Second Bullecourt - May 1917
Order of Battle
Preceding the Battle
The failure of First Bullecourt and the German counter attack at Lagnicourt precipitated another attempt to break into the Hindenburg Line in support of the British Arras Offensive.
- The attack was planned on exactly the same line as the first using the 'Central Road' running E-W as an axis.
- Whereas the 4th Division was used in First Bullecourt, no less than three Divisions were committed to Second Bullecourt; The 2nd, 1st and 5th Divisions (the latter only just recovered from the disaster at Fromelles in July 1916).
- The 2nd (Aus) Division was positioned with its 6th Brigade on the left and the 5th Bde on the right of the Central Road. The 62nd (UK) Div was still involved in an attack on Bullecourt village.
- The tanks that had failed so badly at First Bullecourt fared little better.
- Fierce bombing (grenade) battles took place in the OG1 / 2 trench lines. The Germans also used flame throwers. Both sides used mortars.
- 2 Div Pioneers dug a 1 km communication trench (Pioneer Trench) parallel with the Central Road to assist reserves and supplies coming forward.
- An Artillery barrage and massed fire from the 2nd Division Machine Gun Companies supported the attack - 96 Vickers guns in all putting down a phenomenal weight of fire.
- Failure occurred on the right flank where 5 Bde’s assault was stopped and driven back by Machine Gun fire from Queant. They were hit by what is known as enfilade grazing fire - long range fire from guns out of sight to the attackers coming over an intermediate crest line. Queant had not been neutralised as part of Comd 5 Bde (Smith’s) fire suport planning. Severe casualties were sustained in 17 and 19 Bns.
- 1st (AUS) Division was brought up to relieve the 2nd (Aus) Division on 5 May. 1st Brigade was attacking on the left of the Central Road and 3rd Brigade was on the right of the Central Road.
- On 10 May – 5 days later – both 1st & 2nd Divisions were by this stage exhausted and the 5 Div was brought into the battle. It had just been rebuilt from its losses at Fromelles the previous year.
- The "Break in" was achieved with assault forces turning left and right and barricading the German communication trenches. 58th and 60th (VIC) Battalions were tasked to turn left and fight their way along OG1 & 2 in the direction of Bullecourt village to support the British attack on the village itself.
- Then began a series of determined counterattacks by the Germans.
- Both sides fought to a standstill where they were.
The 4th Division had been put out of action for 7 weeks (until Messines in June). In addition, 1st 2nd and 5th Divs were also severely weakened. The total of over 10,000 casualties swelled the newspaper reports back in Australia and seemed to be a recurrence of the disaster of Pozieres 8 months prior.
Crown Prince Rupprecht said on the 5th of May “according to unanimous descriptions from the front, the English troops show themselves far less tough to repulse than formerly, with the exception of the Canadians and the Australians, who are, on all sides, praised for their bravery and skill in making use of ground”
The bad news was self-evident but there was as bad to come; Third Ypres later in the year was to be another trial by fire and mud.
"1917 was the year in which machines and mud crushed remorselessly the highest endeavours and the most noble aspirations (of the Allies)" ; and thus it was at Bullecourt
Based on original work by the late Lieutenant Colonel Peter Morrissey, a good friend and colleague. Used with permission.
Steve Larkins April 2014