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Webmatters : Second Bullecourt 1917, 1st Australian Division
Rough Map of Area

Bullecourt May 1917

4th May 1917

1st Australian Division

At 0100 hours the relief of the 6th Brigade took place with the new arrivals being forced to clamber over the dead in the trenches — one remarked that they tried to avoid doing so on anyone wearing the red and white diagonal patch of the 24th Battalion whose valour had already become a legend.

Although there had been a change in Division the two original Brigade commanders remained in place at the front line: Gellibrand on the left and Smith on the right.

Their immediate objectives were to strengthen their hold on OG1 and OG2 around the Central Road (Which was now ameliorated by the newly dug Pioneer Trench). This posed some problems because following the failure of the 5th Brigade it was all still to do on the right.

Bullecourt 4th May 1917

Situation: 4th May 1917

Thus the 1st and 3rd Battalions bombed their way towards Bullecourt reaching as far as crossover trench L. The 2nd Bn moved into OG1 and OG2 advancing as far as they could. Having assured that artillery support was available they then launched their attack getting as far as crossover trench G where they were stopped by the defence.

A bombardment was put down and with the aid of the 4th Bn who were also filtering up Central Road the advance was pushed as far as trench F. In other words, what had been taken the day before but not held due to the lack of munitions and men. This time there were both available.

None of this went without retribution from the Germans who mounted numerous counter attacks down Ostrich Alley and the Diagonal Road. Apart from a few minor gains though the Australians held.

 

Bullecourt Church, Digger Memorial and Cross Memorial

The Cross Memorial on the right marks the approximate position where OG2 met the Diagonal Road

 

In front of Bullecourt the 22nd Brigade of 7th Division continued to assault the German defences but could not make any important gains.

By the 5th May the 2nd and 4th Battalions had been replaced by troops from the 3rd Brigade following the theory that the fighting was likely to be harder on the right.

Overflying Bullecourt, airmen reported that the village seemed devoid of life and on this report the 7th Division made a further attempt in daylight to take the village. The streets and houses had been reduced to piles of rubble, the trenches all but having disappeared. In fact the defenders were sitting out as much of the shelling as they could in their deep dugouts and the cellars of the houses.

As soon as it was realised that the British were advancing the Germans dashed out of their lairs and forced the 7th Division back once again. Major General Shoubridge its commander decided that a further attempt would be made but only after further artillery preparation.

The Australians would have to hang on until the 7th May.

 

German counter attacks

On the morning of the 6th May the Germans launched their sixth successive major counter attack against the Australians. At this stage 1st Brigade were holding the trenches west of Central Road and the 3rd Brigade those to the east.

The German attack was contained on the left but with the aid of flame throwers made considerable progress on the right. Pushing the men of 11th and 12th Battalions back as far as the Central Road. Here the attack was stopped by Corporal G Howell of the 1st Bn.

With others from his unit he crossed the Central Road and then, running alongside OG1 he threw grenades into the Germans until he was finally brought down, wounded, by rifle fire. For his courage he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

The flame throwers by then had run dry and the Australian bombers regained the upper hand and pushed the Germans back to where they had started from. The Australians were spent, and now set about sealing both German trenches to prevent further incursions from the east – but in doing so, accepted that they could not push their own position any further in that direction.