Bullecourt (Second) (World War 1, 3 May 1917 to 17 May 1917)

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About This Campaign

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 Battle

  • The attack once again achieved a 'Break in' but it could not be exploited.

  • 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.

 Results 

  • On top of the 3300 casualties including 1170 POWs in First Bullecourt, another 7000 casualties were sustained in Second Bullecourt (which was the equivalent of almost half a division). 

  • The 4th Division had been put out of action for months (until Third Ypres later in the year).  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.

  • The temporary break-in of the Hindenberg Line was ultimately reclaimed by vigorous German counterattacks (7 major and 10 minor attacks).  There had been a major limitation on the effectiveness of supporting artillery fire because of the inability to move guns forward of the Noreuil valley to support the break through and further moves on Riencourt  / Hendecourt.

  • The Australians would not trust using tanks again for almost a year until Le Hamel in 1918. They had been untried and unproven and did not even make the start line.

  • The Australian Divisions had poor communications other than runners – the most  hazardous job on the battlefield.  Other means such as pigeons and coloured rockets (these were fired to call in what was known as 'SOS' artillery fire when under attack) were limited in their effect and timeliness.

  • Poor fire support planning (particularly artillery) meant failure to support the forward troops cost dearly.

  • Planning was characterised by poor staff work at all levels, still reflecting relative inexperience and effectiveness in operations of this scale.

  • GEN Gough described the battles as “being of great assistance” to the main offensives at Arras. The “great assistance” cost 10,000 Australian casualties.

  • These battles were used by the British staff college after the war as examples of how NOT to plan an attack.

  • 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

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Names

Showing 8 people of interest from campaign

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CREAGH, Herbert (Andrew Herbert)

Service number 4758
Private
54th Infantry Battalion
AIF WW1
Born 9 Nov 1897

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BOTT, Ernest George Henry

Service number 4979
Corporal
21st Infantry Battalion
AIF WW1
Born 1883

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USHER, Forrest William

Service number 2674
Sergeant
58th Infantry Battalion
AIF WW1
Born 1894

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BATCHELOR, William Henry Edwin Cyril

Service number 1595
Private
10th Infantry Battalion
AIF WW1
Born 6 Aug 1892

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WOODS, Stanley Stuart

Service number VX63973
Captain
2nd/10th Ordnance Field Park
2nd AIF WW 2
Born 11 Apr 1894

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CARSS, George Herbert

Service number 2873A
Private
20th Infantry Battalion
AIF WW1
Born May 1895

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BASSETT, Thomas

Service number 1884
Private
17th Infantry Battalion
AIF WW1
Born 2 Dec 1875

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MARTIN, Stanley Carlton

Service number 4488
Corporal
22nd Infantry Battalion
AIF WW1
Born 23 Nov 1889

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