern edge of the Leipsic redoubt on the west of the front of attack succeeded in occupying British front trenches, but later were driven out, according to the British official communication issued at midnight. Elsewhere along the British front comparative calm prevailed today.
Some idea of the huge forces now engaged in the battle of the Somme in northern France is given in the official statement from Berlin tonight, in which it is stated that more than 200,000 French and British troops attacked the German lines north and south of the Somme Thursday on a front of twenty five miles.
Third German Line Reached.
The British have again pressed forward to the German third line in the Foureaux wood, northeast of Longueval. This wood is an important strategic point, the capture of which would bring the forces of General Haig to the highest point on the ridge commanding the German positions in the less hilly country beyond, which is not so much broken up and not wooded, lending itself not so well to defense. This probably explains the desperate attempts of the Germans to hold the wood where the heavy fighting continues.
The Associated Press correspondent at the front states the Germans are bringing masses of troops from Verdun and guns from other points in an endeavour to stem the Allied advance. Meantime, the Indications are that the Allies are testing the strength of the German line at other points. The trench raid by Australian troops in the neighborhood of Armentières attracts much interest in this connection.
This attack by British forces against the Germans which was at Fromelles, north of La Bassee, on Wednesday, resulted in the loss by the attackers of more than 2,000 men Killed and nearly 500 men made prisoners, according to a statement given out by the German War Office today.
The statement admits that the German line along a front of about three kilometers (two miles) south of Hardecourt was driven from its first trenches into its second trenches, 800 meters is the rear. Enemy forces, the statement says, penetrated into the German salient at the Wood of Vermandovillers.
French Heavily Attacked.
Positions captured yesterday by the French south of the Somme were subjected to a vigorous counterattack during the night. The Germans charged the French lines south of Soyecourt but, the French War office announced today, suffered heavy losses and were driven back in disorder.
A strong German detachment which advanced to the attack in the Chaulnes region was repulsed with the bayonet.
Between Soissons and Rheims the French penetrated a German trench, clearing it of its defenders.
On the Verdun front the artillery was active on both aides in the vicinity of Chattancourt and Fleury.
This is the British official statement given out in the afternoon:
The battle continues without intermission between the Leipsic redoubt on the west and Delville Wood on the east. North of the Bazentin-Lonqueval line the British advance has been' pushed to Foureaux Wood, from which we drove the enemy. During the night the enemy counterattacked, attacked, after an intense bombardment with gas shells, and succeeded in effecting entry into the northern part of the wood, but failed to dislodge us from the southern half.
Elsewhere there is no change.
Lull During the Day.
The British official statement issued tonight follows:
Except for local encounters there has been a comparative lull in the main battle area today (Friday) and there has been no change in the situation since the last report.
The enemy made a bombing attack on the north edge of our positions in the Leipsic salient and succeeded at one point in entering our front trenches, but at once was driven, out.
Taking advantage of the, find weather the Royal Flying Corps yesterday continued their bombing operations against points of military importance with successful results. The hostile aircraft were inactive until evening when a good deal of fighting, took place behind the German lines. One of our offensive patrols encountered eleven German machines, and as a result, three German machines there shot down, one bursting into flames.
Another encounter between four of our machines and six of the enemy lasted forty-five minutes. One Fokker was; then shot down and another badly dammed. The remainder fled.
During other air combats a fifth, German machine was forced to the ground. Our total loss during the day was one machine.
It has now been established that the enemy's assault on July 18 on the Delville Wood area over a front of 2,000 yards was made by at least thirteen battalions drawn from four different divisions. The enemy's losses were correspondingly great.
Berlin Reports Big British Loss.
The official German statement received late this evening says:
An attack by the English in the region of Fromelles on Wednesday was executed, we have established, by two strong divisions. The brave Bavarian division, before whose front the attack took place, counted on the ground in front of them more than 2,000 enemy killed, and brought in hitherto 481 prisoners, including ten officers and sixteen machine guns.
On both sides of the Somme the enemy yesterday, as was expected, prepared to deliver a main blow, but it failed. After the strongest fire preparation over a front of about forty kilometers (about twenty-five miles) attacks were made from south of Pozieres to west of Vermandovillers. More than seventeen divisions with more than 200,000 men participated in the attacks.
The result for the enemy is that the first line of the German division along a front of about three kilometers south of Hardecourt was pressed back front its foremost trenches into the next trenches, lying 800 meters behind, and enemy divisions penetrated into the salient of the little wood of Vermandovillers.
On the entire remaining front the mild onsets broke to pieces against the death-defying loyalty of our troops with extraordinary losses for the enemy. Up to the present, seventeen officers and 1,200 men have been captured.
On the remainder of the front there is nothing special to report. The artillery and mine-throwing activity south of La Bassee Canal and northwest of Lens, as well as in the Argonne and on both sides of the Meuse increased at intervals. North of Vendresse, in the Aisne region, small French detachments advanced after an explosion which was without result, but were repulsed and the crater was occupied by us.
In an air battle a hostile aeroplane was shot down and shattered south of Pozieres, and another northeast of Bapaume fell into our hands.
French Stop Counterattack.
The French afternoon statement follows:
South of the Somme the enemy yesterday evening delivered a counterattack on our new positions to the south of Soyecourt. The battalion which led the assault was caught by our curtain of fire and by our machine guns and was thrown back in disorder after having suffered very great losses.
The night was calm on the other side of the Somme.
In the region of Chaulnes a strong detachment of the enemy which attempted to approach our lines south of Maucourt was repulsed with the bayonet.
Between Soissons and Rheims, to the northeast of Vendresse, a French reconnoitring detachment, assisted by the explosion of a mine, penetrated a trench of the enemy, which was cleared out with grenades.
On the Verdun front there was great activity of the artillery on both aides in the sectors of Chattancourt and Fleury.
In the Vosges after a violent bombardment. an attempt was made without success to storm our positions north of Wissembach.
On the day of July 20 and during the night of July 20-21 our aeroplane squadrons bombarded several important points behind the enemy's lines. The stations at Conflans, Mars-laTour, Longuyon and Brieulles and the railway junction at Ham were bombarded with many projectiles of large calibre.
The communication issued by the French War Office this evening says:
There is nothing to add to the statement of this morning.
A German aeroplane this morning threw several bombs on Belfort. The material damage was insignificant.
The Belgian communication says:
On the sectors south of Nieuport and around Dixmude there have been reciprocal artillery actions of slight intensity, The Belgian batteries have opened a destructive fire on the German works at Steenstraete. The fire of these batteries continues.
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