19/7/1916 Australian disaster at Fromelles

The main British effort on the Western Front is taking place at the Somme, where they are still plugging away at the Germans in the hope of somehow breaking through their lines or causing a collapse in their morale. This does not mean that the rest of the front is quiet, however. The British are staging attacks elsewhere along the line to keep the Germans on their toes.

A large attack takes place today, towards the French village of Fromelles, some 80 kilometres north of the Somme battlefield. British and Australian troops attack, close to where the unsuccessful Aubers Ridge and Neuve Chapelle offensives took place last year.

The British have been shelling the German positions for the last few days. Because of bad weather it is not possible to observe how much damage has been inflicted on the Germans, but the British and Australian are confident that their artillery will have made mince-meat of the enemy.

Their confidence is mistaken. The German positions are largely undamaged and the barbed wire in front of them remains relatively intact. When the Australians and British go over the top they are met with withering machine gun fire. Corporal Hugh Knyvett survives the maelstrom; he describes the scene as being like the stock of a thousand butchers-shops cut into small pieces and strewn about, only worse.

Some of the Australians make it to the German trenches, but they are too few too hold them. German counter-attacks eliminate the toe-holds, driving back the Australians, killing them or taking them prisoner. This sorry escapade leads to the British suffering some 1,500 casualties and the Australians around 5,500. German casualties are under 2,000.

image sources:

map (Webmatters: First World War, Carte de Route) (The Hitler Bunker is said to be the post of an Austrian national who joined a Bavarian regiment when the war started)

Australian prisoners under escort (Australian War Memorial)